5 Wholesome Things I Learned in April

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in April

So April has passed and we’re still buying 7 avocados a week. If you’re new around here, that’s a reference to my February Wholesome List, where I shared that my daughter has discovered the delights of avocado toast. Now 4 out of 5 of us are converts. Can you grow avocados in Maryland? Soon, we might need our own grove….

My Wholesome List is a just a collection of things I learned during the month that brightened my days. It’s in keeping with my faith that God wants us to enjoy the fullness of life, and my belief that we should do as St. Paul instructs us in Philippians 4:8, focusing on what is pure, good, and lovely. April’s list is light and breezy.

  • My youngest son and I are glued to Our Planet on Netflix. Rated G with breathtaking cinematography of wildlife and natural wonders from every part of the planet, it is a not-to-be-missed series. David Attenborough narrates each episode, highlighting a particular type of habitat and the urgent need to create environmental protections to reverse damage from human activities and prevent more damage from being done. My favorite segment so far is the High Seas, with close-up live footage of a blue whale and her calf, as well as an entire pod of humpbacks feasting on krill. The scenes are truly extraordinary and every time we watch a segment together, my son inevitably whispers, “So beautiful,” and “Oh my gosh, wow.” There are no better descriptors.
  • Speaking of caring for the environment, awhile back (and I mean about 2 years ago) I bought some E-cloths for cleaning that somehow ended up on the bottom of my rag pile. I found them this month and WOW – I’ll never buy any other kind of microfiber cloth. You don’t need soap or cleaners to scrub any surface! For my showers, I do spray some Method Antibac Bathroom Cleaner first and let it sit for 10 minutes to disinfect, and then wipe away the grime with the E-cloths. But still – WHY did I forget about them for all that time? Fantastic!
  • Did you learn to make something this month? I did! For the first time ever, I made genoise batter for sponge cakes and layered them into this Easter confection. Genoise is started with eggs and sugar, heated in a double boiler, and then whipped in a mixer until the two ingredients fuse into a thick ribbon-like batter. Flour is only added at the end. This process might not be news to you, but I was shocked and delighted when it actually worked in my kitchen and my family ate the results! I’m not quite ready to audition for Season 6 of The Great British Baking Show, but I must admit, it was “a good bake.” Cheers to small victories!
  • I haven’t been reading as much as I prefer this month (only one book halfway finished), because I’ve been busy with my husband planning our family’s summer trip – to Ireland! We’ll be there for 10 days in August. The Rick Steves, Frommer’s, and DK Eyewitness travel guides are all on our coffeetable so that all 5 of us can peruse and daydream to our hearts’ content. One wall of the family room is mapped as if we’re planning some sort of land invasion. This will be our first family trip abroad – and my husband and I are very excited. But what have we learned so far? Well, when I asked the kids what they were looking forward to seeing on the Emerald Isle, our youngest looked at me quizzically and said, “That’s too long from now.” Time is relative, people. When you’re 9 and it’s April – August is as far away as Christmas.
  • Finally, I noticed that lilacs bloom here in Maryland in April. I know, it’s silly to have never taken note of such a thing before, especially when I love flowers as much as I do. But as I’m getting older and earnestly trying to savor every day, I look around a bit more. The daffodils come up first. Then the forsythia and the pink magnolias burst into color. Then the cherry trees and tulips. Then the lilacs. Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (NIV) We grow wiser when we understand we don’t have endless days. Each one is worthy of our attention. So let’s take time to reconsider the order of things – whether it be the flowers or what’s much more important – faith, family, friends, and time and how we use it.

That’s it for this month’s list! Wishing you a beautiful May with the ones you love.

Blessings always,

Gretchen

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in March

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in March

It’s the third edition of my monthly “Wholesome List” and maybe by now you’re getting the gist of it. I share with you a few things that I found (or learned about) which added value to my life because they were enriching or pleasant or meaningful in some way. Things that are wholesome contribute to our health and well-being, so I’m always looking for stuff along those lines.**

This month, 2 of the 5 items are reading material. Broadening my mind (or the mere attempt of it, anyway) makes me feel alive, and finding intriguing or enlightening books and articles has always been a favorite pastime. Here are a couple resources I wanted to share with you.

First – A book whose title piqued my interest: How Dogs Love Us by Gregory Berns. In amusing anecdotes (for dog lovers, anyway), Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University, recounts the process of training a couple dogs (including his own) to willingly enter an MRI machine, sit still for hundreds of scans, and respond to hand signals and scents while their brains are photographed. In the process, he discovers that dogs do show certain signs of brain activation similar to that of humans known to be experiencing love and affection. It’s an easy and interesting read. However, if you’re a dog person you might have already guessed the conclusion, because…well, dog people – we know. “Man’s best friend” didn’t get this moniker for no reason at all.

Next – As part of our Lenten practices, my 9-year old son and I have been reading a chapter of Love Does for Kids by Bob Goff every night. Through stories of his own childhood and ones from the days of raising his three kids with his wife (whom he always calls “Sweet Maria”), Goff draws parallels between everyday life and Biblical concepts. His approach is casual and conversational – not at all stilted or overbearing. So, Jesus comes across as the person He is – real, unfailingly kind, and eager to meet us right where we are. My son is anxious to read these lively tales every night – about American kids eating with foreign royalty, wedding cakes gone topsy-turvy, and neighbor doctors who rush in at a moment’s notice to stitch up split fingers at the dinner table. He’s glued to the details but never misses the bigger picture: God is SO powerful and SO full of goodness – there’s more than enough of Him for the whole world. My son is savoring this book and rereading it on his own, and it warms my mothering heart.

Third – Are you afraid of shots? Or know a child who is? When my daughter ended up in the hospital this month (read the story here), I saw first-hand this amazing tool in action: a Buzzy Bee. It’s a small vibrating device that temporarily confuses the body’s pain signals and makes procedures like getting an inoculation or an IV set in place less painful. My daughter said she couldn’t even feel her IV needle prick, just a small sting after it was all over. Anyone who dreads daily injections or the screaming that accompanies vaccination day needs one of these.

Fourth – I really stepped out of my comfort zone this month and learned that I could do some public speaking when asked. I told my personal story to about 40 women at my weekly Bible Study – Walking With Purpose. Afterward, on Instagram I said, “I outlined the many ways the Lord beckoned me to Himself over several decades, through both easy and painful times when I wanted nothing to do with Him, until I finally realized He was my soul’s true desire. It was the perfect venue for sharing, as these women are my friends and sisters in Christ, and I have felt loved every time I’ve walked through the door for the last nine years. Do you have a similar fellowship that encourages you? We need people who accept us as we are, cherishing the pieces of our stories as the gems that made us who we are today.” When I’d finished speaking I was so ready to sit down I hardly looked up at the audience again; it was quite an emotional moment for me. And I was surprised to receive such warm, encouraging feedback – and even a couple requests to start a podcast! What do you think? Would a podcast be a good addition to this blog? What would you like to hear? Interviews? Reflections? Please send me an email by using the ‘Contact’ tab at the top of my site! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Finally – And on a much lighter note, have you ever repeatedly bought something for other people (i.e. your kids), but never tried it yourself? So it was for me with Trader Joe’s yogurt cups, specifically the Strawberries and Cream/Peaches and Cream/Bananas and Cream flavors. Hello?!! Where has my mind been every time I opened my fridge? And why am I always only eating Greek yogurt? This stuff is so, so tasty. That’s all I have to say about that.

Thanks so much for reading this month’s (longish) edition of the Wholesome List! Spring has finally sprung so enjoy! Be well, love well, and keep your eyes open to grace in your life.

With gratitude for you,

Gretchen

**This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

A Book Worthy of Your 2019

A Book Worthy of Your 2019
"True You" by Michelle DeRusha - helping you uncover your most authentic self in 2019.
“True You” by Michelle DeRusha. Available at all fine booksellers, including Amazon.

It’s early January, and as I sit next to our Christmas tree (which I don’t want to take down!), I’m considering goals for the new year and the wisdom I’ve received in reading “True You” by Michelle DeRusha. If ever there was a book about new beginnings, about starting again, this is it.


While sitting on a bench in a quiet space, a question presented itself in Michelle’s mind: “Why do you have trouble with intimacy?” (p. 45) I read the question she’d heard as an invitation, but one I personally wouldn’t want to accept. “I don’t have trouble with intimacy,” I thought, “I have good relationships.”  But then I read this gem of a book, and decided I could use some more spiritual pruning in this area.


By likening the process of spiritual growth and a closer relationship with God to the Japanese gardening technique of “open center pruning,” through which a tree’s most beautiful elements are retained and all that detracts from it are cut away, Michelle takes her readers on a voyage of discovery and reflection. She encourages the routine practice of sitting quietly and listening carefully for God’s voice. Bigger and more powerful than our wildest dreams, God has planned a fullness of life for us, unhindered by our egotistical desires or our inclinations toward idols. These things separate us from the person God created us to be. By allowing ourselves to be “openly pruned” we can find our truest selves. 


Each chapter features thoughtful reflection questions to help us uncover the myths we tell ourselves, and to move our souls toward deeper friendship with God, who wants only the best for us. As we honestly consider our values and motivations (both good and bad), we participate in our own journey of healing. Michelle understands this discovery process is hard, and shares her own anecdotes and observations to confirm our experiences as we go. “[I]n spiritual transformation, as in gardening,” she writes, “there is no fast and easy remedy. There is only patience, perseverance, and faith in the process” (p. 164). Our efforts and willingness to open ourselves to God’s love and mercy is rewarded by God’s revelation of our gifts, and the life-changing realization of our real identity.


“Your identity comes not from what you do, but from who you are in God,” she affirms (p. 194). Figuring out who we are in God is life’s most worthwhile endeavor, and I encourage you to start on this process of discovery for yourself with the help of this enchanting, approachable book as a guide. Michelle DeRusha found a richer, more meaningful life, and I believe you will, too. 


*I received an Advance Reader Copy from Baker Books in return for my honest review. Pick up your copy of “True You” here on Amazon.

From One Lit Lover to All Others – New Gift Ideas

From One Lit Lover to All Others – New Gift Ideas

My copy of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.

My love affair began with Black Beauty. I was 7 years old and devoured it page by page after receiving it for Christmas, 1979.

The note from my aunt inside Black Beauty.

Yes, before that I had lesser crushes – The Velveteen Rabbit had nipped at my heart – but none that had ripped it wide open like this one horse’s life story, replete with trials, tribulations and a tear-jerking reunion. It was my first and truest relationship with a classic work of literature, one that would forever set my expectations about what a story is supposed to do.

From this I learned that a world of genius just waits to be discovered, and there is never enough time to read ALL THE GOOD BOOKS!!

What is your favorite work of classic lit?

Is it the ever-popular Jane Eyre?

The always delightful Peter Pan?

The idealistic Walden?

The transcendentally beautiful Leaves of Grass?

I’ll bet you can find a lovely artistic rendering of it here.

If you enjoy great design and want to give the literature lover on your list something he or she will actually use, check out this new site, Literary Book Gifts. Creator and designer Melissa has placed old fashioned line drawings on tasteful tote bags and t-shirts for men and women. Use the code GRETCHENMATTHEWS20 and she’ll give you 20% off any purchase, no minimum. 

Adorable totes from Literary Book Gifts.

The totes are sturdy cotton, fully lined, and come in three different sizes. There are 64 designs to choose from, including every one of the books I’ve mentioned above.

T-shirts are soft and available in more colors than I stopped to count. And beyond literary designs, some also feature images simply reminiscent of old times and refined living….an antique desk, a typewriter, a tribute to Beethoven.

Pretty much everyone agrees, life is too hectic today. Slowing down with a good read – or being reminded that you should by a tote bag or a t-shirt – is a great way to encourage someone you love to make the most of their time in the new year.

Remember – Literary Book Gifts and use code GRETCHENMATTHEWS20 . And just so you know, I receive no financial benefit from your transaction. I just like the products and thought you might too.

Peace and blessings to you and yours – always. Happy Holidays!

One Fun Book – One Beautiful Dream

One Fun Book – One Beautiful Dream

The burnt chicken on the cover speaks to me. Maybe because it sums up my current mojo…My mojo for like, the last 15 years.

When this book was released in the spring of 2018, it was the week of my youngest son’s First Communion, and despite the fact that family were coming in from 4 states to celebrate, I made a little time to read it – late at night, curled up in my bed, laughing out loud – because I just couldn’t put down this page-turner, Jennifer Fulwiler’s, One Beautiful Dream.

Having recently ‘met’ Jen through podcasts of her daily Sirius XM radio show and our shared connection in #hopewriters, I knew I couldn’t miss out on this book. I too am caught up trying to navigate the treacherous terrain where family life meets personal passions, and I desperately wanted to know how to say yes to them both.

Jennifer is a master storyteller with a coach’s spirit, and this book did not disappoint. Through this memoir, she has lifted me up – painting a raw and honest portrait of motherhood, faith, and a desire for something more.

After describing a harrowing supermarket experience in Chapter 1 (achieved while pregnant with 2 toddlers in tow) she writes, “On the average day I found myself exhausted, my brain running in the red zone like a car about to overheat….All of my personal goals had been buried for so long that I was starting to forget what they were.”

Amen to that. I have been there and you probably have too. This friends, is a woman I get. She is unflinchingly real.

Life with a young family feels – more often than not – like only partially controlled chaos, but there is deep and meaningful beauty in it, and Jennifer Fulwiler has found it. As a fellow Catholic convert, mother, writer, and survivor of disastrous supermarket visits and pointed (i.e. ‘unsolicited’) advice from “Green Bean Ladies,” at the supermarket, I salute Jen in this achievement. I love it.

Oh – and Jennifer? – if I were ever to come to your home, I would devour your burnt chicken and bless the hands that prepared it, too.