DIAMONDS IN WINTER

“ALLOW GOD TO USE THE DIFFICULTIES AND DISAPPOINTMENTS IN LIFE AS POLISH TO TRANSFORM YOUR FAITH INTO A GLISTENING DIAMOND THAT TAKES IN AND REFLECTS HIS LOVE.”

ELIZABETH GEORGE

Rays of sunlight turned the icicles hanging from a tree into a sparkling jewel against the creek’s green froth. The frozen tree tips had turned an average outing into an illustration of God’s steps to make me sparkle. Hadn’t I asked him enough times to make me a shining example of his love?

The fanciful sight may have been hidden to me had I not been picking my way through the icy side of the waterway as I walked our golden/rottie mix on a break from being indoors that day.

The slush covered dirt pathway made it tricky to traverse the narrow path of the Monocacy Trail.

But, warmer temps and blue skies were too much of a draw for me to venture out with our housebound pet. Had I not stopped to look more closely at the natural wonder, I would have missed out on the pristine picture right by my side.

Winter Seasons are times when we see little movement in our heart’s desires or our unanswered prayers. They can be times of great temptation to be discouraged, depressed or lethargic in doing what we know is right.

Some of the questions I have asked during my winter time are “where are you God?” “What did I do wrong?” and “Please make it stop.”

The last statement may sound exaggerated, but, as I’ve been in that time of seeing little fruit for the hard work of my labor, it has not been fun.

So, these clear crystals hung swaying just above the turbulent white ripples of the high waters in our creek. These nature’s gems stood out to me in the size of the orbs first of all. They must have been hanging out there for some time forming layer after layer of water build-up to produce the golfball sized orbs.

And, then when the wind caught them in a spinning dance, how the light sparkled off of them. They appeared to be diamonds.

The illustration reminds me that even when the landscape of my life seems to bear no fruit or, the work of my hands appear to be for nothing. All of the hardship I’ve experienced during this time like the turbulent waters, freezing winds and harsh elements are actually forming a cluster of treasures. I only needed to open my eyes to see.

A BREADMASTER'S TIPS FOR BAKING HEALTHY LEAN ARTISAN BREAD

I spent yesterday afternoon in the french country kitchen of a bread master. Between the chickens, beehives and vegetable garden right outside the  patio door, my brother and his wife 

have the DIY thing down to a science. Together, they make Chip and Joanna Gaines look like DIY amateurs. 

I figured if I spent some time there by the new year I’d be making bread like a boss.

As Bill mixed and waited and baked and waited I drank herbal tea and snacked on a tray of healthy baked goods Sherry had made. 

The room filled with the yeasty scent of baking bread and we chatted about the science of  creating the lean dough for artisan bread. As Sherry stated, creating the perfect healthy mixture for the dough and baking it into a crispy crust with a porous inside is an art form.

And as a thank you to my faithful readers, I wanted to share my twin’s secrets on how to make a great loaf of delicious homemade bread. 

Like any other good thing in life start with a good quality flour. Bill used a mix of Jovial flour, Organic sprouted spelt flour and whole wheat. One cup each.

He recommends using an electric mixer vs. kneading to save the extra time and trouble. 

Next pour one cup of warm water into the empty mixer. Add 2 tsp. of quality active dry yeast into the water. Activate the yeast with a “dash” of sugar, honey or maple syrup and wait from 3 - 5 minutes for it to bubble. 

When the yeast is happy and bubbly add the 3 cups of flour. Sound like fun? It is. Here’s one of the master bread maker’s secrets ~ when you add 2 tsp of salt do not allow it to touch the yeast. Apparently, this will kill the yeast action and cause the dough to lose it’s “rise.
Next, turn the mixer on low with your bread hook secured and watch the dough take shape. 

As the wet flour shapes into a ball begin to add more water a tsp at a time until the dough pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl. This takes patience and time. Another tip from the bread master ~ the wetter the dough the fluffier the bread. However, the wetter the dough the stickier your flour mixture will be. The mixer should be going about 10 minutes until the lean dough is ready.

Jovial flour and spelt flour produce a low gluten bread. If you’re like me, the less gluten in bread the happier my tummy will be. So be careful to develop the gluten in the above mixing process by testing the elasticity of your bread dough. If it breaks easily when pulled it’s not ready.

Now, cover the bowl with greased plastic wrap (so it doesn’t stick) and set aside until it doubles in size or for one hour, whichever happens first.

The oven needs to be preheated to the highest temperature ~ 550 on my bro’s oven. 

Another great tip to create a crusty loaf is by placing a cast iron pan in the oven while it’s preheating before the dough goes in. Shh…I’ll tell you why in the following paragraphs. Remember, I write suspense.

Here comes the fun part. Spread some corn flour or All Purpose flour on a wooden cutting board or other clean surface so the dough doesn’t stick. Carefully remove the mixture from the bowl without pressing out the fluffiness/ air bubbles. 

Shape into a rectangle by pulling on the outer corners of the bread dough. Now remember making those paper airplanes when you were a kid? Here’s the next part. Fold over the top right corner like you would for the airplane. Next fold the other corner so that the sides meet and a point forms up top. Next, take that point and fold it about halfway down. 

Next, starting with the point to roll the soft mixture into a long log. Press the seam where the dough meets at the end of the log, and voila! 

Place onto a parchment paper covered upside down cooking sheet, a loaf pan or if you’re fancy a v-shaped bread baking pan. 

It’s time to wait for the dough to rise yet again.  After 20 minutes or so it should have risen enough. 

Finally, the tip I promised you. As you place the prepared bread dough into the blast furnace, er, preheated oven, throw a handful of ice cubes in the heated cast iron pan next to it to create steam. 

In 10 minutes, turn the oven to 425 and enjoy the heavenly scent of baking bread fill your home.
The bread should be done in 25 minutes. Your hard earned product is ready to slice and enjoy.

Have a happy and healthy New Year from our family to yours!

                                                        Ingredients

3 cups flour ( All purpose, whole wheat, Jovial, organic spelt )

1 1/2 cups water

2 tsp. yeast

1 tsp sugar, honey or maple syrup 

2 tsp. salt

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TALKING TURKEY~ ARE YOU LOOKING FOR SOMETHING NEW TO SERVE THIS THANKSGIVING?

With Thanksgiving officially approaching it’s time to think about the details of the holiday.

At our house, we’re in a season of life where we need to be flexible for the changes we’re going through.

Over the years we’ve had a traditional Thanksgiving celebration with all the staples we’re familiar with in this country.

What’s Thanksgiving without turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie?

I don’t know but we’re about to find out.

One of the benefits of this healthier version of the Thanksgiving Day feast may help us stay awake for the family talk, football games, parades and other fun activities.

Part of our family visits will include a trip to my parents about an hour and a half away. Over the river and through the woods to grandmothers house we’ll go. Remember that old song?

If not, look it up on the net, it’s a predecessor to “Grandma got run over by a reindeer

Anyway, I digress. My mom is scheduled for a procedure this holiday season and won’t be up to travel. So, I decided to make a roasted leg of lamb with the trimmings.

That way, I can make the meal (and the mess) at our house and bring the cooked meal down to Philly. There we’ll slice into the roast and veggies and have a nice visit without the trouble of all the preparations and clean up.

If you’re looking for something different to cook up for your family and friends this year, here is a recipe to help you on your way.

Roasted Leg of Lamb and Potatoes (Six Servings)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Prepare a 4- 5 lb leg of lamb (I buy organic or free range, it can be expensive but I managed to find one for half price at the local grocery store.)

Place the leg of lamb  flat side down on a shallow roasting pan and prepare the meat with salt, pepper and about a tablespoon of olive oil or other basting oil of your choice. You can spruce it up a bit with minced onions and your fresh herbs ~ oregano or rosemary are two options.

Clean and cut 6 pared potatoes into halves then quarters, slice into one inch pieces.  Then place the potatoes into a plastic bag with two Tbs of olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Shake the potatoes until evenly coated and spread them around the lamb. I use 3 russet potatoes and 3 yams and or sweet potatoes to mix it up a bit. 

I add cleaned and pared organic carrots cubed into two inch pieces and one cleaned small cut up cooking onion.

Place the roasting pan in the preheated oven and cook for 15 minutes.

Turn down the temperature to 375 on your oven and roast for 30 minutes per pound. 

When the lamb is done it will have an internal temperature of 140 degrees for medium rare. 

If you don’t like your vegetables carmelized or well done, then remove when fork tender and keep warm until the meat is cooked through. 

Remove from the oven, gather the clan around your table and enjoy!

Enjoy! Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Enjoy! Have a happy Thanksgiving!

SCALE THE SUMMIT

How can a heart thumping mountain climb on a rock strewn trail be restful? When you reach the summit of course.

Just like life, anything good is worth working for and a brisk paced ascent on the closest public peak will merit that kind of goodness. 

In Southeastern Pa it’s a couple hour ride in either direction and our seasons are built for the beach on the warmest summer days, and as close as a one hour drive for a trek on the Blue Mountain range that surrounds our valley.

The park system in the Lehigh Valley is wide and varied. On any given day there are choices of

a well kept city park or a dirt packed winding path next to a trout sourced creek, or mountain trail. Either way, it’s easy to spend time every day outside.

Our Golden/Rottie mix dog is a natural runner, and on days when I can run, I will. Which got me thinking of the health benefits of outdoor fitness. 

Did you know one hour of trekking can burn off over 500 calories?  

According to Forbes.com, exploring in nature elevates mood, improves sleep, promotes bone growth, helps strengthen the immune system and lowers blood pressure.

 In addition to the physical benefits, research shows that a few hours walking, hiking or running can be healing for the emotions. A study of breast cancer survivors showed that those who spent time doing these activities were more likely to heal faster from the trauma of the disease. 

It’s cheaper than a personal trainer, easier on the joints than exercise classes and equipment, and more fun. 

Some studies have shown that this type of outdoor activity works to help promote health and immunity towards preventing skin cancer. As a cancer conqueror that is great news for me!

So take your favorite people and furbabies and load up a backpack with treats this weekend to head for the closest nature trail. 

Do me a favor when you reach the top of the mountain or end of the trail take a breath and enjoy the view. Sometimes all you need is a new perspective. 


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RETREAT~ DESTINATION COEUR D'ALENE

What do you get when you fill a football field- sized room with comfy loveseats, overstuffed armchairs and tables set up for your laptop? Add a great group of women, Brandilyn Collins, and wonderful food?

You get a perfect formula for one amazing weekend in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. 

The Fantastic Fiction Retreat held in Brandilyn's home is a cozy place to learn with other writers the art of creative writing while enjoying a stunning view of the area. And though the retreat I attended had only women, men are welcome too!

Brandilyn's workshops and time spent with other writers made this storyteller's dream come true. 

My family lives in Coeur d’Alene so my husband and I also were given the treat of seeing the area through my sister and brother-in-law’s eyes. 

One of our sightseeing tours included a boat ride around beautiful Lake Coeur d’Alene. The sunny 80 degree day  was perfect for an interior look of the hidden jewel that is this place.

Riding bikes on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes is an amazing experience. The trail is a 72-mile paved path that spans the Idaho panhandle between Mullan and Plummer. It is known as one of the most spectacular and popular trails in the western United States. Other than the macadam path, the area remains visibly untouched by man~ an outdoor adventurer's delight. 

 While sis and I hiked on Tubbs Hill  also known as one of the best 10 places to hike in the area, we caught up on life and had more fun than we have in years. Nothing like rounding the bend of the foothill to face a monstrous dog that resembled a black bear to keep a sister on her toes. 

Honestly, the best part of our vacation/retreat was spending precious time with my sister, brother-in-law and our nieces. All and all an unforgettable trip!

So next time you're planning  a vacation think retreat. 

 

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO PACK FOR A BUSINESS TRIP/PLAYCATION

I don’t know about you but I start packing WAY before the day of my flight out to unknown places. It's one part OCD, one part excitement and the rest is ‘I don’t want to miss any fun’. Heaven forbid.

Here are tips to make the chore of packing for business trips, vacations or even playcations easier for you. 

1. Use two basic colors to build your wardrobe on whether you work or play. On an upcoming trip, I will be attending a writer’s retreat while hubby enjoys some time on the links. We'll be visiting family as well so that adds to the excitement. 

 It’s a late spring/early summer trip to the Pacific Northwest. My sister lives there and so I already know that dress is casual there.

Navy blue or grey are good choices for business casual or play (denim) wear while visiting a new area.

 I’m a redhead so I have plenty of peach in my closet already as well. 

 Look in your closet to see what colors you tend to use. After you choose the two basic colors you use the most ( i.e. grey/black, tan/brown, blue/orange) you can start to fill in with other coordinating pieces.

2. Pick out some mix and match pieces that travel well and don’t wrinkle easily. Some materials to look for are denim, heavy cottons or chinos, permanent press blends, and throw in lightweight seer sucker for spring!  Classic doesn’t have to be old and stuffy. If you throw in a few trendy pieces you will be modern and professional for whatever weather you might experience.

3. Comfortable foot wear is a must. Yes, but it doesn’t have to be the crocs you use to garden either. Don’t laugh, I've seen people wear their muddy gardening shoes in public. And, I’m guilty of it too.  

As hot weather approaches there’s a temptation to expose your toes in flip flops or sandals. But,  airports are no place to wear flimsy or fancy foot wear. 

I bought a good pair of slip ons to use for easy removal at the check in areas with plenty of room to be comfortable for long flights. 

4. Find a good suitcase that fits your needs! After over thirty years of travel I suggest a wheeled garment bag for the well rounded traveller. 

Hubby and I went shopping and recently found a London Fog Navy and white checked bag for myself at Macy’s for half price. If you noticed that I chose navy to coordinate with my clothes you get extra points. 

5. There are many ways to pack a bag efficiently. I’ve found the roll and tuck method to save the most space.  Imagine your space inside the suitcase cut into squares of equal size. Take each bottom with a matching top and roll together tightly into a 'square'. Repeat until each outfit is neatly packed together.  Once again, packing with a color coordinated pants, tops, jackets and shoes saves you space and time. 

When you are packing for a business trip, you’ll need work related clothing (dresses, suits, and skirts) to lay on top of your exercise or play clothes. The garment bag is excellent to use for this purpose. 

6. TSA approved pre-packaged toiletries are available at drug stores and even some supermarkets. I tend to wait until my skin care company offers free or more reasonably priced travel sized products to restock items so that I have them when I need them. 

7. Don’t forget your swimsuit even in the winter. Most hotels offer inside pools/jacuzzis for after work hours. 

Finally, enjoy your trip~ take some time to explore the sights in your new city or town. 

What are some ways you've learned to make packing for a trip easier? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments below. 

 

photo credits Pexels. com 

photo credits Pexels. com 

READY TO REFRESH? 7 SURPRISING WAYS FOR A MENTAL HEALTH DETOX THIS SPRING.

 

Weathering through the bone chilling cold this winter had my skin cracking from the constant blasts of dry heat of our furnace. 

While I treated myself to a replenishing facial at the local day spa, I began thinking about ways to take care of myself during the long months of December, January, February and March.

After brainstorming I did some research for new ideas on a quick refresher. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money and these short breathers have long term effects for your health. I wanted to share  them with you~ now all I have to do is use them myself!

  1. Read a good book during your lunch break.
  2. Sit in your heated car at a park or near a creek and watch the water or the wildlife nearby.
  3. Do a digital detox. I keep going back to this but with so many handheld devices grabbing our attention, it only adds to the stress of our already full weekday.  Turn off that phone for a few hours. Get away from social media, the news, the fitbit and do something you’ve wanted to do but have not had the opportunity. 
  4. Call a relative or a friend to watch the kids for a few hours.
  5. Take some moments for a DIY facial, manicure and/or pedicure.
  6. Take a day off from work and relax. 
  7. Take up stretching exercises. I have found relief from years of sitting at a computer by incorporating stretches. You can find a good book or tutorial on youtube on the subject. 

Finally, Here is a bonus recipe for you to use for a basic body scrub made from ingredients you can find in your kitchen. 

Sugar Scrub Ingredients

        1/4 cup sugar (Large granulated brown sugar works best!)

        1/4 cup oil (olive oil or coconut oil work great)

        Optional: essential oils of your preference. (I love lavender or similar floral scents)

Let me know what you think! What are some ways you treat yourself?

HIS LAVISH LOVE

Even the strongest among us slip up once in awhile.

We assume life will go on as usual in an unconscious attempt to control the universe around us.

Then the unthinkable happens and our crown slips. Just a little. The bills are paid, somehow. Our child gets over the flu, hopefully. Work issues are resolved, eventually. And then, we move on to the next best thing.

Everything is 'doable' at some point. We face the shadows of the valley of death and lose our loved ones. Prayerfully, we hope to see them again on the other side of the veil. 

Our faith can weaken after hits from life's trials. Or, as love would have it, our faith grows strong. 

That is the ultimate in the purpose of our time on this earth. 

We can cover up painful feelings of abandonment, loneliness, or feeling out of control. But, our father is always there. 

Whatever you are dealing with right now~ maybe you are even thinking ... "where are you God?" "Have you forgotten me?" "What possible good could come out of the fiery trial I'm in?"

I guarantee these questions are inevitable. They are also valuable and even necessary to face. 

And, it's not a symptom of weakness to bring your deepest doubts and heaviest sorrows to him. He is rather waiting for you to bring them to him. 

How do I know? Because he tells me so. "Come to me..." "Cast your cares..." "I love you." 

So when all you do is like spinning the wheels on a hamster wheel and your hopes are running dry. Know that this is the time to pour out your soul to the soul keeper. YOUR soul keeper. He will listen, he will answer, he will attend to your wounds. And wash away your weariness. Rest your head on his shoulder for he knows your deepest desires. 

Then straighten your crown, pull back your shoulders and keep going. You've got this! 

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MY DAD'S GARDEN

Our youngest daughter and I love Kari Jobe. Her recent release is called "The Garden" and it got me thinking about the vegetable garden my dad has grown all my life. Recently, she and I have gone down to help my mom and dad as they are in their 80's.  We have helped with the weeding, cutting back the overgrowth and of course helped them harvesting their produce. 

Growing up, Dad used our garbage~ egg shells, old coffee grounds, with dead leaves layered on top to build a pile of rich loam in the corner of the backyard of my childhood home.

He called it his compost pile. 

In the fall it was layered and turned every few months and by springtime it had decomposed and he was ready to use it as fertilizer for his garden.

With a gardener’s soul, no food was ever wasted. Just like our heavenly father who can use our deepest messes to produce goodness in our lives. 

There was no fast food at our house. We ate what was put in front of us and were told to sit there until the last drop of succotash was eaten. Or, in our West Oak Lane home, thrown behind the old time vintage cast iron radiator.

In the early 70’s we moved to the suburbs outside of Philadelphia with a bona fide backyard filled with trees. Instead of the paved driveway of the back alleys behind our tree lined city twin home. We now had a place to run and climb trees and be kids. 

Dad went to work building a small garden plot by the side of the house to grow his own tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, eggplant, string beans and mint. Always with the mint because he enjoyed it in his sweet tea for the summer. Or, at least I did.

Sometimes, life throws us garbage in the form of loss, false friends, disappointments, dashed dreams, health and financial problems. But, I’m convinced that God has a plan and that he wastes nothing.

Just like my growing up years where winter soon turned into spring, the summer growth and fall harvest somehow produced good vegetables from Dad’s labor.

It’s a little harder to see on an electronic screen or in the eyes of our neighbors as we scurry around as life passes us by.

In this micro wave world, we can still see the eternal truth of the rewards of care by the light in our neighbor’s eyes when we drop off some food while they are going through a difficult time.

Or, take time to answer questions for a teenager who needs wisdom for future direction in his or her life.  Or it is captured in the smile of a young married as she shares about the adventures of being a newlywed and expecting her first child

While there are days where we see no rewards for our labor, it's then we need to take a closer look at the smaller yet real growth in our lives. 

It’s the family foundation that bring me back to a simpler time. And for this, I’m grateful to have learned about the truths of life from my dad's garden.  

 

BE BOLD ~ AN OPEN LETTER TO MY DAUGHTER AS SHE ENTERS COLLEGE

 

To my darling daughter,

It’s not about the grades, the books, the knowledge…the JOB. So much. 

My love ~ in one way or another you have heard about getting a job and making money to support yourself all your life. Our culture thrives on it.

Rather it is about finding that dream, that passion, that ‘JOY’ and staying committed to it no matter what.

So take that leap and try all that you can during the next four years. Take that step and try the course that makes your heart beat faster and your spirit come alive. Explore, climb the mountains, view the vistas of each experience you will be exposed to. 

Be bold.

Rest in your upbringing. Trust your self. Know you are surrounded by people who want to see you succeed. Ignore the taunts to believe in the lies. You know which ones I mean.

Each new attempt you make will bring you one step closer to your destiny.

You cannot fail. 

You are deeply gifted, rooted, grounded in truth. And, you know the path to go. 

Everything you have gone through the last 18 years has prepared you for this new place. 

So when you reach a point where you want to give up remind yourself of how far you have come. Remember the obstacles you have already faced and had victory over. 

You are ready for this time at this new place and wired to succeed. That you will do great things I have no doubt. 

You survived the trenches of middle school, the trauma of the rigors of high school and you are ready to face your next adventure in college. You, my daughter,  have learned your lessons well.

As you acquire new knowledge, skills and friends throughout the next four years keep your vision. Sometimes, no, usually, God will take us on the “scenic” route to our allotted place. But, that’s part of the fun. So whatever you do enjoy the ride. And, oh, the places you will go!

I have no doubt your dream job will come.