Thursday, January 31, 2008

In between storms

It has been a wild weather week here. We had huge storms go through a few nights ago with a small tornado hitting just south of us and straight line winds coming through our area. We were without power for part of the night (note to self... purchase oil for the oil lamps!) and we went from highs around 50 during the day to -5 at night. It took a half an hour to get the car door opened so Christopher could get to a French test! The rain- quickly- changing- to- ice of the previous evening had glued it shut.

Now we are under a Winter Storm Warning, awaiting anywhere from 6 to 10 inches of snow. My husband had a doctor's appointment tomorrow, they have already called to cancel as many of the people coming in (like us) live in the country and most likely would not be able to make it to the VA.

Once Christopher arrives home from his classes, it can snow all it wants. I made soup stock for vegetable beef soup today, it will chill overnight so I can skim the fat off the top and finish it for tomorrow's dinner. Perhaps I'll do some baking tomorrow as the wind and snow combine to make staying inside a good idea.

All three of us have had flu symptoms off and on this week, nothing serious but enough to keep us feeling miserable. So far it looks like I'm beginning to recover without developing the cold my husband has suffered with the past few days. I've been brewing Traditional Medicinal teas in the evening (Breath Easy and Throat Coat) for the guys and green tea for myself. A cup of hot tea... a quilt around me to help with the chills... an elderly cat to give comfort... and a book... my prescription for cold and flu season. :)

Secret Believers, a book review

I should be catching up with my book reviews by reviewing a couple books I've had for weeks now. However, when Secret Believers arrived recently, I started to look through it that evening and I had a difficult time setting it aside! The same thing happened to my husband (who rarely reads any books I'm reviewing). He picked it up one afternoon from the coffee table where I had briefly set it aside and I didn't get it back until the next day. :)

The subtitle of this book is: What Happens When Muslims Believe in Christ. It is written by Brother Andrew (God's Smuggler) and Al Janssen. They give us the stories of various men and women who have become believers in Christ and what that conversion cost them. Most of the book is in the form of a novel even though the people and the stories are true. How this brings us into the lives of these brothers and sisters in Christ! One gets to know them personally and we obtain just a bit of insight into what their world is like.

I found myself becoming very emotional at times as I felt their fear, their confusion, their bravery, their betrayal, the horrors many of them suffered at the hands of family and friends. What an interesting idea to present their lives as Story... how it makes it possible for us to know this one, small group of people.

We (American) Christians have little idea of what costs others around the world pay to walk with Christ. What would we do, how would we react in our day to day activities if we knew we could lose our job, our homes, our business, our children, and most probably... our life, by accepting Jesus as the Son of God... Saviour.

The last few chapters are given over to teaching the Church how to pray and how to reach out to Muslims with the message of Christ. This is an extremely good book, one I'd recommend to anyone who wants to know more about how God is working in these countries. It would be excellent reading for high school age and up, even if some of the scenes portrayed are difficult to get out of our mind.

That is why it is a good book, we who see symbols of Christianity everywhere in our culture (including around the neck of rock stars whose lives show us they do not take faith in Christ seriously) need to understand what the reality of the Cross can mean to those who take it seriously in a culture where doing so can sign one's own death certificate. It's also a darn good read.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Sunday Afternoon Tea

One again, we are meeting for our "Sunday" tea on Monday. Such is life... not perfect but definitely "do-able". :) So... you may want to join me for Monday morning coffee. Since I didn't have to leave the house today, I took the time to watch a gorgeous sunrise through my kitchen window while breakfast was cooking on the stove. It reminded me of the scripture, "The heavens declare the glory of God". He didn't have to cause the glorious colors of a sunrise. I believe the glories of nature give us an amazing glimpse into the character of God. Such breathtaking beauty on a cold, Winter morning.

As we sip hot coffee (with Splenda and cream on this end), we can chat about my ponderings this week. My good ponderings that is... not those that caused tension or fretting... those ponderings are also called worry and I try not to let them build a nest in my everyday life. No, I've been thinking a lot about good things like tradition and rituals... especially domestic rituals. One of my very favorite books is Living a Beautiful Life by Alexandra Stoddard. I need to pull it off my shelf and reread it soon as she writes about what has been on my heart this week. Of course, so do other favorite writers but this book seems to put my thoughts into words better than any of the other books.

Judging from the comments and e-mails I receive, a lot of readers love rituals, too. What is the difference between a tradition and a ritual? Well, making breakfast each Saturday morning for friends or family is a tradition. The process of making them can be a ritual, especially when we are aware of each step we go through every week. If it includes pulling out our favorite vintage reproduction bowl, using the wooden spoon that was my mother-in-law's, adding whole wheat flour I ground a few days earlier, glancing as I cook at flowers in a nearby vase, slicing fresh in-season fruit and serving everything on pretty plates... than it is indeed a ritual and not just another weekly habit.

I need domestic rituals in my life for I tend to run on autopilot. Even though I am making every attempt to "Life Life on Purpose", as my "to do" list grows longer and life gets busy... I often default to ingrained habits. That is why I must make such habits easy and my life is more pleasant when they are turned into domestic rituals.

The most important relationship in my life is that with my Lord. He drew me to Himself as a young teenager and redeemed my life from great sorrow and distress. You would think I would put Him first in my time, too? Especially those days when I do have time here at home to plan my schedule around Him. I wish I could say it was that way most days but how often I find myself at the end of a day without opening my Bible or spending any time talking to Him... other than the usual "Help!" or "I need/want this item" or "protect Christopher as he is driving in bad weather".

The one thing I do that helps is to make it a daily ritual instead of "just" a habit. I keep a gingham lined basket in my living room where it is easily reachable but in a safe place. In it, I have my Bible, a notebook, two devotional books, the latest nonfiction book about "spiritual" things I'm reading, and pens. Sometimes I'll place my Week at a Glance there so I can go over my schedule that day.

How much better to take coffee or tea into the Living Room and grab my basket with everything all together than to try to find everything from all parts of the house. It looks so inviting as I walk by it during the day and it acts as a reminder that the Creator of the Universe is waiting to spend time with me... now... not just in Eternity... now... a very good ritual. It's not perfect, I try to pick up my basket and meet with Him in the morning with coffee. Sometimes it gets pushed back to much later in the day with a cup of my favorite green tea. Too often more than one day has gone but having made it an anticipated ritual causes those days to happen much less than they used to.

I have rituals that have been with me for years... my favorite is waking before the others in the house, walking in the kitchen to push the "on" button for coffee, feeding the kitties (now just Sasha), catching five minutes of the local news for today's weather forecast, thinking through the appointments or "gotta do's" of my day... alone, ... sometimes watching a sunrise in Winter or sitting on my front porch in the early light of Summer. How different my days are when daily schedules prevent this much anticipated ritual.

Washing dinner dishes have become a ritual as I rinse them then fill the sink with very hot water and a squirt of delicious smelling dish soap (either Mrs. Meyers or Seventh Generation for I believe if we "go green" anywhere, it should be with that which comes in contact with our dishes). I let the dishes soak 30 min. to about 45. min., just until the water is still hot but my hands do not get burned. It doesn't take long to wash them, rinse, and place each dish in my red Kitchen Aid dish drainer. Somehow the aromas and sites that surround me (my pretty dish drainer, sometimes flowers on my windowsill, the seasonal sites out my window) all come together to turning a chore into a ritual.

My ponderings this past week have been about the changes in rituals through the years. For instance, when Stephanie was little either her dad or I read to her at night. I would make certain she had her covers just right, give her a kiss and tell her how much I loved her... every night. For many years we had a tradition of going out to breakfast each Saturday morning. The birth of her brother when she was within days of turning twelve changed a lot of that (but she loves him, anyway). :)

Christopher and I once had a tradition of going out to breakfast each Monday morning as funds permitted. When we lived in Detroit, we would often go out to breakfast (almost always having to walk) when Dad was leaving on a jet plane for New England, Germany, or other destinations. It was different when we lived in Iowa when he was a baby or a very active toddler. During those years, we ordered pizza for dinner on the day Dad left. His job as an engineer often required him to be gone for days at a time. By making such traditions and rituals we have a balance in life, even when we have moved a lot or had major changes we know "this is what we always have done" and life feels more secure.

I've recently had a change of Saturday evening rituals. I used to have my Solitaire Tea Time (which I've written about before) in the Living Room, while watching British comedies on PBS on the little TV in that room. Unfortunately, my antennae needs to be replaced so I can pull in only one channel these days (a local affiliate). For awhile I used this time to read but a few weeks ago, I began to take a cup of tea... the old (beat up) red 9 x 13 pan that holds my scrapbook materials, my spiral bound artist's book that is my scrapbook journal, my actual scrapbook I've kept for years (started as a place to put my favorite pictures from Victoria magazine when I could not keep them when we were moving to Detroit), and the envelope files which are now holding my various pictures (along with scissors, a little X-acto knife, colored pens, and adhesives).

Each Saturday evening while the dinner dishes are soaking, I either take the small X-acto blade and cut out magazine pages or I pick up scissors and cut out pictures for either scrapbook (sometimes I'll find a great article that I will staple together to file in my section of the file cabinet). After awhile, I'll return to the kitchen and wash dishes before coming back to cut out more pictures if I have a lot of pages waiting to be cut. Then I file them in the appropriate file folder. Since these file folders have sides to them, the pictures are kept secure.

I've used this time to listen to music (via headphones) on my CD player. This past week, I asked Christopher if I could borrow two of his CDs... The Phantom of the Opera and a CD (one of the "Wow" CDs) that contains all #1 hits of Contemporary Christian Music in the recent past. How enjoyable is such a ritual, taking very little mental thought as I either remove entire pages or cut out beautiful pictures. I can listen to music, or ponder, or pray, or think about what I would like to write about here. :)

Why did I begin this particular ritual? Well, I have wanted to begin a scrapbook journal for months now but I could never find the time to put one together like I wanted. I even purchased the spiral bound artist's "notebook" a few months ago and it has been waiting for me to pick it up and use it since then. That is when I realized by having everything ready and in one place (as I do with my quiet time basket) then as I have some free time, I will be able to put together the scrapbook journal (or continue with my old scrapbook which contains only pictures, printed out poetry, etc.). Only by making this easy have I been able to make room for it in my life.

Has it worked? Yes! Now when I have some time to "journal", everything is ready (pictures are already cut that I can use and supplies are at hand). Not only that but the process... the Saturday night ritual... in itself... has become enjoyable. Right now I still have a number of old magazines I'm going through so there is plenty of "cutting out" and placing in file folders to do. As I catch up, I'll only have the new magazines and those found on the free rack at the library.

I remember as a bride, reading a book by Edith Schaeffer where she commented about the "brevity" of life and how fast it has flown by at her present age (at the time) of sixty. I was around age twenty and I didn't see my life passing quickly at all. However, having thirty-three years of marriage behind me, I know she was so right. I can't tell you how many times I have come to an end of a week... or a month... or a year... and realized I hadn't added something to my life I very much wanted to do (or removed a bad habit!).

By thinking about the events of my day, by planning habits (and making them into lovely rituals), that is the only way I take control over my minutes and hours... which become my years. No I must turn my attention to making my grocery list and menu planning into a ritual and not a chore. :)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The scone recipe and other blog housekeeping

I did take the time this afternoon to add the orange cranberry scone recipe (mentioned in this morning's post) to my recipe blog (link on the side bar). I hope to get it updated with a few other recipes this weekend. There are lots of my family favorites already available. :)

Also, I've had a few requests to show pictures of my house. I have quite a few, if you scroll WAY down on the side bar to Labels, then click on My Home, it will bring up the posts that show those pictures. I'd provide a link but I can't find my son's mouse. It has apparently run away. (He did use to have a wireless mouse because he is left handed. I'm not sure why he went back to the one he has now, other than the fact the wireless mouse was a battery hog.)

I took some pictures of my home decorated for Christmas and I may show some of them (late, of course) when I get my computer back. They are still "parked" on the digital camera my sweet blog friend sent me.

I do miss being able to respond to comments and to comment very much on your blogs. Since my son has his computer most of the time, and my husband needs the computer when available to do our online banking and budgeting, I have to read most of my blogs on Bloglines... quick as a bunny!

Coffee, scones, and freezing my giblets

It was so cold this morning, once I had packed Christopher a lunch box and sent him off for his 8:00 class, all I could do was sit in my family room chair... my flannel housecoat tied snuggly at the waist and a big mug of coffee in hand... and watch the sun rise behind the pine trees in back of my neighbor's house.

We have a saying in our household. When it is just TOO cold outside, we are "freezing our giblets". We didn't come up with the expression, no... it was a big, yellow bird who first uttered those words. I don't know know why some expressions just "stick" to a family but that one has been used since the first time we watched Christmas Eve on Sesame Street when Stephanie was very young.

I still have my old, beat up video copy. I hope it is still available in DVD as I read recently the old Sesame Street specials may not be available any longer as they are considered not politically correct. Sheesh... Anyhoo... it is very, very, very cold in my part of the world and I'm amazed at the normal sized birds out my window who have left their protection from sub zero wind chills to sit on my back fence. Now, there are some frozen giblets. :)

The guys and I have been enjoying the Australian Open in the Down Under (where it is not very, very, very cold) which has been showing on ESPN and The Tennis Channel. We are big tennis fans with the guys and Stephanie all playing in competitions in one year or another. The first "date" I had with my future husband was on the tennis court. I continued to go out with him, even though I saw just how competitive he was. (Has he ever heard it is good manners to let a lady win once in awhile?) I gave up playing the game soon thereafter.

If you want to feel old, even at thirty (much less fifty), listen to the broadcasters and their background chatter regarding the players. If I hear one more person comment on the "old" guy at age twenty-eight, I'm going to find a cane and hobble to the kitchen where perhaps I can pull together a meal, even at my ripe old age. Otherwise, we all enjoy watching our favorites play and those we don't like... lose. In Christian love, of course. Even though I usually back the USA players, I must admit that I like watching Federer win.

The cold weather sent me once again to the kitchen since I didn't have to get out at all today. I tried a new scone recipe that tastes a lot like the orange cranberry scone Stephanie and I love at Starbucks (she bought two or three for me while she was visiting). Yum... Except for putting in too many frozen cranberries to replace the dried fruit in the recipe, it turned out great. I'll post it as soon as I update my recipe site with the recipes already promised to people. Perhaps I'll add that one first as it is a great scone.

The problem with our car turned out (as we hoped) to be very small and easily fixed. So... yesterday was spent catching up on the grocery shopping I had planned to do the day the car didn't start (last week). Tomorrow I need to finish the errands I couldn't accomplish in time yesterday (some days it seems I have less than the promised twenty four hours!). Today I am playing catch up with laundry I let go as the pulled muscle healed in my arm. It seems I'm doing the work of many yesterdays when today's To Do list is also calling.

I think I'll take a coffee and scone break in between laundry loads. Yes... that sounds very good indeed. :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I was meant to hibernate

I have a lot in common with Yogi and Boo Boo, besides loving a good picnic basket. I was created to hibernate in the winter. Of course, with family responsibilities and the Good Book full of remarks about being slothful, I don't sleep away January and February... but I think about it.... and temptation comes every dark, cold morning when the alarm clock rings.

That explains why my eyes are still droopy and my head fuzzy after two cups of coffee. I'm thankful today's schedule permits me get a slow start. The pulled muscle is feeling much better but I'm giving the arm some rest for one more day. I have plenty of everyday maintenance housework and a list of projects that can be accomplished with no heavy lifting or reaching.

I mentioned in yesterday's post about talking to my daughter about her day. There is nothing like a house full of preschoolers to give one a "Perils of Pauline" type of day (when each child finds ways to get into "situations", including two year old Faith using her brother and sister's toothbrushes to scrub the toilet). I had to laugh as she explained everything that happened yesterday, so did her husband when she asked him to stop at the store and purchase toothbrushes on his way home. She didn't see the humor in it... yet. Hehehe... Perhaps they would be calmed by the blog's music, as Kimberly found with her little guy?

There are times I really do get unhappy about my life, those five minutes when I allow a pity party. With Christopher now a full fledged young man, I miss having kids around. I miss the fun homeschooling days (I don't miss teaching math... the blind leading the blind so to speak). There are days I remember the "comings and goings" of my daughter's friends and college group when we lived in our large house. I can wax poetic about weekends in Holland when Stephanie was very young and how the three of us loved walks along the pier and fine dining at restaurants. One doesn't often realize how special everyday life can be when our children are still at home.

However, I know I couldn't handle (physically at least) a day like Stephanie had yesterday. I'd be like Scarlett O'Hara and "take to my bed". It would take a week to recover. :) It is so easy to look at others and wish we had their health, their money, their wonderful vacations, their easy life. Then again, I have lived long enough to know perfect families are only an illusion.

I can't even trust my own memories. I see pictures of Christopher as a blond haired two year old (he is no longer a blond) and I remember how cute he was and how much fun we had together. Then when I really start to think back on those years, I also remember runs to the hospital in the middle of the night with spiked fevers, the throwing up every time he ate for weeks and weeks as a newborn, constantly running after him as he ran from morning to night, the fact that he didn't sleep through the night until he was eighteen months old, my husband's constant travelling for his job, and how lonely I felt in my neighborhood at that time (and most of our married life since we moved so often to follow my husband's career).

Instead I need to embrace the season in which God has brought me. There's a reason we think fondly of grandmother's house through the years... we can put "stuff" on the lower shelves, we can follow a recipe from beginning to end without interruption(s), we who do not have little feet running around and tiny hands touching everything often have extra time to ponder making our homes beautiful and our gardens flourish... as do women who have not been blessed with children, yet.

I think often of what could be accomplished if I didn't battle illness and a tight budget... why God would allow such challenges in my life. Then again, the need for rest makes it possible for me to have the very time needed for studying my Bible, praying, reading, working on projects while sitting, and just... pondering. Instead of battling that which cannot be changed, I can embrace what only I can do... because of the given circumstances. The need to be thrifty has often been the seed of creativity.

So... at 6:00 on cold mornings... I may think about animated bears and sleep... but God has given me another day. That alone should make me thankful.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Oh, do I need a trip to Starbucks

I love my family, really I do. However, there are times I just need to get away to enjoy peace and quiet, a latte (when the funds are available)... and a place where nobody knows my name (with apologies to Cheers). How I miss having "wheels"!

We still haven't heard from our mechanic so Christopher is depending on friends for the necessary rides. I'm getting a lot accomplished at home... sort of... I did something to hurt my left arm a couple days ago and it has caused pain whenever I move it. What did I do? Who knows... I've found since turning 50 just a couple years ago that aches and pains can come from nowhere.

It isn't even the arm where I usually have some aching. That one was injured about ten years ago. My doctor said it was from taking too many books back and forth from the library in my Market basket. You've heard of tennis elbow? I had Homeschool Mom's elbow. :)

We're still waiting on our computer to be fixed. The bad news is the last motherboard they ordered didn't work, either. The good news is they absolutely know that is the only thing wrong with it so we're just awaiting the next motherboard to arrive. They had four e-machines with the exact same problem. We're not buying that brand again, with just a little more money we could have something much better.

Our Gateway was a workhorse of a computer (purchased in 1998 and giving out just a couple years ago). I'm typing away on a Dell. I want a Mac, having worked on one before. However, I'm married to a PC guy who (in spite of being a former engineer) doesn't like computers as it is. Learning a Mac would send him over the edge.

I appreciate the response to yesterday's Sunday Afternoon Tea. The story about how we came to buy our little house is on the sidebar... titled Laying My Issac Down (or something like that). Without a mouse today, it is much more difficult for me to pull up a new Tab and check it out. I truly believe we were blessed with the ability to purchase this house because we didn't hold any bitterness about having to give up our "dream home". This one is a whole lot smaller... but I love it.

I always told my daughter that when you purchase things you love... those that make your heart sing... they'll always go together to make a cozy and pretty home. (Here I am, giving advice to a young woman with a four year DEGREE in Interior Design!). However, she agrees with me. My style is rather eclectic and I've changed a bit over the years but I still enjoy the results. It's English Country meets cottage style.

I think the guys like most of it, they don't even say anything about the last of my teddy bear collection in the family room. Of course, the home office is my husband's retreat and has been... uh... decorated (?) by him. My son's room is his retreat, too. However, he asked for help from me so It looks better than the office. :)

There is one really girly area of our home, decorated by the very gifted young woman who lived here before. It is the tiny bathroom off the family room. The wallpaper is white and completely covered with tiny rosebuds. The shower curtain (which she was so sweet to leave since it kind of matched) is a lace with little rosebuds on it. I have enhanced the look with Victorian pictures and pink/red accessories. I guess it is because it is so small, the guys like it, too. At least they don't say anything against it (except for how small it is).

This house was their first and they did so much to make it beautiful. It wasn't a fixer upper as such for the house is in very good condition. Instead, they transformed it with beautiful woodwork, wall paper, paint (including the kitchen cabinets), putting in french doors, better windows, and that huge deck so many have commented about. My family is the benefactor of their skill and giftedness.

Christopher is feeling much better and tried to look like he enjoyed his dinner of talapia, roasted brussel sprouts, and baked potato (which he did like). I am determined he'll get better nutrition, at least at home.

I didn't sleep well last night, waking up when I moved my arm and it hurt... (yawn). However, it is finally beginning to feel better. I will "baby" it this evening and perhaps tomorrow before starting the project to organize my kitchen cabinets where I keep plates and such. There are lots of books waiting to be read to review, this is a good time for reading.

My daughter called while I was typing today's post. Sometimes I truly miss having younger children around but after hearing about my her day with the grandchildren, I appreciate this season of my life a little more. I could laugh since I'm past the "two's" and preschool age antics. Instead I'm going to read a bit, work on my scrapbook journal, perhaps watch a little TV... and rest. Oh... and pray for my daughter's sanity. :)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sunday Afternoon Tea

I only have a few moments to write today... literally! One of my son's best friends (the young man who escaped his flooding home) took him to the grocery store to pick up a few much needed items for us. He came back with what was on my list and about a dozen frozen TV type dinners. That's what you get when you send a bachelor and a hungry young man to the store for you. :)

Anyway, I had hoped he would be away longer just to be able to use his computer. His dad used it first, to balance our checkbook and I waited to see one of my personal heroes, Ben Carson, talk about his new book on TV. Christopher arrived home just as his interview was finishing... sigh. SO, I promised him I wouldn't take long.

My ponderings this week have been about my house and the various rooms. Perhaps because I was at home all week after being gone so much, perhaps because it is so cold outside that I run (literally) to the rural mailbox and back, whatever the reason... I have been appreciating my home a lot lately.

I was sitting in my living room a few nights ago, reading and pondering. As I looked around, I realized this room (the living room and dining area combination) was especially lovely on Winter evenings. I'm not certain if is the English Library feel about it, the deep jewel tones of the carpet and chairs, the "tobacco" color and comfortable feel of the sofa, the Dutch lace on the Dining "Room" windows, the deep lavender and greens of the wall paper in that area... whatever it is looks especially lovely in the light of lamps and the chandelier. It is my favorite room to read and have my quiet time.

Last night I took magazines, my CD player (I am behind the times, still using CDs), and The Reformation Study Bible Steph and her hubby gave us for Christmas. I often spend Saturday evenings in this manner since Christopher gets the family room all to himself (a tradition for years now) on that evening and my husband reads on the other sofa.

I use this time to cut out pages from favorite magazines to use in one of my scrapbooks later. First... my scrapbook I've kept for many years of pictures of rooms I love, particularly peaceful outdoor scenes, tables set for company that make me smile, poetry (especially my favorite poet, Robert Frost)... and those things that make my heart sing visually. Second... my scrapbook journal which was started after seeing the amazing "artwork" Jewels did with hers.

During this time, I listened to The Lettermen, John Denver, and a collection of Italian Love Songs by my favorite "crooners". I use a small, round type of X-acto knife... purchased years ago at a quilting shop. I only cut out the pages during this ritual. Actually deciding on pictures, cutting, and filing are done at a different time when I can pay a little more attention to details. This is fairly brainless handwork to accompany the good music. When I became tired, I looked through favorite Bible passages in the new Bible (excellent!)

My bedroom is becoming more and more beautiful as we've lived here two years. The latest addition, a gorgeous oval painting (print) purchased by my daughter at a New England tag sale during the summer and carried in her van for me during their latest visit. I just love the "look" it adds to the room.

I love my kitchen most in the early morning sun and in the afternoon when it is snowing (or in warm weather with rain beating against the window). Years of collecting inexpensive vintage kitchen items, combined with the beautiful handiwork inherited from the young couple who "fixed up" the place before we bought it, both combine to provide a warm and cozy environment. I truly love spending time in my kitchen, except in hot weather. I've written about being hot weather cooking challenged. :)

My family room is the kind every home should have, it is kind of a hodge podge with my older sofa and recliner (now showing wear but still in great condition), the long coffee table which shows the wear of a lot of living (including Christopher's teeth marks from his teething stage), a slightly stained carpet (including the latest coffee stain when my husband left his mug on the floor!), and pictures that look best in that room... and I didn't use elsewhere.

This is the room I clear for the grandchildren and give them full reign when they visit. Grammie doesn't worry about food on the old coffeetable or stains on the carpet (after all, Uncle Christopher and Granddad live here already!). We can all eat pizza and watch Noggin without having to be careful... unlike when we "take tea" at the table with real china.

These are the favorite places where I spend most of my life. Come Spring, I'll begin sitting out on my front porch. When it warms a wee bit more, I'll move the deck furniture Stephanie bought me last Summer on to the deck and plant flowers in containers... preparing for outdoor quiet times and pondering. But for cold weather... I love my small-ish home at the edge of a forest.

I read in one of Elizabeth George's books recently that we should spend thirty minutes a day giving thought (or deed) to making our homes the warm, cozy, loving places they should be. It doesn't matter if we are single or married, have young children or an empty next, we all must have a place of retreat in this world. If thirty minutes is not available, I can commend reading one chapter at a time of a great book during quick lunch hours (or children's naps). It is far better than doing nothing.

Sigh... my digital timer has begun beeping. That means I must take the shepherd's pie out of the oven (made with leftovers from last night's dinner). It also means I must give my son back his "precious". I made Anna's coffeecake this morning, which I would offer you with tea... if I did not have to get back to life as usual. :)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Oh... what a week!

This has been both a good and a challenging week (aren't most of them?). I did get a lot of decluttering and organizing finished. I know from the comments there are a lot of us who seem to get our "organization gene" revived this time of year. Since I tend to be a low energy person, it helps a great deal to have such a week every few months. Almost everything is looking good in the house so I can simply maintain what I have in place. The garage will have to wait until the temperatures warm up a bit... okay, a lot.

I only have the dishes to "declutter", giving my glass stemware to Goodwill (most were given to me and I haven't have never used them) and opening room to put some of my good dishes in their place. The area in the corner cabinet where I keep them is way too full. During the after Christmas clearance sales, I found gorgeous "Thanksgiving" bowls for a little over $1.00 each (originally $10.00) at Tuesday Morning. I'd had my eye on them since early November but they were way too expensive. I bought six of them at the clearance price, figuring I'd never serve soup to more than six people on Thanksgiving. With their sweet turkey painted in the bottom of the bowl and the muted autumn colors around the rim, they will look pretty sitting on my "Thanksgiving" plates I've been collecting. My daughter even liked them (and she doesn't usually appreciate dishes with poultry on them!). :)

On the more challenging front... my friend whom I've mentioned here a lot (Sheila) had a heart attack early this week. As I told her, it really rattled me because she eats mainly health foods and takes vacations with her husband where they park their van and then bicycle through entire states! Her doctor told her it would have been even worse if she wasn't in such good shape in her 50s. She is understandably upset and I have told her there are lots of Christian prayers going up on her behalf (she is Jewish).

Our "new old car" broke down as Christopher was leaving the college parking lot on Thursday. We had it towed to our mechanic and we haven't heard from him, yet. It's challenging being in the country with no car.

That night, close to Midnight, Christopher woke me from a very deep sleep. He was having very severe health symptoms. I suspect it was an allergic reaction to something but I'm not sure. He asked me to stay up with him until the severity of the symptoms decreased or we'd have to take him to the hospital (remembering we have no car and no insurance!).

Both his Dad and I prayed for him and then my husband went back to bed. Friday would be his last day of long hours at the bookstore (he was the first to work there, only working twice a year when the students came back for classes). Christopher asked if I'd make him a cup of tea and "read something". I returned with a cup of Breath Easy tea and pulled The Valley of Vision from my quiet time basket. He had never read any of their prayers before and as I ended each one, I had to comment on how much I appreciated the Puritans!

Now, I'm sure a few years from now I'll see it as a special moment between Mother and Son... reading Puritan prayers and both of us sipping tea. In reality, it was frightening as he had a severe headache and such chills that I had to bring a heavy comforter to put over him. I left him around 3:00 to go back to bed and try to get a little sleep before the alarm went off at 6:30. He was feeling a little better the next day and I had to take two naps!

We have noticed he hasn't been feeling well after eating fast food and he had brought home a bucket of chicken "meal" from KFC when he arrived home from classes (fortunately, a friend from church who lives close to us was still there and could give him a ride). It is beginning to look like he is sensitive or allergic to something found in some fast foods (perhaps his sensitivity to MSG has become worse, which is why he hasn't been able to go to a Chinese restaurant buffet in a long time). His sister and nephew both have such sensitivities/allergies. I have a feeling some restaurants are using less of the "good ingredients" and more fillers and MSG, too.

So... one of my few New Year's goals is to help him have a more healthy diet by making certain he has a good lunch packed each day so he doesn't have to eat fast food. It will help ADHD symptoms, too. My husband has had to do this for decades and my daughter has to pack a special meal for David when they go out to eat as he can't eat many foods... even those we would consider healthy.

I always have to remember... this isn't Heaven, yet. Life is taken one day at a time. His mercies are new every morning. :)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sorting, filing, reading, pondering

That's what I'm doing today... literally! :) Well, that and some afternoon baking.

Since Christopher left his laptop home for me today, I wanted to get caught up on e-mails and such. However, I can't do that until I finish putting my files and paperwork in order. I hate to admit it but there is a stack of my "stuff" in the office which has been begging to be sorted and filed for... months. Our home office is the smallest of the three bedrooms, any such clutter seems to make the entire room look messy.

I also had to order Miss E.'s birthday book and a bag of Charlie's Soap after finishing my morning quiet time. The book I ordered is called Children's Tea & Etiquette. It says it is about "basic dining manners and customs surrounding afternoon tea"... perfect for a little lady turning six years old.

I almost have the journal magazine pictures completely filed. The pocket folders work great, I don't remember where I read the idea of using them for such a project but they are far better than the zip lock bags I was using before. I'm using the same categories I mentioned before and I'll add a couple more. I know some people who like to sort their pictures and such by seasons. That would be good, too.

I keep an old, red 9 x 13 metal pan handy when I'm cutting pictures and prose. That way, most of those leftover pieces of paper can go into it and be easily thrown away when I stop working for awhile. I also am keeping my spiral artist's book I'm using for the journal and the pocket folders stored in it at other times.

Right now, I'm keeping any pages I haven't had a chance to cut out in a gallon size zip lock bag. They still work well for that use. I'll show pictures when possible. The first morning was spent cutting up last year's Susan Branch calendar and yesterday I cut out and "filed" all the other magazine pages.

I hope you clicked on the link in the last post to see Kimberly's journal.

Now on to the sorting and filing, mixing and baking! Be back soon...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Resting and working

I know, how can one rest and work? Well... carefully. :)

I concentrated on laundry yesterday and there are now just a couple loads left. One was washed, dried, folded, and put away today. The other will wait until tomorrow.

I have done dishes and run the vacuum cleaner. The latter for the first time since four delightful little children had run of the house. I was warned by their mother that I'd be finding items in unexpected places. Besides a few puzzle pieces and a pair of itty bitty white socks there is enough dried cereal to feed a third world nation. Only grammies would find that something to smile about.

I finished the veggie beef soup and started on my first project I want to complete this week... getting my pictures for my scrapbook journal better organized. My first attempt didn't work out very well. Instead, I have purchased file folders that have the sides closed (pocket folders). So far I have separated them into the following categories: flowers and animals; tea time, dishes, entertaining pictures (like tablescapes and such); words and quotes; vintage decorating; and a folder just for my Susan Branch and Mary E. pictures. I already know I'll be using a few more, perhaps a folder that contains only various Holiday pictures.

I know how I work and think and if I have various pens and those folders nearby, I will use my scrapbook journal more often. Speaking of which, did you see Kimberly's journal? Beautiful!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Sunday Afternoon Tea

Okay, it is really Monday so I'm a wee bit late. I spent the weekend running a few errands and most of today getting caught up with laundry and housework. We can sit down to a cup of decaf tea and a slice of the orange cranberry bread I made today. :)

It felt absolutely delicious to wake up this morning and know I had no place I had to BE. I had purchased a frozen pizza to fix for lunch, some chocolate to have for a snack, and a small bag of my favorite coffee to sip in between loads of laundry. There were snowflakes off and on as I looked out my kitchen window. How happy I was to be inside where I was baking the cranberry bread as a treat for the guys and simmering soup stock for tomorrow night's vegetable beef soup.

I always take time to reflect and review the first week of January. Since I either had (delightful) company or was working before now, I had to wait until this week. Tomorrow will be the start of this year's reflections as I pray about the plans for our family this year, various projects, relationships, etc. I believe we as humans are very subject to seasons (think of the beautiful section of the Word that tell us "For everything there is a Season"). In our culture, January is the start of the New Year. (Although September has a similar affect on me as the beginning of the school year.)

I've mention taking Elizabeth George's books with me to work to read during lunch time. I also read a chapter before going to bed each night. Since I have read them all before, rereading was very enjoyable and easy to do with distractions all around me. Tomorrow I will take a few other books off the shelf, all of them either about getting organized or offering spiritual encouragement. I'll share more as I read them.

I always try to go through my closet during the beginning of each year. Although I don't go by that old rule of getting rid of something I haven't used in a year (for I have found some things may only be used every two or three years but when I need them, I am glad they are there). However, I had quite a few items of clothing I knew I wouldn't use again. A couple sweaters I had held onto because they were old favorites but were now too big. I figured someone should enjoy them rather than having more clutter in the closet.

I finally put two heavy bowls in the garage for Goodwill. I really liked how they looked but found they were so heavy I'd get out my old Tupperware bowl rather than use them to whip up a quick bread or mash potatoes. I had used part of my small Christmas bonus from the bookstore to buy a pretty red (hard plastic) bowl from Tuesday Morning on clearance. Just a couple days later, I found a slightly smaller bowl that looked very similar. Both have a place on my red kitchen shelf.

I still have a very large vintage looking stoneware bowl for mixing bread dough and food such as potato salad for a crowd, as well as the large stainless steel bowl of my Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Yes, there is that old Tupperware bowl, too. Plenty of choices are available so those two very heavy bowls are now on their way to charity.

I'm looking forward this week to catching up with you a bit. My son is leaving his laptop home for me, at least the next few days. I'll be spending today through Thursday reading the Word, getting out my calendar and planning for the next couple of months, and re-reading a few more books to encourage getting organized within and without! I almost got caught up with laundry today. I want to do some organizing in the garage before my husband cleans it further next week. Well, just as long as we both can stand the cold weather. :)

Christopher is excited about his new classes. He is taking a very full load this semester at the community college as well as studying Government here at home. It will be a challenge but he'll be very prepared for the University come Autumn.

I am so glad to be back my friends. It will be easier to share each day when we (finally) get our computer back, which was suppose to be available today. In the meantime, I've become more used to this laptop. Thank you for the prayers, that was the only way I held up through challenging work hours!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Textbooks and floods

I'm feeling well in spite of the long hours... God is good. Believe me, that is the only way I'm holding up... His Grace. We took the time yesterday morning to purchase Christopher's textbooks for his last semester at the community college (which is also his last semester of official "homeschooling" high school). The total came to nearly $800.00! Double yikes!

When we returned to the bookstore, I told them I'd work next week to help pay for them but I now realize my health is worth more than another paycheck. Tomorrow will be my last day of work for awhile. It will be good to be home and on a more normal schedule again.

We had another lesson this week in the need to be prepared for emergencies. (No, I'm not a Mormon but I have been an advocate of emergency preparedness for a very long time.) Our part of the Midwest was hit with unexpected heavy rains, some are calling them "100 year rains". One of my son's best friends escaped his house in the middle of the night dressed in his boxer shorts and having time to only pick up his billfold!

When his neighbors came to tell him what was happening, the water was already up to his knees. His stepfather's house was almost completely under water soon after. The people in those neighborhoods went to bed thinking there was only heavy rain and their homes were under water within a very short time.

I have weeks (and weeks) of e-mails to answer, an award to re-locate and post, book reviews, and just plain catching up to do. There are so many of your own blogs I want to visit. It has been so long since I've had a regular schedule, some how "boring" days sound wonderful right now. :)

I'll be back soon! Time to head off to work. At least I can feel the pain of all those students spending money on textbooks.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Sunday Afternoon Tea

If you were here with me in person, I'd pour you a cup of my favorite Earl Grey Green and serve some cut up fruit and cheese. I need a break from sweets for a few weeks. :)

Do you ever find yourself completely overwhelmed... as if you have been caught in a fast moving wave just trying to keep your head above water? That's where I am right now! I think it started about the time my computer broke down (which is still in the shop) because it added a complication to my daily routine.

Then came Thanksgiving, Christmas, two birthdays, my sister's visit, my daughter's visit, working a full week of "Buy Back" in November, and now two or three weeks at the bookstore of nine to ten hour days and no weekend breaks. Yikes! If you'll notice, most of those events were enjoyable but everything has added to the challenge of Brenda vs. Time.

Yesterday evening I felt the strain emotionally when my son picked me up from work (he had gone home early) and complained all the way home. First about me being late (we had customers left in the store when we closed), then about there being no food at home, unloading about a situation at work that was unfair, and a few other instances where the world was not going to his liking. I finally had to remind him that life isn't fair and I could do... only what I could do!

I found myself trying to read a bit but the events of the day swirling through my brain, including the realization that I'd forgotten to give a professor a discount so he'll probably have to come back to the store today... sigh. (What can I say, the owner had turned the lights out not realizing I was still at the cash register and one of the managers was holding a flashlight for me so I could see!) I mentally tried to "help" Christopher with his relationship problems, made out a grocery list to pick up today, and wondered if I had put the right load of clothes in the washer to be ready to throw in the dryer this morning.

After saying my most frequent prayer... "HELP!", I felt peace coming over me. God reminded me of each situation and challenge and that none would cause The End of The World As We Know It if they didn't get accomplished. He had already over the years shown me how to live through this kind of situation and that became my new mental list. I thought I'd share it with you today.

First comes advice from Elisabeth Elliot... do the next thing. What must be done immediately... really must be done. For me last night, it was putting one load of laundry in to wash and bring in a few items from the garage (I'm still de-childproofing the house). Then it was the necessity to stop what I was doing and get to bed early.

Second (and I think was also from reading Elisabeth E.)... do only what you can do. I'm the only person in my family who washes clothes. I do that because I do not have the money to replace them and I live with two men who do not think clearly when they get in a hurry! I'm also the only person who can sleep, no one else can stay at home and take an afternoon nap to make ME feel better.

Third... I'm at maintenance level. Only those things which are absolutely necessary are getting done. (The only reason I'm bringing accessories back from the garage right now is to get my home warm and cozy again.)

Fourth... be realistic. I've budgeted one small "eat out" each day, usually my lunch. Yesterday since I had brought a sandwich to have when I took my insulin during my fifteen minute 6:00 break, I used my lunch time to go to Einsteins for a cup of coffee and a cranberry muffin. I read a chapter in Elizabeth George's book on time management and wrote a new "To Do" list for those things that must be accomplished... later.

Last night before going to bed early, I read a chapter from another Elizabeth George book (my favorite... A Woman After God's Heart) and then I was able to drift off to sleep. This season should end within a week or two. Hopefully my computer will be fixed by then, too (the wrong part came in so it is once again delayed... the Holidays didn't help hurry things along).

However, isn't that what life is all about? Challenging days mixed in with the normal day-to-day gotta do's we live through.

I'll return in the middle of the week... God willing and the creek don't rise (and the way it is raining, it may just do that). Realistically, I won't be near a computer until then. :)

Thursday, January 03, 2008

On assuring people I'm still alive

I TRIED to write this past week, really I did. However, I never made it within ten feet of a computer. Now I know why my daughter started a blog and never was able to write beyond the introduction. :)

We had lots of fun together, it is always good to see Stephanie and have some "girl time". The four little ones were cute and we were able to bond once again. We also were able to spend much more time with our son-in-law than we have in past years since he didn't have to go on campus to work while here. However, there was also lots of headaches and cranky people as the kids could only go outside one day. My son-in-law's allergies to cats normally haven't caused him serious problems while visiting. This time they did so the poor guy was actually having asthma symptoms! They decided to leave for home one day early so he can... breathe.

However, that is what life is all about. We take the good with the bad and the pleasure within the struggle. Once we look back and sift through memories, they are of the good times. Well, perhaps J. will remember not being able to get a breath! In the long run, four children ages five and under did very well. Each child has such an individual personality and Grammie and Granddad enjoyed having them here.

Once the kids were put to bed each evening, I went to my bedroom and read so Stephanie could take The Mom Walk and her book about Jane Austin back to New England. I highly recommend The Mom Walk even to people who are not married or have children. It's really a book about the struggles Sally has gone through and how God has worked in her life.

I will be able to write more often although not daily until about a week and a half from now. This starts one of my busy times at the bookstore (ten to twelve straight days of working!). After that, I will once again work rarely for awhile.

I'm off for work now. Please forgive any typos and grammar mistakes!