Why We Should Keep Throwing Showers

My daughter Katherine was about three years old when I walked upstairs and saw a long row of shoes–our family’s shoes–up and down the hallway, near the bathroom door. There she was, bright eyed with that perpetual smile. “Joy” was the nickname I’d given her. When I asked about the shoes she said, “You told me we’re having a shower so I got everyone’s shoes ready.”  One of those memories that will always tug at my heart. At the time, I realized that I was scurrying around like crazy preparing for a friend’s baby shower and had never fully explained what a shower is! Being the fourth child and very adaptable, she wasn’t always totally in the know about what was happening. (FYI- young mamas- write your kids’ adorable quotes and stories in a journal! You won’t remember as much as you think!)

I recall with such warm emotion the parties hosted in my honor. Over thirty years ago I was a pregnant single mom. My husband and I had separated the same week I’d had a positive pregnancy test. Not part of my plan. My dear friends threw me the most beautiful and fancy dinner shower at a nice restaurant in Mobile, Alabama. Looking back I realize the party was over the top because they wanted to heap encouragement on me. Believe me, I needed it. They even had matchbooks embossed with my name.

A wedding shower was given in my honor when I married Tom. As I walked in, straight ahead I noticed the expanse of small window panes were filled with blocks of colored paper and letters, resembling a quilt. The letters spelled, “Myra is a special friend.” And, would you believe, those precious women had created a friendship quilt, each one contributing a square? We were not casual friends. We were family. They had walked me through the most difficult times of my life to that point.

During the shower, a wise mentor shared her thoughts about our upcoming marriage. As she gifted me with a candle stand she said we would welcome people into our home and would be a light to them. That message has stayed with me all these years and emboldened me to keep going at times when I’ve been weary of flinging open the front door again. I’d continually think back on that moment and the words she’d spoken.

My detailed recall of these events is indicative of the powerful impact they had on me.

I’ve had folks come back to me years after a celebration and recall how much it meant to them. Maybe, like me, they recalled something said that would stick with them and serve as a road marker. Or perhaps it was just fun to be the center of attention and receive much needed gifts that lightened the load in their new chapter.

There are many reasons not to open our homes:

  • “My home is too little”. I’ve hosted small parties in a house trailer!
  • “My home isn’t pretty (stylish, organized, decorated…) enough. Clear it out and clean it up as much as possible; put a smile on your face and open your door!  I had a fancy tea party for a bride, and had decorated all the main areas. I’d assumed, naively, that no one would go to the disaster that was the upstairs. There were some young people living there to whom I’d relinquished care of the bathroom. I hadn’t even glanced at it! Wouldn’t you know the bride ended up there! I was mortified!
  • “I wouldn’t know where to begin!” Ask an experienced friend, and keep it simple. Focus on encouraging and “showering” the guest of honor and keep the focus off yourself. When I first started out I looked to library books for help..

Marriage and family are at the bedrock of all that’s important to me. Let’s celebrate what we value and honor! How can I not bless and encourage someone embarking on the most incredible of journeys?

Hosting a party works like magic motivation to clean up and beautify your home!

In your own personal space, you’ll have a captive audience and can speak freely to a new mom or bride. She may forget a gift, but she’ll never forget  the words of life spoken and the love shown.

Your guest of honor will go home full of heart and full of gifts that will help her on her new journey.

Many years ago, I painted one of my favorite quotes on our kitchen wall. It was a sad day when we changed colors and painted over it. I’ll leave you with it here! From Emerson:

“The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.”

 

 

 

 

Ruts

rut1
rət
noun
plural noun: ruts
1. a long deep track made by the repeated passage of the wheels of vehicles.
2. a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.

I like ruts. Sameness, ritual, routine. I don’t tire of the same coffee, the same neighbors, same food. I like living in the same house where our babies learned to walk. The house Tom built.

My father used to tell me the horrifying story of driving his daddy’s car in the rural Ozark hills when he was eight years old. He told us about picking up his “girlfriend” for his eighth birthday party. He could drive somewhat safely because of the ruts in the road. They kept him on course. There wasn’t fear of veering to the right or left; the ruts kept him engaged in the familiar way.

I relate to the rut concept so much these days. For me it’s not unproductive or dull that I’m feeling. It’s safety and comfort. I’ve lived in the same home for about thirty years and I’ve learned how I fit here. I’m content with my roles as neighbor, mom, Mimi, and friend. I’m pretty sure that I’d stay right here in this house until my last breath if God and Tom hadn’t intervened. Stay happily, I might add.

The only thing I like more than sameness is a looming sense of what I call God’s Purpose. Since I was spiritually awakened and enlightened as a teenager many years ago, my daily prayer is for guidance into the plans and calling that God has assigned me. A pursuit of this Purpose has carried me through joy, heartache, divorce, longing, poverty, marriage, grief and celebration; always with a deepening sense of His reality and nearness in my life. At this point, with my history, I’d be foolish to disregard His leading even if it’s opposed to my comfort and desires.

Ruts can be good for specific reasons. Say, for instance, there is a project that requires your full attention or a discipline that needs to become a habit in your life.

I read a book about habits— The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. One of the most impressive examples given was the story of Michael Phelps’ training practices. For many years he’d gone through precisely the same daily and hourly habits that eventually brought him to record-breaking victories in the Olympics.

At some point, however, a person may need to take the steep climb out of the rut that’s unknowingly been created. Could there be a new unexplored road ahead?

Living in what we call Christianity—following Christ—calls for attention to His ventures. On the one hand, the not knowing can be rather exciting. On the other hand, for some of us, the not knowing what’s around the next corner can be quite terrifying.

This is where I find myself today. Change brought on by Tom’s job in another state. I’m pursuing another life and home because I know my place is with him.

Countless times I’ve been grateful to God for leading me. When life is most difficult, I’m most desperate to hear Him speak. Through the Holy Spirit, if I take time to be quiet, He never disappoints.

I know with all my heart I couldn’t have survived this life without the friendship and closeness of Jesus, the Father and the Spirit. The Bible is alive and fresh each day and gives us everything we need for living life fully. I can never thank Him enough.

Screwtape, speaking of God says, “Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.” Screwtape calls God’s propaganda an “appalling truth”. “He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself–creatures whose life on its miniature scale will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His.” The Screwtape Letters  by C.S. Lewis

 

 

 

A Fairy Tale Comes True

A Fairy Tale Comes True

Scoot a little closer my friends and listen to one of my favorite love stories.

Twelve years ago I had a phone call from a young woman named Barbara, inquiring about the small group we hosted in our home. The pastor of our church referred her to us since our emphasis was on marriage. She spoke through tears, sharing grave concerns over her marriage–her pain was obvious.

Barbara and her husband soon joined our group—together for a time. Sadly, Barbara eventually came alone. She fought desperately for her marriage, but they divorced in 2005. Barbara and I spent a lot of time together and began a treasured friendship. We shared meals, Bible studies, and lots of tears. We realized even though we were twenty years apart to the month, we had a lot in common. I also knew the heartbreaking devastation of divorce and the longing for a good marriage.

Barbara kept occupied with her job in the medical field and volunteering at church. As the years passed, I felt frustrated for her because I knew how badly she wanted a family. I wondered if she’d thought of online dating sites or even going to church groups for single adults. She told me that if God could create the world He could find her a husband. She said it so convincingly and confidently.

In 2012 June, a lady from Barbara’s church, attended a conference in St. Louis. While she browsed books, she noticed the guy who was manning the table. His eyes appeared unusually bright. June began a conversation with him over several days of conference and honestly shared how he’d caught her notice.

The young man, David, began to share about his life and that he was praying for a wife. She learned that he’d been divorced six years and had one child. Because his priority was his daughter, he’d decided not to date, but to trust God to bring his mate at the right time. June didn’t understand why she was drawn to him, but told David she’d ask God for an answer and let him know!

A few months after the conference, during a church service, June leaned over to Barbara and said, “You’re the one!” Suddenly she realized that David had been highlighted for Barbara! David and Barbara soon became acquainted with each other through email messages, and eventually through phone calls and photos.

Barbara had been promoted to a job that required traveling to various parts of the country each week. She typically flew to certain places on a regular basis. One day, out of the blue, her company assigned her a job in the very city where David lived. She’d never gone there. This was their chance! They met in person, formally and briefly. Soon after she was sent to the same city again, which was somewhat unusual. They enjoyed each other tremendously. A perfect match!  She got to know and love his daughter and he proposed.

They were married near the Cape Fear River. The grassy knoll was a lush bright green, having just been refreshed by a cooling summer shower. The expansive lawn was filled with so many celebrating friends and family, and not a few happy tears!

Barbara eventually quit traveling for work and she and David made their home in Florida. After several months of marriage she had started to gain a little weight. She took one pregnancy test after another, all reading negative. Disappointed and concerned, she made an appointment with a doctor. The doctor gave her news that she never thought her ears and heart would hear. She was expecting a baby! Conceiving a child had always been a desire of her heart. Another dream was fulfilled— a happy healthy Elijah was born into their world.

I flew to Florida a few months back for a wonderful visit with Barbara and her family. When we’re together we pick right back up where we left off, even years later. We celebrated all of her wonderful blessings. She and David are happier than they could ever have imagined. Their little boy is nearly two years old and adorable. To spend time with them was one of the highlights of my year.

Few things are more exciting than watching God orchestrate the lives of two people from different geographical areas and different backgrounds to bring them together in marriage. I still marvel that my North Carolina husband went all the way to Mississippi to find me!

As David says, “God has a way of putting us exactly where we need to be.” I ponder their story and I’m emboldened to let go and really trust God.

When we belong to Him, He really does work out everything for our good and His Glory. I share this not to promise specific results after waiting on God, but to say that God can be trusted in any and every circumstance.

He is able to do abundantly more than we can ask or imagine.

Marriage is So Much Trouble

“Anything worth having is worth fighting for.”

Susan Elizabeth Phillips

 

In October Tom and I decided to make a quick trip to the mountains. While gathering all  the things, and feeling like it was taking forever just to load the car, I had a familiar thought. I wondered why we were going to so much trouble for two nights away. Turns out we spent most of our time in the car. With random delays and unprecedented traffic, we arrived exhausted and grumpy (me) long after midnight. We’d have one full day of vacation. It turns out, the one day ended up being delightful and worth the extreme effort. Every scenario that throws the two of us alone together is a worthwhile investment.

Another trip took place about 22 years ago. Our married life had become distant and stressed. Tom worked nearly an hour away. He was a chemical engineer at a paper mill and on call 24/7. We were truly like strangers much of the time. When we finally had time to talk I sometimes felt frozen and didn’t even know where to begin.

One Sunday he announced that after church he and I would leave the four kids with grandparents and go away together overnight to Baldhead Island. You might be thinking I was jumping up and down and high-fiving at that point. But, instead, my response was one of ambivalence. I could take it or leave it. I just felt numb and didn’t even know what to say. My tendency is to stay home so he actually had to talk me into it.

Here’s what I remember about those two trips:

It took a few hours to relax and start to really talk. Without life’s clutter and chatter I began to see really see my husband for the quality human he is and I fell in love all over again. We directly looked at each other and honestly shared our stresses and feelings. We really listened. I recall watching the sunset at Baldhead and actually thinking, “How could life be any better?” What??? I didn’t want to be here six hours earlier!  The eye-opening truth is this: We need dedicated time with our spouses! It’s always so much trouble and even costly financially. but IT IS WORTH IT! On that occasion we were back home in twenty-four hours or less and we both felt like different people.

May I humbly suggest that if you’re married DON’T QUIT. If you’re fantasizing about living separately, find someone who can help you. Don’t threaten to leave or use the D word. If you feel like you’ve fallen out of love with your spouse it may be that you fell in love without understanding the meaning of the word. You had unrealistic expectations. Love is a verb not a feeling. Of course there are wonderful feelings associated with love! But when the feelings escape you that’s when you remember your promise. You put the other person first. The kids are second! Save money for a babysitter. Celebrate and play with your spouse like you do with your friends. Make your home and bedroom presentable as you would for guests!  Stop demanding that the other one meet your emotional needs. Magic will happen when YOU start meeting the needs of your spouse. That’s where fulfillment is. We need each other. Marriage is a gift that keeps on giving.

And the best news of all: It gets better and better. I wouldn’t trade what we have at thirty-one years for the newlywed stage FOR ANYTHING!

“Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave.”

Martin Luther

Lucky in Love

Lucky in Love

801a0656” A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”

Thirty-one years ago this month something wonderful happened. Tom Freshwater promised to love me exclusively for a lifetime! Sometimes it still seems too good to be true. He said no to other women and yes to me. Actually he said yes to my two children and me! Instantly a family of four was born. He jokes that he married me for my money and I did so for his body. I had about $178.00 in the bank and he weighed all of 134 pounds right after a big meal.

Most of our anniversaries were low-key celebrations. Last year, however, we decided to celebrate in a bigger way. It didn’t seem like the most sensible time. We were in a rather precarious phase financially since Tom was in between jobs. I became emboldened — it was even more important to acknowledge our gratitude in these circumstances. Rather than a formal catered dinner we’d host a covered dish supper at our house, and invite our friends for a 30th Anniversary-and-Vow Renewal celebration!

A friend commented to Tom and me how lucky we were to have such a relationship. I’ve thought about that a lot and it leads me to writing this post. I guess the word luck could be used loosely to say that we found each other at the right time and we were “lucky” to have a lasting marriage. But I honestly think luck had very little to do with it.

When I scan the years in my mind, I remember things like this: there were many sleepless nights. My daughter, who was five at the time, has severe cognitive deficiencies. We spent many nights taking turns staying up with her when she wouldn’t fall asleep. Because she wasn’t able to communicate appropriately she’d cry and screech for unknown reasons. She’d  flail her arms, stomp her feet, and make all sorts of gestures in frustration. It makes me sad to even think about it. Sad for her and for what our family endured.

Another memory is of the painfully long hours Tom invested in his first job. It was quite a distance from our home, and if he wasn’t at work he was on call 24/7. His schedule was not conducive to a happy family life. We were exhausted and barely crossed paths. I often felt that we needed to get reacquainted all over again. It was hard to know what roles we played in the family at times. I often felt numb.

There was the serious accident in his first place of employment. I received a call from the company, “Your husband has been run over by a fork lift; he’s alive, but he’ll probably lose his legs.” I am not kidding. The co-worker who called meant no harm, and tried to be helpful by informing me. It may sound odd or even stalwart on my part, but I distinctly remember that I was filled with gratitude, thinking, “If he’s alive we’ll make it!”.  After securing help for the kids, I quickly jumped in the car and raced to the hospital. The ambulance arrived at the same time, blaring its siren. I’ll fast-forward and skip a lot of emotions. He did not lose his legs and recovered after enduring great pain and rehabilitation.

Through thirty-one years there were the family deaths, the surgeries, the daughter’s seizures, the miscarriages and the temptations. There were aggressive staph infections, the unexpected bills, the home floodings and leaks requiring very long months of repairs. There were the financial and emotional burdens of traveling to assist beloved family members in need, unexpected job loss, and other extremely hard stuff of life. Golly, I’m feeling depressed thinking about it.

But the joys were woven in, intermingled as treasures! Two more children—a family of six! The kid’s unique home birthday celebrations, all the Christmas traditions, memorable trips, the laughter and rejoicing in answered prayers. Through it all there has been deliberateness. 1) The moving toward one another, in physical proximity and touch, even when you don’t feel like it. 2) The unspoken determination to never mention the D word or entertain the idea of being separated.  3)  Putting each other first, even when everything in me wants only MY way. And, 4) “I love you” spoken many times a day. “Thank you for marrying me!” is also standard fare in our conversations.

img_6457
Then and now

As I write this today, we’re in a place of stretching and trusting. Even in the difficult times we’re closer and more in love than thirty-one years ago. There’s no one I respect more than my husband. Oneness has grown continually— there is a palpable feeling of hurting and rejoicing for the other as for ourselves.

We revelled in our vow renewal, not because we were lucky and life was perfect– we celebrated because we endured and we chose and we loved. The difficulties spurred us on and grew us up and highlighted all the happy times. It’s always by God’s grace and choosing each other every day, not luck, that gets us where we need to be.

Marriage is worth it ya’ll.

How to Have a Grateful Heart

img_5977“To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.
Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”

-Thomas Merton

 

It’s fall ya’ll! Is there a more beautiful season? In the south we’re grateful for the slightest “chill” in the air. We don’t have the array of the mountains’ colors but we get excited about the maples and other hardwood trees that put on a show for us.

What makes November such a special month? Thanksgiving, of course! And my personal favorite, our wedding anniversary. We’ve such happy memories of being married on Thanksgiving weekend thirty-one years ago. Coming together with the extraordinary people in our lives for Friends-giving. That a single mom of two in Mississippi and an unmarried guy in North Carolina could find each other without the internet is something to celebrate. To be more specific, I was a mom of an eight-year-old boy and a five- year-old daughter with autism and severe cognitive delays. I worked two jobs for a time. I would teach pre-school in one town and then drive to a church in another town where I was Director of Daycare and Kindergarten. It was important to have food on the table every day. My life is so much happier now in comparison that I almost forget how difficult that season of life was. The miracle of finding a man who truly loved me and my children was a dream come true.

Through the years we’ve attempted to set apart November in its entirety; to give thanks for our personal blessings as well as for the great country we were born into. When the children were young we’d always read stories and  remember the first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621.

So far we’ve img_5577waited until after Thanksgiving to commence the Christmas decorating. It’s becoming more difficult! With all the commercialism around the holidays, it saddens me that the celebration of Thanksgiving has been nearly obliterated. I always think of Thanksgiving as a gift of rest and contemplation before the madness begins.

Giving thanks on a particular day is one thing; being thankful each day of the year is another. Gratitude is an intentional choice for me. I’m a thinker, feeler and analyzer, often spending too much time in my head. For me to actually be grateful it was necessary to establish a habit of writing specific items down. I’d planned to do that for years, and what finally got me on track was the book by Ann Voscamp, “One Thousand Gifts”. I began numbering each line of a  journal my friend Harriet gave me. For instance: 687. My neighbors, 688. Summer storms, 689. A perfect wife for John! 690. Fellowship and supper with girlfriends at Whole Foods, etc.  After a few years of this practice I’m up to nearly 2,000 “gifts”. There are tiny things and huge things. Whatever comes to mind. And, you cannot imagine how inspiring it is to look back and see all the wonderful things that have come about by God’s grace. I didn’t realize that my gratitude journal would become a diary of my life. I’m so glad I did it and I hope I can encourage you to also start making a list!

“You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me! I sing for joy because of what you have done. O Lord what great works you do!” Psalm 92: 4-5

 

What if We Could Live Our Lives in Reverse?

“Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.” 

-David Bowie

img_5743

A weird idea came to me while on my morning walk. What if God birthed us into the world, not as infants but as eighty- year olds–intellectually vibrant, but including our assorted sags and wrinkles. What if we could grow into our youth equipped with the knowledge and experiences we gathered through eight decades of living? Would we raise our children and love our neighbors differently?

Perhaps we’d have come to realize that:

  • Relationships are more important than things, always.
  • Reaching out to help is preferable to judging because behind each person’s action there is a reason.
  • We can give hope to those who’ve made bad decisions and point them to healing  in Christ’s Redemption.
  • Having compassion for folks that are physically challenged—putting ourselves in their shoes— is far more desirable than laughing or making fun.
  • We should worry less! We’d have become aware of God’s faithfulness. That He has us in His Hand and although his timing and plan is often not our own, He always comes through.
  • Daily gratitude is important. We’d be thankful for each unique person or thing, even though tinged with earth. Perfection awaits in Heaven.
  • Collecting quite a variety of friends from different backgrounds, races, ages and values broadens our perspective.
  • The depth of love we have for our children and grandchildren is stunning.
  • We could be more in love with our spouse than when we married.
  • We don’t have to do everything. Our gifting and strengths will make a place for us.
  • Our life’s work is valuable because we are serving others and improving their lives.
  • Our work ethic and attitude is more crucial to employers than college degrees.
  • Our insecurities may tell us that we’ll look better when putting others down. We now know that we’re better when we champion one another.
  • Having a vision and making plans is important because time is finite. Making deliberate choices about what to give ourselves and our time to is crucial.
  • Listening is one of the best ways to show love. “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” James 1:19
  • Giving generously when an opportunity is presented is always a good idea. “And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.”  Hebrews 13:16
  • It’s important to eat real food, choose an active lifestyle and eschew fad diets. Steadiness is key to being healthy for the long haul.
  • We should show respect for others by replying to invitations and requests. We’d know how much work is involved in planning an event.
  • We don’t need to wait until our house looks like a magazine spread to have people over.
  • Being outside and enjoying our magnificent world is a gift.
  • You can always fill the holes and paint another color!
  • There is always something to smile about!

I hope my rambling thoughts have stimulated your thinking and maybe even inspired you! What would you add to my list?

 

 

 

 

 

Band-Aid Bread (Recipe Included)

Band-Aid Bread  (Recipe Included)

fullsizerenderMy friend Renee had experienced weddings of all three daughters. The addition of sons-in-law and lots of grandchildren happened  in what seemed like no time at all. I was newer at all this so I was picking her brain. She called the marriages and new relationships “expansive”. Renee is one of those people that when she speaks you want to scoop up every word. She doesn’t just toss words out like some of us do. Since she didn’t offer an explanation for expansive I knew I’d find out for myself.

We prayed for our kids’ future spouses their entire lives. It seems like such a far off prayer, and then before you know it your son or daughter finds just the right mate. It’s magic. An  incredible answer to our hopes for them. As our family began to expand, I saw in myself an attitude of wanting the new people in the family to like me. I guess I wasn’t completely comfortable with my in-law status—sometimes I felt like I was in middle school with the insecurities.

One way to show love and bring folks together is to feed them. I’ve always believed that sharing a meal around the table is the best way to really know people and bond with them. As soon as you pull up a chair to the table, you’re all on common ground. No one is better than the other one and the table joins you together with an invisible cord that causes everyone to breathe easy and be their authentic selves. At least that’s the way I see it.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I planned our  Sunday lunch. It would be one of the first times our new daughter-in-law Mary would join us after church for lunch. I baked bread. Artisan bread is so easy to make; it just takes a little planning ahead. Homemade bread always seems special and that’s what I wanted this meal to be. The bread stood out so much in the meal that I honestly don’t remember the other items we had! You’ll soon see why.

I took the loaves from the oven as everyone was seated. There’s nothing like that aroma of homemade bread. The butter was on the table, softened for easy spreading. Ahhhhh….. The slicing began and suddenly the chatter became silence. I gazed toward the table from my post at the counter—my eyes connected with a look of shock on Mary’s face. She had just bitten into the bread and was pulling an object from her piece of bread! Time stood still. A band-aid! Oh no! What? How? Words popped out of my mouth with no thought whatsoever. “Mary, welcome to the family. You’ve now passed your initiation to become a real Freshwater!” We all laughed and even proceeded to eat the bread, disposing of the tainted piece. Mary reminded me that I’d told them about cutting my finger while preparing vegetables the day before. I had wondered what happened to that band-aid!

This wasn’t really Mary’s initiation into the family. It was my initiation into being real. Surely nothing could be more embarrassing than what I’d experienced with the bread. I remembered the word expansive from Renee. In families we are blessedly stuck with each other. As we grow we expand in understanding and love as we include more people and their unique attributes from which to learn. We grow as individuals as we tangibly move toward each other. Even after that fateful Sunday lunch, breaking bread around the table is still my favorite!

 

BAND-AID BREAD -my version

2 packs of quick rise yeast
1-1/2 tablespoons kosher salt; Band-aid, optional
6-1/2 cups unbleached flour, plus extra for dusting dough

Cornmeal

1. In a large plastic resealable container, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups very warm (about 100 degrees) water. Using a large spoon, stir in flour, mixing until mixture is uniformly moist with no dry patches. Do not knead. Dough will be wet and loose enough to conform to shape of plastic container. Cover, but not with an airtight lid.

2. Let dough rise at room temperature, until dough begins to flatten on top or collapse, at least 2 hours and up to 5 hours. (At this point, dough can be refrigerated up to 2 weeks; refrigerated dough is easier to work with than room-temperature dough. It’s best that first-time bakers refrigerate dough overnight or at least 3 hours.

3. When ready to bake, sprinkle cornmeal on a pizza peel. I use parchment paper on a round stone with cornmeal sprinkled on it. Place a broiler pan on bottom rack of oven. Place baking stone on middle rack and preheat oven to 450 degrees, preheating baking stone for at least 20 minutes.

4. Sprinkle a little flour on dough and on your hands. Pull dough up and, using a serrated knife, cut off a grapefruit-size piece (about 1 pound). Working for 30 to 60 seconds (and adding flour as needed to prevent dough from sticking to hands; most dusting flour will fall off, it’s not intended to be incorporated into dough), turn dough in hands, gently stretching surface of dough, rotating ball a quarter-turn as you go, creating a rounded top and a bunched bottom.

5. Place shaped dough on prepared pizza peel and let rest, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it in lidded container. (Even one day’s storage improves flavor and texture of bread. Dough can also be frozen in 1-pound portions in airtight containers and defrosted overnight in refrigerator prior to baking day.) Dust dough with flour.

6. Using a serrated knife, slash top of dough in three parallel, 1/4-inch deep cuts (or in a tic-tac-toe pattern). Place dough onto preheated baking stone. Pour 1 cup or more hot tap water into broiler pan and quickly close oven door to trap steam. Bake until crust is well-browned and firm to the touch, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven to a wire rack and cool completely.

There are many Artisan Bread recipes online. I just thought it would be fun to include my version here. Enjoy!

 

Why Making a Packing List is a Good Idea

Why Making a Packing List is a Good Idea

7515797150_7e00247854_mOnce upon a time back in the 1980’s, there was a bright handsome young man who held a degree in chemical engineering.  His career at a Paper Mill required  involvement in various professional organizations that supported his job and company. For quite a few years he held offices in one particular group, and eventually moved up to the office of Chairman over a regional chapter in the national organization.

In those days he was rarely home. His beautiful* wife stayed home with the four children while he spent too many hours at work. When he travelled, his wife was tasked with packing his suitcase. It was especially important to make the best clothing choices for the conference in which he would give a speech to a very large group of professionals.

As he was dressing and prepping for the meeting he noticed he had no shoes. His wife, who happened to have joined him at this particular meeting, had forgotten them! Panic ensued. Without the benefit of cell phones, an urgent search was made for size elevens. Alas! A son of one of the members relinquished his dress shoes and saved the day! This dear husband (of mine) squeezed his feet into a nice pair of dress shoes that were almost large enough. I vowed to never travel again without a packing list! True story.

How to create a packing list

Simply write down everything you might need for a trip. Take your time and list every possible item that could be needed for all seasons and occasions. Then while you’re packing, just skip over the things that aren’t pertinent for a particular excursion. Leave nothing to memory and you’ll forego that nagging feeling– “Oh no, I forgot the …….”. It has eased my mind so much to use this list. I’ve also created lists for specific trips or experiences such as hiking. I typed my lists on Word documents and made several copies— keeping one in my suitcase and another with cosmetics.

For example:

  • cell phone
  • charger
  • laptop
  • charger538693661_781e67bba8_m
  • Kindle
  • charger
  • cosmetics: list every single item
  • toothbrush
  • toothpaste
  • PJs
  • running shoes
  • socks
  • Etc. – You get the idea!

You may have a much better memory than I do. But if you’re like me, there is huge relief in depending on a list rather than on my brain. Actually, that’s the beauty of lists. Having a permanent list rather than re-writing each time we pack saves a lot of time. When you’re hurriedly packing it’s hard to remember everything. Anything we can put to paper or  the notes section of our phones will free our brains to focus on other important things.

Do you make such a list for packing? If so, I’d love to hear if it has been as helpful for you. What crucial  things have you forgotten to pack?

*artistic license

 

The Gallows

The Gallows

6662481043_a071f74a7b_mOptimized-IMG_7392There is a common practice that most people engage in to show affection for friends and family. We give gifts. Gift giving can be tricky because it’s sometimes hard to identify things that are meaningful to others. I realized years ago that I like gifts that say someone “knows me”. Or that they really listen. They pick up on cues in conversation and act on my preferences when gifting. For instance, a long time ago when my husband and I were long-distance dating, (before modern conveniences like cell phones!) he gave me a Sandi Patty cassette tape because he’d “listened” to me. He also ordered some clinical/scholarly books that would inform me about my daughter’s disabilities. Again, before the internet!  Those kind of gifts make me feel known and loved.

I’ll tell you the story of a more recent heart-felt gift. I see it  from our kitchen when I look out the bank of windows into the backyard. I chuckle a little when I see the The Gallows. That’s what I call it.

Christmas morning 2015 revealed my gift- a bird feeder. And also it’s support which looked exactly like a gallows to me. All I could think of is “Hang that wicked Haman on the gallows!” (awesome story in the Book of Esther- Old Testament.) Silly, I know. But that’s what it reminded me of.

The bird feeder was an all time favorite gift. You have to know the history.  Many years ago Tom gave me a perfect anniversary gift- a squirrel resistant bird feeder. A few years later, a storm took down our favorite pear tree that hosted the bird feeder. When the tree came down, the bird feeder was damaged and ended up in a pile of stuff in the garage, mostly forgotten.

Christmas 2015 came around. I’d announced to the kids that our gifts would be hand-made or refurbished/refinished gifts, using things we had. I didn’t force my idea on the others; but just wanted them to have realistic expectations about gifts from us. That’s when Tom surprised me with the bird feeder. He went to the trouble to replace broken parts AND act on my idea for a low cost Christmas, I was so touched. Although it was my all time favorite gift many years ago, it has far more meaning now. Broken, overlooked and recycled- now better than new. And now that Tom is working in another city, and I miss him A LOT, looking at that labor of love through the back window means so much more.

What kind of gifts mean the most to you? What ideas do you have for giving meaningful gifts to others? Remember that some of the very best gifts are your focused attention and experiences with the ones you love.