Blue sky with clouds and snowy branches

What I Learned This Winter

Blue sky with clouds and snowy branches

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

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10 Things I Learned This Winter:

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

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

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

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

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

Heart made of Lindor truffles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have you been learning lately?

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roof and clouds sky photo

When You Don’t Feel Ready for a New Year

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

And each year I think I feel about the same.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I cannot think that I am the only one.

I am here to tell us that it’s OK.

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

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

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

1.Celebrate a little more if you need to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Quiet your body, mind and soul.

We all need more quiet.

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

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

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

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

4. Start with gratitude.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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east coast shore with sun setting

Are You Who You Want to Be?

east coast shore with sun setting

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Isn’t that how life is?

We dream and plan and make choices.

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

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

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

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

 

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

First, I wish to be content.

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

That’s why I keep a gratitude journal.

Nothing changes our perspective more than a thankful heart.

Secondly, I desire to live with intention.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

*****

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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???      
sailboat on Lake Winnipesaukee

The Key to Living in Freedom

 

sailboat on Lake Winnipesaukee

 

I’d like to share two seemingly unrelated things from my quiet time this morning which actually go together quite nicely.

 

One is this quote that jumped out at me from my devotional reading (from A Moment to Breathe, devotional from the (in)courage community):

“The actions we take in honoring the people in our lives show us the face of God.”

I’m still chewing on that one…but it seems that as we show love and honor to others, we see and know more of God.

Then I read another devotional from my emails (Loop, Gather ministries) this morning and listened to the suggested song, Sails, which you can enjoy below.

In my natural disposition, I do not consistently live in freedom. I have been blessed over the years with a fun family (both growing up and the one my husband & I created), so I don’t always go around sulking and down.

But when left to my own devices, especially in the busyness of life, I can easily let go of my lightheartedness and freedom, and grasp instead at control and perfectionism.

And how can I reach out and share with others when I am bound up in my own negative or overwhelming emotions, distracted from my purpose and mission for which God created me?

This song feels like that freedom to me. I need to “let out the sails of my heart” and just be with God, the One who created me and truly knows me, yet still loves me.

And when I walk and live with Him, I will really live set free.

*****

Do you want to live in real freedom? What things hold you back or keep you bound? How does this affect your reaching out and sharing your gifts with others?

*****

 

 

 

blueberry avocado muffins thriving home

Thirteen: Unlucky Number or Baker’s Dozen?

blueberry avocado muffins thriving home

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

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The number thirteen conveys so many different things.

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

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

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

The baker’s dozen.

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

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

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

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

It’s a matter of perspective.

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

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

This is the life I wish to cultivate.

Won’t you join me?

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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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