May Garden

Our garden, both floral and vegetable, has gotten off to a great start this year. The roses are cascading in abundance. We have four pink roses that I've planted. One is a knock-out rose that I no longer know the name of. The other is a delicate David Austin called Queen of Sweden.

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Then of course there's my own cute little rosebud, who likes me to take pictures of her. She's always out in the garden too. She loves to dig!

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I transplanted the peonies last year to give them more sun, room, and put them in a row, instead of randomly placed around the yard so that they would have more visual impact.

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I planted some wildflowers last year and while they are doing well, I've realized they probably are not in the right place. They are at the entrance of our drive and are ending up looking messy. We will enjoy them this year, but I think next year we will sow with grass since the rest of the area is just a lawn. I really don't need more flower bed to manage, and this particular one has been a headache since we moved in. I have other beds that need attention so I think the kids won't complain to have a little more room for soccer!

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Every year I tweak things. I transplant or add something. I've definitely had to learn I don't get gardening right the first time. It can be hard to imagine just how it all will turn out. But each year gets a little easier and a little less work as we add perennials to our beds. Also, last year our vegetable bed had depleted soil, and this year, after a good autumn dose of manure, they are thriving! Our lettuces are almost ready to begin harvesting and we can't wait for sugar snap peas!

What I'm Into Right Now (May 2018)

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Today I'm sharing what I've been into this month. My reading slump in fiction kind of continues, but everything else was great!

Watch:
We watched a new Agatha Christie adaptation of the novel The Crooked House on Amazon Prime. I must admit at first it was a bit of a snooze, maybe the first twenty minutes or so. I might have been tempted to give up, if it wasn't that I knew Agatha Christie would deliver. And she sure did! The end was quite a shock as you figure out what's about to happen! 

Listen:
Ever since we saw The Greatest Showman we've been listening to the soundtrack. We all love it. It's so cute to listen to Ava sing, "every night I lie in bed, the brightest colors fill my head . . . "

Read:
Since my last post I've read Rules of Civility by Amor Towles and The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan. Both were "meh" to me. The writing was great by Towles and the concept of the story was interesting by Hogan but I just couldn't love the characters or get caught up in the story. I am listening to the next Flavia mystery on audio, however, and am enjoying it greatly! I'm really loving the characters and setting in this series and the author really captures the time period. I'm sure a lot of research goes into these books but it never feels that way. 

Eat:
We've been eating some really yummy stuff. A friend texted me this recipe for a white pizza and we've made it twice. These Greek Lamb Meatballs with Green Goddess Dressing were amazing! I used ground beef instead of lamb and couscous and got my Green Goddess Dressing from Trader Joe's. Also, strangely enough while getting oral laser surgery done the doctor's office had the Pioneer Woman's show on and she made these Cherry Pie Cookie Bars while my mouth was open and numb. They also made my mouth water and immediately went home and bookmarked the recipe and later made it. It was such a easy but delicious recipe that can easily feed a crowd. The orange zest really makes it!

Also, while at Trader Joe's I picked up a bar of their Cold Brew Coffee Chocolate Bar. Oh my, is it ever good! I've also been paging through Joanna Gaines' new cookbook Magnolia Table. So far we've only made her overnight French Toast but it was hands down the best overnight french toast I've made. Nice and crunchy on top. Delicious and fed us for two mornings. With my crowd, that's 

What have YOU been into lately?

Cast + Sustain

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Last fall I had some health problems which needed an ultrasound in order to rule out any more serious issues and it caused me anxiety like I've never known. I couldn't eat properly and sleep eluded me. Recently, a good friend has had her own apprehensive wait for test results, another has an adopted daughter with eating complications due to being exposed to drugs in the womb, and another has become the full-time caregiver to her mother-in-law battling cancer, just to mention a few burdens my friends are carrying.

We are in the thick of it of it. We have hit the trenches of middle age. The honeymoons are over. The first house has been bought. Baby showers have been thrown and children born. Now we're caring for kids with learning disabilities and supporting parents with ailing health while faced with the frailty of our own bodies and emotional limits.

One can feel stretched thin. Like it's too much sometimes.

But when reading Psalm 55 the other day I came across verse 22:

"Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you."

Cast.

That's my job. The action I'm supposed to take. Roll it, throw it, hurl that burden off my shoulders and onto Jesus' shoulders instead. I might have to do it everyday or every minute. I might need a friend to help me when I'm weak. But keep shoving that heavy weight off until it's gone.

Sustain.

That's God's job. I don't have to try to sustain myself. When David wrote Psalm 55 he spoke of his circumstances (you can read it here). He was restless and in turmoil. An enemy's words were bringing down disaster and he felt the pressure of the wicked all around him. Terrors of death, fear, and trembling gripped him. Yet he reminded himself--and us--of this simple truth: cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you.

To be sustained doesn't mean the circumstances will change. But instead you will be able to bear the weight, or be supported. The dictionary says that it means to "endure without giving way."

And so friends, let's roll those burdens off of our shoulders.

He will do the sustaining.

Blossom to Blossom Logo + Business Card

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I had the pleasure of working with Cora, the owner of Blossom to Blossom, this spring to create her logo and business cards. Cora is a floral container gardener serving Baltimore and the surrounding area. You can often find her beautiful container gardens beautifying local business store fronts. Cora wanted to incorporate some of her favorite colors into the logo along with a feature flower, filler flowers, and a trailing vine.

You can find Blossom to Blossom on Facebook as well as on Instagram if you want to check out Cora's floral designs!

Note: Sensitive contact information was taken off the back of the card for privacy. If you are interested in Cora's work, private message her through her social media accounts.

What I'm Into Right Now (April 2018)

Spring is finally showing it's blossoms around here and we're picking daffodils and hyacinths. Since it's been a couple of months since I've posted a "what I'm into" post I've got lots of good stuff to share, so let's get to it!

Listening:

My sister got me hooked on West Cork, a new true crime series in the tradition of Serial. You can find it on Audible and download it for free and listen to it on the Audible app. Loving so far, although I'm only four chapters in. To listen to a trailer and find out more, go here.

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Also, I was so happy to discover a new-to-me duo who can officially take the place The Civil Wars left behind. We heard them on an episode of Longmire and Josh and I immediately looked at each other and said, "who is that?" The song that was featured was the haunting Carry Me Home. Well, they are The Sweeplings, and their newest album is basically on repeat. A few other titles I'm loving is My Oh My and Under Your Spell

Watching:

Speaking of Longmire, Josh and I absolutely fell in love with this series on Netflix. I loved the characters of Absaroka County. The plot has twists and turns, the characters are fascinating, and I really liked the Native American aspect of the show, that deals with reservation issues. After six seasons, by the time it ended it felt like a good novel was coming to a close.

I'm not sure what our next series will be, but so far we've tried one episode of Flint Town, which is a documentary series. And the kids and I are loving A Series of Unfortunate Events. It never ceases to amaze me how cleaver and witty it can be!

Reading:

I recently read Dreamland Burning which was a pretty good; a quick read with a nice twist at the end. It's YA and felt like it too. At first I wasn't sure I'd stick with it but due to the subject matter about the Tulsa Race Riots I really wanted to. I'm glad I did, because I felt like the story gained strength as it went.

I just recently finished the second Flavia de Luce book, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag. The titles of Alan Bradley's books are as delightful as the novels are. If you can call murder mysteries delightful, which these are. The books take a while to get rolling but once they do! They have what so many books these days seem to lack, attention to detail. The detail that Bradley includes in his book are very much rooted in the place and time period and I love that it doesn't seem like the characters are modern and were just stuck back in another time period. Flavia is, of course, so smart she's a bit on the unbelievable side, but I don't really mind. 

Eating: 

Kielbasa and Roasted Vegetables is an easy week night meal we've enjoyed several times and this is a favorite "breakfast for dinner" option. But honestly, we're in that weird "in-between" season where I'm tired of soups and stews and eager for more springish options. If only our weather would work with me! We were still having almost-freezing overnight temperatures last week!

Tell me what YOU are into right now?

The Season of Rest

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"In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength." Isaiah 30:15

This is the season of rest.

It is the season of repentance. It is the beginning of Lent.

For many of us, the word "repentance" seems foreign. It may conjure up images of groveling, shame, or scenes of a confessional.

But repentance in the Bible is rest. A turning around, an end to running away, or hiding. It's stripping off a mask. It's being real, or even "authentic" to borrow one of today's over-used buzz words.

As Martin Luther said, "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, 'Repent,' he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance."

Repentance isn't a one time thing you do to "get saved." It's a process. It's a lifestyle.

It's not a picture of standing ashamed before a stern judge. The picture the Bible presents is that of the prodigal son returning and his father running to wrap him in arms of joy. The son no longer has to scrounge around, eeking out an existence alongside of pigs, but can rest in the lavish love of his father. In his father's presence he finds the peace his soul was looking for all along.

Lent isn't ultimately about depriving oneself or some sort of self-deprecation. It's about the rest repentance brings while we wait for resurrection.

What I'm Into Right Now (January 2018)

It's time to share some of the good stuff I've been enjoying lately.

Listening:

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I've been loving Emily P. Freeman's podcast, The Next Right Thing. All her recent episodes have been hitting me in all the best ways. Not to mention she has such a soothing voice and at 15 or so minutes I can easily get it on a busy day. Her messages are a great reminder on how to focus my days and my work.

Also, the last audiobook the kids and I finished up was Navigating Early. Wow, was that book ever good! I'm really glad we did audio over reading it because I think that really helped add to the experience. All the kids loved it and I did too. It's the type of book that has so many layers! I'm sure I was getting things out of it they weren't. For instance, I loved the whole "epic quest" aspect that is reminiscent of so many other great books like The Odyssey or The Lord of the Rings. Yet is was uniquely American.

Reading:
Thus far this year I really enjoyed Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher. I tried reading it a year ago and it just didn't resonate with me and I didn't get very far. This year I stuck with it. It still took a while to hook me but it really did. I teared up at the beautiful ending. I also just finished The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Newbery Award books never disappoint and I loved this novel just as much as I did when I read it when I was a girl--maybe even more! I'm always a bit nervous to return to a book I loved as a kid. Sometimes they don't hold up to age and time, but this one did.

For Christmas I got the BEST book light ever! I've tried several different types in the past and this one is way better than any I've ever had. It's the Mighty BrightIt's bright, but dimmable, and has stays put and the neck isn't flimsy. 

Watching:

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The current Netflix series I've been LOVING is Longmire. Who would think I'd love a Western? Not me. But it has the things I realize I love about a show: strong lead characters, a unique location, and an overarching mystery. I'm also fascinated by the race relations between the Cheyenne tribe on the reservation and the rest of the community and law enforcement. Also, Walt Longmire has an aspect to his character I really like. Kind of reminds me of a bit more broken, more western version of Inspector Gamache. If you try it, give it more than one episode. They get better and better as they go. 

Eating:
Last week I made BBQ Chicken Tacos and we all agreed they were delicious and nice twist on the standard taco. For the Super Bowl a friend made these French Onion Beef Sliders and they were so incredibly flavorful. A great way to feed a crowd. And this week I'm looking forward to making these Sugar Cookie Bars for Valentine's Day!

What are you into right now?

A Comforting Family Recipe | Take Them A Meal Guest Post

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Have you heard of Take Them a Meal? It is a fabulous website that allows there to be ease in scheduling meals for someone who needs them. It is easily sharable and everyone can see who is taking what and on which day. 

I had used the site many times before I realized the founder was actually someone knew! Adina, one of the founders of Take Them a Meal, had gone to church with me years ago--actually her father had been my Sunday School teacher!

So I was thrilled when Adina asked me to share my own "take them a meal" story as well as some of my favorite go-to recipes for when I deliver meals.

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...

I sprinkle flour on the countertop and knead the dough, pressing it down with my palms in a rhythmic motion, before shaping it and placing it into a well-oiled bread pan. The recipe was my husband's grandmother's and now that she is no longer with us, it still makes me smile to make her bread.

I'm prepping a meal for a family who recently had their fifth child. The truth is I don't like making meals to take to others. I like it in concept, but it always feels a bit complicated, to be honest. What to make? When to take it? How to package it all up? Will they like it?

But, I've experienced the blessing of meals during hard times and it was such a comfort I'll always sign up to help someone else in this way if I am able.

Join me over at Take Them A Meal's website as I share the rest of my story and recipes.

How to Overcome Evil With Good

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We showed up for our homeschool classes on a typical Wednesday morning. As we entered the building, a mom took me aside and whispered in my ear:

“We’re on lockdown. There’s an active shooter in the area so don’t let your kids back outside.”

That day we went home safe. But it was a stark reminder about how quickly a day can change. Evil, abuse, and controversy scream from the headlines. At times our culture celebrates it, other times it rightly abhors it. Regardless, it can leave me feeling helpless. What can I do?

The answer that the Lord has whispered in my heart over and over has been this: overcome evil with good. I can’t stop evil men from carrying out evil deeds. But I can in my own small way overcome evil by doing the good, God-glorifying work that Christ has called me to do.

Join me over at iBelieve as I share 6 things each of us can do today to overcome evil with good.

Non-fiction I Read in 2017

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester****
If you love history and literature, this is for you! Totally fascinating history. Also, creating a dictionary makes my head spin!

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson*****
This book is NEEDED in America right now more than ever. And the work Bryan Stevenson is doing is incredible. Stevenson's non-profit works to challenge wrongful convictions, as well on behalf of juveniles and those with various mental handicaps in the justice system. Stevenson makes it personal by telling one main overarching story that is just makes you shake your head because you know that this stuff just can't be made up! At once heartbreaking, somehow the book doesn't bring you down, but makes you see the hope.

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin****
A good book about study methods that take you from reading the Bible at the surface level or through a lens of emotion and "what it means to me" to historical context and meaning.

No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God by Aimee Byrd****
This is a great "discussion" book. I went back and forth between 3 or 4 starts but finally landed on 4 because it was so thought-provoking, although I found her tone a little condescending at times. There was much I agreed with and much I did not agree with too. A full review can be read here.

Don’t Call Me Lady: The Journey of Lady Alice Seeley Harris by Judy Pollard Smith****
I had NEVER heard of Alice Seeley Harris before this book, which is too bad. Alice was a missionary to the Congo who soon discovered the atrocities of the rubber trade, which mutilated, maimed, and murdered the indigenous people of Congo for the harvest of rubber under the rule of Belgian King Leopold. She began documenting what she saw with her Brownie Kodak camera and eventually used her slides as evidence to crusade against the Belgian government alongside her husband.

I was fascinated by Alice as a person and the tensions in her life. One of the biggest tensions was that of mother and missionary. To be an effective missionary as well as to go on a speaking tour to raise awareness to the Congo atrocities, she had to leave her own children behind for years to be cared for by others.

Alice was a woman ahead of her time and more of us should know about who had a heart for social justice.

At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer by Sarah Arthur****
A unique devotional guide literary types would appreciate.

The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Literature by Nancy Guthrie****
A great study that I did over the summer with some friends.

Gracelaced: Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart by Ruth Simons*****
I loved this book and it's so unique. You can read my complete review here.

The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life by Ann Voskamp***
I love Ann Voskamp's heart and writing. She is so genuine in her faith.

However, I had a hard time with this book. I had a hard time tracking with it and it felt scattered. Although each chapter holds is about the "brokenness" theme, I had a hard time following what the point was, most of the time. Each chapter seemed more like a stand alone narrative essay and I think I was looking for more of a narrative arc in the book overall. So as a whole, I found it a scattered reading that lacked cohesion.

I did find gems and nuggets of wisdom that I highlighted throughout. 

Mere Motherhood: Morning Times, Nursery Rhymes, & My Journey Toward Sanctification by Cindy Rollins****
This book was a lot more fun that I imagined. It took a minute to get into the rhythm of Rollins "voice." It reads like a conversation with lots of dry wit and sarcasm. She makes fun of herself a lot but it's encouraging too.

A Lamp unto My Feet by Elisabeth Elliot****
This was a reread for me but perfectly timed. I read it as I experienced severe anxiety for the first time in my life over a health issue. Reading this book felt like it literally physically bolstered me each day as many a topic it came back to again and again was fear.

What was your favorite non-fiction read in 2017?