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 do 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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Tim Horton's iced coffee and sandals

How to Take a Vacation

Tim Horton's iced coffee and sandals

Today I’m linking up with the folks at Five Minute Friday, where we are writing on the prompt vacation.

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What is a vacation?

It’s a special break that can be taken near or far away. It can be a brand new adventure in a place we’ve never been, or coming “home” to someplace familiar, already filled with pleasant memories.

A vacation can be enjoyed with family, friends, or even by oneself.

Some folks take “staycations” at home, but I find this to be difficult for me, as it’s hard to wrestle my thoughts and hands away from the many responsibilities there. But enjoying our homes in a different way, perhaps with no work and less technology, and doing things we don’t normally do there can be refreshing. Or we can venture out for day trips and explore the world around where we live.

Some people travel to different countries; many to explore new places and different cultures, but some of us cross borders to return to the familiar; such as our first family and home or a special place we like to visit regularly.

Wherever you decide to take it; whatever you decide to do (or not to do, which is also important!), I believe that vacations are important.

We need to set aside intentional times to stop, rest, relax, explore, admire, bask, play, think, or not think. We need to allow our minds and bodies and even our emotions to rest and be rejuvenated.

There isn’t any one way to take a break; there is no magic formula or time or place.

A vacation allows us to enjoy a different type of rest and fun, and then come back home with renewed energy and motivation for our everyday lives.

I thank God for vacations!

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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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Bougainvillea flowers and hummingbird feeder

What I Learned this Spring

I’m always thankful for the opportunity to join in Emily P. Freeman’s What We Learned link-up each quarter. It’s a good way to stop and reflect on some of the useful or just plain interesting things that I’ve been learning.

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Bougainvillea flowers and hummingbird feeder

 

Here are 8 different things I’ve learned this spring:

 

1. I guess carageenan is best to be avoided, after all.

After revisiting my note in preparation for this post which stated, “Carageenan may be safe after all (and perhaps even provide health benefits?)”, I cannot see any information that proves this point. Embarrassingly, I have no idea where I read this information, and in further studying it, I agree with most of the reputable sources that I can find that agree that carageenan is best to be avoided.

It’s a thickening agent made from seaweed and is used in many foods, even many that are considered healthy or organic, as well as toothpaste. It has also been used to treat some illnesses.

Both practitioner and teacher of integrative medicine, Dr. Andrew Weil, and well-known doctor of natural medicine (as well as chiropractic and clinical nutritionist), Dr. Axe conclude that carageenan is best to be avoided, as it is linked to too many negative health risks. It is said to at least possibly be responsible for health problems such as digestive issues, inflammation, diabetes and even cancer.

Even WebMd uses wording such as “likely safe” and “possibly unsafe” in their description of the side affects and safety of carageenan.

There’s been a lot of conflicting information bouncing around over the years, apparently, but for now I’m going to read more labels and attempt to avoid this questionable ingredient when possible.

Here is a nice list of food products that do and do not contain carageenan to guide us in our grocery shopping.

 

2. Love really does make the world go round.

It may have been a phrase in a popular old song, but relationships really do seem to be the key to true happiness in life.

In a comprehensive, 75-year Harvard study, tracking factors such as intelligence levels, alcohol intake, relationships and income, one of the conclusions is that love is “the key to happiness”.

“That’s right, you heard it straight from the horse’s mouth — love is everything. A person can have all the luxuries in the world, but without love, they mean very little.”

Knowing the importance of love in relation to happiness should help us to prioritize our important relationships all the more.

 

3. SPAM turns 80 this year!

This much-loved or intensely-hated canned pork “delicacy” has been around now for an official eighty years!

Watch this video to learn everything you ever wanted (or didn’t want) to know about the history of SPAM:

 

 

 

4. I just learned about the hair highlighting process of balayage, and had it done to my hair.

Recently I asked my hairdresser if we could do something a little different for my hair (beyond the “normal” coloring to cover my many grays, along with a trim), and she suggested some highlighting. I hadn’t had highlighting since the days when I only had a few gray hairs…so quite awhile ago!

So when she mentioned doing balayage, at first I had to ask her to repeat it, and then I needed to know what it was. It is a more modern, and more importantly more natural process to highlight hair. (You can read all about it here and see more samples.)

“Balayage is a French word meaning ‘to sweep’ or ‘to paint’. It allows for a sun-kissed natural-looking hair colour, similar to what nature gives us as children.”

It is rather a work of art, I think, and one nice feature is that each person’s results will be different every time, yet an agreeable look can be achieved to compliment the person’s features, coloring and hair style.

my new hair highlights

my hair highlights

my hair highlightsmy bayalage highlights

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m quite happy with the results (although it was difficult to capture the full colors on camera).

 

 

5. I can find no proof that the “pinch test” for 100% silicone is accurate.

I have some cute  and handy silicone baking cups that I use sometimes in place of paper muffin cups, and silicone bake-ware has become more popular elsewhere than in my kitchen. One of the things that is, frankly, driving me a bit crazy, is all the hoopla about doing the “silicone pinch test” to see if your silicone pieces are 100% silicone.

The idea is that if you pinch and twist your silicone and see any white, your silicone is not pure; if the item is 100% silicone it will remain fully colored.

The frustrating thing is that although I can find multitudes of statements stating that this is a true test, from personal reviewers to many of the companies that make and sell these products, I have as yet to find one shred of evidence explaining whether this is true or not. I have also found several examples from companies stating that the test is just an internet myth; I even recall one company stating that they could provide copies of their tests or certifications.

My conclusion? Although the internet is an amazing and wonderful tool, sometimes it can still leave you empty-handing or just plain confused.

I think I’ll just continue to use my little silicone baking cups at my own risk.

I need a little adventure in my life, anyway. 🙂

 

6. Negativity actually rewires your brain.

OK. I admit it.

Sometimes I complain too much.

It’s something I’ve worked at, but it tends to be my natural response too often. And although I’ve always known it can be toxic to myself and others around me, after reading an article on How complaining rewires your brain for negativityI’m more convinced (or convicted!) than ever!

 

“Your brain loves efficiency and doesn’t like to work any harder than it has to. When you repeat a behavior, such as complaining, your neurons branch out to each other to ease the flow of information. This makes it much easier to repeat that behavior in the future — so easy, in fact, that you might not even realize you’re doing it.”

 

That’s the bad news, and there’s more.

Complaining also damages other areas of your brain, and is bad for your health.

The good news is, we can choose to curb this destructive habit.

 

 “There are two things you can do when you feel the need to complain. One is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. That is, when you feel like complaining, shift your attention to something that you’re grateful for. Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the right thing to do; it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. Research conducted at the University of California, Davis, found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood and energy and substantially less anxiety due to lower cortisol levels. Any time you experience negative or pessimistic thoughts, use this as a cue to shift gears and to think about something positive. In time, a positive attitude will become a way of life. 

The second thing you can do — and only when you have something that is truly worth complaining about — is to engage in solution-oriented complaining. “

 

I, for one, am going to continue on my quest (and ask God to help me) to turn my negative thoughts and words into gratitude.

 

7. Rumor has it that we can get a discount on coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts if we bring our own cup and order a “refill”.

Here is one of the many posts I discovered that claim that this favorite coffee and donut chain will give you a cheaper price on hot or iced coffee if you purchase a refill.

I have seen different prices listed for this “refill” order, and have as yet to ask at my local coffee shop to see if they provide this service. I also need to check to see if we need to purchase one of their brand name cups to receive this discount.

I’ll be asking next time I stop in for a coffee, as it’s certainly worth a try.

 

8. Actors Daniel Lissing and Erin Krakow of my favorite When Calls the Heart Canadian television series have done some singing together, and it’s really nice.

Are there any more “Hearties” out there?

Those of us who know and love this family-friendly, inspirational television series based on Janette Oke’s popular books have also come to love and appreciate the actors who make the story come to life.

I came across some music performed by Daniel Lissing and Erin Krakow (who play Mountie Jack and his sweetheart teacher, Elizabeth Thatcher), and I especially like this song.

I hope you’ll enjoy it as well.

 

 

 

Well, that sums up what I’ve been learning this spring. It seems that the busier I am the less I remember to stop and notice things I’m learning.

I hope you’ve enjoyed or learned something yourself from my list.

What have you been learning?

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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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Blue and pink sunset

All The Other Things

Blue and pink sunset

 

This post has been written for the Five Minute Friday link-up (even though it’s not Friday), where the word prompt of the week is other.

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Sometimes it seems my life is consumed by all the other things.

Does this happen to you? At the end of many a day, I realize (and sometimes complain aloud), that the thing I really wanted to get done didn’t happen.

I know I’m not alone. And I know it’s not easy.

But I desire to do more with my days than just all the other things.

Yes, I know that life is busy, and that responsibilities require us to give much of our time to things that may seem mundane, yet we need to find a way to do the things that matter.

Of course there are circumstances and seasons where we have little to no choice. Having a new baby or more than one young child, being the sole provider for your family, nursing a sick loved one…..these are all legitimate times when we may have to really sacrifice for a time, just to survive. (And I hope if you’re in a place like this, you reach out for help and accept it gratefully and with no guilt.)

But in our “normal” lives, we need to create space for thought & relaxation, find time for activities that fulfill us, and do something that gives us life.

So take care of your other responsibilities, but make sure you fit the “big” things in, too. Do the things that really matter and make a difference in your life, and be sure that some of them bring you pleasure and joy.

It may feel selfish to spend time on ourselves, but if we do, we will find we are better equipped to help the others in our life.

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afternoon sun shining through winter trees

What I Learned This Winter

afternoon sun shining through winter trees

I’m linking up with Emily P. Freeman’s What We Learned link-up, where we are invited to come together to share the interesting things we’ve learned, whether serious, silly or somewhere in between. Here’s a list of some of the things I learned this winter.

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1. I have officially joined the Instant Pot craze.

OK. Maybe I’m not quite crazy, but I am growing more and more fond of my Instant Pot almost daily. There seems to be almost a “cult following” of this incredible machine.

Thinking back to what made me take the plunge on this past Black Friday Amazon sale, I have to admit that I don’t love to cook (although I truly love baking!), especially when I feel tired or short on time. And I liked the idea that I might be able to pull together a last-minute meal even with frozen meat.

Enter my new Instant Pot Duo 8 qt.

There is a learning curve to this machine (and I’m sure there will continue to be much more to learn and explore), but already in the past few months, I’ve grown to love the speed, convenience and variety of uses for my pressure cooker. I have already discovered several new meal ideas to be made all in one pot that will remain family favorites, and hope to share more on my blog as we go along.

making homemade yogurt in my Instant Pot

First try for making homemade yogurt.

 

pasta meal in Instant Pot

“Mystery pasta & meatballs”, made from a variety of leftovers combined (a mystery because I will never be able to repeat it).

2.  Smart people know and remind themselves of how much they do not know.

This interesting article suggests that although it’s clearly helpful to read books and put what you’ve learned into practice, it’s also beneficial just to have many books on your bookshelf. For real?

books I'm reading

I love to purchase good books and have every intention of reading them (in fact, it’s one of my goals for this year), but often by the time all is said and done, I own a lot more than I actually ever finish reading.

The author suggests that having lots of good books keeps our desire to learn aflame and encourages us that we have much to learn and far to grow.

So just maybe this little book fetish of mine is not so frivolous after all.

 

 

small book pile3. I just read how (& why) the Dewey Decimal System came to be.

I have a part-time job I really enjoy as a library assistant. As such, I’d still never given a lot of thought to the Dewey Decimal System, and why most libraries choose to arrange books in this way.

One day at work, my supervisor came out with a statement that numbers were used because they are more intuitive/easier to remember than letters.

That thought intrigued me, and though I cannot find the research to substantiate that exact idea, it did lead me to read the interesting story of Melvil Dewey and how he came to design the Dewey Decimal System. The author writes,

“What’s obvious to you, the jaded library patron, wasn’t so obvious in the era before Melvil Dewey. Once a creative genius comes up with an innovation, a century later everyone thinks it’s obvious. If you think it’s so easy, you come up with a system for classifying all knowledge that ever was and ever will be.”

I’m just glad Dewey did this work, and didn’t leave the arranging of much of the world’s books to me.

 

4. There are many interesting and unknown facts about my most favorite holiday (Christmas).

I’ve always loved Christmas, and have always made it’s celebration a highlight of our year. Since I’ve been celebrating for over 50 years now, I’d like to consider myself an expert on the holiday and it’s traditions.

But in reading these “18 Mind-Blowing Facts About the Holidays”, I’ve discovered that there are still many facts about the origin of common Christmas traditions that I did not know. While I’m certainly not surprised that “Americans ship an unbelievable amount of gifts” (I’m quite sure over half of them arrive on our online-ordering-loving doorstep), I was surprised and intrigued to learn that in Canada, “Santa has his own zip code”, “Xmas doesn’t remove Christ from Christmas” (the letter “X” comes from the Greek alphabet and relates to Christ), “Mistletoe was believed to be an aphrodisiac”, and that “Rudolph was almost named Reginald”.

 

5. The latest road conditions can be obtained by calling 511.

We all know to call 911 in an emergency, and most of us have called 411 when we needed directory assistance (although perhaps our “more modern” friends have only relied on the internet for most information?), but until now, I had never heard that there is indeed a 511 call as well. This is the number for America’s Traveler Information. By calling this number, drivers can receive “up-to-the-minute travel and traffic information”.

Good to know.

 

6. A male ballerina is called a ballerino.

I never realized that the word to describe a male ballet dancer is “ballerino”, although after we went to our first performance of The Nutcracker, my friend & I (and especially our husbands who attended with us), will forever have pictures of “men in tights” etched in our minds.

Also interesting to note, is that these titles actually refer to more specific ranks of dancers and that French and Italian have their own names for male and female ballet dancers as well.

 

hot drinks and snowpeople

7. I want to celebrate Christmastide.

I love Christmas!

This Christmas season, I learned something new & wonderful in one of my devotional readings. In Loving My Actual Christmas: An Advent Devotional by Alexandra Kuykendall, the author explains:

“Did you know that the church calendar has an extended Christmas season built into it? We call this stretch of days Christmastide. This period begins on Christmas morning and goes for twelve days, ending on January 6 with Epiphany and the arrival of the magi to the Baby Jesus.”

In fact, I can really relate to how the author feels about this special celebration, although I too have never officially participated in Christmastide. But my family has always found a way to stretch out the Christmas celebration and make this time of year last a little longer. What better way than to celebrate for twelve days after?

If you wish to know more about Christmastide, here’s some more great information that will help to explain more details.

 

Christmas tree and cat

 

8. It’s more environmentally responsible to get a live Christmas tree than use an artificial one.

Well, there’s a bit more to it than that, which you can read here. I, for one, am glad to finally hear some good information in defense of one of my favorite holiday traditions.

And here’s a bit more Christmas tree trivia: after doing a bit more research, I also found out that the first artificial trees were made by a toilet brush company out of their brush bristles.

I may never look at an artificial tree the same again! 😉

 

9. Cooking in a pressure cooker is actually a more healthy way to cook. 🙂

In reference to my point #1, I am happy to have learned that pressure cooking is indeed healthy. I could try to explain the details and convince you in my own words, but I think I’ll suggest you read this very thorough article instead:

According to studies, pressure cooking retains more nutrients than any other type of cooking, it makes grains and legumes easier to digest, increases the digestibility of protein, and can be a good choice for a quick, healthy meal, instead of resorting to packaged, processed foods or take-out.

Just one more reason to love my IP! (That’s short for “Instant Pot”, which you would know if you can relate to point #1)

 

10. Gerber hired their first Gerber Baby with Downs syndrome.

Most of us have grown up recognizing the company’s trademark Gerber Baby.

Since 2010, the Gerber company has held a contest and chosen a special baby to be their “Spokesbaby”. For 2018, baby Lucas Warren has been chosen, and is the first baby picked with Downs syndrome. He captured the hearts of the Gerber team, and there are hopes that this choice will encourage positive change for those with disabilities.

I’m quite sure that if you watch this video, you’ll fall in love with him, too. ♥

 

11. L L Bean is changing (down-grading?) their return policy.

After many, many years of boasting one of the very best return policies out there, L L Bean has decided to change their return policy.  This decision seems to be mainly based on the fact that a small percentage of customers have somewhat taken advantage of their excellent policy. The company suggests that this change won’t affect most of their loyal customers, and I’m not sure exactly how it will affect my future relationship with them, but I guess time will tell.

 

12. I just learned about the benefits of weighted blankets.

I had never even heard of a weighted blanket until very recently.

Hearing that they may help relieve various symptoms affecting sleep, such as stress & anxiety, ADD/ADHD, sleep disorders, PTSD and even autism, makes me curious to try one. They are said to trigger the release of serotonin and melatonin, chemicals which reduce stress and improve sleep.

Sounds like a fairly risk-free idea to help improve one’s sleep!

 

 

 

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir Canadian Ice Dancing Olympic Champions

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir – Canadian Olympic Ice Dance Champions

 

13. The 2018 Winter Olympics gave me my first glimpse of K-pop music.

K-pop stands for “Korean Pop Music”, and my first introduction to this modern form of music was watching the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics this February. It’s an interesting combination of various musical styles and genres and utilizes audiovisual effects. I found it quite different and entertaining.

 

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Thanks for reading my list of What I’ve Learned this winter. If you made it to the end of the post, I hope you enjoyed reading and maybe learned something new, too.

 

 

 

various miniature winter trees

When Christmas Feels Different

I am happy to link this post with many others at Five Minute Friday, and today’s prompt is, different.

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various miniature winter trees

This Christmas feels a little different.

It’s been an interesting year. I started the year sensing the word, “cherish”. But as the year progressed, it felt less like a year to cherish and more of just getting through.

In the spring, I accidentally cut my finger while slicing watermelon and severed the tendon, which resulted in surgery and a surprisingly long recovery time. Loss of the use of my finger set me back in many household responsibilities, but in the end, I am mostly healed (still needing to do a bit more strengthening as of yet!).

In October, after feeling signs of something being not quite right in his chest, my husband was scheduled to have stints put it to open blocked arteries, but was kept in for bypass surgery instead. Thankfully, things went extremely well, and he is well on the road to recovery.

While I am so thankful that things didn’t turn out worse (believe me, it could have been much worse!), I also have had to grieve the loss of time and order in my home and life that just hasn’t been the same. I have felt overwhelmed and behind in so many areas for most of the year, although we have survived quite well.

So I come at this Christmas from a slightly different perspective.

I love all things Christmas, so giving up some of my long-held, much-loved traditions to care for myself, my home and my family has been a sacrifice. It doesn’t feel quite the same.

But of course, it has been feeling different all along, as time and age and memories rush past in what seems like ever-increasing speed.

For those of us who cherished the childish sensations of the holidays, it’s a bit difficult to grow up, be responsible, and enjoy the holiday without all of the same feelings.

And this Christmas has come all too fast for my liking (although a touch of snow on the ground doesn’t hurt), but has it really?

I’ve read and heard it said that if the meaning of Christmas doesn’t affect us all year long, then it isn’t the real thing. I’ve heard of more than one friend who actually decided to leave up their nativity sets all year to be mindful of this fact.

I will probably always love the sights, sounds, emotions, traditions and memories of this special time of year. As long as we keep these good things in perspective, I’m sure God doesn’t mind our celebrating his birthday too much.

But let us remember that Christmas really doesn’t come just once a year. Rather, it comes and is here with us always in the form of God’s only Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit whom he left to stay with us.

His presence is ever real, and if I can really begin to understand this timeless truth, then Christmas really isn’t that different this year after all. Some things never change.

I have and will celebrate the important things in life: my faith and God’s special gift to the world, my family and loved ones (whether near or far), our health and strength, a warm, happy home and so much to be thankful for, the countless blessings that grace my life each day even when they go unnoticed, the festivities and fun that the holidays bring, and yes, even the hard stuff that causes us to stretch and grow.

So eat a cookie, listen to some holiday tunes, enjoy those you find around you, sit in the stillness, ponder the gift, enjoy the candles and Christmas lights, but most of all, be thankful.

This Christmas may be different, but the gift is the same.

And if we choose to embrace Christmas in whatever form it appears, perhaps we will look a little different, too.

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St. Elizabeth's Hospital window view

What I Learned this Fall

 

 

St. Elizabeth's Hospital window view

It’s one of the times I look forward to each quarter when I pause to look back and share what I’ve learned with you. I’m especially thankful to be linking up to Emily Freeman’s What We Learned post along with many other bloggers.

Life has been a bit crazy around here, what with the almost sudden need for my husband to have bypass surgery just over a month ago. Thankfully he’s recovering nicely and we’re getting a little closer to “normal” again, but needless to say many things have been shelved for the past few weeks. I’ve so wanted to write on my blog so many times and only managed once.

I’ve probably learned more in this intense time than I’ve had time to record, but perhaps this will help me to process some of my experiences as I write.

And so I’m thrilled to be able to share with you today some of the things I’ve been learning this fall, whether serious or silly.

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 homemade iced coffee

1. Iced coffee was NOT invented in the US (or New England, for that matter!).

For how much folks around here love  are utterly devoted to their iced coffee, I thought for sure that it was invented in the US, and surely somewhere in New England, but it isn’t true.

The first “iced coffee” beverage was probably invented in Algeria, and the iced coffee we know and love today in the United States came much later.

 

2. I will usually fit an activity or responsibility into whatever time-frame I have available.

I guess I’ve been learning this my whole life.

It started back in college when I would stay up some nights and write (freehand, of course; computers were rather new and hardly used), a term paper in one copy, because I had left it until the last minute, forcing me to get the job done in the most efficient manner.

Recently, I’ve been cranking out my quarterly posts in record time, causing this “recovering perfectionist” to throw caution to the wind and just do it, as life has been full these past few months.

 

3. I’m learning how to brew good coffee in a french press.

With the sudden “death” of our Kuerig coffee maker, I temporarily used my French press to make coffee several times. While I am certainly not a pro, I found some good help and succeeded in making some decent coffee before purchasing our new coffee system. My French press skills may still come in handy when we are without power or a decent machine.

I found an article containing a great detailed description of French press coffee brewing methods, and for a more simple approach, I found a handy guide. I used both in my quest for good French press coffee.

Bodum French press

4. I learned the difference between licence and license. 

“Licence” is a noun, while “license” is a verb. According to this article, it’s very similar to the difference between practice and practise (although not in the USA, where “practice” is used for both noun and verb). I feel like I must have been taught this in English grammar class at some point, though I don’t claim to remember.

 

5. I knew that almonds were good for you, but now I understand why.

In this article, Dr. Axe shares the details of why this nut is such a popular healthy snack. Almonds contain healthy fat and boast many other significant health benefits. Raw almonds (and almond butter) are probably my favorite snack along with an apple or some dried fruit.

 

6. I learned about wheat pellets.

I had never heard of this popular Mexican snack food, but something caused me to look it up online. It is made of puffed wheat and often flavored. I have yet to try such a snack, but if so many people like it, it might be worth trying. This blog post contains some helpful information along with some personal experience if you’d like to learn how to prepare this interesting snack.

 

Boat in the golden hours

7. The best lighting for most outdoor photography takes place during the Golden Hour.

I’ve been taught years ago that the best lighting for outdoor picture-taking is just after sunrise or just before sunset, but just recently learned that photographers have given it a name: the golden hour. Bright sunlight looks nice in real life, but it can be difficult to get a nice photo in such harsh, bright light. In the golden hour, the light is softer and warmer, and you’ll find it easier to get beautiful photographs in this light.

Pumpkins in the golden hours

8.  I was 10 when “Slime” was invented.

In 1976, Slime was born. This sticky, slimy, fun substance was thought up by some brilliant mind at Mattel, and was originally green in color and sold in a little green trash can. Over the years many variations were invented (such as Slime with worms), and people have even figured out how to produce their own Slime.

 

9. Jon Bryant is a Canadian musician I’d like to listen to.

I heard this song by singer and songwriter Jon Bryant, and learned he’s a Canadian based in the Maritimes.

From the sounds of this lovely piece, I think I’d enjoy listening to more of his music.

 

10. I researched a little more about the health benefits of oats.

I also learned the differences between some of the different types, such as steel cut and rolled oats. This page from LiveStrong contains several posts explaining everything from the different forms of oats, to health and nutrition benefits, to how to prepare them. I have been including oats in many of my breakfasts and enjoy eating them in many different forms, such as baked oatmeal, overnight oats, and breakfast cookies.

 

11. Here’s the “miracle” method of removing clear oil/grease spots from clean laundry.

In a recent phone conversation with my dear sister, we got on to the topic of laundry, more specifically those pesky little “grease” spots that seem to appear on too many freshly laundered items. I’m still not sure exactly where they all come from, but now I know one solution! (Thanks, Becca!)

Simply take an old (cleaned) toothbrush and gently work a little baking soda into the clear grease stain. Leave it in for about five minutes. Then brush out the powder with your toothbrush and either shake to remove more particles (or rewash if it’s hard to remove).

That’s it! I’ve tried this several times since she shared this simple trick, and am happy to say that it works like a charm. Good-bye you greasy little spots!

 

12. You can make decent mashed potatoes in a slow cooker.

On this year’s unique Thanksgiving Day celebration I was commissioned to make mashed potatoes for about 30 people. Since this year the job would fall mainly to me (with help from my sons while my husband was recovering from surgery),  I began to search the internet for ideas for making potatoes for large crowds and/or in advance, and came across several methods for making them in a crock pot.

The beauty of using a slow cooker is that you can make them ahead of time and they’ll stay nice and warm. The other big draw for me was that they can all be made in one pot, without the need to drain and wash multiple pots and sieves.

So I pulled out my two trusty slow cookers and set out to cook about 15 pounds of potatoes.

After perusing and pinning several recipes to consider, I finally settled on this more basic, but good slow cooker mashed potato recipe.

Making mashed potatoes in the slow cooker

Making mashed potatoes in the crock-pot

13. I finally learned the history behind why (my) part of Canada (and a few other parts of the world) enjoy their milk packaged in bags.

For a good part of my growing up years in Canada and to this day on our visits to Canada, I’ve had milk served from a plastic bag in a little plastic pitcher.

It wasn’t always this way; I do remember having a milk box for delivery of jugs (plastic, I think), but later it was mostly sold in bags. I don’t remember the change and certainly hadn’t thought up why this practice began. I guess it had mostly to do with converting to the metric system (which also happened in my growing up years).

I did always wonder if it was a practice for all of Canada, or more limited to the area where I grew up (in the Niagara Peninsula). Since my sister posted about this on Facebook, we were able to glean responses from many folks from all different locations. We discovered that it is not used in all of Canada, but even more surprisingly, that some rare parts of the United States and even different countries such as South Africa sell milk in bags as well!

I guess it’s really true that great minds think alike! 😉

 

14. I really can depend on my GPS and drive in difficult places.

Since my husband’s bypass surgery “adventure”, I’ve had to learn to depend on my GPS and drive where I’m not comfortable. I had friends go with me and even drive me on hard days, but am proud that I progressed beyond my driving comfort zone.

 

15. God provides the people we need just when we need them.

You can read more details in my last post, but it was confirmed to us again and again through this traumatic event that friends, family, acquaintances, and medical staff come through when you need them. We had such support in both prayer and practical ways all along this interesting journey. My natural family is far away so they could only pray and chat with me, but those who are near us surprised us with their love and help. We are truly thankful.

 

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