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Knowledge, inspiration, and encouragement from a Christian perspective is my goal. I post a weekly commentary, which could be about world events or the events of my week. Other days I might share stories, recipes, homemaking tips, book reviews, political talk, biblical truth, or other blogs and websites I like. This blog is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

MERRY CHRISTMAS

No "Happy Holidays" for me. If anyone is offended by my saying Merry Christmas, that says more about him than it does about me. I'm not offended when I hear someone express his or her beliefs. People can celebrate whatever they want. I don't have to agree with their celebrations, but I should respect their right to celebrate and believe whatever they want.

Unfortunately, we are allowing easily offended people to dictate the way we celebrate Christmas. Some businesses are even canceling their Christmas parties because they don't want to offend co-workers who aren't Christians and don't believe in Jesus. People who are so easily offended need to take a good look at their motives. I would never deny other people the joy of celebrating their beliefs just because I don't have those same beliefs. As long as they can celebrate peacefully, why should it bother me? Why should I be offended?

I think it's all just an attempt to stop Christmas and wipe God and Jesus out of our lives. That's their motive, and it just proves to me all the more that Christmas is powerful. If the power of Christmas were not real, we wouldn't have so many people trying to stop it. What we need now are people who have the courage to say, "I will celebrate Christ anytime, anywhere and if you're offended, then walk away and go celebrate your own thing."

Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Merry Merry Merry Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

OURS FOR THE ASKING

Are you feeling the Christmas spirit yet? I put up our tree last weekend, but that's the easy part because it's in the basement, close to where the decorations are stored. I have yet to decorate upstairs. That requires an entire day of dragging boxes up the steps and then back down. I'm not quite eager to do that yet.

But I have enlivened my Christmas spirit in other ways. We made our annual trip to the Susquehanna Valley Mall. My husband insists on one special shopping trip as a family to be together and share the fun of shopping for gifts. He says it helps him get in the spirit and I get to pick the gifts I want instead of being surprised by things I must pretend to like.

We also made a trip to Wellsboro for that lovely town's annual "Dickens of a Christmas". We saw ladies dressed in Victorian-style dresses and hats, children in news boy caps, knickers and vests, and horse-drawn wagons clopping up and down the streets. The main part of town was blocked off to traffic and the sidewalks on each side of the street were packed with open-house shops, food vendors and crafters. Every now and then we'd come across a group of carolers who joyfully sang and wished passers by a Merry Christmas.

I was wishing I had dressed warmer. My face and ears were freezing, but when we needed to get warm, we scurried into a church for some hot chocolate and cookies. Some of the churches held Christmas programs throughout the day and the theatre ran three episodes of "A Christmas Carol," which we missed but it was nice to know it was there.

My favorite part of the whole day was when I stepped into the Historical Society building to get warm. We were on our way to a church at the end of town and I decided to seek warmth. Inside a well-dressed man gave us some history on the town of Wellsboro. My husband didn't get much further than chatting with him. I wandered off to explore the displays of old photos and interesting items from days gone by- A dishwasher from 1930, an old wringer washing machine. I even saw a photo of children stepping off horse-drawn school buses. Didn't know there was such a thing.

An elderly woman in a red hat shared some memories with us. She talked about tubes of oleo that had to be squeezed by hand to bring on the yellow coloring and how she got a job as a teenager driving a meat delivery truck. Her dad didn't like the idea until she came home with free meat and cigarettes for him. "Then he thought it was great," she said. That was during the great depression when food was rationed and tobacco was a luxury.

We ended our day with a warm dinner at a restaurant on the way home and a quick shopping spree at a busy gift shop. My mother-in-law bought me a bright red poinsettia and I satisfied my sweet craving at the candy shop. I was so glad I thought of going to Wellsboro and made the effort to plan a special day with my family and in-laws.

There are all kinds of things we do to "get into" the Christmas spirit- decorating, shopping, attending parties, dinners and festive events. But in reality, the spirit of Christmas is everywhere on every day we look for it. Because Christmas isn't just a time of year, a decorated tree or a pile of gifts under it. Christmas is a celebration of Jesus. It's the love of family and friends, and the joy that all those things bring us. We can have that all year round if we seek that love and nurture it. The spirit of Christmas is ours for the asking every day and forever.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

AMAZING AND ALWAYS THERE
Book Commentary

All morning I wondered what to write about. It's been a while since I've written and I'm feeling a bit rusty. But on Thanksgiving day there's really only one topic that's fitting. But the subject of being thankful came to me in a most unusual way, so I'm passing it on to you in the same way I received it myself...through a book.

The amazing thing is that I was led to this book through another book. "Twelve Days Out With God" is an inspiring hands-on workbook that challenges readers to find God in our everyday lives.
The book is based on the passionate belief that God can be found everywhere we go and he is always willing to share himself with us. At a restaurant, a museum, an amusement park and several other places, readers explore their surroundings and record their experiences as God reveals himself in amazing ways.

The Library is where I chose to look for God in my next assignment, so I grabbed my workbook and headed to the new library in Lykens, which I hadn't seen yet. The workbook instructed me to start in the biographies section and just browse the titles until something caught my eye. Within minutes a very familiar book cover stopped my roving eyes.

"God Said Yes" was the title and what amazed me was the fact that I had held that very same book in my hands just days earlier. That book had caught my eye while looking through a selection of books at a gift shop. I had picked it up and read the inside cover and the back. I had paged through it and read some passages. I was even tempted to buy it. But the sad subject matter made me change my mind and I put the book back on its rotating shelf.

Now, here was that very same book staring back at me once again. Was this God's choice of books for me? It had to be. That's how he works. When something keeps falling into my lap, I've learned to pay attention to it. That book was begging to be read by me and I couldn't wait to discover why.

"God Said Yes" is the biography of Heather Hornback-Bland. At four years of age, she fell out of a moving car and was run over by her own mother. The tire crushed her belly and destroyed her internal organs. Since then she has had 187 operations to repair the damage done on that fateful day, a day her mother wishes she could do over. In a rush, she forgot to check the doors, something she had always done. And seatbelts weren't the rage they are today.

After reading thirteen chapters, I know why God wanted me to read this book. It's not just a book that inspires being thankful, it's a book about faith. Heather is in her thirties now and despite all that she's been through, she gives God credit for being there with her, carrying her through when she couldn't take anymore.

How can so many bad things happen to one person? This is a question her mother asks God. And even Heather reaches a point where she hates God. But even when she turned her back and walked away from him, he never left her. "Through all the grief, pain, and despair, I wasn't walking at all," she said. "He was carrying me."

If a woman who's been through so much can still see the goodness of God, what problems are so great in our lives that we can't overcome? As I'm reading this book I am encouraged by Heather's strength. Her life is a testament to the power of faith. One bad thing after another befalls this woman and she keeps going. She continues to find the joy of God working in her life.

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for a God that can be found anywhere I look and expect him to be. He is actively involved and interested in every part of my life. He even shows me what books will inspire me the most when I visit the library. Isn't that amazing! Isn't God amazing?

Monday, September 1, 2008

WORDLY WOMAN OR GODLY WOMAN?

I can always tell when someone is more wrapped up in the world than in God. Her conversation gives it away every time. I recently attended a gathering of people I knew since high school. The women sat in one room while the men sat in another.

As I listened to the most talkative woman in the bunch, I noticed that everything she said revolved around three things: money and what it could buy, education, and accomplishments. She couldn't understand why my daughter wasn't involved in more activities. She even suggested that I become a "team mom" and get involved with her. Not only did she think my daughter's life was empty, she also had suggestions for improving mine.

For this busy woman, life is about accomplishing things that bring her and her family money and recognition. Nothing is more important. She's wrapped up in the world and all its values, and she couldn't understand how I could be satisfied without those things, or how I could deny my daughter a life of non-stop activity and accomplishments.

We live in a culture that says our value comes from what we do and how busy we are. That's a lie. Our value comes from who we are. And who we are is God's beloved children. God is not impressed by how busy we are or how much money we make.

The Apostle Paul had every reason to boast about his education, heritage, and training, yet he considered that all rubbish compared to knowing Christ intimately. But how do you tell someone that the world's values mean nothing to you? How do you make someone understand that you've chosen to work for God, not for money or recognition?

I wish that I had been better prepared for that conversation. But I'm not sure that anything I said would have been met by understanding ears. Until you invite God into your life, you can't see the amazing ways that He works. People who are wrapped up in the world think only of working for recognition and money. They don't realize that God's resources are limitless and living for Him brings blessings far beyond what money can buy.

Worldly recognition is nothing compared to being in God's favor. And when we value the fleeting things of this world, we invest in a life that ends in death. My life is in Christ. My investment will pay off for eternity.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

THE REAL THING

There are friends who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. The book of Proverbs is my favorite book in the bible because it is so easy to understand and so full of plain simple truth that can be easily applied to our lives. The opening sentence above is one of those truths.

When I was younger, I had many friends who pretended to be my friends. Just having someone to hang out with was enough for me. Or maybe I just wasn't good at knowing how to spot a true friend. Today, I can tell within minutes of meeting someone whether she's someone I'd want to be friends with.

It seems the older we get the more we want to simplify our lives. And spending time in false friendships is a complicated waste of time. It's not about thinking yourself better than others, it's about wanting to spend time with people who will enrich your life, not bring stress. Having friends that don't have your best interests at heart can't enrich your life. They are not trustworthy. They're not willing to sacrifice anything for you. And they're not dependable.

When I was less selective about my friends, they brought me more stress than joy. Now I have friends who stick closer than a brother and a more peaceful, content life. The importance of the friends we share our lives with can't be denied. Friends who pretend to be friends leave us feeling empty and dissatisfied. But those cherished friends who stick closer than a brother are so uplifting and so good for the soul. Once we find them, we hang on to them and appreciate everything they bring to our lives.

I thank God for my friends and for the discernment He's given me to know a true friend. What a gift it is to have people who will look out for you with genuine caring and nothing phony or pretend.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A LESSON LEARNED

A LESSON LEARNED

You've heard the saying, "You are what you eat." Even more true is the fact that you are what you think and say. We can make ourselves miserable just by what we think about and talk about. I wasn't always aware of how thoughts and words affect my life. This was something I learned the hard way. About 18 years ago, I was a negative thinker and a complainer. And sure enough I was deeply unhappy. Complaining and focusing on the negative will always make you unhappy because you can't escape what you take everywhere. Our words and our thoughts are always with us.

I think the relationships that are most affected by thoughts and words are parent-child relationships and husband-wife relationships. Even families that sit in church every Sunday fail to discipline their thoughts and speech so that what they think about and say is in line with God's word. The bible warns us of the importance of speaking positive words and thinking good thoughts about people and life. But the temptation to dwell on the negative is always there waiting to bring us down.

Eighteen years ago I was the perfect example of a chronic complainer and a negative thinker. No one could do anything that pleased me. If I was invited somewhere, I would find a reason not to go and then when people went without me I would complain for being left out. I criticized people I was supposed to love, focused on everything I disliked about everyone, and felt there was something constantly wrong with my life. What was wrong was me and my big mouth and me and my dark thoughts.

Sometimes we do have reasons to complain. Getting through life without speaking a negative word or thinking a negative thought is impossible. But for some it's a way of life. And like a snowball grows as it rolls downhill, our unhappiness grows as we focus on the people and things in life that bother us.

Other than putting God first in our lives, I believe there is no greater thing we can do for our own happiness than to discipline our thoughts and words. If you don't believe me, try it. For one week refuse to think negative thoughts about any person or situation in your life. And dwell on the good, praiseworthy traits of others. Trade your complaints for compliments. Notice when someone does a good thing and mention it. Notice when something goes well in your life and praise God for it. After one week of focusing on the admirable qualities of others and the good things in your life, ask yourself how you feel.

I wish someone had told me a long time ago how I could change my life by changing my thoughts and my words. I wish someone would have told me how miserable I sounded with the words I spoke. My life was like a ball of dirt rolling down a hill and getting bigger each day. After living like that, I can't help but warn people about the power of words and thoughts. I would have been grateful if someone had warned me.

Monday, June 30, 2008

A DISCIPLINED MIND

When my friends and I get together we often talk about our minds and how forgetful we've become or how difficult it is to concentrate. We blame it on our age and the fact that menopause is right around the corner. But I know there's more to it than that. Speaking for myself, the problem is an undisciplined mind. It's something I'm working to improve.

I've spent years allowing my mind to wander. It's why I sometimes struggle to read. It's why I can't always concentrate when I'm listening to a speaker. I believe a lot of women struggle with this problem because a disciplined mind isn't something we're born with. It has to be built through teaching ourselves to focus on what we're doing when we're doing it.

A few weeks ago I was deep in thought while driving. As I approached a shaded area of the road I had to brake hard when suddenly a bulldozer appeared directly in front of me. When I was allowed to pass around it, I rolled down my window and told the work man that they should have some kind of warning posted because I couldn't see the bulldozer in the shade. He gave me a smirky grin and said, "Well there's a sign back there, Did someone steal it?"

I'm still not sure if I really missed that sign or if perhaps the wind had knocked it over but either way it's not the only example I could give. An undisciplined mind can put you in all kinds of embarrassing situations. And the inability to concentrate causes you to miss what people say. That's what bothers me most. I hate missing someone's thoughts. I hate not being in the moment because my mind is somewhere else.

The bible is filled with all kinds of wisdom and sure enough there's something in it about a disciplined mind: "Give your mind to what you are doing." Those important words are found in Ecclesiastes 5:1 I cannot allow my mind to go wherever it wants whenever it wants. I need to discipline my mind so that I pay attention, hear, and understand what's going on around me. And I shouldn't dwell on thoughts that aren't good for me.

When I catch myself thinking about the past or when my mind wanders during a conversation I have to redirect it. Sometimes it means apologizing to the person I'm speaking to and asking her to repeat what she said, but at least I'm dealing with the problem. With consistent practice I can improve my thought life. Of course I ask God to help me because He doesn't want me to have an undisciplined mind that thinks about things I shouldn't be thinking. He doesn't want me to miss pieces of conversations because that's missing life.

People underestimate the importance of controlling our thought lives. We spend a lot of time each day allowing our minds to absorb or ignore people, places, and things. And the things we ignore are the things we miss and sometimes can never get back. Our minds are what control our life experiences. A messy, undisciplined mind leads a messy, undisciplined life; that's why we need to give our minds to what we hear and what we do while it's happening. To live in the moment means having our minds with us not wandering.




Sunday, June 22, 2008

LITTLE THINGS THAT SHOW WE CARE




I've had it on my mind this week to write about the little things people do to express care and concern for one another. And as often happens when I have an idea, I picked up a book today that is about that exact thing--creating an attitude of concern for others. The book is titled, "Things Happen When Women Care." I haven't read it yet, but it looks like a book I'll enjoy.

We all want to feel special, loved, and cared for. I don't know anyone that doesn't enjoy that feeling, including me. So to write about it, I only need to ask myself what makes me feel that someone cares. I'm guessing the answers are probably the same for everyone, but the order of importance might vary.

For instance, some people might easily overlook a promise that's not kept, but for me, following through with what you say you're going to do is just common courtesy. Of course, forgetfulness is forgivable, but when someone makes a habit of telling me they're going to do something and then not doing it, I feel they don't care enough to put action behind their words.

Another thing that makes me feel cared for is having someone reach out and ask how I'm doing. I don't mean the casual, "How are you?" that you get from someone as they walk by, I mean a phone call or a letter, something more personal. E-mails are better than no contact, but it's nice to hear a human voice and there's something really special about cards and letters that e-mail can't match. I'm trying to get better at reaching out to others. I don't call my family enough and I'm not good at remembering birthdays. I should call my friends more often just to chat. We don't realize how powerful a caring voice is, how much it can brighten a person's day.

One thing I am pretty good at is sending Thank You cards. Words of appreciation is something we all like to hear. I could probably send several Thank You cards a week if I were really good at keeping track of deserving recipients. Sometimes just saying it is enough. We never get tired of hearing words of praise, compliments or thanksgiving. It makes us feel appreciated.

Something else that makes me feel appreciated is a warm welcome. I've often walked into a place of business and felt invisible. Especially if it's a small business, people should be greeted when they enter. I remember a certain business that I frequented almost every day and not once was I ever greeted with a smile or a "Hello." This was a business that catered to children so I was there because of my son. But I couldn't help but form an opinion of unfriendliness in that atmosphere. Some people don't realize how much a warm greeting means to most people. If given a choice between two similar businesses and one has a friendlier atmosphere, guess which one I'm drawn to? The same one you'll be drawn to.

That's why people with a gift of hospitality are always surrounded by others and invited to so many events. People are drawn to them because they are so good at making people feel special and welcome. Those people have learned the importance of small acts of kindness and concern for others.

A friend of mine recently observed a man walking in front of his girlfriend. He made no effort to keep pace with her but walked ahead of her as if he wasn't even with her. She predicted the relationship wouldn't last. Women love those little things that men do to make them feel cared for-- you know the open doors, the pulling out chairs when they sit, and just being attentive to their needs. I still get a tingle when my husband opens a car door for me. Smart men know this about women and they make the effort.

Little things make a difference. Those who make that extra effort to make people feel special are often rewarded for it. They might have a more profitable business, a more exciting social life, more friends, or a girlfriend who's more likely to stick around.

So if we have so much to gain, why don't we do those little things more often? Every day brings opportunities to make someone feel special and cared for. Let someone go ahead of you in the grocery line. Hold a door open for someone. We call them "little things" because they don't require a whole lot of effort, but to the person on the receiving end of our thoughtfulness, those little things are big things.




Sunday, June 15, 2008

SOMETHING FOR YOUR SPIRIT

What a beautiful day! I hope families took advantage of this perfect summer weather and enjoyed Father's Day together. My husband's side of the family planned a picnic at R.B. Winter State Park also known as Halfway Dam. I said that I had never been there, but as I walked around the park I had flashbacks of being there when I was a child. My family did a lot of camping and some of my fondest memories are of traveling with my siblings and parents to different campsites across Pennsylvania and other states.

At first we thought we were going to Knobel's Grove for the day, but along the way we discovered there had been a misunderstanding between my husband and his mom. He heard her say, "we're leaving early to get a picnic table by the pool at Knobel's Grove." But she claims she said, "a picnic table by the lake at Halfway Dam." They laughed and teased each other along the way about who caused the misunderstanding: his mom for saying the wrong thing or my husband for hearing the wrong thing. I sided with my mother in law. Listening isn't one of my husband's strong points.

My daughter seemed disappointed at first. "If there are no rides, then what's there?" she wanted to know. Within an hour of being there we decided it was better than any amusement park. I'd forgotten how much I love state parks, especially one like this with a beach lake. Sitting in the warm sand was like being at the shore. I looked out across the lake and marveled at the puffs of cloud floating across clear sky. The surrounding forest of trees were so deep green against the blue above. A cool breeze blew in from the lake which made sitting in the sun the perfect place to be. I watched the children play in the sand close to the water and remembered how much I once loved digging in wet sand.

My mom has old movies of my sister and I playing on a beach along a lake in Canada. We had rented a cabin there. I think it was near Quebec. I must have been about eight years old, and I recall my mom catching me on film walking up to my sister with a fist full of sand and throwing it up into her face as she was bent over. This didn't faze her. She just kept digging with her shovel. I guess she was used to such taunting from her little sister.

There's something about camping and sitting under tall pine trees or near a lake that is so relaxing. Today I was reminded why my parents loved that lifestyle so much. In the late sixties and early seventies it seemed that we lived in our camper more than we lived at home. The only thing missing today was the campfire toward evening, roasting marshmallows and making mountain pies. I can still see that bright kerosene lantern sitting on the picnic table and smell the scent of bug spray and burning logs. Some of my greatest childhood memories were formed while camping. It makes me feel like my daughter is being deprived of that.

She never drove for miles in the back of a van with three siblings and an eight-track of John Denver playing over and over. Okay well maybe the John Denver music isn't her favorite. Taylor Swift would be more like it. She hasn't experienced the fun of finding ways to entertain herself for hundreds of miles with games like license plate bingo. She hasn't had the joy of making friends with the kids camping next door, hanging out with them at the pool, walking around the campground, riding bikes, collecting bugs and making forts and bridges until that dreaded day when it was time to go home. I wish I had kept a journal of all my camping experiences. What a treasure that would be.

Being in the woods does something for your spirit even as an adult. My dad must have known that when he bought that little "Scottie" camper we hauled around from Canada to Florida and places in between. After visiting that state park today, I feel like my spirits have been lifted, which is something I must have needed. Last week it was so hot I didn't bother writing my weekly journal. Or maybe I was just uninspired. Maybe I needed a change of scenery.

I'm grateful for those moments in life when I'm pulled away from my daily routine and reminded that there's still much beauty in God's world. He provides places of refuge for us, and when we don't have the sense to go there ourselves, he sends invitations through other people. Sometimes it's a wedding invitation. Sometimes it's an unexpected request to attend an event. And sometimes it's a gathering of family at a beach lake park on a perfect summer day. Don't turn down those invitations. Because you'll hear about it later and wish you would have gone.




Sunday, June 1, 2008

THE PRINCIPLE OF SACRIFICE



As I sat down to read today, two profound truths practically jumped off the pages of a book I'm reading, Angels At Your Service. The first: "The blessings of God will forever escape you if you murmur and complain." The second: "Your purpose in life isn't to meet your own needs. Your purpose is to be a tool in the hand of God to meet somebody else's need."

These truths hit home with me because I've been doing a lot of grouching about the hassles of life. I recently sent an e-mail to my sister complaining about being stuck inside all week and doing nothing but serving people and cleaning messes. My daughter has a bad case of poison and I've been drawing baths, applying ointments, and bringing her whatever she needs to be comfortable, mostly mac and cheese and mashed potatoes.

"I want someone to serve me." I said in the e-mail. Well it only took a day for God to set me straight. My resources of time, ability, and money are not to be squandered on my own agenda the book claims. They are to be used as a resource to meet someone else's need. When I sacrifice myself for the needs of others, only then will God move someone to meet my needs.

In other words, I must do two things before I can expect to receive any blessings: I must stop murmuring and complaining, and I must develop a servant's attitude and find joy in serving others. Even a prayer that is rooted in selfishness will never be answered. We must always be conscious of other people's needs.

The best example of this truth is the book of Job, who complains about his miserable circumstances for an entire 40 chapters. Then when Job prays for his friends, he receives an answer to his own prayers. First he stopped complaining and then he focused on the needs of others, and in that instant God delivered him and gave him twice the prosperity he had before.

What would your workplace be like if everyone took on a servant's attitude? What would your family be like if every member had a heart to meet not their own needs but the needs of other family members? Even leaders, managers, and supervisors are to be servants to their workers. Although some of them missed that memo, it seems. But the greatest leaders are those who are willing to sacrifice.

No project, business, or family can succeed without sacrifice. To accomplish anything, someone must be willing to give. As a mother, if all I think about is what I can get for myself, how will my family flourish? Everything that's accomplished comes from the sacrifice of a willing servant.

Some days it seems that all we do as women is serve, give, and sacrifice, but there are rewards to this that we don't always realize: we receive answers to our own prayers when we're willing to serve. God sees that we serve with a joyful heart and no complaints and he then moves others to fulfill our own wants and needs.

The entire scope of life runs on the principle of sacrifice. And only those who are willing to give without complaining receive the blessings God wants to give them. Until that truth sinks in and becomes a permanent part of my thinking, I'll continue to wander around in the wilderness, frustrated and deprived of life's joy and peace.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

HUMBLE HAPPINESS



I Love Joyce Meyer. She's one of my favorite speaker/authors because she's not afraid to admit the mistakes she has made in the past. And many of her mistakes are things that all women can relate to. In her book, Woman to Woman she says: "To live in harmony, we must forgive quickly and frequently. We must not be easily offended. We should be generous in mercy and patience. We cannot be self-seeking, and that is where humility comes in."

I'm not easily offended, but I am easily hurt. Thankfully, I've learned to forgive quickly and frequently. I don't want to live in a constant state of sadness over hurtful offenses. It's no way to live and it makes life difficult for the people around me who feel they have to watch everything they say and do for fear of offending me. Touchy people are often avoided. It's just easier to stay away than to deal with the drama.

Some things are deserving of being offended. We can't avoid feeling offended when people are abusing us. But sometimes, like Joyce Meyer often points out, the problem lies within ourselves.
We lack humility and we are not generous in mercy and patience. We don't forgive quickly.

I guess it all comes down to being humble. Humble people are a joy to be around. It's the self-seekers that are difficult to live with in harmony. Joyce admits that she was once a self-seeker. She also admits that her life was miserable back then. But God taught her to be humble and now look where she is. There's a lesson for all of us.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

LOSING MY SENSES

Longevity runs in my family, but I'm wondering if that's a good thing. Already I'm losing my memory, my eyesight and my hearing. I can no longer read the digital clock on the microwave while sitting in my favorite reading chair about six yards away. And after a trip to the grocery store today, I was reminded how my memory and hearing are failing me.

First I ran into my niece's new husband, Dustin, near the Deli counter. They were just married yesterday. We chatted for a while and as I walked away he said something I didn't quite hear and couldn't understand. As I tried to make sense of his words, I realized he said he was heading home to open wedding gifts. But by the time I figured out what he said he had already yelled, "See ya later" and the conversation was over.

Then a woman stopped me in the cookie aisle, looking at me as if she knew me. Her face was familiar, but I couldn't remember where I had met her, what her name was or anything about her. This is still bothering me! She talked about my son, Kody and how much he grew. Apparently she had seen him somewhere recently. I just shook my head and pretended I knew who she was, hoping she would give me some kind of hint as we chatted.

"I hate when that happens," I said to my husband that evening. "Her face was so familiar but I can't recall who she is." I suggested that next time I should just be honest and say, "This is embarrassing, but I can't remember how I know you." My husband rolled his eyes and said, "I think I'd rather just be frustrated about it."

I suppose saying that would make a person feel unimportant and forgettable, but maybe she would have appreciated my honesty more than my pretending that I knew her. I think I would be okay with someone telling me that I'm forgettable if they said it in a kind way.

It's funny that I experienced this in a grocery store because the one sense that I wish I could lose, my sense of taste, is still as sharp as ever.

This all reminds me of a joke I heard recently about an eighty-year-old woman who got pregnant and had a baby. Her friends just couldn't believe this and they went to visit her soon after she came home from the hospital. The woman wasn't eager to show them the child so they kept saying, "We came to see the baby," hoping she would take the hint. Finally, one of the friends couldn't stand it anymore and she insisted, "Please, we came to see the baby!" The elderly new mother took a deep breath, set down her tea cup and said, "Well if you can stay until he starts to cry because I can't remember where I put him."

One thing I hope I never lose is my sense of humor. I'll take blind deaf and dumb as long as I can laugh.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A WORTHY INVESTMENT




God loves a cheerful giver. What kind of giving did you think of when you read that? Most people would probably think of money, but there are many ways to give. Offering a compliment is a form of giving. And in today's fast paced world, who really takes the time to express appreciation? We say nice things about people at their funerals. What did we say to them while they were here?

Appreciation is a biblical command, not just something we should do. But doesn't criticism come so much easier than praise? We notice the things that bother us more than we notice the praiseworthy traits of a person. Appreciation is hard to express when we can't find anything to appreciate. But with a disciplined mind we can shift our focus to the positive and keep it there.

The truth is we all have annoying habits and things about ourselves that others might find irritating. To receive mercy for our own faults we have to forgive others for theirs. It's the law of sowing and reaping. If we sow unforgivness and criticism, we get the same in return. And then we wonder why we're so unhappy.

Yes God loves a cheerful giver because cheerful giving isn't easy to do consistently. But for those who make the effort whether it's giving appreciation, time, or using our talents and gifts to serve others, God also blesses a cheerful giver. Like a mirror returns its reflection, our giving reflects back on us and brings blessings that enrich our lives. When we give we invest in our own happiness.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

IN LOVE WITH ITALY

Is it possible to fall in love with a place you've never been? For me the answer is Yes! I'm in love with Italy.

America is a great place to live, but Italy,...oh Italy, what a place to dream about. People say the light in Italy has such a luminous quality. "Perhaps the sunflower crops radiate gold from the surrounding fields," suggests Frances Mayes in her book, Under the Tuscan Sun.

Mayes is partly responsible for my fascination with Italy, especially Tuscany. When I saw the movie version of Under The Tuscan Sun, I was mesmerized by the scenery. I wanted to drive up one of those zig-zag roads lined with tall cypress trees and tour a 15th-century stone farmhouse. I wanted to look out over that lush green land of never-ending hills and breathe in the beauty all around me...sloping fields of red poppies, silvery-grey olive trees, sun-drenched vineyards and, of course, the sunflowers, bright yellow bursts of warmth and light. Italy is endlessly alluring.

When you fall in love with a foreign country, you find ways to bring it home. My wall calendar takes me on a photographic journey of Tuscany. I buy travel books about Italy and savor the photos, fantasize about where I would stay, where I would eat, and what sights I'd take in. And for the price of a movie rental, I can escape to Florence or savor the Tuscan scenery while watching one of many screenplays filmed in Italy.

A culture with countless charms, love of family is one of Italy's greatest. I want to sit at an Italian family's long table and hear everyone speak at once, laugh heartily, hug and kiss faces. Their love of food is another allure. Italians get excited about food. Just watch The Food Network's Giada DeLaurentiis as she tastes her finished creations. A slow surrender of total bliss comes over her face.

For Italians, food seems to nourish soul and spirit, not just the body. In Italy, the ingredients seem fresher, more rustic and real. They have more reason to get excited about eating. I don't picture Italian women buying food at a grocery store. I picture them gathering eggs warm under the hen, buying fruit and vegetables at an open market, and getting fresh meat at a butcher shop. When I go to our local market and auction on Fridays, I feel more Italian, but I draw the line at raising chickens.

Speaking of drawing lines, art is another reason I love Italy. Having an unfinished work of art on my easel makes me feel more Italian. Some of the greatest artists and writers of the last 1,000 years have hailed from Italy, specifically Tuscany. Perhaps Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were inspired by the luminous light. As both an artist and a writer, I feel drawn to a place where so many movers of pen and brush found inspiration. Mark Twain described Tuscany as "the fairest picture on our planet, the most enchanting to look upon, the most satisfying to the eye and the spirit."

A satisfied spirit? Is that the allure of Italy? Do I long to go there because it seems a place that would tantalize all my senses and invigorate my soul? Although my soul is quite satisfied, a change of scenery often does wonders for the spirit. I want to gaze upon colorful frescoes inside an isolated hillside abbey surrounded by oak, pine, cypress and olive trees. I want to sink my sweet tooth into a cool strawberry gelato and dip crusty bread into light sweet olive oil so fresh it hasn't been bottled yet. I want to take an evening stroll through a Tuscan hill town and touch the textured medieval walls as I walk through its maze of lanes. I want to hear Italian music drifting out of an open shuttered window and smell the morning cappuccino being sipped in an outdoor cafe.

Yes, Italy is endlessly alluring. I don't know if I'll ever get there, but I found ways to bring it home. Sitting by my fountain sipping summer berry frullati among potted red poppies takes me to an Italian garden. Discovering a rustic gold-framed print of Venice at a yard sale and hanging it in my dining room satisfies my longing. But my favorite way to bring Italy home is paging through an Italian cookbook, planning the perfect meal and treating friends to a Tuscan feast of Bruschette, Basil Lemon Chicken, Apple Bread Pudding and, of course, a sweet red wine.

There's nothing sweeter in any culture than sharing the things you love with friends and family. So even if I never visit the most enchanting place on our planet, I still have the greatest of Italian charms right here at home--love of family and friends. Reality isn't so bad here in my American homeland. But when I want to dream, I dream Italian.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

THE STRENGTH OF WEAKNESS

I love it when people admit their flaws. They instantly become real and approachable. I think of Rachael Ray as an example. She admits being a goof in the kitchen. She spills food, struggles with appliances and admits she doesn't chop an onion properly. And yet, people love her because she's real, not perfect. If she pretended to be perfect, I doubt that she would have the popularity she has or the success she has. Thus, her imperfection is a strength.

Whenever I meet a woman who tries to be perfect I feel like there's a wall walking around in front of her. She's not someone I could ever get to know. She's unapproachable. Too perfect to be touched. With all the time she invests in appearing perfect, what time could she possibly have for friendship?

On the other hand, a woman who admits her flaws is an instant friend. She's someone I can relate to, someone I can laugh with. She's someone like me--imperfect.

Admitting her flaws is one of the most endearing qualities I think a woman can have. Only a confident woman can admit she's not perfect; while those who try to be perfect are often plagued by deep insecurities. Perfection is a cover up.

As women, we don't think about our imperfections as being strengths, but they really are. I discovered this recently after returning from an event where I was supposed to lead a group of women. My mind was foggy. I couldn't focus and I felt inadequate. While driving home I decided I didn't have what it takes to lead. I was planning to step down.

Then I read something that changed my mind. In 2 Corinthians the apostle Paul prayed for God to remove a painful physical ailment so that he could be more effective in his service. But God didn't grant Paul's request. Instead He said, "...I'm teaching you that my power will be available for your needs. When you are weak, My power will be strongest in you." This kept Paul dependent on God. In his trial he would be strong--not in his own power, but in God's power.

This works the same with friendship. When we surround ourselves with caring friends, we create a support system for ourselves. These friendships make us stronger. But when we try so hard to be perfect and can't admit our flaws, failures, and mistakes, we appear not to need friends. We don't need a listening ear or a shoulder to comfort us. The wall is up. We can't risk looking anything but perfect. It's a lonely place to be.

God created us to need not only Him but also each other. We're supposed to depend on others for comfort and encouragement. But if we pretend we don't need those things, who will want to offer it?

Weakness is a strength when it makes us more dependent on God and more likeable to others. Most people can't relate to perfection. But when we admit our problems, we become real and people want to know us. The wall falls down and the welcome sign goes up. When we are weak is when we are strongest.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

SILENCE AND SOLITUDE

Have you ever felt like running away? Or maybe locking yourself in a room for several hours with a good set of earplugs? Life becomes too much and you just want a moment to breathe. Time to clear your head. Peace.

Even Jesus walked away from the crowds at times to spend time alone with God. He went into the desert, into the garden, wherever he thought he might find solitude. And that is how he replenished his soul.

Why is it so hard for us to admit when we feel like hiding from the world? We don't want to appear weak or irresponsible. Gotta keep up the pace. Can't slow down. To demand time for replenishment makes us feel guilty as if we shouldn't need such a thing.

But human beings are designed to need such a thing. We need rest. We need time away from the demands, the constant pulling on our brains and bodies. If we don't get a break from that, our minds become frazzled. We become grouchy, impatient, or depressed. And our bodies become more prone to illness and exhaustion.

The busiest time in my life was when I was a single mother working two jobs and attending college. Anyone who's been a single parent can understand how difficult such a combination would be. A single parent with one job would understand. After two years of maintaining such a hectic pace, the smallest things became overwhelming. The mountain I was climbing became so steep I couldn't take another step. Then everything went black.

I woke up horizontal on the cold kitchen floor. My doctor told me I needed to lighten the load. I couldn't quit work and I couldn't quit being a mom, so I dropped a class. I learned to stop pushing myself so hard. I learned to say, "No" to people who expected too much and activities that stole my free time. I turned off the radio when driving and instead I talked to God and asked him to replenish my soul.

We live in a busy, noisy, crowded world. And sometimes we get so caught up in it that we forget to get away somewhere quiet and restore our bodies and minds. This is something everyone needs. Whether it's a physical getting away or a mental retreat to a quiet place, we need that time alone with God. He designed us to need solitude and be in relationship with him. But some people don't recognize the inner ache of an empty soul and they try to comfort themselves with other things. But the ache keeps coming back.

The next time you feel like running away or hiding somewhere, remember that what you're feeling is normal and healthy. You're not weak or irresponsible, and you have no reason to feel guilty. You're simply responding to your mind and body as they both cry out for silence, solitude, and conversation with God.

What have you done for your soul lately?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

Have you ever heard the phrase, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush"? I never understood what that meant until today. It is a bible verse from Ecclesiastes. While reading my bible this morning I noticed I had put a question mark behind that verse. This question mark bothered me, so I read the verse over and over, but I still didn't get it. I asked my husband what he thought it meant and he said it's about being thankful for what's already in your hand instead of wishing for more.

I've been doing a lot of wishing for more lately. Maybe God was trying to tell me something. But don't all of us wish for more? What's so terrible about wanting things and dreaming of a better life? As I thought about it I realized that it gets us into trouble because it takes our focus off of what we already have. Instead of being thankful, we feel restless and frustrated by what we don't have. God wants us to have peace and there's no peace in longing for things and wishing for more.

The more we have, the more frustration we have. To maintain a life of luxury, we must work longer hours, spend less time with our children, and omit the things in life that are more meaningful than material things, things like relationships and service to others. We're forced to push these things out to have time for keeping and maintaining our stuff. So we end up too tired to even enjoy the things we're working for.

God must watch the way we run around down here, working for things instead of people. He must shake his head and wonder why we value material things so much, when one strong wind could come and take it all away. And left behind is all the things we shoved aside so we could have the things that were swept away in the wind. I think that's why God sends strong winds. It forces us to focus on what's important. When all the stuff is gone, we see our children and our families. We see the people in our lives instead of the stuff.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. I heard that saying many times. Today I realized what it means.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

EGG LEMON PIZZA SUNDAY




I took my daughter and her friend to an egg hunt today. This egg hunt had been the topic of conversation for the past month. After weeks of anticipation, her expectations grew. But after it was over and we walked back to the parking lot, she said, "I thought this was going to be more fun." With about five kids attending per egg, some children walked away with not a single egg in their baskets, and my daughter was one of them. She said she did capture one egg, but someone stole it from her bag. Her friend managed to find and keep three eggs.

Sometimes life just isn't what you expect it to be. Disappointments are plentiful. We imagine wonderful outcomes, but then when the experience finally arrives we feel let down. The actual event didn't even come close to what we imagined it would be. Some people say it's life handing you lemons and they suggest you make lemonade. As we got in the car to go home, I wondered how I could turn this sour day into something sweet.

I remembered a certificate my daughter had earned for reading books. It was good for a free mini pizza at Pizza Hut. When I dug through my wallet, I discovered she had two of these. When I made the announcement, their reaction was immediate. "YES!" they shouted in unison while jumping up and down. My daughter's friend declared that I was "the best" of all her friends' moms. The day was turning sweeter already. We had two smiling, happy girls and a best mom winner on their way to Pizza Hut.

We thought the egg hunt was going to be the highlight of our day, but we had even more fun eating pizza and breadsticks, something I wasn't expecting. I thought about how I had tried to get out of taking her to that egg hunt. It was a Sunday and I just wanted to stay home. When I saw it was snowing, I was glad to have an excuse not to go. But she didn't let up and the weather didn't get me off the hook. The snow stopped and was replaced by sunshine.

As I sat across from these silly, happy girls in a booth at Pizza Hut, I thanked God for the privilege of being a mom and I felt grateful for those wonderful moments in life when we can turn lemons into lemonade. Sometimes it's the sour things that lead us to the sweet, and without those occasional disappointments in life, the good times wouldn't taste so special.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

THE CHARMS OF CHILDHOOD

I often share stories about my childhood with my daughter. She thinks that I had it so much better as a kid because I had two brothers and I had a sister to play with who was close to my own age. I also grew up in town and could see my friends just by walking out the door. She lives in the country and has no one to play with but her cat, which means I serve as the playmate. I don't remember ever depending on my mom for entertainment. I never asked her to play games with me or watch me draw. Mom was a mom, not a playmate.  But I understand my daughter's need for companionship and I try to give her what she needs.

Growing up in the sixties and seventies was a completely different life compared to today. I'm sure my parents felt the stress of raising a family, but even from a child's point of view, life seemed more relaxing than it is today. My parents never ran us to all kinds of activities. We never rushed to get anywhere. The atmosphere in our home was a slower pace than the families of today. And there wasn't so much noise. Even with four kids, our house seemed quieter than today's households.

My childhood did have its charms. I spent a lot of time in a certain tree in our backyard. I remember having a lot of freedom to run around town and not come home until dinner time.  I'd go for walks in fields or wooded areas looking for chestnuts, berries, or wildflowers.  I'd hang out at a neighbor's house and chalk paint the sidewalk.  Sit by the pond under the willow trees.  Walk down to the bridge at the end of town and throw rocks in the water.  One day in my teens, my friend and I rode our bikes all the way to the next town.  My mom didn't know I was planning to meet a boy I liked.  His mom had to drive us home because it was getting dark before we decided to leave.  That's when she found out.  If we lived in town today, I couldn't give my daughter that freedom. Too many girls are disappearing in the news.

My mom found ways to entertain us when we were kids.  Ways that didn't cost money. We often went to a place known only as "the swimming hole," where we'd spend an entire day. I remember a rope tied to a tree that kept us entertained as we swung out across the water and let go at just the right time to make the biggest splash. And I remember Mom bringing a radio to the swimming hole. My Dad sold TV's and radios, so we had all kinds of gadgets like that, even battery powered.  Mostly I remember the coolness of the water on those hot summer days.

I remember the music of that era, and I still love it. Emmy Lou Harris, Elvis, The Carpenters, whenever I hear a song that was popular during my childhood, it instantly takes me back to long summer days at the swimming hole, hanging out in the horse barn with my new radio and cassette recorder, or standing on the playground sliding board singing, "I'm on the top of the world looking down on creation.."

It's funny the glimpses of the past that come to your mind when you think of your childhood. I remember the ice cream truck. You could hear it coming in plenty of time to pest Mom for money. The sound was like bells ringing to a certain enchanted tune, like something from a Disney movie. I remember all kinds of trucks stopping at our house selling bread, potato chips in a can, meat, Tastycakes, all kinds of goodies. Then another truck would bring our milk in the morning. During the summer, when my bedroom window was open, I could hear the early morning clang of milk bottles. I see those old milk boxes at antique stores now, relics of a time we'll never see again.

I remember, too, the door to door salesmen that stopped at our home. My mom didn't work outside the home, so she always got hit with sales calls. I watched the vacuum cleaner salesman give his demonstration, the encyclopedia salesman, the Amway guy, and the Avon lady. I still have that set of encyclopedias we used as kids. With internet access, it serves only as nostalgia now and when stacked, the books make nice risers.

Pets are a big part of childhood. My mom loved pomeranian dogs. I remember the names Skippy and Cocoa. The dogs had long reddish hair. But my favorite dog was a grey poodle named Muffin. He used to sit in front of our fireplace in the winter and stare at the fire until he almost fell asleep. We would watch him on the sofa and laugh when his eyes went closed and he'd almost fall over. Then he'd catch himself and stare at the fire more until it happened again.

Muffin disappeared from our home when he infested the house with fleas. I was a teenager by then and not a big pet-lover. I think my complaining about the fleas helped to seal his fate. I remember being blamed for poor Muffin's demise. I'm still not sure where he ended up. I guess I don't want to know.





Sunday, February 10, 2008

THE HALF-PRICE LIFE (PART TWO)

In most households, you would find a cabinet full of cleaners. One of the best ways to save money (and space) is to make your own cleaners. Below are some of my favorite recipes for cheap cleaning:

Windows: Add 3 Tbsp. vinegar to one gallon of cool water. Pour into a spritzer bottle and wipe with balls of newspaper (saves paper towels and avoids streaks).

Floors: To one gallon of water, add 1/16 cup liquid soap and 1/8 cup white vinegar.

All purpose cleaner for countertops: To one quart warm water, add 4 Tbsp. baking soda.

Toilets: Sprinkle 1/4 cup borax (found in laundry aisle) and 1/4 cup baking soda on sides of bowl. Pour one cup of white vinegar on sides of bowl. Let bubble and soak, then swish. For cleaning under the rim, add one teaspoon of liquid dish soap instead of borax.

Tub and Tile: Mix 2/3 cup baking soda, 1/2 cup liquid soap and 1/2 cup water. As last step, add 2 Tbsp. vinegar. Then apply, scrub, and wipe.

Drain cleaner: Pour 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain followed by 1 cup vinegar. Let bubble for 15 min. then rinse with hot water. This habit can prevent the need for toxic and expensive drain openers.

Time is the reason we reach for ready-made cleaners and convenience foods. But most of these things are cheaper when they're homemade. If you have the time or you're willing to make the time, you can save a lot of money. I love to make homemade pizza sauce, applesauce, and jam. My kitchen smells wonderful on those days. I also make waffles and freeze them between sheets of wax paper (to avoid freezer stick). Pop the waffles in the toaster and you have a quick breakfast.

Another money saver is homemade jello and canned fruit instead of the fruit and gel bowls that cost two dollars. For lunch box snacks, I store this in small Glad containers. This also works to convert large tubs of yougurt into smaller servings. To save on drinks, I buy frozen juice concentrate. My daughter's favorite drink is frozen orange juice mixed with equal parts of frozen strawberry drink. Yum!

Of course, with all the money you save, you'll want to treat yourself now and then to a restaurant meal or a fun vacation. But even then you'll find yourself taking the thrifty route. Saving money is like a brilliant sickness you can't kick. It becomes a challenge. Anyone can spend money. Saving takes skill. While others boast about expensive purchases, I get excited about yard sale finds I got for next to nothing.

To eat at a restaurant for next to nothing, use entertainment book coupons, sunday paper coupons, or sign up for the birthday club. Birthday club discounts can often be used all at once. Plan to go when the restaurant offers a special price ( usually mid-week). Order water instead of soda, and skip the appetizer and dessert. The highest mark up in a restaurant is dessert.

To eat cheap on vacation, check local newspapers for coupons and hotel lobbys for discount booklets. Eat breakfast out (it's the cheapest meal of the day). Then carry snacks to hold you over until dinner. You'll only pay for two meals a day, and dinner can be ordered as take out which you can eat in your hotel room. This saves the price of a waitress tip, which you can give to the maid instead.

See how creative saving money can be. Two more tips I recently read about but haven't tried is coupon combining and price comping. Combining manufacturers coupons and store coupons on the same item sounds too good to be true, but apparently, some stores will honor this. Just ask.
Price comping is when a store will match the price featured in a local competitors' ad. This allows you to buy all your products in one place instead of running to three different stores for individual bargains. Check with stores to see which ones will honor competitors' sale prices.

So there you have it, everything I learned about saving money so far. Oh and don't forget about prepaid phone cards, farmer's markets, yard sales, consignment stores, and shopping at places like Goodwill. You have an entire closet full of used clothes. Why not add more and save yourself some money. One dance with a washing machine can make any piece of clothing look new. If you work hard for your money, you should work just as hard to keep it.

Monday, February 4, 2008

THE HALF-PRICE LIFE

Saving money takes time, which is probably why many women don't bother. When I worked full-time outside the home and full-time inside, saving money was the last thing on my mind. But now I've made it my job to save money, and I want to share some of the things I discovered.

If you want to save, you have to know where the bargains are. Subscribing to the Sunday paper is a must, not only for the manufacturer's coupons, but also for the sale flyers. I always pull out the RiteAid, CVS, and Giant flyers to see what's on sale. Sometimes the overall best offer is from Weis Markets, so I'll shop there that week. But most of the time, I pick and choose bargains from two or three sources and then pick them up whem I'm in that area.

Scheduling your shopping trips in sync with your other errands saves gas. This, of course, takes planning. Writing everything on a calendar allows me to see where I'm going each week so I can plan my shopping trips around those errands. It sounds like common sense, but I didn't always do this.

Another thing I didn't do is check sale flyers. Although I was always a coupon clipper, I didn't realize until recently the importance of those flyers. Last week Rite Aid had a Buy One Get One free (BOGO) sale on snacks. Giant had the same item on sale at two for five dollars. I assumed the BOGO sale would be a good deal. It turned out that Giant had the better deal with a two dollar difference in savings. That would have paid for the Sunday newspaper, but because I didn't check the Giant flyer, I blew that bargain. Made me mad, too!

Another way to save money is to cut things in half. And I mean that literally. For example, I used to buy gallons of 1% milk until someone told me to buy whole milk and dilute it with half water. I've been doing this for months and no one has noticed or complained. That's two gallons of milk for the price of one and I'm told that it's healthier because whole milk goes through less processing. Some other things I cut in half are paper towels, dryer sheets, and the amount of detergent I use when the load is lightly soiled. Nine times out of ten a half paper towel does the job, so I keep them near the roll in a napkin holder.

Planning meals and making a grocery list is another money saver. I didn't always do this either. And I got frustrated when I didn't have the right ingredients for a recipe. Now I look over what's already in the pantry and freezer and work with that first to plan meals. Then I find the recipes I'm planning to make for the next two weeks and make sure I have the ingredients. My grocery list consists of the needed ingredients and the things I write down as items are consumed. That's another good habit to get into. When the laundry detergent is getting low, write it on the list. Simple habits can make life so much easier.

Another wasteful habit I once had was to throw bulk packs of meat in the freezer. Now I buy meat in bulk and wrap it in family servings of about four ounces per person. I also check the number of servings a recipe makes. Some recipes can be cut in half to avoid waste or you can plan to freeze half for another meal later.

To be continued...

Monday, January 21, 2008

GRANDMA'S COOKIE JAR

Today I went treasure hunting with my friend, Tam. She calls it antiquing, but I think of it as treasure hunting. Unlike my friend, who collects antiques and knows what she's looking for, I usually go without a specific treasure in mind. I only know that when I see it, it will spark a memory from my past and then I'll buy it not for its monetary value, but for its sentimental value.

Several things caught my eye as I moved through rooms of antiques, some displayed in glass cases, others arranged in individual vendor booths. I overheard a woman beside me exclaim, "I used to have one of them. I had that whole set. Whatever happened to that?" I didn't see exactly what she was talking about, but I could relate to her wondering whatever happened to that thing, and I sort of laughed to myself. I wasn't the only one capturing memories.

Every time I go treasure hunting I see all kinds of things that remind me of my childhood and I wish I would have taken better care of my stuff. But I was a kid and who knew that some day those things would be displayed behind glass with a price tag much bigger than it originally sold for. I saw old children's books like the ones I used to read, toys, games and figurines like I once had, and other things like household items that belonged to my mother or grandmother. At times something would look familiar but I couldn't quite place where I had seen it before.

About twenty minutes into my treasure hunt I stopped and said a quick prayer, "Lord help me to find something really special today." I know I don't use the power of prayer near enough, so when the thought of praying entered my mind I quickly made my request and then kept searching. I almost bought a pretty glass dish that sparkled clear as it caught the light but decided it wasn't what I was looking for.

Tam and I must have spent two to three hours scanning the displays of antiques that were set up like a maze of treasures with each room leading us into the next. She found some pretty pink cups to match the pattern she collects and a small Santa figurine with a loveable face. By then it was 2:00 and I hadn't eaten breakfast or lunch so we headed to the front of the store to pay for her finds. As she stood in line, I wandered over to a display case of jewelry that I hadn't eyed yet because we unknowingly walked past it as we entered the store. Jewelry always catches a girl's eye, antique or not.

The line waiting to pay was long, so I spent a lot of time there moving back and forth between two display cases of jewelry. Still, nothing caught my eye so strongly that it begged to be purchased. Feeling tired and tired of looking, I turned around and there it was...my grandma's cookie jar, the only one I remember her using when I was a kid. I can still hear the sound of that metal lid squeaking against the glass jar as grandma turned open the container that held those yummy treats she always had on hand for us. The jar looked exactly the same. It was red with a red lid and a hand-painted flower on the front. I snatched that jar from the shelf and carried it close like it was a baby. "My grandma's cookie jar!" I said to Tam. "This is it. It looked just like this."

With an expression of disbelief, she shook her head. "You're kidding." She was still shaking her head as she paid for her items. It couldn't have been more than an hour ago that I had told her about my grandma's cookie jar and how I wanted to find one just like it. "It's nothing fancy and probably isn't worth much money, but it reminds me of grandma," I said. And now here I was holding the very treasure I was hoping to find.

Every now and then God winks at us and lets us know he's there and he cares about the things we care about. Every now and then he answers a prayer exactly as we ask within hours of asking. He doesn't always give us everything we pray for, but sometimes he gives us exactly what we want in the most amazing ways. I don't know which I'm more excited about, the cookie jar or my answered prayer. Fortunately I don't have to choose. I love them both.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

DON'T QUIT YOUR DREAM JOB

Few people get through life without feeling discouraged at times. Who hasn't felt like giving up? Who hasn't felt frustrated by life's challenges? One of the most frustrating things I've experienced is the search to find work that fulfills me and work that I'm good at.

I ran into a friend last week who was in my high school graduating class. I hadn't seen her for about eight years. She expressed the same sense of frustration about her work. She said she feels trapped in a job that she hates. What she longs for is to be a dietician. But the work she's doing now supplies her with a good pay check and medical coverage. She can't walk away from it to chase an uncertain dream. Yet the longing in her heart won't go away.

Like many people who are stuck in jobs that aren't suited for their personalities and abilities, my friend is totally discouraged and constantly frustrated. For the past two weeks I have felt the same way, which is why I haven't written lately. I want writing to be my life's work, but I've accumulated a stack of rejection slips from magazine editors and I wonder why I even bother to write this weekly web log. Does anyone even read it?

I considered stepping away from writing until I read a wonderful story, The Valentine Cat. It's a children's book that I picked up at a basement book sale. As I read the book to my daughter, I began to feel that the message was meant for me. Delaina didn't seem as interested.

The story is about a young man named Tell who gives up on his hope of being an artist because no one would buy his paintings. To pay the bills, he goes to work for a shoemaker. Every night Tell walked home from his job with his head down and a weary look on his face. But when he finds a half-frozen cat in the street and takes it home, his spirits are lifted and he's inspired to paint once again.

To make a long story short, the cat plays a part in leading a royal princess to Tell's home where she sees his wall paintings and falls in love with his work. Tell moves to the Royal palace and works for the rest of his life as a painter, happily painting every wall in the castle.

I guess the moral of the story is: Never give up on your dream because you never know when a breakthrough might be right around the corner. When you're passionate about something, you'll do it without pay and whether people notice or not. You'll do it without encouragement or praise. Pursuing our dreams makes us feel more alive. It puts a spark in our eyes and a spring to our step. We have to find ways to work toward those inner longings called dreams.

Tell was miserable when he stopped pursuing his passion. Then he made a decision that eventually changed his life: "If I can't be an artist to please the world, I'll be an artist to please myself."