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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Peppernuts & Christmas

As a child, Christmas Eve was filled with expectation. And the expectation heightened when we gathered around the Christmas tree in the living room. The potato soup awaited our Daddy who finished delivering packages and parcels to make other families happy, no matter how late it was. My two brothers and I had our baths and dressed in our sleepers (pajamas).

When the moment arrived, Dad came home and finished supper. He cleaned the grime of the day and joined us. It was an expectation that grew into a tradition and a memory through the years. Dad read Luke 2, the first Christmas story and we prayed - each one of us. Then we sang "Away in a Manger" and "Silent Night".

I didn't know then, but Dad's post office job kept Mom from celebrating Christmas with her family. In the expectation of the gifts, I didn't see Mom's tears, but I know now, that it was more than the Christmas tree lights that reflected in her eyes.

When she withdrew the package that Grandma Suderman had mailed us, I could feel her expectation, and love. She opened the box slowly. The first thing she drew out of the box was a gallon jar of peppernuts. I can imagine now, how she ate each tiny crisp morsel of the pepper nuts (


) how the memories of home and Christmas celebrations past crowded her mind. The memories include the Christmas tree's pungent odor that mingled with the aroma of a clean house, potato soup and peppernuts.

More than seventy years later, Christmas peppernuts nudges memories of Christmas - not the presents - they are forgotten. When I make peppernuts now, nostalgia brings pictures of home on Christmas Eve.

Recently my brother Gene asked if I knew the history of peppernuts. I drew the book, Mennonite Foods & Folkways from South Russia by Norma Jost Voth from my shelf and shared part of the history. As I looked in this book I saw a story that intrigued me. Plus recipe after recipe of different kinds from the very earliest.
Twelve-year-old Tina Epp, sleeping on a cot in the corner of a large family kitchen, dug her head deeper into the soft featherbed. It was Christmas Eve, 1881. The house had long been still, except for the tiny fire that flickered in the brick oven. Tina could not sleep, this was the most difficult Christmas Eve, for things were different. Mother said there would be NO presents, or enough food to make their usual Papanat (peppernuts), or their lovely peppermint Christmas cookies. Finally Tina drifted off to sleep, only to awaken at midnight. Who was in the kitchen at midnight? Mama? Tina pretended to be asleep. Before long the sweet, familiar aroma of syrup peppernuts baking filled the room. Tina peeks from one eye. Papa was ever there. Her Mama whispered, "Go, put one in her mouth." Tears of quiet joy trickled onto the featherbed as she tasted the peppernuts. Mama had found enough flour, eggs and syrup to make peppernuts. It would be Christmas after all. Tina always remembered her dear mama baking peppernuts at told by Frieda Lehn Neufeld in Norma Jost Voth's book - Mennonite Foods & Folkways from South Russia!
Is there just one recipe? Where did the recipe come from? How long has this delightful Christmas cookie been handed down?

Again, I turn to the book above - Old recipes frequently called for black pepper. Used in cautious amounts - pepper blends quietly and enhances the other spices. In medieval times, ginger and pepper were used together. The basic ingredients - honey, eggs and flour - were made for centuries. When trade routes opened across Europe in the 14th century -spices from distant lands came to Germany and France and created a baking revolution. During the Middle Ages, a pound of ginger would buy a sheep. Pepper was the most coveted of all spices. In medieval France, a pound of pepper could buy a serf his freedom. Pfeffer means spices Thus came the names of Pfefferkuchen (pepper cookies) and Pfeffernusse. Papanat (pay-pah-nayt) was the low dutch word, and the word I learned as a child.

There is more history in this book, that declares that Hillsboro, is the Peppernut Capital of Kansas. 267,000 are prepared each day. Four kinds were made - raisin, nut, gumdrop and anise. As a child, Mom had the three of us roll 'snakes' of dough, cut with a knife in small pieces, and then place in a pan for baking.

There are approximately 30 recipes for peppernuts from Swedish, Danish connection, Dutch, Danzig, Friedrichstadter (made for Duke Frederick), German and Russian types of Peppernuts

Although there are many recipes in America, Grandma (Anna Daisy Suderman) Siemens recipe appears in the California Holy Cross Cookbook.
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup butter
4 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
2 T milk
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1 T lemon rind
1/4 tsp lemon extract
4 1/2 cups flour (or more)
1 T baking powder
3/3 c finely chopped pecans

Mix in order, roll into 'snakes'. Cut into 1/2 inch pieces, bake at 325 to 350 for 10 minutes.

Memories are invoked in many ways - through our senses. Think of favorite things to touch, see, hear, taste and smell....and each memory is associated with people or events. We are a forgetful people. Yet God has provided us with ways to remember what is important....and to remember Him. As we begin the New Year, what is worthy of being remembered when this year, 2010, has ended?

"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you." John 14:26

Peppernut Links on line:
Pepernoten (Dutch Peppernuts)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What Do You See When You Look Into the Manger?

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

Through the curtains of time, Isaiah looked into the Manger and saw a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. A child is born to us.

This child would be special, what new mother looks into the face of her child and sees what he or she will become or in what way the child will impact others? New mothers look into the faces of their newborn child, and see the needs of the child, count their toes, hold their fingers. When Mary looked into the face of her son, Jesus, what did she see? As she sat near the manger where her child lay, what did she see? When the shepherds came from the field to find the babe to worship Jesus and told all they heard from the angels, it is no wonder that the Scripture says, But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)

The Wise Men came from the far east, how far, no one knows. Yet they came, mile and mile. What did they see when they looked in the manger? They saw King Jesus and worshipped Him. They gave gifts fit for a king to the baby boy. The wonder and amazement and worship of their child must have made Joseph and Mary take a second look into the manger, even as we do in this season.

As Jesus' brief time on the earth unfolded, Joseph and Mary saw their son, the Son of God, teaching, greeted with praise and adulation, they saw him arrested, persecuted, dying on the cross, a most horrible death. They saw his closest companions desert their son. Did they wonder why? Ord did they know?

When I was a child, I learned about the baby Jesus. I saw a sweet baby child as I looked into the manger. I saw my family celebrate Christmas on their knees, praying to Jesus. Later I looked into the manger and I saw the price my family paid in order to have the freedom to worship Jesus many generations ago. They traveled many miles, for they knew that in Jesus is the freedom of more than the body, a freedom of the soul. When they looked into the manger, despite heartache, hunger, physical fear, hard labor, they saw with their hearts the babe, the Savior of the world, the everlasting Father.

When I look into the manger, I see more than earthly governments, or comforts of the body, I see everlasting life and the fruit of the spirit that comes only through seeing in the manger with the heart.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

During this season, what do you see in the manger? Do you see selfishness or greed? Do you see fear, lies and hate? Look again, with your heart, look into the manger and see the Christ Child, your Saviour, Comforter, Shepherd, the one who died on the cross for our sins. Do you see the Giver of Life Eternal?
When I Look Into the Manger, I See....

I see rainbows and fireflies,

joy and tears

Sorrow and suffering,

whales and seals

I see freedom and laughter,

an abstract of color and emotion.

A window into heaven,

the past, and my future

I see stars and rivers,

shadows and light

What life can be

when Jesus was born that night.

I see truth that slays lies.

Honor that defies evil,

Hope that gives life,

Trust that holds me from strife.

What do you see

What do you see?

With more than your eyes,

When you look into the manger.

What do you see

What do you see?

Look with your heart

When you look into the manger.

EAC 12/21/09

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Home, Sweet Home

No home is complete without a needle point of this phrase, Home Sweet Home, hanging on the wall. I remember Mom hanging this phrase on the wall with a satisfied sigh. Always there is a search for home. Visitors to our house, when I was a child, always heard the phrase, "Make yourself at home!" This phrase was always spoken just after, our visitors heard, "Come on in...." This welcome, only three words long, always seemed like more than three syllables long. Perhaps it was the smile, the hug, and the warmth with which it was spoken.

Grandmother Suderman, Anna Loewen Suderman, wrote in her journal how she made her first dwelling a home. I am so glad she did. For her 'nesting' brought such beautiful memories and lessons for making a new home for her young bride and groom and for the family that followed. Her dreams, her longings and desires come through her journal writing. Did she write for publication or for a great literary tome? No, those were not her aspirations. Her focus was more family/home oriented.

When her youngest daughter recently wondered about remembering the old days as being good, she wondered how good they really were. Does time blur the memory of hardship and the struggle just to live? Why is it that we are drawn to 'the way things were'?

What makes a home? What does it look like? What does being home smell like, sound like, taste like? Did my two Grandmothers know? Did they read books or magazine articles that told them how to make a home a home? No. Did they have television shows that showed them how to decorate, what furniture to purchase or what delectable foods to prepare? Grandmother (Grosmom)Emilie Brunn Siemens did not write a journal, yet, I know hunger was never far from the door for her five children in western Oklahoma in the 1900's. When I see the picture of my grandfather and his five brothers - each wearing suits and starched collars - in that era, I wonder at all the was it entailed to prepare for the picture.

Grandmother Siemens cared for her children and then for her husband, Jacob V Siemens, who became paralyzed. Grandmother Suderman lost three young boys and one young girl, beloved children all in her young life. How did these Grandmothers survive the hard times? They knew their final Home in Heaven. Home was not a stop-over before the next destination here on earth..

Grandmother Suderman left a new beautiful five bedroom family home for a small old rented home on a rented farm. March 8, 1900 was their wedding day...there was no honeymoon in a far-off exotic land or even a hotel. They spent their first night in the home of the bride's parents. In Grandmother Suderman's journal she wrote, "We knelt at our bedside for prayers that first night and have done this throughout our years together."

The next morning, after cleaning the mud that was left after the wedding guests departed the night before, Grandmother (Anna) and Grandfather (Gerhard) gathered wedding gifts, some food from canned and smoked Loewen larder, some chickens and placed them in the wagon. Anna's father tied a milk cow to the back of the wagon.

They were young and love covers all. What were Anna's thoughts as she viewed their old dirty small home. Did she mind making the home a place where field mice and dirt were not welcome. Anna scrubbed with brushes and homemade soap the three room house - walls, ceilings and the floors. Then Anna pressed the wrapping paper from the store and cut intricate designs, and hung the 'curtains' at the windows. She loved beauty and she loved Gerhard. She was making a home with what she was given. The dirt gave way to cleanliness and a feeling of home.

When the first tax assessor came, he wrote a list of their possessions...two horses, one cow, a wagon, a topbuggy and a sulky plow. When I considered what we owned when we were married, in 1952, it seemed unbelievable.

In 1952 when we married, we moved to a farm, with no running water, wood stove heat, a 3/4 bed, a table and 3 chairs. Our transportation was a beautiful blue two door coupe Desoto. We moved many times in our early married life. I made our new house a home, by baking a chocolate cake. I baked bread and made a beef vegetable stew and this made our new dwelling smell like home.

Yesterday our Anna found the scripture - Psalm 90:1-2. After reading this scripture, Home Sweet Home took on a new meaning. Three hours after Anna shared this scripture, she shared her new blog - Love is Home - God Is Home ( The scripture began to grow in meaning. What is it about the word, Home? Especially at this season, when songs evoke memories of home. "I'll Be Home for Christmas" is one song that captures being home here on earth, and a reminder of what is to come when we finally arrive at home with our Lord! Home!

Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.

So many things come together when we consider that God is our dwelling place, our home, before the beginning of time, before the mountains were created, before we were born - we have a home. When is 'all well'? When we are at Home in our relationship with our God. Our home with God is not made with hands but with our attitudes and our relationship with God. Our hope-filled home is encapsulated in this verse - In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. John 14:2

A friend asked, "Why is it that even when all the family is around, I feel lonely." It isn't our earthly family that completes us and makes us feel at home - that contented feeling of completeness. It is when God is in our hearts and our earthly home, when we bow to Him and claim his Son as our Lord and Savior. Only then can we have peace.

"His master replied, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness." Matthew 24:21

Home. Sweet. Home. Come on in and make yourself at home!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Ebb & Flo of Seasons

Every season has its peaks and valleys. What you have to try to do is eliminate the Grand Canyon.”

Andy Van Slyke

The four seasons follow in the world about us year after year and the seasons of life follow ever faster, or so it seems.
God provided the seasons of life when He created the earth. He created the sun and the moon, the tides of the ocean, the seasons that have many names on His earth. In our lives we have the four seasons.... I am in the winter of my life - a season of remembering and reflection. A family has seasons going from generation to generation - and a marriage has seasons. We encounter many joys and many challenges that make us who we are, season after season.

Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand. Mother Teresa

The moon marks off the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down. - Psalm 104:19

I remember the farmers, I have known, who stand on the porch or in the field and foretell the seasons of the strength of the wind, plowing, planting, harvest - without the benefit of modern weather prognosticators. Gerhard Suderman, Jacob Loewen, Jacob Siemens, Jacob Brunn were all farmers. They did not attend farming classes in agricultural colleges. They learned farming from their fathers and grandfathers who reclaimed land in the Netherlands, West Prussia and in Russia, before they came to this country. Then they came to America with Red Winter Wheat packed carefully in their small storage trunks.

These hard-working Mennonites could give us many lessons today - by helping each other in planting, harvesting, and sharing what they had with their neighbor. They didn't wait for the government. Their security and insurance were in the Lord and His commands to love one another. There were often three generations living in one household - the wisdom of the Grandparents was handed down to their grandchildren.

Esther Vogt, my second cousin, wrote a children's book, Turkey Red, about living in a new country, learning a new language in Kansas - 1877. The Mennonites were a community. They encountered rattle snakes, Indians, harvesting wheat with scythes, and bundling by hand, a prairie fire raging through the ripe wheat field challenged them. A blinding blizzard caught two young girls going home after school. The seasons of fear and faith, heat of the sun and a freezing blizzard, and always a season of work. This book gives an accurate picture of their lives.

My Dad, Herman Bennie Siemens, was born the year his father made the run from Inman KS to Washita County in Oklahoma to stake a homestead. It was a season for change for the family:
"Most of the Washita County Mennonites came from Reno, Harvey, and Marion counties in Kansas. All had been in the United States for less than twenty years; a few for less than one year. One group came from a further distance—continuing an unbelievable trek that had taken them from their homes in the Ukraine, the Kuban, and the Volga to Turkestan, and then later to America. ........Thirty-eight families .... came to the United States in 1884, settling in Kansas and Nebraska. Ten years later a number of them took up homesteads near Shelly. Thirty-six became charter members of the Herold Mennonite Church, located southwest of present Corn. Michael Klaassen, a veteran of the Great Trek, served as minister. With their own land and a church, they thought that finally they could settle down for good.
(Found on the internet)

Dad told me that there was hunger, tornadoes, on this flat land with few trees and red dirt. They attended the Corn Mennonite Church, which still stands. Here they experienced seasons of childhood, marriage, widowhood, hunger and doing without. They also had strong family ties. Dad told many stories of the rock hard cookies his sister made; the 'string' saddle for their mule that skinned their toes; taking a load of wheat to town and backing up several times to make a run to get up the hill. Hard work was always laced with love and laughter.

No matter how challenging these seasons were - faith in God was stronger and sustained them. My Grandfather and Grandmother Siemens are buried in the cemetery south of Corn, along with their daughter who died before she was two years old.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1

What is the secret of making it through a season, a temporary period of time, that challenges our hearts?
We know that it is temporary and we know that each season - seasons us for Coming Home to our Heavenly Father for an eternity - a forever - in the fullness of time.
The journey has been long! I'm almost home
with vehicle worn out and spent through use.
Although my energy is low, my heart
is full. My body aches but why complain?
God's richest blessings have been mine thus far.
In retrospect, I see how He designed
my pilgrim journey on this orb called earth.
A few more weary miles and I'll be home.

Written by Anna Daisy Suderman Siemens a year before she arrived Home.
She has been Home for eleven years.
Comments? Email

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Meaning of Discovery

The meaning of the word discovery took shape in my heart last Sunday when I heard that Discovery is seeing with new eyes. At 80 years of age, life can be 'same old, same old'. Yet, it isn't for me. Life has its plateaus when I catch my breath and seek a new mountain to scale. New thoughts, at least for me, show me insights about life and the people about me.

Discovery is a word children know well as they see, taste, hear everything in their world with new eyes. They are curious about everything about them. I was often amazed at how quickly our oldest son could take apart a see just how it worked. Other parents had toys that their children played with by the hour - always the toys were in pristine condition. And yet the toys in our house were usually in pieces. Little did I know how this was a natural progression of curiosity and discovery.

After the recent visits from our four children, I began to see the many faces of compassion in action in their lives. I discovered the depth of our children's faith in God as they encounter so many economic and health bumps in their path through this life. Their struggles become the cloth of my prayer life as God lays so many needs and victories in their lives and their children and their children's children on our hearts.

I often think about Grandpa Adam or Grandpa Abraham, and their joy in their grandchildren and beyond. Did they pray for their children's children's children? Did they have the sweet joy of seeing generation after generation of new babies that bring promises beyond measure and understanding?

Other thoughts I have concern those who have forsaken God, and become enemies of God here on earth. Those who deny Christ, deny God and infest our lives with evil. I have discovered that hatred breeds death and love provides life. There are none so blind as those who cannot see beyond their own needs and wants.
For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, und
erstand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them. Matthew 13:15

The word, bored, often appears on Facebook from young teens and preteens. Dorothy Parker quipped -

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.

I have an insatiable curiosity...that usually begins.....I wonder...... I wonder if I could write a song, a poem, a story....I wonder if I could paint a picture....I wonder how I can teach this child to play the piano....I wonder how we learn....I wonder how my great grandparents lived.... I wonder how they dealt with hurts of life. I wonder....leads to many avenues of learning about God's creation.

One October day, as I drove down the street in Rogers, NW Arkansas, I stopped the car and drank in the fall
colors of the trees. "God, how do you do that?" That was the day I realized how God loves beauty - the kind we can see - the colors and the variety of all creation. I discovered, too, my frailty in not being able to paint His Creation and fully grasp the shapes and the colors He uses. The painter's palette is not equipped for such beauty.

I wonder about God. I continue to learn what it is to live for Him. I remember clearly when I was 8 years old, and it was Easter season. Our minister, Emory F. Gasaway, preached about heaven and hell and choosing. I knew what I chose, and went down the aisle to accept Jesus Christ. When I rose from the baptism waters, I still remember that glorious feeling of peace and knew I had made the right choice. When our children were born, and grew to accountability, I remember the joy of seeing our children making the choice to belong to Jesus Christ.

Last Saturday, I witnessed a wedding. The scripture read, again gave me a time for wonder, for new discovery...from Colossians 3:12 - 14....I turned each word over in my mind. Will I have enough days in my life to learn more fully how understand God's desire for my life: Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise
The city of our God, the holy place
The joy of the whole earth
Great is the Lord in whom we have the victory
He aids us against the enemy
We bow down on our knees

And Lord, we want to lift Your name on high
And Lord, we want to thank You
For the works You've done in our lives
And Lord, we trust in Your unfailing love
For You alone are God eternal
Throughout earth and heaven above.
Steve McEwan wrote these words that gives me great joy! Great is the Lord