When the Past Meets the Present

I have a diverse and wonderful group of friends on Facebook, and one of them is Anne Schaller Koch from my home state of Wisconsin. She recently posted some interesting photographs about her life on her page, and I asked her if she would mind writing out more detail for my Hope Blog. I love hearing about life as it was years ago. There is much to admire and to learn from in reading and hearing these stories. Thank you so much, Anne, for sharing these memories of your life that is rich in love and faith.

Baking and cooking from scratch appears to be enjoying a revival these days, at least in our family. Our daughter-in-law is working on creating a cookbook for her grown children containing the recipes she used when they were growing up. Here is a mother who grows her own herbs, makes her own pure vanilla from vanilla beans, rolls out the dough to make noodles, and more recently made all the candied citron for her Christmas baking—so it should not be any surprise to find most of her recipes are “from scratch.” Anne2Our daughter also follows this pattern, including making her own yogurt on a regular basis. It started me thinking that this is where I came in, the difference being that when I was growing up, cooking from scratch was the only option!

My early years were spent during the Great Depression in our country, and like the free range chickens we favor so much in our day, everyone was scratching for ways to put food on the table. Stores were small and sold only the staples needed to bake bread, create simple meals, and get along with the bare essentials. Even at that, few people had the “scratch” to buy even the basics. We lived in western South Dakota where the drought, dust storms, and armies of grasshoppers kept many a family from harvesting crops for animals or family. Yet the generosity of people was a blessing to experience, and the members of our congregation kept us (the pastor’s family) supplied with milk, eggs, garden vegetables, and whatever meat they could spare.

Anne4One of my earliest memories is of my mother making cottage cheese. When someone gave us more milk than we could drink in a day (no refrigeration), mother would put the naturally curdling milk or cream in cheesecloth bags and tie them with string to a stick supported between two chairs. As curds formed, the whey dripped into a pan below. No doubt we were sternly instructed not to mess with this set-up, and the memory stuck in my mind.

Being only five when we moved to our next home, I was not fully aware of the struggles or ingenuity my mother put into keeping us well-fed, but saved family letters tell the story in detail. I do remember that just before we moved, the church ladies came to help mother prepare the chickens to be canned so we could take the meat with us to our next home. I do not know how chickens came to be raised on the church property but am guessing it was another of mother’s attempts to make ends meet.

AnneOur next home was in eastern South Dakota, finally near relatives. My mother’s sister and family lived in a small town within visiting distance, and now there were cousins to play with from time to time. Here we are making mud pies (really scratching it) and washing up the dishes outside our playhouse. Note the broom to sweep the dirt floor. Our circumstances were now better since we had a garden and there were lakes where my Dad could fish. I can still remember my mother preparing frog legs for dinner, and being alarmed to see how they jumped in the frying pan. Mother needed to assure me that they were not alive and did not feel any pain. Mother was a stay-at-home Mom, and I was a very curious child, so as she cooked and baked, she explained “why” she was doing what she did. At Christmas time she was very particular about her Christmas Stollen and Lebkuchen. Ground cardamom from the store would not do; it must be whole cardamom seed that we would bring home and turn into powder by mother’s own method. I helped take the soft shells off the seeds, and then Mother would put about a tablespoon of seed into the corner of a dishtowel, and with a hammer she would pound those seeds until they were reduced to a fine powder. The aroma was pungent, and she had her freshly ground cardamom! I followed her directions for a few years after I was married but kept ruining my dishtowels, so I just decided I did not need to be so particular.

Food was as special as it gets at Christmas time. My grandmother from Minnesota would put a packet of dressed duck or goose on the train in the morning, and after its long trip, we would receive it in time to bake the bird for supper. With an orange in my Christmas stocking and an apple in each of my three Christmas Eve sacks (my father was pastor of three congregations), we enjoyed the only fresh fruit I recall eating during the winter months. The only convenience food I remember having in my childhood home was Jello, sometimes with bananas, and it was a real treat.

Our next move was to Minnesota, and compared to South DakotaAnne3 it was like the promised land of Canaan. We had fruit trees, gardens of both flowers and vegetables galore. We moved once again after two years, still in Minnesota but closer to New Ulm, where I would be attending high school and college. In this home I grew to adulthood, learning to cook, bake a pie, can vegetables and fruit, make jelly, pickles, and help with most all the household duties. By this time Mother had a large class of piano pupils coming to our home, and though I was away at boarding school a good share of the time, I came home weekends and summers to help at home. After three years of teaching school (and boarding at the homes of others), I was eager to be the homemaker I always wanted to become.

When I married Paul, we also moved to the Dakotas (this time not far from the Montana border), and armed with recipes dating back to Grandmother’s kitchen, I was all set. Some recipes required math to figure out measurements. One particular favorite had all ingredients listed in pounds (whether liquid or dry) and the shortening was specified as so many “egg lumps” of lard. One ingredient was “a glass of wine” and I never did figure out whether that meant four ounces, eight ounces, or more. Seems it didn’t matter, since the additional flour called for was equally unknown, written simply as “add needed flour to form dough into a roll.” I have made these cookies for sixty-two years now, and they always taste just fine!

In our retirement years we continue to cook from scratch whenever possible, though convenience foods are good to keep on hand. I say “we” because Paul has gradually taken over the cooking, as I gradually rely more on my walker to get around. I serve as arm-chair consultant now and help as I am able. Paul still has a generous garden, so we eat well, freezing our vegetables for the winter months. Paul is a good cook, and I like his fried chicken the best, made from those free-range chickens! We can’t compete with the young cooks in the family but we still bake our own bread and eat simple but healthy meals. We give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good!

~ Anne Schaller Koch

An Obituary Full of Life

“So, I was born; I blinked; and it was over. No buildings named after me; no monuments erected in my honor.But, I DID have the chance to know and love each and every friend as well as all my family members. How much more blessed can a person be?”

These lines are taken from an obituary sent to me by a friend. The words that were penned by the woman before she passed away sum up a life rich in many ways, but most of all in love. She wrote, “I’ve always maintained that my greatest treasures call me Nana. That’s not exactly true. You see, the youngest of my grand-angels, Ella Ashley Kramer and Finley Christian Kramer call me “Grand Nana…”

I don’t care what religion you claim to possess, what creed you profess, if you don’t cherish your own children and grandchildren, your own brothers or sisters, you’re very poor.To be pitied. And your religion, if it doesn’t produce love for your own family, is worthless.

I read through this piece several times, it’s so full of life well lived. The gratitude for blessings received is exemplary. As the woman wrote, “How much more blessed can a person be?”

That’s why counting blessings ought to be a daily exercise.

Count your blessings one by one
When dawn appears and day has just begun
They will light your heart with happiness
Make each hour bright and bring you gladness

Count your blessings one by one
When twilight falls and toil of day is done
And in sweet dreams they’ll come again to you
If you will count your blessings each day through

Count your blessings while you may
For we are here but little time to stay
All around are hearts sincere and true
Lovely things abound just waiting for you

Count your blessings while you may
The big or small, whichever comes your way
For then you’ll find this world a place of love
If you will count your blessings from above

Reginald Morgan & Edith Temple

It’s the Company!

I have previously mentioned my love for Reminisce Magazine. They have recently made some changes that have brought the magazine back to its roots, and I’m glad. A person can learn a lot from the past and how people not only survived, but enjoyed love and blessings through the good and bad of life.Younger people who know nothing about the Great Depression, rationing and World War II, and other hardships of life from years ago need to read the stories told by people who lived it. It has a way of putting everything in perspective.

One story that stays with me is a brief paragraph that accompanied a photo of a young woman’s high school graduation party in a tiny Brooklyn apartment. In the black and white photograph, the laughing faces are crowded around a small table with mismatched dishes. Friends and family were having a joyful time together in the tiny kitchen. The people are what made it a happy scene, not the kitchen counter tops or decor.

carwashThis weekend our two favorite people in the world came to town for a brief visit. It was unexpected, and that made it all the more fun. My brother-in-law Mike and sister-in-law Kris always bring a lot of love and laughs when they are around. We went out for dinner Saturday night and our son Jon, who was driving, decided to go through a car wash first. I am still not sure why he chose that time to do it, but as we sat in line waiting, the comments and jokes started and before long, we were all in stitches. The laughing continued all the way through the longer than usual wash, and by the time we were done, we had all enjoyed ourselves. “You came all the way up here for us to get entertained by a car wash,” someone noted.

“We don’t get out much,” I added, and we all laughed some more.

It was, of course, the company. I have been at well-planned social events that felt like a funeral. One party I attended before I married Tom was so grim, everybody started leaving before it had hardly started. It’s fascinating to watch how certain personalities mixed together can turn an otherwise completely mundane activity into a lot of fun. It’s not just about what personalities are present, but also, what traits are missing.

Ego-driven people destroy gatherings. Constantly worrying about whether somebody took things the wrong way or whether they got enough of the spotlight is an atmosphere killer. Hyper-sensitive types who sit in the corner and sulk because they feel left out are ruinous to enjoyment. I’ve also been in settings where one person dominates the conversation, and not in a good way. Some people actually control a setting with the sound of their own voice. That’s a joy killer for sure.

The enjoyment begins with a lightheartedness in everyone involved in a setting where you can be yourself without fear of judgment or criticism. When Mike and Kris come around, that’s what we have. We’ve enjoyed their visits for 20 years now, and the kids are always delighted when they turn up.

People like this are a gift to others. The older I get, the more I appreciate this ability to bring sunlight into situations rather than gloom and doom. The world is ugly enough without us adding to it.

The next time Mike and Kris come to visit, we will have to take another trip through the car wash. I’m smiling as I type this. It really wasn’t the car wash, it was the company that made all the difference!

We Need Him Every Hour

We need the Lord every hour of every day. These two versions of an old hymn were a blessing to me tonight, so I thought I would share them. Burdens seem to heavy for you? They are. That’s why Jesus said that all who are weary and heavy laden should come to Him, and He will give us rest.


Here is the same old hymn sung so beautifully in Dutch. I find many of our familiar hymns sung by the musicians on Nederland Zingt, so I haunt their YouTube page frequently! I love this.


A Little Angel Brings Sunshine

Doctors told the parents of this little girl five times that they should abort her. Fortunately, her parents didn’t see her disabilities as a reason to take her life. Now, despite her difficulties, she brings sunshine into the lives of others. Listen to her sing “You Are My Sunshine” and let her bless you today.

All children are precious gifts. Here’s the story from LifeNews.com and the video.


View from the Swing

swings1After the long, cold winter, getting to go to the park this week with Emily has been a blessing. Finally, the wind doesn’t have the harsh chill, and the dirty snow piles are mostly gone. The play equipment at the park had been hosed down from the winter sludge, and all was in good shape when we arrived.

Yesterday, the sun was warm on our heads in the mid-50 temperatures. Up here in Wisconsin, that is a virtual heat wave. Emily exhausted herself running and sliding and swinging and spinning on the merry-go-round. Today we went back to the park, as I have vowed that, unless there is intolerable weather, we are getting out to the park daily.

There were more clouds today when we went, and the wind was not quite as warm, but the air was fresh and invigorating. Emily wore a hat against the chilly breeze which sent last year’s leaves flying every so often. Hardly any children were there today. A grandfather watched his grandson run around, and then a dad arrived with two little boys on pedal bikes. Em and I sat on the swings in a leisurely fashion. Or, I should say, I sat on the swing and Em flopped on her tummy on the swing next to me, going back and forth, back and forth, her thoughts in some far away place.

My own thoughts swirled like the old leaves in the wind. Our second youngest, Will, is ready for college in August. Wasn’t I just at the park with him? Where did all the time go? Our baby, Emily, will be five in July at her next birthday. She’s looking taller and lankier all the time and asks questions about “habitats” for animals (yes, she uses that word), about “migration”, “hibernation” and how a butterfly uses his “proboscis” to suck nectar from flowers. She watches science DVD’s for children and has a keen interest in anything in nature. I thought about the challenge of educating yet another child in this world that seems to have gone mad. One day at a time, one step at a time, one hour at a time, Ingrid.

Em’s ready for reading instruction, as she is already trying to teach herself. She narrated a story to her dad so he could write it down for her. I thought about how each child is unique in interests and gifting. It is fascinating to watch yet another child-person unfold.

Em does not have another child to play with at home normally, but as we were swinging aimlessly, a little girl in a white Hello Kitty hat arrived with her daddy. Emily jumped off the swing and went over to meet her. The darling child liked my daughter, and they ran around in the wind, arms out, soaring high over the park as airplanes in their imaginations. They played hide and seek under the slides and then played tag, seemingly never stopping in their running.

The sun finally went under completely and the wind suddenly felt downright cold. Emily ran over to her little friend and threw her arms around her for a good-bye hug. The dad’s face broke out in a smile, as did mine, at the two little girls, so briefly enjoying a few minutes of childhood together and parting in cheery goodwill.

As we drove away, the bare branches of the trees bent in the wind, waving their own good-byes.

Death for Valentine’s Day? Answering Cecile Richards

cecilThe mentality of our death-embracing culture is best summed up by a photo released by the president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards. I am grateful to Pro-Life Wisconsin for publishing my short response to Ms. Richards and her statement that what women need for Valentine’s Day is safe and legal abortion. My response:

Apparently overcome by a sense of romance, Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, released a Valentine’s Day message for social media. According to Richards, what women really need on Valentine’s Day is not a pretty card, a gift of chocolate or a nice dinner out with the one they love. In the twisted world of the abortion industry, what women need is the freedom to kill their own babies. Read the rest here.