My hope for myself and all of you in 2010: new growth, new roots put down for nourishment, new leaves stretching toward the sun. I will be trying to do more seed gardening this year, so these things are on my mind. I plan to stay home this festive eve and take time to review 2009 and reflect on the year ahead - not to set resolutions so much as just to refocus and reevaluate. Will it be possible to thin out those parts of my life that are unhealthy or unproductive, making room for better things? Like the nasturtium seedlings above: I hated to pull them out of the ground, but I knew if I didn't that the ones left behind would not be able to grow as strong. I admired the way they sprouted so confidently out of the seeds, and then I left them in the garden to return to the soil. I'd love to hear about your goals for 2010.

For those of you I'm not linked with on facebook, I wanted to share that I have an essay out in the new issue of Relief: A Literary Christian Expression. (It's only in print, not online. And a disclaimer: their bloggers are an odd lot and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of this author! But I always enjoy the essays, poems, and short stories in Relief.)


Little Observations

~ I am thoroughly enjoying the manual milk frother that my sister sent me for Christmas, seen in the second photo. It turns milk into a foamy wonder that is better than that from a coffee shop!
~ Today I am attempting to bake bread from scratch for the first time. Results will be known within the hour.
~ I haven't seen as many birds in my yard lately and think I know why. I put out a feeder of black oil sunflower seeds to try to lure the cardinals back several days ago. Lured they were, but whenever they got close to the feeder, a very territorial mockingbird swoops in and chases them off. Said mockingbird doesn't seem to care about eating from the feeders, however - they are still full. It also chased off the bluejay. I hung out a second feeder and hope the cardinals and jays will keep trying, because I miss them.
~ We've lived here for 4 years, but only yesterday finally visited Brazos Bend State Park for a much-needed walk in nature. Compared to western mountains and pines it's far from pretty, but it will do!
~ A large gathering of Bradford pear leaves awaits me in the backyard. They were gorgeous while they lasted. And I actually love to rake.
~ I am finally reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and am quite inspired by it. I do think I will try making cheese and will put in a small spring veggie garden.
~ Likewise, I've just started Life is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition by Wendell Berry and am very grateful for his thoughtful words and clear vision.


Sweet Shiloh

They're sharing pet photos and stories over at Shutter Sisters today, and of course I just can't resist that! My sweet pup turned 2 on December 9; these photos were taken a week before Christmas, when he was enjoying the autumn leaves and sunshine out in the backyard. He continues to entertain us and win the hearts of visitors. He's extremely social and will go from person to person when we have gatherings, trying to figure out who will let him lick their feet or even sit on their lap while he tries to nibble their ears. He was in heaven this last week with houseguests, following them around constantly, prefering to cuddle with them over me, and trying to sneak up the stairs to their room. He sleeps a lot more than he did a year ago and we've even given in and let him sleep with us sometimes. He sits by the door waiting for me when I leave, watching out the window, and greets me with great enthusiasm when I come home. His silly antics and puppy love have wiggled their way deep into our hearts. We love you, Shiloh!


Christmas 2009

Christmas was special for us this year because we had family visiting to spend the holiday with us. We have not spent Christmas with family since 2003, when we last returned to South Dakota for the holiday. Given the blizzard they're still in today, I'm glad we didn't attempt it this year! When family and friends visit, we get out and do things we don't usually do. This time it included a trip to Galveston and a walk on the beach, attending a great performance of The Christmas Carol at a downtown Houston theater, visting Lakewood Church per the request of visting family (what a contrast to my last post! photos of the Osteens were the only iconic images around), perusing and sampling the huge cheese selection at a new H.E.B. in West University Place, a long walk in a new park, a carol service at a local Methodist church, and my very first 3D Imax experience - wow! Cooking a large meal and opening gifts were all the more fun for having family with us. I am grateful for the company of loved ones at the end of the year.
My thoughts are now turning to 2010 and the things I want to work on. Home projects are at the top of the list - installing a gutter, dealing with water problems, and lots, lots more. Removing clutter to make the home more pleasant is a part of that, although the challenge seems huge. Craft and sewing projects are there, and a more consistent prayer and devotional life, as is trying to exercise more and plant a small spring garden. I don't make resolutions, but I do form loose goals!
How was your Christmas? What are your thoughts for 2010?

Top photo by my husband


Glimpses of Heaven

I wanted to share a few photos of the absolutely lovely interior of All Saints OCA in Northeast PA. We worshipped there with our friends and godkids during our visit at Thanksgiving. Several years ago a fire destroyed the interior of the temple; they have slowly been restoring the iconography and are nearing completion. Unfortunately, our camera chose this moment to stop working, so we only got a few shots. But I think they are enough to show how beautiful it is. I love being surrounded by images of fellow Christians and biblical figures who have gone before me when I worship; it very much provides a sense of continuity and timelessness. I love how you know that you are standing in the presence of God in an Orthodox church; there is no question as to what the purpose of the building is. We also attended vespers at St. Tikhon's Monastery the evening before and the peacefulness and beauty of the service was much-needed spiritual refreshment. We hated to have to leave. But no matter which Orthodox church I am in, I always encounter a spirit of peacefulness and awe when I am there. I am thankful for those moments with God.


Life as a Christmas Elf

Today I mailed off my last packages. Here are a few things that I included as handmade gifts, some of which might be quick for you to make as last minute gifts if you need ideas! (If you're a family member and have secretly discovered my blog, I guess your surprises are ruined! ;-)

Desk calendars for those with office jobs (4x6 inches), using wallet-sized prints of my flower photos and free yearly calendars downloaded on the web.

Beaded earrings - copper, glass, minerals, sterling silver.
Guilty pleasure - pretzels in almond bark with sprinkles.
Typed, printed, and bound booklets of the favorite family recipes my MIL wrote out by hand for our wedding.
Herbal sachets (many of these are for my own closets, fabric stash, etc.) They do contain lavendar, but also whole cloves, thyme, mint, and rosemary. They smell wonderful! I tried out a few decorative stitches on my sewing machine for embellishment, and even broke into my vintage hankie collection for a few of them.

I also did some simple scrapbook pages, easy cookie cutter clay ornaments, pottery for one lucky person, and made a pile of photo notecards. I haven't been able to craft much this year with study and travel, so it has been rather fun to get back into it. The hardest part of Christmas prep remains: cleaning and straightening my house before visitors arrive! I hope your Advent season is going well.


Magical Surprises

Last Friday, the very unexpected happened: it snowed in Houston. All day long. The flakes here were fat and fluffy, and enough accumulated to turn the yard white. This is a rare gift that I very likely will not see again in my time here. It made me quite happy and very tickled - what a joyful treat!
Today, looking at these pictures, I can't help but think about the unexpected snow as a metaphor for other unexpected good things: the upcoming feast of the Nativity, when God took on human flesh and was born in a manger, for one. I'm also thinking of changes that I've seen in people's lives and how heartwarming it can be. And even some changes in my own life. Spiritually, if you would have told me eleven years ago that I would soon become an Orthodox Christian and spend afternoons like today listening to the Paraklesis service sung by Eikona, I would have not taken you seriously. But God and life can surprise us - just like the snow did a few days ago!
Are you enjoying any unexpected events lately?


Advent Calendar

We're back from yet another trip, this time to attend the wedding of my husband's sister in Ohio and then to celebrate Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania with our good friends and adorable godchildren. But more on that later! I've admired the envelope-type Advent calendars that I've seen on many craft blogs (the envelopes are often clipped clothespin style to twine along a wall, etc.) and so I decided to whip up a quick one to take to our godkids. It's pretty self-explanatory from the photos, and it was a lot of fun to make. Using a packet of 20 icon cards about the life of Christ as the envelope inserts (available from the Greek Archdiocese website) was a good way to keep the focus on the reason for Christmas. For the other 5 days, I inserted photos of my husband and me and included little notes to the kids. There are countless ways to vary this idea.
I'll be trying to whip up some more Christmas crafts for gifts in the next week or two. Will you be crafting?



{A purple coneflower from my barefooted afternoon shooting flowers in Rapid City in early October}

I find myself thankful for so much these days: the blessing of growth through God's grace, my husband's new job, finishing my master's exam (yay! passed with an A - what a blessing to be finished with it!), our sweet little dog, slightly cooler temps and time to plant some winter annuals and cabbage seedlings in my garden, our fall travels, all of our friends and family who are expecting little ones, finding courage to face my flight fears, and another Thanksgiving upon us.

I hope that you have much to be thankful for this year. I suspect that most of us do, if we just know where to look!



I have been playing with solar print paper this week, trying to capture my ornamental grass before I chop it back to move it to a different part of the yard. I love the way the paper captures the grass so accurately and magically, the process set in motion by the bright sun. Even after the grass is bagged and gone, its delicate seeds will stay with me, captured in blue tones. It's easy to jump from noticing actual physical impressions to thinking about things that have left an impression on my heart, soul, and mind, leaving wispy traces to remain long after the events themselves have occurred. I was reminded of this yesterday at the pottery studio as I was playing catch up on glazing after my absence to study and travel this fall. The staff there uses Pandora to provide our soundtrack. All of a sudden an old Paul Simon song came on, one that I hadn't listened to in many years, and it immediately took me back to high school, when I listened to it often. I suspect music leaves such traces on many of us - along with countless other things in our years.

Capturing any impressions yourself lately?


My October Magnolia

Pink magnolias bloom in February or March down here, sometimes January. They bloom once a year. I thought I was seeing things last week when I looked out the window and saw a few blossoms on my poor trees. They have seemed rather confused since Hurricane Ike stripped their leaves off several months early a year ago. But then one of my favorite books from childhood came to mind, Leo the Late Bloomer, and I had to smile. My magnolia may be blooming late (or early), but at least it's blooming. And that is pretty spiffy.

{Speaking of children's books, there's another favorite I can't remember the name of. It was about various bugs getting ready for bed with adorable little illustrations. One of the bugs always dropped their shoes on the floor at bedtime. I must have been reading it in the early 80s. Does anyone recognize this?}



I'm taking a break from Analyzing Prose for a few minutes - so many things from my trip to SoDak and from Maine! that I keep thinking about. (We just returned from Maine yesterday; I've survived another flight and handled it ok even though it was quite bumpy at times. Lots and lots of photos from that trip.)
But for now, here are a few things from my time in SD recently that really made me smile. I spent a rushed hour helping a friend harvest all of her tomatoes before the first freeze. This box is only a small part of what we picked; I'm guessing the total was around 40 lbs. I love getting my hands in the dirt and in the garden, so this was a fun treat for me. And they tasted as good as they looked.
My stepsister has acquired a new Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy (along with two goats and two little ponies). Here, he's only 4 months old and 45 pounds! Obviously, he will be huge. He's all legs, and quite a mellow little guy. I loved meeting him, and seeing him try to get the rat terrier to play with him. Makes me want another puppy...
On my last Saturday in Rapid City, my sister, little nephew, and I went down to the first annual Pumpkin Fest. Have you ever seen a 713-pound pumpkin? I can now say that I have! We were suitably impressed. The best part was watching my nephew's excitement at the tractor parade and grinning at one old very authentic farmer who waved at us from his perch.
Something that is not making me smile right now is trying to deal with my mail-order pharmacy, an option that we were forced into by our insurance company. Has anyone else used them? I have had more problems than I can list right now, but it has been a very frustrating experience. Communication issues are only the tip of the iceberg and I now asked to be transferred to the American continent immediately upon connection.
But I'm smiling today because it has finally cooled off in Texas!
What are you smiling about?


My Feet on the Ground

I was blissed out to spend 9 days at home in the Black Hills and Rapid City. Taking flower photos at the city gardens, I couldn't resist taking off my shoes and going barefoot while I clicked away. The grass up there is so tender, soft, and sweet; my toes were very happy. (I don't dare go barefoot on our rough St Augustine grass full of fire ants in TX!) I had many great little adventures that I hope to share with you later - hikes, fall colors, friends, family, a George Winston concert, a fender bender, pumpkin fest, and more. For now, I should return to my studies! What autumn pleasures have you had lately?


One Year Anniversary of Ike

I am amazed that a year has passed since we survived Hurricane Ike. Seems like a significant anniversary to note! There has been a lot of news coverage of the rebuilding of Galveston and other coastal areas. Let's hope we make it many more years without another one.



I was going to announce an official hiatus today, but realized I may stop in a few times throughout the fall. I am quite overwhelmed with studying for my master's exam while also having scheduled a few trips this fall that are much desired but certainly won't help the studying! I have been trying to limit all other activities that I can, putting off allergy testing and subsequent shots, downsizing volunteer editing projects, stopping pottery classes for the time being. Some of the texts I'm studying for the exam, particularly on style and stylistics in writing, teaching basic writing, and teaching ESL writing, are ancient (40 - 50 years old) and while interesting, I'm not sure they're even that relevant anymore to the field. I considered postponing next week's neighborhood association's craft group activity (which I lead) and waiting to jump back into our writer's group until winter, but the women in both of those groups are so fun and inspiring that I don't want to miss our gatherings. Yesterday I scheduled necessary and helpful tasks, even if they took time away from my studying: tea with a friend that I hadn't seen in two months (I found a new favorite at Barnes & Noble, Harney & Sons Green Tea with Coconut), an appointment at the post office for expedited passports should we go into Canada on an upcoming trip, and a visit to my doctor for sedatives for flights and concentration strategies for studying. I am so blessed to have found this doctor; she has made a huge difference in my life. I've never used exercise videos, but I'm actually enjoying walking at home (more like low impact aerobics) to burn off stress after studying.

I listened to Allison Krauss sing Graceland and Carolina several times last night, dear favorites; it was remarkably soothing. Perhaps significantly, both of these songs speak of travel, yearning, and grace. How did I not realize that until this moment? I am aching to be home in a few weeks for autumn in the Black Hills and time with my family (my sister is in England visiting her in-laws and I really miss our long weekend chats; there is no one else with whom I regularly have 60-90 minute phone calls!) I have to say that things like my master's exam really don't seem all that important when I think about home. (Hubby, unfortunately, will be staying here to work, and has been working lots of weekends, including today, as it's a very busy season.) All my worries and anxieties also seem lessened when I remember volunteering a few hours at a local day shelter the other week, handing out laundry bags and folding clothes for people without homes. It was humbling; I don't let anyone else touch my laundry and I couldn't imagine having to hand all the clothes I own over to a complete stranger to be washed. Perspective helps.

How do you handle stress? Any study tips? Please cross your fingers, keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I study and face my flight phobia! I am looking forward to catching up on your blogs when I can!


Late August Impressions

There have been things I've wanted to share, but suddenly blogger won't let me copy and paste from Word, as is my usual m.o. for longer posts. Has this happened to you? So I'm just stopping by to share some simple pleasures I've squirreled away this week in between long study sessions. These $6 roses to start with. A late afternoon weekday matinee by myself, much needed escape from the books - Julie & Julia, which left me dreaming about roast chicken and beef stew. Playing with solar print paper in the backyard. Selling some old bookshelves through Craig's List - cash! 99-cent French bread from Whole Foods, toasted with butter - butter nearly rivals chocolate as one of my biggest temptations. Drinking the looseleaf jasmine & vanilla tea that my sister sent me this spring from the little organic grocery in our hometown, nibbling on small squares of dark chocolate with it while I study. Getting my first glazed and fired pieces back from pottery class. A hilarious package from my sister that left me giggling all day. New-to-me books from PaperbackSwap, setting them aside to read once this exam is behind me. Anticipation! Neighborhood children back in school, which makes afternoon shopping much quieter. A sleepy dog, who gives me something cute to look at while I study.
What simple pleasures have you had lately?


A Month of CSA Deliveries

July 21

July 28

August 5

August 12
In June, we joined what was the only CSA that I could find that delivers to our area. For a city as large as Houston, I was surprised that there aren't more options. I wanted to keep a record of our deliveries to help us decide whether or not to continue with it in the future. The butternut squash has been a favorite, and we had the best peaches I've ever tasted in my life back in June. I will be making more zucchini bread this weekend. But the drought in Texas has really affected the quality of the produce and I'm suspecting that I could make my money go farther by shopping at a farmer's market or even purchasing organic at the grocery. I will share more photos as the months go on. Our deliveries are overnight, so I take the photos around 6 a.m. before I put the produce in the fridge...hence the artificial light!
*Do you belong to a CSA? I'd love to hear your experiences or even see photos of your deliveries!


Back to School Kits

For several years I've intended to put together school kits to send to IOCC to be distributed to kids around the world who need them. This year, I finally did. The kits averaged about $5.00 per child - the scissors and pencil sharpeners being the bulk of that expense. What you see in the photo is all you need, plus a bag to put it all in. I purchased re-usable shopping bags and used fabric glue to attach three-inch strips of velcro near the top in order to provide the required closure on the bag. I plan to ship the kits at FedEx, which typically has much better rates than the USPost for large packages.
I've also noticed that local charities are collecting school supplies for needy kids as well. This option wouldn't require shipping!
I really believe in not showing off about whatever good deeds we do, but I also wanted to share just how simple it was to do this little project and perhaps challenge you to take advantage of the good sales and help some less fortunate kids begin their school year on the right foot. Please share any other ideas or programs you might know about!



Where have I been and what have I been doing? I'm a visual person, so sometimes it's good for me to take photos to remind myself of what's keeping me busy. I've finally started reading for my (extremely overdue) graduate exam in English - at top are just a few of the many books I need to work through in the next couple of months. The biggest challenge has been finding a good place to study. But I am enjoying the topics. (And peeking from underneath the books? The tv guide...there's just something about Texas summers that leaves me listless by the end of the day.)
Speaking of books, I’ve finally joined paperbackswap and wish I would’ve joined ages ago when Mimi first told me about it. Are you there? Do you want to be buddies? My nickname is meadowlarkdays – please look me up!

I’ve also joined postcrossing this summer and received my first batch of international postcards today. It’s a unique project and I’m looking forward to more of it.

I don’t think I’ve even mentioned that I’ve been taking a pottery class (throwing on the wheel) for the last five weeks. My sister made this lovely mug for me for my birthday – isn’t it pretty? None of my current projects have been fired yet, but I do need to dedicate a post to the small hand building projects that I made in May in South Dakota in the class with my sister. She’s the one who inspired me to finally pursue this interest!

Finally, my membership papers for The Letter Writers Alliance arrived today! I love snail mail and am looking forward to exploring the possibilities here.

What new things have you been up to?


Old Fashioned Bread & Butter Pickles

Old Fashioned Bread & Butter Pickles

3.5 Cups thinly sliced non-waxed cucumbers (Kirby works well, and I love the small Persian cucs in this recipe)
1 small white onion, thinly sliced
1.5 Tablespoon kosher salt

Mix these three ingredients together and then layer with ice and refrigerate overnight (or up to 24 hours.)

The next day, drain water and ice and place veggies in a medium-sized glass jar.

Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 3 minutes:
1 Cup white sugar
1 Cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon celery seed

Pour over the veggies in the jar and refrigerate overnight before eating (I let my syrup cool for 5 minutes before pouring over.) Can easily be doubled or tripled if you are not the only pickle eater in your household (as I am.)


Wordless Wednesday: Lemon/Lime

Found this in my fruit bowl last night - a bit disgusted (especially since it's only a few days old), but then intrigued by the coloring!

Any kitchen surprises for you lately?


My Father-in-Law's Garden

It has been years since I’d been in Ohio during the summer, so I was delighted to see my father-in-law’s garden in full bloom again. He has turned most of his backyard into flower beds. This time of year the wildflowers predominate, as you can see from these photos. Over the years, he splits his plants and is able to expand his beds in a frugal manner. He composts kitchen scraps to add to the beds. I was inspired by his choices and plan to incorporate some of these flowers into my own garden. I got a little carried away with the salvia in my beds this spring and appreciated the masses of color that these plants offer, as well as their fun shapes and textures.

What gardens inspire you?

Previous favorite garden posts:
Sioux Park Gardens