A Thanksgiving Medley


Inside: A selection of Thanksgiving writings . . . The woman who started a tradition, Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, cultivating thankfulness, and the origin of our Thanksgiving menu. Thanksgiving medley

Thanksgiving is my second favorite holiday (second only to Christmas, that is). To celebrate the occasion, I’ve put together several different selections of writings. So grab a piece of pumpkin pie with a big dollop of whip cream and enjoy the read.

The Woman Who Started a Tradition

from Abraham Lincoln Online Speeches and Writings 

“Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote a letter to Lincoln on September 28, 1863, urging him to have the ‘day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.’ She explained, ‘You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.’

“Prior to this, each state scheduled its own Thanksgiving holiday at different times, mainly in New England and other Northern states. President Lincoln responded to Mrs. Hale’s request immediately, unlike several of his predecessors, who ignored her petitions altogether. In her letter to Lincoln she mentioned that she had been advocating a national thanksgiving date for 15 years as the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book. George Washington was the first president to proclaim a day of thanksgiving, issuing his request on October 3, 1789, exactly 74 years before Lincoln’s.”

Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

Part prayer, part proclamation, what I find remarkable about Lincoln’s writings is that he could find the blessings in the midst of a civil war which was tearing our country apart. It is beautiful to read.

also from Abraham Lincoln Online Speeches and Writings

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”


Cultivating Thankfulness

A Thanksgiving Medley. Cultivating thankfulness.
My favorite journal and my favorite coffee cup.

a repost

Confession time: I’ve never been great at keeping a journal. Just not my thing, even though I am a writer. But for more than a year and a half I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal.

I started out doing something called the examen which had its roots in The Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius. The gist of it is that at the end of the day, you write down the moment you are most grateful for as well as the moment you are least grateful for. The former cultivates gratitude, the latter awareness of possible patterns in life and areas that might need to be addressed.

After six months of doing the examen, I decided to change the way I spent those few moments in reflection. I simply wrote down what I was grateful for that day. Not that I ignored the bad or pretended it didn’t exist, just that I chose to focus on the positive.

What I have noticed from this little daily exercise is that slowly but surely, it is shaping my perspective. I am more optimistic. I am more content. I complain less. I am more in tune with the hundreds of blessings all around me in my day-to-day existence. I am more careful to choose my words because I truly believe they direct the course of my life.

Keeping a gratitude journal need not be difficult. First, choose a journal that you like. (Mine is pictured above with my favorite coffee mug.) My friend Patty bought me this beautiful leather-bound journal with a tree embossed on the cover and a bead and leather strap to secure it. I love the way it looks. It’s so me.

Next, decide how you will go about keeping your gratitude journal. Maybe you like the idea of the examen or simply jotting down something you are thankful for every day, as I do. Or maybe the thought of doing this daily feels like one more thing on your to-do list. Setting aside some time once a week might work better for you, then. Whatever you decide, I would suggest that you don’t beat yourself up over any missed days. It’s not about leaving a perfect record for every day or choosing a specific number of items you will list. The point of this practice is to change your attitude. Perfection has nothing to do with it.

Finally, choose a time of day that best works for you. Typically I will review the previous day the following morning, though not always. If something that morning occurs to me, I write it down. I have no set amount of items to list. Often I do about three, but I have listed anywhere from one to half a dozen. There are no rules, unless you make them.

Try it for yourself. You might be pleasantly surprised by your changed outlook!


What Did They Eat at the First Thanksgiving?

The First Thanksgiving, 1621, painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, (ca. 1932).

From Edward Winslow, an English leader attending the harvest gathering of 1621, we learn:

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others.”

William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth, mentions this in his accounts: “And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion.”

So Where Does Our Modern Menu Come From?

Again we turn to Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, who had been publishing recipes for Thanksgiving in preparation for a national holiday she helped to make happen. By the time Lincoln made his proclamation, a nation of women were making such dishes as sage dressing and mashed potatoes, which were considered exotic then.


As I walked home from the farm after feeding the chickens tonight, sun setting behind me, it struck me how still, peaceful it was outside. This year Mike and I celebrated a quiet Thanksgiving, and that suited us. Tomorrow we gather with family and do a Friday Thanksgiving meal down in St. Louis. For now I’m enjoying the close of day, kitty curled up on my lap, and a genuine feeling of gratitude for the abundant simple gifts I’ve been given.

I am truly blessed.

Happy Thanksgiving, Friends!

Related posts:

Faith, Farm, and Family

How to Be a Peacemaker

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Swirling Patterns of Blackbirds, Posing, and Other News Fresh From the Farm

Inside: Blackbirds’ annual visit on their way south, a fall photo shoot country style, and the people you meet. 

Swirling patterns of blackbirds. Blackbirds flying south.
Blackbirds singing in the middle of the day. . . (Sorry Paul M.)

Blackbirds’ Annual Visit on Their Way South

Every November, like clockwork, thousands and thousands of blackbirds stop by our farm on their way south. It has always happened this way, large flocks of birds diving, dipping, swirling in flight like a well choreographed dance. It’s remarkable to watch, if you take the time to pay attention. They don’t fly into each other, and rarely do they push or prod, so focused on their feeding task.

Upon observing them, two things come to mind: Paul McCartney singing “Blackbird” and the scripture Matthew 6:26, “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them.” Yes, I know, the two make an odd pairing, but songs pop into your head without much warning. Actually, so do scriptures, thankfully. The point of this is that while much in life is chaotic, here is an audacious reminder of God’s goodness, His provision. Those birds take the same pattern every year, landing in just-harvested corn and soybean fields. Kernels of corn and beans that didn’t make it into the combine or spilled off the top of the grain truck offer fine dining to hungry, traveling birds. There is something so simple, yet mysterious in it. Something beautiful in this little migration miracle.

Come March, I’ll be watching for them. This time northern bound.

A Fall Photo Shoot, Country Style

Fall leaves photo.
Obstinate in orange . . . or when your face hurts from smiling.

Take a young woman with camera savvy (Emily), a patient woman carrying equipment (Mom), two dogs (one of them eager), an old stud horse, and me. The mission? Fall photos. After scouting around the farm for the best possible place to shoot, we decided a line of trees in a fence row in the horse pasture would work best. With the sun quickly setting we carefully tiptoed through the grass, avoiding horse piles, and settled on a spot. Honey, Mom’s lab, followed, and Spunk, my cousin’s blue heeler dog ran from his house to see what we were up to. Mooner, the horse, watched from a distance between nibbles. In the remaining light Emily instructed me in how to stand and had me laughing because it helps the smiling. I tend to be a blinker, and I’m not the easiest person to pose, but Emily has a knack for getting good pictures of me when few people can.

The result? Next day I felt tired and sore like I’d been working out at the gym. Why any woman would want to spend long days being photographed is beyond me. But we got some decent photos out of the experience. And I managed to keep my boots clean.

The People You Meet

As we were leaving church Saturday night, someone said hi to Mike and called me Emily. Okay, it was fairly dark in the hallway, and on second glance he said, “You’re not Emily, but you look like her. You must be ‘Mom’.” So Mike introduced me to a guy named Darrel, and in a conversation that lasted maybe two minutes, he’d managed to compliment Mike and me, wish us a happy Thanksgiving, and tell us to have blessed week.

While that might sound like many conversations in many churches across this great nation of ours, what stuck with me was how Darrel’s words made my day so much brighter. Encouraging people are sorely needed in this world, and whether he knew it or not, he inspired me to do that for others. Since then I’ve found myself sowing little seeds of kind words to people I meet.

Kind words. It’s not hard to do, and you might just be the bright spot in someone else’s day. How cool is that?

Blackbirds flying south. Blackbirds in the fall.
View outside my window.

What’s happening in your neck of the woods? Tell us about it in the comments.

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How to Save Flower Seed

posted in: Simple Garden | 2

Inside: While it might seem like an old-fashioned practice, learning how to save flower seed is not only frugal but sensible. Read on to find out how.

*This post contains affiliate links.

How to save seed. Saving seed. Saving flower seeds. Saving vegetable seeds.
Remember my sunflower field? Only stalk and seed remain. But the birds don’t mind.

With frost behind us, it might seem like garden work is over for the season, yet several chores remain. One of those is saving seed. But first we need to make a couple of distinctions.

Heirloom Versus Hybrid

Heirloom plants are plants that were grown in an earlier era, some dating back hundreds of years, and are open-pollinated. In short, that means you can save the seed and grow these year to year and expect the plants to produce the same traits consistently. The only exception would be if you grew several different heirloom varieties of the same plant in close proximity and they crossed. While you wouldn’t see it in the developing flower, the seeds from that flower might not stay true to type. (For more information on heirloom seeds or to request a catalogue, visit Seed Savers Exchange.)

A hybrid plant is the result of a cross between at least two, sometimes more, unrelated inbred plants, to bring about desired traits, such as disease resistance. Seeds can be saved from these hybrid plants, but the offspring won’t be true to type. Instead those plants will have different characteristics from one or more of the parents. For example, years ago I planted hybrid marigolds with some lovely shades of orange, rust, yellow, and cream. The following year the volunteers came up in the usual yellow and orange shades typically found in plant stands every year.

What to Save?

How to save flower seeds the easy way.
Next year’s zinnia potential.

After watching my flowers grow over the course of several months, I’ve already decided what I want to keep. It doesn’t matter to me whether or not they’re heirloom or hybrid. In fact, I like the little bit of mystery to growing hybrids. Plus, if I want to continue growing these hybrid seeds, if I get consistent results, I can create my own variety. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’ve been going through my containers, emptying out the soil from spent plants, and setting aside the ones I want to clip seeds from, like the coleus, gazanias, marigolds, and zinnias. Before cutting the seed heads off flowers, they need to be bone dry. I cut the stems and put the dried flower head into a baggie and write what it is. Usually I leave the envelope open for the seeds to dry a few weeks longer, just in case. At this point I’m not concerned about the chaff. As often happens, by the time I get back to the seeds in spring, the seeds have fallen away from the chaff, anyway.

Seed Saving in It’s Simplest Form

By far the easiest seed saving I do requires so little attention on my part it’s downright lazy. I don’t collect the flower seed, nor do I store it. I let nature do that. What am I talking about? Self-sowing! Case in point: my favorite flower bed around the log. When I go out to do my end of season garden assessment, I’ll bend the stem of any stray flower back into the bed rather than the yard so the seeds do their job come spring. (Patricia Lanza talks about this in her wonderful book!) If your beds are built up and ready to face next planting season, you can also disperse the seeds yourself. After I add some layers–manure, spent hay, leaves, compost–I will probably sprinkle some of the marigold and zinnia seed over the top of it, though, honestly, it’s really not necessary to go to all that trouble. Some good choices for self-sowing annuals include cosmos, sunflower, sweet alyssum, forget-me-nots, calendula, pansy, and bachelor’s button.

I also have a window box shaped planter with moss roses that reseed themselves every year. I just store the planter until the next year and give the flowers some light fertilizer when they need it.

Go Forth and Save Seed!

So there you have it–the basics of flower seed saving. It’s really quite easy and worth the effort–or no effort, as the case may be. Now instead of mourning the end of your garden season, you can collect seed from your favorite flowers and start dreaming of spring.

Simple ways to save flower seed. | A Rural Girl Writes

Do you save seed from your garden? Tell us about it in the comments.

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Remembering Dad

Inside: Remembering Dad on his birthday.

Remembering Dad
Dad as a teenager on horseback. His caption from the back of photo: “This is a picture of my new horse, saddle, and bridle. And in the background the showhorse barn, ha ha.”


I’ve taken to carrying a handkerchief since spring. Because Dad did.

Because it was his.

One day Mom said she had something for me. Something of Dad’s. And that I would understand when I saw it. As we were in the middle of the grocery store, separately shopping, she approached me and pressed something white into my hand. “You’ll understand,” she said and quickly disappeared into another aisle.

I stared down at the white handkerchief, remembering. . .

Whenever you asked Dad what he wanted, whether it was for Christmas, his birthday, or Father’s Day, he’d often say, “I could use some handkerchiefs.” So over the years I’d buy them for him. Sometimes in a masculine plaid print–and as a child I’d even cross-stitched his initials on one–but often I’d simply buy the plain white handkerchiefs. After all, the older he was getting, the harder it was to find them. They were old school, and younger men weren’t carrying them. But I could always seem to find the plain white ones.

He told me a story once about handkerchiefs. Growing up, whenever he was dressed to go to town, right before he’d leave his father would say to him, “Do you have a clean handkerchief?” It was important to my grandfather that his sons didn’t leave the house without one.

Dad became sentimental upon telling it, and I wondered why.

In an age when men showed little to no emotion, “Do you have a handkerchief?” meant, “I love you and care about you.” His father couldn’t say that to him, but he could make sure he had a clean handkerchief.

I’m sure that my grandfather loved him, yet, admittedly, I find it sad he could never tell him that. But carrying a handkerchief reminded Dad of that love. He always carried one.

Which brings me to the type of dad I had (or rather have, just not here with me). He told me he loved me, told my brothers and my mother that he loved them. He loved others as well. He cared deeply for people.

As we draw closer to the end of this year of firsts without Dad–a couple of hard ones ahead of us–some of those qualities of his that I didn’t particularly pay attention to during his life have resonated with me. For one, my dad was creative. He was an inventor. We never called it that, but he had a knack for making something that he needed on the farm, like a water sprinkling system for the cows, loader bucket extensions for hauling round bales, a wood carrier, to name a few.

He was a storyteller, something I wish I would have appreciated more. Thankfully my brother Jeremy has this gift.

Dad was quick to help others. I never paid a lot of attention to this, either, because it was just how he lived his life. But if I ever attempted to make a list of everyone he helped, I’d have pages and pages full of people whose lives he impacted.

He was strong, yet gentle, and I miss that gentle strength.

The comfort I take with me now is knowing these qualities live on. I glimpse traces of his gentleness in all three of my brothers, which also continues in my nephews. I’m proud of the men in my family.

What my dad modeled, I married. Mike is strong and kind and gentle and a good father. Our daughter has shown herself to be like her papa. I think of that summer she was interning in DC when every day she would stop to talk to the homeless man who lived next to where she worked.

Dad’s memory lives on in the one who shared a life with him–my mom. Together they showed us what a lifetime commitment of love and faithfulness looks like.

As for me, I’d like to think I have a bit of my dad in me. At least I’m working on it. I will continue to carry this handkerchief because he did. Because it was his.

Because it represents his legacy of love.

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Surviving Frost, Roasted Bean Mondays, and Other News Fresh From the Farm

Inside: A bright spot to the end of the gardening season, why I love Mondays, and when you’re married to a pirate.

Gazania that survived frost, flowers surviving frost, surviving frost, first frost.
The little gazania that could.

A Bright Spot to the End of the Gardening Season

Our first frost arrived right on schedule last week–October 29, the average first frost date for our area, actually. As a gardener, I’m a little sad, a little relieved. Keeping up with a garden–or not keeping up with your garden and feeling guilty about it–can be stressful. But I am quick to remind myself that unpicked produce does add fertilizer back to the soil, so it’s all good.

And now the sad part. Sigh. No more handfuls of cherry tomatoes fresh from the garden. No pretty flowers right outside my door or beds full of bright, cheerful perennials. It’s a wrap for 2017, folks.

And yet. . . A few stubborn holdouts survive. My little gazania flower (above), plus another container of them. A pot of red cabbage that I planted simply for decorative purposes. (I ran out of room for a couple of plants in the cole crops bed, and they’ve worked beautifully in their new role.) Wire grass, a yearly favorite of mine, still spiraling out of the old ice cream churn turned planter. Calibrachoa, also called “Superbells” (the out of focus foliage pictured behind my gazania). Purple salvia, flowers intact, still hanging on, next to the transplanted mums in one of the flower beds.

While I know it’s only a matter of weeks (or days) and these, too, will get bit by colder temps, I appreciate their hardiness, their not giving up without a fight.

Sometimes a little stubbornness can be a good thing.

Why I Love Mondays

Coffee shop. Best coffeehouse. Best place to go for coffee in Troy.
Best. Coffeehouse. Ever.
Picture from Yelp.

Since January Mom and I started this “for now” tradition–shopping on Mondays followed by coffee at Roasted Bean. (Affectionately known by me as “The Bean.”) I won’t say we’ve spent every Monday this way, but most of them. After all, when you’ve got a van full of melting groceries in 95 degree weather, spending an hour or two in deep conversation whilst sipping coffee doesn’t bode well. (I think we need to invest in a large cooler.)

But the weather is solidly colder, and our attendance at The Bean is back to normal–thank God for small good things! A warm spot, a hot beverage, and good conversation.

But it’s more than that. Mondays in a small town, shopping for groceries or farm supplies or produce, you find friendly people everywhere. Folks out and about for much the same reason. People huddled together talking, happy greetings. Little kindnesses and doors held open and “have a good day” sprinkled around generously.

It is a real blessing to find your place in this world and simply live life. Even on a Monday.

When You’re Married to a Pirate

Sometimes we come to these things later in life. Completely oblivious. You think you know someone.

It all started a few weeks ago when Hubmeister carried in a plastic shopping bag from a clothing store. Without comment, he laid the bag on the bed and went about his usual just-got-home-from-work routine.

I went in to investigate.

A frilly white shirt sleeve spilled out from the bag’s opening. I peeked inside and spotted the rest of said shirt and some black material with metal. A hat with a plume lay beside it.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“I’m dressing like a pirate,” he said, matter-of-factly, as if every day one dresses up like a swashbuckling adventurer of the high seas. In landlocked Missouri, of all places.

Upon further probing, I discovered it was for a good cause–entertaining the kiddies at church. Handing out treats.

I asked for pictures, and someone snapped this one.

No pirate sightings since then.


Dressed up like pirates, when you're married to a pirate.
Argh! Pirate Mike at the helm.

What’s happening in your neck of the woods? Tell us about it in the comments.

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Get Started with Essential Oils: Advice from an EO Teacher

posted in: Simple Living | 8
Essential oils teacher
For over 30 years Cindy has had a passion for holistic care through the use of essential oils, herbs, and other therapies. She is a teacher, author, and life coach and joins husband Dennis in their equine programs. Cindy’s personal coaching strong suit is her ability to empower people to believe in themselves. She listens intently and poses creative questions to guide individuals in self-reflection that results in clearer understanding of themselves and renewed enthusiasm about their potential and ability to thrive in life. She delightfully draws her clients to a place of hope, love, and acceptance of self as she lays the blueprint for creating a new way of life.

Note: Cindy is such an accomplished businesswoman, which inspires me, but what I admire most about her is her positive attitude! You can find out more about Cindy by visiting her website cindycappel.com

*This post contains affiliate links.

How did you get started with essential oils? It was in 1985, when I was on my newly begun holistic journey through using herbs, and I was introduced to essential oils. Anything that has a high value to healing I was curious about as my immediate family had passed away from side effects of prescribed medications from illnesses. I wanted an alternative for mine and my children’s health.

Can you explain the different ways people use essential oils? The simplest way is inhalation. This is easy and comfortable for people, as when it gets on their skin they feel there is no backing out. Diffusing is another very comfortable way. It’s a great aroma for a room or area where essential oils are diffused, and it’s also not on the skin, so people feel safe using it this way. Topical is very beneficial if you have a trusted quality source. Quality is very important. Use directly on skin, reflex points in particular.

What are some unusual ways to use essential oils that most people wouldn’t think of? I have used essential oils on horses, dogs, and pigs since 1985. Essential oils are also very powerful in cooking. You don’t need much—just a drop, maybe two, when the oil is good quality. I also make candy and my own horse treats with essential oils.

Horse treats made with essential oils. Get started with essential oils.
Something for our four-legged friends.

What is the biggest mistake people make with essential oils? Not understanding the importance of quality and applications for EOs as directed from very trusted sources that have experience, rather than getting information just from what someone else said or did. I have been in the holistic world since the mid-eighties and have seen a lot of companies and marketing come and go. Know your source! When people say, “That oil is too expensive. I can’t use that,” they are not understanding the extent of what that oil can do for the body. You need to decide: Am I using it to give me a good feeling because of the way it smells, or do I need it to help my body recover? The right quality oils can do more than you can imagine.

What advice do you have for those just starting out with essential oils? For those on a budget? In my thirty plus years, I still have my favorite trio. That is lavender (probably the safest oil and called the universal oil), tea tree oil, and peppermint oil.  I carry these three in my purse and in my tack room in the barn because no matter what I am dealing with, one of these three EOs is going to benefit the situation at hand immediately. So I would suggest starting with any of these three.

tea tree oil, get started with essential oils
So many different uses–who knew?

If you could only have one essential oil, what would it be and why? If I was going to pick just one oil to have on hand, it would be tea tree oil. My husband calls it my snake oil. LOL. But it works for so many things. Everything from stopping bleeding, to sore throat, to infection, fungus . . . I could go on and on.

Do you make your own blends? I do make my own insect repellent, fly spray, face spray, migraine spray, and pain spray. Whatever I or someone else needs, I will come up with my own blend. It is different for each individual’s needs and emotions.

As the cold weather approaches, what are some essential oils or blends you recommend? Tei-Fu is wonderful for congestion. Inhale it over warm water on the stove. Put on a warm towel and put around your neck to open you up or apply on your feet, up your nose, or on your chest. It’s really good. Essential Shield essential oil protects against germs and lemon oil is always so cleansing. Use these last two to wipe your counters down. This time of year we close up our houses and we wear more clothing, so the skin doesn’t get the fresh air as we normally do in warmer weather. Essential oils that are high in oxygen, when diffused, are great in the air for everyone to breath. Oxygen gives life to our cells and body.

Any parting words of essential oil wisdom? I am honored you asked me to give my thoughts on what I feel has rescued me and my family from illness and injury due to the prevention and recovery we immediately gave the body through administering essential oils. I would like to add that your mindset plays an important part in what kind of results you will get with the oils, or anything, for that matter. Whatever you believe and think about them, that is most likely what it will be. Balance and true healing comes when the mind and body are in agreement of any belief. So when choosing, gather your information, make a decision, and believe in what you’re doing.

Cindy’s disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes and in no way intended to diagnose. These are my personal experiences.

get started with essential oils, essential oil advice from an eo teacher
Oh I’m jealous! One of these days I hope to have a well-stocked essential oils cabinet!

Do you use essential oils? If so, which are your favorites? Tell us about it in the comments.

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How to Be a Peacemaker

Inside: Think it’s possible to pursue peace in a chaotic world? It is possible, but it starts with you and me. Learn how to be a peacemaker. How to Be a Peacemaker.

“I’ve called you to be a peacemaker.”

Those words surprised me during my prayer time about a year ago. And they irritated me.

I snickered before answering, “So you waited fifty years to tell me this? Isn’t it a little late in the game?”

The reply came back swiftly, “Would you have listened?”

The truth was I wouldn’t have. Mostly I grew up with strong women–fighters, scrappers–and being the oldest granddaughter on my mother’s side, it seemed like the mantle was passed on to me. I mulled this over, thinking of not only the major women influencers in my life, but also how God had added several more such women to the mix. Maternal grandmother, mother, mother-in-law, sisters-in-law, daughter. I was surrounded!

Days later I continued the conversation with God. “If you called me to be a peacemaker, then why would you put all these fighter type women around me?”

His reply, “With all of those fighters, don’t you think there needs to be a peacemaker?”

I turned that over and over in my brain for several more days, wrapping my head around the term, trying it on for size, making my peace with being a peacemaker. To be honest, I struggled with it. In my mind it was the classic strong versus weak. Peacemaker equals doormat. My grandmother would talk about those kind of people–the sensitive kind–and she’d say the word sensitive like it was something to be pitied, rejected. Those people were a burden to the strong ones in the family. The Lord had been working on me about this for the last several years, renewing my mind, pointing out the truth, but obviously those old tapes were still playing in my head.

A few weeks later, more was added to the assignment: “You are a bridge-builder.” Hmm. I liked that. I pictured workers moving heavy materials by crane, constructing a foundation and building on top of that, from opposite ends, finally to meet in the middle. Nothing weak about that. Armed with this new image, I began to incorporate these little revelations into my own life, walking it out, practicing Ways to become a peacemaker.peace. Here is what I’ve learned:

Look for the best in people.

Instead of immediately thinking the worst of the folks who cross my path in my day-to-day living and judging their behavior, I tried to extend a generous dose of grace–the same grace that has been extended to me!

At my dad’s memorial back in January, a cousin told me that Dad’s thinking the best of people was something he had admired about my father and now practiced in his own life. He said he’d rather think the best about people and risk appearing naïve or foolish rather than finding fault with others.

Me, too, Glen.

Avoid words that tear down.

Words are powerful things. They can either hurt or heal. Build or tear down. So often we speak without thinking, without considering the weight of what we say. I often joke that a good comeback comes to me half a day later, at two in the morning, after the confrontation. I’m not quick with a flippant reply, and, really, I’m starting to see that as a blessing in disguise. If you are quick with a comeback, consider practicing a slower response. Evaluate your words first. Is that really what you want to say? How will you feel about those words tomorrow? While, yes, a heartfelt apology can re-establish a relationship, words already spoken remain out there. You can’t take them back.

Don’t leave positive words unsaid.

Often there is a reluctance attached to paying someone a compliment or expressing warm feelings. A vulnerability on the part of the speaker. Much like seeing the good in people, there’s a risk involved. But most of the time, it’s definitely a risk worth taking. My aunt Deb has been a good example of this. Years ago she started telling people how she felt about them. Though I don’t see her often these days, whenever I do she says, “I love you, Amy.” I find myself doing this with others more frequently–and I like the change in me.

And I love you, too, Deb.

Guard your heart.

What we watch on TV, read in books or on the Internet, or listen to affects us and the way we see the world. It’s hard to offer peace to others when we lack peace in our heart because we’ve filled it with contentious or negative things. Speaking for myself, that means fasting the news. The constant stream of news–almost entirely bad–isn’t healthy. When I was a kid, people got their news from newspapers, and a combination of local and nightly news from 5 – 6:30 and also 10 o’clock. In the mornings stations ran other shows, like children’s programming. Now the local news stations compete for 4 a.m. ratings and at 7 usher us off to New York for 2 more hours of national news. Not to mention 24-hour news cable stations and newsfeeds on Facebook or our ISP homepages. Go to a restaurant, doctor’s office, or the car mechanic’s and there are more TVs tuned into the news. Is all this necessary? It seems to me we’ve become a nation of imbalance when it comes to the news. We’re saturated with it, and we bring that negativity with us wherever we go. Or wonder why we keep refilling our prescriptions for Prozac.

It’s too much.

Find a healthy way to vent.

Peaceful people get angry, too. It’s important to find a way to deal with negative emotions. Venting to a trusted friend or journaling your feelings are two good ways. Or take the example of David, psalmist-writer, and pour out your feelings to the One who knows us, loves us, and understands what we’re going through. I have done all of these, and still do.

Pray for your enemies.

I’ve seen the fruit of this many times in my own life. I remember a couple of years back, a woman whose path crossed mine about once a month in a group setting had been irritating me, and I referred to her as “the woman I hate.” (Yes, I’m embarrassed to admit that, but it’s the truth.) One day during my prayer time, when I was asking God to move her elsewhere, He said, “Don’t call her ‘the woman you hate.’ ” I rolled my eyes, figuring that God wanted me to change my words to “the woman I love.” Then He said that if I can’t say anything positive to say “the woman He loves.” When I thought about it through that lens–that though this woman had said negative things about God, here was God saying, “I love this woman”–my attitude toward her began to change. I started including her in my daily prayers, and the relationship improved significantly.

Admittedly prayers for my enemies often start out as what I call “gritted teeth prayers.” Somewhere between a growl and a heavy sigh, words spoken through teeth tightly clenched together. But with time, those same prayers turn into something positive. Beautiful, in fact. It’s amazing to witness.

Peace within. How to become a peacemaker.

While I’m not suggesting pursuing peace is easy, I am saying that little by little, you will reap the benefits. Less stress. Better relationships. A healthier outlook, which results in a healthier mind and body. More room for joy and blessings and grace.

And we could all use more of that.

Do you consider yourself a peacemaker? Tell us about it in the comments.

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Sugared Plum Visions, Maryland Bound, and Other News Fresh From the Farm

Inside: Adventures in making jam, postcards from the road, and finally getting there. Get all the news fresh from the farm.

Sugared Plum Visions, Maryland Bound
Plum jam–quick, someone get me a spoon!

Adventures in Making Jam

I love plum jam–I’ll just put it out there. So to add craziness to my already hectic schedule (I tend to choose simple over hectic, but life happens) I bought twelve pounds of red plums, knowing my trip to Maryland was imminent (read on), knowing I still needed to finish preparing my class as well as write posts for two websites, and pack, among other daily tasks. But I started the three-day jam process–not without a glitch or two. For one thing, last year my plums were purple, which results in a deep, rich burgundy jar of loveliness. Red plums will get you a sort of pink-orange color with an odd discoloration of plum skin turning, in some cases, green.

Go figure.

Well, when life gives you red plums (or that’s what’s on sale) you make red plum jam with slivers of greenish skin. And you taste it and give thanks regardless. Because although it wasn’t quite what you planned aesthetically, it still tastes amazing.

Family, you will be getting some. Ignore the odd green peels when you come across them. It isn’t green peppers. I promise.

Postcards from the Road

I’ve been in sore need of a road trip, and arriving just in time comes the annual vacay to Deep Creek, Maryland, where I will once again be teaching a writing class. I find this year, especially, I crave the rhythm of the road with the best travel companion a girl could ever want (he and I have been at this for thirty-plus years, have definitely found our groove) trekking mile after mile of Heartland Harvest. Fields of corn and corn stubble where combines have tread, listening to tunes from my past that remind me of where I’ve been.

Small farms out my passenger window, and large expanse of blue sky ahead as we move closer to our destination. We’ll get there, all in good time, knowing for now the journey is the thing.

Sugared plum visions, Maryland bound
My way is the highway.

And Finally Getting There

We arrived in western Maryland to warm weather and a warm welcome from my dear friend Patty. Together we put on these writing retreats once a year, though she does most of the planning, teaching, and logistics, as well as the cooking! Actually, starting with the second year, participants began bringing a main dish and either a side or dessert. So not only do we have this wonderful time of writing and camaraderie, we eat the most delicious food for the duration of the retreat. Then we all pitch in to help with reheating food and clean up. It works great. I highly recommend it.

As for me, I taught a class entitled “How to Create ‘Quite a Character.’ ” I’m not a natural teacher, like my daughter is, so I compensate by putting as much value into my talk as I can. Writing has opened up so many doors for me, brought some wonderful friends into my life, and I am so grateful for this writer’s life! I like to give back when I can. Not like it’s hard in beautiful Deep Creek, Maryland.

Hard to leave this year, but to quote Dorothy, There’s no place like home.

Teaching a class at Dreamweavers INK Writers Retreat.
Teaching a class at Memory Maker.
Dreamweavers INK Writers Retreat.
The Memory Maker lodge. Nice digs.

How did your week go? Tell us about it in the comments.

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Coffee Love: How to Make Pour-over Coffee

posted in: Simple Food | 2

Inside: The best way I know to start the morning–pour-over coffee. Never heard of it? I’ll give you a crash course in how to make pour-over coffee the simple way. 

*This post contains affiliate links.

How to make pour over coffee
My morning brew, pour-over style.

So a couple of years ago the Hubmeister comes home with this odd-looking black plastic funnel thingie and cone-shaped filters. He’d been to the high-end grocery store near his work and caught a demo for something he called “pour-over coffee,” which inspired his impulse buy.

“You got to try this,” he said. He then measured out the hot water from our Keurig and showed me how the lady at the store had made him a most memorable cup of coffee.

I observed.

“What’s the point?” I asked. I’m always about simple.

“It’s supposed to be less bitter.” He handed me the cup.

I doctored it up my way, adding creamer, and took a sip. It actually did taste less bitter to me than my normal coffee pod method. And more robust somehow.

I was hooked.

That was several years ago. Since then we’ve switched over to this method to make our coffee and purchased a ceramic pour-over coffee brewer to accommodate a larger cup. Here’s how we do our daily grind.


  1. Line the brewer with a coffee filter.
  2. Measure the amount of coffee you want to make an 8 – 12 ounce cup and place inside the filter.
  3. Heat water to desired temperature (we do this in our Keurig).
  4. Measure water for desired size cup and pour only enough water to moisten the coffee grounds.
  5. Let this “bloom” for 30 – 45 seconds before adding remaining water.
  6. When water has drained through grounds, remove brewer, add your favorite creamer, and enjoy.

Admittedly, after going through the process, the coffee is then not quite as hot as I like, so I microwave it 30 seconds. Also of note: Some people swear by adding the remaining water in a swirling pattern from a kettle with a long, thin spout. My measuring cup has this, and I’ve tried it and found no difference at all between just pouring in the remaining water and adding it in a swirling pattern.

While this might seem to be a fussy method for making coffee, I like the simplicity of the humble little brewer. It’s inexpensive, and I do find this method enhances the taste. I also only want to make one cup at a time. If I made an entire pot, I’d feel like I had to drink all of it–not a good idea.

I also prefer this to the pods or K-cups, which are quite expensive. Plus I find the pods are just not strong enough for me anymore. Interestingly I had some K-cups the other day and ran my own taste test using the K-cups for one cup and then emptying the contents of another K-cup into my pour-over brewer. The pour-over method produced a more flavorful cup of coffee.

One more perk: This week as I’m on vacation in Maryland, I was able to easily bring along our brewer and enjoy pour-over coffee here in beautiful Deep Creek, Maryland. What a treat!

How to make pour over coffee.
The best part of waking up is my pour-over cup.

Have you tried pour-over coffee? Tell me about it in the comments.

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How to Dry Herbs

posted in: Simple Garden | 5

Inside: Quaint, isn’t it? There is something so homespun about herbs bundled and hanging from the mantle. Learn how to dry herbs the simple way.

How to dry herbs.
Hanging herbs to dry. Photo by Ann Harke.

Guest post by Ann Harke

My first experience with herbs was years ago, growing them in the greenhouse at Sugar Grove where I worked. I remember being intrigued with basil. Back then we only grew a few varieties—sweet, purple, and spicy globe—and I loved the smell. I added it to so many foods that my daughter (who writes this blog) wrote a story about me, the Basil Queen. To this day basil is still my favorite.

From those early days, Ellyn, my friend, began growing many herbs, ranging from parsley to rosemary, thyme, marjoram, sage, mint, stevia, and fennel. They were easy to grow, so I did some research, trying to find out what I could do with these wonderful plants. Much of my early knowledge came from Mother Earth News, a garden magazine. Of course, experience is the best teacher, and I began to experiment with drying the herbs.

Beginning with the planting, I usually wait until the ground is very warm, as herbs like it warm. Too early planted and they can damp off and die. So I have found they do well in my straw bale gardening, and also a large planter that I have. I planted parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (remember the song from the 60s?) and also fennel, four different kinds of basil—sweet, lemon, purple, and cinnamon—stevia, various mints, and lemon balm. They all did pretty well, and this year I’ve been able to cut herbs three different times.

Drying herbs.
Basil, sage, rosemary, and parsley. Photo by Ann Harke.

The easiest way for me to begin the process of drying is to go out the day before and hose off all plants. That way the plants are clean and dry by the next day. (If you cut, wash, and bundle them right away, they might get moldy.) When I cut them the first time, I trim

about two thirds off the plant and leave the rest to grow again. I then bundle them together with none other than adhesive tape. This holds the herb bundle securely, and I can write on it so I know what it is. Another learning experience: When I first started drying herbs, I thought I would know the dried herbs by their smell, but that didn’t work for me, so now I always write what they are.

I dry my herbs wherever I find space, and usually this time of the year it takes a month to air dry. You can dry them in the oven or if you have a place outside that is somewhat enclosed you can dry them that way. I like to see the bundles of herbs hanging in my house, which gives me a feeling of satisfaction when I see them from small seedlings to harvest time.

Once the herbs are dried, I crush the leaves and discard the stems. You can crush the leaves smaller in between wax paper by running a rolling pin over them. You can also grind the herbs into a powder. But I think you retain more flavor by just crushing the leaves.

Place the crushed herbs in small jars and mark them with the date. Depending on your own taste, you can place herbs directly in food or in cheesecloth for soups if you don’t want to see them floating around.

Herbs have come into their own, and now besides culinary purposes they are used medicinally and made into essential oil. So experiment with them, and never worry that you’re not doing it right. Continue in the quest for living naturally. I am still learning, and I wish so many times that Ellyn was still here to teach me. Hopefully this post has helped you as we journey together for a more healthy life.

How to bundle and dry herbs.
Bounty from the herb garden. Photo by Ann Harke.

Gardening advice.


Ann Harke has a way with plants and people. She is a thirty-plus-year greenhouse veteran, farm woman, wife, mother of four, and grandmother of nine. These days she seeks to be strong, consistent, courageous, and adventurous in her everyday life. Lately she finds herself navigating strange airports solo as she explores this new path she’s on and where it’s leading next.





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