Sunday, October 13, 2013

Letter from Harrisburg

Here's today's LFH, which I'm posting here in its entirety since it's getting harder to access the RG website without paying.

Making a big change not exactly a piece of cake

I ran into a relative on a recent Saturday night. He was my late cousin Sylvia’s grandson, Floyd, a congenial Mennonite pastor from Iowa who flew to Oregon to officiate at a wedding we attended. I found him at the reception and caught up on family news from the Midwest.
I was one of 48 grandchildren on the Yoder side. Floyd was one of probably 500 great-great-grandchildren.
While we chatted, a young server came by and set a piece of cake in front of him. Floyd was happy to see he’d gotten a corner piece with lots of swirly white icing.
“Most people don’t like the corner pieces,” he said. “But I love all that frosting.”
He paused.
“I get that love of sweets from the Yoders, you know. I remember visiting Barbara — your grandma, my great-great — and someone served her a banana. She peeled it and then she sprinkled sugar on it before she ate it.”
We laughed. Barbara was unforgettable.
“And how old was she when she died?” Floyd said. “A hundred and … ?”
“Four,” I said. “Or actually two months shy of it.”
We talked some more and then I went home, leaving Floyd to enjoy his cake in peace, and prepared for church the next day and treated myself to a high-protein, low-carb snack of celery sticks and natural peanut butter.
My grandma almost reached 104 years old, and my parents are well into their 90s, on a typical Midwestern-Amish diet.
I was taught to sprinkle sugar on my oatmeal for breakfast and on the sliced tomatoes we ate daily in late summer along with sliced cucumbers mixed with cream and onions and, yes, a dash of sugar. Most meals were followed by cake or pie or pudding. As a teenager, I baked thousands of oatmeal or chocolate chip cookies for the family.
My mom still loves cinnamon rolls for breakfast and a dessert after supper.
I have carried on many of the family traditions — although I prefer salt on tomatoes — and added a few of my own.
I enjoy baking and always felt that the cookie dough in the mixing bowl was much better than the finished cookies, so I would indulge in just one more spoonful as I filled another cookie sheet.
Any combination of peanut butter and chocolate is my idea of heaven on Earth. I make a fresh blueberry pie that, I am proud to say, my brother-in-law Chad from Pennsylvania claimed would be worth driving out to Oregon for. I’ve made three-layer pumpkin cakes for Thanksgiving dinners and innumerable chocolate Crazy Cakes for church potlucks and layered cream-cheese-and-pudding desserts for guests.
My husband’s family wasn’t much different from mine. His great-grandma, Annie, who from pictures and stories seemed to be a plump, cheerful, hearty woman, was known as “Corn Candy Grandma” because she always carried corn candy in the hidden pockets of her full, plain dresses and handed it out to the youngsters.
Last week my husband and I attended a fundraiser dinner at the Mennonite Home in Albany. Since the ambitious patriarch of the clan, Frank Kropf, instigated the nursing home’s beginning, they invited his descendants to contribute to building a new development in the next few years.
Each of our place mats was printed with a brief history and a picture of Frank and Annie, and we were served a delicious dinner from the Kropf Cookbook. In the center of the table, in honor of Annie, corn candy was liberally sprinkled around a basket of mums.
I took some of the corn candy home for the children. It lay on the kitchen counter for two days.
I didn’t eat the candy because I am trying to improve my eating habits, a difficult undertaking for anyone, but for someone of Amish or Mennonite extraction, I’m convinced that it’s three times as hard.
In fact, we like to keep pretty much everything the same as it’s always been. As the old joke says: How many Mennonites does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: “Change?”
An alternate answer is: “Eight. One to change the bulb and seven to make the meal.”
This is the trouble with changing. It goes against habit, tradition, custom and what worked for everyone else. It is said that we do the work of changing our ways only when the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same.
I had always thought I would live to be as old as Grandma Barbara, having inherited much of her constitution, including her low blood pressure.
Besides, there was so much to get done in life, it would take me at least a hundred years to do half of it.
But I was half her age and feeling old and tired. Too often, I sounded like the letters my aunts used to write, about aches and vitamins and going to the chiropractor.
True, I had enough responsibilities to exhaust anyone, but getting through the day shouldn’t feel like wading knee-deep in peanut butter.
I don’t mind consequences when they happen to other people. In fact, it’s possible that I have looked heavenward and thanked God when one of my teenagers finally got the traffic ticket they richly deserved.
The consequences in my own life were harder to face, but finally I admitted that the traditional Amish-Mennonite diet wasn’t working for me. “Just omit white flour and sugar,” a dieting friend said, as though it were that easy.
My sister-in-law Laura, deep into a slow, sensible weight-loss program, had a different approach.
It was all about waiting a few hours between meals and eating fats and carbohydrates separately, she said.
And, most importantly, it was about replacing the bad stuff with something better — lots of good proteins and plenty of vegetables. And not going hungry.
That was the key information I had needed all those times I indulged in sugary goodies and knew I shouldn’t. I had only seen what I shouldn’t do. I hadn’t looked at something positive I could eat instead.
So I followed her advice. Almost a month in, I do not see dramatic changes, only a gradual sense of things improving.
Someday, I hope to develop the temperance that will let me indulge in a single corn candy without grabbing a handful. For now, I abstain entirely.
Meanwhile, I find this true of necessary changes: I go into it thinking it will mean missing out on everything, sitting out in the cold while everyone else celebrates.
But the reality is quite different. I can still attend the wedding, visit with the cousin, hug the bride and laugh at the groomsmen’s speeches.
The only real difference is eating a bit more fruit instead of that piece of cake, and I discover that I am both proud of my own strength of will and happy for my cousin, who is still young enough to enjoy the corner piece.


  1. Great thoughts about eating habits and change. (made me laugh)
    My brother and I have always used great great grandma's old age and her love of sweets as ammunition against our wive's efforts to get us to eat healthier. The line often goes like this, "yeah - eating suger is bad for you because great great grandma did it and she died... in her hundreds" :)
    So I'll keep looking for the corner piece of cake.

  2. I think my husband's family must be related to you somehow. His great great grandfather was brother to your great great grandmother Barbara. But, I have always said that the Yoders are all related somehow. Really enjoy reading your column. Joan Yoder

  3. Ah, the cookie dough. I've always wondered what makes cookie dough taste twice as good as the cookie. There's got to be a scientific explanation. Or maybe it's just that persistent Yoder gene. Or maybe that is the scientific explanation!

  4. Ah, yes, that's my boy!!!! I even remember Great Grandma Barbara having sugar cubes in her nightstand beside her bed to add to her food that needed it. And what food couldn't use some sugar? I really enjoyed your thoughts on the matter plus it was good to discover where our son has been. It's hard to keep track of them!!! (: Ray Yutzy

  5. So that's where the sweet tooth comes from!My great grandmother Lydia was a sister to your great grandmother Barbara. Lydia's descendents,(at least some)put sugar on fresh tomatoes!

  6. So you think you would need to live to be a hundred years old to do half of what you want? I have said I think I need to live to be 200 YO to do all I want..Told somebody that and they said, "Good luck!" Yikes! So, ah reckon I have to be choosy in what I do in this first hundred because the second one is not likely to happen.

  7. The diet-- are you Somersizing? -PC in VA