Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
~ GK Chesterton

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Garden Views: End of April

Wednesday has become the photography day, with "Wordless Wednesday."  It's not wordless today, but it is a collection of photographs.

Do try to overlook the fact that we need to add mulch.  Desperately.  It's happening, soon.

Phlox in the butterfly garden.

It smells so pretty, too.

Bulbs are retiring for the season; lavender still sleeps.

Two raspberry plants are spreading to become a patch!

Apple blossoms!

The maple tree is leafing out!

Hosta shoots are coming up.


More elderberry . . . because it's pretty.

Sneaky cilantro next to the oregano. Yum to both!

Tiny Black-Eyed Susans are growing.

Dogwood beginning to bloom.

I always think of this as a quiet lull, when the early spring blooms have faded, but the early summer have yet to flower.  I need to find a flower to fill in this gap.  My mother has suggested irises, but I've never gotten around to doing anything about that.  Maybe more creeping phlox?  Or, just enjoy the blooms on the trees?

It's fun to see how the garden spreads itself in surprising places.  I did not put a cilantro seed next to the oregano; that was self-seeding. The raspberry is spreading out more every year, with baby shoots popping up in the area I've dedicated as a raspberry patch.  Actually, the raspberry is showing up in other parts of the backyard . . . as well as a small plant I've just discovered in the front of the house.  That must be the work of the birds who enjoy the fruit harvest along with us.

Not to anthropomorphize plants, but it is fascinating to observe how individual each plant is.  Our dogwood tree blooms well after every other dogwood in the neighborhood.  I don't know why.  Hostas.  Our neighbors across the street have some well-grown-in hostas, whilst mine are just emerging. My herbs seem to be earlier than ones I see in other gardens.  Each plant has its own timetable!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Homemade Yogurt.

A skill I've been wanting to acquire.

I like yogurt, but have yet to find a yogurt on the market that does not cause my ears to plug up.  [Well, I may have found a safe yogurt.  More on that in a moment.]  This means that a legume is being introduced into the yogurt-making process, somewhere that does not show up on the label.  Soy?  A gum as a thickener?  I don't know.  All I know is that I can cheat with a small amount of yogurt from time to time, but if I indulge too much, the mystery ingredients make their presence known with ill effects.

Just as I determined to give it a go myself, I saw a new yogurt in the grocery store.  From Maple Hill Creamery.  I bought a plain variety, to use as a starter for my homemade attempt; I grabbed a maple-flavored one, as well.  No immediate side effects noticed!

I've been researching yogurt-making methods for months.  The recipe I followed came from this website, but it's quite like most recipes I've found.  I chose this one in the end because of the way the step-by-step was worded.

Ready to go!

Doing its thing!

I did not take any photos of the yogurt being whisked into the warm milk.  Aren't you sad?

Keeping toasty warm!

No photos of the transfer from the slow cooker to the storage bowl.  That was disheartening, as the finished product didn't look much like yogurt.  It was more milk with some yogurt clumps in it.  I didn't lose hope, though.  Many online sources said that yogurt will only thicken once it's been in the fridge for a while.  So.  I put the concoction in the fridge and went to bed.

Next morning . . . .

Certainly these photos capture the liquidity of my "yogurt."

It smells like yogurt.  It tastes like a liquid plain yogurt.  But it's thinner than any kefir I've ever had to drink.

At first, I decided to go ahead and drink it, so as not to waste the organic milk and grass-fed yogurt I'd bought for the recipe.  But halfway into the cup, I started to wonder about the bacteria I was drinking.  Good bacteria?  Bad bacteria?  I DON'T KNOW!!!!  So I poured that cup down the drain.

At the moment, the "yogurt" sits in my fridge, whilst I decide if it is safe to consume.

I'm not giving up, yet.  If I can do this without a yogurt maker, I'd like to do it.  Are yogurt makers foolproof?  Perhaps I'll try a stove-top recipe, using my thermometer.  More to follow, one of these days . . .

Friday, April 25, 2014

7QT: Grey Hair - Am I Nuts?!?!?

Is it completely shallow that I am dedicating an entire 7 Quick Takes to my HAIR?!?!?  Well, no.  Because there’s something larger going on than just hair.

~  ONE  ~
It’s been a few weeks since this post was written, but I cannot get it out of my mind.  Why I’m Letting My Hair Go Gray.  It has rocked my world.

~  TWO  ~
Hair background: I started greying early.  My first greys sprouted in high school.  I was about 25 when a hair dresser suggested doing something about the abundance of grey flecked throughout my hair.  I was very self-conscious of it.  I remembered my grandmother telling me that she had been mistaken for her husband’s mother, since he had dark hair late in life and she greyed rather early.  I didn’t think this was a good thing.  I agreed whole-heartedly with the Madison Avenue take on grey hair:  it’s horrible, resist it, fight it.

~  THREE  ~
Oddly enough, I tend to resist Madison Avenue with every fiber in me, when it comes to every other package they try to sell.  I’m not sure why I’ve bought into their philosophy about hair.  I believed them that curly hair was a curse and only got over that within the last three years.  [Thank you, Lorraine Massey!]  That’s a story for another time, but having embraced my curly locks, embracing the natural color seems the next logical step.

~  FOUR  ~
Like Kendra, the blogger who started this thing for me, I have always been mistaken for being younger than I am.  I hated it.  I was assured I’d love it, once I got older.  I’m 42 and I still don’t like it.  Going natural might be the answer.  I have friends who are plus or minus a decade of me, who have let their hair grey naturally and I think they look beautiful as they are.

~  FIVE  ~
I find it funny to read that hipsters are dyeing their hair grey.  I’m sure that trend will pass and I’ll still be left with my grey or white locks.  But, that’s all right.  The whole anti-aging thing seems to be part and parcel of the “How Baby Boomers Get Life Wrong” theme.  Because they do!  Getting older is not a bad thing.  I wouldn’t trade where I am right now for anything.  In fact, I have a few wrinkles on my face and they don’t bother me in the least.  Those fine lines that will deepen over the years show that I am Real, like in the Velveteen Rabbit.  It shows that I’ve been living a life of laughter and tears, smiles and frowns, the entire range of human emotion.  It shows that I’ve been kissed by the wind and the sun.  If I am fine with my wrinkles, why am I bothered by my hair?  In all truth, I am less bothered by my hair as time goes on.  I just haven’t stopped coloring.  Yet.  I am surprised by the utter lack of concern I have that some people might think it looks horrible, to go natural.  I thought that would be a bigger factor in my decision about this.  I think that’s part of the lovely freedom I’ve gained, in hitting my forties:  I don’t care!

~  SIX  ~
Going natural does not mean I judge those who don’t.  As it happens, many people color their hair just for the fun of it.  Here’s a blogger with an entirely different take on her hair. I think her approach is fantastic. And even if most people I know are not going for a radical pop of color, I think that more people my age are fine with being our age than are those who went before us.  Which puzzles me a bit.  It was the Boomers who said that age didn’t matter, when it came to pursuing your dreams.  Yet, they seem a lot more unsettled about their age than my grandparents’ generation did.  Huh.  

~  SEVEN  ~
I have roots showing now -- I have hair that has held the last color job -- I have hair that has been washed free of the last color job – It’s a crazy mixture.  I’m not sure what to do.  I stand on the precipice, unable to be decisive.  I know that I can change it back, if I don’t like it.  But I hope that I would change it for the right reasons: more like those who color for fun, rather than those who are running from who they are.  (Like I did with the curls.  For decades!)  Of course, the frugal person in me cringes about not using the box of color that is in my bathroom cabinet.  Fear not, I will choose principles over frugality, any day.  I guess I leave this 7 Quick Takes unresolved.

Have a blessed weekend!  Thank you, Jennifer Fulwiler, for hosting 7 Quick Takes Friday!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Reading: Becoming Odyssa

“Becoming Odyssa,” by Jennifer Pharr Davis, was a book I picked up on a whim.  I discovered it perched on a special display at the library, Grand Outdoor Adventures being the theme of the display. 

I enjoy the out-of-doors, I enjoy camping.  One day, I hope to take a longer-than-just-a-weekend trip that involves hiking or biking. I like it when I happen upon books recounting such adventures, with a combination of braving the elements and self-discovery narrative.  But I am picky.  I don’t like the self-discovery to be cliché or shallow.

This book did not disappoint.  I found it hard to put down and finished it quickly.  It’s the story of one woman’s (mostly solo) journey along the entire Appalachian Trail.

Here is an excerpt from the book, something that leaped out at me on my first read through:

The trail didn’t change, but I did.

Suddenly, I loved hiking.  I loved the trail . . . I made a vow that I would only hike twenty to twenty-five miles a day, that I would swim in every lake I passed, and that at night I would find a place where I could watch the sunset.

I also tried to find a resting spot each afternoon where I could sit still for an hour and watch the world around me.  I’d stop and get to know a stream or watch the trees dance in the breeze.  I marveled at spiders building webs, squirrels gathering nuts, and birds calling to each other.  Sometimes it would rain during my breaks, but that was okay because I had my raincoat. . .

I learned that I didn’t need much to be entertained.  I didn’t need loud music, bright lights, or TV.  I just needed to be still.

Being still was a relatively new concept for me.  I couldn’t remember much stillness in my pre-trail life.  And the times I do remember were highly uncomfortable.  My whole life had been filled with activity and movement.

Until now, I hadn’t been okay just being, I had to be doing.  Everything was part of a schedule, a routine, a constantly flowing series of commitments.  I never stopped after I finished an activity, I just looked ahead and prepared for whatever came next.  I started to think about how many different things I used to do in a day.  I would schedule myself to the max, and the only free time I would leave was taken up with getting from one commitment to the next.

On the trail, all I had to do was walk.  It was up to me how far I wanted to walk and where I wanted to end up.  I could stop when I wanted, I could eat when I wanted, I could take naps at any point during the day.  The trail allowed me to feel a strong sense of freedom.  And it helped me to see the oppression of a busy schedule and the way we multitask in civilization.  I no longer saw what was civil about filling my life with commitments if I couldn’t stop to watch the sunset or listen to the birds sing.

This is why long journeys such as this appeal to me.  My soul begs for such retreat from the world.  I do know the value of silence.  I am ordinarily a person who craves order and needs routine in order to be productive, but I also know the value of down time.  I would be able to luxuriate in these things, if I were hiking through North American woods or biking through the British countryside.

Recently, a friend expressed surprise that homeschoolers need to take a spring break.  We absolutely do!  We have a routine at home; we have extra-curricular activities that require us to be in certain places at certain times; we have medical appointments.  It is good to take a retreat from time to time, no matter what your station in life.

It is important take inspiration from these kinds of stories, making the message my own even if the particulars are not doable in my life.  We may not be able to disappear into the wilderness, but we can turn off the TV, silence the music, and say no to social engagements.  Watch the sunset, marvel at the squirrels, free up the schedule.  Actually, I don’t have a hard time doing those things.  I have a hard time letting go when I’m out, meaning to be enjoying nature.  I tend to carry my sense of purposeful determination on walks through the woods, when I need to take a page from my young children and notice small bugs crossing the trail, flowers growing in the depths of the woods, the sounds of birds hidden in the trees.  I’m not so sure about swimming every lake I pass as Jennifer mentions, but it would be good to let the kids splash in the streams we find on our walks in the woods.  I’m working on that.

Monday, April 21, 2014

New Garden Experiment

A few weeks ago, I began a new project in the garden: onions!

I attempted onions two years ago, but I put them in the ground too late.  Let us see how it goes this time . . .

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

He is risen!


Those lovely daffodils are outside my church.  I snapped those photos on my way in, on Holy Thursday.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday

This Lent was a unique six weeks.  I've encountered more people facing struggles than I tend to hear about in a typical six week time.  I've heard everything on the spectrum from struggles to suffering.  Physical or emotional; physical and emotional.  There are many people walking around amongst us, facing either private or public passions of their own.

At the same time, I've been inspired by the way people continue in hope.  I'd be willing to bet that the people who have shared their stories with me don't feel very heroic, but that's how I see them.  One acquaintance shared how she feels she's painting on a smile that simply doesn't exist interiorly, yet what I see when I look at her is how heroic it is that she is still giving to her family and her community, in spite of her struggles.  A different friend injured herself, but she explained to me how she's choosing to see her pain as a gift, thereby teaching me a lesson about my own crosses in life.  As for others, all I can say is that I've experienced some low lows in life and I know how hard simple actions can be -- they are heroic for getting in a shower or making the effort to eat lunch.  I say that in all sincerity.

Isn't that what this is all about?  Death isn't really death. Things are not what they seem.  We know that God makes things new again.  The reason the people I am praying for just now have hope is because of something much deeper than a plucky, sun-will-come-out-tomorrow outlook.  It's the belief that Good Friday becomes Easter.

The prayer I pray for those who shared a part of themselves with me this Lent is from the writings of St. Teresa of Avila.  I pray it, too, for those I read about around the world who are going through very real sufferings.

May our Lord give you eternal happiness and rest because for some time now you have given up happiness and rest in this life, though you do not yet appreciate the value of suffering.  The day will come when you will understand what you have gained and that for nothing in the world should you ever want to lose it.

St. Teresa of Avila
The Collected Letters, Volume One

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Week Begins

It's Holy Week! 

My self-imposed Lenten projects were to slow down and to do small, ordinary things with love.  I have learned lessons about doing small things with great love; I've learned things about slowing down.

I'd had plans for how I was going to go about doing those things.  They came to nothing because people around here kept taking turns being ill.  As a result, I slowed down to meet others' needs, rather than to follow the grand checklist I'd made.

In that slowing-down time, there was time for reflection

Rather than go into detail about my personal revelations (I'll spare the handful of people who find their way to this blog!), I'll quote a timeless wisdom that is greater than anything I could write.  It's a wisdom that is carrying me with joy into Holy Week.  Despite my best-laid plans falling by the side, despite life throwing a few curve balls, I learned more about trusting God.  That is a joyful thing.

There is an appointed time for everything,
and a time for every affair under the heavens.

A time to give birth, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.

A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to tear down, and a time to build.

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.

A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.

A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to be silent, and a time to speak.

A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.

What profit have workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to mortals to be busied about. God has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless into their hearts so they cannot find out, from beginning to end, the work which God has done. I recognized that there is nothing better than to rejoice and to do well during life. Moreover, that all can eat and drink and enjoy the good of all their toil—this is a gift of God. I recognized that whatever God does will endure forever; there is no adding to it, or taking from it. Thus has God done that he may be revered. What now is has already been; what is to be, already is: God retrieves what has gone by. 

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-15
USCCB Translation

Friday, April 4, 2014

7QT Friday: Spring is Here Edition

Could it be that spring has arrived?  I'm choosing to celebrate this today, in photos.

~  ONE  ~
Baseball!  Is the "Keep Calm and . . ." thing played out?  Sorry if it is.  I have to post this.  Baseball season has returned.  Baseball is good.  The spring weather that accompanies it is good.

~  TWO  ~
Rain!  Yes, it is a part of spring.  Kind of hard to take, when it spoils picnic or running plans.  But it is helping everything to green up, so it's all right.

Puddling in the grass.

Isn't this lovely?

~  THREE  ~
Wildlife!  The robins have paired off.  The mourning doves are making the kids blush.  The worms are out.

~  FOUR~
Bulbs!  Still coming along.  A rainy day photo and a sunny day photo.

~  FIVE  ~
Herbs!  The perennials return.

~  SIX  ~
Humility! I've shown this bit of embarrassment in other posts.  Overall, I'm a good, safe driver.  I have a teensy problem with manoeuvrability. The rut at the foot of the driveway is getting worse.  Until I have the chance to turn this into something pretty (which will involve removing the grass), I must laugh at the mini pond that has formed in the rain.

~  SEVEN  ~
Reminder!  No reflection on springtime would be complete without this reminder: It is still Lent. Easter is not yet upon us.  Spring fever hits hard.  We are anxiously awaiting spring break.  I am on the lookout for inspiration to keep me motivated.  Liturgical Living at a Glance: April is full of ideas. I'm still working on slowing down and doing things with love -- but with the focus on how God is asking me to do this, not how I think I want to do this.  Here's a good page I bookmarked: Saying no (to yourself).

Thanks, Jennifer for hosting 7 Quick Take Fridays.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A baseball-themed few days here. . .

Casey at the Bat
Ernest Thayer

    The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day;
    The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,
    And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
    A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

    A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
    Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
    They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that -
    They'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.

    But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
    And the former was a pudding and the latter was a fake;
    So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
    For there seemed but little chance of Casey's getting to the bat.

    But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
    And Blake, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
    And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
    There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

    Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
    It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
    It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
    For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

    There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;
    There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile on Casey's face.
    And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
    No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the bat.

    Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
    Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
    Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
    Defiance gleamed in Casey's eye, a sneer curled Casey's lip.

    And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
    And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
    Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped-
    "That ain't my style," said Casey. "Strike one," the umpire said.

    From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
    Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
    "Kill him! Kill the umpire!" shouted someone on the stand;
    And it's likely they'd a-killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

    With a smile of Christian charity great Casey's visage shone;
    He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
    He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
    But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, "Strike two."

    "Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
    But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
    They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
    And they knew that Casey wouldn't let that ball go by again.

    The sneer is gone from Casey's lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
    He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
    And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
    And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow.

    Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
    The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
    And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
    But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.

As printed in Wikipedia.