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Blue sky with clouds and snowy branches

What I Learned This Winter

Blue sky with clouds and snowy branches

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

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10 Things I Learned This Winter:

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

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

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

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

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

Heart made of Lindor truffles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have you been learning lately?

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fields with cows and Adirondack chairs

What I Learned this Summer

fields with cows and Adirondack chairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. MyJoe is a great little gem!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I Learned this Spring

I’m always thankful for the opportunity to join in Emily P. Freeman’s What We Learned link-up each quarter. It’s a good way to stop and reflect on some of the useful or just plain interesting things that I’ve been learning.

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Bougainvillea flowers and hummingbird feeder

 

Here are 8 different things I’ve learned this spring:

 

1. I guess carageenan is best to be avoided, after all.

After revisiting my note in preparation for this post which stated, “Carageenan may be safe after all (and perhaps even provide health benefits?)”, I cannot see any information that proves this point. Embarrassingly, I have no idea where I read this information, and in further studying it, I agree with most of the reputable sources that I can find that agree that carageenan is best to be avoided.

It’s a thickening agent made from seaweed and is used in many foods, even many that are considered healthy or organic, as well as toothpaste. It has also been used to treat some illnesses.

Both practitioner and teacher of integrative medicine, Dr. Andrew Weil, and well-known doctor of natural medicine (as well as chiropractic and clinical nutritionist), Dr. Axe conclude that carageenan is best to be avoided, as it is linked to too many negative health risks. It is said to at least possibly be responsible for health problems such as digestive issues, inflammation, diabetes and even cancer.

Even WebMd uses wording such as “likely safe” and “possibly unsafe” in their description of the side affects and safety of carageenan.

There’s been a lot of conflicting information bouncing around over the years, apparently, but for now I’m going to read more labels and attempt to avoid this questionable ingredient when possible.

Here is a nice list of food products that do and do not contain carageenan to guide us in our grocery shopping.

 

2. Love really does make the world go round.

It may have been a phrase in a popular old song, but relationships really do seem to be the key to true happiness in life.

In a comprehensive, 75-year Harvard study, tracking factors such as intelligence levels, alcohol intake, relationships and income, one of the conclusions is that love is “the key to happiness”.

“That’s right, you heard it straight from the horse’s mouth — love is everything. A person can have all the luxuries in the world, but without love, they mean very little.”

Knowing the importance of love in relation to happiness should help us to prioritize our important relationships all the more.

 

3. SPAM turns 80 this year!

This much-loved or intensely-hated canned pork “delicacy” has been around now for an official eighty years!

Watch this video to learn everything you ever wanted (or didn’t want) to know about the history of SPAM:

 

 

 

4. I just learned about the hair highlighting process of balayage, and had it done to my hair.

Recently I asked my hairdresser if we could do something a little different for my hair (beyond the “normal” coloring to cover my many grays, along with a trim), and she suggested some highlighting. I hadn’t had highlighting since the days when I only had a few gray hairs…so quite awhile ago!

So when she mentioned doing balayage, at first I had to ask her to repeat it, and then I needed to know what it was. It is a more modern, and more importantly more natural process to highlight hair. (You can read all about it here and see more samples.)

“Balayage is a French word meaning ‘to sweep’ or ‘to paint’. It allows for a sun-kissed natural-looking hair colour, similar to what nature gives us as children.”

It is rather a work of art, I think, and one nice feature is that each person’s results will be different every time, yet an agreeable look can be achieved to compliment the person’s features, coloring and hair style.

my new hair highlights

my hair highlights

my hair highlightsmy bayalage highlights

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m quite happy with the results (although it was difficult to capture the full colors on camera).

 

 

5. I can find no proof that the “pinch test” for 100% silicone is accurate.

I have some cute  and handy silicone baking cups that I use sometimes in place of paper muffin cups, and silicone bake-ware has become more popular elsewhere than in my kitchen. One of the things that is, frankly, driving me a bit crazy, is all the hoopla about doing the “silicone pinch test” to see if your silicone pieces are 100% silicone.

The idea is that if you pinch and twist your silicone and see any white, your silicone is not pure; if the item is 100% silicone it will remain fully colored.

The frustrating thing is that although I can find multitudes of statements stating that this is a true test, from personal reviewers to many of the companies that make and sell these products, I have as yet to find one shred of evidence explaining whether this is true or not. I have also found several examples from companies stating that the test is just an internet myth; I even recall one company stating that they could provide copies of their tests or certifications.

My conclusion? Although the internet is an amazing and wonderful tool, sometimes it can still leave you empty-handing or just plain confused.

I think I’ll just continue to use my little silicone baking cups at my own risk.

I need a little adventure in my life, anyway. 🙂

 

6. Negativity actually rewires your brain.

OK. I admit it.

Sometimes I complain too much.

It’s something I’ve worked at, but it tends to be my natural response too often. And although I’ve always known it can be toxic to myself and others around me, after reading an article on How complaining rewires your brain for negativityI’m more convinced (or convicted!) than ever!

 

“Your brain loves efficiency and doesn’t like to work any harder than it has to. When you repeat a behavior, such as complaining, your neurons branch out to each other to ease the flow of information. This makes it much easier to repeat that behavior in the future — so easy, in fact, that you might not even realize you’re doing it.”

 

That’s the bad news, and there’s more.

Complaining also damages other areas of your brain, and is bad for your health.

The good news is, we can choose to curb this destructive habit.

 

 “There are two things you can do when you feel the need to complain. One is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. That is, when you feel like complaining, shift your attention to something that you’re grateful for. Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the right thing to do; it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. Research conducted at the University of California, Davis, found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood and energy and substantially less anxiety due to lower cortisol levels. Any time you experience negative or pessimistic thoughts, use this as a cue to shift gears and to think about something positive. In time, a positive attitude will become a way of life. 

The second thing you can do — and only when you have something that is truly worth complaining about — is to engage in solution-oriented complaining. “

 

I, for one, am going to continue on my quest (and ask God to help me) to turn my negative thoughts and words into gratitude.

 

7. Rumor has it that we can get a discount on coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts if we bring our own cup and order a “refill”.

Here is one of the many posts I discovered that claim that this favorite coffee and donut chain will give you a cheaper price on hot or iced coffee if you purchase a refill.

I have seen different prices listed for this “refill” order, and have as yet to ask at my local coffee shop to see if they provide this service. I also need to check to see if we need to purchase one of their brand name cups to receive this discount.

I’ll be asking next time I stop in for a coffee, as it’s certainly worth a try.

 

8. Actors Daniel Lissing and Erin Krakow of my favorite When Calls the Heart Canadian television series have done some singing together, and it’s really nice.

Are there any more “Hearties” out there?

Those of us who know and love this family-friendly, inspirational television series based on Janette Oke’s popular books have also come to love and appreciate the actors who make the story come to life.

I came across some music performed by Daniel Lissing and Erin Krakow (who play Mountie Jack and his sweetheart teacher, Elizabeth Thatcher), and I especially like this song.

I hope you’ll enjoy it as well.

 

 

 

Well, that sums up what I’ve been learning this spring. It seems that the busier I am the less I remember to stop and notice things I’m learning.

I hope you’ve enjoyed or learned something yourself from my list.

What have you been learning?

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