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?

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.

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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blueberry avocado muffins thriving home

Thirteen: Unlucky Number or Baker’s Dozen?

blueberry avocado muffins thriving home

Today’s post contains my thoughts about the Five Minute Friday link-up prompt, thirteen.

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The number thirteen conveys so many different things.

The first aspect of thirteen is that it is the “unlucky” number. People feel so strongly about this that it has created many superstitions, even causing many tall buildings to not even have a thirteenth floor.

Although I don’t consider myself to be superstitious, I often naturally tend to see things in a negative light.

But thirteen has a better meaning; one on which I’d much rather place my focus.

The baker’s dozen.

What can be better than going to purchase your favorite home-baked donuts or fresh bagels and being offered a thirteenth, free baked good?

Instead of focusing on something negative or bad, I’d rather focus on the good, and even special things in life.

I need to remind myself daily to choose gratitude and to see things from a larger perspective, rather than dwell on what seems negative or difficult in the moment.

Besides, even difficulties can cause us to grow if we allow them, and I believe there can be purpose even in our pain.

It’s a matter of perspective.

So next time I see the number thirteen, rather than going down the path of negativity, I choose to focus on the good; the free gifts that life has to offer me.

It may not be easy or come naturally, but we can choose gratitude and a positive perspective.

This is the life I wish to cultivate.

Won’t you join me?

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May sky with day moon

Choose Your What Ifs

May sky with day moon

For today’s post, I’m linking up with the gang of writers at Five Minute Friday, where our prompt of the week is if.

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It’s easy in life to think of all of the what-ifs, and come up feeling mostly regret.

What if I had made different decisions, or done things differently? What if I had performed better, or refrained from certain actions? What if life had been easier, gone more smoothly, and things had been different? What if I had a better job, made more money, or had my dream home?

What if my life had gone according to my plan?

The fact is, we all have some regrets. A few are perhaps legitimate, in which case we need to seek and receive forgiveness and do something to make things right, or extend forgiveness to someone who has truly wronged us. In the end, we must let them go.

But our what-ifs are a choice.

What if I began each day with quiet and focus, giving it to God and waiting to hear and receive the direction, strength and wisdom I need.

What if I looked for the good in each person and situation, and trusted that good can come even out of the bad or difficult?

What if I allowed myself and others grace and used my gifts and resources for positive changes in my life and the lives of those around me?

What if I accepted each moment as a gift, rather than dwell on the past or reach too hard for the future?

What if I slowed down to enjoy my precious life and actually stopped to smell the flowers?

purple creeping phlox in my garden

What if I practiced choosing gratitude and learned to let more things go?

I believe we do have choices.

And I pray that I can live my life with my eyes looking up and my heart open to give and receive the good gifts all around me.

What if

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bush shaped like a heart

Learning to Adapt My Dreams

bush shaped like a heart

Writing today for the Five Minute Friday link-up, where our word prompt is adapt.

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Do you have dreams?

I’m not sure I always do. In fact, a few months ago when I read or heard somewhere a question to challenge us to think about what was holding us back from our dreams, I realized with some dismay that I feel like lately I haven’t had any.

I naturally tend to get caught up in life’s busyness and “shoulds”, and often forget to dream for something bigger.

And I totally believe that there are some of us, in certain seasons, where we need to adapt our dreams to something bigger; something that only God can help us to accomplish.

But equally important, what if we were to accept the “regular” life we have right now, with all of it’s ups and downs, joys and sorrows, as God’s dream for our lives?

I read two different blog posts this past week that encouraged me to think a little differently.

One reminded me that God’s dream for me may be the life I’m living right now; the other spoke about how all of life is art and that we grow closer to God’s purposes for us in the mundane tasks of everyday life.

One of my favorite songs from Switchfoot challenges me that this is the life I’ve always dreamed of, or at least it can be.

 

 

So instead of focusing on the future, on what may yet to be (as wonderful or ordinary as it may turn out), I am learning to adapt my dream to the amazing and complex and awesome life that God has given me right now.

I pray that I may live each day to the fullest, accept God’s plan for my days, and choose to do the next right thing along the way.

May I adapt my dreams to love the life I’m living.

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If you’ve enjoyed this song, you may purchase the song or the album on which it appears, The Beautiful Letdown.

What to Do When You Feel Stuck

This post was written for the Five Minute Friday link-up, where the word prompt of the week is stuck.

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When I read the word “stuck” as our word prompt for this week’s link-up, it immediately resonated with me.

It wasn’t a completely encouraging realization, but it helped me to understand how I’ve been feeling lately.

We had a crazy year last year in some ways. I had a finger injury and surgery in the spring (which was a big deal for this non-medical-procedure-loving person), and then my husband had heart bypass surgery in the fall (which was obviously a much bigger deal!).

While I’m thankful that both my little surgery and my husband’s big surgery resulted in good recovery and improved health (it literally probably saved his life!), I’ve felt behind and overwhelmed since then. Even though, overall, things are going well, it seems like I’m still catching up.

I’ve felt like I can’t get ahead with decluttering, cleaning and organizing my home, my blog has been somewhat neglected as of late, and it seems like we’re just getting by in a lot of ways. I’ve been experiencing some different emotions lately and trying to figure them out as well. I think it’s just the “leftovers” from a trying year.

I wrote a post awhile back about what to do when your emotions are fickle, and I often realize I should read some of my own words for encouragement.

One day this week when the sun finally came out and I felt some spring warmth, it really lifted my spirits. I read some encouraging words of truth and that also helped me feel so much better. My husband and I completed one month of a good, healthy diet, and that made me feel good both physically and emotionally.

Sometimes we feel “stuck” for big, important reasons, and at other times, we can’t find a reason for our feelings or we struggle to understand exactly why.

So I’m writing this to myself, in the hopes that perhaps it will help someone else who’s feeling “stuck”, too.

These are some of the things that help me when I’m feeling “stuck”:

  1. Read or listen to some encouraging words of truth, and pray. – If you read the bible and pray, you will be reminded of how God feels about you and of his promises. Don’t forget to be quiet and listen as well. If you are not a believer, you can read something that lifts your spirits and/or reminds you of how special you are. You can also meditate on all you have for which to be thankful.
  2. Listen to music and/or do something life-giving. – Most of the time, a little good music goes a long way to helping me to feel better. I also find that doing something creative makes me feel alive. Spending some time outside in nature really feeds my soul.
  3. Spend time with those you love and/or those who are good at what you’re struggling with. – Being with people who like you always seems to help emotionally, and if I can chat with someone who’s been where I am or can help me with my problem, that is precious.
  4. Take a baby step. – Just do one thing to move in the right direction. This is so true of decluttering and cleaning, but works in most situations. Doing “the next right thing” can help us go from “stagnant and stuck” to at least progressing in our area of difficulty.
  5. Ask for and accept help when needed. – Sometimes we can’t do it alone. Whether it be a loved one, a trusted friend or even a professional, sometimes we just need a little help. Don’t be afraid to admit you’re imperfect and need support.
  6. Take care of yourself. – Often we are just in need of a good sleep or a nap, we need to take a break or even a vacation, or we can simply be hungry or thirsty. Sometimes we can boost our TLC with a healthy diet and some exercise. We aren’t any good to anyone else when we are not caring for ourselves.
  7. Give yourself grace. – This doesn’t mean to stay in a non-productive or negative state, but it’s OK to be nice to ourselves and recognize that there are times when we need time to process, think or heal.

These are just a few tips that I will continue to try to put into practice.

If we make even a small effort to do something positive, we will not remain stuck for long.

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