Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Making green sweet pickles: 30+ days of patience

My mother had eight children, six of us within ten years. Talk about a challenge, now that I think of it, but she was always busy in the early years of doing things that kept us all busy as we were growing up.

One particular thing she did was make these incredible green sweet pickles. Most of my siblings were not fans, but I was, and my mom made sure I had green sweet pickles. In fact, for one Christmas, she gave me a box of 12 pints of them. I loved those pickles!

Delicious green sweet pickles!

Since my mother died several years ago, I have not had green sweet pickles. This year I decided I would make some in her honor. Was I in for a surprise! I didn’t realize the work it involved.

First, I had to find the recipe. Fortunately, my sister Shawna, number five in the pecking order, had a copy, which she sent to me.

The second challenge was trying to read the recipe—or better put trying to interpret the recipe in my mother’s cryptic handwriting. Shawna and I texted back and forth, and I finally caught most of it. My mother knew how to make them, and she assumed we should know exactly how, too. Thus, the interpretation!

Mom's recipe in her own handwriting

What I didn’t totally realize was how long it was going to take--over 30 days of preparing, washing, soaking, resoaking, and soaking some more.

The recipe called for 10 gallons of whole cucumbers (a.k.a. "cukes"), which I didn’t have, so I used my math skills (thanks to all you math teachers out there!), did the calculations with the number of cukes I had and began.

I put the whole cucumbers in my mother’s crock, which I have and cherish. 

Mom's old crock

After adding the appropriate amount of water and enough salt, as my mother put it, “to float an egg,”
I covered the cukes. It took a whole box of salt for my water to float an egg.

Then I let the whole crock sit for two weeks, yes, two whole weeks. Interestingly, I found the round wooden cover that my dad had made to put down into the crock. To hold it down, I put one of my eight-pound weights on, which ultimately was a mistake. 

I forgot about it for just about two weeks. Just before the two weeks were up, I went in and scraped off some mold that had settled on the wooden lid. I vaguely remember my mother doing the same thing and thinking, “Are you sure these are still going to be good?” Well, they were.

After two weeks, I attempted to take off the wooden lid. Guess what? It has swollen because of being in the water for so long. So, I had to wait several hours, and then I pried it out. While I was busily struggling to pry out the lid, I remembered my mother just using a plate and not the wooden lid. How I wished I had remembered that earlier.

After the lid was off, I drained, washed, and cut the whole cukes into pieces.

I prepared new water with one small box of alum, put the cukes back into the crock, and then soaked them for almost 36 hours.

Once that soaking was finished, I drained them once again, washed them, and then soaked them overnight in clear water.

For the next two days, I made this “brine” out of lots of vinegar, lots of sugar, several sticks of cinnamon, whole cloves, and mace, which I had no idea what it was. I had to contact Shawna who knew what it was. I ran to the store and picked some up.

After mixing all that and heating it, I poured it over the cut pickles and let them soak for another 24 hours.

The next day, I drained the brine off into a pan, added a bit more sugar, heated it, and then poured it over the pickles in the crock for an additional 24 hours.

Finally, the bottling day arrived. I drained the brine and tasted it to see if I needed something else. I added a bit of sugar and some more cloves and let it heat up. Because my mother added green food coloring to her pickles, I did, too. I wanted them to look and taste just like my mother’s.

Meanwhile, I had my pint bottles all ready to go, the big canning pot on the stove heating up. Once the brine was on the verge of boiling, I put the cut cukes in the jars, added the appropriate amount of brine, let out the bubbles in the jar, wiped the mouth with a clean cloth, placed the lid on, screwed on the lid, and placed the bottles gently into the canning pot.

For the next 25 minutes, the pints jars took a “water bath.” Once the timer dinged, I took my handy dandy tongs, lifted out the very hot jars, and placed them on a thick white towel to cool and seal.

Within a few short minutes, the lids began to pop, denoting they were sealing. It took about an hour for all of them to seal.

Now, that I look at these beautiful green sweet pickles in pint jars, I thank my mother for the enormous amount of time she took to bottle hundreds of pints and quarts of everything: pickles, peas, peaches, beets, string beans, corn, deer meat, raspberries, cherries, all sort of jams, and so many other fruits and vegetables from our garden and orchards in Idaho.

Canning can be a fun thing but please know it will take time, lots of time, especially if you are making my mother’s famous green sweet pickles!

Thursday, August 25, 2022

My Psalm: A Breath to Praise the Lord.

"My Psalm: A Breath to Praise the Lord"

Some years ago, I taught the Gospel Doctrine about this phrase found in Psalms 150:6: "Let Every Thing That Hath Breath Praise the Lord." Ironically, that is the title of this coming week's topic for Come, Follow Me.  The lessons from Psalms are immensely numerous and focus on many teachings such as gratitude, love, mercy, forgiveness, praises and blessings from God, prophecies of the life and mission of Jesus Christ, words and works from God, temples, the creation, and so many many gospel principles. 

As part of the lesson, I had everyone try their hand at writing a Psalm, and this week's lesson has the same invitation. I wrote my version of a psalm at that time. I found it again this week and revised it.  

I invite you to write a psalm and post it on your blog or other social media venues or even just share it with someone who may need to hear it.

The Psalm of Darrel: A Breath to Praise the Lord.

Oh, my Father who art in Heaven,
Thou who dwells in my heart,
Thou who diligently watches over me each day, 
Thou whose tears are mixed with mine!
My heart swells when I breathe Thy name,
when it touches my lips, 
when it rests upon my mind,
when it enters my heart.

I sing praises to thy Holy name.
My soul delights when I read Thy holy words
And the words of Thy Holy Son whose infinite atonement
breaks me free from my hapless and lonely sphere.

When I behold the majesty of the mountains, 
I praise Thee
with every breath I take or ever will take,
I praise thee.
When I watch the plants and flowers grow in my garden, 
I praise Thee.
When I am with Thy choice daughter,
my bride of 43 years, 
I praise Thee.
When I talk or think of my two beautiful daughters,
both blessings and miracles from Thee in our time of need, 
I praise Thee.
When I hold my grandchildren in my arms, 
I praise Thee.
My heart shouts glorious praises each day 
for all that I have or ever will
for I recognize it all comes from Thee.

But my heart groans because of my weaknesses, 
interrupts my pleadings to Thee,
tethers me to the lowliness of vines and roots,
holding me fast, disallowing me to move forward;
yet, I know and feel of Thy pure love for me
despite my many frailties made human because of my choices.

Yet, I kneel night and day, humbled because of my knowledge, 
yea, even my lack of knowledge, of Thee.
Often my weaknesses seep into my mind, 
cloud my vision of what may be.
Ashamed, I pray harder, take longer breaths, 
more sustained breathes, 
hoping Thou will come to me like to the prophets of old,
like the still yet piercing small voice that came to those in Bountiful.

Then, Thy consuming love envelopes me,
holds me closer than I can ever feel.
Thy closeness chases away my thoughts of weakness, 
those awful rays of darkness that shadow my vision of Thee and Thy Son.
For those brief moments, I succumb to Thy will,
and pray that I may have more brief moments to feel
thy glorious spirit spilling over me like rain waters of spring.

For those brief moments, I feel encased in Thy Holy Love,
Thy holy thoughts, penetrating me to the core of my soul.
For those brief moments, I feel I am home,
knowing what I must do to return to Thee,
contemplating ways to overcome my weaknesses,
staying quietly by my bedside,
drinking deeply of Thy Holy Spirit,
knowing ever more clearly of my path,
praying for clear visions of what I am to do,
promising, once again, “Thy will be done.”
And by day, I wax bold in my convictions, 
the words that I think and share with others,
thankful that angels surround me, buoy me up.

And thus it is; and thus it ever will be
when I obey and listen to Thy Holy word 
and from the mouths of those whom Thou has chosen.
May Thy Holy Spirit engulf me like the fires
of everlasting peace and comfort
and the glory and majesty of all Thy creations
for I now know whose I am—for I am Thine.
Amen and Amen.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Reminiscing About School: The First Six Grades

"Reminiscing About School: The First Six Grades"
Darrel L. Hammon
August 2022

Traffic has picked up. The weather is changing. Fall is in the air. School must be in session.

Lately, on social media, posts after posts after posts have popped up over and over about teachers and how incredible they are, posts from parents of their children on their day of school, memes showing the challenges of school and teaching, and posts of teary-eyed moms whose last child leaves the confines of the home and enters the halls of their new schools, and even posts of parents who are elated that their children are finally out of the house for a large portion of the day!

I have always loved this time of year because I have always loved school. To me, a sense of school and learning reverberates all around us! Yes, I moaned and groaned about the bus rides, the challenging students, homework, etc., but I did love it. Maybe that is why I stayed so long, going to so much school to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees, and then having worked in public education for five years and then higher education for almost 25 years. It’s addictive, heartwarming, and challenging simultaneously.

As I read the posts and contemplated my own schooling, I especially remembered the early years of my grade school experiences. I suspect that most of us can remember our first six teachers in grades one through six. I know I can. I appreciate those times so much.

Kindergarten—Never attended. Back in my day, kindergarten was in the summer months, and I moved from Idaho Falls to Menan during that time, and my mother didn’t enroll me. She said I was going to be fine when I enrolled in first grade in the fall. She was right. I was fine, but I have thought over the years that I must have missed out on something.

First grade, Mrs. Williams—What time I had in first grade! So many stories: playing army, sitting in these cool old desks whose tops lifted up, having Jon Poulter share a green crayon with me on my first day because I didn’t have any crayons at the beginning of the year, sitting next to Mary Ann Maloney during reading time, eating lunch for the first time in the cafeteria, and having to stay after school for 30 minutes (my only time) for playing army “out of bounds.”

 Second grade, Mrs. Poole—Now this was a wonderful year! We shared the classroom with a bunch of 1st graders. They had their side; we had ours. One of the things I remember most about second grade was having to eat prunes halfway through the day. Who knows why? Plus, I—or maybe it was someone else—nicknamed Becky Hunter “D’alvin.” Where that came from I don’t know (maybe from Keith Barney), but it seemed to stick.

Third grade, Miss Bowman—Our room had a fire escape that ran along the outside of our room. It was a steel tube that we got to go down once or twice. I remember Curtis Boam and I shared the same birthday, and our mothers brought treats on that day. Plus, I sat in the second row, with Norma Krieger in front of me and Marianne Johnson behind me, two of the best students in our grade and ultimately throughout all of my school. When Miss Bowman read to us, sometimes Norma would reach her hand back, and we would hold hands. What a year!

Fourth Grade, Mrs. Jeppsen—Fourth grade was an eye opener. We had one particular kid who misbehaved often and had some serious confrontations with Mrs. Jeppsen. One time he even threw an eraser at Mrs. Jeppsen, and she chased him around the room. Denece Miller and I vied to be the multiplication champion. Plus, Denece demonstrated how we should eat our food, particularly soup, in a more etiquette way. (Denece, I haven’t forgotten: Scoop the soup away from you!”) My dad came to class once and talked about Japan where he had served in the army. Then, he called out something in Japanese, and this Japanese-looking woman dressed in Japanese clothes came shuffling in. She was impressive, and then I discovered it was my mother dressed in a kimono with her black hair done up! I wasn’t embarrassed by it at all! It was too impressive! Plus, Mrs. Jeppsen read Where the Red Fern Grows, truly a tear-jerker about Old Dan and Little Ann, two dogs. I confess that 4th graders do cry. I tried to do my crying out by the barn on the haystack. I also memorized the poem “Somebody’s Mother” and recited it to the class. I loved fourth grade, and I think I was Mrs. Jeppsen’s pet student! (If any of my fellow classmates has a copy of our 4th-grade class photo, I would love a copy! For some reason, I do not have one. Odd.)

Fifth Grade, Mrs. Park—What a hoot that was! While Mrs. Park was our main teacher, we had a few classes with Miss Andersen who became Sharon Martin’s sister-in-law during that year. I learned the song that had these incredible lyrics in it: “There were green alligators and long-necked geese, some humpy back camels and a chimpanzee, but the loveliest of them all was the unicorn.” Scott DaBell, Denise Harris, Michelle Moedl, and I sang the loudest and possibly a bit out of tune. Someone even climbed out the north window!

Sixth Grade, Mrs. Eames, Mrs. Frew, and Mr. Baldwin—Mrs. Eames was my main teacher in the old lava rock school in Menan. Then, halfway through sixth grade, we moved over to the new Midway Elementary, which really was still in Menan. Our classroom housed all three sections of sixth grade—thus, the addition of Mrs. Frew and Mr. Baldwin. I started wearing glasses that year—big black plastic frames. Jon Poulter emerged as an entrepreneur that year selling pencil erasers, marked with Green Bay Packer football player helmets, numbers, and colors. I learned how to play the flutophone that year in music. Probably the highlight of the year was winning second place in the Modern Woodmen’s speech contest, with Denece Miller winning first—as if that were a surprise!

I could probably go on in every grade, but that would take some time. Seventh and 8th grade in Roberts, 9th grade at Midway Junior High, and grades 10-12 at Rigby High School. There were some great memories and memories that I hope to never remember.

Overall, I loved school. I had great friends, played lots of basketball and softball, laughed and told jokes, rode buses to school almost every single day, learned stuff that I don’t even remember, grew up, and develop certain skills that have helped me throughout my life.

Ah, the beauty of school—of learning, of the challenges of growing up, and of establishing the foundation of what I am today. Would I have changed anything? Maybe. Probably. Most certainly. But I will cherish the memories I do have.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Sunset HOA Summer Picnic 2022

HOA Summer Picnic
June 2022

We have never chosen to be a part of an HOA (Home Owners Association). When we purchased our townhome, it was part of an HOA. Within a few months of moving in, we had the HOA annual meeting, and I was elected the president. It has been mostly a pleasant experience. One of those pleasant experiences just happened last Saturday.

We had our first summer picnic beneath the shelter in our little park. We had an incredible turnout, the temperature was not too hot, and we had plenty of shade. Everyone brought a blanket to sit on or chairs to sit in, and their own plates and utensils.

And the food everyone brought was spectacular! Many of the HOA owners are experienced in food preparation, and it showed. For me, there were some of the best potluck dishes I have had were prepared. Plus, the desserts were divinely delicious if you had left room for them.

Here is just a sample of the food—macaroni salads, fruit salads, macaroni and cheese (so delicious), little pigs in a blanket, homemade rolls (these were so, so good!), pork chop casserole (that may not be the name for it, but I name it that), chicken tenders, and loads of watermelon. 

For dessert—cinnamon rolls (to die for!), German chocolate cupcakes (delicious!), cake, and doughnuts.

The amazing part with all this is that even after we all loaded our plates once or twice—thrice for some—it seemed like we still didn’t make a dent in the food. We had great conversations and became better acquainted as many of us are fairly new to the HOA.

Many new HOA owners were in attendance. One of them said to me as he was leaving, “Thanks! We were able to meet so many people.”

Several HOA owners commented, “We ought to do this more often.” So we think we ought to do another in September. It may take some of us that much time to shed some of the poundage after eating such a large quantity of the delicious food everyone brought.

Many, many thanks to everyone for their participation and wonderful smiles!

See you in September!

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Weekend at Big Sky, Montana, full of fun, snow, and grand memories!

Spending time with family is a precious thing! When you spend time with them over a four-day period in Big Sky, Montana, it is an incredible time, no matter what the weather might have been.

For Christmas, Anna Rose and her family gifted us a trip with them to stay in Big Sky. On Wednesday, we began our journey at 8:00 p.m. Yes, that was a bit late for us, but Joanne had to work until then. We drove to Pocatello, Idaho, and stayed the night.

The next morning we attended a sealing session in the Pocatello Idaho Temple, a beautiful building sitting on a hill on the eastern side of Pocatello. We had not been to this temple, and we were excited to do some vicarious work for some of Joanne’s ancestors. We arrived early, so one of the sisters in the temple took us on a mini-tour of the temple. It was so peaceful inside!

Once we finished and then did a bit of food shopping in Idaho Falls, we headed to Big Sky. The closer we arrived at our destination at the bottom of Lone Mountain, the more snow we saw, piled close to the road and into the trees.

Once we arrived, Joanne and I did a little exploring and took some pictures of the snow and the stunning landscapes of the surrounding area, thinking we might not get out because of the forecast of rain and snow the entire time we were going to be there. Anna Rose and her family arrived late. 

The next day, there was a break in the weather, and we hurried over to the Ousel Falls Park Trail, a 1.6-mile hike that meanders along the Gallatin River that was gushing and swirling with dirty brown water all the way up to the falls. The trail was a pretty easy one, for the most part of it. We stopped frequently and took pictures of the beautiful surroundings.

When we arrived at Ousel Falls, we were greeted by an overflowing, loud waterfall. A huge amount of water was spilling over the edge of numerous rocks with a huge pine tree stuck in the middle with one end jammed into the side of the mountain, making for even more gushing flow over the top.

There was a scary walk down—at least this time of the year—to the bottom of the falls. Of course, it was cold and slippery on the way down, but a few of us walked down the steps, clinging to the iron rod on the side of the trail to the bottom. What a gorgeous view with tons of water just gushing over the top, splashing blatantly in the gorged river below, and spewing mist and droplets of water everywhere. We loved the view, and we took a bunch of photos and videos. The power of water is amazing, for sure.

We started back and stopped at a picnic table. Anna Rose and I walked back to the car to pick up the sandwiches and chips. It wasn’t that far back. We had a nice talk, grabbed the food, and headed back to the picnic table. We had a delicious PB&J sandwich with chips meal as we listened to the pounding Gallatin River to the side of us as it rushed by.

On Saturday, we drove over to Bozeman, had lunch with Elise, one of Anna Rose’s friends from high school, and then toured the Museum of the Rockies. It was fun to wander through the various exhibits. The dinosaur section was spectacular. The Museum of the Rockies has a wonderful exhibit of all sorts of dinosaurs, including the T-Rex that Kathy Wankel, a colleague of mine and the former nursing director at Miles Community College, found on BLM land near her ranch in Miles City. We drove back to the resort in a rain storm. But the ride was beautiful! There is something about rain in the mountains in the spring.

For the rest of the weekend, we ate more food and snacks than we should have, played games, drew and painted pictures, wrote and read poetry, chatted, and watched the rain and snow tumble out of the sky, but we were safe and warm inside.

We did attend Church at the Big Sky Branch on Sunday morning. What a wonderful and dedicated group of saints. We sang hymns and listened to two great talks. Afterward, we had a delightful conversation with the branch president and members of the branch.

We all arose early on Monday to ready ourselves for the trundle home. Much to our surprise, over five inches of new snow covered everything at our level. Joanne and I went outside and began cleaning off the vehicles and shoveling the snow away from them.

The scene was actually beautiful to behold. Think of your favorite white Christmas and the dazzling snow and drifts. That’s what we saw: snow that covered the ground, the trees, the bushes, vehicles, buildings, everything, all quiet, and a giant hush spread across the valley and the mountains as the snow continued to fall. You almost wanted to break out into Christmas carols.

Soon, after breakfast, cleanup, and packing the vehicles, we all headed down the hill to less snow and rain but still beautiful as everything was covered with a blanket of snow all the way through West Yellowstone, Mack’s Inn, and Island Park. We loved our weekend with Anna Rose and her family!