blue winter sky with clouds and tree branches

What I Learned this Winter – December 2016 to February 2017

blue winter sky with clouds and tree branches

It’s been some time since I’ve shared a “What I’ve Learned” post. In fact, looking back caused me to recall that even the last post I shared ended up being a combination of two months, in 11 Things I Learned in October & November 2016.

I love this habit, but I guess life got away from me a bit. It started with the wonderful but busy Christmas season, then life forged full-force into a busy January, and lagged through much of February. It feels a bit like a “fail”, but then I realized that maybe Emily P. Freeman (who is graciously hosting this link-up), was wise in switching from monthly to quarterly (or seasonal, if you will), posts.

So rather than worry about not posting for the past three months, I will rather take this as an indicator that posting what we learned every three months is a better practice for me, at least for this time in my life.

I’m privileged to join today in Emily’s seasonal “What We Learned” link-up, along with many other wonderful bloggers and writers.

So here are some things I’ve learned in the past three months, in no particular order. I hope you enjoy my list, find it inspiring, or perhaps learn something new yourself.

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What I Learned this Winter (December 2016-February 2017):

 

1.   Living near a well-known Christmas lights display is cool but has it’s drawbacks.

We  have a well-known and much-loved seasonal light display right down the street. LaSalette Shrine boasts what is probably one of the most popular light displays in New England. Many people come to visit each year; it is a tradition for families from far and wide.

Well, the downside is that during peak visiting times (such as Friday and Saturday evenings), there is often a line of cars stretching several miles down the street, blocking not only our street, but all of the “side” streets, as well. We should know. Both my husband and I have been stuck trying to get home at just the wrong time, and have sat in these lines waiting to simply get to our house.

It is worth seeing and we usually make a visit at some point during each Christmas season. It’s a place of beauty and peace, and one that is based on the true story of Christmas.

I guess that’s something worth waiting for.

 

2. Apparently, when people sing in a group, their heart-rates synchronize!

According to this online academic publisher, “Choir singing is known to promote wellbeing.” But even more interesting and amazing is their statement that, “Unison singing of regular song structures makes the hearts of the singers accelerate and decelerate simultaneously.”

If you love to sing in a group, there are at least two more reasons to keep on singing!

 

3.  Star Shower lights are simple and dramatic!

I really enjoy outdoor Christmas lights. I love how they not only celebrate my favorite holiday, but brighten the otherwise dark and barren winter season.

We have tried to decorate our home and yard with at least some lights almost every Christmas season. Some of my favorite displays involved my poor husband climbing a really tall ladder and stringing up icicle lights from our eves at the peak of our roof. As pretty as it looked, it was a lot of scary work out in the cold.

We’ve settled for less extravagant displays on the ground most years, but regardless, putting up and taking down the lights has never been our favorite part of our Christmas celebration.

Well, low and behold, this year I decided to take advantage of a coupon and a good deal and order some laser lights online. I sifted through all of the brands and gadgets and settled on one of the more basic models (and the first one I had seen and knew that I liked in real life). I purchased the Star Shower Motion Laser Lights Star Projector, and was excited when my package arrived.

What had me even more excited, though, was how simple it was to learn and set up, and what a dramatic presentation of starlight on our house and high tree branches! It is one of the prettiest light displays we’ve had, yet so simple. I’m sold!

 

laser lights on house in snow

Star Shower

4. Working Saturdays isn’t so bad most of the time.

I really like my latest job, and am so thankful for this position. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and is proving to be a good fit for me, as I had hoped. I also really like my co-workers and find the team spirit supportive and encouraging.

This is the first job I’ve had in years for which working Saturdays is the norm. For most of the year, I work part of each Saturday, unlike most of my past jobs.

This schedule has been working out fine, except when we started to plan one of our annual Christmas family get-togethers this past December.  My husband and I talked about and started planning our usual Saturday morning family brunch for several days before it dawned on me that I had to work that day!

Fortunately, we hadn’t yet told everyone the date, so we were able to find a suitable time for everyone to come and it all worked out just fine. Sometimes it’s hard to start thinking outside the box.

 

5. I now (think that I) know the difference between “roast” and “bake”.

I can’t remember how this came up, but something prompted me to research the difference between “roast” and ” bake”.

The dictionary definitions are very similar (see “roast” and “bake”), but there seem to be some differences as well.

It seems that most people agree that both roasting and baking are cooking methods employing dry heat. The most popular consensus is that the difference has more to do with the structure of the food. While roasting is usually used to define cooking (either over an open fire or in an oven) a food that already has a solid structure, baking most often refers to cooking foods in an oven to change their structure. We know that we bake cakes, cookies, and casseroles, but we can roast a chicken or vegetables. This article does a pretty decent job of describing the difference.

I will admit, though, upon further reading, the issue is still up for debate. You can check out some different viewpoints on this page, and decide for yourself.

 

 

6. There is an ancient art form which makes something beautiful out of broken pottery.

A little while ago, my husband alerted me to an interesting an inspiring Japanese art form that he had heard or read about. It immediately grabbed my attention and has stuck in my mind.

A paragraph from this article explains it best:

Kintsugi (“golden joinery”) or kintsukuroi (“golden repair”) is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a special lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Beautiful seams of gold glint in the cracks of ceramic ware, giving a unique appearance to the piece. This repair method celebrates the artifact’s unique history by emphasizing the fractures and breaks instead of hiding or disguising them. Kintsugi often makes the repaired piece even more beautiful than the original, revitalizing the artifact with new life.Kintsugi art dates back to the late 15th century, making it more than 500 years old. It is related to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which calls for finding beauty in the flawed or imperfect. The repair method was also born from the Japanese feeling of mottainai, which expresses regret when something is wasted.

I was so inspired by this craft that I wrote a blog post about it, because I think it is a perfect illustration for our lives. You can read more about my thoughts in my post entitled, Make Something Beautiful Of Your Brokenness. I hope this idea touches and stays with you as well.

 

7. I am learning how to use a bullet journal, and loving it!

Have you ever heard of a bullet journal? It seems to be an exceptionally popular habit right now, but I think this may be more than just a fad for me.

The idea of a bullet journal was invented by a digital product designer named Ryder Carroll. There’s a lot of good information to learn about what it is and how to do it on his website. You may check it out by watching the following video.

It’s basically a simple method for your planner that uses short, bullet points in the journal or notebook of your choice, and can be designed to suit your personality, learning/working method, needs and desires. Although the inventor’s method remains more basic, even spartan, in it’s approach, others have adapted his idea to incorporate their more artsy designs and creative ideas in their bullet journals.

After going through the information on the original Bullet Journal website, I quickly found and watched several videos from Carrie Crista (you can watch one of her videos about how to start out, here),  and Boho Berry (enjoy her journal flip-through, here). Each of these young women will give you tips and ideas based on their more artistic approach to bullet journalling.

While I love the ideas of beautiful and colorful pages, and will incorporate some of my own creativity in my bullet journal, I plan to attempt to keep it simple (as suggested in this wonderful, comprehensive post by Kendra of the Lazy Genius Collective), so that this system will remain enjoyable and really work for me. 🙂

 

8. Decorative Washi tape is my favorite new craft discovery.

Have you tried washi tape yet? In starting my bullet journal (see point #7 above), I noticed that some people (OK, probably mostly women), use washi tape to decorate their journals. It can also be used as a pretty way to attach printed sheets into a journal and to cover up mistakes (by either taping the decorative tape over the mistake, taping two pages together, or taping a new sheet over a mistake page). I browsed the many options at Amazon and read the reviews and chose this set to try first. Not only is washi tape beautiful and colorful, but it is so easy to work with! It is super fun and forgiving. What more could a crafty lady want???

 

what I learned

 

what I learned winter

9. I forgot how NOT FUN it is to experience vertigo!

Several years ago I came down with a pretty nasty case of vertigo. (I’m not sure if one can “come down with” vertigo, but that’s kind of what happened.) Without going into too much detail, let me just say that it was a really hard experience.

At first I didn’t know what it was or what to do about it.  I had some medical insurance issues when I finally did try to get to a doctor, ended up one night in the ER desperately trying to get some help, and FINALLY…..I got to my wonderful ENT doctor who diagnosed me correctly and promptly sent me to the best physical therapist on the planet.

I’m sure I was just a tad prejudiced right at that moment, but regardless, she was kind and knowledgeable, and best of all, she specialized in the type of issues I was dealing with (vertigo and balance issues). After some weeks of physical therapy (by this point the vertigo that had not been dealt with was creating other problems), and treatment for my type of vertigo, she also taught me what I needed to know to be able to treat myself at home.

I’ve heard that many people (I think it’s mostly women), who have vertigo do not get the help they need. They may not have professionals who know about the treatments or simply don’t go to the right place for help.

I am SO THANKFUL that I got to exactly the right person to give me the help I needed!

I’ve had some mild cases of vertigo since that time and my home treatments completely did the trick. Last week, however, I awoke one morning with a more-than-mild case of it, and after doing too rounds of treatments, I’m still not back to normal. I’m thankful to be much better, but it just reminded me of how debilitating this condition can be.

I certainly cannot diagnose vertigo for someone else, but if you have this experience please go and get some help! I personally was diagnosed with BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo), which occurs when little fragments of calcium carbonate crystals loosen and get into the ear canals, where they are not supposed to be. The sensation is worsened by movement of the head, especially lying down, sitting up, and turning the head one way or the other. If you’d like to read more information about this type of vertigo, the Vestibular Disorders Association has an excellent article that may be of help.

 

10. Instant pots were designed by Canadians. 🙂

I’ve heard a bit about instant pots and recently looked into this phenomenon a little more. This handy and speedy appliance seems to be all the rage right now, with recipes and ideas for instant pots all over the web. When I read that the instant pot was designed by Canadians, it made this Canadian girl smile. It’s nice for one like me who is happily living in the United States with my American husband and two sons, when I see so many cool things that are “made in Canada”. If they are even half of what they’re cracked up to be, I should probably be moving this appliance to the top of my “things to buy” list!

 

11. We are much more productive doing ONE THING.

I am currently reading one of those books that seems like it will be a definite game-changer. In The ONE Thing, author Gary Keller (with Jay Papasan) talks about the fallacy of our multi-tasking society. He teaches us how to be sucessful in all areas of life, by simply focusing on the one most important thing.

For many of us (especially busy women and mothers who wear so many different hats all at once), this skill could actually change our lives. I’m looking forward to finishing the book and applying this truth to my own life.

 

12. Being busy doesn’t mean I necessarily learned any less, but it does mean I may not stop to remember.

Boy, it’s sure been a busy couple (or more) months! I do not care for that pace that leaves me feeling like most areas of my life are either out of control or totally neglected, and attempt to not live that way for long. I know that I’ve still learned a lot, but feel like I’ve barely taken the chance to stop and breathe and ponder nearly as much as I’d prefer. It looks like things may be evening out a little, but I think that recording what I’ve learned in seasons will be a good fit for me right now.

I don’t want to ever stop learning, but sometimes we have to slow down to realize or process the things that are going on around us.

I hope and pray that I will take every opportunity to cherish my life and the wonderful things that are happening all around me. God give me eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart full of gratitude.

*****

What have you learned this winter? Have you stopped to think about it or just to enjoy the beauty? I would love to hear from you in the comments!

 

coffee and inspirational books

Slow Down

coffee and inspirational books

Today’s post has been written for Five Minute Friday, and today’s prompt is “slow”.

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Why is it so hard to slow down?

I think that I love slow, but my reality suggests that I crave busyness and productivity. I am really good at busyness, but have lots of room for growth in using my time productively and efficiently.

I naturally feel compelled to run in circles, “getting things done”, all the while truly desiring the slow, quiet times.

This week I awoke one day with vertigo; a health concern I have dealt with over the past few years, and thankfully one that does not plague me as it did at first, mainly because I have been blessed with doctors and a physical therapist who taught me just what I needed to know to mostly stay healthy.

But it did make me slow down.

I vacillated about calling in sick to work last night, rationalizing that I could muddle through and then take a day off, but my body told me otherwise. My supervisor assured me that staying home and resting was the right thing to do.

Yesterday I read about all the rage of owning and using an Instant Pot. It seems everyone has one and who can live without one? One more appliance to learn, store and maintain could be helpful, but arguably could just be one more thing in my otherwise overflowing life. Sometimes these tools are blessings, allowing us to slow down, while other times it’s just adding to our busyness and clutter, when really we should be satisfied with what we have.

Today is another unseasonably warm day for February “winter” break in New England. It’s been hitting the 60’s, all but a few stubborn piles of snow have melted into what appears to be an early spring, and I have yet to get outdoors and enjoy this uncommon beauty.

I keep thinking of more things I should get done today on my day off, even though I worked a little too much while not feeling well yesterday, in order to be able to take today to totally rest.

So my main goal for the remainder of this day is to slow down,

enjoy life,

be thankful for my many blessings,

and trust that if I stop long enough to think, relax, and be grateful for what I have today,

everything will be waiting there for me tomorrow

and I will be able to work and play with renewed strength.

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

when i am weak

When I Am Weak…

when i am weak

 

This post is written for Five Minute Friday, where I join a nice bunch of bloggers to write for five unedited minutes on a weekly prompt. Today’s word is weak.

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Why do I feel so weak?

Have you ever asked this question?

It may be any combination of factors: physical tiredness, hormonal imbalance, emotional fatigue, or just plain feeling overwhelmed, just to name a few.

We’ve all been there.

The Bible tells us that when we are weak, then He is our strength. You can read about Paul’s struggle with the thorn in his flesh in 2 Corinthians.

 

My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.

 

 

Since it’s an inevitable part of the human experience, what can I do when I feel weak?

Here are some simple things to help when we are feeling weak:

 

  1. Go to bed! – You may simply need some rest! Take a nap or go to bed early, and give your body the rest it needs.
  2. Take a break – Sometimes we simply need to slow down or even stop, and just give our minds, bodies and emotions a breather.
  3. Do something that rejuvenates you – This can be different for all of us, depending on our personalities and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Take a walk or a hike outdoors, sit in the sun, enjoy a cup of coffee, listen to calming music, read a book, start a campfire, watch a favorite TV show, work on a fun project, or do something creative. Pick something that will give you the energy you need.
  4. Spend time with someone or people you love – We were designed to live in community. We were never made to go it alone. Spend time with someone who cares about you, who will build you up and offer godly encouragement and advice or simply provide a listening ear.
  5. Get appropriate help – It may be that you need to seek out the help and wisdom of a doctor, counselor or pastor/leader. It’s OK to ask for help, even though it is somewhat counter-cultural. True strength is not in doing it all alone, but in recognizing that sometimes we need a helping hand.
  6. Watch what you consume – Check your eating habits and take supplements if needed. The old saying, “You are what you eat” holds a lot of truth.
  7. Spend time with God – For Christ-followers, this is our life-line. Pray, read your Bible, spend some time in worship or simply in quiet “listening” mode. If you are not a believer, the simple act of quieting your mind and body will provide some needed refreshment and give you time to think.

These are just some simple tools that I’ve found to be helpful when I feel weak. I hope this list provides a springboard to your finding rest, strength and peace when you feel weak.

You may also wish to read a previous post I wrote about what to do when you are struggling emotionally.

*****

 

 

winter sky with clouds over evergreen trees

Playing it Safe

 

winter sky with clouds over evergreen trees

This post has been written for the link-up at Five Minute Friday, where you may join us as we write about the prompt, “safe“.

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Oh, how I love to play it safe!

It’s in my basic personality to keep to the safe road, not liking too many changes, not straying far from the norm, and certainly not taking too many risks. I feel most “safe” when I know what to expect and don’t have to process emotions and thoughts outside of my usual routine or known parameters.

There are many situations in life in which playing it safe is important, even life-saving.

Taking precautions when driving, when near deep or turbulent water, when dealing with fire, or when dealing with life-altering substances such as drugs, alcohol and the like. These scenarios require sticking fairly close to what we know is safe.

But in most areas of my life, I have let clinging to the safety of my known boundaries keep me from growth. I have stifled the possibly glorious or just plain simple things that God has wanted to do through me to affect others around me in a positive way. I have been lazy or let fear keep me from stepping out and moving forward in my work and personal life.

In these instances, I need to learn the beauty and the excitement of stepping out into the unknown, in even jumping wholeheartedly into the net that God will surely provide when I risk for him and his purposes.

Whether it’s in the mundane responsibilities I find myself in daily at home or at work and with others, or be it in my blog or in my personal interactions with my family, I want to become more adventurous.

I desire to earn that level of trust in God that allows me to take the next step or the next jump, and simply trust him, not allowing fear or pride to win.

I know in my mind that this is true, but I need to step out and find new territory with my Lord in every area of life.

Enough of simply playing it safe.

There is too much at stake to not take the risk of the next best step.

Why keep simply walking or trudging along in life, when I could fly?

see i am doing a new thing

 

*****

 

 

 

 

God will supply all my needs

Be Sure to Make Time to Breathe

God will supply all my needs

Today’s post is written for the link-up at Five Minute Friday. Join me there as we write for five (mostly-) unedited minutes of writing on the prompt, “breathe”.

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If only I could just find a minute to BREATHE…..

 

Do you ever feel this way?

Or perhaps a better question is how do we avoid feeling like this for much of our necessarily busy lives???

 

I’ve had a hectic month. While January is usually busy as we “undo” from the holidays and get back into the daily swing of things, this year I have felt especially over-scheduled and overwhelmed.

Due to some family transitions and responsibilities (nothing critical or life-altering; just “normal” family busyness), it has simply flown by. And I’ve felt so behind and not on top of things.

I’ve finally managed to put most of the holiday stuff behind me, but am still sorely feeling the need for more time and space to work on goals, resolutions (if you will), and just general overall life scheduling and planning.

Well, today I slept in, and despite the feeling that there aren’t quite enough hours left in this beautiful day, I have been blessed with a quiet day at home.

My dear (and wise) husband left me with his Jesus Calling devotional open on top of my computer, which was the perfect “hint” to put first things first today.

Here is the reading for this day:

Devotional about anxiety and focusing on Christ

I was aptly reminded that my anxiety is based on my focus being in the wrong place. When I simply look at what’s visible around me, I fail to recognize that I belong to a God who will never leave me, who promises to be always by my side, and who cares for all of my needs.

My “verse of the day” from the YouVersion Bible App is also appropriate for me today.

 

“And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.”

-Philippians 4:19

 

When we turn our eyes and our hearts from what we can simply see around us, and intentionally place our focus on the One who created, knows and loves us best, we can sit back and rest assured, and breathe.

It’s so important to not only carve out some time from our busy schedules to stop, think, plan, pray and rest, but also that we place our focus firmly in the right place.

God has provided all I need.

I need simply to stop to breathe and take it all in.

*****

 

 

 

 

 

Tree branch silhouette with half moon

Managing in the Middle

Tree branch silhouette with half moon

Are you feeling stuck in the middle of anything right now?

Starting something new can be exhilarating and motivating, finishing can be a celebration and a relief, but what about life in the middle?

When you think about it, most of life is spent somewhere in the “middle”.

Just think about middle children for a minute. Not always, but often they can feel lost or have trouble finding their place in a family. They don’t necessarily have the expectations of being the responsible oldest child, nor the easy-going or fun personality of the youngest, yet they are created especially wonderful just where they are. Perhaps being in the middle frees us from expectations; what if we could just rest and be ourselves?

Being in the middle can be challenging. It can be mundane or boring, or on the other end of the spectrum, it can be difficult and stressful.

But what if we could relax and let God lead and provide for us right here in the middle?

I’d like to share a song with you that has really spoken to me, especially in some of those “middle” times.

 

 

It can be messy in the middle. Sometimes it feels so difficult and we feel we don’t have the strength to go on. Other times we feel we’ve lost our vision or our purpose and don’t feel motivated. We may even feel depressed.

I’m trying to learn that being in the middle is just where God wants us to be right now. I’m learning to trust him and his plan, to lean on him for strength, and to run to him for comfort.

I want my life to be a blessing, not only in the exciting new times or in the fulfilling finishing times, but right here in the middle.

Won’t you join me?

*****

This post was written for Five Minute Friday, where you can join us at the link-up to read other quick, mostly unedited writings of other bloggers.

*****

 

If you enjoyed this song, you can purchase it here:

 

 

Japanese kintsugi art

Make Something Beautiful Of Your Brokenness in 2017

 

 

Japanese kintsugi art

Happy New Year, friends!

I don’t know about you, but I feel somewhat behind the eight ball in this new year.

While I keep reading online blog and social media posts about folks who have all their goals mapped out for 2017, I am still trying to adjust to “non-holiday” status and schedule, clean up the pine needles under the tree, and begin to remove our Christmas decorations.

I am only beginning to think, pray and plan for this new year.

Not that I’m behind with my Christmas stuff still out, because I have always really loved Christmas , and in my family we would never even dream of removing our tree or decorations before several days past the new year!

And since my mom’s mother was born in the Ukraine, we have always had Ukrainian Christmas as an excuse to enjoy our things right into the beginning of January. Even though we technically don’t hold to the traditions of this celebration, it was always something we were aware of, and just feels right to keep the holidays going a little bit longer.

This year, I think my celebration on January 7th (the date for Ukrainian Christmas) will be while taking down the tree and lovingly sorting and storing our decorations.

So I think that today’s post is somewhat appropriate.

Although it seems that I do not have my act together (at least according to the timeline and suggestions of others), I can not only enjoy celebrating an imperfect Christmas, but I can celebrate the fact that I am an imperfect human being.

pine needles under Christmas tree

Recently I learned that there is an ancient Japanese art form which repairs broken pottery in a unique way.

Kintsugi (“golden joinery”) or kintsukuroi (“golden repair”) is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a special lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Beautiful seams of gold glint in the cracks of ceramic ware, giving a unique appearance to the piece. This repair method celebrates the artifact’s unique history by emphasizing the fractures and breaks instead of hiding or disguising them. Kintsugi often makes the repaired piece even more beautiful than the original, revitalizing the artifact with new life.”

You can read a little more about that in this article, and there is even a link provided to order a kit to try it yourself, if you’re so inclined.

The idea is that instead of attempting to hide the imperfections of a broken bowl, vase, or dish, the cracks and crevices are actually emphasized, but also beautified, by being repaired with an adhesive containing particles of gold (or another precious metal).

The result is a beautifully unique vessel. This process is contrary to our way of thinking, but I think we can learn a lot from this Japanese art form and the healthy thought and attitude around it.

Our imperfections are not to be hidden, avoided or loathed, but rather embraced, learned from and celebrated (when we allow ourselves to grow and use our weakness to empathize with others).

kintsukuroi repaired flower plate

This pretty plate has been repaired at the top with gold, making it a completely unique vessel.

Am I suggesting that we forget about goal-setting, don’t attempt to do anything differently or better for the future, or just be satisfied meeting the status quo? Of course not!

But if we accept our lives with our unique limitations, extend a little more grace to ourselves and those around us, learn from and grow in the areas we are weak, share our feelings and understanding with others, and realize that we cannot do it alone, we will be stronger and more happy for it.

We can humbly accept help and support from those around us and ask for guidance, wisdom and strength from the God who created us.

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” – James 1:2-5 NLT

***

“…My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.  That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9,10 NLT

 

So as we move forward into 2017 with hope and expectation, let’s let go of the fear, embrace where we are in life, and hold on to those we hold most dear.

Let’s make the most of our brokenness, offering our lives as a vessel made more beautiful to bless others.

*****

 

 

Hope, window, angel, Christmas cards

Count it All Joy

Hope, window, angel, Christmas cards

Today’s post is written for the link-up at Five Minute Friday on the prompt, “joy“.

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Oh, how I wish to just write a simple, happy post about Christmas joy today!

But the first phrase that came to me as I started to think about this prompt is the scripture that reads, “count it all joy” (probably in the King James version). So I looked it up in a more modern translation.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” – James 1:2-4, NLT

This isn’t the joy we like to experience in our flesh (our natural selves), but it is the type of joy often spoken of in the Bible.

I’ve always loved the Christmas season best of all and most years have been filled with joy.

But there are so many who are hurting around me even now; those who have lost loved ones recently and will spend Christmas alone, those with a chronic illness looming over their bodies, many who face seemingly insurmountable difficulties and those who are simply a little lost.

My own recent “trials” seem so trivial in light of these more serious difficulties.

Yesterday we got a new fridge, but like so many household projects, things began to go wrong. It was an extremely stressful and exhausting day, but in the end (with a fridge stuck in the middle of our dining area and kitchen, a leaky water line downstairs, and my usually easy-going husband frazzled), we still have so much to be thankful for.

We weren’t feeling joy for most of the day, and it got even worse when late at night our water heater started leaking.

But I realized that these are such “first world problems”. They also don’t hold a candle to the pain that so many are facing in these days.

Whether it seems big or small, stresses and difficulties will come as long as we live.

So how do we count it all joy?

One of my favorite scripture passages comes to mind:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13, NIV

When things don’t go as planned…..we can count it as joy.

In the middle of a crisis…..we can count it as joy.

If we feel discouraged, anxious or depressed…..we can still count it as joy.

When the prognosis is bleak or we are in physical pain…..we can count it as joy.

In our times of deepest loss, grief or loneliness…..we can count it as joy.

When we feel afraid or like we don’t have what it takes…..we can count it as joy.

Whatever life throws at us, whether it seems big or small, we can count it as joy because we have hope. We know a God who will never leave us, who walks with us or carries us through every trial and joy, and who has given his very life for us.

He came long ago on that first Christmas bringing tidings of great joy.

When we trust that each moment in our life has purpose and can cause us to grow, we have a reason to find joy in every circumstance.

So whatever you face this Christmas, be it happy or hard, won’t you count it all as joy with me?

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Leaf piles in my side yard

11 Things I Learned in October & November 2016

 

Leaf piles in my side yard

I’m so happy and privileged to include this post with Emily Freeman’s What We Learned link-up. Since she is now posting this quarterly and I usually try to post each month, in order to get the full story please be sure to check out my 10 Things I Learned in September 2016 post as well.

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In 1 Samuel 7, Samuel set up a reminder for the people of God, so that they would not forget his help in triumphing over the Philistines (after they turned away from their heathen gods):

 Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah. He named it Ebenezer (which means “the stone of help”), for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!” – 1 Samuel 7:12 (NLT)

I’d like to think of each, “What I Learned” post as a kind of “Ebenezer stone”, a place where I can stop and think not only of what I’ve learned each month, but what God is teaching me in this part of my journey.
My hope is that as I share what I’ve learned, you too will be encouraged, challenged, or even caused to let go of the stresses of life for just a few minutes.
So here’s what I’ve learned these past two months (serious or silly, in no particular order):

10 Things I Learned in October  & November 2016:

 

1. It has been claimed that egg whites will “heal” or protect burns, but in reality, it’s not the best (or even a safe), method.

So maybe this one should be classified as “almost learned”, since shortly after I heard of this idea, I also found out through minimal research that it should probably be avoided.

According to Snopes,

If egg white is at all effective in treating burns (and we’re not at all convinced that it is, 100+ year medical references to the contrary), it’s as an occlusive dressing that would keep contamination out of a raw wound, not as a magical curative of burned flesh. Its effect on the healing process wouldn’t have anything to do with its collagen content or that it’s a “placenta full of vitamins,” but rather that it’s a thickish liquid that would form a barrier. (In other words, motor oil — which has no collagen to it at all — would work equally as well.)

As to what to do with all this confusion, even when the burn is minor and the injury is fully cooled before anything else is done to it, there is a downside to coating such an injury with egg white. Raw eggs sometimes contain or have resident on their shells salmonella, a deadly bacteria. Introducing salmonella into an open wound would be a dangerous idea. Says a physician friend of ours, “Burn-injured, denuded skin is an excellent culture medium, and a contaminated egg white applied to his burn could readily cause severe damage or death to the patient.”

So before you get all excited to learn of another miraculous use for that extra dozen eggs you bought on sale, think twice! It would be wise to avoid the possibility of introducing a possibly even more serious issue into the burn in the form of salmonella.

2. My begonia plant is so much happier in a bigger pot!

begonia plant in small flower pot

Here’s the first pretty little pot to which I transferred my begonia (this photo is April 2014).

After perusing the web for information and pictures, I am fairly certain that my plant is a (somewhat) common wax begonia (or Semperflorens Begonia). I received this cute little flowering plant several years ago when a good friend of mine got married. She was the leader of our church women’s small group, and we wanted to have a special, more intimate wedding shower for our dear friend. Someone had the idea to give out these pretty plants for shower favors. We gave them to guests in a tiny little pot of some sort. Later, I re-potted mine into a bigger, but still small beautiful little flower pot where it lived and did surprisingly well for several years.

Fast forward to the end of this past summer, when I decided to give my poor, growing plant a little more “leg” (root) room. It seemed “happy” enough where it was, even flowering on occasion, but I could tell that it was really starting to outgrow it’s space. I found a larger pot in my basement, re-potted my begonia, and after a brief adjustment period, it started growing like a weed!

 

My bigger begonia plant

November 3, 2016.

My begonia - October

This is my happily growing begonia in a more roomy pot (October 31, 2016).

begonia

My happy, happy, thriving begonia!

 

 

As happy as I thought my plant was before, now I have a growing and really thriving plant! It is probably at least three times bigger and seems to never stop flowering now……it’s way of thanking me, I guess.

3. “Asking the right questions is an art form and it has a name: Social Jiu-Jitsu”.

In a world where online communication and social media is so prevalent, networking and building personal relationships face to face seems even more important. Whether we are just trying to connect personally with people we know and care for, foster good working relationships at a job, or build a brand or online business, making people feel you care and that they can trust you is critical.

I recently read this interesting and informative article online, which discusses this topic and describes the art of “social Jiu-Jitsu”, which is essentially asking someone the “right” questions to get them to open up. The author describes this as “getting people to like you”, and in reality it’s a really useful tool to learn to use if you wish to grow socially.

You probably can immediately think of someone you know who seems to naturally possess this gift. My mother and younger sister are two that come to mind right away. They both seem to be gifted naturally to ask others about themselves, whereas I and my oldest son have to purpose ourselves to interact with others in this less self-centered way.

It really seems to come down to just putting the other person first, which is something many of us (especially as Christians), aspire to do. Whatever our God-given personality, we can all learn and grow in this art.

4. Quinoa really is one of the most healthy and nutritious foods you can eat.

Have you been introduced to quinoa yet? (By the way, it’s pronounced, “keen-wa”, as recorded here, not “quin-oh-ah”, as I was apt to say at first.)

I tried this ancient grain for the first time several months ago, when I came across several recipes which included quinoa. It took a short time to get used to it, but now I enjoy it and even have a few quinoa recipes that I really like.

I had been told it is really healthy, but I really didn’t know why. In an educational article describing “11 Proven Health Benefits of Quinoa“, the author does a great job in explaining the many and very convincing traits of quinoa that make it uncommonly nutritious. It really is an extremely healthy food, and suggest you try it and join me in incorporating some into your diet.

5. Regretfully, there is a “sex mod” for Minecraft.

I came across this upsetting fact while reading a post one day online. The author is a parent and wanted to inform other parents of this news, so that they we can protect our children. She asked us to check it ourselves, and sure enough, it is true.

It’s really frustrating that even a good game like Minecraft has to have a negative counterpart.  It is disappointing that nothing is “sacred” anymore, not even an innocent children’s game.

However, after I expressed frustration about this to my husband (thinking it would ruin the game for kids everywhere), he assured me that a “mod” has to be purposely downloaded.

In other words, while it may be a temptation to older/more knowledgeable kids (who hopefully should know better or could be getting into far more trouble online already), it will not just pop up accidentally.

It doesn’t make me any happier about it, but at least many can still enjoy the game without incident. It also serves as another sobering reminder of the evil in the world we live in, and challenges parents and adults to be vigilant in teaching and protecting their young children.

6. Getting a good night’s sleep is so important (yet I’ve struggled with it for years).

I’ve been a night owl most of my life. Sometimes it’s fun and even productive, but overall it doesn’t serve me well. As most of my middle-aged friends can attest, good sleep doesn’t always come as easily as it did when we were younger. I’m thankful to not have insomnia or another more serious sleep issue, but I also find it frustrating and difficult that too often I struggle to get a decent night’s sleep.

Recently, I came across a free course online about how to sleep better. My almost immediate reaction was, “sign me up!” (You can sign up for it here too, if you like.)

The videos and lessons are short but packed with valuable information. What I didn’t know initially but found very interesting is how valuable naps can be. I’ve never been a good napper, but may need to try to utilize this form of rest more often.

My husband and father, on the other hand, have been experts at napping for years.

7. I can push myself (physically) harder than I thought, but it takes a lot out of me.

I’ve been exercising regularly now for quite a few years. I generally don’t go crazy, but am consistent and try to do moderate exercise several times a week. I also enjoy just moving, being outdoors and walking.

For the past several months, I’ve found great value and enjoyment in taking part in an online program for a Pilates exercise plan. We have a wonderful, sweet and knowledgeable instructor, and this program has helped me to become stronger and more disciplined, yet maintain a balanced lifestyle. (This is the website, if it sounds like something you’d like to check out.)

I decided to take a week-long “plunge”, and signed up for a more intense program which included recipes for a meal plan and longer Pilates workouts to be repeated for seven days in a row.

Well, I did it! It was difficult at times, but I’m proud to say that this 50-year old made it through!

I learned a lot about healthy and more balanced eating and a good deal about myself. Although I lost a few pounds and am definitely stronger, it did seem to take a lot out of me. It took me a few days to feel “recovered” and rested again.

It’s good to know that I can still push my body, but it needs to be balanced with rest and time to recuperate.

8. Poldark is my new favorite TV show.

My husband and I found another British television show we really enjoy watching together!

It’s really difficult to find good TV shows, (especially after my becoming a Downton Abbey fan). We watched the first season of Poldark by temporarily subscribing to the PBS website, then caught up and enjoyed the current season on television.

I hope the show continues to be mostly wholesome and enjoyable.

9. I finally learned the difference between white and yellow cake (and how to make your own mix).

Before now, I’m not sure I even knew there was a real difference between white and yellow cake (other than coloring).

One of my favorite blogs posted a wonderful new pumpkin dessert called “Pumpkin Dump Cake“, and I knew I had to try it. (It’s already become a favorite fall recipe in our household!) The recipe calls for a boxed yellow cake mix and I only had a white cake mix on hand. I decided to do a little research to see if my white cake mix would stand in for yellow in this recipe.

It seems that white cake is made with egg whites (no yolks), and sometimes a combination of butter and shortening (to keep it’s white, name-sake color). Yellow cake contains the whole egg and usually all butter, according to this post.

I also learned to make my own cake mix which will undoubtedly save money, be a healthier option, and save a trip to the store on occasions in which I find myself without a boxed cake mix on hand. (You can get that recipe here.) It’s too easy, and I actually know what the ingredients are that we are consuming. That’s a win!

10. I really like working at the library!

I am excited to share that I started a new part-time job! I’ve been in transition for the past couple of years or so, when my full-time job as an aide ended (after ten years). I’ve enjoyed several different jobs in the meantime that each ended after a few months, but all along I’ve thought that a library assistant position would be enjoyable and really suit me as my next job. I submitted many applications over the months, but never even got as far as an interview until now.

I’ve only worked about two weeks, and I can already tell that this is a near-perfect fit for me! While I still feel my most important “career” is housewife & mother (with a side of blogging), it feels good to again be doing a job that I think I’ll really enjoy!

tso-2016-2

11. Seeing TSO live is an absolutely phenomenal experience!

I apologize right now for those of you, like me, who will be slightly (or more) bothered by my not ending on # 10, but I had to add this one!

We were blessed and surprised this month by my husband purchasing tickets for a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert! We’ve waited for years for this experience, and I tell you, it was well worth the wait!

Talk about a production!

Lights, loud rock rhythms and guitar licks, leather and long hair (often swaying to the beat of the music), laser-light effects, real fire (whose heat you could actually feel!), realistic video and beautiful background media, incredible choreography, quiet and classical elements, all combine to deliver an incredible concert. The artful fusion of rock, classical and theater provides a holiday show like no other!

One of my favorite things about TSO, is that they do not hold back on singing about the true story of the real meaning of Christmas. Traditional Christmas carols are brought to higher heights (in my opinion), and the musicians keep moving and entertaining throughout the entire show.

If you appreciate theater, dance, different styles of music (including some rather loud rock), and a unique and unforgettable Christmas concert, I hope you get a chance to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra someday. I’m so thankful for this fun family experience together.

tso-2016-4

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Do I have your attention yet???

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(If you find this at all appealing, check back a little later, when I will attempt to post a video to enhance your listening and viewing pleasure.)

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It’s been a busy, interesting, and productive couple of months. I wonder what December will bring?

 

 

willow tree angels and jar candle

Surrender to Christmas

Today’s post is written for the link-up at Five Minute Friday, where you can enjoy a variety of short, mostly unedited writings on the prompt of, “surrender”, by a wonderful group of bloggers.

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willow tree angels and jar candle

Today we write on the prompt, “surrender”.

My first thoughts are very serious, deep and even “holy” when I think of the word, “surrender”.

But sometimes it’s best and even right to take a lighter, less pensive approach.

So today I choose to write on surrendering to Christmas.

Some of you may be taken aback or even recoil a bit in distaste. You may judge me for being too frivolous or having my priorities all wrong, but please let me explain.

I have always loved Christmas. It’s been the most special time of year and my favorite holiday for years. I even wrote my very first blog post on my experience with Christmas over the years.

I love it. I love the fun, the lightheartedness, the joy, the candles, the busyness, the baking, the music, wrapping gifts in the wee hours of the morning, the stockings, the decorations, watching my loved ones faces as they open a special gift, the lights, the singing, our Christmas tree and the snow.

putting up our Christmas tree

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colored lights decorating bedroom

Christmas food and hot beverages

 

baking cookies and Christmas decorations

 

Most of all, I love the true message of the real Christmas story.

 

Nativity decorations

As a disclaimer, I am not suggesting we should succumb to stress, greed, or wearing oneself out for the sake of the holiday (been there; done that). I don’t think the celebration was intended to be disliked and even hated, almost, by so many because it has become something negative or surrendering to way too many things we have to do. I don’t think this celebration was meant to be a time when we get so busy and preoccupied that we forget the true meaning and it negatively affects our attitude towards others (I’ve probably done a little too much of that, too), and our health (I used to get a yearly case of laryngitis after Christmas as a rule).

But I do enjoy the holiday. I really enjoy all the festivities and trimmings and activities.

And I intend to surrender, not to the chaos, but to the activities that bring joy to myself and to those around me. I plan to throw myself into this special celebration with all my heart and no guilt.

I especially love that the message Christmas still goes out in a variety venues to much of the lost world. I love that no matter how much some try to stop or squelch it, people all over hear of the God who sent his own son Jesus down as a frail human, in order to live among us and show us the way back to him.

They can see and hear it in Christmas displays, Christmas carols and music, in television shows and in church performances. It is sung by innocent children, polished professionals, church congregations and choirs.

Christmas show on television

Christmas music cd

So my plan this year is to embrace all that this time of year has to offer. I aim to keep things in perspective and in some sort of balance, but rather than fret or stress or bog myself down with questions, burdens and regrets, I want to enjoy this special holiday.

I chose to surrender to Christmas, and to the One who started it all.

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Do you love Christmas? Do you find it stressful and exhausting, or does it give you joy and gladness to celebrate? What can we do differently in order to prioritize the true meaning of the season?