Monday, January 4, 2021

A New Lap- and Laptop!

Lots of new things this year!

I've been intermittent fasting for nearly four months and have lost 25 pounds. I can now fit into leggings I had hoped to fit into when I initially bought them, but it was like trying to stick a bowling ball in a marble bag. My thighs and rear lost some serious inches, and now my leggings fit like a glove! My belly shrank too, so I can now see my lap- I thought I'd never see it again!

Yesterday was my birthday and my husband and kids gifted me with something completely unexpected- a new laptop!

The laptop I have now (and that I'm currently typing on) is quite old (maybe 5-8 years?) and the memory is warning me it's full. Not with my writing per see, but with things that go along with my writing, including pictures and artwork I'm doing for my blogs and books.

Another friend gifted me her old digital art tablet, but I haven't been able to download any art programs to use it; my laptop takes forever to boot up. I don't want to risk losing data just so I can practice doodling!

So much to do, so little time. Ah, the things I want to do with this new laptop are going to be epic, if I can stay focused!

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay 

The only resolution I'll make for the New Year is to try and stay focused. I need to write and want to learn computer art for both my books and my hobbies, which now includes cookie decorating. I've been talking about starting a business forever, but to be honest, we really need to concentrate on paying off debt and saving funds for a startup first. A business plan can be made as we pay things off.

In the meantime, I'll be working, learning, and creating!

I don't know what surprises this year will hold, but I know with God watching over me, it's going to be stellar!

May your New Year be filled with prospects, progress, and prosperity!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Ooh- Shiny! - 'Tis Not the Season for Distractions!

I've learned a lot this month. I learned how to fancy-frost cookies. I learned the processes to run a bakery-cafe. I even learned the steps needed to move in that direction. But the most important lesson I learned was to discern distractions from God's will.

My husband introduced me to a book and video series called X: Multiply Your God-Given Potential. We'd only gotten through half the book and a handful of videos when things finally clicked; what I thought was God taking us in another direction was really a shiny distraction from God's true wishes- which He'd made known to us years ago.

I am to write books. All of them. Use my gifts to support my husband.

He is to work in building Men's Ministries and being a Godly influence to those around him in the workplace.

My husband is meant to be where he is in his job because that's where God wants him to be in this season. I don't mean the Christmas season, but this season in our lives.

All these plans for a cafe bakery, all the cookie frosting lessons, and business model studies were distracting us from what God wanted. I was too focused on the shiny stuff and not putting my full efforts into what God clearly told me to do- which had nothing to do with a cafe bakery.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay 

Part of it was simply misunderstanding what He wanted. Part of it was me being lazy by ignoring what He wanted. Part of it- a big part- was rebellion. 

I wanted more than what God planned because my gifts had nothing to do with my husbands' ministry. Support my husband? The only way I could fathom 'support' was to go into business using my gifts, making enough so he could quit and start his ministry work full-time. 

I'm not gonna lie- that was my focus for years.

Then...this video talked about using our gifts to help spread God's word. Would I better serve God through a cafe bakery or writing and supporting my husband? 

We both know the answer.

I work part-time to help pay down debt. Helping him at home right now is the best way to spend my time when the workday is done. And since I don't start until the early afternoon, that leaves even more time to do what God told me to do all those years ago.

Maybe one day we'll have that cafe bakery. Maybe it'll never happen. We both have come to the realization that God has us where we are for a reason. Actually, my husband accepted this from the beginning- I was the one that had issues with it! But now I see things a bit differently, and I hope the shiny stuff can be avoided in the future. 

In this season, all those cookie decorating and bread baking gifts I have can bless my friends and family. The other talents like quilting and paper crafting can be done for pure pleasure and not profit. Who knows but God what will happen in the future?

It's been a while since I set pen to paper (or fingers to keys?); God's been there the entire time waiting for me to get back to work. I'm so glad He's patient with me!

Monday, November 23, 2020

Tough Cookies!

Oh, what a crazy few weeks I've had!

I've been taking classes for fancy cookie decorating (like I need another creative outlet in my life...sheesh). I've always loved making cookies, but cutouts were a pain- I'd always mess up the cookies by mangling them with the spatula- they were so hard to pick up, no less decorate! So I took this class, hoping to learn a few things and maybe spend a little creative time with my daughter when she came home from college for the holidays.

After finishing the online course, I was talking with my husband about some of my cookie ideas when running our errands one morning (he is encouraging me because this particular skill ties into his interests as a chef and baker), and one of the stops was a Jewish bakery we love. 

We are friendly with the baker, and when I showed him some of the cookie class pictures from other students, he was so impressed, he said if I could show him my work and he liked it, I could have a job as a decorator for his bakery. He needed a decorator, but would rather offer the job to someone he knew and could get along with. He didn't want fancy-schmancy stuff, just simple and pretty- right up my alley.

Then my husband showed him a couple of cakes I'd made through the years for the kids' birthdays, and he added simple cake decorating to the job as well. He wanted to see some cookie work as soon as possible. I didn't even know my husband had those cake pictures on his phone!

It didn't take long for my husband to make a small investment to fill in the gaps for the cookie baking equipment for the class- especially these things called silpats- small sheets of silicone that would help me not mangle my cutout cookie dough without using any additional flour!

Just a few short days later, I had everything I'd needed for making and decorating cookies. The class recipe for the cookies was awesome! It rolled out beautifully on the silpats, and came right off with no mangling; the cookies baked so nice with straight edges, and the frosting (for the most part) did what it was supposed to do. It took a lot longer for me to frost the entire batch (because I was making each one different and used way too many colors), but in the end, not bad for a first try. Here are some my first batch!

My personal fave was the 'Snow' in the bottom right corner. My first try of that was the the one in the top row. Most weren't finished, but I took a picture anyway because I was seeing the baker the next day. I was so excited!

I went into the bakery and the staff surrounded me to see what I did. Each had their favorites, and the baker liked the snowflake the best. He knew I would improve with practice, so he said he would let me know in a few days because he had to confirm things with his financial advisor (they'd just renovated, and the mayor was threatening another Covid shutdown by the weeks end.)

I was elated, and after the baker ate his favorite cookie (and the staff had theirs), I left with a lighter box and a lot of hope- and ideas for icing more cookies.

Then the bottom dropped out. The mayor made good his threat to shut down food businesses and restrict limits on the ones that were open. Thanksgiving plans were to be cancelled and travel limited. The bakers' Thanksgiving orders were five percent of what they were last year, since most people decided to stay home, and the prospect of starting a new venue in decorated cookies didn't bode well for business. 

So for now, the job is on hold until further notice. That doesn't mean I'm going to stop baking and decorating. In fact, this Christmas I can practice cut cookies with my daughter and her friends! They can take some home, and we can eat the evidence if some frosted ones aren't up to snuff. I'll make sure some of them get 'accidentally' smeared. Heh.

I still don't know why God gave me yet another creative outlet, since the job offer fizzled. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to turn this into a business, help my husband, or become an expert before the job is offered again. All I know is practice is going to be fun. And edible.

We picked up our daughter from the airport over the weekend, and went straight into Lancaster to pick up some much needed cookie supplies for our regular Christmas cookie baking. I found some mini candies, sugars, and jimmies that would look great on iced cookies, including some nonpareils that will put a little twinkle in the eyes of my cookie-characters.

I also created a binder filled with small sketch papers, markers, pens and a spiral book that will be my very own Creative Cookie Book- one I can record any time I create a new cookie design, and reference when I can't remember all of the details. So until that job (or some other cookie-related blessing) come along, I'll be sketching, writing, baking, and frosting!

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Sparrow Blessings

Image by Oldiefan from Pixabay 

If God watches over the sparrows, He watches over us...right?

So why, when asked about how God blessed me, I feel I can only tell others the big blessings, because the little ones are just too insignificant to be recognized? Why forget or ignore the hundreds of little sparrow blessings God has done for me every day?

The big blessings are so awesome a story to tell. It's mind-boggling the things God has done in my life in just the past few years, no less my lifetime. But those little blessings are what gets me through the day, and many times I forget to thank God for those too.

Sometimes they seem silly, sometimes sweet- thanks for that ice-cold raindrop in my armpit when I was overheated and ranting in the car- I stopped ranting and laughed! Thanks for waking me with a kitty pounce so I wouldn't be late for work. Thanks for cat snuggles just when I was feeling unloved. Thanks for the unexpected tip from a normally stingy customer. Thanks for a bright, sunny day when I needed a spiritual lift. A breeze at the right moment. The sink unclogged itself. The first taste of a freshly brewed iced tea. The smell of mown grass or just-baked bread. Moments of peace within the chaos.

I can close my eyes and smile at every one of those things and be thankful because God was a part of it all.

Don't forget to count your many sparrow blessings. They keep us sane through the mess that is our lives. They help us cope, smile, and sometimes laugh, but always lighten our spirit. 

Thank You, God, for our little sparrow blessings!

Monday, September 14, 2020

Hope Uprising

It wasn't long ago that I gave up on everything. 

I gave up on being a wife and mom- cooking, cleaning, etc.- the family complained about what I cooked and just made the house messy again. My advice was no longer needed or wanted since the kids were grown now. Everything I knew was...useless.

I gave up dieting. Past attempts didn't work, and I was tired of gaining more weight after each try. I stopped writing humor because it seemed there wasn't anything left to laugh about without offending someone. I stopped watching online church services since it was just someone on a screen- I was being talked at, not talked to

I hadn't just given up on those around me, but I gave up on myself as well. Each day was filled with thoughts of just do what you have to do to get by, bite down on the pain, and escape life through sleep. 

I slept a lot.

But God had other plans. 

No matter how deep the rut is, how vast the chasm, how high the climb, God is always there for me, whispering in my ear (and yours!), giving me hope when I least expect it. 

Image by Daniel Reche from Pixabay 

It started with a surprise trip to Cape Cod after driving our daughter from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire. I was overjoyed- it was the first time since our honeymoon twenty-three years ago that we were going on a bonafide vacation; no cooking, cleaning, or campfire building for the entire week! 

But I started feeling anxious because my husband was talking about doing a lot of walking- something that I just wasn't able to do. The more he talked, the guiltier I felt- and there was no time to 'get into shape' to walk long distances either.

We enjoyed going to the beaches (I encouraged him to explore on his own while I waited by the exit and people-watched), read books, ate fantastic restaurant food, and had good conversations. He was still enjoying himself despite my hindrances, working around them so we could both have fun. God gave me an awesome man for a husband!

I was still feeling guilty for not being more mobile. I wanted to walk on the beaches too! One time he decided to 'go for a short walk' before dinner, and next thing you know, he called me to come to pick him up, otherwise, we'd be late for dinner- he wasn't far, he said. Just three miles down the road.

Three miles. A short walk, my fanny! 

I wanted to be so much more active for him. He deserved a wife that was better than the current model. My engine revved great, but the body was dented and the tires were overinflated. No MPG on this baby!

That night, I decided to put on the hotel TV. I flicked through the channels and found Shark Tank. We watched an episode before I decided to channel surf. 

And that was when God whispered in my ear. What will motivate you to change?

Well, I wanted to be an entrepreneur (hence Shark Tank), but I wasn't certain I was cut out for it. Then the remote clicked on a show that hit me like a ton of cookies. My 600 Pound Life.

Wow. Both of us were shocked at some of the attitudes and occurrences we saw on the show. Some of them were not so surprising (but worrisome), and some attitudes were so downright familiar they were scary. 

I'm going to backtrack a little here. Several years ago I was a borderline hoarder. I could never figure a way out of hoarding until I watched the show Hoarders. It shocked me into making major life changes. I've now gotten control of my hoarding tendencies, and decluttering is a regular part of my life. I don't even have a junk drawer!

And now I had to shock myself again but in a very different arena.

It only took a few episodes of My 600 Pound Life to realize I was headed that way, big time (excuse the pun.) Their excuses were my excuses, their diet fails were my diet fails, and though these people opted for surgery, I didn't want to go that route. Extreme dieting wasn't the answer either- not for long term weight loss. Been there, done that, never will do it again. 

So how was I going to get where I wanted to be, and walk on the beaches with my husband? What was I going to do to consider a three-mile walk a 'short' walk?

I knew better than to run to the next new diet fad. 'Lose 85 pounds in a day' was just not a good thing, no matter how you looked at it. So I did a little research, bought a book called Fast, Feast, Repeat, and chose to start an eating lifestyle that was easier to stick to, and at a slow enough pace I wasn't crashing and burning like the Hindenburg.

All because God whispered at the right time. He gave me hope that I can change for the better.

My lifestyle eating journey starts in a separate blog, here.

Less weight, more energy. More energy, better life. Less time in bed, more time living.

And finally doing what God wants me to do. 

I'm not going to lie- I'm still struggling. Those feelings of being incapable are still very prominent. It's hard to be hopeful when you have doubts about yourself and lack the hugs you need from friends and family during this COVID-19 pandemic. 

Hope is hard to hold, but not impossible. Because God is still there, whispering. Hope rises from the ashes and lives another day. And another. And another. I'm so grateful for His whispers. I hope you hear His whispers too. Just take a deep breath and listen. His hope will come!

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Boo-Boo and the Rainbow Bridge

It all started with a friend who found two feral kittens in her yard. She tried to keep them on her back porch, but her son was too allergic to them and at ten months old, she had to find them a new home.

My home.

I received these two semi-little balls of fur in a cardboard box, folded at the top to prevent their escape. I was overjoyed when I opened the box to see their little ten-month-old heads peeking out cautiously over the cardboard. 

They were terrified

Being out on a porch for most of their kitten lives, they were used to small spaces with a lot of gardening pots and plants and other things to hide under or behind. Now they were in a big house that was mostly open to them, and they had no idea what to do.

It didn't take long for them to find hidey-holes that took hours to hunt down, just to see little frightened faces looking back up at us. We decided to leave them be and not force the issue- which isn't easy with two kids who wanted nothing but to cuddle them to death. At least until they hid behind the dishwasher. 

They didn't respond much to their given names at the time either- Curious, and TC. We still have no idea how even one cat got back there, no less both of them. Yet there they were, frozen in place after my husband removed the dishwasher door. Even the vacuum didn't move them- they just let it suck on their fur and both cats remained glued to the floor.

Until I had the idea of reversing the airflow. Then they moved. After they scattered, the door was screwed back on we blocked the hole. We blocked a lot of holes after that.

It took nearly six months of letting them do their own thing before one of them began asking for affection. That was Curious, who was now named Boo-Boo. He earned the name after I came home from work one day. He actually greeted me and I grinned and said "How's my little Boo-Boo Kitty?" He meowed and rubbed a little on my leg. I was overjoyed.

His brother was renamed Scootch because the little dude was always underfoot when you had food in your hands. Both were underfoot if you had ham!

Boo-Boo never let me have any plants- not that I had many in the first place. But I did treasure my little oval pot of succulents, which was in his favorite window. Boo-Boo loved the feel of dirt, and I would often find my beautiful succulents yanked out and tossed to the floor, only to find this cat had planted his butt in my pot instead, soaking up the sunshine. 

Sometimes he would just move the pot over so he could squish himself in between the sunny window and the pot.

I also had spider plants (which were cat-friendly) and I tried growing cat grass and catnip, but these were eradicated by them both within days. I no longer keep plants in rooms where they have access. My succulents and spider plants are now safe.

He would often beg for table treats by hopping on his hind legs and trying to grab my arm with his paws. We found he loved Doritos, cheese, rotisserie chicken, and ham. Occasionally I'd cave and give him a little something, but the one food he had no manners for came as a complete surprise- Panera Breads' orange scones. He would desperately climb up Mount Mom to snatch it out of my hand (or mouth!) and if someone accidentally left the box out overnight, all that was left in the morning were a few scattered crumbs.

Oh goody...something else I have to lock up securely.

He had some other odd habits too.

If my husband and I are on the couch watching something, he found that if he wedged himself between us and twisted belly-side up, he'd get chest scratches from me and belly scratches from Dad. Cat Nirvana couldn't get any better than this! The bliss on his face made us both chuckle while we gladly obliged His Furry Majesty.

One time I was at the computer desk when he jumped up on my lap and slipped- but instead of scratching me, he balled his paw and kept his claws sheathed, using my arm to pull himself back onto my lap by his wrist. I wish I had a video of that- it was the most incredible thing I've ever seen him do.

Boo-Boo loved the soft top cushion of the recliner. He was stretched out atop it one afternoon after I came home. He looked up sleepily, meow-yawned, and stretched out languidly, rolling belly-up- at least until the cushion was overbalanced and tossed him merrily over the back of the chair- cat, and cushion disappearing behind the wall. It was even funnier when he walked out like he nothing had happened!

He had a habit of licking and kneading my left forearm. Had to be the left arm, had to be bare, and if I had on long sleeves, I got stared at until I rolled it up. At least I knew when it was time to clip his claws.

Did I mention he would only cuddle with me? He'd never cuddle or do the claw thing to anyone else. I was favored, and I loved it.

Every spring the boys (especially Boo-Boo) would get a bit antsy despite being neutered, and we decided to get a spayed girl kitty to stave off some of the...antics. Enter Tinkerbelle, two and a half years old to their five years. We thought once they got used to each other, everything would go smoothly.

Boo-Boo and Tink hated each other. She liked us humans, but that was it. Oh well- it was a nice idea.

The boys hit their tenth birthday, and Boo-Boo started acting strangely. He would occasionally vomit after eating, and we originally thought he was cow-towing to Scootch, who was the dominant cat of the three. Scootch is very greedy, and let's just say he accepted Boo-Boos' 'offerings'. The vet couldn't see anything wrong, so we chalked it up to alpha bullying and kept them separate when they ate.

Six months later, Boo-Boo was sitting next to me at breakfast and was acting like he was falling asleep sitting up. At first, this was really funny, but when he did it again after eating his dinner and faltered as he got his balance, we knew something was wrong. We scheduled a vet appointment and had his blood tested.

Nothing. Bloodwork was good. Just seizures they said. No idea why. Here are some meds. We took him home, gave him the meds with his food, and all seemed well. And then he started losing weight. A lot of weight. 

The vet suspected brain or possible intestinal cancer. There was nothing we could do. We took him home and made him as comfortable as possible for the next few months. 

And the day finally arrived where we could see he was truly suffering. His breathing was labored, his pupils were large and unfocused. It was time.

My husband took him. I wanted to go with him, but because of the COVID-19 mess only one person was allowed at a time into the vets' office. I just couldn't do it by myself. I knew I would be a hot crying mess the entire time. My daughter and I broke down when he came home with the empty pet carrier.

A few days later, we got a little note from the vet sending their condolences. At the bottom was a little blue paw print. Boo-Boo, my dear fuzzy friend, was really, truly gone. 

I love you and miss you, you goofy furball. Especially when I eat ham or orange scones. 

                                                               Your Favorite Human

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Viral Perspective

I'm an essential worker. While out and about doing deliveries, I noticed a big change in the neighborhoods where I deliver.
Many families were outside for neighborhood walks and bike rides. Toddlers to teens were playing outdoor games. Neighbors are talking to each other over their fences, keeping with the distancing regulations. Even the elderly are out to enjoy the sunshine, while their caregivers are engaging them in a friendly chat.

Oddly enough, despite the forced time off, everyone looks happy.

They spent time together. Enjoying themselves and the beautiful spring weather. 

To be honest, I thought these neighborhoods would be deserted; everyone would be inside with their tech, barely moving a toe length from their couches or beds unless the fridge or Mother Nature called. But no- they were outside, smiling, playing, and happy.

Parents have been telling their kids for years to stop playing computer games and go outside to play...and now that they can play digital games and watch TV until they have the mental capacity and agility of the Walking Dead, they are instead out on their bikes and having fun playing distance-friendly games with their friends and siblings. 

Yes, they should have been inside due to the pandemic- I totally get that! But people will be people, and if you tell them to not do something, they will do the exact opposite. 

People are cooking again because take-out isn't an affordable option. Yet learning (or in some cases, relearning) to cook became fun because they have time to create something yummy that's healthier (and you get to eat the mistakes!) Many are gaining home skills they never knew they had; home maintenance, repairs, improvements, and hobbies are skyrocketing in both the online classes and how-to videos.

And people are loving it.

I know a lot of families are struggling- this isn't a cakewalk for many people out there. However, no matter what you're situation is, I bet your perspective has changed quite a bit since the pandemic started- no matter your situation.

Have you done any of these things?

Pray more.
Learn new skills.
Budget time better.
Work on that new startup at-home biz you've always wanted, but never had time to start.
Fix up the house.
Start a garden.
Eating healthier.
Plan a restful vacation you've been meaning to take before the pandemic.
Making lifestyle changes like going to part-time or full-time, or deciding to retire.
Change the way you do your ministry, be it no-touch drop-offs of food and goods, or support groups via video linkups.
Visit friends via calls or facetime.
Play games with the kids.

What changes have you made in your life, on or off this list?

What have I been doing, you ask?

Working... when I want to be home.  And yes, I know I'm not normal.

I loved being an at-home mom for nearly two decades, and I find myself still wanting to be home (even though my kids are now young adults). My current downtime is usually spent decluttering my sewing and writing space, deep house cleaning, and prepping for several at-home businesses.

My husband is working odd hours due to the pandemic (CDC cleanup), but we're grateful he's still able to work since most of the plant is shut down. We've become avid budgeters and are using the surplus hourly wages and tips to pay off debts. I know when this is over, my deliveries will be cut severely, so I'm squirreling any extra away for the near future.

My son and daughter are both at home (my daughter was sent home during Easter break, then the college shut down soon afterward); My daughter works a day or two a week at a horse therapy barn where she tends to the horses, and my son is becoming a video-watching expert since his workplace was shut down entirely.

During the shutdown, we adopted an abandoned cat at my husbands' workplace. She is now dubbed Luna (and has earned the nickname Lunatic) and is now sporting a brand new scar from being spayed. Our other cats are less than thrilled. I'm still wondering if that's because Luna is a year and a half and they are ten and eight, or they just don't like having their tails hunted. Maybe both.

My husband and I were deeply involved with a food ministry, but because we are essential workers, we're keeping our distance due to our higher risk of exposure. We are very social and helpful people, and this pandemic has curtailed all of our ministries to the point that we're near hermits. It's hard for givers not to give!

Our old lifestyle seems a world away now. The old normal is forgotten, and we're working our way to a new norm. We pray the world will change for the better.

Personally, I hope there will be more at-home parents. I'd love to see more homeschoolers walking about the neighborhood doing outdoor projects. More work-at-homers taking a break outside to chat with a neighbor. I'd like to see more kids playing outside with each other, more visits to friends and family, and more spiritual connections being made. More people helping people. More smiles, laughter, and hugs.

Especially more time to slow down and enjoy life!