Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Different Kind Of Christmas

This was a very different kind of Christmas this year; one I hope to never revisit. Mine was filled with sadness and  illness for the whole week leading up to and including Christmas Day. Acute Bronchitis  separated me from my loved ones, as I decided to spend Christmas alone for the first time in my life. Not sure if I was contagious and having zero energy, I felt it was in every ones best interest if I stayed home and rested. Last night's snow made it feel a little more Christmas-like today in my undecorated home. This was my third season not to put up a tree, because it is just too painful to go through the motions like I did that first Christmas without Buck.

I was very disappointed not to attend Christmas Eve service with my daughter and family at her church, as this is our new tradition since Buck went home to heaven. I always spend the night on Christmas Eve and wake with my grandchildren and get to witness all the excitement of Christmas morning with the little ones. I was saddened to miss all of those activities this year. I did my best to push away the self-pity and loneliness, but I have to confess their were moments that were really hard. I comforted myself with the hope that I would be better soon. I knew I needed to count my blessings to get through  this unwelcome, temporary detour. I will be looking forward to joining my family as soon as I am able. We will have to make some new memories in the week ahead.

I hope all of you were able to be surrounded by your loved ones and friends as you celebrated Christmas this year. This is a privilege I won't take for granted in the future. Christmas blessings to all of you and thank you for your continued support by stopping by today. God bless you, my friends!

Thursday, December 13, 2012


This is a repost from my first Christmas spent as a widow. This year (December, 2012) will be my fourth Christmas without the love of my life to share it with. I think it would be safe to say that I'm still a Scroogette. However, I enjoy Christmas more than I used to, because I don't get involved in the holiday machine. New traditions have been set in place and my Christmas season is much simpler, more relaxed and enjoyable now. For that I am so thankful! Perhaps more about that in the near future.

Posted Dec 20, 2009 (9 Months into widowhood)

I have never done a survey, but I would be willing to guess that most people are Christmas lovers. I have a confession to make. I’m not one of them… I am not a Christmas person. My reasons are many. Buck and I both shared an attitude towards retailers who started their Christmas sales focus prior to the end of October. It seemed that Back To School sales had barely wrapped up before the artificial trees and decorations came out. Then there was the issue of our favorite radio stations beginning to play Christmas music on Thanksgiving Day or earlier. Frankly, we would not listen to the radio as much as usual, until the week before Christmas. Then we would welcome and enjoy the special seasonal music. I’m sorry to sound like such a Scrooge, but this is honestly how we felt.

My main frustration was the addition of all the responsibilities that came with the holiday season. These, plus an already full schedule, made for a stressful month of preparation. Being the classic procrastinators that we were, surely didn’t lighten our load. Some of us never figure out that it’s possible and very wise to think about, and shop for, gifts throughout the year. Christmas encompasses many things that I hate; things like shopping and crowds, long lines and snarled traffic, deadlines and decisions, because I am not creative with my gift giving inspiration. I have a difficult time making decisions about what I like, let alone trying to decide what my loved ones might enjoy. Then, of course, there would be the new five to ten pounds that I ‘found’ every January, after working throughout the year to lose them...again, (but that’s a personal problem).

It has been our tradition to have our family gathering on Christmas Eve each year. All our children and grandchildren would come together to enjoy Buck’s specialty: his wonderful fried deer steak dinner that he lovingly prepared for all of us. I have never mastered making it as well as he did. I was his assistant, but he was the main chef for this annual feast. In addition to the venison, his menu consisted of mashed taters and gravy, corn, green beans with bacon, cranberry sauce and biscuits or cornbread. I would be responsible for making desserts, usually German Chocolate Cake, Peanut Butter Pie and ice cream. It was the highlight meal of the year that all of us looked forward to.

I rarely got to see what presents everyone got, because I was the gifts distributor for Buck and I, and I could never convince my sweetheart that opening our gifts one at a time was a reasonable way to do things (my opinion). Occasionally, I would catch someone’s reaction as they opened one of the gifts from Buck and I, but for the most part I missed all of that, and that has always been disappointing for me.

All the activities and preparation left no room for the very reason we celebrated. There never seemed to be any real focus on what Christmas was all about: the celebration of the birth of our Savior. It seemed like the only attention given to the ‘reason for the season’, was the cake I made the past few years with ‘Happy Birthday Jesus’ spelled out on the top of the cake with chocolate chips. When our Christmas Eve celebration was over and the all the gifts were packed up to travel to their new homes, we would send our loved ones off with smiles and hugs, and I would spend my remaining energy cleaning up the kitchen. 

After our family would leave, I would experience the same emotions each year. I would ask myself; ‘what just happened here?’ I thank God for cameras or I probably wouldn’t have any Christmas memories. After everyone went home, Buck and I would feel spent from all the preparation and relieved that it was over for another year. Please don’t misunderstand; we loved getting together with our family. But the time invested in all the preliminary activities would leave us too exhausted to go to the last Christmas Eve service at our church. We both would feel disappointed when we didn’t have energy enough to be there to celebrate the birth of our Lord.

This year will be very different, as I just don’t have it in me to carry on our family tradition. I hope our children and grandchildren still love me after my ‘true confession’ and know that I won’t be offended if anyone addresses me as Scroogette in the future!

I am not certain if I will post another entry in my journal before Friday, so I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas! I hope it will be a special time with your family and friends. Thank you for continuing to care about my journey.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Thankful Heart Is A Happier Heart

This is a repost of an entry from two years ago. I'm thankful that revisiting this post encouraged me, since I've been feeling pretty blue lately. I think it would be a good idea to keep a Gratitude Journal
once again. Maybe if I focus on counting my blessings again, I'll be able to kick this funk to the curb. I hope it will encourage you to give thanks to our Creator as well.

As the Thanksgiving season approached this year, I took on the daily challenge of posting something I was thankful for. Facebook became my daily platform to share my thankful thought for the day. As I contemplated what I would include that day, I realized how much this exercise was turning my thoughts to all the blessings I enjoy. I love the idea of keeping an inventory of the many blessings that come my way. As I contemplated the celebration of Thanksgiving I am sure that many of us are indeed thankful for all we have, but I wonder if we are all mindful of where our abundant blessings really come from.

The dictionary defines thanksgiving as an expression of gratitude, especially to God. By participating in the simple act of being thankful, my spirits were often lifted as I deliberately changed my focus, in spite of the way I might be feeling. I wonder, if maybe that is one of the reasons we are often encouraged to give thanks in so many scriptures in the Bible. 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18  admonishes  us to: "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus".

I have learned that it is possible to be joyful in spite of heartache, but it sometimes requires a conscious effort to search for, or at least take notice of joy-filled moments, and there are many to be found when we are looking for them. As the verse goes on, I don't think for a moment, that God expects us to be thankful FOR all our circumstances and the difficulties we face, but rather we are commanded to give thanks IN all circumstances. That is very different.

For me, that means that even when I'm struggling emotionally, with the Lord's help, I can remember and recognize that He is on this journey with me. Through tears, I may pray, "Lord, I'm hurting right now and sometimes I don't understand, but I thank You for what You are doing in my life and I trust You and know You have my best interest at heart as well as the best interest of those I love. Thank You for the good You will bring from this situation and for drawing me closer to You as You empower me to take baby steps towards my future."

Having a thankful heart comes easy for me because I have been so very blessed and have seen the hand of God in so many ways throughout my life, but never so obviously as during the past, almost, two years, since this chapter began. He continues to go before me, in this totally foreign territory of widowhood. So often, the Lord shows me the next step by bringing people into my life to help with the many decisions that need to be made. This is a tremendous comfort to me!

I have decided that I would like to continue my daily thankfulness inventory. Perhaps I will share my  Gratitude Journal from time to time. I encourage everyone to try keeping a record of thanksgiving and rereading it whenever we need an emotional lift or attitude adjustment.

As William Shakespeare said so eloquently: "Let never day nor night unhallowed pass / But still remember what the Lord hath done." May we all take a few moments to thank God for the multitude of ways He blesses each of us everyday! We are all richer than we know! God bless you and your loved ones as you celebrate this holiday season! You are a tremendous blessing in my life

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Divine Consultant

My heart goes out to all those who lost so much and to all those who are still without power and basic needs in the aftermath of the storm. I was very thankful not to lose power and for the minimal damage from the deadly storm to the residents of the area where I live.

As anticipation built for the arrival of Hurricane Sandy a few weeks ago, I prepared as best I could, just as all of us did. I kept a watchful eye for any unwanted water in my basement that Monday, as I had experienced this one other time when there were several days of rainfall. I was thankful that the Great Stuff expanding foam had taken care of that problem. However, I found another place where water was seeping in and it became my primary focus and consumed my energy and attention. There was rain water coming in where a large pipe went through the basement wall. Unbeknown to me, there were two hairline cracks in the mortar surrounding the pipe, allowing a steady flow of water to enter my home.

My attempt to stop the small stream with an application of Great Stuff wasn’t effective because the mortar was wet. I realized that nothing was going to seal those cracks until the mortar was completely dry. Attending to the incoming water was my only option until the storm passed by. I felt fortunate to have discovered the leak before it created a watery mess. In an attempt to keep the water off the floor, I tucked a piece of rope into the foam, creating a wick to carry the water to a five gallon bucket.  To my dismay, the bucket filled in an hour. So, for three hours, my life was all about disposing of the accumulating water. After many trips up and down the basement stairs, I was wearing out. At one point, the rope fell down while I was transferring water to a smaller bucket, making it more manageable to carry. I tried three times to get the rope back in place and it repeatedly fell to the floor.

Although I meant no disrespect, in my frustration and fatigue, I had “words” with the Lord: “ YOU COULD BE HELPING ME OUT HERE, YOU KNOW!” Immediately, a foreign thought came to my mind. What I perceived was this: “Just let the water roll down the wall”. My first thought was: “Are you kidding me? If I do that, I’ll have a big mess on the floor and it will be a lot harder to clean up”. That made no sense to me and I was totally skeptical, but I listened and watched with astonishment as the water escaped and disappeared instead of collecting and spreading as I had feared. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!

For awhile, I returned every ten minutes to make sure there wasn't a growing puddle on the floor. In my skepticism, I set my alarm clock to wake me every two hours to be certain there wasn’t a pond in the basement. After two waking cycles, I finally trusted that all was well and I had to laugh. How good God was to me, as He revealed what I didn’t know or understand about the construction of my home.  I thanked Him for His kindness in blessing me with this new information. Even though I was complaining and never thought to ask; He blessed me anyway! It is my hope that the next time I need help, I will remember to ask instead of complain. Thank You for Your continuing faithfulness to me, Lord, even in spite of my grumbling.

James 1:5
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Ugly Anniversary

I started writing this journal entry on October 18th, but I was too tired to complete it that night. My heart has been heavy all week, as I processed the events of that day. This is what came out as I put my thoughts to the page.

I have been committed to not focusing on grief, because I sensed the Lord prompting me to do so, since the April, three year anniversary of my husband’s passing. But I am also committed to being honest about my journey, so my writing will appear to be changing direction today.

It’s 9 PM and I’m exhausted: done...nothing left! Today would have been our 15th wedding anniversary and I decided to commemorate this day by doing something that I have avoided since Buck's death three and a half years ago. It has been four years since I last visited Gifford Pinchot State Park, in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania, about an hour drive from my home.  

It was our favorite, local place to go camping and being there was one of the hardest things I’ve done since Buck was called home. Frankly, it felt somewhat crazy to go back, knowing how painful it was going to be. But I felt that it would be another important step of closure, and would make it possible to visit again in the future, and be able to enjoy the surroundings again someday. That was my goal and I used it to motivate me to push through. It was just something that I needed to do, no matter how unpleasant it might be. I felt it was important to do this on my own. Just the Lord and I would go through this together. It was a temptation to invite a friend to join me; I would have welcomed the distraction. Never-the-less, I chose to go solo, knowing that facing this challenge by myself would be most beneficial. And I really didn’t want to drag a friend through what I knew would be a very emotional day.

The last time I was there, was when my sweetheart and I celebrated our eleventh anniversary, just a few months before his heart attack. We rented a cottage, instead of using our camper. Camping was our favorite form of getting away, but we decided to rent a cottage to simplify packing for the weekend. We had just moved into our new home a few weeks before and were consumed with trying to get unpacked and settled. It was a luxury to have a cottage, because it was equipped with electricity and electric heat. The location was beautiful and scenic, since it was built lakeside. It had a fire ring, so we were able to have a campfire, and Buck prepared his famous pork steak for us on 
one of our weekend evenings. And of course, there was always s'mores later in the evening after the fire died down.

The memories rushed over me like a waterfall, when I approached the parking lot of the Conewago Day Use Area. As the tears rinsed the blush off my face, I wished I had remembered to bring my towel with me.

Upon my arrival at noon, I ate my lunch at one of the lakeside picnic tables. A couple with a young child arrived a few minutes later and I turned my back to them, so they wouldn’t see the emotion I couldn’t hide. I hoped they couldn't see my body shaking as I did my best to control the silent sobs. 

After lunch, I spent some time journaling and reading my Bible. I opened it randomly and came upon a verse that comforted me, as I was reminded: “Yet we have this assurance: Those who belong to God shall live again! Their bodies shall rise again! Those who dwell in the dust shall awake and sing for joy! For God’s light of life will fall like dew upon them!” (Isaiah 26:19, Living Bible Translation).

Afterward, I walked  the Lakeside Trail and came upon the cottage where we had stayed. It was wide open, so I took the opportunity to take some pictures inside and out. I sat at the picnic table in front of the cottage, and wrote a letter to Buck to help me deal with all the emotion. I watched the Canadian geese and the Great Blue Heron in the cove. The tears ran freely as the fragrance of wood smoke filled the air, and the familiar sounds of campers setting up their temporary shelters rang through the wooded campground.

My next goal was to visit our favorite campsites near the beach. I suppose I depleted my tear reservoir, because I had nothing left as I walked through the area where we had spent so many joy-filled, memory-making days. Thankfully, I only felt numbness as I made my way through the much loved area, where we had spent so many summer and autumn vacation days.

The sky darkened with threatening clouds, so I had to hustle to get back to the day use area where my car was parked. There was no temptation to linger. I had achieved my goals and it was time to head back. To my delight, instead of getting rained on, I was blessed with a lovely sunset: a fitting way to close out my day of reminiscing about some of our happiest days. It made me smile. 

I thanked God for all the precious memories and for the wonderful years Buck and I had to spend together. Also, for this setting of the sun over the beautiful lake and for helping me to get through this difficult day. I am confident that these clouds will lift and joy will return again sometime soon, as I continue to thank God for all my blessings and look for the joy hidden in each new day.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Late Bloomer

First blossom a few days after transplanting

I noticed the emerging blossom on the young Moonflower plant that day, when I was shopping in my local greenhouse. The large white flower would probably open in a few more days. It was getting to be late in the season for planting, since it was the Fourth of July weekend, but I had to bring it home and give it a chance to thrive and bring beauty into my world.

It was a thrill to watch the rapid growth as it twisted and curled itself around my porch post. I provided a long shoelace tied to the post to give it something to climb and cling to as it grew. Everyday, I did my best to give each new curly tendril the direction it needed to stay attached to the pole instead of going it’s own way, just flailing in the summer breeze. The blossom that attracted me initially bloomed a few days after I planted it, or better said, a few nights later as the large blossoms usually start unfurling around dusk and are limp and withered by early morning. It didn’t take long for the lush plant to fill out and become a lovely focal point for the front of my home.

I had to wait nearly a month before I saw any sign of another white blossom. August passed by before blossom three showed up. I confess, I was a bit disappointed at the scarcity of flowers. Just the same, I enjoyed the abundant greenery and the Praying Mantises that it attracted.

When October arrived and the chilly autumn evenings rolled in, my thoughts turned to the reality that soon I would be witnessing the demise of my beloved flowers. All too soon, I would be clearing away the memories of all the beauty and pleasure my gardens provided this summer; as the leaves would soon turn yellow, then brown and crisp, as they succumbed to the fatal damage of the first anticipated frost. I would be thankful for the joy and healing that my gardens brought to my broken heart this summer and look forward to starting the growing cycle all over again in the spring.

Autumn has always been hard for me emotionally, because it was Buck's favorite season and our wedding anniversary takes place mid-October, bringing a flood of memories with it. Never the less, I have made a decision to welcome it this year and to be more intentional to look for all the beauty that this colorful season has to offer. 

I had no expectations of finding anything more to smile about in my gardens, since autumn had arrived. Then recently, I noticed something that brought unexpected delight to my heart. It seemed that all of a sudden, my Moonflower had developed multiple blossoms and if the weather doesn’t deliver any killing frosts in the next several days, I have the potential for more flowers this week than I had all summer. Now I’m thanking God for my “late bloomer”!
Blessed to enjoy this blossom all day long, thanks to the cloudy day

Recently, I was treated to a wonderful surprise, when a blossom (number four) was still wide open and beautiful all day long, thanks to the cloudy day that fooled the flower into believing it was still nightfall. For the first time, I was able to take pictures of the fragrant saucer sized flower in the daytime.

As I considered the new growth I found, I sensed that God wanted me to draw a parallel here. Perhaps it‘s His way of showing me that I am a lot like my Moonflower. That I too, have the potential to blossom and grow, though I am in the autumn of my life. I’m starting to realize how important it is to remember that “It’s never too late to bloom where you’re planted”. I pray that when springtime arrives, I will show signs of fresh growth, creativity, and healing thanks to the emerging of the new seasons ahead. I need to believe that God can provide the ideal conditions to help me produce something of lasting beauty, if I will trust Him to inspire me to blossom, using the creative gifts he has given me. He will lovingly guide me with His wisdom. He will provide direction, as I depend on Him for i

I believe this is a message that can speak to all of us. Being made in God's image means we all have been blessed with creative gifts. My encouragement to you and myself is to use those gifts to glorify God in whatever way He may lead and inspire us.

Embracing the months ahead will make them a time to look forward to, instead of dreading as I have in the past. Lord, help me to remember everyday, no matter the season:

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Not Your Everyday Breakfast Date

Taking a little break from my "Seven" experience; I want to share a few days of interesting wildlife encounters at my home. And no, I won't be complaining about groundhogs this time. Though, I will mention that I have searched on line for smoke bombs in my frustration. But for now, like Forest Gump, "That's all I have to say about that".

I love to spend time on my front porch...the porch that my Bofren (my nickname for Buck) and I built together. It was to be the place where we would watch sunrises, enjoy afternoon rainbows and thunderstorms in the distance. We would enjoy our meals there (weather permitting) and observe the deer in the surrounding farmland, when they would come out to graze at dusk. It would be a place to watch bluebirds and fireflies; a place to dream out loud, share our lives and grow old together. But if you've been following my journey, you know that wasn't God's plan, and so, I am deliberate in utilizing this wonderful space as much as possible, in memory of my sweetheart.

I've been a bit melancholy this past week. No big surprise, since September 1st was Buck's birthday: the fourth one I've commemorated without him at my side. I still have sad days of course... like recently, when a black pick-up truck approached on my neighborhood road with a driver who looked just like my Buck. Those moments take my breath away! I wept all the way to church on my 15 minute commute. I have learned to embrace these times when they come up, and appreciate them as an outlet for any accumulated grief. I hate when it happens, but always feel better when the emotions subside.

This past week was typical, as I spent my devotional time on my glider in the mid-morning hours. On this particular morning, I ate my bowl of oatmeal as I enjoyed a sunny spot on the porch. There was a flowering plant on the little table next to me and I inspected the dainty white blossoms as I savored my morning meal. As my eyes traveled across the greenery, something almost transparent caught my attention at the base of the plant. My eyes kept scanning as it dawned on me what it was. The very next moment, I was startled by the large Praying Mantis that had obviously just shed this fragile skin shell. I've been spotting his relatives in most of my gardens and hiding in my Moonflowers. I'm so glad to see this hungry sentinel occupying my beloved plant life!

Meet Camo, as he appears to smile and wave while touching my camera
I was curious about my new friend and invited him to climb onto my hand. I had just finished my breakfast and it occurred to me to offer an oat to the only insect that I know of that isn't an enemy of one of my garden crops. I was captivated as I watched his little mouth parts munch away at my tiny offering. I raced for my camera to capture the moment. I found my friend to be very photogenic and cooperative, and was thrilled that my camera could seize this unique opportunity with such clarity, using an automatic setting at such close range. Close enough that Camo (yes, I named him) was actually touching my camera in some of the pictures during the photo shoot. It was so much fun, and brought me great joy!

Camo munches away on my oatmeal
Though this week produced some emotional shrapnel, I'm choosing to focus on the blessing that God gave me to share with you today. My encounter with Camo was just one of the precious gifts I enjoyed this week. I hope you enjoyed my experience and my photos. I can't wait to share my "show and tell" pictures with my grandchildren! It's so refreshing to know I have a friend in my gardens! Now, if only they had an appetite for stinkbugs! More about that next time.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Seven ~ Food Month ~ Part Four

On the first morning of eating normally again, after eating only our seven chosen foods for a month, I wasn’t prepared for what happened to me. I’m still processing the impact that I hope will remain for a long time to come. It was a chilly morning that day, so I decided to make a bowl of oatmeal. I popped a raisin in my mouth while I assembled  the oats, raisins, cinnamon and milk. I savored the sweet flavor as it rehydrated, while the oatmeal simmered in the microwave. This was my first encounter with sweetness other than apples for the past thirty days. It was delightful! After a few minutes, I gave the soupy oatmeal mixture a stir and added another minute. While I waited, I licked the milky spoon and the spiciness of the cinnamon touched a nerve in my soul. The next thing I knew I was weeping and wondering where that unexpected emotional response came from. Even now, three months later, I get emotional every time I share that story. I think my first reaction was one of overwhelming gratitude and a fresh awareness of God’s goodness to me. I hope I will never again be so oblivious to how very blessed I am! It was a powerful moment and I hope I never forget it!    

One would think that after eating the same seven foods for a month that I might grow tired of them and not want to face them for a very long time. But that has not been the case at all. In fact, cheddar cheese and hard-boiled eggs have become my favorite snack and I even crave them now. This has been an unexpected bonus and the most satisfying snack I have ever enjoyed. All that protein, I guess. I’m thrilled with the new lifestyle changes I have adopted thanks to my Food Month experience. I knew food month was going to be good for me, but I was pleasantly surprised by the long-term choices it has inspired and the new energy I have enjoyed because of them.

Paring down to seven foods for a month has given me a new perspective about the way I shop for, prepare and consume my food. It has opened my eyes to the abundance of food that I always have available and the ridiculous amount of choices that beckon each time I enter a grocery store. I’m gladly trading in my old ways for a simpler way of life that is a welcome change and many healthier blessings have followed. Most importantly, I have a fresh awareness of God's abundant provisions that are available to me everyday.

Next time I’ll be sharing about Seven’s Clothing Month and how difficult it was to choose the seven garments (not outfits) I would be wearing for a month. That month too, held some pleasant surprises!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Seven ~ Food Month ~ Part Three ~ Hot Water And Preoccupation

After the initial days of no morning coffee and the tell tale headaches were past, I realized that I missed the sheer pleasure of having something hot to drink and I did something I thought I would never do. And no, I didn’t cheat!

I remember years ago, a housekeeping client (and dear friend) had her mom visiting from out of town and she had a custom of drinking plain hot water. I thought that was kind of weird at the time, but now I understand the beauty and simplicity of her choice of beverage. Even now that our Seven food fast is over, I have made a cup of hot H2O a part of my morning ritual (if it’s chilly). I find it very comforting somehow. It’s okay if you think that’s strange, bizarre or quirky. I understand. You might want to try it sometime though. It might surprise you too.

One of the aspects of food month that I didn’t like was the reality of how food conscious I had become. I was consumed with making sure I had all my foods cooked and available and my thoughts seemed to constantly be wrapped around my next meal. I hated being so food focused! One day I was taking an afternoon walk and was talking to God. I remember being in mid-sentence and drifting to thoughts of how I was going to prepare my potato that night. It was pathetic!  About midway through the month, routine settled in and normalcy returned. I was greatly relieved! 

I was thankful that I was able to eat at home so often, because eating out presented it’s own unique share of challenges with such a limited list of food options.  

I did enjoy two “oasis days” during food month. This was a term coined by the author to describe days we were guests in someone’s home. On Mother’s Day and at an early June wedding, I thoroughly enjoyed whatever was offered to me. Although, I said no thank you to my sister’s dessert and brought my slice of wedding cake home to enjoy a few days later when food month was over.   

A few things that have stayed with me since the completion of food month are the awareness of how blessed I am and how much I take for granted. It never felt sacrificial to intentionally limit my food choices, because I still had an abundant supply of my seven foods and the convenience to easily prepare them. 

During that month, I started thinking about what it must be like not to have the luxury of refrigeration and how hard it would be to have to prepare and cook for every meal. I thought about people who only have rice or beans and are so thankful that they have them. I tried to put myself in the place of someone from a third world country, coming to America and going to a grocery store for the first time. I can’t imagine how overwhelming it would be. I wonder how it would affect me to see all our choices through the eyes of that perspective. Surely, anyone who has gone through the adoption process  has witnessed this through the eyes of their child, the first time they are exposed to that experience. 

I'm still processing my journey through "Food Month" and will share more next time. Thanks for stopping by.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Seven "Food Month" ~ Part Two ~ Goodbye To Processed Food And The Salt Shaker

Getting Better At This Bread Baking Adventure
Thanks to my positive experience during our “Food Month” experiment, I decided to eliminate processed foods from my diet (at home) as much as possible, in favor of making whole food choices instead. After I consume the processed foods in my pantry, I hope I won’t be tempted to replace them. This too is an experiment, as I venture to adopt this new lifestyle, now that “Food Month” is behind me.

Recently, I decided to pull out my bread machine and I’m experimenting with making my own bread again. I was a bread baker many years ago in my hippie/pioneer days when Sarah was very young. I made my whole wheat bread from scratch, once a week by hand, and would make six loaves at a time. This was short-lived however, since Sarah and her dad only enjoyed eating it on baking day and weren’t interested in it, once it lived in the freezer for a few days.

My first attempt to make 100% whole wheat bread in the bread machine was a disappointing flop with a happy ending. I had taken a chance and used the yeast I had on hand that was two months past expiration. Thankfully, I was keeping an eye on the dough-making process and noticed that the dough had failed to rise. I rescued it from the pending baking cycle and tried an idea to recycle the dough. I cut it into 12 parts, flattened and rolled out each ball as thinly as possible and baked them individually in a dry, cast-iron fry pan on top of the stove. I was thrilled with the outcome! The resulting finished product was similar to a pita bread without the pocket and was very tasty.

My first several bread-making attempts since the flat bread have been less than desirable, making a very short, dry, dense loaf. Since then, my efforts have been much more rewarding as I experiment with different recipes. Now, I let the bread machine do the kneading and I shape the loaf, let it rise in my bread pan and bake in my oven. I like the traditional shape and size much better than the bread machine loaf and I’m enjoying being a bread baker again. I’m looking forward to experimenting with lots of recipes this autumn and winter.

For the most part, I really enjoyed the month long discipline of eating so healthfully and found out that I missed very little of my normal diet. I also had the bonus of losing seven pounds and that got me to my ideal weight again. Since weight loss wasn't a goal or motive, we were permitted to eat however much we wanted of our choices. (Going forward; having homemade bread around all the time, I'll need to be careful if I want to keep off that seven pound winter coat). I was surprised that I ate less and never felt hungry. What’s not to love about that?

The only thing I really missed at first was mayonnaise, but soon enough, I started enjoying all the subtle flavors and decided to challenge myself a little more. I gave up my love affair with the salt shaker, just to see what it would be like. So, I have adopted a post Seven habit of no added salt at the table and now I don’t miss it hardly at all. I never thought I would be able to enjoy foods like eggs or popcorn without it, but I was wrong.

I felt more energetic and better than I had in years. I suppose the no sugar component had a lot to do with that. And I’m certain that all the sunshine helped boost my energy level as I worked the soil and planted my gardens in preparation for “Waste Month”.

In my last post, I listed the foods that comprised our menu for a month. If you were to try this experiment, what seven foods do you think you would choose? I’m curious. More about “Food Month” next time.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Seven ~ Food Month ~ Part One

This is what we chose to eat for a month

It's been a month since I last posted here. My life has been filled with summertime responsibilities and projects, mostly inspired by the Seven Experiment I've been involved in since early May. And I'm happy to report; it's been a really good summer, as I thank God for the healing that has taken place in this, my favorite season of the year!
In my last post I shared about a quest I'm on with my daughter, Sarah, son-in-law, Bob and Sarah's small group Bible study gals, based on a book titled: Seven. An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.
On May 7th, we set out to face the excess in our lives in the area of food. As we prepared for launching out into our own version of the Seven experiment, I don’t think any of us realized how consuming this commitment would be. Although there were many options for the way it could be approached, we decided to follow in Jen Hatmaker’s (the author of Seven) footsteps and chose only seven foods we would eat for a month. For most of us, our only beverage would be water.
Our food list included:
Apples (only Gala or Granny Smith, as simplicity and narrowed choices were part of the goal)
Cheese (Mozzarella or Cheddar)
Whole Wheat bread (any type)
We also allowed: salt, pepper and a small amount of olive oil.
We choose these in the hope that they would provide the most nutrients and versatility. It didn’t take long for me to recognize how much I take for granted on a daily basis.
Our menu for food month required more planning and patience (compared to our normal menus), unless we were content to eat apples and cheese sandwiches most of the time. It meant more cooking, especially at breakfast time and of course it meant eliminating coffee, so several of us (myself included) had the classic caffeine headache for a few days.
We got into the habit of cooking ahead, trying to have chicken, potatoes and hard boiled eggs prepared at all times. When we are used to the convenience of our normally available multitude of options, this change of lifestyle felt all consuming. We became very creative with our limited choices and made it a challenge to see how many different options we could think of, to keep our meals interesting and not burn out in the process. I kept a menu journal so i could look back and remember these challenging days.
It certainly made grocery shopping easier and I quickly grew to love the “back to basics” philosophy. One of the facets that Jen shined a light on was the importance of eating whole foods instead of the processed foods we have become accustomed to. I have always been pretty concerned about what I eat, but this process has kindled a new desire to abstain from processed food whenever possible. I'm committed to making some healthier long-term changes as we go through this process. Thanks to the inspiration I acquired from Jen, I have taken up bread baking as part of my lifestyle. More about that on my next entry about Seven’s food month.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Radical Experiment

My daughter, Sarah, my son-in-law, Bob, and I are on a quest. Along with Sarah’s small group Bible study gals and some of their supportive husbands, we are all on a similar, but personal journey. This challenging adventure is based on a book titled: Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.  Written by pastor’s wife, Jen Hatmaker: it was a social experiment, that for her, turned into a spiritual journey.

When Sarah started talking about the interesting project, my curiosity was peaked and my desire to support her was born. Though this has the potential for spiritual growth, I know it will be a very personal pilgrimage and will be a unique journey for each of us. We may or may not sense God in the midst of it. But it’s possible that we might experience God on a deeper level. One thing is certain: it will be a individual exploration as all of us are on a mission to find greater simplicity on many levels.

Jen Hatmaker was inspired to launch this experiment because the Lord had been convicting her about some areas of excess in her life. This was in addition to a ten year old boy’s comment that forever changed her life. Upon entering her home he made reference to how rich she and her family were. That one sentence changed her life. Although she never thought of herself that way, she was soon to learn that compared to most of the rest of the world... her family (and most of ours) were wealthy beyond comprehension...relatively speaking. It stopped her world.

God inspired Jen to attack seven areas of excess in her life. As she pursued God’s heart on this matter, she prayed for six months and asked Him for a plan to show her His perspective. The areas of excess that she pursued were: food, clothes, possessions, media, waste, spending and stress.

I really don't’ know what to expect as we go through this seven month long (plus) process. We will focus on one area of excess at a time for a month. We have been encouraged to journal about our experiences  along the way.  Then we will take a week off to process what we learned that month and to prepare for the next months challenges.                           

Having just completed the second month of our experiment, I am anxious to share what it has been like and to try to verbalize my feelings about how this process is affecting me. Seven is about perspective and I look forward to the lessons that it has to offer. I have never done anything quite so radical before. I am curious to see what kind of long-lasting impact (if any) this experiment will have and if I will make any significant changes because of it. Right now, I desire to simplify my life, support my loved ones, and hopefully experience God in a unique and fresh way. I hope you will find my journey interesting as I process it. I already know is going to be good for me.

I haven’t yet read the entire book, as I don’t want to be overwhelmed by all the issues we will be addressing. It is easier to just focus on the challenges of the month we are working on. But I can tell you that Jen Hatmaker’s book is a fun and delightful read as she shares honestly and hilariously about her own experiences. Based on what I have read so far, I highly recommend her book.

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Creative Writing Project

I have been greatly inspired through the writers group at my church. At the end of one of our April meetings, our art director, deAnn, asked us to consider a homework assignment. She simply encouraged us to write something about spring. I knew I wanted to write about the small memorial garden I had planted for my husband, Buck. I was surprised by what came forth that day as I sat before my computer. Here is what God inspired me to write: something very different from my usual style and totally out of my box. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did writing it. 

Writing has become my passion and a very powerful healing tool in my life. Thank you for continuing to follow my journey after all this time. You have blessed me with your interest.

I’m not really sure where or when my existence began. It’s a mystery it seems, as I have lived all of my life in total darkness. Being a member of the plant kingdom I have no intellect. But this much I know: my life is very much about patience and waiting.

I recall clinging to my mother as I developed. My root system is entwined with that of my mom’s and my body is firm, teardrop shaped and covered with a papery, purple skin. Oh, and Mom likes to call me Sprout, much to my embarrassment!

Hyacinth Bulb and Section.

Photo credit: http://chestofbooks.com/reference/American-Cyclopaedia-5/Hyacinth.html

I ask a lot of questions, because it’s pretty boring down here. But Mom always answers joyfully, because she has become very skilled in the art of endurance and contentment. When I complain that I am cold, she encourages me to snuggle closer. When I whine about my boredom, she smiles and tells me stories about our ancestors. And she describes places where they have shown up throughout the ages. Maybe one of these days, I’ll become a history lover, or perhaps I’ll learn not to be a whiner.

Whenever my impatience is evident, my mom tells me to rest, because soon the ground will warm and the worms will tickle and tease, as they too are anxious to come out of hibernation.  I’m not sure, since I’m a newbie around here, but they might help me make my grand entrance, when the time comes.
Recently, Mama sensed my restlessness and decided that this was the day she would share a favorite story. She began by explaining that several years ago there was a woman who had planted a small garden in front of her new home. This took place in the autumn and was to be a memorial garden in memory of her husband. He had moved from her world into his eternal home in heaven. The garden would be composed of three kinds of flowers: daffodils, hyacinths and bleeding hearts. The gardener worked hard, and lovingly planted the bulbs with high hopes as she remembered her best friend in this sentimental way. The bleeding hearts would be planted when the warm weather returned.

The woman was heart-broken, and she wept as she prepared the garden bed to receive Mama’s onion-like body and those of her lily cousins. Mama spoke with compassion as she remembered that day, and added that God was there too, collecting the gardener’s tears in His bottle, for they are as precious as diamonds to Him. Then she told me about the brutal winter that followed, and how she and her cousins waited patiently for the warm season to arrive.

Photo Credit: http://gardenofeaden.blogspot.com/2008/12/how-to-plant-and-grow-hyacinths.html

Spring finally dawned and Mama was so excited to stretch and make her way through the soil. This was before my time, of course. According to my mom, she and her relatives put on quite a colorful show. She was greatly outnumbered by the golden daffodil family. She could hardly wait to meet her gardener again! Mama said the woman cried once more, as she was greeted by her colorful new friends when spring finally arrived. But this time, her sadness was mixed with great joy after a long winter of anticipation!

“But I don’t understand, Mama. How can the gardener be joyful and sad at the
same time?” “I know it’s hard to comprehend, Sprout, but humans are hard to figure out. Just know this, my child. The gardener will always cherish us for several reasons. You see, we are hyacinths and we have a fragrance that is strong and heavenly. I’m told the origin of our name comes from a gem, perhaps the sapphire, which is a deep blue precious stone. We too, are a gorgeous royal blue color and our garden lady friend has a passion for all things blue. And probably most importantly to her, is the reality that hyacinths were her husbands favorite flower and sapphire was his birthstone.”

Caring for Hyacinth Bulbs thumbnail
Photo credit: http://img.ehowcdn.com...hyacinth  bulbs
“God created us to bring color, fragrance, and beauty into a winter weary world. He also made us to bring happiness and smiles to all who find us. We are privileged to bring such joy and healing to a brokenhearted lady, just by our presence. But no matter where we might bloom...even if no one ever sees us, we will be bringing glory and delight to our creator! Now in my humble opinion, that's a pretty special assignment and well worth waiting for!” 

Copyright 2012 by Renee' Barnhouse
All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced, or transmitted in any form or by any means- electronic, mechanical, digital, photocopy, or any other, without permission. Thank you.