M is for Melon and Miracles

Ten years ago my family moved from South Florida to Washington State. Look at any map and you’ll notice that this was a move from the Southeastern corner to the Northwestern corner of the United States. The adventurous move brought on a huge change in our gardening environment. In Florida we mostly grew coconuts, tried our hand at growing pineapple (with little success) and a variety of tropical plants including hibiscus, bougainvillea and the quintessential birds of paradise. 
We now live near Seattle, where the growing season is short. Being exceptionally fond of melons, I knew that a gardening challenge would be to grow mouthwatering melon with only 70-75 days of growing time. In case you are wondering, many varieties of watermelon require 85-100 days to mature.

What started with reading the back of seed packets became a bit of research by the Midnight Gardener who selected an assortment of shorter season melons, including the Blacktail Mountain Watermelon. In the early 1970’s, Glen Drowns was a seventeen-year-old boy who lived in the mountains of Northern Idaho where the summer nights could dip into the 40’s (Fahrenheit). Drowns grew up in a poor family where most of their food was grown in a garden. Just once a year he wanted to relish crisp, sweet watermelon during his August birthday. He didn’t let the temperatures during those summer gardening months stop him. Instead he persisted during four summers, crossing heirloom seeds until he developed a watermelon plant that would mature fruit in his short season. Let me tell you that if you like watermelon even slightly, you will come to crave this dark, dark green, cannonball shaped summer beauty.

New Blacktail Watermelon Plants 2017

When our oldest daughter, Clever Girl was seven, she began to pray every night for a baby sister AND a baby brother to join our family. Her three-year-old sister heard her prayers and joined in them. It might seem strange for them to pray for babies to come to our family, but we were active in the adoption process at the time. In fact, these two daughters knew that they themselves had joined our family through adoption. If you aren’t familiar with the adoption process, we can tell you that it takes a lot of faith, obedience, time and lots and lots of prayer. Our daughter had heard her parent’s constant prayers that we would be able to adopt again, and so she added her bold, persistent prayers to ours–but upped the request to two babies!

These little angel daughter’s prayers continued night after night for over two years. What were we as their parents to say to them? We didn’t want to discourage their prayers or not show absolute faith that these two tiny, faithful, daughters of God would not have their prayers answered exactly as they were offered. What were the odds of a sister and a brother coming to our already blessed family of two children? How were we going to explain to our darling daughters that God doesn’t always answer our prayers as we expect, or that maybe God intended for us to only have two little girls and no other children? What were we to do? Well, we kept praying and hoping in our heart of hearts that God would answer their prayers. We also worked on being obedient, wanting to do all we could for such an amazing blessings as having a family with more children.

While our daughters continued to pray, we made that move from Florida to Washington State. Within a brief time, we received that wished-for, but unexpected phone call. The voice on the line asked us if we were willing to consider bringing a fourteen-month-old little girl into our family, and then his words brought the rest of the answer to our two daughter’s non-stop, absolutely sincere prayers. The fourteen-month-old had a soon to be born brother due in May. The birth mother invited me to be at his birth, which is the only birth of our four children that I was able to witness.

We are certainly delighted that Glen Drowns persisted until he created a watermelon we can now easily grow in our short summers here in the state of Washington. When we each take the first fall bite of this mouthful of sweetness, we all just want to bury our faces in it. Similarly, growing a family for us has taken twelve or more years of persistent faith, prayers, and obedience and to be honest, a lot of tears, worries, and stress. And, oh yea, did I mention tears and crying? As we have held our three daughters and our son close at each stage of their lives, we have felt blessed and know that God is a God of miracles.

2007

Blueberry Syrup

It is blueberry picking season here in the Northwest and our bushes have not let us down. Our youngest daughter, Keepsake Collector, picked berries for hours on Monday. With a mountain of berries on hand, I want to share with you an easy blueberry syrup recipe. I try to limit my family’s intake of corn syrups. It is the primary ingredient in pancake syrup, so I started making fruit syrups with our garden’s bounty instead. We may use regular pancake syrup occasionally, but we have come to enjoy the homemade fruit syrups. Everyone that is except Mama’s Boy–he loves whip cream on pancakes!



Blueberry Syrup

Ingredients:

5 cups blueberries

1-1/2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Zest from one lemon

1 cup water

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 cup cold water

Combine blueberries, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Use a potato masher to crush down the blueberries. Combine the 1/2 cup cold water and the two tablespoons cornstarch to make a slurry. Wisk the cornstarch slurry into the saucepan with the other ingredients. Simmer on low heat for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Once syrup is cooled pour into a serving containers. 

The recipe also freezes very well. It will make enough for a bottle of syrup now and one to freeze for later in the fall or winter. Some recipes instruct you to strain the blueberries from the syrup, making it more syrup-like, but we enjoy this hardier version.

K is for Kohlrabi: Persist With Fierceness

The Midnight Gardener first planted Kohlrabi in our garden as something weird and fun to grow with the kids. Not having seen it before, it was like he had gone to outer space and picked an alien vegetable from a different planet. Kohlrabi is an odd looking vegetable–kind of like a cross between cabbage and an apple–with an unexpected flavor. To me its flavor is like crisp broccoli stems with a hint of mild radish and a little sweetness. It has a crisp texture, like an apple. The addition of kohlrabi to any cabbage salad or slaw will turn the flavor up a notch. Kohlrabi is also nice in soup or when oven-roasted with other vegetables, drizzled in olive oil and seasoned with salt.

If you haven’t tried kohlrabi, branch out a little and see what you think.

My life has also been filled with the unexpected, the weird, and hey, sometimes the unusually difficult, but as I have kept my faith and trust in God’s wisdom and power, persisted with fierceness, opened my mind to new ways of doing things, softened my heart and really made an effort to be long-suffering, in time (what seems to me to be a very long time) formidable conditions have become abundant blessings. Our daughter Critter Crazy provides a perfect example.

Between the ages of seven and twelve our daughter’s behavior brought some of these unexpected and difficult times to our lives and literally kept us guessing at what would be next. Critter Crazy’s story resembles Kolrabi because her challenges and trials have been different and yes, sometimes even a little weird. I share this story with her permission.

Her worries started right after she turned seven. It was completely unexpected because she had been a wild, funny, crazy, carefree, loud and hilarious child up to that point. Now she was afraid of anything that she believe to be a chemical. She had started to make spitting noises constantly, she washed her hands obsessively, was easily agitated, and  could often be found crying or angry.

After she had time to fall asleep, I would carefully open her bedroom door and silently kneel down by the side of her bed. Even in the faint light I could see how red and irritated her slender hands looked. The dryness came from all the hand washing, and from not sufficiently rinsing away the harsh soap. Each night I would gently take her hands in mine to soothe them with medicated lotion. I also said silent prayers, asking for blessings from above so we would be guided to the right assistance for our daughter’s needs.

Her second grade teacher had called me with concerns about our Critter Crazy. The teacher reported to us that our child looked pale, sickly and nervous in class each day, and she wondered how to help. The call from the teacher initiated a lengthy series of events, so I instead share it in shortened form.

Our daughter was diagnosed with anxiety disorder. In the beginning the professionals were suggesting it could either be ADHD (the inattentive type), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), or anxiety disorder. All those could be’s were maddening and took considerable time and effort. When treating a person’s mental health challenges, there is of course no visible wound or injury to assess, treat and heal. Instead, with the brain safely inside one’s head, diagnosis comes with a degree of experimentation coupled with frequent assessment of the effect of the treatment. It was a lengthy process, but with the right medicine and counseling, Critter Crazy was diagnosed. At the same time, a battery of language tests revealed that she is dyslexic and has a low working memory.

The solutions did not come easily, in fact it took five years of effort working with three different mental health counselors, school counselors and psychologists, two psychiatrists, and trying several different mental health medications (which we were originally very opposed to) before the answers came.

While explaining her challenges to us, one of the health care providers shared an analogy. She used the metaphor of a staircase. She compared the staircase to the task of reading, and noted that most children learn to walk and then run up and down the staircase, sometimes even moving two steps at a time. Then she explained that for a child with Critter Crazy’s learning challenges, it was as if she had to climb that same staircase only she must do so crawling on her elbows.

We climbed, crawled and persisted together.pencil-1203980_1280 We added weekly sessions with a speech language pathology professional. We met with school teachers and administrators to advocate for her needs with the school (I’ve learned a lot, so if you need advice on advocating with your kid’s school, just ask). We struggled through extra homework (I have a collection of the pencils she broke in frustration). She received hours of extra help at school in what is now known as “The Learning Center” but was then called “Resource” (she often expressed feelings of embarrassment when she had to leave the regular classroom). And of course, I must not overlook all of the patience and prayers on her part and ours.

Switching back to kohlrabi for a minute–it is not a well-known vegetable. Kohlrabi is part of the cabbage family and because it is fast, easy and dependable to grow, it is recommended as the first cabbage-family crop that a new gardener could try. It won’t let you down.

Our daughter is nearly sixteen now and she too has become absolutely dependable in her growth. Her work ethic and ability to persist through tasks are beyond her young age. She has grown educationally, receiving all A’s–even in her English courses. Her anxiety is now very manageable. She used to argue with us over most topics, and now  being with her and speaking to her she is so pleasant. She is once again funny (okay–hilarious!), witty and charming. Most importantly she is compassionate, caring, kind and fiercely loyal to her family.

These five years have been marked with adversity for her and us. Although these past years are fading, we will never forget the valuable lesson of persistence + faith + time = success. Our lovely daughter is all the evidence we need to know that this formula works.