Peppernuts: Tiny Bites of Christmas

Peppernuts are a Christmas tradition in our family. These tiny, little cookies came to our area with the Mennonite immigration in the 1870's. Imagine generations of people grabbing a handful or two of peppernuts and munching away and you have a tradition worth continuing.  

The Old Buffet

The buffet is now missing a pull on the top drawer. 

Nobody picked it out or purchased it especially for our family. It was simply there in the first house my parents purchased in 1963. The previous owners had not wanted to take the dining room table and buffet to their new home and had offered to leave it. My parents were happy to accept. With four children and a new mortgage, they wouldn't be buying a new dining room table any time soon.  Thousands of happy meals were eaten around that table along with a few not-so-happy moments with someone who didn't want to eat his green beans. The buffet never held dishes, but seemed to be a catch-all for papers and table games. When we left the bungalow to move to the simple farmhouse on my dad's family farm, the table and buffet came along. The table was finally replaced years after we all grew up and left home, but the buffet remained, sitting stately in the living room.
The buffet stood in a corner in my parents' farmhouse for many years. Here it serves as background to a Christmas gift distribution by their grandchildren.

Several years after my mother lost her battle with cancer, my elderly dad remarried and brought a brave lady to the farm. She came with a piano. The only place it fit was where the old buffet still stood. The buffet needed a new home. And so I took it home with me.  

It is still a catch-all, although I have filled the buffet with dishes and china as was its original purpose. No, what it catches and displays are memories. Over the years I have accumulated far too many sentimental keepsakes. Rather than leaving them tucked away, I bring out different things according to the season and arrange them on the buffet. Is this a good thing? Or a little too mushy? Maybe kind of silly?  

Christmas brings memories of our sons' childhood with their old blocks, a Disney music box and casual photographs from Christmas through the years. The clock was purchased to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversa
After the excitement of Christmas, I love to get out my white and clear glass things. It seems peaceful and calm. The photograph is of both sets of my grandparents and the faux marble clock comes from my paternal grandparents.   
In the spring, I get out the pink and green dishes. Many of the pink dishes come from my grandmother. I'm not sure that I ever saw them as a child. Grandma liked to keep her nice things nice and as a result these these things were seldom (never?) used. I try go ahead and use them while they are easily available. 

My parents were married in 1954. Some of their wedding gifts were the red that was so popular in that era. Some aluminum coffee pots, an old fan and canning jars round out the red, white and blue colors for summer.

When you only see it for a few months each year, it becomes even more precious. The   wall hanging was embroidered by my mother for me. It is a treasure. 

A Puritan Prayer of Thanksgiving

Over 300 years ago a pious Puritan wrote a prayer of thanksgiving. The Puritans often wrote out prayers that read like poetry. It would seem that there would be few similarities between the life of this Puritan and me.  Yet as I look through the list of things for which he (or she) is thankful, it's hard to think of anything to add. I, too, wish to give thanks for those things. Here then, is the Puritan Prayer with photos both recent and bygone.

I thank Thee for the temporal blessings of this world

the refreshing air, 

the light of the sun, 

the food that renews strength, 

the raiment that clothes, 

the dwelling that shelters, 

the sleep that gives rest, 

the starry canopy of night, 

the summer breeze, 

the flowers' sweetness, 

the music of flowing streams, 

the happy endearments of family, kindred, friends. 

Things animate, things inanimate, minister to my comfort. My cup runs over. Suffer me not to be insensible to these daily mercies.  

Thy hand bestows blessings: Thy power averts evil. 
Photo by Monica Warren

I bring my tribute of thanks for spiritual graces, 
the full warmth of faith, 
the cheering presence of Thy Spirit, 
the strength of Thy restraining will, 
Thy spiking of hell's artillery. Blessed be my sovereign Lord!

Pick a Peck of Peppers!

Ah, the scents of fall. Wafting from the kitchen is the spicy scent of cinnamon and apples, or perhaps a Sweet Potato cake. Outside the air is crisp and there is the musty scent of fallen leaves with a touch of smoke in the air from a bonfire or fireplace. And yes, there is another scent as well. It's the distinct and pungent smell of roasting peppers. 

Roasting peppers has become a part of my autumn ritual. As the garden winds down, peppers continue to thrive and add fruit to the plant. Overshadowing the season is the knowledge that it will not last long. Frost is coming and then the plants will be done. And so I'm picking peppers! Pecks of peppers.

Roasted peppers are a great addition to many recipes. If you have peppers, roast them and try this simple, but outstanding recipe for a great dip. Feel free to use any pepper. My favorite is the Annaheim which has a kick but is not overwhelmingly hot. Bell peppers would be milder and chili or jalapeno would be hotter.

Please don't be afraid of roasting peppers. It's not difficult and while it involves a little time, it goes relatively fast. I'll share my directions for roasting peppers after the recipe.

Here are the four simple ingredients needed to make the dip:
Monterey Jack and Cream Cheese, Mayonnaise and Peppers--that's all you need. Oh, and something to dip in it!

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded 
1/2 cup diced roasted peppers (about 4)
1/4 cup mayonaise
1/4 teaspoon salt
Optional: 1/2 cup caramelized onions 

Mix together. Serve warm or at room temperature with crackers. This is a recipe where measuring is not of the upmost importance. A little more or less of any of these ingredients will still make a very good dip. 

How to roast peppers:

1.--Fire up the grill. A gas grill works great. No grill? This can also be done in your oven.

     2.---Place washed peppers on the grill. As peppers char on one side, turn over to the other side. Often there is a popping sound as the pepper air inside the pepper heats up. Turn when they begin to char. Please note that there is a difference between charring and burning to a crisp! That's what happened to my peppers when I tried to fix supper while roasting peppers. Don't get too far away when your roasting peppers! I usually just turn them once.

     3.--When the peppers are cooked and have some charring on both sides, remove from the grill and place in a paper sack. Fill the sack about half full and roll the top down. This allows the peppers to steam and cool.

     4.--When peppers are cool, remove from bag, slit open and remove seeds and membrane. Turn pepper over and remove skin. It should just slip off. If your peppers are very hot, you may wish to wear plastic gloves to prevent your hands from feeling very warm.

     5.--Roasted peppers can be used immediately or frozen for later use. I usually freeze the peppers in a single layer on a tray and then break up and bag when frozen. I don't think it is possible to have too many roasted peppers on hand.
Other ideas for roasted peppers:

A Kansas Country Garden: The Month of September

Autumn Joy Sedum line the front sidewalk.
Autumn Joy Sedum does bring joy. It's autumn floral display is the peak of its many  good attributes, but  from the moment the little round balls peek from the ground in early spring, through the heat of the summer and on into winter when its dried flower stalks add interest in the garden, it's always a great plant. Right now its the bees, butterflies and insects who may be singing its praises the loudest. They love this plant, too. Maybe more than I do.

I have placed Autumn Joy Sedum in many places throughout the garden,
There is a lot to love about fall. The cooler weather revives some of the plants. Others begin their bloom. As the leaves begin to change color, it's a poignant reminder of the temporary nature of the garden. Cherish these days of color and warmth. They will not last forever.

No longer on my "wish list", this bench was an anniversary gift.
Sweet Autumn Clematis is worth waiting for with its lovely scent and bloom.
Twining on the bridge, Morning Glories have a vibrant purple bloom.

As it ages, the bloom of the rose colored gomphrena elongates,  
I have had volunteer Sweet Autumn Clematis plants come up and have placed them around the garden.
A lone rose blooms on this bush.
I have enjoyed this lantana this summer. I just learned that my mother-in-law overwinters her lantana inside. Should I bring this in? Maybe I'll take a few slips.
This Angel Wing begonia reminds me of my grandmother who had a similar plant.
I believe this is a Dragon Wing begonia which is always blooming. It will be coming inside soon.
This mum is in no hurry to bloom. Better get busy--it's getting colder!

Lonely No Longer: A Story of Our Guinea Fowl

I believe this story stands on its own, however if you would like the background of the stories of our guineas, click here: #1--It's a Bird, It's a Pain; #2--Parenting Problems; #3--All Good Things.

A lonely Edna patrols the lawn.
It was sad, really. Watching our guinea, Edna roam through our yard by herself just didn't seem right. Her entire life had been spent in the company of Hank, her companion and mate. Hank had met an unfortunate end in an encounter with a pickup on the road. Now she roamed the yard, searching as always for insects, but stopping now and then for a futile call to Hank. "Sorry, Edna, he's not coming back," I would tell her.

We wondered what to do. Was she going to be okay? Would she leave in search of another guinea or just keel over with grief? We wished we had not sold her offspring. After a week of contemplating we decided to get another adult guinea. We contacted the person who had purchased young guineas from us in the past. She told us to come by her farm about dark. She explained that many of her guineas roosted in the rafters of the barn where she milked her goats. After the guineas were settled for the night, we could turn off the lights, climb a ladder, shine a flashlight on the guinea we wanted and then grab it. And that's just what happened. Mike picked a pearl with a few stray white feathers from what appeared to be a row of young bachelors (he didn't want to split up any couples) and we had a young cockerel. The conversation about what to name him was brief. "His name is Hank, Jr.," said Mike, quite firmly. Well, okay.

Hank, Jr. and Edna had an uneasy first meeting.
Introductions took place soon after. We put Hank, Jr. in the chicken pen so he couldn't try to return to his former home. The chicken pen is about 7 feet tall and is covered except for a small opening in the roof. It contains the chickens very well. I guess we imagined that Edna and Hank, Jr. would get acquainted through the fence. While gardening the next morning, I heard a great guinea commotion coming from the vegetable garden. Hank, Jr. had somehow exited the chicken pen and a meeting was in progress. Like two people marooned on a desert island, they seemed to understand that they shared a common destiny. Perhaps it was not their first choice, or their second choice; but wait. They were each other's only choice.  

Through the next few days we saw the guineas around the yard. Sometimes they were together, often they were not. It appeared that Hank, Jr. was going to stick around. One evening we noticed that Edna had not returned to roost in the cedar tree above the chicken pen. It kind of bothered me to think that she might be off somewhere else roosting with Hank, Jr. in another tree. But that wasn't the case at all. Edna was setting on a nest! She had picked a place in the daylilies next to the vegetable garden. It had not even occurred to us that Edna had been laying eggs for several weeks. A little bit of the original Hank still remained among the twenty or so eggs in the nest. 
Only if you know where to look can you find Edna's nest in the daylilies.

During the four weeks that Edna sat on the nest, we occasionally saw Hank, Jr. We saw him often enough to know that he was still around, but who knew where he spent his days or for the matter, where he roosted at night. The gardens suffered from the lack of "bug patrols." And then, one marvelous day, success! Once again, Edna was able to hatch a clutch of keets.
Edna seemed enormously pleased with her babies.

Now what should we do? We had heard that guineas are not very good parents. One experienced guinea farmer says on her web site that in all the years she had raised guineas, she had "yet to have a guinea hatch a clutch of keets and bring any keets home alive on her own."  Wet grass (which can chill and kill the keets), wildlife, neighborhood cats and an guinea parent that moves at a fairly fast pace all makes life precarious for tiny, vulnerable keets. They would be safer in a box in the garage. 

Does this scare you? It scares me. Don't get too close to Edna's babies!

You could tell that Edna was thrilled to be a mother. She led them around the vegetable garden with pride. The vegetable garden seemed like it was a good place for them. The asparagus patch with its tall plants and shady hiding spots seemed ideal. If she would just keep them in the vegetable garden, maybe they would be alright. Then in swooped Hank, Jr. He wasn't riding a white horse, but perhaps he saved the day. Did he know that these keets were not his biological offspring? If he knew, he didn't care. He certainly took a vital interest in this little family. He sprang into action. A gentle chirp or cluck brought the chicks to him. Evidently he thought we were too close and he began to lead the chicks and Edna out of the garden, towards the neighbor's yard. I ran around to head them off and they returned to the garden.  We backed off. There was no more discussion about taking the keets to raise them ourselves.
Always together--the family wanders through the yard in search of insects.

The little family seemed inseparable. They did not stay in the vegetable garden very long, but wandered throughout our yard and neighbors' yards.  If you saw Hank, Jr., Edna and the little ones were not far behind.  The only time I would see Hank, Jr. without his family was in the early evening when Edna evidently tucked her youngsters in quite early and Hank would wander around for awhile before heading for his own roost.

I'm feeling just a little snubbed--Hank, Jr. and Edna lead the keets away.
A few days after the keets hatched it began to rain. It was a fairly warm day and the rain was gentle. When you raise keets you keep the temperature at 90-95 degrees with heat lamps for its first two weeks. No way would they be that warm in the rain. And yes, Edna was leading them around in the rain, but she would stop occasionally and the keets would crawl underneath her and warm up. All the keets survived that day.
The guineas know every square inch of our property. 

Hank, Jr., especially, did not allow the keets to get close to humans. Should we happen to meet, he would whirl around and head in the opposite direction, chirping and clucking his directions. He did not make it easy to get many good photographs of the family. But he was an excellent father and Edna was doing great as a mom, too. Mike watched from the barn on day while Hank, Jr. and Edna caught insects and brought them to the youngsters. Soon they would be catching their own meals and learning to fly. Looking out across the lawn you could see little birds popping up a few inches above the grass. Soon they were flying to the top of railroad ties, the middle rung of the fence, the picnic table and finally the top rung of the fence. Surely they are now roosting above the ground by now.
They can fly! Often the little guineas line up in a row.
They're growing up! The little guineas show up for grain and let me take a photo.
After about a month, I think we would consider the keets adolescents. They are fully feathered now. They move extremely fast. They come running along with their parents when Mike feeds them grain in the evening and eat enthusiastically. The family is always together, but I've noticed that now they spread a little further apart. Looking at the guinea family, I wish all children could be raised this way under the watchful eye and constant presence of both parents who teach them to get their meals and then to fly. 

Thinking about the two Hanks reminds me of the two Susannas in our family's history. The first Susanna was married to Heinrich Benjamin Becker and the mother of four young sons when the family immigrated to the United States as part of the Mennonite immigration in the fall of 1874. Shortly before boarding the ship, she gave birth to a daughter. After a grueling voyage which included engine trouble, a near shipwreck and an outbreak of smallpox, they arrived in the United States and finally in South Dakota in the spring. Before them stretched a wide open prairie of green grasses. There were no towns or roads; no fences or plowed ground. Here they would start their new life from scratch. But Susanna died in September. She was 28 years old. Shortly afterwards the baby girl died, too. 

Those were difficult days when families needed each other with a fierceness we don't understand. A few months later Benjamin  remarried. Her name was also Susanna. She was perhaps 16 or 17 years old and an orphan. Let me hasten to add that I believe that 17 was much more mature in those days than in our current time of prolonged adolescence. Still, it is very young for so heavy a responsibilty. Benjamin was 31 years old and of course there were the four little boys. Almost 140 years afterwards it is not possible to know the heart and soul and emotions of people who are basically names in genealogical record to me. It's hard to believe that this was either one's first choice. Perhaps they were each other's only choice. Still they seemed to have made a good life for themselves. Eleven children were born to them (one died in infancy) and a farm was established. Toward the end of his life my great-grandfather, Jacob Becker, the oldest of the those little boys, looked back on the arrival of his stepmother and said, "With God's help things went better again." 

Here's a salute to all the Hank, Jr.'s and Susannas out there who make the best of only choices and care for youngster that don't share your DNA. Thank you. I'm sure you've found that with God's help things do go better. The difference you make may impact generations.