Inside: When beans turn to gold, what’s up with the weather, and announcing the 7 Day Decluttering Challenge.
When Beans Turn to Gold
For whatever reason, yellow seems to be this year’s theme color here at the farm. But I’m not talking some sickly yellowish hue. Rather, I’m talking about a vibrant lovely color that grabs your attention. Makes you pause a moment at the beauty all around you. Earlier this year I had such a treat when the sunflowers bloomed, and now the bean fields around home are so . . . bright yellow. I’ve been around soybeans all my life, have seen 52 summers of them, yet this year, for some reason, the fields are so golden, and they seem to roll on and on into the distance.
Why is that?
Maybe the unique temperatures and rainfall patterns have something to do with it. Or maybe farmers are growing a particular variety that turns this way. Or maybe I am more aware as I seek out these picture postcard snapshots from home to share with you.
Maybe the point is there’s beauty all around us if we (I) only take the time to notice. And be thankful for it.
What’s Up with the Weather?
So in the previous long and winding post with news from the farm I talked about all those signs of fall. Then we get this mini heat wave–temps soaring into the 90s. Those days when you’re having to turn on the air conditioner–sigh–and I’m scratching my head. Hey, jet stream, didn’t you read my post? Weather guys and gals–err, I mean meteorologists–didn’t you get the memo?
But it’s got me to thinking of a combination season. Part summer. Part fall. Fummer. Or maybe sall? No, that doesn’t work. Perhaps a pairing with autumn instead, like sautumn–except that kind of sounds like a place of wickedness and debauchery. How about autsummer? No, that reminds me of a disease. Autumn, you’re out.
Okay, so maybe fallsum? Did Johnny Cash sing there? Let’s try sumfall instead. Yeah, that’s the pick of the litter. And it makes a good pun, too, as in “some fall.” Sumfall, that works, and if you slap a “2017” behind, it sounds like an actual event. Sumfall 2017— complete with spandex-wearing 80s cover band and booths selling turquoise jewelry and rosemary goat milk soap. I can smell the kettle corn now. . .
So make the most of these remaining hot-cold, confusing days. Remember, sumfall only comes but once a year!
Announcing the 7 Day Decluttering Challenge
I’m giving you fair warning. Sunday we start our 7 Day Decluttering Challenge, so get ready! The challenge? Get rid of 250 items–either give away or throw away–in 7 days. Ambitious, yes, but I did say challenge. You might be wondering why now and not, say, January? Truth time: I had this on my list of goals for this year. And while not wanting to inflict pain on any of you, I figure you can either join in or simply tune in to see what happens. Will Amy make her goal or retreat to a corner of the closet, babbling incoherently? Will her house be more manageable? Will her husband secretly rent a storage unit to stash his stuff? Or maybe camp out there until it’s over? Tune in Sunday for Day 1 of the 7 Day Decluttering Challenge!
I’ll post a reminder plus rules for the challenge on Saturday.
How about you? Will you join in or tune in or both? Confess in the comments!
Inside: We’re updating another food post, so cue the lovely food photography and easy-to-make recipe as we bring you Simple Suppers: Roasted Chicken Thighs.
Hands down, this is one of my favorite suppers. I came upon it by accident, really. I wanted my protein, and I didn’t want to stand around some skillet babysitting a piece of chicken. But my dilemma was I hadn’t thawed out any meat. So what’s a busy (or lazy) girl to do?
Grab a frozen chicken thigh, smear bacon grease over the top, season, and bake. How easy is that? Now, admittedly, it does take some patience waiting for the thighs to roast–an hour and twenty minute’s worth, mind you–but you’re free to go about your day doing other things. I can almost hear Mr. Rogers singing the waiting song, “Let’s think of something to do . . .”
Hmmm. . . A nap sounds good. Only to be woken by the wonderful smell of roasting meat. Just make sure you set the timer–and that you aren’t a deep sleeper!
So what can you pair with these oven-roasted beauties? Salad, of course. Green peas with plenty of butter would work well. My favorite, though, is green beans. I’ve often interrupted the baking, about thirty minutes in, to throw a few handfuls of–you guessed it–frozen green beans in the pan. If you’re partial to the idea, a word of caution: Don’t over crowd the pan with meat. I typically bake two thighs in an 8 x 8 pan. Because most chicken contains a salt solution these days, along with the bacon grease for this recipe, there is quite a bit of juice left in the pan.
- 4 frozen chicken thighs with skin
- 2 tablespoons of bacon grease (I keep mine in the refrigerator, which makes it stick better to the meat)
- seasonings: salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder to taste
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Take the frozen thighs and place them in a large baking pan (9 x 13 is ideal), skin side up and not overcrowding them.
- Smear ½ a tablespoon of bacon grease over the top and sides of each thigh.
- Season with salt, pepper, onion and garlic powders to taste.
- Place pan in the oven and roast until the skin is golden brown, approximately 80 - 90 minutes.
Notes: I have used thawed chicken thighs and bacon grease drippings from my morning bacon, and it will work (adjust time accordingly), but what makes the frozen thighs and chilled bacon grease work so well is that the grease sticks to the meat longer, resulting in a crispy skin with all that bacon-y goodness. When serving, I spoon some of the pan drippings over my meat for even more flavor.
Ovens vary widely, and if yours tends to run hotter, you might start checking about an hour into the cooking time, looking for that golden brown color.
Do you have any tricks for getting supper on the table quickly? Tell us about it in the comments.
Related posts: Simple Suppers: Easy Pizza
Inside: Most of the time it pays to be frugal, but occasionally a moment comes along too rich to pass up, when perhaps a bit of “foolishness” is in order.
Yesterday we celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Looking back at the photos of these vaguely familiar happy kids, I wonder what I’d tell twenty-one-year-old me. Maybe I’d tell her the clichéd answer you often hear from older married folk at weddings, that there will be good times and bad, but I imagine she would have focused on worrying, then, about the bad ones ahead. On second thought, maybe I’d just say, “You’re going to make it, and you’ll have many happy times to celebrate. Remember that.”
True, we’ve marked many anniversaries, some good, the occasional bad, and a few odd or unusual ones to add to the mix. We spent our very first anniversary in Denali, Alaska, doing what? I don’t remember. A young couple, Terry and Marnell, put together a food basket with flavored rice packets and pastas for us.
Another anniversary our church happened to host a marriage seminar with Gary and Greg Smalley. Greg happened to be giving away copies of their books and asked whose anniversary was the closest. The couple next to us raised their hands, as we did, and I thought they were trying to help us get his attention. Turns out we were all celebrating, to which Greg Smalley, with a perplexed look, said, “Who attends a marriage seminar on their anniversary?”
I remember our twenty-fifth taking a trip to Memphis, Tennessee, when we turned in our huge bottle of coins, which helped pay for the short getaway. I’d like to say it was wonderful, but I was battling severe depression, and the trip didn’t provide the distraction I’d been hoping for.
Most celebrations, though, we’ve simply gone out to dinner, from pizza to steakhouses to Chinese. We’re not very original. Yet there was that one time. . .
Our fifteenth. I’d heard the famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma was playing at Powell Symphony Hall in St. Louis, and I really wanted to go. Mike said, sure, but I’d have to call for the tickets. Ugh! I hated making phone calls, but I wanted this so badly that I was motivated enough to do it. We’d been to the symphony before, the cheap nosebleed seats, and that was what I was prepared to pay for. But when I talked to the man at the box office, he said they only had a few seats left, and they were singles, though he did have two seats together on the main floor–for $75 a piece.
My heart sank, and I told him I didn’t know. Mike and I had decided we were no longer going to use our credit card for anything but true emergencies, and this certainly did not qualify.
“They’re really good seats,” the man said.
I hesitated, but then a still small voice, distinct from my own, said simply, “Buy the tickets.” Did I hear that right? I took a deep breath and gave my information. The tickets were ours.
Quickly the days passed until finally it was our anniversary–and our night at the concert. We arrived early to Powell Symphony Hall to find our seats, and as the man had said, they were good. Very good.
I don’t recall who addressed the audience, the conductor, maybe? He explained the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s selection of music that night was from Composer Aaron Copeland. It had been a year and a day since 9-11, and they had wanted something distinctly American. I’d never heard of Aaron Copeland and had no idea what to expect, but I soon recognized the music and discovered I was an accidental fan. (Think of the music from the “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” commercials of years ago.) They played Fanfare of the Common Man, which I recognized and Appalachian Spring, much of which I didn’t, until toward the end, the familiar Shaker Hymn “Simple Gifts.” I sat there, absorbing the music, listening to the light, airy quick-paced chorus from the woodwinds playing ‘Tis a gift be simple, ’tis a gift to be free . . . Then the stringed instruments taking their turn with the chorus, all the while building, building then the trumpets–still building. The tempo slowed, then, as the full orchestra joined together, slowly thundering ‘Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free, filling every spare inch of the place, filling me with the most beautiful music I had ever heard. I blinked back tears, feeling so incredibly alive in the moment. It was then I heard that still small voice again. I wanted this for you.
Yo-Yo Ma followed, the main attraction of the night, and I thoroughly enjoyed his music. How often do you get to hear a world-renowned cellist play? After he finished, he ran his hand over his nose, as the auditorium broke out in applause, and I remember thinking he seemed like such a regular guy, not a pretentious bone in his body, and I liked that about him. But as wonderful as he was, my favorite moment of the night belonged to Aaron Copeland’s “Simple Gifts.” I had received my own simple gift that night, feeling as though the Creator of the Universe, my Father, had arranged it all just for us. For me.
All these years later, I still take this memory off the shelf, dust it off, and smile as I remember.
Have you ever been “foolish”? Tell us about it in the comments.
Related posts: Finding my Pace: Slowing Down to Enjoy Life
Inside: We’re starting a collection of simple suppers, Easy Pizza being our first recipe. It’s an update on a previous post, this time with pretty food pictures and printer-friendly recipe format. Enjoy!
I’m starting a collection of simple suppers on the blog, beginning with Easy Pizza. While it happens to be an update of an older post, the pretty pictures and printer-friendly recipe make it worthy of reposting.
And did I mention, just four ingredients?
As I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, I like having simple meals. This one has been a Friday night staple in our house for a long time. Mine is low carb, but yours doesn’t have to be if that’s not your thing. Your favorite flatbread of tortilla will work just fine.
And that’s where this recipe starts–the bread. Then add marinara or spaghetti sauce from a jar, shredded cheese, and those sliced pepperonis in the lunchmeat section of the grocery store.
Additional toppings? That’s up to you.
- 1 low carb flatbread of tortilla (I use Aldi's Fit and Active original flatbread)
- 3 tablespoons of marinara sauce
- 12 slices of pepperoni
- ⅓ cup of pizza cheese (I use provel, a cheese originating in St. Louis)
- a little olive oil for the flatbread
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Apply a thin coating of oil to both sides of the flatbread.
- Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or aluminum foil and bake for 5 - 7 minutes until slightly brown and a little crispy.
- Remove from oven and spread marinara on flatbread to the edges.
- Layer pepperoni slices on top.
- Sprinkle cheese on top and slip back into the oven for 8 - 10 minutes until the cheese starts to brown.
Notes: You can use regular flatbread or a tortilla for a base. For a softer crust, skip baking the flatbread alone and go right to layering on the toppings and baking the pizza. I sometimes put mushrooms and onions on the pizza. If sliced thin, they’ll cook, or you can briefly microwave for 30 – 60 seconds to soften before layering on the pizza. Pre-cooked sausage is also good on these.
What’s your favorite simple supper? Tell us about it in the comments.
Related posts: How to Soak Nuts
Inside: The unmistakable hint of fall, surviving gracefully when your Internet is down, and an all-around trying week!
The Unmistakable Hint of Fall
Summer, we hardly knew ye! Or at least that’s the way I feel on this end. The season of long days and living outdoors seemed to zip by, though it was wonderful while it lasted. But if I’m being perfectly honest, while summer and I are good friends, I’m head over heels in love with fall! Chirping crickets, small patches of leaves blushing, the scent of wood smoke in the air. Woolly worms moving at rapid pace, as if on a mission. I’ve been collecting these little hints of my favorite season for the last several weeks now. I’ve been greeting many a morning in sweats and long sleeve shirts. Twice I’ve turned on the electric fireplace to take the chill off. And all the while I’ve been smiling. Something about this time of year makes me feel so alive. I want to buy large bright orange pumpkins, just because, and take long walks in the woods. I want to wear my boots and sweaters and go apple picking, then come home with the spoils and make fried apples. I want to sip pumpkin lattes and read a good book at The Bean. And that’s just for starters. I found this cool (pun not originally intended, but, hey, why not?) fall bucket list which you can actually download and print if you run out of ideas. Apparently I’m not the only fall fanatic.
Surviving Gracefully When Your Internet is Down
Today my Internet has been restored! Halleluiah! (And I really do mean that.) It’s been a frustrating nine days of dealing with tech support chats, finding Internet sources to quickly jump on, do my business, and get off again. No leisurely searching topics or reading emails as I watch Hogan’s Heroes reruns at night. No double and triple checking of website posts and stats (hello, is anybody really reading this thing?) or looking up a recipe for tomato pie.
To say the least it has been . . . enlightening. I discovered that I spend (and sometimes waste) a great deal of time online–and I don’t even do Facebook. I also learned that I rely heavily on it for such things as daily devotional Bible reading in the version of my choice, to being able to check weather and bank statements multiple times daily, to keeping in the know with my friends and writing community and critique group commitments and clients from my editing business. To research topics of interest. (To be fair, our county does not have a public library system, so some time I might spend at a library researching is spent online.)
So now here’s the million-dollar question: What’s the takeaway? (I do believe this happened for a reason.) I know that I need more balance and discipline. If I’m complaining that there isn’t enough time to complete my to-do list, I might need to take a look at where I’ve been spending my time. If I’m scratching my head at the fact that other people seem to be able to read more books than I do, I might need to shut my laptop and avoid the Internet on my Kindle and read some of those books in my digital library. Or, heck, crack open something that has pages and an actual spine. Yeah, I might try that.
An All-around Trying Week
Mom and I said our goodbyes on August 28, the day before she embarked on a two-week stay with my brother in Colorado, and everything was pretty calm around the farm. I knew I’d be on daily chicken duty–feeding, watering, collecting eggs–as well as looking after her cats and keeping her flowers and garden watered. No sweat. But then a series of unfortunate events (no, not of the Lemony Snicket variety) happened, and life got busy, frustrating, and rather angsty–as in “Hey, God, aren’t You listening to me? Can’t You do something about all of these problems?”
As previously mentioned, we lost our Internet connection, which you’d think was our only communication with the outside world. Our cats mysteriously came down with something viral, resulting in vomiting and diarrhea, and I was quickly using up the spray cleaner and paper towels. We were suddenly low on funds, but we needed to make a trip to the store. I had an editing project due that I could just not make traction on, and I dreaded emailing my client to tell her. It was like every moment of my time was eaten up with something extra, and little annoying problems kept cropping up as I simply went about my day doing regular household chores. Then we headed out early Saturday and spent several fruitless hours trying to locate a DSL modem so we could make things happen quicker to restore our Internet–to no avail. In the middle of the running, Mike turned to me and said, “Oh, yeah, they’re collecting baby items to send to Texas. It’s only today and tomorrow morning.” He went on to explain our church had rented a U-Haul truck to drive down the items to flood victims.
I’d like to say my immediate reaction rivaled the Good Samaritan. It didn’t. I sighed, thinking, Great, one more stop. And I thought about juggling funds, figuring out how to do it, where to make this mad dash before we had to be at church. Then lo and behold, a Walmart Neighborhood Market seemed to sprout up from nowhere. I’d never heard of such a thing, much less expected to see it on that stretch of road. Apparently it was new. Then I remembered a Visa gift card I’d been holding on to like a miser, waiting for some perfect item to spend it on. I told Mike how we could pay for it, and we entered the market and went searching for the baby aisle.
Once there we debated what size of diapers to get, and then we just got one package of each. Then we picked up some powdered formula, thinking that would probably work best to hand out to flood victims. Then we picked up wipes, some regular, some for sensitive skin just in case. And, you know, a funny thing happened. With each item added to the cart, a feeling of joy swept over me. I kept blinking back happy tears, thinking how fortunate I was, how good it felt to be able to help people, and how thankful I was that I could be a part of it all.
“Sometimes I need to remember how good it feels to give,” I said to Mike, thinking how, ironically, I was really the one receiving the gift.
We headed over to the self-checker, scanning the items, and before the tally the opportunity to give $1, $2, or $5 to Red Cross relief efforts appeared on the screen. I pressed the $5, not knowing what the total was, and wouldn’t you know it, the gift card paid for it all with about a dollar to spare.
In the scheme of things, the problems I thought I had didn’t compare with people who’d lost everything and had to wait in line for common, simple necessities like water and food and clothes. I imagined some distraught mother having to keep a wet diaper on her child because she didn’t have any left. Sure puts life into perspective.
And I definitely needed that.
How did your week go? Tell us about it in the comments.
Inside: As we approach Labor Day, starting the long and sentimental project seems like a fitting end to our DIY summer—and something to look forward to in the cool and crisp days ahead.
Mom stopped by with a couple of Dad’s shirts. We’d just finished the folk art flowers and were considering possibly doing a third if we could find some complimentary material. Comparing the shirts with the flowers, we didn’t find a match. But I liked the colors. And they were Dad’s.
Mom said that she’d thought about making a quilt with his shirts, but sewing wasn’t really her thing. “Maybe you can make something with these,” she said.
I brought them up close to my face and breathed in. Although freshly laundered, there was something of Dad still in them. A lump formed in my throat, and I swallowed hard but managed to smile in spite of it. I could make something with these.
I’d made a rag wreath before using Mike’s castoff shirts, with reds and blues and tans. That project had been born of desperation, an attempt to focus my mind elsewhere as I battled depression. I would work on it here and there when I needed the distraction. There’s something therapeutic, healing, in doing handwork. The colors together looked very patriotic, so I gave myself a loose deadline of finishing it by Fourth of July, which I did. Then I set it aside.
This time, there is no desperation or hurry. No formal attempt. Just the shirt I chose because of the fall colors in it—though fall is not a deadline—and a good pair of scissors to start cutting strips. And a 12-inch wire wreath for perspective at this point. I’m starting with simply cutting the strips because I won’t know how much I need and might have to tie in other material to make it work. I’m figuring the shirt will yield quite a lot, though. Dad was tall in the torso, which gives me more to work with.
It’s not a quick project. It’s a project for when the nights turn cooler and the days grow short. For late hours by lamplight. For passing blustery winter afternoons as the soup simmers on the stove. I have in mind to start it sometime after Labor Day. Here and there. Little by little. We’ll get there.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress.
Do you have any long projects you’ve been meaning to start? Tell us about it in the comments.
Related posts: How to Distress a Mason Jar
Next month: Back to School, Back to Life. Look for simple suppers, coffee love, and a decluttering challenge, plus reflections and all the news fresh from the farm.
Inside: Looking for a craft project that is fun and easy with materials you likely have on hand already? Try making our folk art flowers. From start to finish, you’ll have these adorable beauties in only a few short hours.
Have you ever started out heading in one direction only to end up somewhere else entirely? That is what happened to us when we set out to make folk art flowers. I had in mind a burlap sunflower I’d found on Pinterest, and while that particular crafter used dollar store sunflowers for a pattern and reapplied the brown center on the burlap petals, I had decided large brown buttons would be cute. So I drew the petals freehand onto a paper, cut out the pattern, traced it on the burlap, and cut it out. . . Yuck! The only burlap I had on hand had a large weave, so it didn’t work well.
That’s where the somewhere else entirely part comes in. After scouring the pages of Pinterest–we search for hours and hours (and hours) so you don’t have to!–I found some flowers without instructions. But I had a pretty good idea how they were made, just from the picture, so off we went.
We assembled the following:
- Two mason jar screw bands with lids, regular mouth (no need for new when old will do)
- Strips of material, (Hubs’ old plaid shirts) approximately 40 1 inch by 6 inches and 70 1/2 inch by 6 inches
- Two pieces of burlap, 3 inches by 12 inches
- Four cotton balls
- Twine string or thread (type doesn’t matter)
- Two sticks
- Hot glue gun and sticks
We looked through a pile of old shirts and chose our colors. Light green and darker green.
We were ready.
We sat down and got to work. At first I cut the strips longer, but Mom suggested they’d look better shorter. While I had my doubts, she trimmed the pieces she’d already attached, and her crafter instincts where right on the money. Then she suggested cutting them down even farther. Again, right.
So I started cutting the strips to the new length, into 1-inch by 6-inch pieces. I’ve made rag wreaths before, and this is the same principle. When working with plaid shirts, it’s easy to figure out within the shirt pattern how far to cut—for example, let’s say every other blue line in the design is an inch. You simply follow those particular lines to cut your strips.
Mom continued taking the shirt strips and tied them onto the screw band so the ends were about equal and with the knot on the side of the band (where you place your fingers when unscrewing it from a jar). Engrossed in conversation, soon the ring was almost covered with the tied strips. She pushed those strips together to make room for more, making a tight design, until it was entirely covered.
Then the fun part. How to make the center of the flower. First we gently pushed the lid (the flat) into the back of the screw band nearly half way, with the glue side facing the back, shiny part facing front (not that you end up seeing it). The shiny part of the lid served as a guide to how big we’d have to make the burlap middle. We hadn’t settled on how to plump up the middle, but then I remembered I had some cotton balls. At first we were going to do a short strip of burlap to make one layer, but we found that doubling it created the look we wanted—you couldn’t see the cotton underneath and the loose weave burlap took on a sort of sunflower-like appearance. We formed the puffy center by placing the cotton in the center and gathering the burlap together to form a lollypop. I tied a piece of twine around the ends, trimmed off the excess, and Mom flattened it some with her hand, making it to fit right over the shiny part. I wielded my trusty glue gun and put a generous amount on the lid, and she pressed the burlap center into place.
We started to repeat the same process with a light green patterned shirt, but part way in Mom said she thought the material was thicker, that maybe I could make the knots tighter. So she cut the strips, and I tied a few more, but I noticed it wasn’t working like the other one. So again that crafter instinct fired up, and she suggested we make the strip half as wide. I tried one on for size and liked the effect. I untied the thicker pieces, and she cut them in half so the dimensions for these strips were ½ inch by 6 inches. Soon that band was covered, and we formed another burlap middle for that flower.
We then made a short trip outside to cut a couple of 10-inch sticks to make the stem of the flower. (We used one of the quart jars from the previous project to figure out the length, as this would be their home once we finished them.) We snipped one slightly shorter so the flowers would fit in the jar together and not overlap too much. Once back inside, we flipped the flowers over so the back side of the screw band showed. We put a dollop of hot glue on the top edge (remember, still on the back side) of the ring and another dollop on the bottom edge. So basically the flower was glued to the stick—now magically transformed into a stem. We held them up for closer examination.
And Ann and Amy saw their creations and smiled. Yes, they were good.
Though I was initially disappointed the sunflower idea didn’t pan out, I was more than happy with the finished product. We both love these folk art flowers. They’re so simple to make, can be made in an afternoon, and they’d make a lovely gift. The wheels in my mind are already whirring, busy with thoughts of different colored materials and different applications. I even found myself thinking of some of the shirts Hubs is currently wearing, already plotting and planning their demise—the shirts, not Hubs! I think I’ll keep him around.
Are you working on any DIY projects? Tell us about it in the comments.
Related posts: How to Distress a Mason Jar
Inside: Catching the total eclipse, crossing the mighty Mississippi for the love of a peach, and a movie recommendation.
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Catching the Total Eclipse
Well the big news isn’t really news to many people, but it’s worth celebrating all the same. Like many across the nation, we stood in awe as the moon slipped between the sun and Earth. Fortunately for us, we live close to where viewing the total eclipse was possible, so around noon Hubs, Mom, and I headed to Lake St. Louis (the town Hubs grew up in). Just before we left, Emily texted there was already a “bite” out of the sun from her viewing spot in Unger Park, Fenton, so we eagerly put on our glasses to see.
We weren’t sure what to expect, as news outlets had warned people to have full tanks of gas and expect long waits in traffic. Some had estimated that millions of people would gather in the prime viewing area and cautioned folks to be prepared. Mom joked that she had a couple of Larabars and a water bottle if we got stranded. We crossed Interstate 70 and noticed no surges in traffic. Everything pretty much looked like business as usual. We drove around the lake and spotted a few merrymakers on a pontoon boat, then headed for the marina where a dozen or so people gathered. Finally we settled on Frontier Park were a small group of people had assembled. No traffic jams to speak of–just a few enthusiasts waiting and watching as the moon slowly covered the sun.
It was an odd sensation as daylight gradually became, as my friend Patty described it, muted. As time for the eclipse grew close, the street lights came on in a sort of quasi twilight. Then as the moment of totality was just about to happen, a large cloud covered the spectacle. I whispered a prayer to God that we’d be able to see the wonder of His creation, and a few seconds later the clouds parted long enough to view the complete covering of the sun. It was one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen.
Rather unceremoniously we exited the park after the street lights went off. And life returned to normal again.
Except that we had just witnessed something truly incredible.
Crossing the Mighty Mississippi for the Love of a Peach
What do you do when your favorite (and only) peach tree comes down with a case of leaf curl? You do without peaches–that’s what. So while in previous years I would have spent two to three weeks picking and processing bushels of peaches and making our favorite peach recipes, this year we took a road–and boat–trip to our neighboring state and county (right across the river from us) Calhoun County, Illinois, a quaint place of rolling hills, known for its orchards. By far the easiest way to get there is to take the ferry, and because we hadn’t done a thing during our staycation–okay, Hubs rode 85 miles on the Rock Island bike trail, so I hadn’t done a thing–a trip was in order.
Pulling up to the ferry always brings back memories from our early twenties when Hubs and I would go pick up a jag of hay for the dairy herd, taking the ferry down in Winfield to cross the mighty river. That ferry no longer runs, so we take the one from St. Peters these days. As we approached, we just missed it, so we parked and watched and waited. I didn’t see any sign for pricing, but I remembered several years ago a round-trip ticket was $8. Finally the ferry returned, and we drove aboard to see the sign with prices–$15! Hello price increase! Okay, so the last time we rode was about eight or nine years ago, when I thought about it.
We decided upon Kamp’s orchard and pulled up to a Quonset shed and a friendly orange-colored lab that the lady running the stand told us belonged to the neighbors. Inside lay an assortment of garden vegetables–have those, don’t need more–and several baskets of peaches, the variety I can’t remember. A quart box of prune plums caught my eye as I told the woman how my mother-in-law had made the most wonderful plum cake when the prune plums came in season every year.
“Did you get the recipe?” she asked.
“I tried, but she wouldn’t part with it,” I said.
She half smiled, knowingly.
We snagged the basket of plums–I’d make that cake, a low carb version, anyway–and turned back to the other fruit offerings. We picked a peck of those precious peaches–don’t you just love alliteration–and paid $20 for them. Heading back to the ferry, we mused about how the traveling expense coupled with the cost of the fruit made for some very expensive peaches. On the ride back over to Missouri we stood out on deck to view another natural wonder–the Big Muddy. Gazing out at the tranquil waters of the Mississippi, a soft breeze in my face, $35 for a bunch of peaches didn’t seem too terribly much out of line.
A Movie Recommendation
I can’t say I always get around to things in a timely manner. Case in point, watching the 2014 movie Unbroken, which is adapted from the book of the same name by Laura Hillenbrand. The movie is from the real-life story of Olympic distance runner and World War II bombardier Louis Zamperini and follows his survival from air crash to being adrift at sea to life in a Japanese prison camp. The story was difficult for me to watch in places because of the brutality, but I’m glad I saw the film. While I won’t go into specifics here, I would highly recommend it for demonstrating courage and inspiration in the face of extreme hardship. One word of caution: There is a scene with brief nudity when the prisoners are stripped naked by their first captors. (There is enough time to anticipate this and fast forward or look away. Personally I think the film could have done without it, as it was obvious they had been forced to strip, but I’m not a film maker.)
Worth noting, though not depicted in the film, is that he came to know Christ and became an evangelist and passionate believer in forgiveness. He met up with most of his former captors to reconcile (this was mentioned in the movie). Another film of his life exists, Captured by Grace, which I imagine tells the rest of the story.
As summer winds down, what have you been up to? Did you catch the eclipse? Tell us about it in the comments.
Inside: It’s another Ann and Amy’s DIY adventures as we tackle how to distress a mason jar. Stick with us–it’s pretty simple and you’ll love that farmhouse vibe.
DIY summer projects month here at the blog continues as we take on the ever-popular mason jar. Our family has a long history with reusing glass jars. I remember from my high school days when a boy who had been coming around to see me said with disdain in his voice, “Your family drinks out of peanut butter jars?” (Our favorite brand came in pint-sized glass jars back then.) Needless to say, he didn’t hang around long, which was fine with me. Hubs was never offended by drinking out of glass jars–p.b., mason, or otherwise. We were doing the cool thing before it was cool.
Back to the project. . .
We assembled the following:
- Ball mason jars: 3 regular-mouth quarts, 1 pint, and 1 decorative half-pint
- Waverly acrylic chalk paint: Colors celery, maize, and lavender
- Acrylic matte sealer spray
- Small paint brushes (We used sizes 4 and 8.)
- Sandpaper 80 grit
- Rubbing alcohol
- Paper towels or rags to apply rubbing alcohol
- Scissors to cut sandpaper into smaller pieces
- Newspaper to keep things tidy
The first thing we did was wipe down the jars with a paper towel and a little rubbing alcohol. We were going to skip this step, as I had read it on a tutorial and thought what’s the point? But the directions on the paint bottle had also listed this step when working with glass. So we did. And we laid down some newspaper, anticipating things could get a little messy.
We were ready.
Then we each took a quart jar and chose our colors–Mom (Ann) picked maize and I grabbed celery–the paint, not the food. And we painted and talked, and painted and talked. Then we started in on the other jars, and I switched to lavender for the remaining quart and she stayed with the maize but applied it to the half-pint. Then we had to wait two hours between coats, so we walked up to the farm and fed the chickens–and talked some more. We finished the final coats and called it a night. (I painted the pint a few days later.)
Several days passed, and we got together again to sand (distress) the jars. My research showed varying styles of distressing. Some crafters sanded the paint off every raised edge–the words, numbers, fruit, and screw top, along with making a few random distressed spots. Other crafters took a lighter hand and did most of the raised edges and added a few spots. This is what we did. Mom noticed that it helped to wipe the sanded paint from the jars every so often. The work went pretty quickly, and before long we were happy with the sanding.
A couple of days later I continued with the project. Hauling the jars outside, I applied the first coat and gave it time to dry. A little later Mom dropped by with some hot peppers, and we sprayed several light coats, Mom adding the final.
“It smells like Christmas,” she said.
“I know,” I said. “That’s the same thing I thought.”
Who knew acrylic spray could stir up warm fuzzy feelings of Christmas?
We both were pleased with how the jars turned out. Painting and distressing the mason jars was fun and simple to do. We soon found ourselves discussing different colors and additions to the jars as well as uses for our handiwork. I plan on making more for gifts. Relatives, beware!
Are you a mason jar aficionado? Confess in the comments!
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Inside: Finding my pace and slowing down to enjoy life, like most things, takes practice. I have learned this by knowing myself better and paying attention to the rhythms of life that make me thrive. You can, too.
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I remember sitting around the long table at critique group one night, listening to one of the women. Always busy, she’d come from a rehab construction project, her blonde hair wet from a hasty shower. Always vocal, she started in about how exasperating life was in Missouri compared to the west coast where she had resided. That the pace of life in the Midwest was like a coma. I remember thinking, Yeah? Where you’re from it’s a heart attack.
Different strokes for different folks.
I know what works for me, but I didn’t always. I’d gone through much of my life feeling off, not quite right, like I always needed to hurry to keep up with other people’s expectations and preconceived notions of what was the right and wrong way to go about getting things done. I often felt overwhelmed. And, much of the time, I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I went about things differently, I knew that. My brother would hurry through tasks that would take me hours compared to his minutes. Granted, the bathroom would be spotless when I was through. Not so much when it was his turn. I had (and still do have) a perfectionist tendency I carry with me regardless of whether I’m scrubbing sinks or painting a picture. I’ve learned, particularly in the last decade, to adopt a more balanced approach. For example, the printing on my shopping list no longer has to look like the script on a Hallmark card. Yes, I was that tightly wound.
But there was more to it. A few years ago, when writing down a list of goals I suddenly jotted down I would like to live life at my own pace, not someone else’s. The words surprised me. They’d come from somewhere deep inside, and I knew they had merit. With prayerful consideration, I entrusted this heart desire to God, that He would help me live this way.
And He did.
Along the way I learned a few things. After all, I still had to live in the real world with appointments and deadlines, and I had to acknowledge that other people had their own pace. If I wanted them to respect mine, I had to respect theirs. So I made a few simple adjustments.
I identified what caused me to feel hurried. That was easy–procrastination. Waiting until the last minute. But why did I procrastinate? The default answer for most people is laziness–yet another character flaw I thought I had. But upon really examining the reason, it was mostly (though not always) something else entirely. I had trouble starting a chore or a project for fear of not doing a good enough job. I didn’t feel I measured up to the task. Or the project felt completely overwhelming–how would I ever get everything done and to the high standards I set for myself? It was easier to avoid starting than push through and deal with negative feelings.
Poor planning was another reason. Because I hadn’t started the project or task, I hadn’t done the prep work. I didn’t want to think about preparing for the task because of all the negative feelings I associated with it. And on and on it went, until I faced disappointing someone–friends, teachers, parents, spouse, child. That was the catalyst to accomplishing most things.
Letting go of perfectionism.
Beyond working on feeling better about myself–reciting scriptures on who I am in Christ has worked wonders–I learned to lessen my standards for some things by prioritizing. The casserole for supper versus the novel chapter. The former is just a meal, the latter I really want to get just right. I didn’t need to do everything perfectly. Not even most things, really.
Confronting overwhelm–little by little.
A few years ago I read the book The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Elaine N. Aron, and I learned a lot about how I process the world. While not every situation or task overwhelms me, on a challenging morning opening up my dishwasher to unload it can have me feeling stressed. My new approach is to break down the task into small pieces. I decide to put away just the silverware, though often simply starting can carry me through to the end of the job at hand. On other days, I stop with the utensils and next time I’m in the kitchen I’ll do the plates and bowls. Before long the dishwasher is unloaded. This little by little approach works well for me for many different tasks and projects. This post, for instance, has been written over several days.
I’ve become much better at planning ahead as well as allotting more time for whatever I’m trying to accomplish. I’m still working on my skills at determining how long a project will take, so I give it my best guess and then allow even more time. For example, Mike and I need to leave for the Saturday evening service by 1:30 in the afternoon. (He is employed at church, and it’s a working day for him.) So in order for me to make sure I don’t make him late, I plan ahead. I gather my laptop bag and Kindle so that I can get work done in his office before service. I also have to fix our meal before we leave as well as plan something quick to eat when we get home. And I need to figure enough time to get ready. Saturday morning and early afternoon are spent working toward these goals in small increments. Little by little. But I find the more I plan ahead, the easier it is to make this busy weekend day work for us. Running around last minute only frustrates both of us, as being punctual is important to Mike.
I remember reading in the Florence Littauer book Personality Plus: How to Understand Others by Understanding Yourself that those with a melancholy personality type (think introvert, perfectionist, detail-oriented) can only handle a small amount of responsibility. At first that made me angry as I thought about how responsible I was. Then I got what she meant by it. Because we (melancholy types) have such a drive to do things perfectly, we can’t take on too much because we’d be in major stress mode all the time. We do things well, so we need to be selective about which projects we take on and how many we allow space in our lives. So many things get my attention–particularly if I’ve been on Pinterest–but I only have so much time and energy. While others might not understand the choices I make, especially in the church community, I have to be true to God, myself, my family, and friends as well as what my mission is on this good green Earth. I have to do what makes sense for the way I am wired.
Observing a daily quiet time.
Spending time on a daily basis with the One who created me is fundamental. It brings me back to center, placing my focus where it needs to be–and on Who it needs to be. When I spend time reading my Bible, I gain insight for my life and a calm sense of knowing God is at the helm.
Taking time for the little things.
Sitting outside in nature. Puttering in my garden. Petting whichever kitty settles on my lap. Stirring a pot of simmering peaches to make preserves. These are the little things in life which I enjoy, and I take the time to do them. Not only are they great de-stressors, but these seemingly insignificant activities make my life richer.
So what has happened?
These small, simple changes have added up over time to produce a different me, a person I’m coming to like more and more. I won’t say I never have that anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach, but it’s rare these days. Life isn’t perfect, but it’s good. Meaningful.
I feel comfortable in my own skin, finally living life at my own pace.
What does living life at your own pace mean to you? Tell us about it in the comments.
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