10 Things I Learned In a Pandemic – Spring 2020

Spring 2020 potted herbs

Early this spring, we quickly found ourselves in the middle of a pandemic. As the Corona virus began to spread and affect us here in North America, the world began to shut down and ramp up, simultaneously.

It seems that most of us have found ourselves in one of two extreme categories: those who were told to go home and stay there to be safe (either paid or unpaid), or the many others who rose to the front-lines and still soldier on there today, helping to find a cure, save and/or protect lives, or simply provide us with food and other necessities we find essential.

I feel like I should call this, “10 Things I’m Learning…”, because although things are slowly getting better, we have a long way to go to get back to anything resembling normal. So we keep on learning.

While this list isn’t necessarily all pandemic related, it certainly reflects that. I’ve included some lighter notes as well, but the truth is none of us has ever found ourselves in such a place as this before.

So whether I’m able to express something that you have also found to be true, or I can provide you with a pleasant little distraction in hard times, please enjoy reading what I’ve learned this spring.

Thanks to Emily P. Freeman for teaching me how to reflect and for inviting us to join in her link-up to share our findings.


1. Functioning in a crisis is exhausting.

Early on in this pandemic, I began to formulate plans for all of the wonderful things that I could accomplish while being asked to stay at home. But I quickly realized that everything about a pandemic is exhausting: simple everyday tasks that now include more thought or work to keep things clean and healthy, going out in public and seeing folks wearing face-masks as a new addition to their regular wardrobe, hearing about another person who had to die without being close to the ones they love, or just getting used to a different schedule, rhythm, and routine that looks almost nothing like it did before.

Yeah, I accomplished a few good things. But truthfully, being productive was not my strong suit. There were days I had to stop and have a good cry and just give myself lots of grace.

2. I am much happier being less busy and spending more time at home.

I’ve always known this, and although I have had jobs I enjoy and I like getting out of the house, I much prefer to have more time at home. Even though I’ve sorely missed going to church and physically getting together with people, I have adjusted quite well to being home full time. I definitely enjoy a slower pace, less commitments, and can function better with less on my plate.

3. Bananas can be OK to eat even when really dark.

I like to keep bananas on hand for a quick healthy snack and also for baking. But as you know, it seems like the window of opportunity for enjoying a banana at just the right ripeness is small, and then if my schedule doesn’t allow for baking, they can quickly get “too” ripe.

I know all about freezing bananas to keep them for baking, but sometimes my good intentions cause me to leave a couple out to the point where I question if they are still good.

One day I decided to check it out for myself, and I found this great tip:

Bananas that have a musty smell, fruit flies, mold on the stems or signs of rot and decay are no longer safe to eat. An overripe banana that looks and smells fine, on the other hand, doesn’t pose any health risks.

Furthermore, I have baked with such overripe bananas, and the results come out just fine.

4. The pandemic seems to be confirming that I am highly sensitive.

If I wasn’t quite convinced that I am a highly sensitive person before the pandemic, this crisis seems to be confirming that theory.

A highly sensitive person is someone who experiences acute physical, mental, or emotional responses to stimuli. (and if this makes no sense to you, that’s a good indication that you are not one). I’ve been learning more about this unique trait recently, but felt to do a little more specific research about how it affects us in our current reality.

This article pretty much sums up many of the ways the coronavirus pandemic has strongly affected me, and helped me to realize once again that we are all created uniquely and react differently.

And that’s a good thing.

5. Sometimes the burn signal on my Instant Pot can be safely ignored.

I love my Instant Pot, but my one nemesis is the dreaded “burn signal”.

While I am not a pressure cooker newbie, I haven’t been able to consistently avoid a burn signal, especially with certain types of dishes. But when I read this article that explains how the Instant Pot works and what it actually does when overheated, I now feel some relief. I now know that it is sometimes safe and effective to actually ignore the signal and let the pot try to complete its cooking program, and that the Instant Pot will actually try this five times before permanently shutting off.

Obviously we must use our own discretion while using a pressure cooker, but I’m thankful for all of the safety mechanisms built into this handy device.

6. Doing something “normal” is precious in times of crisis.

During times of difficulty, emotional upheaval, or high stress, our everyday, familiar tasks become precious.

Brewing a cup of coffee in the morning, spending some quiet time in prayer or reflection, working on a craft or project we enjoy, working in a garden or even sorting clothes and doing laundry are somehow comforting in a world of change, danger, and unknown.

7. Instacart is not cheap, but worth it right now.

During the current health crisis, I decided to avoid some of the risk (and unnecessary emotional stress) of grocery shopping and try Instacart. I quickly found it to be more expensive than I thought, but decided to pay for the Express membership for two or three months to help protect my husband with a heart condition and provide jobs for those who are willing to shop.

After a month, I cancelled my membership and thought I was ready to go back to shopping, but was also called back in to work at my library job. It is going alright, but is strange and difficult having to wear a mask and be so careful about everything we do or touch. In some ways it’s like learning a brand new job, and I found myself exhausted after each four hour shift.

So with the blessing of my husband, I decided to give Instacart another go. We agreed that my day off is much better spent at home at a time where my usual carefree shopping time is anything but.

I am also thankful to have a willing son who works at a grocery store, who volunteers to help out by picking up a few items each week as needed.

8. I may have a (Keds) sneaker fetish.

A couple of years ago I tried my first pair of Keds sneakers. I found them to be both comfortable and cute.

I discovered the joy of wearing them to some of my shifts at work, and learned that others even style them with dressier outfits. I also found that they make so many fun, pretty, and unique styles, so I guess I’m building up a small collection.

The dressy heel or fancy sandal that would bring joy to my young heart has been replaced by a more comfortable, “safe” shoe that’s still really pretty for this middle aged lady.

9. Everything is different in a pandemic.

We have come to be more used to this strange and scary world we’re living in in times of pandemic, yet it still overshadows almost everything we do. It’s hard to get away from it when there is literally nowhere to go.

At the beginning, I had fleeting fantasies of flying across the world to some remote place to flee from this scary situation, only to realize that it is indeed everywhere and there is almost literally no place to hide.

Not a day goes by that we aren’t hearing or talking about the Covid-19 pandemic, and even if I avoid too much news, I still feel it’s affects every single day.

We need to allow ourselves enjoyable activities and times of quiet that at least let our brains and emotions relax and get away from it all for a time.

10. Some things don’t change (even in a pandemic).

At the same time, some things will never change.

The sun still rises in the morning and sets every evening.

The seasons are coming and going and there is life in nature despite much sickness and death all around us.

I have a loving husband and family, a church who is like a second family (and successfully meeting online), creative outlets that refresh me, and fun and laughter that help me forget we’re in a crisis.

But most of all, I have a God who loves me, who is faithful to me in all of life’s seasons, and who is not surprised or intimidated by all of the things going on around us.

And for that I am truly thankful.


Distraction

sky with budding tree branches

I’m joining in the Five Minute Friday link-up to write about distraction. We’re in a pandemic, so the topic seems timely.


A tone.

A little chime.

Another notification.

How can I focus with another distraction?

Sometimes it’s worth it; a call or text from a far away family member or close friend, a question from one of my sons, my husband wanting a hug. And I fail at this too, when I don’t stop and appreciate their importance.

But most of the distractions I face every day are not high priority.

They are either unimportant overall, or just not the one thing I need to focus on in the moment. My tired mind and sensitive heart are constantly and too easily pulled away.

But when I stop…

When I take the time to slow down and be in the moment,

when I look into your eyes and really listen,

or determine that the task in front of me rightly requires all of my attention for now,

…then I am truly present.

I may actually finish my good work.

I may accomplish not for the sake of accomplishment itself, but because what I’m doing matters.

I may be able to do my next right thing in love.

Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people…

Colossians 3:23 CSB

Give Yourself Some Grace

pink flowers in a pandemic

We’re in the middle of a pandemic, my friends, and my encouragement for you all today is GIVE YOURSELF SOME GRACE!!!

[Or perhaps you are reading this later, and although thankfully the world has returned to somewhat normal, you feel as though you are in a crisis all your own. Read on.]

It’s been a rough couple or few (or how many??? what day is it???) weeks on all of us, and I just want to recognize something. I’ve come to grips with the fact that I am NOT functioning at 100% right now (and many of you know, as I’ve shared on Facebook) I’ve been brought to tears many times lately. I am recognizing that I am emotionally and mentally taxed.

This is not to suggest that I am ungrateful. NO, I am extremely grateful to have it “good” right now. No-one in my family has lost their jobs/income (although business is a bit slow), we are all together and healthy, and I cannot imagine what others are going through who are being more closely touched by this pandemic.

And don’t even get me started on how hard it must be for all of the health care workers, first responders, and even the many workers in grocery stores, drug stores, and such so that we can be safe and get what we need. I am SO grateful for all of you!!! 

But I realized something.

It is still really hard for all of us right now. It’s tiring and emotionally heartbreaking to do something as simple as go out to get groceries or manage another day in the house altogether. The amount of thought it takes to do things that either would have been “normal” or that are completely NOT normal is crazy.

We feel the sadness and fear of those around us, whether it be our families, the people we walk by (6 ft. away), or the news we hear from outside of our homes, and we cannot avoid it completely. And on top of all that, we cannot get together or touch hardly anyone (which is one of our basic needs!) And we are afraid of what the world will look like when all of this is over.

So yes, let’s allow ourselves some space to feel what we’re feeling, grieve the losses (great or small) that we are ALL experiencing, and cut ourselves some slack. Let’s continue to reach out to to others (that’s a message for another post), so we don’t get stuck in our own negativity, but be OK with not accomplishing it all or being happy in the midst of a really hard situation.

Take some time to care for yourself in whatever way you can. Enjoy the outdoors, some quiet, prayer and Bible reading, uplifting or fun music, play a board game, reading a good book, mindlessly watching TV when that’s all you have left, or doing something you love, and let some other things go.

One of the nicest things my Mom ever told me when she was going through her first cancer struggle many years ago, was that my feelings still mattered, even though they felt small and unimportant to me by comparison.

You are important and your feelings matter, no matter what’s going on in the world around you.

No matter where you find yourself on the pandemic spectrum, know that I am thinking of and praying for you all. 

And enjoy my pretty flowers. 

[This post was originally just something I posted on Facebook, but I soon realized it needed a blog post of it’s own. I pray that you have been encouraged.]

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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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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.

*******

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.

*******

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.

*****

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?

*****

 

 

 

wheat grass, cat grass, kitties

The Things We Want to Share

wheat grass, cat grass, kitties

Today I’m joining in with the bunch at Five Minute Friday, where the prompt of the day is share.

*****

Since we were little we learned that it is good to share.

As a mom of two sons and eventually a teacher’s aide, I often taught the art of sharing.

 

But as an adult, I now realize that there are some things that we do not want to share.

Nasty cold germs.

Financial problems due to poor decisions or lack of self-control.

A life’s worth of clutter for others to clean up after I die.

Days filled with too much complaining.

Constant words of criticism.

 

These are just a few of the things we should keep to ourselves (or in many cases, get help or change!).

 

But there are many positive things we want to share with those we find around us.

A smile.

A cheery or encouraging word.

A message of hope.

Special and thoughtful gifts (big or small).

Sincere empathy, thoughts and prayers.

A helping hand.

Even a loving but gentle rebuke (spoken in love to someone to which we have become close and earned the right).

Good advice.

A listening ear or a shoulder to cry on.

 

It may cost us something, but often it doesn’t have to.

But we will gain far more than we give.

So let’s share the good things.

Let’s bless another, and in turn, be blessed.

These are the things we want to share.

*****

Do you have any suggestions to add to my list? This is just a start.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

 

 

 

fields with cows and Adirondack chairs

What I Learned this Summer

fields with cows and Adirondack chairs

My sister’s cow pasture and garden at Laird Family Farm. 🙂

It’s time again to write about What We Learned and link up with Emily P. Freeman‘s post to share what we learned this summer. This is one of my favorite times to reflect back on the important, fun or even meaningless things I have learned over the past quarter of the year.

1 Tom Longboat is recognized as “Canada’s greatest long-distance runner”.

Being a Canadian (who just happens to live happily in the US) who has never been into sports, I had never heard of Tom Longboat. But one day Google alerted me to the facts that he was a long-distance runner who used innovative training, became the first member of a First Nations community to win the Boston Marathon, and was even inducted into Canada’s Hall of Fame.

2.  I have mostly decided that using Borax is safe.

Many people use Borax to make their own home cleaning and other “natural” products. In the ongoing debate about whether or not Borax is a safe product to use, I think I agree with this blog post. The author clearly and thoroughly lays out many facts and arguments to think about when deciding if you wish to use this product. If you have questions, give it a read and decide for yourself.

3. The official Bullet Journal website offers their own journal for purchase, as well as a bullet journal app.

I’ve been using my bullet journal off and on now (and trying to get back to using it regularly again!) for a couple of years. It’s my best solution to the quest for a method of planning that allows for both practical record-keeping as well as inspirational thought and creativity. Basically, it can be whatever the owner wants and needs it to be. While there are many variations and embellishments to this planning format, the original bullet journal is where many of us started. Now they have their own journal available for purchase as well as a companion app, if that’s your cup of tea.

4. I looked up the difference between naturopathic & integrative medicine.

In the quest to learn more about more “natural” methods of caring for ourselves and our loved ones it’s good to have an understanding of the different methods and ideologies out there. I wanted to learn more about two of these ideas, namely naturopathy and Integrative Medicine. Rather than attempt to reword their definitions (or risk plagiarism!), I thought it most helpful to include these quotes and links to more information from the professionals:
Natural medicine can also be referred to as naturopathy; it is a form of alternative medicine which involves homeopathy, herbalism, acupuncture, diet and lifestyle counselling, and more… The ideology behind natural medicine revolves around vitalism and self-healing, meaning naturopaths will tend to advise their patients to avoid modern medicines, pharmacological drugs, vaccinations and medical operations.
Integrative Medicine (IM) is healing-oriented medicine that takes account of the whole person, including all aspects of lifestyle. It emphasizes the therapeutic relationship between practitioner and patient, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapies.

5. Here’s the real, scientific explanation for how to best cook rice in a pressure cooker.

If you own a modern pressure cooker such as an Instant Pot, most likely one of the first foods you learned to cook is rice. As simple as it seems, I’ve found as many different ideas as there are varieties of rice. The following article is really helpful to give you some practical tips and explain the science behind how cooking rice in a slow cooker actually works:
https://instantpot.com/how-to-cook-perfect-rice-in-an-electric-pressure-cooker/

6. I looked up the meaning of the word catharsis.

My Dad recently bought a small sailboat whose given name was Catharis. Naturally, we were curious to find out it’s meaning. Vocabulary.com suggests:
Use the noun catharsis to refer to the experience a person can have of releasing emotional tension and feeling refreshed afterwards. 
Perfect name for a sailboat!

7. You can not only eat broccoli stems, but also the leaves.

According to this article, not only can you eat your broccoli leaves, but they are as nutritious as kale.

8. MyJoe is a great little gem!

Some time back, we had to replace our dying Kuerig coffee maker. We were not sure we wanted to continue to go the k-cup route, especially because I wasn’t particularly thrilled with some newer models forcing you to either use affiliated brands or resort to the hack. (Who did they think they were fooling?) After doing our due diligence and asking around, we decided on a coffee making system that allows one to brew different sizes of cups or caraffes, as well as brew over ice or make specialty drinks. While it’s a lot of fun and overall we love it, I missed the variety of specially flavored coffees I had previously enjoyed in k-cups. So I found and purchased this little hand brewer, which has proven to be a cheap but effective solution to my flavored coffee fetish. What’s more, MyJoe is small and only requires hot water to brew, so it can be used in powerless situations such as enjoying camping or enduring a power outage.

9. Southern Florida or the Everglades is the only place in the world where one can find both crocs and gators.

You can read more on that scary fact here, or review the differences between crocodiles and alligators here. Personally, I’m just staying away from anything bigger than my cats with that many sharp teeth.

10. There may not be an ideal substitution for cilantro.

But many of us are still looking for one. The herb cilantro seems to be either loved or hated. Many even claim it tastes like soap. (Which may be a matter of genes?) While I don’t think it tastes anything like soap, I myself and my family members do not really care for it’s flavor. Some acceptable common substitutions are basil, celery leaves or dill, or even mint leaf. Other more exotic ideas are Thai basil or Mexican papalo (although I wouldn’t know what they looked like or where to find them). Flat leaf or Italian parsley can be used in a pinch, but some say it’s not appropriate, as it has quite a different flavor.

11. Shreddies, the popular Canadian breakfast cereal, was first produced by Nabisco in Niagara Falls, Ontario in 1939.

That’s within twenty minutes from where I grew up, so no wonder it’s one of the few cereals we almost always had in the house. At that time, there was only the original flavor, but now it is available in several special variations, such as honey or banana bread. It was later produced in the UK, and apparently there has been some controversy in Australia, where it has been both sold privately “on a kind of breakfast cereal black market” and smuggled from the UK in people’s suitcases.

12. I really enjoy whooping it up with the young people at a good Christian concert.

We recently attended SoulFest, a popular Christian music festival held in nearby New Hampshire. My family has always loved music and my parents have kept their love of all kinds of music into their senior years, including rock and other louder, more rhythmic genres. I noticed we weren’t the only (or the oldest) people in the crowd, but I also observed that most of the others in the “revival pit” (up front, right near the stage) were significantly younger.     I must admit, I had a blast, kept myself moving or clapping, and even jumped around a bit.        

13. I’ve made peace with the idea that I don’t have to go on scary roller coasters anymore.

When I was a teenager, I learned the frightening fun of riding roller coasters. We would go to our favorite Canada’s Wonderland theme park at least once every summer. There were the smooth metal ones that looped around or traveled in a corkscrew and the old wooden coasters that throttled us down high slopes like a freight train. The last and most challenging coaster I rode was a stand-up version, and I must say, that was scary enough for me at that youthful age. My sister told of a time in recent years (now that we are both middle aged adults), where she rode as a partner to a young person when she was helping to supervise the youth group. She realized as they climbed higher that it was not as fun as it used to be. What made things worse, when she looked up she discovered that they hadn’t even made it half way up the climb! Later, she would find out that the roller coasters of today are much taller than the ones we thought were high. You can read about the new heights and even experience the ride through videos, but I think my roller coaster days are done, even though they say the rides are also more safe as well. After starting to experience some vertigo a few years ago and admittedly finding the idea of riding coasters more terrifying than fun anymore, I think I’m OK with being done with scary and physically demanding rides. I no longer have anything to prove. I’ve been in labor twice, watched my husband go through heart bypass surgery, and generally seen life for over 52 years…so I think I’m good.
So what have you been learning lately???