Category Archives: author

Winter’s Warmth

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Ice hit the concrete sidewalks and streets last Sunday morning, like many other wintry mornings in Missouri.  Looking outside the red twig dogwood glistened.  Dean and I waited a bit for temperatures to increase, and then managed to get to church.  It is an oxymoron, winter’s warmth.  It is what winter does for us.  Brings us indoors after weathering the cold, ice, and snow.  Much like life.  The warmth of home lures us back to comfort and simplicity. “Sitting inside the warm, pleasant kitchen while icy rain beat against the window, I felt the wordless contentment of a horse in a stable or a wren in a birdhouse,” Gretchen Rubin writes.  Another author Dominique Browning contemplates, “the banal moments of the day are the most seductive to me. It is in the lighting of a fire on a cold morning, or in the pouring of wine and the pulling up of chairs to read together at the end of an afternoon of errands, that love really exerts its magic.” 

I miss a fireplace or wood stove to snuggle to in our little cottage, but have little niches in every room of our 4-room dwelling that seduce me.  My favorite room is the kitchen.  “So let’s dish out saucy praise for the place of crazy salads, spicy endearments, whispering souffles, sweetmeats, tender loins, and sticky fingers. That whirring, blending, mixed-up, soul-stirring, juice-dripping, hot-hearted room (the kitchen),” Dominique Browning writes in her book Slow LoveKind of spicy, you say.  That is what cooking in the kitchen does for my heart.  Another weekend snow has developed this afternoon.  Mini cheese-stuffed meatloaves, sweet potatoes, and banana-oat bread will grace our table this evening.  Tomorrow I will chop fresh veggies to saute with Italian sausage for Italian stone soup accompanied with fresh-from-the-oven bread sticks.  A casserole dish of homemade mac & cheese with a bowl of buttered edamame will be Sunday’s dinner.

I have plenty of library books to peruse and a jigsaw puzzle to piece together for this long weekend of winter warmth.  Besides Dean and I have each other to keep the fire going …

 

My Own Backyard

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The last day of November was warm with a brisk wind to scurry about the colorful leaves. I walked the streets in Clayton to do some banking and grab a bite to eat on my lunch hour. The wind whipped from the west and changed directions several times that hour.  The tell-tale sign of changing seasons.  A mild autumn is quickly going into winter-like weather this week.  The weekend forecast includes snow flakes, and colder than normal temperatures next week. “Each year is a parable begun in stillness, and chill, of bare ground warmed with spring life returning, then bursting, buzzing, peaking in summer, and issuing a final flare in autumn, to subside in another winter’s seeming nullity,” author Stephanie Mills writes in her book Epicurean Simplicity.

Preparations for the winter season may not be a necessary stack of firewood in my suburban lifestyle. I remember as a child  the excitement of my family’s annual New Year’s Eve stay at the one-room cabin my father built on the family farm in Franklin County, Missouri.  The simple shingle covered dwelling probably no bigger that 500 square-feet had no bathroom or electricity, but a wood stove for its heat source.  My father and Grandpa would cut down old trees on the 100+ -acre farm and split wood throughout the autumn season in preparation for deer hunting trips and these winter weekend visits to the family farm.  My current preparations include sweaters and boots being pulled from the depths of the closets as well as my epie pin and antihistamine stowed in my purse for the next 4 months. An allergy to cold air and water is not easy, but is not the worst a person would have to deal with.  Thank goodness for gas heat.

And now I focus on my own heart matters for today.  Simplicity. “Try to see the beauty in your own backyard to notice the miracles of everyday life,” religious leader Gloria Gaither says. I would say that is great advice.  Perennial thoughts and ways, appreciating what you have now, and making do.  Simple, thankful, authentic, resourceful.  I am intrigued by the choice of voluntary simplicity as I further my research  for an enrichment class to teach at my work place.   There are authors, activists, and societies devoted to this way of thinking and lifestyle.  Choices made such as local community versus global; homegrown versus mass produced; renovate or upcycle versus disgard; a 3-generation home versus having separate homes; public transportation, carpooling, or riding  a bicycle versus commuting to work with one’s own vehicle everyday; hand-crafted versus manufacturer made; purchase local versus big brand, slow food versus fast food, and the list goes on.  As author and ecological activist Stephanie Mills states“bigger has not turned out to be better.”  I like the change back to some old ways and traditions.  What does simplicity mean to you?  How have you made simplicity a lifestyle choice?  I would love to hear.

 

To Eat Intelligently Is An Art

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“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.” ~ Francois de La Rochefoucauld, French author wrote.  This author lived an exquisite lifestyle in his French chateau in the 1600’s. And the one and only saucy “The French Chef” herself, Julia Child was an American chef who brought the French cuisine to the everyday American in the mid to late 1900’s.  This “mindful, purposeful eating” is an art almost lost, but has been resurrected once again with the farm-to-table restaurants and crafted foods and spirits in today’s food culture.  The term “slow food” was coined in Europe in the 1980’s, and has come to the United States full swing.

Locavorism is encouraged. Niche farmers, gardeners, and chefs bring fresh meats, fruit, vegetables, and herbs to their plates and that of their community.  The Bent Pig and Hannahway Farms in Farmington and Chef Jack MacMurray at Chandler Hill Vineyards in Defiance are such people.  Farmer’s markets will open this month with their early crops.  An American diner such as Ethyl’s in O’Fallon, Missouri has their crafted meats, slowly smoked which fills the neighborhood with a mouth-watering aroma.  After work one evening this week I devoured their pork sandwich served with a heaping dollop of coleslaw between the bun and sweet, smoky BBQ pork, Carolina-style.  I slowly savored every bite.  Local does not always mean the best as my stop at a small cafe for a warm bite before my doctor’s appointment yesterday morning reminded me of that.  A “Popeye omelet” described on the menu said bits of bacon with spinach and Swiss cheese. But mine had chunks of bacon fat that resembled the Swiss cheese.  Gross!  I could not finish it!  The smell of bacon turned my stomach tonight when I came home to my daughter preparing a “brinner ” menu for her family.  See how long it takes me to get over the bacon phobia.  I usually love the leaner slices!  Tonight I created an overnight french toast using leftovers:  day old raisin bread bargain bought at a local bakery soaked in an egg-milk mixture laced with some of my home brew vanilla extract, and then topped with leftover reduced-fat cream cheese spread and fresh blueberry sauce.  Tell you how it turned out on my next post.

So go back to my original quote “to eat intelligently is an art”… it means to eat within a set budget as well as “lean, clean, and green”.  It takes some planning and improvisation.  My health goal this year was to lose at least 20 lbs.  Patronizing those farmer’s markets, growing my own veggies and herbs, and eating more plant foods will help me achieve that goal.  Based on this week’s visit to the doctor’s, I have lost.  As long as I do not eat too many slices of that french toast, and keep to veggie omelets, I will do accomplish my goal tastefully.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joined

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Author and teacher Ruth Senter says, “When you are truly joined in spirit, another woman’s good is your good too. You work for the good of each other.”  How often do you feel joined to or work for the good of another?  Do you feel joined at the hip, inseparable, much like conjoined twins with a friend, sibling, or spouse?  When the other is happy, you are and not feeling skated. When the other grieves, you as well yet hopeful for the other.  Goodness is the goal not self-gain.  To witness or live this kind of friendship, it is a gift.

During the Lenten Friday dinner at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Ferguson, Missouri, my Dean and I saw some lovely bonding between this community.  The whole church celebration of Latino song and dance as well as fish dinner punctuated the beginning of our weekend.  A multi-cultural band of musicians from Mexico, Ecuador, Aruba, and Kenya beautifully entertained the congregation with a Latino instrumental rendition of “Hotel California”.  Later women and children danced in festive colored costume.  Such a memorable evening.

Dean and I are joined at the hip for life. Besides commuting together during our work week, we work and play together on weekend projects. This weekend we secured our plants as the cold set in for 36 hours despite the spring equinox.  We unpacked and sorted more household items.  Pictures, photos, and trinkets are going up, which is the fun part about making a house a home. We crafted a bathroom towel rack made from scraps of recycled barn wood belonging to my paternal great-grandfather and clearance curtain tie back holders.  Our Sunday date to Hermann’s WurstFest included the hunt for an antique shelf or table to house our bathroom towels.  It had to be no wider than 11″ and no higher than 44″, but the length was open since our lone bathroom is long and narrow. We saw a few new furniture pieces at Pier One Imports and Home Goods, but the prices were not attractive.  At one of our favorite Hermann antique shops we were greeted by a special lady friend. We perused the shop’s goods, and she finally pointed us in the right direction.  A repurposed oak bucket bench made into a floor shelf unit.  Perfect.  On the way home from our Sunday excursion we stopped at Home Goods to buy some totes, a big basket, and a metal caddy for storage.  The total price 65% less than what we saw earlier.  Satisfied local shoppers we are!

 

Repurpose

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Writes author Doris Janzen Longacre,“Retrofitting is only a new angle on the old virtue: making do.” Same with the words “recycling”, “updo”, “repurpose”, “refurbish”, etc. My current read is Ms. Longacre’s book, Living More With Less written in 1979-1980. This Mennonite could have written this book today, and it’s practical advices still apply even much more so. I recommend this book. It is rethinking purchases, lifestyles, and purpose.
This book follows with Dean and I’s house and greenhouse story. We take something built years ago and make do. The modest house we live in is where I raised my three children most of their childhood. Grandchildren have lived in this house too. I have lived there for 28 years, and it will be paid off in a couple more years. The rooms are filled with memories, good as well as unpleasant. Post-divorce living and marriage to a wonderful man are always steps in the right direction. Dean and I hope to move to a house we can call our own. In the meantime colors and renovations change our current home, and more recently the living room and kitchen painted. A bungalow built in the 1930’s or 40’s is what we hope to find for our future home. There are many styles of bungalows, though the art & craft era are most appealing. Houses were built solid back then. Practical comfort and character the themes.
Bungalow
“Adapting to nature is the oldest human art,” Doris Janzen Longacre writes. This would apply to my health dealing with the severe cold winter as well as our greenhouse, the green project we took on 2-1/2 years ago. “Green” efforts are ours on many accounts. Still no electricity to the structure, though we “make do”. We adapted our farming journey to more annual plants. Our garage houses heating pads and plant lights for our perennials during the colder months. Solar is becoming more affordable. If we wait long enough, we may even use our greenhouse year-round. The current 1,300 square-foot structure provides 7 months of growing space. We hope to have some raised beds with root cellar capabilities that allow veggies to endure an extra 2 or 3 months of Missouri’s colder weather like this most recent winter. Am I safe to say that yet? Are we done with winter?!

A Songbird’s Spring

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Dean and I visited The National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky. One quilt square made by a 9th-12th grade student was entitled “My Songbird”. The breast and belly of the bird was an artsy music note while the body had sheet music flowing into and out of the wings giving the illusion of flying. This quilt left an impression on my heart, the soul purpose of an art form. “A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song”, an old Chinese saying I remember. I recall reading a book written by an artist who explained how to keep the creative juices flowing. Besides the routine practice of the art, an artist, musician, writer, or chef needs to surround themselves in beauty once a week for at least an hour, away from distractions. This can take place at a museum, library, garden, or in a city park. Beauty is everywhere. The repetitive motion of going to one quilted beauty after another, soothed my soul. “Garden Stars”, “Star Struck”, “Organic Garden”, “The Charm Of Small Pink Roses”, “Lime Light”, “Splendor In The Grass”, and “Instrument Of Praise” displayed wonderfully some of my favorite things in life. Each quilt told a story or captured color in stitches.

This morning a songbird’s tweets greet Dean and I as we left for work. A refreshing sound! The day’s spring-like showers and thunderstorms will replace the snow and ice we have experienced for over 7 weeks in Missouri. I embrace warmer temperatures with open arms like I did during our 3 days in Paducah earlier this week. Today, a morning, mid-day, and afternnon outdoor walk betweeen raindrops will suffice. Alleluia, multiple layers of clothes, hats, gloves, scarves, and coats stripped off! Freedom! 70 degrees this afternoon! I will take this pseudo spring. Tonight’s nightfall winds blow in colder air once again.
The trip to Paducah proved that my swollen body, every aching joint, and chest pain was due to the cold weather. All those symptoms had subsided during our getaway. We returned home this week to milder temperatures, so symptoms have not returned. In the past 5 weeks, I had a visit to the urgent care, the ER, my primary care’s office, and outpatient care. Blood tests, x-rays, and two nuclear heart tests showed I have a healthy heart and lungs. Thank you, Father! My body was reacting to the multiple days of frigid cold air. In case winter returns with venegence this month or the next winter season, I see the allergist/immunologist next week to discuss a more proactive approach to the cold-induced angiodema. I will hear out what the specialist says, though one local herbalist suggested a holistic remedy: 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper 3 times a day to lessen the effects of winter’s cold air. I need to grow some cayenne peppers this year. Unfortunately, the meteorologists say the earth goes through 100-year cycles, and we are now in a severe winter cycle. God, please no! I must keep in mind,“No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.” ~ Proverb from Guinea.

Winter Wellness

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At my full-time job I am inundated with wellness information constantly. Everyone and their brother have a new service or product to sell for one of the seven dimensions of wellness. I will expand on that concept in another post in the future. Working with employees on their wellness needs brings it back to me asking “what I am doing to take care of myself”? Creative ideas, programs, products, white papers, aggregate reports, diets, menus, and so forth pop in my head at any moment. Some of those ideas I apply to myself. Tai Chi and Weight Watchers At Work for this season in my life… This cold winter proves a challenge for many of us while we hibernate in our warm homes. Though this year I have devoted 10 minutes every morning to the 4-3-2-1 exercise routine … 4 minutes of cardio, 3 minutes of resistance, 2 minutes of abs, and 1 minute for stretches. This replaces the outdoor walks in nicer weather. Not only do I keep my body from idleness, in the evenings I fill the brain with articles, books, garden catalogues, blogs, poetry, art, and classic movies while curled on the recliner with a blanket sipping a cup of hot tea. In a few days the Winter Olympics will come to our TV screen after the Super Bowl hype is over. Meantime, I have picked up once again my copy of A Place of My Own written by Michael Pollan. He writes about simple living in a place he built. This so relates to the greenhouse we built, thinking “look at what our hands have made”. No, look at what Dean has made. I credit my husband for his craft, skill, and diligence. My plants survive like I in the winter, but become vibrant once again come spring.
A couple of evenings ago I shared on this blog my healthy dinner menu and a recipe. (See “On The Menu”.) Last night we had comfort food, warm comfort to counteract the winter cold. I made a healthier version of chicken dumpling soup with a homemade veggie, herb,and chicken stock before spooning the herbed dumpling batter into the boiling brew. Did you know if you add 1 tablespoon of vinegar to the liquid while cooking bone-in meat, more collagen and other anti-inflammatory nutrients will be drawn from the bones? This reserved liquid gold will be used for a seafood chowder recipe I have been mulling over in my mind for this weekend. My culinary vocabulary book cleared up the one question I had, “what is the difference between chowder and bisque?” Chowder has chunks of vegetables, and bisque has a puree of vegetables. Both often have cream in or served with. I will lighten my recipe with milk. I will make more stock from scallops. Cubed potatoes, shredded carrots, chunked celery and a medley of herbs will fill the soup pot just in time for the next arctic blast blowing Missouri’s way on Monday. This is my winter wellness. Cooking healthy foods, reading, writing, and those morning exercises.

Every Stopping Place

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Elisabeth Elliot, a Christian speaker and author who devoted her life in missionary work, lost 2 husbands while in this work, now resides with her third husband of 37 years and both retired from heavy travels. Elisabeth’s works are down to earth. See http://www.elisabethelliot.org for more information on this amazing inspirational woman. There are many differences to my life and Elisabeth Elliot’s, though similarities indeed. My education is not in theology nor my travels and work with tribes in Ecuador or Africa. I have not written books or spoke at huge conferences. Though I am a Christian and I am educated with a summa cum laude honored Bachelors of Art degree in Human Resource Management. I use my education and God-given gifts of organization and leadership with working Americans, and attempt to write inspirational thought with work communique and this WordPress blog. I speak on occasions to fellow business colleagues. Elisabeth Elliot is quoted,“It is God to whom and with whom we travel, and while He is the End of our journey, He is also at every stopping place.” I am at “a stopping place”. I can count on my two hands the number of times I can recall “a stopping place.” Every stopping place is God-ordered. I do not sense a brick wall here. Though a time to be still, reflect, pray, get reenergized, and then get back to work. I am being called into some new work…I am still today, reflecting, and praying. The strength will come for that new work. The thick clouds have rolled in this afternoon. A winter snow warning has been issued for Missouri. Predicted are several inches of snow and ice, and severe Arctic winds and temperatures to follow. Sub-zero temps will keep me in my warm house while frosty art paints the windows, God’s healing hands bring health to my body. Tasks can wait at this God-ordered stopping place. The earthly journey comes soon enough.

The Dust of Everyday Life

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At times life can get messy or just plain mundane. A change of pace is in order, but another trip north isn’t feasible. So this past week and weekend I spent my leisure time in St. Charles, Missouri as well as worked my second job in the same historical town. The weekend I sold spices and gave out culinary advise to visitors and locals while at the spice shoppe on historic Main Street. One of my creative expressions, the culinary arts comes alive while there. Thursday night was an open house affair at the Foundry Art Centre in Frenchtown, where the French immigrants settled in this town over 200 years ago. Met some local artists, and viewed some creative art pieces in their studios. For the audience, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” Aristotle tells us. I think and feel when I gander at artwork. While at the art centre I entered into a raffle for a pair of tickets to a September concert featuring the Man In Black, a Johnny Cash retro singer along with his band. And I won that raffle! Friday night was a catch-up double date with my brother and sister-in-law at Picasso’s Coffee House on historic Main Street. We talked about their trip to Hawaii and our trip to Minnesota, and about the kids and grandkids. Picasso’s has all the artsy ambiance that its name signifies and sharing “the art of coffee”. Folks sipping on coffee, tea, or spirits listening to a local jazz trio, Peaches. A couple of other locals brought their saxophones billowing high notes to the low bass, so it made the group a lively quint for a few songs. A famous Picasso quote is painted onto a wall of the local establishment. “Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” For the artist, musician, culinaire, author, and gardener a cleansing is experienced while engaged in their art form. Creating pots and gardens with plants and garden art definitely does this for me. I transplanted blooming red geraniums into the large planters outside the greenhouse this weekend. These 4-month old cuttings had good root systems, ready for a broaden growing space. Coming up with our signature flower, the geranium must be it as I primp and fuss with them everytime I am at the farm. I am learning how to grow them organically, friendly on the ecosystem. Once I had a geranium for over 6 years, bringing it indoors every winter. It would shed leaves through the dormant months, and I would wonder if it would come back once May finally arrived. Every now and then it would bloom while near the kitchen patio door, white snow in the contrasting background. Always in a terra cotta pot awaiting the spring and summer months. One year for Christmas gifts I created some book marks for my foodie friends with this saying,“Friendship, like geraniums bloom in the kitchen.” Not sure who to credit for those words, as many people have quoted it, but it is true on both accounts. I want to take a try growing scented and ivy varieties. Though the old-fashioned red contrasting with the broad green leaves are my favorite palette. I will bring my geraniums inside late autumn, sheltered from the cold, non-electric greenhouse and outdoors. Pruning and propagating once again for next spring. Life continues …

Scrabble Words

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I keep a Scrabble board set up in my office at St. Louis County, available at the front lobby area for co-workers, visitors, and employees alike to play at their leisure. I borrowed the board game from our neighbor colleagues one building over. One of my office break activities is to play Scrabble. It is a stress relief with the construction projects in my office building. It is like fingernails on a chalkboard some days. Spelling a word or two takes the edge off from the noise level of the drills and saws. I can concentrate better after forming words from the letters that pop in my head. I know it is strange, but it helps. Wellness in action versus taking a “smoke break”, a drag or two of a cigarette before hitting the reports and answering the 100 and 1 questions our employees and retirees have. A “game” is completed usually in 4 or 5 days, with myself the most active player. I experience this same release when I write this WordPress blog or in my journal.
My daughters call me the “Scrabble Queen”, because I love playing it and am very competitive. Though I am competitive in other games such as Monopoly, card games, softball, tether ball, etc. I can still smack that softball over the left field fence. Ask my elementary schoolmates about my tether ball game. I would beat the snot out of the boys at every tether ball game. Well, not the boys but the tether ball! There was a boy or two I may have swung at as well… So back to Scrabble, with my family I use to make nonsensical sentences with the words we formed on the board. My siblings or children and I would laugh for what seemed like hours making up sentences with the Scrabble words. The analyst in me wonders if the combination of words I form for any given Scrabble game have a subliminal significance? Yesterday’s Scrabble board has the words “dead”, “blind”, “fist”, “knot”, “whimp”, “weigh”, and “czar”. BTW: “Czar” scores big points for a short word if you put it on a triple letter or triple word score. So the above words are fairly strong, echoing my recent thoughts of this tough world. “I wish I were blind to the world, whimpy by character, or dead to my feelings, because I am weighed down with knots in my stomach from the tight-fisted czar called life.” Woo! Simply said, I am overdone and have a tude. Feeling ready for my vacation from the house, office, spice shoppe, and greenhouse, you think?! R & R is right around the corner, tomorrow a matter of fact. Thank God! Maybe my Scrabble game will have kinder words such as “zeal”, “calm”, “smile”, “peaceful”, “love”, and “gratitude” when I return from my northern destination? Good chance of it! I want to be a colorful light to this world!


What words does your life spell today? I pray God’s best in your life: color, music, adventure, health, love, and peace!