Fall in our church yard

7 Things I Learned This Fall

It’s been a busy fall, but I managed to record at least some of the different things I’ve learned. Join me and others at Emily P. Freeman’s link-up to read about what we’ve learned this season.

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1.I learned the proper way to forward an entire conversation in gmail.

Do you ever wonder when you wish to forward an email conversation whether the receiver got the whole thing? I took some time to look up the proper way to do this, and it’s really simple. Just choose the conversation you want, select “More” from the toolbar, choose “Forward All”, add any comments you wish, and send.

2. Praying mantis females only eat their mate about 1/3 of the time.

Yes, it’s true.

You may have heard that female praying mantises eat their mate, but I guess it only happens about one third of the time. I learned a bit more about mantis mating habits here, as well as the fact that they can and some have actually eaten hummingbirds. (Yuck!) I also learned some other interesting facts (and not all as gruesome), including how good they are at eating unwanted insects in your garden.

I think I’ll just tuck away this useful information and focus on how cute they are and the fact that they look like they are praying. Perhaps we should have named them, “Confessing Mantises”?

3. I figured out why the leeks I purchased had hard, woody centers.

I bought some leeks to use in a recipe this fall, and was disturbed and confused by the centers being so hard and woody that I almost couldn’t cut through them. To aid in my perplexed state, I looked up some information about leeks, and discovered that they are not even native to our area, and there is a better season in which to buy them. Also, if they have been allowed to flower, the centers will get woody and almost unusable.

Leeks are native to the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, which surprised me, since they look like a big sort of onion. They can also be grown in other areas. The preferred season is September to the end of April, so that’s the best time to enjoy them.

4. There are many creative ways to use up unwanted conditioner.

We had about half of a large bottle conditioner that just wasn’t cutting it for it’s intended purpose. In an effort to not be wasteful, after storing this unwanted hair product for several weeks, I set out online to see if I could find a good use for it. Apparently, there are many interesting ideas on how to use up unused conditioner, everything from shining up your fridge or your boots to putting it in your bath or helping to clear clogged drains.

In the end, I have to admit the only thing I was comfortable attempting was to help clear our often-clogging drains. So I dumped it down. I’m not sure it made any difference.

So I guess I could have just done that to begin with.

5. Yes, you can ripen green squash off of the vine.

One of the blessings of my farm-stand job (and getting our farm share), is getting to try some new vegetables and storing some for the winter. This year I had the privilege of “meeting” a somewhat rare squash or pumpkin variety known as the Long Island Cheese pumpkin. I guess it is considered an heirloom seed.

What is an “heirloom”? The definition is open to dispute. But the term is usually applied to fruit, flower or vegetables varieties that were being grown before World War II.

https://www.burpee.com/gardenadvicecenter/vegetables/general-gardening/what-is-an-heirloom/article10162.html

If you’d like to learn a bit about this older pumpkin variety, this article gives a brief history of the squash, as well as a nice recipe for Long Island Cheese Pumpkin Soup and a tasty-sounding Long Island Cheese Pumpkin pie.

If you happen to have some squash that are a bit green (like a couple of the ones I got), you can indeed ripen it indoors by placing it in the sun. So pick those green squash at the end of the season and bring them indoors with you.

6. The Crown changed all of their major actors in Season 3.

Have you watched the first two seasons of the Netflix series, The Crown? My husband and I have enjoyed them together (although we are partial to the first one with John Lithgow portraying Winston Churchill). We were excited to hear recently that Season 3 was finally going to begin, and eagerly watched the first episode. It’s good, but it took us well into the first half of the show to stop being distracted that the actors all seemed to be different. At first we thought it may be really good make-up, but the changes were too great. So we paused the show and did what all good modern people do and asked our phones.

Sure enough, The Crown replaced all of the principle characters with new actors, in order to better reflect the difference in time and their ages. It was the plan all along, and I now know to not get too attached, as they plan to change them again for the fifth and sixth seasons.

It’s hard to accept unfamiliar people playing roles to which we’ve become accustomed, but after just two episodes, we think they made good choices. Only time will tell.

If you haven’t tried the show, you may wish to watch the first two seasons and join in for the third, or if you wish to “cheat”, you this article will bring you up to date, including sharing recaps of what you’ve missed.

7. When you give someone the right thing at the right time, it is like gold.

A single girlfriend of mine recently underwent surgery, so I and a group of other ladies have been going to help her out and many have provided meals. She came home from the hospital right before Thanksgiving, so as somewhat expected, many delicious turkey leftovers were shared.

A couple of days ago, my friend asked if I could put in a request for something different, like macaroni & cheese or tuna casserole. I took it upon myself to whip up a batch of macaroni & cheese in my Instant Pot, and brought it with me as I went to help with the laundry.

Now I think my cooking is pretty good and macaroni & cheese is tasty, but it isn’t my showcase recipe and doesn’t usually bring on raving reviews. But my friend texted me later that night, stating that she was enjoying my meal, it was real comfort food, and it seemed as if I had brought her a fine steak.

Like many things in life, doing, saying or giving the right thing at the right time can be impacting or even life-changing. It magnifies the act and turns it into a blessing.

What better time to focus on intentional and sensitive giving than during this Christmas season that we have found ourselves again.

Who knows? Maybe your little gift will make someone’s day.

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sisters kayaking together

What I Learned This Summer

It’s time for another quarterly list of What I Learned, this time for summer 2019. Linking up with Emily P. Freeman and friends quarterly is one of the things I look forward to every three months. Please join me as we talk about various things we are learning, whether silly and fun or informative and serious. It seems this quarter has more than it’s share of unpronounceable words and food related items.

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1. I learned a new word, “tchotchke”, and discovered it’s meaning.

I don’t remember where I even heard this word now, but when I did I looked up it’s meaning and found it to define a knickknack or trinket. If you listen to the pronunciation of the word, it sounds like exactly what it is. I currently have a love-hate affair with “tchotchkes”, as my sentimental side seems to attach happy memories to objects, while my orderly (OCD?) side is frustrated with the amount of clutter I still need to go through in my home.

2. I discovered garlic scapes and learned how to cook with them.

Garlic scapes

Early this summer, at one of my first work days at my one-day-a-week farm-stand job, I discovered and acquired my first garlic scapes. I found out that they are the stalks that grow from garlic bulbs, and are usually harvested in order to allow the plant to send its energy into growing the garlic. They have a mild garlic flavor and crisp texture, and last well when refrigerated.

Many have discovered that scapes are not just rubbish to be thrown away, but tasty shoots that can be cooked and enjoyed as a special “free” treat from the plant (although if you purchase them, they aren’t necessarily cheap).

I brought home my garlic scapes and hurriedly researched ways to use them. This article has some nice ideas, while this one boasts some different ones. Suggestions include everything from scape pesto to soups to sauteing them on their own or in a stir-fry. I finally settled on this Garlic Scape Frittata recipe from Cedar Mountain Farm in Vermont. It was easy and delicious!

Garlic Scape Fritatta

3. I read that the difference between coconut milk and coconut cream is determined by concentration and consistency.

When searching for substitutions recently for these products, the same article assured me that I could use the cream from the top of a can of coconut milk as coconut cream in my recipe. I also discovered that you can make coconut whipped cream using the cream from canned coconut milk (although I did not chill my milk; I simply scooped out the thick cream, and I think I used my usual pure maple syrup as a sweetener).

4. Do you actually know how to correctly pronounce “ciabatta” bread?

This is another one of those words that I can read on paper just fine…until someone asks me to read it out loud from a menu. So I looked it up in the Merriam-Webster dictionary and listened to the voice recording to get it just right.

Although I have a variety of nationalities in my make-up, can you tell that not one of them is Italian?

5. Our recent participation at the Soulfest in New Hampshire got me thinking about the first Christian music festivals, and how they impacted my life.

I have fond and life-changing memories of some of the very earliest Jesus (music) festivals that I attended with my parents in the early and later seventies (and probably into the eighties).

My first church was known for being quite conservative, so when my parents got information about a “Jesus festival” and decided to take some youth (with their pastor’s blessing) to an event with thousands of people joining together to learn and listen to all sorts of Christian music, it was a transformative experience for them, myself and many of the youth. My sister and I were fortunate enough to tag along for many years while Dad and Mom took many of our Christian youth to these encouraging and motivating celebrations.

Participating in several inspiring days of Christian music, teaching and fellowship with literally thousands (and even hundreds of thousands at the largest ones!), are experiences that I will never forget. Some of our favorite Christian artists and bands were there, including many of the founders of Christian rock.

The majority of the original Jesus festivals we attended were held at the Agape Farm in Pennsylvania, where similar Creation festivals are still held to this day. We’ve been blessed to attend other Christian music festivals in Virginia, NY state, and for several years here in New England, as well.

Phil Keaggy

At this summer’s Soulfest, my husband and I were tickled pink (an expression I almost never use, but it feels like the right way to describe how we were feeling) to see none other than early Christian rock music and guitarist legend, Phil Keaggy! It was a small venue, so we were able to get up really close and personal. We were both grinning from ear to ear as we heard and enjoyed many songs from our much younger days, bringing us back emotionally to the joys of our youth. I was almost moved to tears to see this amazingly talented, humble and gifted artist again and listen as he made his guitar sing. I realized that it was not only the music that moved me, but the recognition and remembrance of my own history and Christian heritage. It was a highlight of the festival for sure!

If you ever feel outnumbered or insignificant in your faith, attending one of these events will no doubt encourage and inspire you, too.

Soulfest 2019
Switchfoot
For King and Country
Candlelight Service

6. New England is home to two species of cottontail rabbits.

We usually enjoy any number of bunnies in our yard. Here is what Mass Audubon has to say about my wild pets:

Massachusetts is home to two species of rabbit, the New England cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis) and the eastern cottontail (S. floridanus). The latter was introduced into the state before 1900 and is now the most common rabbit in Massachusetts. The native wild New England cottontail, probably as a consequence of this competition, has become rare throughout the region. 

https://www.massaudubon.org/learn/nature-wildlife/mammals/cottontail-rabbits/about

7. I finally confirmed why you truly should NOT reheat coffee (and the best way to reheat if necessary).

If you don’t want to take my word for it, check out these sources:

“Coffee is a one-time use kind of deal. You make it, you drink it and if it gets cold, you make some more. Reheating reorganizes the chemical makeup of the coffee and totally ruins the flavor profile. Some things just don’t work to reheat, and coffee is one of them. It’s always best just to brew a fresh cup.

https://www.tastingtable.com/cook/national/reheat-coffee-microwave-leftover-lacolombe-Caribou

The best way to reheat your coffee is by heating it up on the stove top on low temperature.

https://www.thedailymeal.com/drink/best-way-reheat-coffee

But really, just don’t do it.

8. We actually do like overnight oats after all.

Several years ago when my sons were young and I had to make four lunches for all of us each night, I also found out about overnight oats. I stayed up even later filling little mason jars with oats, fruit, yogurt and such to make convenient breakfasts for myself and my guys, trying every flavor imaginable and admittedly, pushing us over the edge a bit. I still liked them after a time, but realized that either my three men did not, or were simply sick of them from having them too much.

Fast-forward to this summer, when the night before leaving on vacation I discovered I had purchased too many strawberries and blueberries to eat before we left (and since we were visiting my parents in Canada, we could NOT take them across the border). I had seen some new overnight oats recipes from one of my favorite cooking blogs, and since they’re portable and last several days, I decided to give them a try.

Well, we either just liked these particular recipes better or just had enough of a break to appreciate them. We preferred the consistency and my husband particularly enjoyed them warmed up (which we had not realized was an option before). Give these recipes for Strawberry Shortcake and Blueberry Muffin overnight oats a try. The strawberry recipe tastes equally lovely with fresh peaches. (Oh, and I just found one for Peanut Butter and Jelly Overnight Oats that I want to try now, too!)

I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Making overnight oats

9. Faith and family is everything.

See that picture of my sister and I kayaking up above? It really exemplifies our personalities (she as younger with arms enthusiastically raised; I as older just smiling quietly), represents the fun we enjoyed together, and reminds me how much I need and appreciate my family.

It’s been a year of ups and downs in our family, and especially living 500 miles away from my parents (and the same from my only sister and family), I realize more and more how much they mean to me.

I am also even more convinced that I absolutely depend upon my faith.

I’m thankful for the good and happy and hilarious times that help us through the scary, dark or uncertain ones.

I trust in a God who knows and cares for us all, and who provides my every need, even when I can’t understand the circumstances.

I will enjoy the memories new and old that make up the story of my life, and be grateful for every moment I’m given.

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Thanks for reading along with me as I share some of the things I’m learning this summer. Yes, it drives me a bit crazy to stop at an uneven 9, but summer isn’t officially over yet, so maybe I’ll learn at least one more thing before it’s all said and done.

And by now my coffee is lukewarm, but of course I’m resisting the urge to put it in the microwave. 😉

What things are you learning this summer?

May sky with day moon

I’ve Got a Question

May sky with day moon

This post has been created for the Five-Minute Friday link-up, where the prompt for this week is question.

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Excuse me; I have a question.

Are you one who asks a lot of questions? I most definitely am.

It’s how I learn and process information. The more I understand something, the better I will remember it. It’s really helpful to me, but sometimes people don’t understand. Asking many questions can cause some to feel that you’re incompetent or that you don’t trust them, but I don’t think that’s farther from the truth.

When I was in seventh or eighth grade, I remember a particular time when after my asking a lot of questions in class some of my classmates taunted me with, “You ask too many questions.” Amazing how some things stick with us for decades.

There most definitely is a place for refusing to doubt, but I’m not entirely sure there’s really such a thing as “blind faith”. How else will our beliefs become truly our own if we haven’t worked through our doubts, questions and even some possible disagreements? How can we trust or follow something we truly haven’t worked to understand?

I am absolutely convinced that my husband is faithful to me, but that conviction is based upon first getting to know each other very well, our public commitment we made before God and many people when we married, and years of faithfulness to each other. I trust my belief in God in the same way. I’m not a Christian just because my parents are or because I was raised that way, but I’ve lived a lifetime of learning truths about God and his word and seeing it play out in countless lives, including my own.

So our “blind faith” is solidly built on facts and the truth of our own experience.

Rather than worry when our own children or someone we know questions God’s goodness or the truth of the Bible, we can be sure that they are at least thinking on their own. They must do the hard work of figuring out why it makes sense to believe. Real faith is not something we just accept or take for granted. Rather, a faith that’s survived questions, doubts and confusion is a firm foundation that will not be shaken.

So next time you have a question, go ahead and ask. Encourage others to do the same.

You will have more understanding and your convictions will become your own.

God can handle our doubts and our questions. Many great men and women of faith have asked their share of hard questions, and their stories live on over the ages to help and encourage people like us.

So please excuse me. I have a question.

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purple creeping phlox in my garden

What I Learned This Spring

purple creeping phlox in my garden

Another quarter has already passed, which surprisingly means another season has also almost flown by as well. It’s time to join my favorite link-up and share What I Learned This Spring. This is a collection of some of the interesting, helpful, and sometimes meaningful things I’ve learned in this season. I hope you enjoy learning a little, too.

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1.Can you really eat pineapple this way? –

Apparently, there is a really neat and easy way to eat a pineapple that went viral on the internet. This article describes the method shared by an actor from a well-known television show, and includes several videos of others’ attempts at using this same method. According to the results, it may not be as simple as it looks, although some people seemed to get it to work.

Truthfully, I haven’t tried this yet myself yet. I don’t have high hopes, but will certainly put fresh pineapple on my next grocery list.

2. I learned how to best store (dried) bay leaves, and that they do indeed have an aroma. –

I finally got to the end of a very old supply of bay leaves. I don’t even remember where or when I got them, but there’s a good chance they had become flavorless, since they had no scent. For this reason, I had developed the habit of using at least twice as many as my recipes called for. So I wasn’t very disappointed when I got to the end of the bottle and had to begin my search on Amazon for some new leaves.

After perusing many options, I settled on a one-pound package of bay leaves with good reviews and pressed the button to complete my purchase.

When I received and opened the very large bag, I was struck by two things. One, bay leaves actually have a smell and they are wonderfully fragrant (no more needing to double or triple up in recipes!), and two, bay leaves are very lightweight (one pound is a LOT of leaves, and looked like a small pillow!).

This led me to two next-steps: finding out how best to store my new culinary treasure, and attempting to share bay leaves with as many friends as possible. I discovered that the best way to store bay leaves is not in your spice cabinet, but rather in the freezer.

I guess my friends and I will be all set for awhile now.

3.There may be a better way to wash your produce. –

We’ve known the importance of washing our produce for awhile now, but according to recent studies, baking soda may be the best way to remove more pesticides from our fruit. A Consumer Reports article states that it is important to scrub the skins of produce and possibly even better to soak it in a solution of one teaspoon baking soda in two cups of water for at least two minutes. The longer the soak, the more pesticides are removed.

I also have a little paper towel trick I use to keep washed lettuce fresh longer.

I like to wash many of my vegetables by first spritzing with my DIY water-vinegar cleaning spray, then scrubbing with a veggie brush and rinsing well. I also try to check produce labels for where they are grown, as certain produce is known to be safer (less pesticides) from some countries than others.

In the end, I believe each of us needs to do our “due diligence” in research and then make decisions about what types of fruits and veggies to buy for our families and be at peace with that.

4. Doing without makes you appreciate something new all the more. –

I recently got new silverware.

My old silverware, which was supposed to be “stainless” steel, started to develop a nasty, blackish tarnish too soon after we purchased it several years ago. We used it as it was, thought about diligently polishing it for hours to try to remove the dark stains, but finally just gave up recently and decided we had put up with it long enough and would replace it.

I shopped around a bit, but didn’t take long to choose a few boxes of some quality pieces at one of my favorite warehouse stores.

I brought them home, washed them and began to replace my old silverware with the new and was quite pleased. For days (or perhaps even a couple of weeks), I realized how ridiculously happy I felt looking at and using our heavy, new, shiny forks, knives, and spoons. I actually said I felt like royalty, all because of a silly thing like brand new silverware.

The moral of the story, which I’ve learned over the years in many instances of either hardship or simply just putting up with something inferior, is that when you do without, it teaches you to really appreciate getting something new. It’s valuable to use what you have and choose gratitude in all circumstances, but also enjoyable to be able to splurge and appreciate a new purchase or gift that you’ve waited for patiently and with anticipation.

5.We’re learning about identifying ducks. –

While on a recent picnic, my husband and I were enjoying a flock of mallard ducks hanging out on a small river. We noticed one particular duck that looked similar, but not quite the same as the other mallards. He looked very dark, maybe all black, contrasted with the telltale dark green head of a common male mallard duck.

I’m still not sure, but I think he may have been an American Black Duck. Interestingly, I didn’t realize that the familiar mallard didn’t always breed in our area (Northeastern United States), but have grown to outnumber the native Black Ducks and thrive, while the Black Duck population is declining.

6.Organizing and decluttering really does save time. –

If there’s one thing that causes me more stress and discontent, it’s clutter and disorganization.

One would think that because I feel so strongly about this, and my personality craves order, that I would have the most orderly, clutter-free home around. But unfortunately, like every personality trait, there is a dark side that comes with each positive quality. I am easily overwhelmed and get bogged down in the details, often resulting in more clutter and less organization overall. I am gradually getting rid of stuff and organizing what’s left, and finding more and more how true it is that you can’t organize clutter.

According to this helpful article (the last frame), “It’s continuous maintenance. For every hour we spend organizing we save 3-4 hours”. Boy, do I believe it! The best advice seems to be to keep at it consistently, even just a few minutes at a time, to keep clutter at bay and continue to move forward with organization.

As I learn and try some of the popular Kon Mari method of tidying, I’m starting to really like the file folding method. Abby at Just a Girl and Her Blog has a great post detailing her take on this practical method.

7. I really like cold-brewed iced coffee the best!

For several years I’ve been tasting and making cold-brewed iced coffee. I first stumbled upon this method of brewing when I was looking for ways to enjoy coffee with less acid, due to some health concerns. I discovered that I also prefer the smooth taste of this type of brew.

Honestly, since switching our coffee maker to a nice system that allows one to make iced coffee immediately about a year ago, I’ve gotten away from making cold brew. Although we love this convenient feature on our coffee maker, I had forgotten just how good cold-brewed coffee tastes.

So I’m getting back to keeping some delicious, lower acid, cold-brewed iced coffee on hand this summer. Some things are really worth a little extra effort!

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Thanks for joining me again in reflecting on some of the things I’ve learned this spring. What are you learning lately? Do you take time to record and/or reflect on a season?

rain droplets on red and green bush leaves

Life is an Opportunity

rain droplets on red and green bush leaves

I’m (finally) joining in again to catch this week’s Five Minute Friday link-up, where the word for this week was opportunity.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about life lately.

Through my husband’s heart bypass surgery experience about a year and a half ago, the death of both of his sisters in the same twelve-month period shortly after that, the passing of my last grandmother at 101 years of age, to the recent news that my mother has cancer again, it makes me realize how fleeting life is. We don’t know whether we have five years, or forty-five or one hundred and five.

As hard as these experiences were and are, I know some of them turned out much better than we had hoped, and for that we are thankful. God met us and provided for us in our times of suffering and need, for which we are also grateful. And I’m confident that even through the difficult times, he is faithfully with us and will help us to grow stronger.

When faced with sickness, hardship and even death, it makes me realize once again the preciousness of life.

I see that each moment is a gift.

I recognize that things that seem ordinary are special.

I desire to complain less and praise and encourage more.

I’m learning that wherever I am, I want to be all there.

So wherever we find ourselves, whatever season we are journeying through, despite the hardships and joys and monotony, let’s grasp each moment as it comes and make the best of it.

Let’s enjoy each moment for what it is, rather than what we think it should be.

Let’s learn to just be present,

be real,

be content,

and love the days we’ve been given.

Let’s share each gift we’ve been given, make the most of each circumstance that comes our way, and savor each moment.

Because life truly is an opportunity.

Blue sky with clouds and snowy branches

What I Learned This Winter

Blue sky with clouds and snowy branches

It’s one of my favorite times again, where I join Emily P. Freeman’s link-up about what we learned this past season. What a wonderful habit of recording and reflecting on things I’ve learned, both silly and serious and somewhere in between.

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10 Things I Learned This Winter:

1. The “January blues” is a real thing. – I often struggle with the end of the holidays and the transition into the new year, but I guess there’s an official condition known as the “January blues”. It’s similar to, but not the same as Seasonal Affective Disorder. That means that many people struggle with this same thing. It’s OK to recognize if you also have a difficult time with this post-holiday time of year. That is how we start to find a way to make things better

2. I just had to know how to open a paper potato bag.– Have you ever wondered how to open those paper bags that are closed with a row of string stitched across the top? In the summer and fall I spend one day a week working at a farm stand at a local farm. One of the tricky little things I’ve run across is this type of closure on a huge fifty pound bag of potatoes. No one seems to know how to unravel the string, and it’s certainly not obvious.

So finally I decided one day this winter that there must be a way to open this type of sewn paper sack without going crazy or getting completely frustrated. I found several videos and written explanations online, but this one is one of the nicest and easiest to follow.

The solution seems simple enough, but the real test will be the next time I’m confronted by one of those bags. You’re welcome.

3. This February was the first time I had ever heard of “Galentine’s” Day. – This imaginary holiday has apparently been around for almost ten years, but I had never heard of it. If you’re out of the loop just like me, Galentine’s Day is a special day to celebrate our female friendships on February 13th, the day before Valentine’s Day. So if you’d like an excuse to shower your friends with appreciation and affection, by all means go for it. But if you are tired of trying to keep up with yet another “pretend” holiday, feel free to skip it, too.

Heart made of Lindor truffles.

4. I learned how to clear a drain naturally. – I’ve heard it said that you can clean almost anything with baking soda and/or vinegar. Well, recently I discovered that it just may be true.

We have a home with older pipes which seem to get clogged regularly. Over the years, we’ve had to spend money and dump too many gallons of toxic drain openers down our bathroom sinks, just to keep things running smoothly. One sink in particular was giving us a lot of trouble lately, so after several chemical treatments without luck, I decided to find out if there were any natural solutions.

One of the suggestions is to pour baking soda and then vinegar into the drain, followed by boiling water. (You can read about this idea here.) I tried it and was pleasantly surprised to see the water fizz and bubble and at least look like it was doing something. After a couple of tries, my husband came home and plunged the sink. This sink that had standing water in it for weeks was suddenly clear. I’d like to think it’s because of my natural remedy, but it could have been the plunging, or both. Only time will tell.

5. It’s possible that late people are more successful and live longer. – At least that’s what I read in an article in Southern Living. They suggest that those who are usually late are living more in the moment or are optimistically assuming that they can get more done in a certain time. I hate to disagree with the scientific evidence presented, but for me being late hasn’t seemed to be that beneficial. I’ve struggled with lateness over the years and worked hard to make improvements. The only thing I’ve felt in those times when I fall back into lateness is more stress and possibly embarrassment, as well as some degree of guilt or concern for those I’m causing to wait. I think I’ll take my chances and find success and fulfillment in other ways.

6. Pretzels were first brought to North America by the Pennsylvania Dutch. – While the earliest pretzels were made in Germany, years later in the 1700’s the Pennsylvania Dutch brought them to America. Pennsylvania is still first in production and consumption of pretzels in North America.

As a child, I had a best friend who came from Pennsylvania, and after several years in Canada living as my neighbor, their family moved back to that state. In subsequent years, my parents would drive me to Pennsylvania to spend a few days with my friend, while they enjoyed some vacation time in a nearby motel. I still remember visiting a local pretzel factory and have always thought that Pennsylvania makes some of the best pretzels. I think I was right.

7. I learned how simple it is to take a screen shot on my Android phone. – On my new phone, all I have to do is hold down the volume down and power buttons at the same time and the photo is saved to my gallery. Who knew? (Maybe you did, but it was news to me.)

8. I wasn’t using enough salt in my pasta cooking water. – According to Cooks Country magazine, their suggested ratio is 4 quarts of water to 1 tablespoon salt. And for all my years of cooking I’ve only added a sprinkle or at most maybe a teaspoon. Here’s to better pasta!

9.”I can care without carrying.” – In one of my recent quiet times, I was struck with how difficult it is as caring people to feel the burden of the needs and problems of those around us. As parents, we often feel the difficulties and fears of our children almost as strongly as they do themselves. Empathy and compassion are useful at times and can help others know they are cared for and not alone, but we cannot live in a state of constantly carrying everyone’s burdens as well as our own.

As I was thinking and praying about this, this phrase came into my mind: “I can care without carrying.” I think this simple statement will help to remind me that there are ways to show care and help someone without picking up and adding their burdens to my own.

10. I need a little “winter” before I can fully enjoy spring. – This has been an interesting winter. While many parts of the country seemed to get doses of winter dumped on them, here in New England it there’s been very little snow. We had some really cold days, but many unseasonably mild days mixed in. What little snow we had either melted away the next day or turned to rain and disappeared.

During one such storm in late January I turned on our Christmas lights, ran out of the house around midnight in my robe and slippers and snapped some pretty snow photos with my colored lights. By the next morning, it had turned to rain.

Christmas lights in fluffy, late January snow.
My Christmas lights in fluffy snowflakes around midnight.
Close-up of Christmas lights in late January snow.
Christmas lights in a pretty, late January snow.

We just had a couple of snow days this past week in March, and we had about fourteen inches of snow which is staying on the ground. As satisfying as it was to get a “real” snowstorm, I am now officially ready for spring.

view from window after snowstorm
The view from our bedroom window.
Our home in the snow.
Our home after the March 2019 snowstorm.

Thanks for joining me for another quarter of what I learned.

What have you been learning lately?

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roof and clouds sky photo

When You Don’t Feel Ready for a New Year

Early each January or often even in the late December days between Christmas and New Year’s I see so many posts, photos, and stories in blogs and in my favorite social media feeds talking about goals and plans for the new year.

And each year I think I feel about the same.

While I commend and sometimes marvel at these goals, the carefully chosen focus words for the year to come, and perfect plans shared for our encouragement, I am seldom there yet.

While I am trying to live my life with more intention and fully embrace making goals and plans to succeed in the new year, I usually find myself feeling sad and behind. I hope to be there with my word for the year and some well-laid plans soon, but right now I’m still stuck between my favorite holiday and a fresh, yet slightly intimidating new start.

My mind tells me I should be thinking about starting a new year and planning to do things differently, leaving the holidays far behind, but I can’t quite get there yet.

For one thing, my family and I love to celebrate clear through New Year’s Day. My family has always made a big deal about Christmas and loved all of our traditions. In my books, the party isn’t over until well after January 1st. The Christmas tree doesn’t come down until just before the scheduled special trash pick up about one week into January.

Most years I am still trying to squeeze in a few more fun holiday moments, while simultaneously feeling pushed headlong into something different and new. I usually experience some melancholy moments as well, especially with the still-too-short days where often the sun isn’t shining.

I have almost always just said “good-bye” to my parents as either they or we embark on our five hundred mile drive home again. If we’re lucky, we’re also parting with my sister and family, but our reality is that most years we have to accept that we had to celebrate “together” from afar (our parents usually deliver our gifts back and forth), and that we won’t see each other until sometime in the summer.

It’s hard to love a holiday and my family so much and live too far away and have to wait another whole year.

The other thing holding me back is this. I know that there were many good experiences and some growth and accomplishments in 2018, but it’s easier to remember the apparent failures; the long list of things I didn’t finish or what I don’t feel I did well. Life seldom turns out the way I had planned and I am that imperfect human, after all.

So I’m not ready to spoil my last few precious moments or force my mind to turn a corner just yet. I’m still stuck somewhere in between, while by all appearances, the rest of the world has moved on to a productive and spectacular new year.

I am contemplating a focus word for the year and what I may like to do differently. But I don’t yet have the energy to try to figure out intricate plans, make big, important commitments and force myself into a well-planned new year just yet.

And I cannot think that I am the only one.

I am here to tell us that it’s OK.

Let’s allow ourselves some grace, slow down life’s tempo, and ease into 2019 gently.

I don’t claim to have it all figured out, nor do I have studies to show you that this is the best way to plan your life or your year, but I am sure that we’ll be all right if we don’t have it all figured out by January 1 (or even January 15th).

As I do slowly look towards 2019, here are some ideas that may help all of us who are not feeling quite ready for a new year:

1.Celebrate a little more if you need to.

I know there are some folks who are ready to pull down the decorations, throw out the turkey, take down their tree, set new goals, and start a diet or cleanse on the day after Christmas, but that is not happening at our house. If you are one like me who likes to celebrate into the new year and then some, go for it! It will be over 350 days until the Christmas season rolls around again, so what’s the rush to get it over with?

I would rather celebrate “the real 12 days of Christmas”, beginning with the advent season and continuing through Epiphany. That feels about right to me.

And when we finally get that first “real” snow (not counting the light and brief snowfall we had sometime in October), I plan to to turn on my outdoor Christmas lights and celebrate the sparkle against snowflakes.

2. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are actually feeling.

One thing I am getting better at, especially as I get older, is to allow myself to just feel what I’m feeling. I’m not suggesting that I should necessarily stay there (especially if it’s not so positive), but recognizing what I’m feeling is necessary and healthy. While my personality immediately tries to tell me that I shouldn’t be feeling something, the reality is, I am feeling it.

Denying or ignoring our emotional state is seldom helpful and will likely cause hurt and more pain down the road to ourselves and those around us.

3. Quiet your body, mind and soul.

We all need more quiet.

Especially in our culture which seems to thrive on and often glorify productivity and busyness, we need to be intentional about rest.

We need to choose to stop, opt for quiet, and fight for peace for ourselves and our families.

Sometimes calming or inspirational music can help, but there are also times where we just need the rarity of absolute silence. If you are a person of faith, be sure to pray, but also allow times of stillness. We need this space to listen to what God might be saying to us and to pay attention to the truth-telling rhythms of our hearts.

The words of blogger and author Emily P. Freeman often calm, encourage and inspire me. Both her written and spoken words have been a balm to my soul. I found her recent podcast, A Blessing for the New Year , so helpful and comforting that I listened to it every single day for the first week of January. Perhaps it will encourage you as well.

4. Start with gratitude.

Although we need to recognize and allow ourselves our feelings, don’t let yourself stay in a negative frame of mind. I may naturally tend towards the glass being half empty, but I cannot allow myself to live in that mentality.

I need to constantly find gratefulness, for there are blessings all around us, if only we will choose to see. I’m sure most of us have heard and read about how healthy it is to choose to be thankful. Keeping a gratitude journal, singing songs of praise or thanks, speaking positive and grateful words, learning to focus on the good, and working at changing negative thinking are all ways we can become more joyful and positive.

5. Do something you enjoy to celebrate the new year and to help you transition.

I’m not just talking about your New Year’s Eve celebrations, although that could be a good place to start. A quiet, cozy night at home with family or a fun night out with friends may help to lift your mood.

But don’t stop just because the winter day doesn’t have a special holiday name. Create some fun memories around the change of the new year such as rearranging your home and decor after the decorations are put away or getting a pretty new journal or planner. Go out on a date or plan a girl’s night out. Scour some after-Christmas sales or begin decluttering a section of your home.

6. Enlist the help and accountability you need and begin to make a plan.

At some point, it is definitely time to move forward.

You don’t have to do it according to everyone else’s schedule, but it’s healthy and encouraging to be intentional about how we live and spend our time. It’s something that is a work in progress for me, yet I know it’s important and leads to a more fulfilling life.

I’m not naturally highly motivated, although I do like organization and am stubborn enough to hold myself accountable for many actions and habits I feel are important. But I often struggle to use my time well or do the hard things. So I need a little help.

There are countless blog posts, podcasts, books and articles that offer good advice and helpful tips to help us to step boldly into the new year. We can learn how to make realistic goals with good action steps, live more intentionally, declutter and organize. create a personal exercise program and cultivate a more healthy, balanced life.

A couple of my favorite folks who blog and share wonderful help for realistic productivity are Crystal Paine of Money Saving Mom and Beth Anne Schwamberger of Brilliant Business Moms. One of my favorite blogs for home organizing tips and encouragement is Abby Organizes. I’ve also enjoyed learning about planning and organizing from Laura of I Heart Planners. And my favorite online fitness instructor is Robin Long of The Balanced Life, who teaches Pilates and runs an online subscription program. I’ve been part of the Sisterhood for over two years now, and it’s helped me be consistent with exercise and make other healthy choices with a group of like-minded, encouraging women all over the world.

Yes, sometimes we need to push ourselves and do difficult things in order to grow and improve our lives, so create some accountability. Join an online group or challenge or simply agree with a family member or friend to check in with each other regularly to see how you’re doing.

7. Treat yourself kindly and give yourself lots of grace.

In all of the planning and “doing”, don’t forget to give yourself lots of grace! We were never meant to be perfect and a successful life does not consist of the things we do or get done.

Growth and change can be healthy, but we need to first accept who we are and our unique gifts, as well as our flaws and weaknesses. They are part of what makes us human and are formative in our life journeys. The difficulties we struggle through truly do make us stronger. And our personal growth and success won’t look exactly like that of anyone else.

In this past week alone I’ve been reminded twice already to be gentle with myself and to be content with the imperfect person that I am. Once was in a podcast from one of my favorite podcasters and the second was part of a sermon at church. I believe this is a good place to start as we head into a brand new year.

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Now that it’s already half way through the month, I’m beginning to feel more ready for the new year.

I don’t have all my plans and goals figured out, but I’m preparing to move ahead with joy and hope. I’ve been thinking and praying about what to focus on this year and am starting to want to make changes and plans. I may not be there yet, but I’m moving in the right direction.

I still have decorations to put away this week, lots of Christmas ham to use up in the freezer, and more persistent pine needles to clean off of the floor.

I have changes to make, goals to plan, and dreams to dream for this year.

But I will endeavor to be as kind and gracious to myself as I would be with someone else.

I cannot share the good gifts inside of me with the world unless I am taking care of myself first.

So as we tentatively step into a new year, may 2019 be a year of intentional growth and change. But may it always be tempered with lots of grace, healthy rest, and joy and contentment for all of us. Maybe we’ll even find a little excitement in this new year.

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God With Us

Today’s post is written for the link-up at Five Minute Friday, where the word of the week is with.

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“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

Matthew 1:23 New King James Version (NKJV)

 

 

In that simple phrase, “God with us”, can be found the entire message of not only Christmas, but the whole Bible.

The Christmas story is unique in that the God of the universe chose to take on frail human flesh to live a life of love to reach us.

He did not sit on a throne of judgement, counting all of our short-comings against us; he doesn’t require us to reach a certain standard before he will accept or love us.

He came to us as a helpless infant, grew up in our skin, and showed us the way to live to find true life.

He made himself the solution to our need.

He came to us.

God with us.

Whatever you are facing this Christmas, take time to be still and reflect on what Christmas means to you.

Have peace knowing that someone cares for you enough that he came to you. You can trust him with your hopes, fears, joy and pain.

Perhaps the story is best told by a simple and familiar young voice:

 

 

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6 New King James Version (NKJV)

 

 

Love has come. Peace is here.

God with us. 

Merry Christmas.

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pumpkin, mums, fall, porch

What I Learned this Fall

pumpkin, mums, fall, porch   This post is written for the quarterly link-up with Emily P. Freeman, and contains some of the various things I’ve learned this fall. Enjoy!  

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1. I was surprised to discover how much I like The Greatest Showman!

Since I work at the library, I tend to see what books and movies are popular and well-liked. I don’t consider myself to be a musical-loving person, but after seeing and hearing folks rave about The Greatest Showman, I knew I should at least give it a try. I surprised myself when I almost instantly fell in love with the show. It is flashy and bright, but is refreshingly innocent, and is laced with a beautiful story based in part on the life of P. T. Barnum. If you like music, the music in The Greatest Showman is phenomenal! I found it interesting that the main star of the show is in fact the same actor who I had seen as Wolverine in the past. On first glance, the parts appear so different, but in the end, perhaps not as much as it seems. Both characters have the shared trait of really caring for others and sacrificing on their behalf. You can read about some of the different characters in the show here, and about the actors who played them.    

2. After 20-30 years, I finally replaced my wallet with a crossbody clutch, and am loving it.

You read that right. My durable hunter green leather wallet is at least 20 years old, and possibly as old as 30. I can’t remember whether I got it just before I was married (which would bring the date to close to 30 years), or shortly thereafter. Either way, although the outside was surprisingly intact (proving my theory that it’s definitely worth the money for real leather!), the inside was embarrassingly worn. In my quest for a new wallet, it came to my attention that my current leather purse (I’m a one-purse kind of gal, so it’s my black L. L. Bean handbag until that ones wears out) is kind of heavy. Often when I shop, I find the weight hurting my shoulders. So I started looking into those clutch style wallets, and finally decided that one with a long strap would indeed be the most practical. I found my final choice on Amazon, and have been so thrilled to carry far less with me when I shop. I figured out that I really only need my phone, my money and some cards with me, and can even squeeze in a comb, chapstick and a couple other tiny items, about ninety percent of the time. Many of the extras can live in my car.    

3. Canada’s Wonderland SkyRider stand-up coaster was retired in 2014.

In the last post of What I Learned, I mentioned how I think I am giving up roller coasters. One of the last and most exciting/scary ones I rode was Canada’s Wonderland’s stand-up coaster, Skyrider. As I was enjoying perusing the various coasters I used to ride along with viewing some of the new ones, I was a bit sad to learn that Skyrider retired in 2014. Not that I was planning on riding it again, but it signifies the close of another era in my life; one where I was much younger, more adventurous, and more physically resilient. Did you know that you can virtually “ride” most roller-coasters by viewing a video online? Check out these videos of the various coasters at my favorite homeland amusement park, Canada’s Wonderland. Below is another one of my favorites from my teenager days, my first metal coaster that went upside-down, Dragon Fire. Perhaps, like me, it will be just enough of a ride for you.  
     

4.  Studies show that flowers are good for your health.

In my current devotional book by Bonnie Gray, she mentions that studies show flowers to be good for our health. You can read about the scientific health benefits of flowers, and perhaps next time you’re at the market, pick some up for your own benefit.   roses and pink flowers close-up  

5. We may hear spring peepers in autumn.

Apparently, these tiny musicians don’t know or care if it’s the correct season, and can be heard in some parts of the country in the fall.

6. Most Amish farms are not organic and they do use pesticides.

Do you assume that the Amish must farm organically? I mean, they are known for their simple living and non-modern practices, so that may have been my assumption, too. But just because these farmers are Amish, does not mean that their farms are organic. Either way, I still love learning about this devoted and interesting group of people. It’s refreshing to think about living more simply,  making everyday labor fun, and the strong value of community that help to make the Amish famous. I would love to sample some of their delicious home-cooked foods as well!  

7. I recently discovered For King & Country and then learned of their difficult start.

I found a new favorite Christian music group this summer and have enjoyed listening to the music of For King and Country since then. It was interesting and not too surprising to read that their family went through some very difficult times early on, and to learn how this shaped their music. I’ve always known that music can be born out of our emotional and circumstantial experiences, both good and hard, and that it can in turn affect our emotions strongly. I’m so thankful for the gift of music. It can assist us in telling our story, in reflection, in worship, in questioning, and in celebration. Christian musicians    

8. Many Swedes are already using microchips inserted into their skin.

As scary as it sounds, many of our Swedish friends are having a microchip inserted under the skin in their hand, allowing them added convenience for some of their daily activities. This sounds like the space-age stuff we were always warned about as kids, but I guess it is already becoming a reality in this technologically advanced society. I don’t know about you, but although I’m all for convenience and advancement in technology, I plan to keep my keys and credit cards in my handbag for the time being, and out of my skin.    

9. Mums can be damaged in frost or freezing conditions.

Growing up in Ontario and living much of my adult life in Massachusetts, chrysanthemums are a welcome sign and celebration of fall. They tend to be very hearty and can withstand cooler temps, which makes them suitable for climates that experience colder weather for part of the year. But this year when I was choosing my fall flowers from the farm stand where I work, my farmer friend informed me that frost can damage mums and they won’t necessarily survive freezing temperatures. I didn’t really know that, and for the first time, I opted to cover my potted mums with an old sheet when the temperatures started heading towards freezing. Wouldn’t you know that they lasted longer and looked more beautiful? pumpkin and coral mums  

10. “Vocation” and “calling” are nearly the same word.

I really enjoyed reading a series of blog posts about vocation and found it most inspiring.
Our word vocation derives from the Latin vocare, “to call.” Therefore the words calling and vocation are often used interchangeably. Vocational training in modern times has come to refer to technical training required for and leading directly to a trade such as nursing, technology, or culinary fields. Used this way, a vocation is a job or trade requiring a specific set of skills and technical knowledge. In contrast, many believe that a vocation or calling is, as Frederick Buechner is often quoted, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (1) In other words, a vocation is found at the intersection of your passion and abilities and the world’s needs.
No wonder that when we do what we love, it feels akin something deeper than just fun or work. I love how we are created with so many unique desires, dreams, and abilities within us, whether we use them in our paid jobs or in other meaningful areas of our lives. When we use the gifts that God has given us, it makes us feel more alive, and we can best influence those around us for good.

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Well, that sums it up for another round of What I Learned. Why not consider keeping a record of things you are learning? It’s a wonderful way to reflect on a small part of our lives. Please feel free to share something you are learning in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!              
east coast shore with sun setting

Are You Who You Want to Be?

east coast shore with sun setting

This post is part of the Five Minute Friday link-up, where the word of the week is who.

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I’ve always liked a song by one of my favorite alternative Christian music bands. Some of the lyrics are, “This is your life. Are you who you want to be?” 

Sometimes it’s a challenge to love life, with all of it’s ups and downs, the good and the difficult.

And it’s easy to feel like we don’t measure up.

 

 

Every time I hear the words of this song, I wonder if I’m living the life I was meant to, even though it looks different in many ways to what I had planned.

Isn’t that how life is?

We dream and plan and make choices.

Then life comes along and things don’t always go the way we want or imagined.

Some of these discrepancies are due to our own actions, yet many are uninvited, whether happy or ill.

But I wish to be a person who embraces the life I’ve been given.

We’ve all heard it said that we can’t change our circumstances, but we can choose our reaction to them. It really is true of much of life’s events.

 

There are some choices that can help me to become the person I want to be.

First, I wish to be content.

Even though my personality often tends towards seeing the glass half empty, I purpose to be grateful and enjoy what I’ve been given. Even if it isn’t what I expected, I have been given much.

That’s why I keep a gratitude journal.

Nothing changes our perspective more than a thankful heart.

Secondly, I desire to live with intention.

I’m good at this in some areas, and sorely lacking in others.

But I want to be sure I’m not wasting the precious time and gifts I’ve been given.

I will continue to endeavor to live the life I was created for, and follow his design for me, wherever that may lead.

It won’t always be easy, but my God has never left me on my own.

 

There is a beautiful balance between accepting and enjoying our lives as they are, with grace, and using our strength, wisdom and love to make a difference to ourselves and to others.

 

I need not settle with where I am at, yet I need not pine away for the past or a future that may not be mine.

So in the end, I am who I want to be, and I ask God to help me to further fulfill the destiny he has planned for me.

One intentional baby step and thought of gratitude at a time.

So what about you? Are you who you want to be?

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