Ten Things I Still Want to Learn

My daughter Jenna recently blogged at jennakristine.com. about ten things she still wants to learn. I felt like I was seeing an entirely new dimension in her as I read how she wants to learn more about art history, kickboxing, and how to stay motivated in cleaning her studio. Ok, well that last one actually wasn’t too surprising.

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I mean, seriously, though. Even though I think I know Jenna pretty well, it was fascinating to see all these areas of potential growth, mixed in with her almost non-funny humor. Her question stuck with me: What are ten things you still want to learn?

And so I took the challenge. I’m 27 years older than Jenna, with some vastly different interests. Nonetheless, here are ten things I still want to learn, in the order they come to mind.

1. Navigating our U-verse system better. I want to be able to watch what I want to watch and find what I want to find. I’m sure it’s not rocket science.

2. Advanced management of a WordPress website. This would be helpful on the job and for my personal blog. I’m sure IT at work wouldn’t mind me learning this, either.

3. Keeping up our fish tanks, from the scientific angle. I’d like to be able to keep the fish alive when my husband has to travel.

4. Cooking a decent burger on the grill—and on a completely different note, making my own kombucha. Maybe this summer for both.

5. Becoming more knowledgeable in the actual science of essential oils. There’s that word “science” again…

6. Writing quicker, finishing a blog faster, and not looking back.

7. (Stealing this from Jenna, although I’m a beginner and she’s advanced): Understanding InDesign and PhotoShop better. I need this in several areas of my life, and PicMoney isn’t cutting it anymore.

8. Navigating and dictating directions to my husband while he’s driving. I mean, I can follow a GPS, sort of—but this weakness isn’t especially strengthening to our relationship.

9. Laying out an amazing garden rather than just planting hodge-podge around the yard. The latter seems to work for me, but still.

10. Sewing. There, I said it. The only thing I’ve used a sewing machine for in the past 10 years was a Fred Flinstone costume for Greg. (And yes, he wore it.)

I feel obligated to clarify—this isn’t a bucket list of things I’d like to do, rather my list of things to learn and master. Also, it was harder than I imagined to come up with ten, and that was alarming in itself. At somewhere around 50, I’m hoping I always want to learn. Maybe in six months I’ll do an update on this post, cross off some things I’ve conquered, and add a few more.

My family hopes I start with the burgers.

What ten things do you still want to learn?

 

Come Grow a Tomato with Me

My first vegetable garden was on my apartment patio in plastic containers bought at Home Depot. The vegetables never received any direct sun and did poorly from the start. I eventually replaced the wilting tomatoes with flowers which also received no sun. They looked pretty for my mother-in-law’s visit but died soon after she left.

My second vegetable “garden” was on the kitchen counter in Solo cups as part of my daughter’s homeschool project. To her delight, the green bean plants grew quickly—but then never produced any more than a hint of a bean.

For the next decade I stuck to silk plants inside and a single flower pot by the front door. But again and again, as I replaced those potted seasonal flowers (if I could afford it), that gardening itch kept returning. Finally in my early 40s, I decided it might be time to get it right. With a little more planning and a lot more effort, vegetable garden number three was the charm.

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As a Christmas gift that year, my husband surprised me with all the elements needed for my first backyard vegetable gardening experience, including several bags of beautiful black soil, a must-have in our sandy Florida yard. (Don’t judge him for that; he also gave me a necklace!) The next week I methodically positioned my first plants in the 4×8 raised bed he built. I began to faithfully water my six cabbage plants, three tomatoes, and a few herbs. I watered and waited, watered and waited—and hoped for the best.

Crazy thing, but everything actually began to grow! I mean, I knew that was supposed to happen, but it had just never happened for me. I can’t even tell you how much fun I had watching those plants reach taller, expand wider, and start showing signs of real, edible food.

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And then came the day I realized it was time to snip off and use a couple sprigs of the herbs, harvest that very first cabbage, and start eating the tomatos. I felt like I’d become my dad during our Illinois summers in the 70s when he would come in from the garden completely delighted to cover the kitchen counter with his homegrown produce.

During the next year, my husband caught the gardening bug, too, and our joint efforts resulted in non-stop tomatoes for months and months, even after all the leaves were practically dead on the stems.

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As the tomatoes kept coming, I began to sympathize with my mom’s consuming efforts of trying to keep up with all the zucchinis my dad grew. I personally didn’t grow zucchini, but I felt like I was bonding with her in a new way, realizing her mix of gratefulness and frustration with so many homegrown garden delights. By the end of that second season, I had eaten so many tomatoes I became allergic to them.

Tomatoes on hold for me, and with the extended gardening season in South Florida, Greg tried planting peppers, onions, and carrots. Then one afternoon I walked around our backyard and realized he’d dug up yet another area—to plant carrots.

See, I told you he’d caught the vegetable gardening bug. Then he started planting fruit trees, and even brought home a baby avocado tree for me on Valentine’s Day.

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In the next couple years, we learned how easy it is to grow pineapples, if you’re super patient, that is.

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Of course, along the way, we had to brighten it all with some some orchids, another low-maintenance gardening beauty.

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Admittedly, the perennials I planted around the yard helped during the times the veggies died off and weeds overtook the gardens. During those times, this red shrimp plant just kept showing off its colors.

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After all this time, we’re still planting, watering, and watching things grow. It’s been a decade-long adventure of seeing up close the wonder of God’s artistry. I love it how during at least three seasons of the year, His intricate creation supplies us with fresh fruit, fresh veggies, and produce for juicing, smoothies, and salads.

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I don’t claim to be an expert on backyard farming, nor am I a photographer (except with my phone). But with those disclaimers, I invite you to join me here on my blog. Along the way, if you get the urge to dig a hole in your own soil and grow something edible (or just simply pretty), I’d love to hear from you.

My blog won’t always be about gardening, but you can be sure I’ll be returning to the backyard again and again in my writing. So go ahead and subscribe to Beyond (left of screen) for future ideas, photos, stories, successes, bloopers, and how to be part of this fun and fulfilling “farm to table” and flower-filled living.

(And one last thing. If you love essential oils, they’re going to pop up here, too. What do they have to do with gardening? Stay tuned. Because I’m rarely in my garden without them.)

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In the Morning When I Rise…

My first conscious thought that morning at 4:30 was unsettling. Still in a fog, I tried to push “work” out of my mind and go back to sleep. I still had two glorious hours before my alarm would sound.

But instead of snoozing, I began to fret about the day ahead. I fretted about having to leave work for a medical test, about the procedure itself, and about a meeting after lunch for which I was unprepared. I finally swung my feet out of bed and sat up straight to fully contemplate my worries.

It was then that I stopped myself—and prayed, Oh God, help me to not be like this! My full-blown, early-morning worry sessions had become an unhealthy habit, and I knew something had to change.

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I tried something different the next day—and the next and the next. When I woke up troubled and anxious, I prayed that His love would permeate my thoughts and engulf my soul. I consciously refocused my thoughts on the goodness of God and reminded myself: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never…end; they are new every morning.*

It didn’t feel natural, and it didn’t come easy. I had to make myself do this every single day.

As those winter mornings turned to spring mornings, I continued to pray in those hours before dawn: God, no matter what I face today, thank You for remaining faithful! Then one day I realized I had finally turned a corner—and was waking up most mornings at a normal time, rested and at peace.

Call me crazy, and good thing no one except my husband has to hear me, but there’s a song I sing to myself in the mornings now. I love the repetition of these words as I make my coffee and prepare for whatever God brings my way:

In the morning when I rise,
In 
the morning when I rise,
In 
the morning when I rise,
Give 
me Jesus.

Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
Just give me Jesus.

If you need a new tune to run through your heart upon rising, too, this song is below. Watch out, though. If you get these words stuck in your head, it just might change your mornings (and drive your family a little crazy while you sing it all the time)!

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23

 

*Morning-Rise graphic by jennakristine.com

Coffee Traditions, One Shiny Pot at a Time

I woke up every morning of my childhood, it seems, to the permeating aroma of Maxwell House coffee and the distinctive gurgling, swishing sound of my mother’s percolator. I loved walking out to the kitchen to pour my cereal and instinctively take a peek at the coffee’s rise and fall in that clear-glass-bulb-thing at the top of the stainless steel pot.

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But then, as far as the coffee maker memories of my life go, at some point, in some way, there was no longer a percolator in our kitchen. Without any family discussionand certainly without consulting mea drip coffee maker showed up on the counter. I would guess it came from Sears, like all the other new gadgets which entered our home in the 70s.

Instead of gurgling and burping and swishing and steaming, the new machine just dripped. This coffee dripping did nothing for me on my school mornings, not to mention there was no longer that glorious rise and fall of coffee in the glass bulb. But mom seemed fine with the modern fraud of a coffee maker, and that was that.

Although I loved the smell of coffee, I didn’t start drinking it until the winter of 1990 when Jenna was born. My mom spent a lot of time pampering me on those cold days I lived with her while my husband was overseas. Mom made me coffee, raspberry cream coffee to be exact. With the raspberry flavor significantly overriding the coffee flavor, she lured me into her coffee world one small cream-diluted cup at a time.

I spent the next two and a half decades making coffee every morning in my own kitchens everywhere we lived, and I can’t count how many drip coffee makers I went through: cheap, semi-cheap, and my favorite Gevalia which sadly only lasted a year. Then came a birthday gift, my beloved Keurig, the best thing that ever happened to my morning schedule. I couldn’t have been happier, coffee wise, until the day I sat in my friend’s kitchen a few months ago and spotted something shiny on her counter top.

Is that a percolator?

Yes, indeed. A real, live percolator, the first I’d seen up close and in person in a lifetime. Honestly, my heart jumped a little, and at home that night I googled the price. Would it be wrong to buy myself a present for no special reason except nostalgia?

I thought about my possible purchase for two weeks and finally ordered a Farberware 12-Cup Percolator on Amazon. I paid $66.96, two-day shipping included, to bring a little piece of my past into my present. For those who care, here is my non-scientific analysis:

1. The coffee tastes better, seems hotter, and feels smoother, to me at least, but I know I’m partial.

2. The production isn’t as quick as with my Keurig, but I can make six cups in less than seven minutes. Yes, I timed it.

3. That gurgling, swishing, steaming sound is as mesmerizing as I remember.

2015-04-19+15.39.16It’s amazing how a simple, shiny coffee device could make me smile morning after morning. Hindsight, I kind of wish I’d bought a percolator with a glass bulb on top, like my mom had back in the day. Yet, if I close my eyes and stand still for a moment, I can see the rise and fall of the percolating coffee I remember so well from our kitchen in Lombard, Illinois.

Proverbs 14 tells us that a wise woman builds her home. I’m just continuing this building process and preserving the Yarrow-Pirrie coffee tradition, one shiny pot at a time.

Are you turning your own prized memories into traditions?

 

The Other Side of Adoption

Right now I’m looking back over my shoulder from the other side of adoption while my sister is looking forward to her future days as an adoptive mom.

My kids are grown up and out of the house, while she’s got a four year old running around…and three more kids on their way soon, from across the world.

Funny how life circles around like this.

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When Greg and I first told our families about our plans to adopt, they gave us immediate support on bringing a little girl from Haiti into our home. Every single person in the family developed his or her own unique relationship with two-year-old Melissa, and my youngest sister Luann was no exception.

Luann was 18 at the time. She fascinated my girls with “aunt gifts” sent from Chicago to Florida, her silly humor and fun projects when visiting, and her trips abroad to unusual places we looked up and studied in our atlas.

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Luann and my daughters dying Easter eggs in 1994

When Luann traveled, we had a nightly routine of singing a song about God watching over her and protecting her. I had actually forgotten all about those words until the other night when I was praying for Luann’s three almost-adopted children still so far away.

And that’s when God brought the words back to me.

God is watching over you, watching over you, watching over you. God is watching over you tonight.

And then there was another song we sang at bedtime.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and give you peace, and give you peace, and give you peace forever.

There was a lot of singing and praying going on while Luann traveled the world, and now the lyrics keep echoing in my mind for her kids: God is watching over you, watching over you, watching over you.

Maybe I mistakenly chose those words I used to begin this blog when I wrote, I’m looking back from the other side of adoption. Truthfully, I’m looking forward, too. This spring as we’re praying for the final international papers to be signed, our blended-extended family is about to gain three more children. But those last papers still lack a signature, and the kids are still waiting.

They’ve been told about their new family. Their new mom. Their new dad. Their new little brother. They’ve even been told about the dog. But they’re not here yet. There are still a few obstacles in the way.

Will you pray that God will bring these three children home? Pray these words for each of them as they wait for their very own forever family: The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and give you peace, and give you peace, and give you peace forever.

Fifteen Easters Ago

Fifteen years ago on Easter Sunday morning, my family and I sat on the far side of the balcony in our crowded church. I had purposely chosen this unfamiliar hideaway, steering clear of our routine place downstairs with the usual mob of friends and acquaintances.

The praise team began singing, and the congregation quieted. I remember noticing how my daughters, 9 and 13, were amused at our new location. They had no idea. My husband threw his arm around the back of my shoulders, but his touch felt strangely awkward that morning. I don’t know why. Maybe because we’d never sat in church together so sick with worry.

I went from bad to worse as the service progressed. Instead of bursting with joy for our risen Savior, I silently endured the singing and ambivalently checked out during the message. (Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?)

Fear of the future gripped me. I’d learned a few days earlier that an ugly “something” was growing inside me, with more tests scheduled the coming week. As I sat in church, I became keenly aware in my heart that life was about to change. I felt terrible, and no wonder. Unknown to me at that time, my tumor was growing at the rate of a centimeter a day.

Church ended, and I had barely heard a word. I’d been thinking about the Easter baskets hidden at home, waiting to be found. And I’d been praying that whatever was coming my way, God would intervene so my girls wouldn’t have to grow up without a mommy. (Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?)

God is never taken by surprise, and at that moment He already knew the number of my days. Of course I didn’t, and I came up with vivid scenarios of the worst. Actually, those imaginations came true almost immediately with surgeries, chemotherapy, weight gain, and a wig that never seemed to stayed in place. But alongside my “imaginations-turned-true” also came something unexpected. Over those hard days and weeks and months and years which followed, I slowly began to know God and trust Him in a way I’d never dared to dream was possible.

Then somehow, in the blink of an eye it seemed, my doctor was jubilantly noting on my charts the 10-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. Driving back to work that spring morning, I realized God had answered the prayers I had started pleading of Him during the Easter service so long ago. My girls had grown beautifully despite, or perhaps through, the trials our family had faced. Jenna was no longer my little 9-year-old, but 19 and in her first year of college. Melissa, no longer a junior higher, was now 23, a college graduate planning her wedding. (I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again, my Savior and my God!)

Today, as I write this, another five years have gone by. Five more years of ups and downs and highlights and valleys. Five more years of birthdays and Easters and answered prayers. Yet as I launch this blog titled Beyond, I’m not writing to just dwell on the past. I’m not writing to merely look back at where I’ve been.

This Easter season, I’m thinking about what’s yet to come and how much I still have to learn about God’s love and grace. I’m here to talk about Jesus, my risen Savior, and the hope I find today in Christ alone.

I invite you to join me on a journey of looking forward, of learning to live beyond the confusion of the moment and instead in the grace and exuberant living Jesus Christ offers.

Beyond, my friends, beyond.

Happy Easter!

Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?
I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again, my Savior and my God!
Psalm 42