27 August 2014

Goals for the Fall Garden

It's easy for me to get carried away with setting goals.  I set too many, reaching for an ideal-world future, and forget to set and celebrate smaller goals along the way.  Thus for this fall's garden, I simply have three goals in mind.

I recently listened to a talk by a lady who produces 50% of her own food.  Isn't that incredible?  I would love for that to be true of me someday, but for now? 

I'd be utterly delighted to simply eat something from the garden once a day.  Every day.

To do its job in keeping me happy, I think our soil would love to be enriched with more aged compost to give it the energy it needs to produce abundantly.  We'll use some of our own, and find some other sources of good composted materials.

Of course we can't forget the bees.  We've been overjoyed with having several kinds of bees buzzing back and forth around the pepper flowers out front and the basil flowers out back.

We're planning to plant more flowers like bee balm to attract these little friends to the garden.  And let's face it, we love the flowers as much as they do, so it's a win-win.

25 August 2014

Four Great Reasons to Study Your Sabbath School Lesson

I hear a lot of reasons why people don't want to study something so predictable as a Sabbath school quarterly.

While many of those reasons are good--for example, choosing a different topic or method of study might lend itself to a particular group's present needs--I tend to love the well planned, well thought out studies that delve into a topic for three months at a time. 

Maybe it's just my inner researcher.

Whatever it is, since we're still close enough to the beginning of the week to get a great start on studying this week's lesson (and if you're part of a different faith group, maybe there's something similar or equivalent in your church), I thought I'd share four of the reasons I think it's great to study your Sabbath school quarterly.

1.  It's global.

One of the awesome things about being part of a world-wide faith group and movement is that you have family members, so to speak, all the way around the world.  I can't begin to tell you how many times I've been blessed by that throughout my life.  And one of the things that's great about the Sabbath school lesson is that people all around the world are studying the same things from week to week.

Whether I'm at home in my own church studying the lesson in my second language, visiting family in Alaska, or traveling to any other part of the world, I can be a prepared and active participant in church life.

2.  It's prepared in advance.

I know many other methods of study could be classified as systematic.  Yet I think there's something even more beautiful in the system set up to prepare the Sabbath school quarterly.

There's a bit of a tendency to think that something planned and prepared several years in advance and sent through an intense editorial process isn't as Spirit-led as something given in answer to prayer a few days--or, let's face it, moments--in advance.

Let's think for a second, though, about the Bible itself.  Have you ever been blessed by it, reading in its pages something that seemed to be written just for you?  How many hundreds of years ahead of time did God inspire the thought He knew you'd need today?

I don't mean to elevate the quarterly to Biblical status by any means.  But I love that the process of preparing well-unified weekly studies on a single topic can be blessed by God in the hands of potentially many laborers who keep each other faithful in writing the truth, and bound up in a little well-designed volume that often holds within its pages the keys to answers for which I've searched long and hard.

3.  It's all about participation.

I don't know about you, but the more I know about something, the more I have to say about it.  I do tend to be introverted, which means it can also be hard to formulate my thoughts on the spot in order to participate in a discussion.

Hence, on both counts, the beauty of preparation.

And when I've studied something all week?  I start to notice how it's related to other things I read on my own or in family worship, and as I spend more time thinking about the topic, it gives God the opportunity to press upon my heart the things He wants me to learn.

Then when I come to a class discussion, I have more questions, and I have more meaningful things to share with others based on the things God teaches me during the week.

I love it when I'm surrounded by a group similarly prepared for the discussion by the growth they've experienced during the week.  It's completely inspiring.

4.  It's habit forming.

Studying the Sabbath school lesson doesn't take very many minutes during the day.  It's just one strategy to turn our thoughts toward heaven, but for me it's an incredibly effective one.

In addition, because it doesn't take an hour of commitment to study it, taking time for the Sabbath school lesson each day is a wonderfully easy way to form a new habit, whether you'd like to add a few extra minutes of Bible study to your morning routine, to your mid-day meal, or to your evening.

If you're like me, the more you try it, the more you'll like it, and before you know it you'll have a great habit in your days.

22 August 2014

What Grows in a Heart

 Guajillo Pepper Flower

A little green pen constantly rides around in my pencil pouch, and serves one simple purpose.

In the series of books I'm reading for my evening worships called Testimonies for the Church (by White, Ellen G--I'm in volume 7), I use that little green pen to draw a box around one word every time it appears on the page.

My husband once said it would be a fascinating word search to look up every passage in which this word occurs, and try to learn and apply the lessons surrounding it, and ever since then I've had it in my some-day-I-will-do-this list to make an index for every time I've noticed the word, perhaps turning it into a series of devotional writings--a commentary, of sorts--of my own. 

Of course it's not something I've attempted to do just yet, but every little green box gets me closer to the goal, and every little green box makes me think about that word and all it entails more deeply.

Guajillo Pepper Infant

Perhaps about a week ago I bought a new spray bottle, replenished my supply of Epsom salts, and sprayed a little mixture of water and Epsom salts all over our many pepper plants.  Having read that the leaves will absorb the nutrients quickly that way, and wanting to see the increased blossoms and harvests I've heard about, I set to work for my garden. 

I've wanted good things to grow there, you see, and I'm discovering that I must research and understand the different nutritional needs of each plant in order for them to bear the kind of crop I'm looking for.

It's all part of my plan to cultivate them diligently.

Did you see that little green box?  Yes, cultivate.  That's exactly the word I've been seeing in my worship readings for months and months and months on end.

I can't begin to tell you how many things I've read about that need good heart cultivation.  

This week, love, patience, and true courtesy made the list of desirable heart plants, and I got to thinking....

Do I know as much about what it means to cultivate patience, to really make it grow, as I know about peppers?  It's not that I know very much about peppers, it's more that I so much want the plants to survive and to produce well that I'm willing to spend extra time researching their needs and trying out new things until I see the results I want.

I'm afraid I'm not so diligent about cultivating the patience seedlings in my heart.

While I still have much to learn about which nutrients make patience bear all the more fruit in my life, I'm beginning to see the journey to taking the best care of patience in my heart begins with a bow at Jesus' feet, {yet another} request for the Holy Spirit who bears that fruit, and a willful determination to let my Savior do His work in my heart and to cooperate under His guidance.

I wish such a thing were as easy (and, let's face it, cheap) as a little spray bottle and some Epsom salts.

Yet while I sense that cultivating this patience-fruit will cost me everything in laying down myself to be crucified afresh, it will also yield everything and more in the Christ-like life which alone can bear a rich and abundant harvest.

20 August 2014

Coming Home

Rosa Bianca Eggplant

What makes home feel like home, a place you love to come back to?

I've noticed that whenever I move to a new place, I have a nesting routine.  I unpack, yes, but there's more to it than that for me.

For example, I once arrived in a totally new state, and stopped by the house I knew we'd be renting but hadn't seen yet.  They were painting it, and it wouldn't be ready for us to move in for a few more days.  One of the women on the crew just looked like she'd know where to get fresh peaches, and I told her so.  

And I was right about her.  She told me exactly how to get to a good farm with a good deal.  I immediately followed her directions, and bought fifty pounds.

Never mind that I had no clue if I had access to a freezer.  It was the last day the orchard would have peaches at all, and since my canning supplies were still in transit, I also found a store, bought freezer bags, and took my chances.  

I was glad I did, because I did find access to a freezer, and until our moving truck arrived I really didn't have anything to do other than freeze peaches anyway!  And I felt that somehow I had managed to pack a bit of summer away for our new home, something I could pull out and savor during the months ahead.

Or, for another example, when we moved to our current house, our moving truck came to our door a full three weeks later than we did.  

We planted our seeds the second full day in our new house, so that even though we were dealing with a makeshift bed, we'd at least have a head start on our tomato plants.  And when there were free lemons advertised on Craigslist?  And forty pounds of limes for sale at the flea market for $4?  

We went straight down and bought jars, a big pot, and a citrus juicer, and canned ourselves several months' supply of lime and lemon juice.

Maybe I'm too centered around food, I don't know, but these old fashioned ways I have of preparing for winter, so to speak, and putting down real garden roots, make a place feel like my little haven on earth.

Having a garden to come home to, wondering just how much everything has grown while I've been gone, and knowing there is home-grown, home-made pesto in the freezer waiting to be pulled out for supper right after the plane lands, fills me with such a satisfied, eager contentment in coming home.

18 August 2014

When You Can Measure Summer Between Your Fingers

Fireweed Blossoms.

In Alaska, they said when the Fireweed blossoms bloom all the way to the top, summer is over.

I blanched.

You mean I can spread my fingers apart wide enough to measure those buds, the ones just above the full booms on each stock, and I can fit summer right between my thumb and index finger?  And just like that it's over?

I could hardly breathe at the thought of summer passing right through my fingers that way.

Maybe my heart is adjusting to this land of perpetual summer, where January looks more like an Alaskan summer than any winter I've ever met, faster than I thought it would.

Pioneer Peak.

But here in South Texas today with a high of 98F, we've had a cooler day (anything below a triple digit high is not so bad this time of year), and I'm missing those cool Alaskan summer days.

I think of Pioneer Peak, the one Grandpa says is right in the way of a good view.  I think of what it was like to go running and have the air cool me down as I passed through it.  I think of that afternoon weeding the dahlias the warm sunshine and how I looked up at that Pioneer Peak and thought I could live through all kinds of winter to experience summer days like this.

Pioneer Peak, left.  The Butte, that small little 900-foot mound bottom right.

When we'd go climb the Butte, we'd walk right past the man stacking fire wood to sell.  He had twenty cords of it or so, he guessed.

And firewood?

Oh, how I love a good wood stove, and warming up around it.  But you just don't get that kind of thing in South Texas.  

No ice storm power outages when your mom cooks the gluten steaks on a pan on that wood stove top.  No prime pleasure of sweeping those wood crumbs and bark chips off the brick for a perfect Sabbath hearth.  No trips to the woods in the summer to help cut your winter heat and then cool off in the cold Idaho lake.

I remember looking at a map nearly a year ago.  It showed when you could see the best fall colors throughout North America.  I followed the map right down to my new home, looked at the color, found the map key, looked for the dates.


I love fall.  I love apple season.  I love the smell of the season's change, when I can tell it smells like school's about to start.

I hadn't thought about ever living in a place where those things would be foreign, and while I traveled, I found myself missing those things more than I expected to.

Yet coming home to this south land where it's hot, where the seasons don't change much, and even where there's no thrill of the first snow of a new winter, I couldn't help reveling in it all, in the knowing I'd be starting my tomato seeds right then and there, hoping for a December crop.

Yes, you read that right.  A. December. Crop.

Of tomatoes.

And all kinds of other crops, too, because if tomatoes can make it through the winter outside, so can a lot of other delightful things.  Like the neighbor's flowerbed full of Amaryllis, for example.

Some things are still too strange for me to grasp, I'll admit.

I've wondered many times if I could ever move back to a land of winter, and not have something die inside from the cold-hearted reduction from two or three gardening seasons to one.  

Now that I've bounced back into the other world for a few weeks and come down south to home again, I think I'd just have parts of my heart in more than one place, like I do now.  Part of me missing the one, while fully delighting in the other.

Because I don't think you can experience the land of mangoes and cactus fruits and fresh papayas and year-round gardens and not have those things planted right there in your heart, right beside the place that will always be reserved for the wonder of a pine cone in autumn, or the winter's first snowflakes.

13 August 2014

Prayer Partners

The other day on the phone when my mom told me about two ladies who stood up in church to talk about how they've been prayer partners for twenty-two years, I did a little mental math and made my report right then and there.

That friend of mine?  The one who stopped me after the first chapel meeting of the school year her freshman year in college to ask where the choir met because she thought I looked like I would know and of course I did know so we walked there together?

We've been prayer partners for nine years and counting.

Almost a decade.  Not that we call it being prayer partners, exactly, but I suppose that's what we are.  

It all started another day during another chapel meeting, when the speaker talked about two girls who prayed together over one issue every day for a long time, and saw God work wonders in their situation.

The girl next to me said, "What would you think of doing that?"  I said, "I think that's a great idea."   We chose a time to meet every day, we chose a topic to pray about, and by the end of the quarter we decided to keep it up and chose a new topic for the next quarter.  And the next quarter.  And by then it was habit.

A decision made in a moment, sustained over nine years.

I can't begin to describe all the life changes we've both been through in the last nine years.  We don't pray together every day anymore, but it's rare for us to have a conversation WITHOUT ending it in prayer.  

Most of the time, we pray together on the phone.  We're fortunate, though, that part way through our college and early adult lives her parents and my parents moved to the same city, so we see each other as we pass through for vacations and holidays.  

Then we get to pray in person, too, like a few weeks ago after our walk through rose gardens and woodsy trails in a little restaurant booth where the blaring music covered up our supplications so no one could hear, except God.

Looking back over the last nine years, I've been so overwhelmingly blessed by having someone to pray with--and let's face it, having one person to pray with made me more confident and comfortable asking other friends to pray with me, which has also yielded rich results in my life--that I hope you'll think about who you can find to pray with. 

Maybe every day, maybe every week, maybe just whenever it happens.  There aren't really any rules for this kind of thing, except that you're willing to do it.

I don't believe for a second that our little moment in week of prayer all those years ago was an accident.  I also don't believe it's always as easy as turning to the person next to you in chapel to find a prayer partner.  But it's worth the effort.

12 August 2014

Wendy and Mary: A Favorite from the 1980s Christian Music Scene

I was pretty little in the 1980s, but big enough that I still remember them pretty well.  My mom worked at a Christian radio station for a while, which meant we got a good dose of all the 1980s Christian music artists like Steve Greene, Evy, and the like. 

Then of course there was the Christmas radio drama, Mary's Song, in which my mom played Mary.  She practiced her lines at home one day, and I happened in the room at about the time she said, "My son is the Messiah!"

"He is not!" I retorted.  I may have been three years old or younger, and I adored my older brother, but I knew my Bible well enough to know he was not the Messiah!

Fast forward to a few months ago, when my dad played a record or two over speaker phone for me on his little portable record player.  (That's normal, right?  Listening to records over the phone?)  

Which somehow led to figuring out that our tape player works, and a discussion of which tapes I had in my possession (rescued from my parents' house when they weren't listening to tapes anymore), which led to my dad's incredulous "You have Wendy and Mary?"

Yep, and I proudly still listen to them on a regular basis.

There are just days when my heart needs a genuine Christ-centered thing to listen to, and I was thrilled to rediscover how much Wendy and Mary centered their music on Scripture, both direct quotes and paraphrases.  Their music is cheerful, uplifting, just what I often need to keep my mind in a good place while I wash the dishes.

But I started feeling a little guilty when I realized that I still had Wendy and Mary, but my dad didn't.  I thought maybe I should send him the tape, so he could have a turn.  I didn't want to do that, so I started with a little YouTube video via e-mail:

Then I had a better idea.  What about eBay?  Or Amazon?  To my delight, I found out that you can still purchase this delightful music in just about any form you want:  record, tape, CD, mp3, and even a remix from Wendy and Mary themselves.  Or you can get the music from iTunes for your listening device.  It's an amazing world we live in.

For my dad, a record for his awesome little record player was the perfect choice.  I could hardly wait for his birthday to come, when my mom could pull it out to surprise him.

Here's another favorite for you to sample.  I hope you're blessed by their music as much as I am!

05 August 2014

Family Photo Shoot Tips

{Photo by Husband's Uncle.}

When I found out several months ago that every member for four generations straight of my husband's branch of the family would be in the same place at the same time, I immediately called my sister-in-law.

"We HAVE to do a family photo shoot!" I said.

"I was just thinking the same thing!!!" she said.

When I called the other sister- and brother-in-law, they agreed.

So the deal was on, whether the rest of the family liked it or not!  We had a sort of strategic plan to make it all work, and we did indeed come out of it with some great family photos.  And some bloopers, which in the end are great too.  Want to know what we learned in the process?

Enlist the most agreeable family members first.  

We're like any family, and have our share of members who don't like having their photos taken.  Get everyone else on board, and THEN attempt to convince the fence sitters.  They'll be more likely to play along if a) they don't have to think too hard about clothing and b) they know you'll be organized and it won't monopolize the whole day.

Choose a known piece of clothing, and build around it.

We're not the only family whose majority of members would spend the whole vacation in hiking/running/don't-care-if-we-get-caught-in-Alaska-dirt kinds of clothes, are we?  So this part does take a little planning.  We'll bring something nice for church, but honestly, most of the rest of our time is pretty outdoorsy.  And when we are indoors, we're prepared for the inevitable and frequent suggestion of taking a hike.  Which doesn't mean get lost AWAY from us because we never want to see you again, but instead lets go out TOGETHER, and even if we do get lost we'll have a great time.

In our case, it worked well for the sisters-in-law to manage the photo wardrobe.  We chose one piece of clothing from one family member's closet (all in the mind's eye, mind you), and built around it.  Then in person we spent an afternoon working through the rest of the selections, and aside from a couple of small purchases, everyone (amazingly!) had something that would work.

Of course we looked at ideas on Pinterest and all that, but it really came down to what we had on hand and what we thought might stand out against a natural background.

Make and work from a list of shots you want.

I can't tell you how much relief I saw in people's faces when I said, "By the way, we have a list of photos we want to just work through efficiently."  It took the dread out, even for me.  We were thorough in the list of shots we thought we'd want.  In reality, we crossed a few off as energy waned during the actual photo shoot, but we had prioritized the ones we most wanted, and we got those.

For example:  the whole group, each branch together, all the girls, all the boys, each couple, a few individual shots for those of us who needed them, my in-laws with their boys...things like that.

Choose a good time for the little ones.

I'm sure a photographer would care about time of day as concerns lighting.  We did too, in theory.  But what was more important to us was the experience of the little ones, and scheduling the event at a time when they would be at their best.  As I look back through the photos we have from that day, I'm glad we chose to schedule around those sweet kids.

Let playful personalities have their fun.

I'm the one who needs to take this point to heart the most, I think.  Some family members had the audacity to try to have fun with this organized and well-structured task, and I wasn't too happy with them.  I didn't really care if they wanted to have fun...I just wanted them to wait until we got all the important shots out of the way.  But they turned a deaf ear to my pleas, and, well, we got some hilariously funny and memorable photos from those few minutes during which they broke my unspoken rules.

To my credit, I was of course worried we'd NEVER get back on track if it started spinning out of control, but they proved me wrong and now I'm glad they followed the inspiration of the moment.  We were able to capture some family character that might have otherwise gone undocumented.

03 August 2014

The Beauty of a Bee

I spent a lot of my vacation admiring bees.  Remember how we haven't had very many here, and have been pollinating our garden produce by hand?  Well, I was for obvious reasons freshly enamored with the bee.  Any bee.  Every bee.

Bees on blackberries.  Bees on Queen Ann's Lace.  Bees on weeds.  Bees on sage.  Bees on wildflowers.  Bees on home garden flowers.  

It seemed to me they were everywhere, and it was especially tempting to covet them.

I told a friend I am gaining more appreciation for the organic farming movement--and non-GMO foods--all the time.  I just can't bear the thought of losing the bees.

We've done our part in our little corner of gardenville.  We try to grow organically (we're learning, so I don't use that term too officially), and we only order heirloom seeds.  Still, the bees hadn't found us, and I exclaimed with joy over every little bee I saw on vacation.

Of course the first thing a gardener wants to do upon return from vacation is to look at her garden.  Out to the back yard I went, expressing the usual amazement over how much everything had grown in our absence.

But the best thing of all?

Over there in the basil patch, where every plant was way overgrown and laden with flower stocks,

I. Saw. Bees.

Yes, bees!  They've been frequenting the basil flowers by the multitude every day since, and although I've harvested a good share to make pesto (four new batches in the freezer so far!), I've left some flowers for my new friends to enjoy.

I hope they've found the tomatillo flowers, too.  I've read they'd like those, if they'd just give them a try.

01 August 2014

A River at Sunset

I didn't intend to take a little blogging break.  I meant to stay current here, even while traveling.  

But my niecelet wanted to play airplane, my sister-in-law and I up and wogged (walked + jogged = wogged) 7.6 miles on each of two different days, I chatted with Grandma while everyone else was out running up mountains, we all sang together (that song from our wedding, that Grandpa likes so much), I picked blueberries and even answered my phone on the side of a mountain in Alaska, I walked beside rivers with my mom while my dad rode a scooter and my husband ran beside him, I followed along as my brother led the way to a swimming hole in the river...and, well, blogging just didn't demand my time as much as those beloved people with whom I only spend time once or twice a year.

It flew by too quickly as it was.

I'm home now, and as Sabbath sets in over the evening tonight, I'm simply taken with the thought of how great and clever and creative and graceful Jesus is when He reaches out to us yet one more time, when we've messed up again and again, and makes everything clean once more.

It's good to know wherever I am from one end of the earth to the other, I've never been out of His care.  I'm not beyond His reach tonight, and neither are you.