10 Wholesome Things I Learned in July & August

10 Wholesome Things I Learned in July & August
Photo taken at the base of the Roundtower (c. 1100), Rock of Cashel.

I didn’t intend to take 8 weeks off from writing. But when late June arrived and the kids were suddenly home and alert every day between 8 and 3, eating all the time, leaving their drinking cups in every room of the house, and asking on an hourly basis for rides to other side of the planet, well, the warning signs were there that I would have a hard time keeping to a schedule. I beat myself up a bit, “shoulding” all over myself but that got me – predictably – nowhere. Yes, summer. I finally surrendered to its charms and just lived it.

By the end of July I had decided I couldn’t muster a Wholesome List. I would wait and give you one at the end of August – a double doozy of 10 good things to think about as we leave this season behind. Here it is, broken into two parts.

In July, I learned or observed that:

  • Surprise bouquets are the ABSOLUTE BEST. On the second day of the month, a dear college friend shocked me…..FOUR bouquets of tulips arrived on my doorstep from The Bouqs Co.! Gorgeous! (See photo below.) These sustainable, eco-friendly growers were new to me. They only cut what they sell, clipping flowers the day they are ordered. If there is a delay in the shipment, they will send more blooms to make up for those that might have died or wilted in the process, which is how I ended up with 4 beautiful bouquets. I was bowled over and felt oh-so-loved by my old friend. Go on – you know what to do. At the right time, make someone’s day.
Flowers from The Bouqs. Co.
  • Colorizing old films reawakens our hearts to history. When I was a little girl, I once asked my mother if when she’d grown up, the world looked black and white, like the pictures we’d seen of her. The truth is, we all get used to thinking of life ‘long ago’ that way – as discrete and removed from our current technicolor days. On a flight to Sacramento, I watched “They Shall Not Grow Old,” a 2019 documentary made by Peter Jackson, who restored and colorized World War I footage stored for the last century in the Imperial War Museum in London. He interviewed veterans and made the filmed soldiers “talk” using the veterans’ voices. As in other wars, boys lied about their ages to enlist in WWI. The faces of the kids in the battles – they were just like those of my 16-year old son and his friends. If you’d told me – there’s Jack and Joey and James – I could have believed you. It’s vital to pay attention to the beauty of every single life and count the true cost of conflict.
  • Maybe ‘killin’ it’ – in so many ways – isn’t so great. Stop and savor. Then do it again. While reading Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, by Lori Gottlieb, I came across this quote from the late psychoanalyst and social philosopher Erich Fromm. He said, “Modern man thinks he loses something — time — when he does not do things quickly; yet he does not know what to do with the time he gains except kill it.” Sounds right to me. What do you think?
  • Bigger (natural space) is better…for my soul. In July, I visited Yosemite for the first time since I was 2 with some of my extended family to honor my grandparents who spent weekends there in the 1950s. The vistas are breathtaking and there is a majesty in the space that can only be experienced, not explained. Tension evaporated off my shoulders as I stood in the sunshine on Olmstead Point and took in the huge, panoramic view of Clouds Rest and Half-Dome in the distance. I find it impossible to think self-importantly when I can see that I’m a speck. From dust we came and to dust we shall return, but oh how He loves us as we stumble along our way.
At Olmstead Point. Yosemite National Park.
  • In the love of family is always the right place to be. I have a new nephew. He’s a beautiful gift my brother- and sister-in-law brought into the world in June, and our family is so thrilled that he’s here. The tough part is that he’s been having some health issues. He’s got a ventricular septal defect (VSD) — or “hole in the heart” — an opening between the heart’s lower chambers, and we all want desperately for him to be healed. Nevertheless, holding him – seeing his beautiful face and praying daily for God’s help – is joy itself. This is why we are given to one another – to reconnect us to what’s most important – Love.
With my precious nephew.

In August, our family vacationed in Ireland. My husband and I visited the Emerald Isle on our honeymoon 21 years ago, returned two years later with friends, and hadn’t been back since. We wanted to experience it with our kids – who give me something to think about nearly every single day.

  • If you want to see a place from a new perspective, give a kid a camera. You will get to see what interests her (or him), and if you’re lucky, some uniquely entertaining photos.
  • It doesn’t matter where you are – or how old the kids are – they will wrestle in the backseat. We drove at least an hour every day visiting sites and enjoying the scenery. (Listening to audio books such as The Lightning Thief – book 1 of Rick Riordan’s ‘Percy Jackson’ series – also helps pass the time). And honestly – they never complained. But – they did cut loose as needed.
Roughhousing. No matter where we go…
  • Live music blesses everyone. We caught some in Killarney and again in Galway, where we stumbled upon a show of world-renowned traditional Irish musicians and dancers – Trad on the Prom. My daughter does Irish dance, so it was a treat for her to get a photo with all of the dancers, including 6-time World Champion Claire Greavey. And I knew the evening had captured our oldest’s heart when I caught him trying to video Gerard Fahy – a master of the uilleann pipes, which have an ethereal, ghostly sound and are nigh impossible to learn.
My daughter in the middle of Trad on the Prom‘s world champion dancers. Claire Greavey is second from the right in the photo.
  • You don’t forget how to drive a manual, but doing it left-handed takes special fortitude. To get around, we rented a stick-shift Volkswagen Tiguan. My husband had driven in Ireland on our previous two trips but after this one – where he negotiated the tiny parking garages and narrow streets of 1,000 year-old Dublin before tackling the backroads of the Atlantic Way, constantly on the alert for daredevil mainland Europeans, I am sure of this: 1) I am glad he never asked me to drive, and 2) my guy can truly do anything.
  • The moments we remember most are the ones that brought us together. Like the adorable baby pigs we cooed over at Muckross Traditional Farms or how we got tired of bangers and mash and went for Indian food one night. Or better yet – when I made us pull over in a near-downpour in the Burren to see the Poulnabrone Dolmen – a tomb dating back 5,000 years that basically looks like a weathered table – and everyone hated it except me. I will never live down the teasing (and love) that came out in the laughter of that 5-minute stop.
  • And finally – A bonus observation! – The monks who isolated themselves some 1,000 years ago on Skellig Michael to pray and worship God in the quiet and rough elements were strongly disciplined in their practice and correct in their thinking. Traveling on a one-hour boat ride to see this sanctuary firsthand reminded me that carving out time for the Lord is a necessary part of my spiritual journey. Every era is turbulent in some way – ours is no exception – and our internal lives are challenged daily. To find the “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), I need to regularly do as Jesus did – and go to my solitary places to seek Him – the only Source of refreshment and new life.
The beehive huts of Skellig Michael and its chapel below.

Many blessings to you as we head into September. In closing, I can find no better words than more of those from St. Paul – who inspired me to begin these monthly lists in the first place:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

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

If It’s Going to Be, Is It Up to Me?

If It’s Going to Be, Is It Up to Me?

Photo by Jerome Prax. Unsplash.com.
Photo by Jerome Prax. Unsplash.com.

So it’s the last day of my Month of Good News 2016, and I have not fully completed the challenge. Including this post, I’ve done 22 in 31 days. Not bad by most standards. But not up to my expectations. I had wanted to post every single day during October.

Yet have you noticed – that oftentimes our expectations are unrealistic?

It’s fairly easy to see that our expectations of others cannot be fulfilled. When was the last time you asked a family member to complete a task and they did it exactly and precisely the way you wanted? The timing might have been off, or something else wasn’t up to snuff. They bought the ‘wrong’ brand of orange juice, missed a few spots while cleaning the bathroom, or didn’t arrange the towels, dishes, magazines, shirts etc. the way you would. The truth is, no single person can meet our expectations unless we decide to relinquish those expectations.

Now, consider yourself. Are you always faithful to your resolutions? Do you eat healthfully, get enough sleep, exercise, return all phone calls and emails, remember and check off each item on your to-do list, speak kindly to every person you encounter, and thank God for your life and all of its blessings (both seen and unseen) – every single day? Every 6 hours?

I am not. I fall short.

In my Bible Study group a week and a half go, I once again came to the realization that if I am to ‘treat my neighbor as myself,’ I need to think about the impact of my attitude and actions. Not only is it important to display the qualities of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love to the neighbors – especially the 4 living in my home – but it’s also imperative that I show myself the same consideration.

And – I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty hard on myself. If I don’t meet my own expectations, I’m likely to come unglued. As my best laid plans are derailed, I become cranky, resentful, and angry. But instead of dropping my lofty, ‘perfect’ plans, I tend to unleash my emotions on the people I love most. Or I get a migraine – in which case, I’ve turned the fury on myself.

So, a week and a half ago, I asked the women in my Bible Study group to pray that I would slow down and be more fully present to both my neighbors and to myself.

Those faithful friends of mine prayed. And my eyes were opened.

It’s one thing to say we need to be “good to ourselves,” and yet it’s another to do it, largely because we are flawed and limited in our ability to help ourselves.

When I was in 6th grade, my teacher Mrs. Walker had a motto on the ceiling of her English classroom. It said, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.”

Such a truism can be inspiring to a degree, but as we earnestly meet the challenges of daily life for years, we eventually realize the limitations of mantras like this one, which are premised on the idea that I alone can do whatever it is that needs to be done.

I hit a wall in the last ten days, and clearly saw that I can be a writer, but I can’t generate material that I don’t have. I simply didn’t have enough things I wanted to say, much less time to research and write them, here at the end of October. The schedule is just too full of practices, awards ceremonies, family visits, birthdays, and costume sewing (as well as meals, exercise, and homework). Yes, I could have started writing back in August and then posted everything I’d accumulated in October. But I don’t work that way.

I want to have fresh things to say, as the Lord prompts me to say them.

And whoa – right there in that statement came my moment of reckoning when I understood the real Truth.

My limitations are the exact points where God wants to step in and give me the strength, creativity, and time that I am so desperately craving.

The question is not, “What can I get done?” but instead, “What does God want to equip me to do?”

As I evaluate my tasks for the day, I need to ask,

  • Does this activity have eternal value?
  • Is it something God would want me to focus on?
  • Will He be upset with me if my expectations are not met?

Failing to meet our own expectations is actually a blessing. It’s a correction to our human tendency to make ourselves a higher priority than God.

In my case, it was also the answer to a prayer.

He came alongside me and in His gentle way said, “I will help you write, but it won’t be on your schedule. It will happen on mine. And I will help you to be the good mom and wife you want to be. Let Me fill you. Let Me be your peace.”

God promises to be with us every step of our lives, but it’s up to us to turn to Him and say, “I trust you. Please equip me with your grace, because I am weak, but You are strong.” (Philippians 4:13)

He will give us grace. Guaranteed.

This is the very best of all Good News. May we carry it with us, and share it with those He places in our paths.

He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.

-2 Corinthians 12:9