RUNNING TRAILS

“Congenial conversation—what a pleasure! The right word at the right time—beautiful!” Proverbs 15:23 The Message

“Get that animal away from me!” A fellow trail walker screamed.

At six months old our golden/rottweiler mix was clearly a puppy. I pulled on her leash to calm the irate stranger.  “Okay.”

Enraged, the woman turned around and moved back towards myself and my dog, Layla. “I have been attacked by dogs. You should keep that dog away.” 

My family and I had just purchased the bouncing ball of fur from a local mennonite family. The picture of friendliness, we found her wandering near an adorable toddler boy dressed in full button down white shirt, shorts and black hat and we fell in love with her. 

On the trail I moved as fast as I could in the opposite direction from the woman. I  intended on leaving and not returning.  

At the end of the path we encountered another dog owner crouched down with her three cocker spaniels. 

 She looked up. “Can he play?”

I eased up on the leash and watched Layla scamper towards one of her dogs. 

We talked about the weather and the recreational area. I mentioned that I’d come to explore the trail for exercise and relayed the incident. 

“Oh honey, everybody brings their dogs here. Don’t mind her.” She waved her hand as if it was nothing.

I listened to the kind woman’s words that day and continue to enjoy the beautiful trail with our frisky pup.

It has been three years since we first visited the park. And, in that time, Layla has been trained while I’ve lost 25 pounds as a side benefit. It’s my peaceful place to pray and listen to the Lord. 

You never know what a kind word will do for someone. It may mean the difference between a bad experience or blessings that continue in their lives for years to come. 

5 TIME SAVING LIFEHACKS FOR SPRING

Longer days of Spring bring welcome rays of warm sunshine but also work projects, lawn maintenance and activities for the kids. 

One of the ways busy families find time for more important priorities has been to take advantage of restaurants and delivery service. On average for this nation we eat takeout 4 to 5 times a week. 

As our youngest foodie recently told me, there’s no greater love than a home cooked meal. 

  1. Creative Cooking 101

Who says we have to use the same formula for cooking every night? Over the years we’ve found some time saving techniques as alternatives to eating in restaurants or take out.

Weekends are a great time for the family to buy groceries and prepare food items for the coming week. Our girls loved to select veggies for salad for one night. Leftover vegetables can then be thrown into a pan for stir fry the next. Leftovers are great to throw together on those nights when the families activities cut into dinner. 

The local produce stand or farmers market are great fun activities for all and for seasonal produce you can’t beat going to the local orchards to pick your own. By using the time to do it together, it becomes more of a time saver than a burden.

Most markets sell fresh caught wild fish which can be broiled or sautéed in less time it takes to order a meal online. 

2. Clean Up

One of the greatest motivators in our family is fun. When it comes to laughter and joking our family takes it seriously. So, as the kids were growing my husband and I included them in on the daily chores of the household. This cuts down on the hours required to clean house and gave us more opportunities for the business of play.

Start them young and it becomes a habit for life. Even a toddler can learn to pick up his or her puzzle pieces as part of the “game."

3. Containing The Chaos

Individual schedules and busy lives plus life’s surprises can lead to chaos. 

My husband used our dinner times to talk with the girls about their needs and our expectations. I didn’t always want to take that time to discuss “business”. But, years later, I see how his attention to detail helped shape them into responsible young adults today.  As a self employed writer, I was able to teach, guide and direct them during the “teachable” moments of the day. When they woke up we’d talk about their day and what they needed to have done. When we drove to an extracurricular activity, I’d stay in the car to wait for them and used the time to write lists, work on projects for my writing,  or clean the car out. 

In our home, everyone pitched in and had clear boundaries for getting their jobs done. That way, when something wasn’t done, we knew who to call. 

4. Calendars
From day one we used a calendar to help the girls visualize time management . We used a fun magnetic one as toddlers which showed their accomplishments and rewards for the day. This gradually became a large cork board/white board we kept in the laundry room for everyone’s schedule to be posted. 

It was their jobs to keep their school/ sporting events up to date, and social activities posted as well. This helped save time when sports, school outings and social activities are at their peak.

5. Controlling the Budget

We keep our financial records and receipts in one place in a desk in our home. This helps to save time on money management. We also save time by agreeing to a limit of money we want to spend for any given item.

That way when the bills come around there is less confusion and enough capital to cover the expenses.

Hope these simple tips help you to have a happy Spring! 

Share some of your family’s tips in the comment section below. 

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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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. 

 

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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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.