Hope in the Gratitudes – Post 3

Spices. I am grateful for spices and the sense of taste that allows me to enjoy the wonder of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and of course – pumpkin pie spice.pumpkin pies - cartoon

Part of the joy of spices is how they smell up the entire house while they’re cooking. My mind easily roams back to the farm kitchen as Mom baked peppernuts. Double the spices for our family’s recipe. That smell evokes care, holiday fun and love – all at the same time.

In my own kitchen, spices include the warmer tones of cumin, curry and sriracha. I really don’t know how to cook without spices.

Add to those smells, the herbs I grow for extra punch to my recipes: basil, rosemary, cilantro and my goodness…. Are you hungry yet?

The importance of spices in grateful cooking is underscored by how and where they are purchased. I have learned the jumbo bottles will age before they can be used. Better to purchase spices in small portions and always – always in a glass bottle. Plastic and cardboard let in too much air, thus weakening the aroma and taste over time.

Because the calendar reminds us Thanksgiving is coming, I wanted to post my famous pumpkin pie recipe. Famous because my family loves it. My recipe because I have tested and added to it over the years.

You have my permission to make it and share it, as long as you give it the correct name: Rebecca’s Famous Pumpkin Pie. I could not include an image of the finished product, because I am scheduling this post weeks ahead. I don’t make this pie until the day before Thanksgiving, because it mysteriously disappears once it takes up space in the fridge.

So here you go – my Thanksgiving gift to you:

Rebecca’s Famous Pumpkin Pie

One day previous to Turkey day, mix ½ cup whole milk with 1 package vanilla instant pudding mix. Whisk together and let the pudding set overnight in the fridge.

The next morning: Mix the set pudding with 1 TB pumpkin pie spice, 1 cup canned pumpkin, ½ cup slivered almonds and 1 cup mini-chocolate chips. I also add ¼ tsp of the following: ground ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon just because I like the extra spices.

Fold in 1 – 8 oz. tub of whipped topping. With a spatula, carefully pour into a graham cracker crust. For chocoholics, use a chocolate crust.

The pie will look like a mountain inside the crust, but the bigger – the better. On top, sprinkle more mini-chocolate chips.

Refrigerate at least 3 hours. Cut and serve. Eat with gratitude.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

 

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Finding Hope at Christmas

Especially at Christmas, caregivers and families feel the sting of Alzheimer’s and dementia. We hang ornaments and remember past Decembers when our loved ones decorated the tree, sang Christmas carols and laughed while opening presents.christmas_baubles_and_candles

Smells from the kitchen spike memories of Christmas cookies, cinnamon and nutmeg, that special family recipe for peppernuts.

Yet now – everything has changed. Our loved one sits quietly in a chair, unaware of smells and colorful lights, breathing in and out, communicating with no one.

It is the passage of time and the ache of what this disease can do.

Somehow, we must look for joy by searching for its source.

Think back on Christmases past and be grateful for the memories and the legacy preserved within family.

Treasure the presence of your loved one, even though he or she seems mentally far away.

Remember that Christmas is about a baby in a manger who became the Savior on the cross. Someday, in eternity, all Alzheimer’s genes will be nonexistent. No disease there. No memory loss. No sadness.

Be grateful for these moments together, because you, too, are creating a legacy for the generations to come.

Sing a Christmas carol together. Music connections are the last part of the brain to die. You can still communicate with your loved one through music.

With all the excitement and chaos of opening presents, be alert for anxiety in your loved one. He or she may need to return to assisted living long before all the Christmas activities are finished.

Find your own joy in being with family. Each day is a gift. Each time we get together, we make memories. Even if the day is difficult for you, treasure it.

Several years ago, my sister Kris – who is a talented poet – wrote these words:


            “While striding on life’s pathway, fill up your days with cheer

Just laugh at rainbows, small or great, to banish every fear.

Hold tight to what life offers, content with all you do

For all adventures help create the treasure that is you.”


Remember that seasons end, and the season of Alzheimer’s will also end with the death of your loved one. So try to enjoy your time together and know that somewhere deep inside, Mom or Dad, Sister or Brother dearly loves you and wishes you a Merry Christmas.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

 

 

 

The Secret to Our Family Peppernuts

When a family is dealing with Alzheimer’s, holiday memories often center around the good times and particularly – food. One of my favorite memories is making peppernuts with Mom.Peppernuts

The smell of cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon merged together with enough flour to break my arm when I stirred the giant bowl full of dough. We started on the peppernuts right after Thanksgiving when the kitchen was the warmest room in the house and the Oklahoma winds howled around the window frames.

Mom added the ingredients while I stirred, again and again. More cups of flour – practically an entire sack full. The recipe called for a “stiff dough” – no definite measurements.

But Mom knew exactly when to quit adding flour as she pinched off a piece of the dough and handed it to me. “Not too sticky,” she said. “You have to be able to roll it into a tiny ball.” Even now, I know exactly when to stop adding ingredients and begin making those tiny Christmas treats.

Peppernuts (“pfeffernusse” in the traditional Mennonite German lingo) are a phenomenon that traveled with my ancestors to America. With the traditional Christmas spices, including pepper, they taste great with coffee or tea. And with time, they harden into tiny bits of yumminess that will last for years in a glass jar.

Each family seems to have its own recipe. Some add anise, to give a distinctive licorice flavor while others focus on more of the spiciness. Our family was the latter as we doubled the spices for each single recipe.

It takes an entire day to make peppernuts, but that is one of the secrets to their flavor. Those of us who make them know the time and effort required. So they are a gift of not only taste but also of quality.

I often make mine while listening to Christmas albums and revel not only in the music but also in the memories of family life. Dad, sitting in his recliner, his head turned to catch every note from the violins on the stereo. Mom with her wooden spoon in hand, directing the work in the kitchen. My siblings sprawled next to the Christmas tree, reading books or dreaming about the presents soon to be bought and wrapped.

After the peppernuts baked, we stored them in giant jars. Then as Christmas neared, we transferred them to smaller jars and wrapped colorful bows around the lids. The mailman, the piano teacher, the school teacher, friends and other family all received peppernuts every year.

And now…I bake my peppernuts and think about the past…about the changing of seasons and the traditions that still endure.

The secret to our family peppernuts? Double the spices and triple the love.

©2013 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1

Why?

God has never answered my question, and I seriously doubt that he will. However, he is kind enough to let me rage against him, scribble in my journal and cry out my frustrations.

“Why have you let Alzheimer’s take over my mother’s brain? I still need her.”

I want her to tell me how to live with vitality and fun in my sixties like she did.

I want her in my life, not just physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. I want her to tell me how she dealt with the circumstances of her life and how she remained strong as Dad’s caregiver through ten long and bitter years.

I miss how she used to sing “I Wonder as I Wander” at Christmas while she rolled out spicy peppernuts on the kitchen counter. That was the only phrase she knew of that song, so I laughed as she repeated it over and over.

Every Christmas, I hear that echo as I roll out my own peppernuts and miss her all over again. In this Alzheimer’s state of physical health and mental decline, she no longer sings – unless someone starts one of the old hymns that triggers a memory.

I want to know how we are supposed to accept age with joy when we have no divine models for it.

Jesus, after all, died young. He was only in his thirties and he stayed dead only three days. How would he have aged if he lived into his eighties? How would he have dealt with his mother Mary if she forgot how to tie her shoes, how to cook his favorite meals or even – heaven forbid – forgot his name?

Was that even possible?

We are supposed to exercise, read, play board games and work in order to stay mentally alert. My mother did all of those things with regularity and discipline, so why didn’t that formula work for her?

Will it work for me?

In my novel, Reverend G often repeats the phrase, “The question may be ‘Why,’ but the answer is ‘Who.’”Why-Who quote

Even though I wrote those words and believed them when Reverend G said them, today and in this particular stage of my mother’s Alzheimer’s journey – I want to know more.

I believe God knows and he doesn’t have to tell me, but somehow I need to keep asking the question.

I know I’m supposed to trust him. Even while my soul is torn by the rejection every time Mom forgets what my son and I do, even when I feel guilty as I drive away from the assisted living – somehow I’m supposed to trust that God knows why and it’s going to be okay.

Maybe I believe that someday – he’ll answer.

©2013 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1