10 Things I Learned In a Pandemic – Spring 2020

Spring 2020 potted herbs

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

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

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

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

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

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


1. Functioning in a crisis is exhausting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s a good thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Everything is different in a pandemic.

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

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

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

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

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

At the same time, some things will never change.

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

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

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

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

And for that I am truly thankful.


city in winter

7 Things I Learned This Winter

My City in Winter

I can’t believe that winter is almost over, as we’ve had the mildest, mostly snow-less, New England winter I can remember since living here. But it’s already time to join my favorite link-up and share what I’ve learned. I hope you enjoy this little list.

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1. There are fewer things that really matter to me about Christmas than I realized.

And I don’t mean the important, real-meaning-of-Christmas things. Those ARE important!

I love traditions and believe they are fun and meaningful, but I’ve been learning and am beginning to accept that they can change over time or fluctuate depending on life seasons, and it’s OK.

This year brought a desire for us to keep our Christmas tree smaller and more simply decorated, adorn the house with only our favorite ornaments, and keep the baking to a minimum. I’ve been paring down our ornaments to those we really use and love, and I discovered that in reality there are fewer that really mean something to me and that I truly enjoy. And this is still new to one who is rather sentimental, especially when it comes to the holidays.

We had conversations as a family about these changes and I’m not sure we won’t do things differently again next year, but it felt more peaceful and less stressful. And this is closer to what Christmas is really about.

2. Wooden cutting boards need to be maintained with mineral (or other food-grade oil).

Who knew? Now I do.

I wondered why my nice wooden cutting boards were beginning to look dry and cruddy and decided to look it up. I never realized (although now it seems obvious) that they need to be maintained with a food-grade oil every once in awhile. This can be done monthly (or anywhere from weekly to at least a couple of times a year).

You simply rub the wooden boards with mineral oil (or other appropriate food-grade oil or mixture) and let sit for a few hours or overnight, then wipe off the excess. This should become a quick and easy part of our kitchen routine.

So why have I waited so long? Here’s to giving our wooden cutting boards a little TLC.

3. Are scented candles (and cleaner, etc.) really dangerous?

Oh how I love the ambiance of beautiful scented candles!

But like so many things, I began to hear fearful ideas about the dangers of burning them, so I decided I needed to look into it.

I spent a good deal of time reading (and re-reading) four different articles about the possible dangers of burning scented candles, (including one very long and detailed study with scientific wording and charts that I only partly read and understood). While I would like to more clearly summarize my conclusions for you, I honestly am left with mild concern and no clear conclusion.

The different articles I perused for information are Do Yankee Candles Have Toxins, Are Your Favorite Candles Slowly Poisoning You?, Effects by inhalation of abundant fragrances in indoor air – An overview, and The Big Problem with Scented Candles.

My best suggestion if you are concerned is to do your own research and form your own convictions.

Although I am not fully convinced that they are dangerous, I am reconsidering the length of time I burn my beloved candles. I would also be more concerned for those with compromised health issues, and will perhaps revisit this topic again in time.

For now, I think we will still enjoy our candles, realizing the small risk is hopefully outweighed by the immense satisfaction and simple joy of burning scented candles.

4. Tipping your head forward helps while swallowing pills.

How much do you enjoy swallowing large capsules or pills? Apparently we’re not alone.

Recently I read or heard this unique method of swallowing pills, and it really works! It’s especially effective for capsules to actually take a sip of water with the capsule in your mouth and then tip your head forward to swallow. The water pushes the light capsule to the top of your throat and down it goes. I’ve tried it will some rather large calcium tablets and it still seems more effective than my usual efforts at swallowing.

There is also another technique called the “soda bottle” (or “pop bottle”, probably depending on where you’re from), which we can try as well.

Either way, I am learning that another secret is to be sure to drink enough water to help the pills on their way down.

5. When Calls the Heart has a spin-off !?!

It’s called When Hope Calls.

It is similar to our favorite When Calls the Heart, and two of the main characters starred on a couple of episodes of that familiar series. I’ve read since then that they may have some characters doing crossover episodes between the two shows.

It can be seen on one of the Hallmark channels, although I am personally still trying to sort out what is in fact the best way to watch the series personally. I may just splurge and subscribe to the channel instead of waiting for it to come out free later on.

We will see, but I’m definitely looking forward to another positive, wholesome, family-friendly show!

6. “Stop, Drop & Roll” is outdated.

Who remembers learning this memorable fire safety technique as a child? I do.

But recently I heard that perhaps it isn’t up to date.

While this short article and video explains, Stop, Drop & Roll is not always taught now as the best or first information a child should be thinking of when in a dangerous fire situation. There are often more important rules for a child to think about, such as getting out of a burning building and having a safe family meeting place outside.

But according to this and several others articles, it seems it is still useful and effective information to use if one’s clothing catches fire.

It’s one of those things that we hope and pray we never have to use, but it’s good to be prepared.

7. It’s probably better to call 911 from a land-line (as you’ll usually get through to local help faster).

I recently heard this from the police officers who were at my staff training for my library job, and it immediately caught my attention.

It really depends upon how calls are routed as to how efficient the call is. In general, it seems a landline is much more effective.

One resource adds more detailed instructions for best practices when calling 911 and explains that when we call from a landline our location is clear, while when calling from a cell phone the signals are being sent through the air and the call may not even be picked up by local emergency personnel.

Although you should check for the best practices for your own local area, this paragraph seems to explain and sum up the facts nicely:

This question of whether to use a cell phone or a landline to make your 9-1-1 call on is a very important one. It may vary depending on your jurisdiction and your location. For example, in California we have an issue with cell phone calls and delays. They tend to be delayed because the calls are routed through the highway patrol and the state system, whereas landline calls go directly to a 9-1-1 center. In addition, those landline calls allow the dispatcher to see who the caller is, where the address you’re calling from is, and have a much closer relationship, and in particular they answer the phone more quickly. The recommendation from several police officers has been that if you are needing to use your cell phone because that’s all you have and perhaps you’re away from the home, is to predial into your phone the phone number for your local police precinct. So if you can’t get through and there are delays that you call that local police precinct who can then patch you through.

I think the best piece of advice when using a cell phone is to program your local police, fire and other emergency phone numbers into your cell and use those to reach them directly.


Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading a few of the things I’ve learned this past winter.

I hope we all remember to keep on learning, and to consider keeping track of the things we learn. It’s a great way to reflect on things both important and just enjoyable.

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Fall in our church yard

7 Things I Learned This Fall

It’s been a busy fall, but I managed to record at least some of the different things I’ve learned. Join me and others at Emily P. Freeman’s link-up to read about what we’ve learned this season.

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1.I learned the proper way to forward an entire conversation in gmail.

Do you ever wonder when you wish to forward an email conversation whether the receiver got the whole thing? I took some time to look up the proper way to do this, and it’s really simple. Just choose the conversation you want, select “More” from the toolbar, choose “Forward All”, add any comments you wish, and send.

2. Praying mantis females only eat their mate about 1/3 of the time.

Yes, it’s true.

You may have heard that female praying mantises eat their mate, but I guess it only happens about one third of the time. I learned a bit more about mantis mating habits here, as well as the fact that they can and some have actually eaten hummingbirds. (Yuck!) I also learned some other interesting facts (and not all as gruesome), including how good they are at eating unwanted insects in your garden.

I think I’ll just tuck away this useful information and focus on how cute they are and the fact that they look like they are praying. Perhaps we should have named them, “Confessing Mantises”?

3. I figured out why the leeks I purchased had hard, woody centers.

I bought some leeks to use in a recipe this fall, and was disturbed and confused by the centers being so hard and woody that I almost couldn’t cut through them. To aid in my perplexed state, I looked up some information about leeks, and discovered that they are not even native to our area, and there is a better season in which to buy them. Also, if they have been allowed to flower, the centers will get woody and almost unusable.

Leeks are native to the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, which surprised me, since they look like a big sort of onion. They can also be grown in other areas. The preferred season is September to the end of April, so that’s the best time to enjoy them.

4. There are many creative ways to use up unwanted conditioner.

We had about half of a large bottle conditioner that just wasn’t cutting it for it’s intended purpose. In an effort to not be wasteful, after storing this unwanted hair product for several weeks, I set out online to see if I could find a good use for it. Apparently, there are many interesting ideas on how to use up unused conditioner, everything from shining up your fridge or your boots to putting it in your bath or helping to clear clogged drains.

In the end, I have to admit the only thing I was comfortable attempting was to help clear our often-clogging drains. So I dumped it down. I’m not sure it made any difference.

So I guess I could have just done that to begin with.

NY cheddar wheel squash

5. Yes, you can ripen green squash off of the vine.

One of the blessings of my farm-stand job (and getting our farm share), is getting to try some new vegetables and storing some for the winter. This year I had the privilege of “meeting” a somewhat rare squash or pumpkin variety known as the Long Island Cheese pumpkin. I guess it is considered an heirloom seed.

What is an “heirloom”? The definition is open to dispute. But the term is usually applied to fruit, flower or vegetables varieties that were being grown before World War II.

https://www.burpee.com/gardenadvicecenter/vegetables/general-gardening/what-is-an-heirloom/article10162.html

If you’d like to learn a bit about this older pumpkin variety, this article gives a brief history of the squash, as well as a nice recipe for Long Island Cheese Pumpkin Soup and a tasty-sounding Long Island Cheese Pumpkin pie.

If you happen to have some squash that are a bit green (like a couple of the ones I got), you can indeed ripen it indoors by placing it in the sun. So pick those green squash at the end of the season and bring them indoors with you.

6. The Crown changed all of their major actors in Season 3.

Have you watched the first two seasons of the Netflix series, The Crown?

My husband and I have enjoyed them together (although we are partial to the first one with John Lithgow portraying Winston Churchill). We were excited to hear recently that Season 3 was finally going to begin, and eagerly watched the first episode. It’s good, but it took us well into the first half of the show to stop being distracted by the fact that the actors all seemed to be different. At first we thought it may be really good make-up, but the changes were too great.

So we paused the show and did what all good modern people do and asked our phones.

Sure enough, The Crown replaced all of the principle characters with new actors, in order to better reflect the difference in time and their ages. It was the plan all along, and I now know to not get too attached, as they plan to change them again for the fifth and sixth seasons.

It’s hard to accept unfamiliar people playing roles to which we’ve become accustomed, but after just two episodes, we think they made good choices. Only time will tell.

If you haven’t tried the show, you may wish to watch the first two seasons and join in for the third, or if you wish to “cheat”, this article will bring you up to date, including sharing recaps of what you’ve missed.

7. When you give someone the right thing at the right time, it is like gold.

A single girlfriend of mine recently underwent surgery, so I and a group of other ladies have been going to help her out and many have provided meals. She came home from the hospital right before Thanksgiving, so as somewhat expected, many delicious turkey leftovers were shared.

A couple of days ago, my friend asked if I could put in a request for something different, like macaroni & cheese or tuna casserole. I took it upon myself to whip up a batch of macaroni & cheese in my Instant Pot, and brought it with me as I went to help with the laundry.

Now I think my cooking is pretty good and macaroni & cheese is tasty, but it isn’t my showcase recipe and doesn’t usually bring on raving reviews. But my friend texted me later that night, stating how much she was enjoying my meal, that it was real comfort food, and it seemed to me as if I had brought her a fine steak.

Like many things in life, doing, saying or giving the right thing at the right time can be impacting or even life-changing. It magnifies the act and turns it into a blessing.

What better time to focus on intentional and sensitive giving than during this Christmas season that we have found ourselves again.

Who knows? Maybe your little gift will make someone’s day.

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sisters kayaking together

What I Learned This Summer

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

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

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

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

Garlic scapes

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

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

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

Garlic Scape Fritatta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phil Keaggy

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

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

Soulfest 2019
Switchfoot
For King and Country
Candlelight Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But really, just don’t do it.

8. We actually do like overnight oats after all.

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

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

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

I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Making overnight oats

9. Faith and family is everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What things are you learning this summer?

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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