sisters kayaking together

What I Learned This Summer

It’s time for another quarterly list of What I Learned, this time for summer 2019. Linking up with Emily P. Freeman and friends quarterly is one of the things I look forward to every three months. Please join me as we talk about various things we are learning, whether silly and fun or informative and serious. It seems this quarter has more than it’s share of unpronounceable words and food related items.

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1. I learned a new word, “tchotchke”, and discovered it’s meaning.

I don’t remember where I even heard this word now, but when I did I looked up it’s meaning and found it to define a knickknack or trinket. If you listen to the pronunciation of the word, it sounds like exactly what it is. I currently have a love-hate affair with “tchotchkes”, as my sentimental side seems to attach happy memories to objects, while my orderly (OCD?) side is frustrated with the amount of clutter I still need to go through in my home.

2. I discovered garlic scapes and learned how to cook with them.

Garlic scapes

Early this summer, at one of my first work days at my one-day-a-week farm-stand job, I discovered and acquired my first garlic scapes. I found out that they are the stalks that grow from garlic bulbs, and are usually harvested in order to allow the plant to send its energy into growing the garlic. They have a mild garlic flavor and crisp texture, and last well when refrigerated.

Many have discovered that scapes are not just rubbish to be thrown away, but tasty shoots that can be cooked and enjoyed as a special “free” treat from the plant (although if you purchase them, they aren’t necessarily cheap).

I brought home my garlic scapes and hurriedly researched ways to use them. This article has some nice ideas, while this one boasts some different ones. Suggestions include everything from scape pesto to soups to sauteing them on their own or in a stir-fry. I finally settled on this Garlic Scape Frittata recipe from Cedar Mountain Farm in Vermont. It was easy and delicious!

Garlic Scape Fritatta

3. I read that the difference between coconut milk and coconut cream is determined by concentration and consistency.

When searching for substitutions recently for these products, the same article assured me that I could use the cream from the top of a can of coconut milk as coconut cream in my recipe. I also discovered that you can make coconut whipped cream using the cream from canned coconut milk (although I did not chill my milk; I simply scooped out the thick cream, and I think I used my usual pure maple syrup as a sweetener).

4. Do you actually know how to correctly pronounce “ciabatta” bread?

This is another one of those words that I can read on paper just fine…until someone asks me to read it out loud from a menu. So I looked it up in the Merriam-Webster dictionary and listened to the voice recording to get it just right.

Although I have a variety of nationalities in my make-up, can you tell that not one of them is Italian?

5. Our recent participation at the Soulfest in New Hampshire got me thinking about the first Christian music festivals, and how they impacted my life.

I have fond and life-changing memories of some of the very earliest Jesus (music) festivals that I attended with my parents in the early and later seventies (and probably into the eighties).

My first church was known for being quite conservative, so when my parents got information about a “Jesus festival” and decided to take some youth (with their pastor’s blessing) to an event with thousands of people joining together to learn and listen to all sorts of Christian music, it was a transformative experience for them, myself and many of the youth. My sister and I were fortunate enough to tag along for many years while Dad and Mom took many of our Christian youth to these encouraging and motivating celebrations.

Participating in several inspiring days of Christian music, teaching and fellowship with literally thousands (and even hundreds of thousands at the largest ones!), are experiences that I will never forget. Some of our favorite Christian artists and bands were there, including many of the founders of Christian rock.

The majority of the original Jesus festivals we attended were held at the Agape Farm in Pennsylvania, where similar Creation festivals are still held to this day. We’ve been blessed to attend other Christian music festivals in Virginia, NY state, and for several years here in New England, as well.

Phil Keaggy

At this summer’s Soulfest, my husband and I were tickled pink (an expression I almost never use, but it feels like the right way to describe how we were feeling) to see none other than early Christian rock music and guitarist legend, Phil Keaggy! It was a small venue, so we were able to get up really close and personal. We were both grinning from ear to ear as we heard and enjoyed many songs from our much younger days, bringing us back emotionally to the joys of our youth. I was almost moved to tears to see this amazingly talented, humble and gifted artist again and listen as he made his guitar sing. I realized that it was not only the music that moved me, but the recognition and remembrance of my own history and Christian heritage. It was a highlight of the festival for sure!

If you ever feel outnumbered or insignificant in your faith, attending one of these events will no doubt encourage and inspire you, too.

Soulfest 2019
Switchfoot
For King and Country
Candlelight Service

6. New England is home to two species of cottontail rabbits.

We usually enjoy any number of bunnies in our yard. Here is what Mass Audubon has to say about my wild pets:

Massachusetts is home to two species of rabbit, the New England cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis) and the eastern cottontail (S. floridanus). The latter was introduced into the state before 1900 and is now the most common rabbit in Massachusetts. The native wild New England cottontail, probably as a consequence of this competition, has become rare throughout the region. 

https://www.massaudubon.org/learn/nature-wildlife/mammals/cottontail-rabbits/about

7. I finally confirmed why you truly should NOT reheat coffee (and the best way to reheat if necessary).

If you don’t want to take my word for it, check out these sources:

“Coffee is a one-time use kind of deal. You make it, you drink it and if it gets cold, you make some more. Reheating reorganizes the chemical makeup of the coffee and totally ruins the flavor profile. Some things just don’t work to reheat, and coffee is one of them. It’s always best just to brew a fresh cup.

https://www.tastingtable.com/cook/national/reheat-coffee-microwave-leftover-lacolombe-Caribou

The best way to reheat your coffee is by heating it up on the stove top on low temperature.

https://www.thedailymeal.com/drink/best-way-reheat-coffee

But really, just don’t do it.

8. We actually do like overnight oats after all.

Several years ago when my sons were young and I had to make four lunches for all of us each night, I also found out about overnight oats. I stayed up even later filling little mason jars with oats, fruit, yogurt and such to make convenient breakfasts for myself and my guys, trying every flavor imaginable and admittedly, pushing us over the edge a bit. I still liked them after a time, but realized that either my three men did not, or were simply sick of them from having them too much.

Fast-forward to this summer, when the night before leaving on vacation I discovered I had purchased too many strawberries and blueberries to eat before we left (and since we were visiting my parents in Canada, we could NOT take them across the border). I had seen some new overnight oats recipes from one of my favorite cooking blogs, and since they’re portable and last several days, I decided to give them a try.

Well, we either just liked these particular recipes better or just had enough of a break to appreciate them. We preferred the consistency and my husband particularly enjoyed them warmed up (which we had not realized was an option before). Give these recipes for Strawberry Shortcake and Blueberry Muffin overnight oats a try. The strawberry recipe tastes equally lovely with fresh peaches. (Oh, and I just found one for Peanut Butter and Jelly Overnight Oats that I want to try now, too!)

I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Making overnight oats

9. Faith and family is everything.

See that picture of my sister and I kayaking up above? It really exemplifies our personalities (she as younger with arms enthusiastically raised; I as older just smiling quietly), represents the fun we enjoyed together, and reminds me how much I need and appreciate my family.

It’s been a year of ups and downs in our family, and especially living 500 miles away from my parents (and the same from my only sister and family), I realize more and more how much they mean to me.

I am also even more convinced that I absolutely depend upon my faith.

I’m thankful for the good and happy and hilarious times that help us through the scary, dark or uncertain ones.

I trust in a God who knows and cares for us all, and who provides my every need, even when I can’t understand the circumstances.

I will enjoy the memories new and old that make up the story of my life, and be grateful for every moment I’m given.

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Thanks for reading along with me as I share some of the things I’m learning this summer. Yes, it drives me a bit crazy to stop at an uneven 9, but summer isn’t officially over yet, so maybe I’ll learn at least one more thing before it’s all said and done.

And by now my coffee is lukewarm, but of course I’m resisting the urge to put it in the microwave. 😉

What things are you learning this summer?

purple creeping phlox in my garden

What I Learned This Spring

purple creeping phlox in my garden

Another quarter has already passed, which surprisingly means another season has also almost flown by as well. It’s time to join my favorite link-up and share What I Learned This Spring. This is a collection of some of the interesting, helpful, and sometimes meaningful things I’ve learned in this season. I hope you enjoy learning a little, too.

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1.Can you really eat pineapple this way? –

Apparently, there is a really neat and easy way to eat a pineapple that went viral on the internet. This article describes the method shared by an actor from a well-known television show, and includes several videos of others’ attempts at using this same method. According to the results, it may not be as simple as it looks, although some people seemed to get it to work.

Truthfully, I haven’t tried this yet myself yet. I don’t have high hopes, but will certainly put fresh pineapple on my next grocery list.

2. I learned how to best store (dried) bay leaves, and that they do indeed have an aroma. –

I finally got to the end of a very old supply of bay leaves. I don’t even remember where or when I got them, but there’s a good chance they had become flavorless, since they had no scent. For this reason, I had developed the habit of using at least twice as many as my recipes called for. So I wasn’t very disappointed when I got to the end of the bottle and had to begin my search on Amazon for some new leaves.

After perusing many options, I settled on a one-pound package of bay leaves with good reviews and pressed the button to complete my purchase.

When I received and opened the very large bag, I was struck by two things. One, bay leaves actually have a smell and they are wonderfully fragrant (no more needing to double or triple up in recipes!), and two, bay leaves are very lightweight (one pound is a LOT of leaves, and looked like a small pillow!).

This led me to two next-steps: finding out how best to store my new culinary treasure, and attempting to share bay leaves with as many friends as possible. I discovered that the best way to store bay leaves is not in your spice cabinet, but rather in the freezer.

I guess my friends and I will be all set for awhile now.

3.There may be a better way to wash your produce. –

We’ve known the importance of washing our produce for awhile now, but according to recent studies, baking soda may be the best way to remove more pesticides from our fruit. A Consumer Reports article states that it is important to scrub the skins of produce and possibly even better to soak it in a solution of one teaspoon baking soda in two cups of water for at least two minutes. The longer the soak, the more pesticides are removed.

I also have a little paper towel trick I use to keep washed lettuce fresh longer.

I like to wash many of my vegetables by first spritzing with my DIY water-vinegar cleaning spray, then scrubbing with a veggie brush and rinsing well. I also try to check produce labels for where they are grown, as certain produce is known to be safer (less pesticides) from some countries than others.

In the end, I believe each of us needs to do our “due diligence” in research and then make decisions about what types of fruits and veggies to buy for our families and be at peace with that.

4. Doing without makes you appreciate something new all the more. –

I recently got new silverware.

My old silverware, which was supposed to be “stainless” steel, started to develop a nasty, blackish tarnish too soon after we purchased it several years ago. We used it as it was, thought about diligently polishing it for hours to try to remove the dark stains, but finally just gave up recently and decided we had put up with it long enough and would replace it.

I shopped around a bit, but didn’t take long to choose a few boxes of some quality pieces at one of my favorite warehouse stores.

I brought them home, washed them and began to replace my old silverware with the new and was quite pleased. For days (or perhaps even a couple of weeks), I realized how ridiculously happy I felt looking at and using our heavy, new, shiny forks, knives, and spoons. I actually said I felt like royalty, all because of a silly thing like brand new silverware.

The moral of the story, which I’ve learned over the years in many instances of either hardship or simply just putting up with something inferior, is that when you do without, it teaches you to really appreciate getting something new. It’s valuable to use what you have and choose gratitude in all circumstances, but also enjoyable to be able to splurge and appreciate a new purchase or gift that you’ve waited for patiently and with anticipation.

5.We’re learning about identifying ducks. –

While on a recent picnic, my husband and I were enjoying a flock of mallard ducks hanging out on a small river. We noticed one particular duck that looked similar, but not quite the same as the other mallards. He looked very dark, maybe all black, contrasted with the telltale dark green head of a common male mallard duck.

I’m still not sure, but I think he may have been an American Black Duck. Interestingly, I didn’t realize that the familiar mallard didn’t always breed in our area (Northeastern United States), but have grown to outnumber the native Black Ducks and thrive, while the Black Duck population is declining.

6.Organizing and decluttering really does save time. –

If there’s one thing that causes me more stress and discontent, it’s clutter and disorganization.

One would think that because I feel so strongly about this, and my personality craves order, that I would have the most orderly, clutter-free home around. But unfortunately, like every personality trait, there is a dark side that comes with each positive quality. I am easily overwhelmed and get bogged down in the details, often resulting in more clutter and less organization overall. I am gradually getting rid of stuff and organizing what’s left, and finding more and more how true it is that you can’t organize clutter.

According to this helpful article (the last frame), “It’s continuous maintenance. For every hour we spend organizing we save 3-4 hours”. Boy, do I believe it! The best advice seems to be to keep at it consistently, even just a few minutes at a time, to keep clutter at bay and continue to move forward with organization.

As I learn and try some of the popular Kon Mari method of tidying, I’m starting to really like the file folding method. Abby at Just a Girl and Her Blog has a great post detailing her take on this practical method.

7. I really like cold-brewed iced coffee the best!

For several years I’ve been tasting and making cold-brewed iced coffee. I first stumbled upon this method of brewing when I was looking for ways to enjoy coffee with less acid, due to some health concerns. I discovered that I also prefer the smooth taste of this type of brew.

Honestly, since switching our coffee maker to a nice system that allows one to make iced coffee immediately about a year ago, I’ve gotten away from making cold brew. Although we love this convenient feature on our coffee maker, I had forgotten just how good cold-brewed coffee tastes.

So I’m getting back to keeping some delicious, lower acid, cold-brewed iced coffee on hand this summer. Some things are really worth a little extra effort!

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Thanks for joining me again in reflecting on some of the things I’ve learned this spring. What are you learning lately? Do you take time to record and/or reflect on a season?

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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