24 September 2015

Summer Success Story: Exercise

You guys, I am praising the Lord big time this morning.  Maybe it's not something that would seem like a big deal to other people, but it is huge to me.  But before I tell you why, I have to back up in the story a little bit.

For the last several years, I've been in a battle against some health problems.  Now, most people wouldn't know it to look at me, because we have this idea in our society that if you are thin, you are automatically healthy.  And unless you know the subtle physical signs of Graves' Disease, you wouldn't realize what a mess is going on inside the endocrine system.

Over the past two or so years, I've been blessed with a diagnosis--yes, KNOWING what is wrong is a blessing, because then you can figure out how to fix it!--as well as good medical care.  

The thing was, even though my thyroid levels finally returned to normal, and I felt mostly better, I developed some new symptoms that, while each successive doctor and specialist told me were benign, were in actuality disrupting my quality of life on a regular basis.

So last fall the decision came down to two options:  I could go to another specialist, who my cardiologist said might be able to help me (but in all honesty, he told me he wasn't sure if there was anything they could do).  

Or I could take a different direction and see a lifestyle medicine specialist/nutritionist who would take a broad look at a lot of blood work, and fix whatever was obvious.

I chose the broad look at a lot of blood work.

How much blood work that would mean didn't really sink in until I fainted in the lab when they were drawing about the twentieth vial of blood.  I had never fainted before, but it really wasn't that bad.  They took great care of me, and most importantly, got all that blood work done, which showed all kinds of interesting things about how I could improve my health, naturally.

So last winter the fainting thing was a first for me, but so also was being able to go for a run, and run for thirty minutes without stopping.  Oh, how I worked to reach that goal!  Already the lifestyle medicine approach was working.  My symptoms weren't completely gone, but they were improving.

Well, fast forward to the beginning of summer, and I faced two big hurdles.  They were named HEAT, and FISHING SEASON.

Heat is miserable on multiple levels, but specifically for me, it was a hurdle because I knew I needed to keep up on my exercise program in order to keep experiencing the health benefits I was beginning to enjoy more abundantly.  

I knew the night time temperatures would not drop much if at all below 80 for several months, and I knew it would be difficult to get exercise without putting myself in danger for heat exhaustion.  I figured I could walk outside for a few minutes after breakfasts and suppers, but I didn't know what I would do after lunch or for the vigorous exercise my lifestyle medicine specialist recommended.  

And then fishing season.  My husband's family have been commercial fishermen in Bristol Bay (see me standing in Bristol Bay in the sidewalk map above?) for several generations, and this summer, that meant my husband would be away for about six weeks.  I had to find a way to combat the loneliness I would face spending that much time by myself.

As it turned out, finding a solution for exercise also turned out to be one of the key things that helped me get through fishing season on my own.

My mother-in-law, who is a great runner and who with my husband is just the greatest exercise cheerleader on the planet (actually, so is my father-in-law...I'm really blessed to have them in my life), kept encouraging me to explore a gym membership.  And being the cheapskate that I am, I didn't want a gym membership.

But after she mentioned it again and again, I decided to ask Google if there were any free exercise videos I could use at home from my computer.  Then I clicked the first link, and started looking through what the site had to offer.

More than 60 free exercise videos, at all fitness levels.
Some videos using equipment, but many without.
A Christian health and wellness perspective.
Appropriately dressed women.
Free access to the videos by just supplying your e-mail address.
Options to download the videos to your phone or computer, and use them offline if you wanted.

Because the woman in charge viewed this as her ministry.

Well.  Sign me up.

I started right away.  I put on a video whenever a thunderstorm or the intense heat and humidity kept me from walking outside after a meal, or going for a run.  Which, let's be honest, was at least once every day, and sometimes more!  I explored a few beginner body weight workout videos.  And, oh, yes, the beginner videos were enough for me!

But only at first.  After a while, I noticed I could try out harder ones.  I also noticed that if I was feeling lonely and just ready to cry knowing my husband wouldn't be home for several more weeks, and then decided to do even just a ten-minute workout video, I would immediately notice a peace and calm in my emotions that hadn't been there before the exercise.  

As they say, you're only one workout away from a good mood!

That was fourteen weeks ago.  I know that because Michelle, the founder of faithfulworkouts.com, sends me an e-mail each week, encouraging me to keep at it.  Yesterday's e-mail said it was week 14 for me.  And while I haven't been completely faithful, I've certainly been making improvements.

Of course I had other strategies too, but those workout videos were a HUGE part of getting myself through the six weeks of fishing season while my husband was working hard in Bristol Bay.  I can't explain to you all the physiology and science behind it, but I can tell you from my own experience that emotional well being and exercise walk hand in hand.

This morning, though, I didn't work out with Michelle.  The morning temperature was down to 69.  Below 70.  For the first time in MONTHS.  {Imagine it if you can.  I dare you.}  So I went for a run for the first time in at least two months, just to see how I would do, and to see if exercising with Michelle all summer long had preserved any of my ability to run.

I felt great at five minutes.  And just fine at ten minutes.  And breathed harder at fifteen minutes.  And stopped at twenty minutes.

Which is longer than I was able to run without stopping before the summer heat hit.  Which means exercising with Michelle all summer long was a great idea on so many levels.

Now, I wouldn't want anyone to think that they have to follow the same exercise plan that I do.  We each have to find out what works best for us.  But I would love to encourage each of you to make an exercise plan, and to stick with it, and find ways to get exercise even when life and summer heat and whatever else don't seem like they're cooperating with your goals.

The exercise is worth it, not just on a physical level, but on the emotional level, too.  

And if you're interested in more natural ways to improve emotional health, I highly recommend this lecture (click over to the blog for the link if you're reading this in e-mail).  I've listened to it three times in the last week or so, because it's just that inspiring and fascinating.

01 September 2015

Two Years

{Celosia going to seed}

Two years ago today we drove into town, our little car weary and worn from more than one 2500 mile drive over the summer.

We didn't know where the car repair shop was.
We didn't know where the grocery store was.
We didn't know where we were going to live.
We didn't even know where we could stay the night.

We didn't know anyone who could help us find any of the things we needed, except maybe a new coworker or two from my husband's new school.

Although we were excited about the possibilities, we were entirely unprepared for the culture shock brought on by the climate, attending church in a language we didn't speak well, and the way people drive in this flood plain they call the Rio Grande Valley.

Yet somehow we found a little hotel room with a kitchenette that became our center of operations while we waited for the car repair, searched for a place to live, and began our new life in South Texas.

That first week, friends of a friend welcomed us into their home for Sabbath dinner.  We found a house to rent that turned out to be only a block or so away from a wonderful Adventist couple our age who have become good friends.  

We responded to a Craigslist ad for free lemons, bought a citrus juicer (all our stuff was still in storage in another state), and made lemon juice.  Because that's what you do when life gives you lemons.  (Couldn't resist.)

My mom sent word that not only was she coming to visit, but she was also sending us a piano that would arrive on the same day as she would, which turned out to be the same day our moving truck arrived.  

We camped out in an empty house for three weeks--what I went through to find an air mattress without a hole in it!--waiting for my mom, the piano, and the moving truck, just thrilled to have our own space and be out of hotels.  We bought 40 pounds of limes for $4 at the flea market, some jars, and a pot, and I spent days making and canning our own lime juice.

Because that's what you do in a new place, right?  Buy produce in large quantities and set right to work preserving?

And of course you plant your seeds for the fall garden.  We were a bit late--September 11 that year--but since South Texas really doesn't have winter to speak of, it worked out fine.  We had carried our little box of seeds everywhere we went that summer like regular Johnny Appleseeds, to good purpose.

This morning I looked at my kitchen sink full of dishes that I didn't get to last night, and thought through the day ahead.  Costco run.  Groceries.  Bank.  Gas for the car.  Teaching lessons.  Keeping house.  Saving seeds from the stunning celosia flowers that bloomed and attracted the butterflies all summer long.  Watching for the next rain, when I will plant some new fall crops.

A busy day ahead, for sure, but a day of blessings.  Dirty dishes are blessing dishes, evidence of good meals, a settled home.  Errands to run, without looking at Google maps, are blessing errands, especially when you know just which stores offer the best prices.

And teaching lessons?

Oh, my, that itself is blessing unbounded, and full of surprises and delights at every turn.

21 August 2015

Sunflower Thief

A few weeks ago, my amazing red sunflower bush finished making seeds and died.  I got out my trusty Christmas tree saw--oh, for the days of living near enough to the woods to cut my own $5 tree!--and sawed it down.

Yep.  Completely necessary.  I couldn't pull it out by myself, my clippers weren't sturdy enough, and the saw was my only remaining option if I were to get the job done before my husband returned from his commercial fishing adventures.

 Other than the wild sunflowers that grow everywhere and get taller than the house (I definitely used the saw for them too when they were finished), we hadn't managed to get any of our other sunflower varieties to grow.  I blame soil, I guess.

But then this one somehow made it through the winter, and started growing.  And blooming.  And growing some more, until we had a bush worthy of daily hummingbird and butterfly visits.

One day as we drove into the driveway and parked, we discovered another creature loved our red sunflower bush.  I caught him on camera, and he didn't even run away in shame.  

He'd been eating what flowers he could get his hands on, without even waiting for them to make seeds.  Although, judging on the little hole next to the bush, I think he did find some seeds and start to bury them for winter...

Maybe he didn't realize he was just being my assistant gardener.

02 August 2015

Who Loves Hot Weather?

In July, our lowest high temperature was 84F.  Our highest high temperature was 105F, with 17 of July's 31 days reaching highs of 100F or higher.

You won't find me outside very often at those temperatures!

But the garden plants have to be out in it all the time, and although the community garden shuts down this time of year, we've decided to try growing things year round.  I've been amazed to watch as some of our own garden plants don't look the least bit stressed even on the hottest days.

Purple basil (and green basil, for that matter) are some of the heartiest.  They don't wilt in the intense sun, and only seem to produce more as the hot July days wear on into just-as-hot August.  I've been pruning and harvesting the basil every two weeks, and getting two or three quarts from each harvest (from two plants).

Because my husband often goes commercial fishing with his family during the summer, I had the house to myself for a few weeks this summer.  Mealtimes can get awfully quiet when you're always eating by yourself, so I sometimes entertained myself by watching Growing a Greener World online while I enjoyed my lunch.

In the episode on Monticello, my ears perked right up when I heard about Thomas Jefferson growing sesame as a hot weather plant.  I caught a glimpse of their flowers, did a few searches online, and ordered two kinds of sesame seeds right away.  I knew I didn't have any time to lose if I was going to plant them before the June rains ended.

The seeds arrived in the mail just in time for me to get them in the ground with a good rain, and although I was a bit on the late side, two sprouted within two or three days.  

They haven't bloomed yet, but I'm amazed at how, no matter how hot or dry it is outside, they never look the least bit wilted.  I don't know how many seeds each flower and plant will make for us, but we love sesame seeds, and I'm sure we'll enjoy eating a few from our own garden for the first time.  

I almost cried a couple of weeks ago when I came out and realized that the lawn care people had trimmed off half of one of my sesame plants, but in the end we discovered another great thing about growing sesame:  it will just put out new leaves as if nothing ever happened.

You can see that it's still significantly smaller than the other plant that sprouted at the same time as this one, but at least I didn't lose it.  

I'm hoping to plant a fall, spring, and summer crop and get three sesame blooms and harvests each year.

28 June 2015

One Strong Woman

I love many things about living in south Texas, but the tap water is not one of them.  Michigan boasts terrible water.  Virginia's water is an improvement over Michigan's, which isn't saying much.  Texas's water rates somewhere in there with the not-so-great water of Michigan and Virginia, and since living here, we've resorted to buying all our drinking water.

It's a far cry from the fabulous well water in Washington and Alaska my husband and I both grew up on.

I confess hauling and pouring water ranks pretty low on my chore enjoyment scale.  Every time I go fill up the five-gallon jugs, or pour water out of the five-gallon jugs into smaller jugs for daily use, I groan inwardly and wish someone else would do it for me.

Then, every time, I remember Rebekah.

Rebekah, who not only poured water but also drew water from the wells or troughs long enough to quench the thirst not only of human guests but of camels.  Rebekah, who must have been one strong, in-shape woman, working in a climate perhaps similar to my own.  Rebekah, who wasn't afraid of a little--or a lot of--extra physical work.  

Rebekah, whose attitude of cheerful, extra-mile service above all other qualities recommended her to be Isaac's wife and Abraham's daughter-in-law.

All these thousands of years later, every time I haul water and pour water and start out inwardly complaining that I'm stuck doing a chore I really don't like, Rebekah's story humbles me.  

By the time I finish hauling and pouring I'm inspired to exercise more often so I can be strong like she was, change my attitude so I can go the extra mile like she did, and do these acts of service in my home cheerfully like Rebekah would.

15 June 2015

Life is Hard

Or is life just funny?  

I don't frequent either of these establishments, but I laugh every time I pass their corner.  Do the Weight Watchers participants have to fight temptation before and after every meeting?  Do the ice cream customers get a visual reminder to eat healthier every time they order their cones?

21 April 2015

Music Lessons from the Plumber

Maybe this is terrible, but I secretly look forward to having the plumbers come.  Not because I desire a problem--no, I don't have a lot of time for extras of those.  But these guys are hard-working, friendly people, and I always enjoy their attention to courtesy as they take care of life's basics around the house.

I think that's what one of my favorite uncles is like as a plumber (I'm allowed to have more than one favorite uncle, right?), although I've never been out on the job site with him.

Today's visit from the plumbers didn't disappoint.  As we talked about the details of parts and next visits, I mentioned my up-coming responsibilities as choir accompanist at a local school's music festival at the end of this week.  The conversation turned to the piano gracing the living room.

"I think it was built in 1907," I told them.

They did the math.  Yes, 108 years old, as far as we know.  Amazing, right?  

Turns out, one of the plumbers is also a musician who plays several instruments.  He told me how he learned to play by sheer effort and commitment.  And you know what?  I think he had a lot of wisdom to share with this piano teacher and her students.  It was just the affirmation and encouragement I needed in this busier-than-usual music making week.

Making Music Takes Discipline

That's no surprise to me.  I've been making music for a lot of years, and I'm still making music because at each step I've stayed disciplined.  The plumber said playing accordion didn't come easily to him.

"Why can't I do this?" he asked himself, over and over and over.

But he didn't give up, and neither did I.  Now we're both musicians for life.

Making Music Takes Priority

If learning to play your instrument isn't a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly priority, you will never learn to play your instrument well.  The plumber said he turned down countless invitations as a young man to go have fun just to keep trying to play.  Even before he was good at playing.  

He simply wanted to play, and he knew it would take making his instrument a priority if he was every going to learn.

Opening the Musical Ear

And you know what?  All that discipline and all that priority eventually "opened the musical ear", as he put it.  

"Once the musical ear is opened," he told me, "there's no stopping it."

He's entirely self taught.  He tunes all his instruments by ear.  He hears things other people can't hear.

Because he kept at it, day in and day out, until he could play.

06 April 2015

Garden Friends


My mom e-mailed today to tell me it would have been her dad's birthday.  The photo she attached shows him kneeling in his garden, face turned up, cowboy had securely placed, surrounded by rows of good things to eat.

He died thirty-five years ago.  I'm not thirty-five yet, which means I never met him.

I do hear stories of how generous he was, both with money and garden produce.  I hear how he made soda water pancakes when everyone went camping (or at least got credit for them...it's hard to tell from the stories just how much help he really got from my grandma!).

And I hear about his garden.  How he grew enough corn to dry and grind for their own cornmeal--enough for a family of two parents, eight children, and who knows how many guests arriving who knows with how much notice.

That's a lot of corn meal.

I hear about how he bought ladybugs to come into the garden and eat the aphids.  I've been glad to see more ladybugs in the garden this year, but I haven't bought any. 

Unless you count the ladybug nail clippers and the ladybug squeeze toys I bought for my piano students, to remind them to clip their nails and curve their fingers.  But that's different.

I do think my grandfather and I would have been good friends.  Even if we wouldn't have had anything more than gardens in common.  Gardens, after all, can take up enough of life to be enough for a good bond.

And do you see who else came to the garden this spring?  They chose the right time this year, when the dill was big and I was already letting it go to seed.  We ended up with three little guys, as far as I could tell. 

In these photos, they're probably ready to run off and find somewhere to hang as chrysalises for a while, but I haven't figured out where they went to do that.  I hope they chose safe places.

I still can't get over their adorable stumpy feet.

You'll notice that the dill looks a bit beat up and ragged.  It has good reason to.  A week and half ago, my neighbor called to warn me that a bad storm was coming. 

My husband was home on lunch break, so we quickly shut the windows, gathered the littlest potted plants and put them under cover, and said a prayer for protection.

Then the hail started, with stones an inch and a half across.  It was like the sky was hurling ice cubes everywhere.  Some hit windows.  The hail lasted about five minutes, and in the end there wasn't significant damage, even in the garden--except for a few broken dill stems.

And we are grateful indeed.

30 March 2015

Three Best Small Space Edible Plants

When we bought most of our current seed collection, we had a large garden in mind, with room for everything we wanted.  We had no idea at the time we'd be moving to a place that, although it would have year-round growing possibilities, would be anything but spacious enough for everything we wanted.

In that sense, this list of the three best plants to grow small gardens in order to eat from your garden every day came from an unlikely large-space mentality.

In fact, I think that mentality is what has made our daily eating-from-our-garden goal possible day in and day out for the last seven months.  We just start the seeds and figure out where they'll be transplanted later!  There's always one more corner, or one more pot, where another plant will fit.

But even with that mentality, we did manage to stumble on a strategy that works well for bringing daily bounty onto our plates even in our small garden, and I think three of our plants have made it not only possible, but delicious. 

I love every plant in our garden, but these are the three that for the last seven months have been the most versatile, fitting easily into a wide variety of meals.


Since basil is good in several types of cuisine, we've found it to be one of our most versatile plants.  Last summer, I think we had twelve or thirteen plants for our household of two people.  Using a great pruning method, we had enough to use ourselves, to preserve, and to share with friends.

Dried:  I use dried basil in soups, home-made vegetarian chicken-like seasoning, and as a flavor for roasted vegetables, to name a few things.  Even when there's not much being harvested in the garden on a daily basis, the dried basil is so versatile that getting something into my mouth from the garden has been easy.

Pesto:  We happen to love pesto.  We eat it fresh, and we freeze extra batches to use for later.  And lest you think pasta is the only place for pesto?  Try it on toast, on potatoes, in stir fry, or even baked into a loaf of bread.

Fresh:  Bruschetta, chunky sphagetti sauce, and even as a salad tossed with sauteed garlic and onions and a bit of olive oil are just a few of the ways we've discovered to enjoy fresh basil.  It even works in green smoothies--as long as there are some other greens in there to help balance out the strong basil flavor.


It doesn't take too many parsley plants to supply the average person's need, but somehow we've ended up with, let me count, fifteen parsley plants in different stages of development.  Each plant can get huge, especially if your weather stays cool for a long time, which keeps them from going to seed, and you can just keep cutting from the same plant for quite a while.  Even though we've found ways to use a lot of fresh parsley ourselves, we've also been able to find friends to help us enjoy the garden bounty.

Fresh:  Parsley is an excellent garnish for hummus, it's great in scrambled tofu (or eggs) and hash browns, and in stir fries.  But one of our favorites has turned out to be using parsley as a salad green, especially in combination with cilantro (just use equal parts of each, and add whatever other salad fixings you love). 

Dried:  I don't use dried parsley nearly as often as I do dried basil (or even dill), but it's another versatile herb to use for seasoning all kinds of things, and therefore a great way to sneak in something from the garden at times when other fresh things might not be so readily available.

Red Sweet Peppers

Last spring we got some dried Guajillo peppers from the store.  They're a mild red pepper, and my husband wanted to try them in his home-made enchilada sauce (which is awesome, by the way).  He couldn't bear to let all the seeds from those dried peppers go to waste, so he tried sprouting some of them.

And that is how we ended up with a small Guajillo pepper forest in our front flower bed.  I'm sure they're all planted too close, but once you have all those plants you simply can't let any of them die.  So planted too close they are, and in an odd place at that.

Given the right conditions, pepper plants will produce loads of peppers even if they're grown in pots.  Last season, my father-in-law (who grows several varieties of hot peppers) harvested close to 1,000 peppers from one plant. 

Needless to say, you don't need a lot of space to accommodate a pepper plant or two if they're in a pot, especially with that kind of bounty coming from each plant!

Fresh:  These sweet peppers--or any other kind of red sweet pepper, I might add--fit easily into any salad, stir fry, salsa, taco, or vege platter.  

Dried:  When they're dried, any red pepper (in my opinion, at least) works well as a paprika substitute.  Talk about versatile!  Soups, sauces, home-made potato fries, and stir fries, not to mention enchilada sauce, are all great options for using a dried red pepper.

26 March 2015

Mighty Men of the Bible

Once you get past the nine chapters of genealogies in 1 Chronicles, it's not long before you get to a couple more chapters of lists.  These grab my attention more quickly than the genealogies.

First there's the guy who, in hand-to-hand combat, slew three hundred enemies at once.  Or the three men who planted their feet in a barley field and held the ground against the entire Phillistine army, and later battled their way through "the host of the Phillistines" simply to bring David a glass of water from his favorite well.

The lists of mighty men and their accomplishments continue on, with one eye-widening story of strength after another.

Then, as the lists of mighty men progress from David's time as a fugitive to David's early years as king in Hebron, some more mighty men caught my attention in a new way.

"And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment."  1 Chronicles 12:32

Oh, that spiritual Israel now would have two hundred and more mighty men (people), strong in their understanding of our times, to know what God's people ought to do!  And oh, that each Christian would strive the harder to gain such wisdom and understanding as God has promised to those who simply ask for it.

Because our times, too, are important in the history of God's people, and our times, too, demand understanding.

23 March 2015

March Loveliness

Is there anything so beautiful as dill plants in full flower?

On cloudy days, the blossoms catch my eye, their bright yellow acting as a substitute sunshine for the back yard, and I bask in their rays.  How pollen can seem to glow like that I still haven't figured out.

On sunny days, they make the perfect compliment for their blue-sky backdrop, stretching up above my head as if they want to reach as high as the sky.

I remind myself the unstoppable Texas heat is on its way, but right now, while the days are warm and the nights are cool and the humid air feels welcome and fresh, the garden and I bask in March loveliness.

The cayenne plant, I feel sure, grew several inches last week.  The bee balm put out more branches and looks like a respectable patch, when just a few days ago you could hardly tell if it would ever do anything ever.  The parsley row needs to be made into a hundred salads to keep it from going to seed soon.

And the dill?

It's hosting at least one little friend caterpillar who will turn into a black swallowtail butterfly, and the whole patch is making seeds enough for us and all our friends.  

Gardens are, after all, prolific.

20 March 2015

Beauty in Order: Appreciating the Genealogies

I'll admit it.  My eyes glazed over.

Nonetheless determined to get through the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles dedicated to genealogies, I prayed, asking God to help me understand why He thought it was so important to put in these long and tedious chapters.

Now, truth be told, I was recently more than fascinated to meet some distant cousins of mine and behold her amazing family tree.  It was a couple of rooms long, and a few feet tall, and there my branch was, all green and prolific and full of stories that came to my mind as I read over the names I recognized.

The difference between that genealogy and the biblical ones?  

Well, to put it bluntly, I'm in the one my relative showed me.  So are the people whose stories I've lived alongside and grew up hearing.

But with the biblical ones?

I suppose the Bible would be a much longer book if all the interesting stories that could be told about these lists and lists of people were actually included in the Bible.  As it stands, without the stories, the biblical genealogies fail to come to life for me, until I come across a long-lost familiar name, like David, or Joseph.

Which leaves me with a dilemma, because I believe what Paul said to Timothy about ALL Scripture being given by God and being useful for a whole list of really good things (see 2 Timothy 3:16).  

That means that if I think a part of the Bible is boring, it's my fault, not the Bible's fault, and I therefore need to grapple with it and ask for the gift of wisdom.  I don't think God would have just up and wasted nine chapters in His word without putting a blessing in there for me personally or for the cause of truth through the ages.

Meanwhile in the rest of my life, I've been on a quest to be more organized, more on top of the details.  I've been blessed to find some tools that are helping me immensely.  In fact, if you've been unfortunate enough to catch me at the wrong moment, you've heard all about my new checklist that I bought for a mere $8 and how it changed my life in less than 48 hours.

I'm experiencing on a day-to-day basis a rejuvenation of order in my practical life, and those little details on my cleaning checklist have life beyond the mere words "sweep kitchen and living room".

My cleaning checklist came to mind the next time I sat down with another long chapter of genealogies.  I thought of the New Testament admonition to do everything decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40).  

I thought of how clean space around me sets the stage for beauty and creativity in my life.

And I came away impressed with my God of order, who not only inspired these detailed records to be kept in the first place, but also preserved them through thousands of years. 

I began seeing the genealogies not so much as something to plod through, but as an anchor, a clean start, a stage set for the chaotic stories to follow, a reminder of the One who lovingly counts the hairs on our heads and stores our tears in bottles, the One who records these details of history to remind me He has everything worked out for the future as well.

16 March 2015

A Musician's Thoughts on Sad Music

My soundtrack that last spring of graduate school as I studied, wrote papers, washed dishes (it DID happen sometimes!) was something we were learning in choir, "When David Heard", a Biblical text set afresh by Eric Whitacre.

"When David heard that Absalom was slain, he went up into his chamber over the gate, and wept, and thus he said,  'O, my son Absalom!  Would God I had died for thee!'"

The music had arrived late, which put us behind our rehearsal schedule for this fifteen-minute no-small-task piece, and our director asked us to listen to it often, following our parts.

And yes, I did just say fifteen-minute piece, and yes, the text above is the entire text. 

It's David weeping for his son, after all, knowing he might have been able to do something more not only for his physical salvation, but also his spiritual salvation, yet seeing that last chance slip through his fingers with his son's death in battle.

It's a complicated story, and I think David's grief was complicated.  Which, quite frankly, makes that fifteen minutes of beautiful and haunting choral weeping seem quite appropriate.

(If you're reading on e-mail, click over to the blog to listen to the YouTube recording.)

Then last week my mom told me about a talk she heard called "Ten Things to do to be Happy".  One of the things, she said, was to listen to sad music.

Wait, what?

The logic had something to do with the sad music giving you a venue to release and process your own sadness, rather than hanging onto it at the expense of your overall happiness.

Well, I had been feeling the weight of stress--my own, and some very intense experiences other people in my life had been going through--and I decided to give it a try.  I knew just where to begin, too, with that choir piece from graduate school, beautiful choral weeping spanning fifteen minutes.

And it sort of worked.  It did give me space to process.

The music made me cry a little, and while the words repeated over and over I had space to think and pray about all the things going on around me that didn't really make much sense.  In fact, I listened to the piece several times over a couple of days. 

There came, however, a limit.  Because the sad music didn't just give me the space to process, and then move on, but it also kept me processing beyond my need for the moment, and it KEPT me feeling sad.  

I needed happier music, and I needed it right away if I wasn't going to wallow in sadness indefinitely.

Enter "Eat Your Vegetables" (video below), another favorite graduate school discovery.  It's about prolific gardens and vegetables and the kind of bounty we all want our soil to bring forth, with a good share of humor mixed in.

It didn't take many rounds of vegetable music before I really did start to feel happier again.

So in case you're wondering if you should try listening to sad music to help you be happier?  Here's my vote:  give yourself a few minutes to listen to something sad, but plan ahead of time that you'll listen to something happy, too.

Because in the opinion of this musician at least, music not only gives us the chance to express and process the emotions we already have, but also the chance to influence the emotions and thoughts we want to have.  And if you want happiness, you can't feed yourself sadness and weeping, however beautifully composed, forever.

12 March 2015

Putting Down Roots

Is it even possible not to love orange blossom season?

By summer, I may well be weary of the relentless heat.  For now, though, I'm basking in the wisps of scent, here from the oranges, there from the huisache trees lining the running path.

There are days, even still, when this little transplant called me longs for something familiar, for family close enough to drive over for the weekend, for peaches in the summertime and tulips in spring.

Ah, but most days, when I walk out the door only to find whole flower beds full of blooming Amaryllis, or the neighbor's loaded papaya tree, or a real live alligator tussle in the nearby state park, or my very own year-round tiny plot of edible bounty....

My roots run just a little deeper into this foreign delight called tropical Texas.

09 March 2015

The Vine and Branches: On Learning, Teaching, and Bearing Fruit

Whenever I see a grape vine, I think of those days my husband and I went out to a little farm with 100-year-old vines where the woman let us pick grapes for a mere $9 a bushel.  

And then of course how exhausted I was that late night when we stayed up making and canning grape juice until 1:30 a.m. in graduate school, and how we still have one jar left in the cupboard (it has lived with us in three states now) waiting for an occasion just special enough to open it.

But mostly when I think of grape vines, I think of Jesus.  "I am the Vine," He said, "and you are the branches."

I think of Him, and I hope I bear beautifully delicious fruit by being connected with Him.

I read this week that Jesus taught so often out in the open air was precisely because He wanted the people who heard what He had to say--and all of us who now read what He had to say--to remember Him whenever we see the things He taught about, stopping to think anew about His words, and how they influence our lives.

A brilliant teaching technique, right?

It gives me pause to evaluate and grow both as a learner and a teacher, as I think about how to apply Jesus' words to my personal life, and His techniques to my own teaching.

05 March 2015

What's Growing, What We're Eating, Who We're Meeting

We haven't seen too many of our tiny lizard friends lately--too cold for them to be out.  The temperatures are still up and down, in the eighties for a few days, then in the fifties and sixties for a few days.  

I'll admit to looking forward to the warmer temperatures for two reasons:  the lizards, and the time of year when peppers, eggplants, and okra grow like crazy.

But right now I really can't complain about our various parsley patches--we're using parsley more as a salad green than an herb these days.  The dill patch, too, has finally done superbly well (after a couple of battles with butterflies...battles in the sense that we were trying to keep both the dill and the butterflies alive, of course).

Amazingly enough, while production seems to have slowed, we've still managed to eat something from the garden each day.  Except the day during a last-minute trip, but even on that day we ate something from my parents' garden, which I kind of take credit for because we got it set up there a year-and-a-half ago to accommodate my seedlings in the middle of our extended move.

So that means something home-grown has been on the table every day since September 1, 2014.  Pretty good record, right?

In November, we met the man in charge of the community garden near our house.  We don't grow things there, but I like to walk past it several times a week to get a glimpse of how things are doing.  They grow everything organically, and have built up the on-site soil for several years. 

When we met the man in charge, we instantly wanted to spend about five days asking him questions.  We settled for a few minutes of his time, though.  :)  

 One of the most important things we learned was that most tomatoes in our area succumb to the yellow leaf curl virus spread by white flies.  But since he told us which variety he grows with consistent results, we felt armed with knowledge to do better in the future, even though our tomato plants were already beginning to look sick.

What I didn't count on was how difficult it would be to find that tomato variety.  It took quite a few Google searches...but the good news is that now we know!  It probably didn't need to be such a prolonged research project.  

Nevertheless, I'm feeling thankful that I can go buy a six-pack of plants at a nearby nursery for $2.98, which gives me hope to have a few tomatoes this spring after all.

02 March 2015

Blue Seas Statice: Blooms on my Second-year Plants

When I first ordered seeds for Blue Seas Statice, I had no idea they would take until the second year to bloom.

The poor things did go through a lot of trauma--poor soil, heat, and being chopped up by the yard care man's weed eater on multiple occasions.  Yet they kept growing back, and I kept hoping as long as they kept growing.

Now the first one is just barely beginning to bloom, and I'm completely delighted with the color--as much as I hoped I would be.  Which of course means I'd better get some seeds started so I can enjoy them again next year.

We ordered ours from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and you can still find the same variety.

12 February 2015

He Came Upon a Midnight: Christmas hope for your mid-February

I've never been one to limit my Christmas music to December.  As a musician, Christmas always comes in October anyway, and I don't see a reason to force it into the closet on December 26.

After all, I want Jesus to stay right by me the rest of the year, so why not His story? 

This particular holiday season was hectic for us beyond the usual programs and concerts, so I ended the year feeling like I really hadn't done the Christmas carols thing this year.  Not that I was going to do anything about it, mind you, but I did notice.

Some of my piano students agree with me about Christmas music all year; others don't.  The ones who agree get to keep their Christmas music out as long as they'd like--which is why I ended up with one student practicing Christmas through January, and why I started another one on Christmas music in February, for the reading skills, of course.

Is that what led to opening up some Christmas music and playing it during my supper preparations this evening?

Whatever made me do it, those piano sounds turned me teary-eyed pretty quickly.  

It came upon a midnight clear, 
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, good will to men, 
From heaven's all-gracious King;"
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

My heart once more had no words, no words for the dear ones I know who right now suffer fear, worry, anxiety, sickness.  

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o'er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing. 

And once more, my prayer, my hopes for them ascended high, pleading that these same angels would come and brighten the path for my dear ones.  

And ye, beneath life's crushing load, 
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow--
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing. 

Once more through a hymn words of faith crept into my mind, offering their hope not just to me, but to my dear ones, too.

After all, Jesus still offers rest beside the weary road, even if it's February instead of December.

20 January 2015

How to be Brave

I'm struck today, as my fingers type out the words once more, writing them in my memory and not just on the screen, by the boldness of John the Baptist.

We think of him as the one who baptized Jesus, who preached in the wilderness by the river, who called Israel to repentance.  But did you remember he preached to Herod?

John said, right to the hardened king's face, You shouldn't be keeping company with your brother's wife.  In fact, you need to stop it right away.

Which means if John was preaching repentance to Herod, there was hope even for Herod.  And if there was hope for Herod?  There isn't anybody reading this right now who can't have hope.  It's there for the taking.

John's bold preaching cost him his freedom, and eventually his life.  But he didn't think about that when he preached, when he invited Herod into the kingdom of heaven.

He simply stayed true to the work God asked him to do, even though I'm sure he well knew it could cost him dearly.  He looked ahead to the reward of the faithful, and simply stayed true, through everything.  That's how we can be brave, too.

15 January 2015


I'll admit it.  I'm not used to January looking like this, but I certainly wouldn't dream of complaining about it.

All the zinnias are blooming.  We're still eating something out of our own garden every single day.  (This is day 137 in a row!)  The local orchards (both the professionals and the friends' home trees) are in full swing.

The piano students started coming through the doors again this week, and the closer it came to the time they walked into the studio?  I was as excited as a kid before a birthday party.  It's fun to like your job that much.

I haven't made resolutions.  At least not officially.  I hardly ever do.  Maybe because I've never felt like January was The Big Start.  That happens when school starts in August or September.  January is just a little re-start into what should already be a good routine.

So this January, my resolutions go about as far as trying to adhere more faithfully to the bedtime schedule I set for myself in August.

As I told a new little kindergarten-year-old friend of mine in December, I get really tired when I stay up past my bedtime.

"Me, too," she said solemnly.

And as I'm making progress toward managing my evenings the way I should, I'm getting reacquainted with that favorite time of day of mine.

Early morning.

Nothing like it, especially when you greet it with the fresh energy that comes only from a good night's rest, and spend it with Jesus.