Monday, October 31, 2011

Celestial Pumpkins
These are a beautiful alternative to jack-o-lanterns.
This is our simple attempt, a decoration that could last through November. The link gives directions, but basically, cut a hole through the bottom, scrape out the inside, drill 1/4 inch holes, fill with a string of white Christmas lights. Easy!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

This is my 200th post.
Not an unusual accomplishment, many have done far more. For me, it is an achievement of little steps.

I had no idea what I was doing, really, when I started this blog on 2-11-11. I have learned a lot and had a blast along the way. I wanted to create a format, a platform, to discipline myself to get something written "out there," and often. I love clicking "publish" after I type a post. Not, of course, the traditional sense of getting published, but kind of like a little girl playing dress-up in big girl shoes.

Baby steps. Taking little steps, in baby shoes, falling kerplop, getting up and trying again and again. The little steps matter. Learning to walk and run and jump and skip across the pages, my fingers across the keyboard, the words across the page.

Like tiny seeds that will split open, sprout and grow into a productive plant, these words are planted here to grow and develop.

The little bits of random, here and there each week, have added up over time. I enjoy the randomness of picking topics - not set, specific, but open to learning, to change, to paying attention to the small moments, to journal the little details I would otherwise have glossed over, unnoticed. These posts have been a way to celebrate the moments.

 The most read post is Shark Eggs, The second most read is The Rear View Mirror. Do you have a favorite post? Let me know in the comments, below, if you remember one in particular.

Little things matter. Day by day, a little bit, over time, really does add up to a surprising quantity.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Great Aunt Rachel

Today, I posted a new short story on my other blog, WordsbyMo. "Great Aunt Rachel." Click here to jump to it:
This week, I've been working on regular writing hours in the afternoon. The morning schoolwork is done, dinner doesn't need to be started yet. This has been the least productive part of my day, filled with miscellaneous whatevers. Remember the Pomodoro Technique I wrote about awhile back? I set the timer, and write while the timer clicks. I am working to establish a new habit, to develop my skills and practice my craft of writing. As you read this, you are "hearing" me practice. It's not a concert performance, but thanks for listening.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Sanctuary For Your Soul

This little book, A Sanctuary for your Soul, by Kay Arthur, is a gem. It is out of print, but still available through Amazon or Barnes and Noble in their used book sections.

We bought it at a small Christian book store in Colorado, which, unfortunately, was going out of business and (not unfortunately for us) had everything on sale. My mom and I were in the store, browsing, and of course finding treasures. As we were getting ready to leave, she asked me, "Anything else you saw?" (Silly question, she knows me well...)

This book, standing up on a shelf, caught my eye, and I thumbed through it because the photos. At the time, we were building our house, and I loved the look of these rooms: the real wood paneling, the colorful furniture, the homey touches, the lived-in-look. We bought the book for the pictures.

I had no idea how the words would grab me, sum up my home-making ideals, ring truth to me, and be far more important than the photos. That day in the bookstore was years ago - don't remember exactly, but maybe eleven years? For most of those years, this book has been part of my morning devotional reading. I keep it alongside whatever devotional book I'm reading (Valley of Vision right now), with the Bible and my journal/prayer notebook. Kay Arthur, with her poetic prose, reminds me, of
"that which is necessary to sustain this sanctuary,
to keep it a house-
to make it a home, a haven they're drawn to."

I went through and wrote on sticky notes something specific I could do to apply the thoughts of each page.

I re-wrote the book as a personalized prayer.

I have read, and re-read, absorbing its layers of truth.

"A sanctuary you can create,
A harbor of safety for loved ones
from the storms of life,
Your shelter in the world
-from the world,
A sanctuary for your soul.
This is part of the joy, the wonder, of being a woman.
Here you celebrate the expression of being you
as you take a house and make it your home.
What you create in your setting makes it uniquely you." 

I love to think of the work of making my home as a celebration, a form of worship. It is a heart attitude, one I am continually working on. My home will be different from anyone else's, and as our children go out and make their own homes, theirs will be different.

To create a haven for my family, that is my goal.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


A scary word.
An angry word.
A strong word.

 I saw this word used in an unexpected way. I love it when unrelated blog posts are related, like people writing on a similar theme and they connect. At least in my head, they connect.

Rachelle Gardner, a literary agent, posted a quote from Ira Glass, a radio announcer. Click here to see her link: This is a transcript from a u-tube interview. On the video, he elaborates that we must fight for our goals, little by little, over time. "It's gonna take awhile...You've just gotta fight your way through. Be fierce. Be a warrrior."

This week, on, she posted the same interview with the video transcript done in a creative variety of fonts: Fight Your Way.

Also on The Nester, she wrote another post about using the limitation of time. "Do you feel led to write a book, start a ministry, invest in friends? Maybe you feel led to be a room mom. How much time a month are you fiercely protecting to do that Thing which you feel called to do?"

A radio announcer, a book agent, a popular blog writer, all saying a similar thing. Decide. Fight. Protect your time. Fiercely.

Our black kitty is fierce. Or so he thinks. We try to make sure he is in before dark. If we forget, his mournful yowling alerts us to his presence outside and his tough-guy stance against the neighbor's cat intruding into his yard. Really, he is just a big old (he is 15 or 16) baby with an attitude. But his attitude helps him be tough when he needs to - protecting his space in our yard.

What am I challenged to fiercely protect? My exercise time in the early mornings. When it gets derailed due to schedule changes, I can't wait to get back into the routine. When I wake up early, I actually want to put on the exercise clothes and get started. Strange, I know. Wouldn't have thought it possible. When I can't, I want to.

And, the family, the home we are building here. Time spent with them, reading, playing games, talking, doing stuff together, before they all move on. I know for a fact how fast that time goes.

I wish I could say I protect my writing time fiercely. Another blog post this week, a guest post on Michael Hyatt's blog, wrote that the one thing needed is courage. If you are attempting to establish a new habit, the thing most needed is courage. The courage to take those little steps, to schedule the time, to eliminate at least one excuse.

So, I am tackling my writing time this week. Having the boys accept that from this time to this time I will be at my desk. And, protecting that time, fiercely. With courage. Establishing a solid habit, just like I have been able to do (with the help of our daughters) over the last year and a half with my exercise time.  One day at a time, one hour at a time, building the habit, making it happen. With courage. Fiercely. A gentle warrior.

What new habits would you want to tackle, fiercely?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Chicken Antics

At our house in Colorado, we lived on forty acres, with five miles to the nearest neighbor. Our chickens could wander free range all day, tucked into their coop for safety at night.

When I had leftovers or scraps to get rid of, I carried them outside. One or two of the chickens might be in sight, pecking nearby. I called out, "Here, Chicky, Chicky." From wherever, the rest would all appear, like gawky long-legged girls, their skirts held up, their legs stretched out, racing with long strides to get to me first. I laughed at their antics as they crowded in for the food I dropped on the ground. Their appreciative clucks and squawks were really just greed. They would devour everything and peck over the area for more crumbs, challenging each other for any morsel. We never had too many leftovers - those girls would eat anything. I don't remember how that process started, but it became a funny routine.

I miss having chickens, their funny, contented clucking and their silly faces. Hope someday I'll have a few again, maybe in a small, cute backyard coop.

This weekend the boys took care of our neighbor's chickens. They have a backyard coop, well fenced against our local citified coyotes and skunks. We enjoy the fresh, colorful eggs, the natural beauty of the greens and browns and soft blues. It made me remember our chickens, and the eggs we used to collect.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Stuffed French Toast

4 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
3 oz Neufchatel cheese, at room temperature

Combine the chocolate chips and cheese in a small bowl, mix well.

8 slices Italian bread (or whole wheat sandwich bread)

Spread one fourth of the chocolate mixture on 4 slices of the bread. Top each with a second slice and press lightly to form a sandwich.

4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp trans-free margarine

Beat together eggs and vanilla in a medium bowl. Dip both sides of each sandwich in the egg mixture.
Melt the margarine in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add sandwiches, one at a time and cook until golden and cooked through.

Serve hot, topped with 2 cups sliced, fresh strawberries.

4 servings, 416 calories
From the Flat Belly Diet Family Cookbook

These are a great way to start a day!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Road to Success

A building we drive by has a sign out front where they post cute and clever quotes. Usually they make me smile or nod in agreement. The one up there now says,  
"The road to success is under construction."

I am puzzled by this. What does it mean?

Is the path, the road to success by way of a detour?

Is the road bumpy and full of potholes and  rough edges?

Does a road closed sign block the way?

Do those who are successful have a hard path to follow?

Do those who want to be successful ever really make it, or are they always working at it?

What is the definition of success, is that built along the road, as we travel the path?

If the road is under construction, perhaps we need to go another way. What would be the destination, if it isn't success?

Are there other roads we could choose as we build toward success?

Hard Hat Required, life can be tough.

Another thought would be to be more tolerant of those around us, those who are all (like us) under construction themselves, in the process of improvements and upgrades. I couldn't find a picture of the sign, but I remember seeing one on the highways, something like, "Highway Workers Present, Use Extra Caution." It would be good, I think, to keep the perspective that those around us are also under construction on their personal roads, and to use extra caution around them.

What do you think this quote would mean?

-all images from Google

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Motivating a Person (Yourself)

Last weekend I attended a marathon as an observer. I am not a runner.
This weekend, we spent two days as spectators at a golf tournament. Nor am I a golfer.

Both events, even though I was not a participant, were fun to watch, inspiring and challenging. Lots to learn from observing people, and watching the athletes as they work to achieve their goal. Whether it was one more mile to the finish line or an errant golf ball that just did not go where it was supposed to go, the struggle was how to handle the challenge or disappointment.

There were the very few at each event that were there to win, who knew they had the speed or the skills necessary to be the one at the top. For me, it was exciting to see how many were there to work at developing their own personal levels. Their motivation came, not just from competition with others, but from deep within themselves, bettering their time or their score, achieving a new personal level.

The university golf teams at this tournament were young men and women from several states, matching their skills against each other and against themselves. Our son, participating with his university team from Arizona, played at a golf course near our house. We were able to attend two days, riding along in our golf cart, quietly watching and offering words of encouragement. He is fairly new to the sport and new to competitions like this, learning a lot about himself and the skills he needs to develop.

At the golf tournament, we saw lots of frustration: golf clubs thrown, exasperation at missed putts, exhaustion as the eleven hour day wore on, endurance stretched to the limit. Others were able to laugh at their mistakes and encourage those around them, still able to keep up their confidence and work through the next hole.

The strongest impression I came away with was the value of personal strength and inner motivation. Even at a competitive event, the real competition is with yourself. It has to come from within. A mental challenge. A physical challenge. An emotional challenge. Especially in a more individual sport like golf or running a marathon, your worst opponent is yourself.

For all of us, even if we are not runners or golfers, life has its sand traps.

Sometimes we have to hit the ball out of tall grass (but first we have to search and find it, knowing it dropped somewhere in that area).

A water hazard can block our path.

Boredom sets in if we have to wait, and wait longer. We just want to play, to get going, to keep moving. Instead, we wait and watch from the sidelines.

The small steps may be our downfall. We can cover the distances, but fall behind at the little details, the putting.

The goal, sometimes, is not even visible, hidden around the corner, out of sight. We have to hit the ball knowing it will take several steps, several hits ahead before we even see the flag, the putting green.
Or, the basics of life get in the way.

 The spacious views of the golf course, tucked in the middle of a crowded, busy industrial area were a reminder to find the beauty, even in hidden spots.

There are lots of life lessons in any sport. Perhaps that is part of the reason sports are so popular. Spectators are reminded to work hard, to tackle the challenge of meeting their goal. For me, it was a reminder that I need to be much more than a spectator, to be sure I am meeting my challenges with strength and focus.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Multiplying Busy Lizzie

Flowers that self-sow or are easily reproduced are some of my favorites. Inexpensive, and practical. One purchased pot can lead to multiplied more. An investment of sorts.
This impatien, given to me for Mother's Day, has bloomed non-stop since May. As an example of my terrible pruning habits, here is evidence in its leggy looks.

I pruned about half the branches back, not wanting to completely remove all the blooms. I know, hopeless.

I stuck the branches in water, keeping it full. This way, I could enjoy the cut blooms inside, and wait until the little roots appeared on the stems. Maybe not so hopeless.

Two weeks later, they are ready to go into their new pot, the tiny white roots beginning to grow.

Gently tucked in and watered abundantly...

Snug in their new home, ready to grow and bloom.

Impatiens are called busy lizzies for their reputation for self-sowing and easy rooting abilities. These, a red variety, have spread into three different pots, one on the other side of the patio, all by themselves, no help from me.

 I like them in this shoe pot. Reminds me of the rhyme, "There was an old woman who lived in a shoe, she had so many children she didn't know what to do..."
Busy Lizzies are a half-hardy annual. They prefer shade, but appreciate some sun as long as it isn't hot afternoon sun. If pinched back (I know, preaching to myself here), they will bloom continuously for many months, coloring the garden with almost neon pink, purple, white, salmon and red. In cold climates they can be brought indoors in the winter, (although watch for mites and aphids) and their color appreciated all year.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Of the Four Seasons...

Have you heard the analogy to a lifetime being as the four seasons?

 Springtime would be as birth: freshness, learning everything new, crazy growth and colorful life. Childhood.
 Summer is as the widest span of life: young adulthood, a time of growth and productiveness, fruitfulness, harvest, and enthusiastic change.
Fall, the time when the productivity of summer is winding down, preparations are being made for winter, pruning is needed before the winter cold, the full harvest brought in.

Winter, the final season of life, when the cozy blankets are drawn in close around you, when a fire in the hearth is a warm comfort, and the gentle quiet of a still, frosty morning settles in.

Of course, these are generic, with huge overlaps, but it is an interesting thought.

I am in the fall of life. My favorite season. Why? The rich, dark colors of gold and rust and amber and wine and forest and chocolate and the blues of a deep, still lake are, to me, much more peaceful than the pastels of spring or the vibrant hues of summer. The flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg and apples and pumpkin and squash are favorites that speak of fall.

Leaves rustle in the breezes and float slowly down to the ground like feathers, their deep yellows and reds and oranges like a child's finger painting on the ground below. There is a brisk freshness in the air that has been missing in the heat of summer. The sun, its position lowered in the sky, glows directly into our windows, greeting the rooms with its warm rays rather than the over-heated summer air. When we walk, leaves crunch beneath our feet, the cool air breathes softly around us. The clothes shift to flannel and corduroy and denim and comfy sweaters or sweatshirts. The shortened days remind us that time is limited, that the days will not go on forever, that as the sun goes down a little earlier each evening, another day has passed, another memory behind us.

How does this relate to my life? Fall is not a sad time for me. It is an exciting season of change and quiet growth. I love the changes, the differences even a day can make in the plants, the trees, the air, the sky. Like pulling a down comforter up around your chin on a cold morning, fall helps the plants tuck themselves in for the winter. The harvest this time of year is long-lasting. The pumpkins and winter squash and apples and root crops will be stored, ready for provision during the winter. Nuts are harvested and squirreled away. The sun sends its warmth and light directly into our rooms.

The majority of our children are grown and establishing their own families, homes and careers. I can enjoy the harvest, watching them build their own lives and make their own choices. The stored memories will provide smiles and happiness for years to come.

The extra time I have now is an invitation to get outside and go for a walk, soaking up the season's beauties, my sweatshirt zipped around me. A new season is a time to learn, to observe, to appreciate the changes and the quiet growth happening around me, even if it is hidden away below the ground or deep inside the plant's structure. The writing I am doing now, working quietly at my desk, develops and waits to bloom.
And the pruning. For me, this is always a painful task, pruning away flowers along with the dying or broken branches. I know all the reasons for the necessity of pruning: healthier for the plant, encouraging new growth, and strengthening the branches. Yet, it is tough to cut away, to trim down, to change a large plant to small stumps. Of course, there are many life applications here, just as tough as getting out the pruning shears. Trimming down the stuff of life, cutting off the abundance, leaving only what will build strength and growth and health. This, of the four seasons, is the best time for pruning, both in plant life and people-life. The best season, for me, for quiet changes, accepting the shorter days of life, and traveling lighter.