Simple Gifts

Standard

Today happens to be my 35th birthday.  I am one of those people who absolutely adore their birthday!  I am guilty of happily informing complete strangers, “It’s my birthday today!” while waiting in line or shopping. While it unnerves my husband, it always seems to make people smile and they almost always wish me a hearty “Happy Birthday!” greeting.  Once, we went to Silver Dollar City on my birthday.  I excitedly informed the ticket-taker that it was my birthday and she gave me a large ribbon to wear that had, “It’s my birthday!” printed on it.  Everywhere we went, folks wished me a “Happy Birthday”.  My husband Joey got the biggest kick out of watching me smile with delight every time I got a birthday greeting.

Each year I find that my birthday is a little different.  When Joey and I were in our teens and dating, he often used to save up his money and surprise me with a nice piece of jewelry and a bouquet of roses from the florist.  When we were first married and our finances were flying high, we might stay in a nice hotel, eat at a fancy restaurant, and then shop at my favorite stores.  After our daughter Elizabeth came along and we started the farm, everything in our lives changed dramatically, including birthdays.

It was at that point in our life that we started realizing that simpler is almost always better.  Our lives took a total shift that caused us to rethink everything that we had been doing.  With our small budget, staying in a fancy hotel, expensive jewelry, and shopping sprees were no longer an option.  I began to realize that birthdays would never be the same.

When I say that birthdays would never be the same, I don’t mean this to be a bad thing.  Birthdays changed in a dramatic, but wonderful way.  For one thing, fancy restaurants were off the list.  In place of this, we started cooking and decorating for a special birthday dinner at home.  We decorate the dining room with homemade paper decorations and bring out our fanciest dishes.  You know all those pretty antique dishes that belonged to your Grandma?  Get those out and use them!  They look lovely in the candlelight and she’d probably smile knowing that you were enjoying them.

Besides the beautiful dishes and candlelight, another lovely thing to do when dining at home is to dress up.  Go ahead, wear your Sunday best!  Pin up your hair, put on your make-up, and have your husband put on his best dress shirt and pants.  It may sound silly, but it really makes the occasion seem special. You can even snap a photo or two while you are all dressed up!

A second birthday change had to do with the presents.  Always before, we had bought each other expensive store-bought presents.  With this no longer a good option, we began to look around for something else.  The obvious choice was to make something. Over the years, I’ve made Joey a double batch of his favorite cookies, Elizabeth has embroidered him handkerchiefs, or we’ve given each other homemade coupons that can be redeemed for chores or fun family game nights at home.  We still buy some presents (especially for our daughter Elizabeth!), but the ones Joey and I buy for each other usually aren’t extravagant and often are antique.   Birthday cards were another item that became homemade  I have found that a homemade card with a little note inside is a wonderful keepsake.  I often find myself setting them out or hanging them up as decorations.

Now, let’s talk about flowers.  Did you know that there are all kinds of flowers around?  We have some beautiful flowers that rival any that I ever got from a florist.  These flowers grow right in our yard.  A single wild rose or even a bouquet of dandelions (I know…dandelions aren’t technically a “flower”, but I think they’re pretty…) tied with a pretty ribbon can be beautiful if they were picked for you by someone who loves you.

Yes, birthdays certainly aren’t the same.  They are much simpler, and in a wonderful way, much more special.  Each present seems so special knowing that it’s been carefully made or chosen just for you.

Today at market, some of our friends that work at the market brought me flowers from their garden, homemade fudge, and a beautiful antique jewelry set.  All of these gifts were a total surprise to me and were very special because they were straight from their hearts.  Other friends stopped by or drove by to wave and shout a birthday greeting.  A family member unexpectedly treated us to lunch at one of my favorite restaurants.  All of these things combined to turn a hot, sticky, market day into a special and fun time.

When I got home, my sweet mother-in-law was waiting with a special card and present for me.  My daughter Elizabeth surprised me with a matching skirt and handkerchief that she had made herself, and a few moments ago, Joey brought in a beautiful rose that he picked for me.  To top it off, tonight, my mother is cooking a special birthday dinner, complete with my favorite homemade chocolate cake for dessert.

Life truly is sweet…especially on your birthday!

11701041_849843291767504_71254409352661559_n

Here is my beautiful birthday rose that Joey picked on our farm.

Advertisements

A Sweet Saturday Night

Standard

It’s a quiet Sunday afternoon.  This morning, we went to church and then enjoyed lunch at a local restaurant with our family.  I really should be doing some of my college homework right now, but I just had to write and share with you what happened in our community last night.  As most of my long-time blog readers know, I love the community we live in.  I am so proud to get to live in such a beautiful place with such wonderful people.  Last night, was a shining example of why I love the folks in our area.  So, if you have a few minutes, settle in, and follow me to a little church out in the country.

The gravel crunched under our tires as we turned out onto the paved road that leads to one of the little churches in our community.  As we neared the church, we could see that the parking lot was absolutely packed with cars and trucks.  People were even parking along the roadside and in the yard of a neighboring house.  Joey found a place to park our truck and we started to walk up to the church. 

Outside of the church, kids were playing basketball and swinging on the swings.  Grown-ups stood in large groups visiting.  You could hear laughter ringing out across the churchyard as stories were shared.  Shouts of greeting were being yelled to old friends as more folks joined the crowd.  There was an air of happiness and excitement that just seemed contagious!

You might be wondering what in the world was going on at this little church?  Was it a regular church service?  A missionary guest speaker?  A famous evangelist?  Nope, nope, and nope…The focus of all this attention was one very special family.  This family is much loved in our community and they have been having a tough time with medical problems.  Around here, when we know of a family that needs a helping hand, everyone pitches in.  The agenda for tonight was a barbecue benefit to raise money for this family.  

We edged our way into the kitchen to join a long line of folks that were waiting for a barbecue dinner plate.  A local man, who makes mouth-watering barbecue, had volunteered his services to cook the meat.  You could smell the tantalizing smell of the smoked meat from the very back of the line.  Mmmm!!!!!  As we neared the front, everyone put their donation for the dinner into a large jar.  We went through the serving line and came out with plates loaded with barbecue sandwiches, potato salad, chips, beans, coleslaw, homemade cake, and iced tea.  Tables were set up outside and everyone sat around and visited, laughed, and ate their fill of the good food.  

After the dinner was over, the real fun began.  Ladies (and probably some men!) had baked their best desserts.  Local businesses and people had sent gift baskets, gift certificates, and special items.  Kids had donated gently used bicycles and toys.  What was all this for?  Why, the auction, of course!  There were so many folks there that the auction had to be held outside.  We all pulled up our folding chairs and settled back to watch the fun!  

The auctioneers sold everything with a smiles and funny jokes that kept the crowd laughing and having a good time.   Deserts were highly sought after and many were sold for upwards of $50.00 each!  One very special desert even sold for over $100.00!  When a bid went especially high, the crowd would clap and whistle for the bidders.  Everyone laughed as husbands and wives competed against each other, driving the bid up, to get their favorite items.  

The kids played, the grown-ups kicked back in their chairs, and the auction was a resounding success.  

Late in the evening, as dusk began to fall, I sat in my chair feeling the breeze blow across my face.  As I listened to the auctioneer’s  patter, and I looked around at all the familiar faces around me, I felt so richly and mightily blessed to be able to be a part of this night.  I am so thankful to be a part of a community that shows Jesus’s love to others.  As far as I know, there was not one single person at the auction that would be considered “rich” by worldly standards, but by my standards, everyone there was a millionaire.  The Bible tells us it is more blessed to give than to receive.  I know in my heart that all of us there fully felt this last night as we raised money to help a family through a hard time in their lives.  

I had to smile as I remembered that everything comes full circle.  It hasn’t been so long ago that the husband in that family was on his hands and knees, nailing down decking on our house that we were rebuilding after our other home was burned to the ground.  It touched my heart to remember that moment.  This time, it was our turn to give back.  Next time, it might be our turn again, or maybe someone else’s…You never know what life will have in store.  One thing I know for sure is that whatever life holds, I am grateful that it will happen in this blessed place, with these wonderful people, that make up the area I call home. 

The Calm Before the Storm

Standard

Hello everyone!  Today, I thought I’d do a little different type of blog.  Instead of a story, I thought I’d just catch ya’ll up with everything that’s going on around the farm right now.  I love this time of year, but it always makes me a little nervous.  Winter is finally wrapping up and Spring is on its way.  Each new springtime just bursts with the promise of freshness, new life, and warm, balmy days.  Springtime also brings farmer’s market, the end of school (public and homeschool), and a flurry of other activities.  I think of the early days of Spring as the calm before the storm. 🙂  

Right now, I am LOVING the wonderful warm weather!  It’s so nice to run around outside in flip flops and capri pants again.  My feet love being free! Joey has been able to open up the sides on the hoop houses during the day to let out the warm air.  Here is a picture of some of the lettuce growing in our hoop houses.  I can just taste the fresh, healthy, flavor of yummy spring greens!  Mmmm!!!!!

Image

 

The greenhouse is, of course, loaded to bursting with plants for the garden and plants to bring to market.  We have some absolutely beautiful herbs and veggie plants! Joey’s green thumb is working overtime keeping everything up and going.  Between watering, keeping a look out for pests, and making sure all the little plants are in the perfect sunny spot, he is always running out to the green house to move something or check on it.  

Another thing that happens at this time of year is that the bees start coming out to tell us hello.  After being snuggled up in their hives during the long, cold, winter, they are full of energy as they buzz around and explore the farm at springtime.  Today, Joey and his Dad went through the hives for a routine check, and filled up the feeders to put on the bee hives.  I love hearing the buzzing sound of the little bees when I walk close by the hives!  

The bees aren’t the only living creatures on the farm that love the warm weather.  The chickens are beyond thrilled to be out and about scratching through the underbrush in the woods finding tasty tidbits of beetles and bugs to munch on.  Our gentle rooster is so funny to watch as he proudly struts around taking care of his “girls”.  

Life on the farm sure is busy, but we wouldn’t have it any other way! We can’t wait for market season to start!  It’s always so exciting to get to see old friends and meet new folks.  We are passionate about teaching others how to garden and be self sufficient.  

Along with market season, comes the end of school.  There are always a million and one things that have to be done before I can close out my 2nd grade classroom and send my sweet second graders on to summer break.  Elizabeth’s school usually wraps up about the same time as the public school I teach at, and it’s a bittersweet feeling to see her ending another season in her life.  I can’t believe that she will be ready for 3rd grade next year!  Gulp!  Where did the time go?  I try to treasure each moment of her childhood.  It seems to be racing by!  Another school season will come to an end for me this year as I will watch my Mom (who teaches right next door to me) retire.  I don’t think I’ve ever known a finer teacher, and I sure will miss her! 🙂  At the same time, I’m so happy that she will get to lead a life of leisure. 🙂

Although public and homeschool are ending for the summer, I am starting on a new school journey that is all on my own.  Many of you know that I will start graduate courses to get a certification added to my teaching license to teach Gifted and Talented children.  I am filled with excitement about starting this year long course, but at the same time, I am also a little nervous.  Doubts race through my mind as I wonder how graduate work, homeschooling, teaching public school, working at the market, working at the farm, and being the farmer’s wife will all fit together.  I keep reminding myself to breathe and take one day at a time.  God has a plan and it will all work out.  

So, if you don’t hear from me for awhile, just know that I’m still here.  🙂  Thank goodness for a wonderful family and friends support system!  I’m looking forward to a wonderful Spring, and right now, I’m just enjoying the calm before the storm.  🙂 🙂 🙂

Life In Mayberry

Standard

Lately, one of my families favorite things to do at lunchtime has been to bring our plates to the couch, turn on the computer, and watch an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show”.  It makes a nice break in the day to step back in time and watch the antics of Andy, Barney, Aunt Bea, and Opie.  On one occasion several years ago, my Uncle Tim, who lives in the big city of Seattle, made the comment that we “lived in Mayberry”.  He meant it jokingly, but, all the same, I smiled.  I liked the comparison very much.  Over the years, I’ve let that comment roll around in my brain, thinking about why it pleased me so much.  Here’s what I’ve finally decided about that.

Family was important in Mayberry.  Just as it is in my home today, the family is valued.  Each family member had a role to play and took their job seriously.  Aunt Bea always had a delicious meal on the table, took time to can and preserve food for the family (remember the pickle episode?!), and kept the house looking great.  Andy was the “breadwinner” in the family and faithfully went to work each day.  He also took time aside from his work to spend with Aunt Bea and Opie, often singing a gospel song or two on the porch in the evening while they sat around and visited.  Opie, who occasionally got into trouble, tried his best to honor his father and Aunt Bea’s wishes and to be respectful to others.  Am I saying here that I think all families should be like this with Mom staying at home and Dad going to work?  No. My family certainly isn’t like that.  What I am saying is that I think each member of a family should do their best to fulfill whatever role they have and think about the ways that they can bless their family through this role.  Whether it’s bringing home a paycheck, folding a basket of laundry, or picking up toys in the living room, every person in a family can make a proud contribution to the well being of the entire household.  

Another thing I like about Mayberry is the strong sense of community.  Mayberry was obviously a small town, probably about the same size as Calico Rock is today.  Manners were thought of when folks interacted with each other.  The characters on the show could walk into almost any business in town and meet someone they knew.  Sounds familiar to me!  Not everyone in the town of Mayberry always got along, but the citizens of Mayberry tried their best to settle things in a civil and respectable way.  Christian values were upheld and adults in positions of authority, such as law enforcement, city government, teachers, pastors, etc. were respected and were honorable people.  Neighbors took time to get to know each other and help each other out.  That certainly makes me think of the area where I live.  

Every episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” has a lesson.  Life is truly like that.  There are lessons that we can learn every day, if we stop and take the time to see them.  When I watch the show, I am reminded to stop and think about my neighbor, to remember the difference between right and wrong, and to unplug.  Now, I know that they weren’t invented then, but no one in Mayberry has anything “techy”.  Andy never stops a face to face conversation to take a call on his cell phone, Aunt Bea doesn’t check her Facebook page before dinner, and Opie doesn’t kick back playing on his i-Pad mini.  Do I think there’s anything wrong with being “techy”?  Of course not. I’m writing a blog on a social media network for Pete’s sake!   However, I have noticed how much all of our convenient little “techy” devices can take our attention away from the real world.  Real world?  You know, the other people in the room that are so distracting when we’re trying to blog, or update our status, or send out a tweet?  

The thing is….those people are what’s real.  They are what’s right now.  It is so easy to get sucked into whatever device we have, that the minutes, and sometimes even the hours, slip away unnoticed.  Once those minutes and hours are gone, they are gone forever.  Unlike old episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show”, we won’t get a second chance to see them again.  Think about that.  It’s important.  At the end of your life, do you want to look back and remember all the time you spend blogging, or on Facebook, or do you want to be able to look back and remember all the time you spent actually doing something face to face with your family and friends?  

Now, I know that Mayberry is not a real place and that “The Andy Griffith Show” is completely fictional.  Even so, it still makes me smile to think about “living in Mayberry”.  With family, a caring community, and spending some time being unplugged,  I think that life in Mayberry is just about as good as it gets.

How about you?  Do you live “in Mayberry”?  Do you ever watch “The Andy Griffith Show”?  If so, what does it mean to you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Christmas Eve at Mount Zion

Standard

As the snow has been softly falling outside, I’ve been sitting in my warm and cozy house, taking some trips down memory lane.  Memory lane is always a beautiful place to walk.  It looks even prettier covered with snow.  Sit down, snuggle in, and walk with me awhile.  I’d like to share one of my most treasured Christmas memories with you today. 

This Christmas memory takes place long ago at a little, snow-covered, one-room, white church called Mount Zion.  This little church is located in the Kansas countryside and will always hold a special place in my heart.  Some part of my family has been in attendance there since it was built in the 1800s.  One of my great-great grandfathers even donated the land the church sits on.  So it was not surprising, that on Christmas Eve in 1986, I found myself dressed in my fanciest dress (mother had worked all week to sew it), standing on the stage, and getting ready to sing in front of an audience for the first time ever.  Daddy (a former professional musician) had worked with me all month teaching me the words to, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”.  He was accompanying me on the guitar (and helping just a little with the singing).  

All went very well with the performance until Daddy accidentally played the wrong chord on the guitar, at which point, I reached over and lightly bonked him on the head.  The whole church burst into laughter, Dad gave me the evil eye, and, as they say, “the show went on”!

My first time singing in front of an audience with Dad!

 

After Dad and I sang, several others in our community sang and played special Christmas songs.  One of the grown-ups always helped us kids to put on a Christmas play (that usually involved lots of Bible character costumes created with bathrobes and towels), which was a big hit with everyone.  

Then, of course, there was the Christmas tree.  As a child, the church Christmas tree stands out magically in my memory.  It was always a real tree from someone’s farm, and it was decorated to the hilt.  Popcorn chains, paper plate angels, paper chains, and all sorts of homemade ornaments decorated the beautiful tree.  In my memory, it took up nearly half the small stage at the front of the church.  

After the singing, there was a sound of heavy boots at the door, and to our delight, Santa Claus himself would walk in!  He’d walk right up to the front of the church with a large bag filled with toys.  There was a toy for each child in the church.  I was always amazed that he knew just what all of the kids wanted!

Sitting on Santa’s lap. Note the beautiful tree and ornaments in the background.

 

At the end of the night, as we got ready to leave, church ladies stood by the door to tell you goodbye.  Every family got a big brown paper sack filled to the brim with oranges, apples, and hard Christmas candy.  A special lady named Charlotte always made each family in the church an ornament out of plastic canvas.  Charlotte’s ornaments still hang on my tree today.

An ornament from Charlotte

 

Christmas at Mount Zion is seared in my memory as the epitome of Christmas magic.  Dad says that it was exactly the same when he was a little boy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if my grandparents and great-grandparents didn’t have similar memories of Christmas there.  A couple of years ago, I got the chance to stop back by my childhood church.  It looks much the same, except a large building has been added out back.  I’m sure the Christmas services there are still as special as they used to be.  

Dad, Elizabeth, and I at Mount Zion

Sick & Thankful

Standard

Old man winter is on his way.  With the fall weather changing from cold to warm, and back again, my body doesn’t know quite what to think.  RIght now it’s decided to cough, sneeze, and make it hard for me to breath.  This is a little inconvenient, but while I was lying awake coughing about 2:30 last night, I realized something.  I realized, that when I’m sick, in a funny way, I appreciate things a whole lot more.

For instance, when I’m well, I never seem to notice just how wonderful it feels to turn my pillow over and find a nice, cool, spot on my velvety-soft, worn, flannel pillowcase.  I never seem to think about how good it is to draw a clear breath of air without having the urge to cough or hear a rasping breath.  I never notice how truly blissful it is to soak in a hot bath, and then put on my favorite, old, flannel nightgown.  The steam from a cup of hot tea and the sweet taste of our farm honey (that I generously drizzle in my cup!) just seem a little richer when I’m sick.

Of course, after I’ve been “puny” as my grandma would say, it’s such a joyful experience to begin to feel better.  Have you ever noticed how good food tastes when you begin to get your appetite back?  It’s like everything you eat has been cooked to perfection!  When I begin to get well, I can’t help but celebrate a million little victories, like sleeping through the night, taking a walk outside, or reading aloud with a clear voice, that I wasn’t able to do while I was sick.  

Even though it’s not much fun to be sick, it sure does put things in a different perspective.  It always makes me especially grateful that I only have a cold or a virus.  There are so many people who live every day with chronic pain and illness.  Chronic pain and illness play no favorites.  They can attack both the young and old.  I am always amazed at the strength and faith of those that live with illness every day, especially those that are shut in and are unable to leave their homes.  

This time of year, there is much talk about being thankful.  We have so much to be thankful for, especially our health.  Stop for a moment today and consider what a blessing it is to be healthy.  Think about how much it means to you, when you are feeling “puny”, for someone to fix you a nourishing meal, give you a needed break-time, or just offer a few words of encouragement.  

A great way to show thankfulness this season, or any time of the year, would be to take some time to help someone that is struggling with pain or illness.  Look around you.  I bet you can find a co-worker, next door neighbor, fellow church member, or friend that could use some help.  Not sure how to go about it?  

I think the best way is one I’ve learned from my mother-in-law Beth.  Surprise attack!  Don’t ask, just do.  Step out in faith and be bold.  Many times, I have seen Beth fix a pan of cornbread and a pot of soup for someone and just drop by their house with a ready made dinner.  She’s also notorious for taking plates of cookies to people and stopping by, “just to check on them”.  I’ve been with her on several of these impromptu visits and have always been richly rewarded to see the smiles and sometimes happy tears that can be found when true friendship is shown.  

So often, when we are healthy, it is easy to forget how isolated and miserable you can feel if you are sick or in pain, especially if the illness or pain is chronic.  Let’s remember the famous words found in Matthew 7:12, “so in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” and in Matthew 19:19, “love your neighbor as yourself”.  

 

The Simple Joy of Sponge Rollers

Standard

The last few weeks have been hectic around the farm.  It’s always a little unnerving when school starts and our household makes the change from Mom being at home, to Mom being at work.  We’ve eaten way more prepackaged food than we’d like to, stayed up just a little to late doing last minute things, and also managed to attend the county fair and a performance by the Chinese acrobats. 

This week, it seems like things have finally calmed down a little bit and we are getting into a “school year” routine.  Things are a little slower and a little simpler when we get in our groove.  Most of you know that I think the simple things in life are some of the most joyful.  Last night, some sponge rollers brought that idea back to the forefront of my thoughts. 

It really all got started because Dot is here.  Dot is my grandma and, most of the time, she lives in Kansas.  But, this weekend, my Aunt and Uncle brought her down to visit.  My little girl, Elizabeth, was beyond excited!  When Elizabeth was very small, Dot lived close by, and would spend hours watching and playing with Elizabeth while I was teaching school and Joey was working on the farm.  Dot (the queen of clean) taught Elizabeth to fold and sort laundry, dust, say the books of the New Testament, and many more things.  Needless to say, Elizabeth is completely enamored with Dot.  Elizabeth was thrilled that Dot was visiting for the weekend, and even more thrilled that Dot was going to drive over and come to our church on Sunday.

Because of these thrilling events, Elizabeth decided that she needed to have her hair rolled, so it would look extra pretty for church.  I smiled when she asked me to roll her hair and agreed that it would look beautiful.  I got down the antique cookie tin that we keep the rollers in, waited for Elizabeth to get positioned on the edge of the bed, and then began to comb. 

As I combed the long, wet, clean-smelling hair and listened to Elizabeth chatter on, I began to smile and think about how good it was to be engaged in such a simple and old-fashioned activity.  My mind wandered back through the years, and I caught glimpses of all my grandmas and great-grandmas with rollers in their hair, bustling about in their kitchens, or doing some odd bit of housework while they waited for their hair to “set”.  My memories moved on, and I saw myself as a little girl sitting very still while my mom rolled my hair.  I remembered how hard it was to sleep in the rollers, what high hopes I had that I’d look like a glamorous movie star, and how I’d taken the rollers out in the middle of the night and decided that being glamorous wasn’t worth sleeping in uncomfortable rollers. 

My mind snapped back to the present as I snapped the last roller into place.  Elizabeth ran to look in the mirror, and I thought (for the hundredth time) that little girls in sponge rollers are just adorable!  That night as we snuggled in bed reading a bed time story, I thought again just how rich and full life can be when we slow down and think about all the joys that surround us each and every day. 

We have so much to be thankful for, but it is so easy to forget that, as we get caught up in the latest “right now” project.  Stress washes over us and we forget that the good things in life are still there. All we have to do is take the time to slow down and enjoy them.  Whether it’s rolling hair, reading to your child, savoring the taste of homemade bread, or being thankful for how good your favorite chair feels when you sink down into it at the end of day, we all need to stop and remember that we are richly blessed with the simple things.

Image

Elizabeth and Great-Grandma Dot