Blogging break

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

So thankful to whoever planted these in our woods years ago. They smell lovely.

I'll be taking a two- to three-week blogging break. I feel like I've already been on a bit of a break, and hope to get back into the swing of things in June. Blessings to you all and thank you for your friendship. xo Deborah

My daughter and son-in-law just gifted me
with this beautiful silk dressing gown.

Contentment: a book review

Monday, May 8, 2017

A picture of true contentment.

I've been reading a little book called The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. It's an old, old book, written by Jeremiah Burroughs (1600-1646), a Puritan.

The word "Puritan" conjures up so many negative connotations in the modern mind. It's
unfortunate that the Puritans have been so maligned and misunderstood. Not only are they doctrinally sound and a balm to the soul in these relativistic times, full of depth and insight, but they demonstrate an unexpected compassion and understanding of the human soul. Moreover, their writings are very practical and applicable, even today. 

J.I. Packer says that the Puritans are the theological and devotional Redwoods of the Western world. No surface slush here. And, wow, do their words bring conviction.

 I'm also attracted to the Puritans simply because of the beauty and richness of the old words and descriptive language in their writings. Take just the first sentence from the book:

This text contains a very timely cordial to revive the drooping spirits of the saints in these sad and sinking times. For the 'hour of temptation' has already come upon all the world to try the inhabitants of the earth. In particular, this is the day of Jacob's trouble in our own bowels.

Isn't that lovely? Don't you just want some of that cordial? And doesn't it seem perfectly relevant almost 400 years later?

Be forewarned; the Puritans can be wordy, too. If you can say something in 50 words, they love to say it in 500. 

 The book is short, though, only 144 pages. But it still takes some time to read through. I was highlighting and underlining and taking notes and then stopping to think about it all. I had to start skimming to finish the book by our book club meeting, which was actually pretty easy to do because of the way it's written.

Burroughs, like other Puritans I've read, writes in a very orderly and logical fashion. The Puritans were organized thinkers, fond of lists. Burroughs tells us what contentment is, and then follows with a list of points and several subpoints, all fleshed out with lots of detail and examples. And then he tells us what it is not, and then follows with another list. Here's how you get contentment, and then you get it broken down, point by point. 

You could say the Puritans were the original creators of the modern how-to, self-help books.

So if you need to skim, it's not hard at all. Just look for the next number in the list and read the first sentence. But I don't recommend this. There's so much meat here, you'll not want to miss anything. I'm definitely going to be re-reading this book. You could even use it as a devotional.

So what exactly does Burroughs say about contentment?

Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.

It is a "rare jewel" because of course this kind of attitude can seem impossible to have, let alone maintain.

But he patiently and logically takes us through how we might obtain this rare jewel. He cautions us that this kind of contentment is an inside job, a deep work in the heart. So many of us can appear calm and content on the outside, but if we are full of anxieties on the inside, we know we are lacking this "sweet, inward, quiet frame of spirit."

He urges us to imitate Paul in saying, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." (Phil. 4:11.)

Much of the book seems geared to helping people who have lost material possessions or are poor in this world, but his advice can be applied to all areas in which we are struggling with discontent. When prayers are not answered. When things aren't going the way we want.

Here are just a few of the gems scattered throughout the book.

Be sure of your call to every business you go about. Though it is the least business, be sure of your call to it; then, whatever you meet with, you may quiet your heart with this: I know I am where God would have me. Nothing in the world will quiet the heart as much as this: when I meet with any cross, I know I am where God would have me, in my place and calling; I am about the work that God has set me. 

If I followed this one piece of advice, how much more content might I be? How many times do I run around doing something on my own, without questioning whether or not I'm called to it?

If you would get a contented life, do not grasp too much of the world, do not take in more of the business of the world than God calls you to.

There is so much wisdom in the first part of this admonition, but the second part particularly struck me in light of the nastiness surrounding the recent election. How much anxiety and fear and discontent have I suffered in the past year just by taking in too much news and social media?

Burroughs tell us that a contented heart is "opposed to distracting, heart-consuming cares." Such a person should "not allow the fear and noise of evil tidings to take such a hold in his soul as to make a division and struggling there."

A well-tempered spirit may enquire after things outside in the world, and suffer some ordinary cares and fears to break into the suburbs of the soul, so as to touch lightly upon the thoughts. Yet it will not on any account allow an intrusion into the private room, which should be wholly reserved for Jesus Christ in his inward temple. (emphasis mine)

While Burroughs reminds us that "vexing and fretting" and "tumultuousness of spirit" are wrong, he assures us that we need not turn into stoic martyrs. There is a place to "unbosom" our hearts to God, and "communicate his (our) sad condition to our Christian friends" so that they may comfort us.

He also stresses that we can make all "lawful seeking for help . . . to be delivered out of our present afflictions." 

But sometimes we have to live in circumstances that we can't change. How do we experience that deep, soul-satisfying contentment then?

Like a wise and experienced guide, Burroughs leads us through, step by step, and shows us how. 

To be content as a result of some external thing is like warming a man's clothes by the fire. But to be content through an inward disposition of the soul is like the warmth that a man's clothes have from the natural heat of the body.

I have only scratched the surface of this little, but very rich book. If you'd like to read it yourself, you can find it on Amazon. Or read it online for free here. Beware, though, that it has been poorly proofread; you will find some typos throughout the book.

Anybody out there admire the Puritans as I do? Found help from their writings? Found other helpful books on this subject?

Bridal shower

Monday, May 1, 2017

I had hoped to do a book review for this post, but didn't get any reading done today. So, instead, here's some pics from the bridal shower my book club hosted this past weekend.

Prizes for the game winners . . .

Taken before we finished setting the tables. A special seat for the bride to be.

Chicken casseroles, salads, muffins . . . 

The groom's sister made this cake, including the edible daisies.

Another sister made these sweet favors for the guests.

I figured out what to do with the fabric I found. I cut it up and added it to an already-made banner from etsy. I tore strips to finish off the ends.

I didn't have anything in the robin's egg blue color in my house, so I added a few touches . . .

I switched out the pink "love" paper for some blue . . .

I even found a little cake stand and a teacup in my cupboard that matched.

This is the third bridal shower we've hosted in a year. We're getting to be quite a team!

We really do read books, too. Speaking of which . . . 

Spring cleaning and decorating

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Spring has finally arrived here in Michigan. 

The Bradford Pears are blooming along the city streets and golf courses, the rhododendrons are fuchsia-bright, our neighbor's massive tulip bed is all reds and yellows, and the magnolia tree in our front yard is blessing us with its short-lived but beautiful pink blossoms. The lilac in the back is starting to bud, and all the crabapples will soon be dotting the landscape with their profusions of tiny pink flowers.

A pretty handmade card, sent by a dear blog friend.
I have a pot of cheerful yellow primroses on my porch, and the woods behind our house, for so many months brown and barren, are leafing out, bright green and filled with birdsong. 

While the outside world is covering itself in glory, I'm trying to do my part indoors. 

A few pics from last week's Easter celebration.

We had lamb kebabs with pita bread, salads, veggies, lemon pie, and chocolate cake. I made tzatziki sauce and hummus. Since I am allergic to tahini, one of the main ingredients in hummus, I made this hummus without it. Not as good as the regular, but a welcome substitute for me.

So, I've been trying to do a little spring cleaning. 

I sorted through and got rid of about eight inches of paper work from a file cabinet drawer I could barely stuff one more receipt in. And my knitting projects have been totally disorganized. I showed up to knitting class last week, two large bags stuffed with knitting supplies, but missing some instructions and having to borrow a needle and stitch holder from the teacher. I felt like an errant school child who has come without her homework. So I got that all squared away, and discovered I have nine ongoing projects. Hmm, better get busy.

I finally made some order out of my sewing/craft room that was my daughter's room up until this past September when she got married. It had become a dumping ground for all my projects, craft supplies, writing projects, and photographs. I still have lots of sorting to do but everything is neat and organized, and at least in boxes/on shelves.

My Project 333 closet. Oh my goodness. It's more like Project 666 at this point!! My closet has never been such a mess. I really have to have a good sort through/clean out soon.

In the meantime, my book club is planning a bridal shower for one of our member's future daughter-in-law, and I am thinking decor. 

The bride-to-be likes blue and daisies. And she had been considering a barn wedding, so I thought she might like a rustic touch. So I got busy on etsy. I love etsy. I could spend hours -- and I usually do -- browsing all the fun and unique items there.

I'm not sure what to do with this fabric. I might cut it into triangles for a banner or tear it into strips to decorate a banner, not sure yet. But it ties together the burlap and lace and daisy theme with the blue napkins and plates.

I'll cover the tables with white tablecloths and lay burlap runners with lace overlays. Another book club member is bringing canning jars filled with daisies for centerpieces.

We gave a romantic pink-and-tea-themed bridal shower in January and I still have the votive candle holders that we used.  So I thought to cover the candles with burlap strips and lace and hot glue these little blue flowers on the sides.

I got the plates on the right, and then worried they might be the wrong color. I was afraid it might look like a baby shower. So then I got the plates on the left. Oh, dear. Now what? The plates on the right really do look better with the fabric, but should I forget the fabric?

But then I saw the color of these Kitchen Aid tools she had on her registry, and thought, okay, this is the right color blue! Isn't that a fun color? (I'm sure she doesn't read my blog so I'm not worried about her seeing all this.)

Well, this is all so much more fun than the traditional spring cleaning of scrubbing and polishing and mopping. I will get myself over to the laundromat soon though and wash my winter comforters to put away and replace with my summer bedspreads.

But really, the creative pursuits always seem to take precedent. After this shower, I'll be thinking about my niece's wedding in July.

The last bridal shower we did I had decorated a Christmas tree that was still up with pink roses and eucalyptus. My niece was looking for something to decorate the end chairs lining the aisle at her outdoor wedding so I sent her this pic of the rose and eucalyptus and asked if she wanted me to do something with them. She liked the idea, so I will put something together using either satin ribbon or tulle, and maybe experiment adding a little bling or trailing ivy with it.

My husband is outside today doing some heavy-duty yard work. I think he was hoping I would help, but I hurt my back moving furniture just before we were to get started. Ahem. Not on purpose. But now I can sit here quietly with a pillow behind my back and work on my blog and visit blog friends.

Hope you're all enjoying your Spring.

Getting ready for Sunday

Friday, April 14, 2017

It's still early, so it's hard to tell whether today is going to be sunny or cloudy. On Good Friday, of all days, I always think a cloudy day is much more appropriate. I always think the sun should be ashamed to shine, especially between noon and three. It needs to discreetly hide behind the clouds.

An idea I've had since childhood, and it's stayed with me.

Now on Easter, it really does need to come out of hiding, and shine for all it's worth.

Speaking of which, I need to get going to be ready for Sunday. First off, list making. I can't seem to do anything without my lists.

Once I decide on a menu, then I need to find recipes, then make my grocery list. I need to decide what needs to be cleaned (everything, but we prioritize when time is tight!). I'm also in the middle of planning a trip with some friends, and a bridal shower with my book club, and those are involving a lot of lists, too.

Once I get myself organized, it feels like half the work is done. I don't need to think anymore, just do what the list tells me.

I want that skirt my bunny is wearing!
I need to get some decor up. I have some four dozen eggs that my children colored when they were little. They become more precious with each passing year.

These pink and white Christmas ornaments have been hanging on my dining room chandelier since January, when I used them to decorate for a bridal shower. I'm switching them out for pastel Easter eggs.

When I first started blogging I participated in tablescape parties. I had some beautiful tables. Hopefully this table will be beautiful by Sunday. Here I am just trying to decide which plates/chargers to use.

Two of my favorite things -- pink and bunnies. I'm going to fill the little cups with Easter candy. No big baskets this year, as we won't be having any children here, and none of us -- at least not me -- needs all that sugar. Sigh . . . jelly beans are my all-time favorite, but I resisted. I have a dress I need to fit into next month.

A friend stopped by for coffee the other day. I'm always telling her I want to take piano lessons from her. I just want to be able to play hymns, just for me. I took lessons as a child, but regretfully, never kept up. We went through all my children's piano music, and she found this beginner book so that I could practice.

I was actually able to play this this week, both hands and even using the pedal, although very slowly. It made me cry. The music, not my playing!

I picked these up at the grocery store last week. They still look nice, and I will cut them down and rearrange them for my powder room. I'll get some tulips or daffodils for my Easter table.

Oh, here we go again -- pink and bunnies. 

I found this at T.J. Maxx, and honestly could have bought a whole set. But I kept myself to one plate. Kind of wish I'd splurged now.

I was feeling just a little sorry for myself that our family gatherings have gotten so small, with my two sons out of state and not able to get home all the time, and with extended family also moving away, or sadly, passing on.

So I invited some friends to round out our small Easter gathering, and now I feel happier.

Well, the sun is trying to break through. It has no sense of the fitness of things.

Have a wonderful Easter my friends. The best day of the year. xo

Why I am not #blessed

Thursday, April 6, 2017

It seems that in the busyness and the instant-ness of social media it is easy to jump in and cheerfully and thoughtlessly post memes or hashtags along with everyone else without giving them much thought.

I'm guilty of this.

Just recently I saw a short video on Facebook and laughed. It was really cute. Until I read a comment about it that brought me up short. No, it really wasn't funny, after I took a moment to think about the implications.

But I had joined in with the thousands of other "likes" before thinking.

And have you ever posted a special picture with #blessed attached to it? It seems a happy thing to do -- a sharing of your blessings with friends. An acknowledgement, even, that it's a gift from a real Gift Giver.

Everybody, it seems, loves to use this hashtag.

But if you stop to think about it, saying "I'm blessed" can be an insulting, and not altogether true, statement.

What?! Well, bear with me.

"How are you?" one friend asks another.

"Oh, I'm blessed. My son just got a full-ride scholarship to XYZ University."

Or, "We just got back from a wonderful cruise. We're so blessed."

Or, "The lab results came back and everything's normal. I'm #blessed!"

How about just saying, "I'm so thankful," or, "I'm so grateful."

When you say you are #blessed, it subtly implies that your friend, who isn't experiencing the same "blessing" as you, isn't really blessed.

Yes, your kid has a full ride to a prestigious university, but does that mean that your friend whose child is struggling to pay his or her way through community college is not #blessed?

That the friend who can't afford a cruise, and is hoping for a few days at the lake this summer, is not blessed?

That the Lord has forgotten the friend whose lab results are a concern? That, somehow, she is less worthy of a blessing?

There are blessings in every circumstance, and reasons to be grateful in every situation. To imply that the Lord is with you in a special way just because things went your way reduces Him to a gumball machine in the sky -- a god who hands out #blessings to a privileged few and ignores the rest.

A picture of a new baby with the hashtag "blessed"? Of course, babies are wonderful blessings. Just about the best. But what about the woman who is struggling with infertility? Is she to see herself as unblessed?

To say "I'm thankful," to me, implies a humility and gratefulness that #blessed doesn't. #Blessed, to me, has a touch of pride about it.

Of course, there are promises in the Bible about receiving blessings. Sometimes these are material things. But oftentimes they're not. They are things like patience and joy and love and long-suffering. Which don't always make catchy Instagram-worthy posts. (Nor should they, when you come to think of it -- "hey, I'm more patient than I was last year! #blessed." Ugh.) 

What do you think? Do you agree, or am I just being cranky? 


p.s. Actually, Google says I'm spot on. I just looked up #blessed and discovered that many, many people are fed up with this hashtag. There was the article on "Why #blessed is the most annoying hashtag on Instagram." And why "#blessed is the new brag." The New York Times even said it was the "go-to term for people who want to boast about an accomplishment while pretending to be humble." 

And I thought I was being original in my dislike of it. 

Tea in Colorado

Monday, April 3, 2017

I've been doing a bit of visiting lately. After coming home from North Carolina, where I was able to see my two sons and daughter-in-law, and meet with bloggers Michele and Debby, I flew out to Denver to visit my mom and sister and her family.

And I got to visit with another lovely blogger, Stephanie from The Enchanting Rose. Many of you know Stephanie, who hosts the amazing teacup exchanges, one of which I believe is going on right now. I was just too busy to participate this time around, but they are so much fun.

I got to visit with Stephanie and her mom Debbie from She Graces Her Home in God's Beauty last year. This year it was just Stephanie and me. We missed you Debbie!

I had less than an hour drive to our meeting point, a tearoom where we had met last year, but got to see some beautiful Rocky Mountain scenery on the way. We had had just a bit of snow the previous evening, so the trees were lightly dusted. Beautiful.

A bit of a sketchy picture, taken hastily while I was driving. I know, not a good idea, but it was so pretty.
We had afternoon tea at a beautiful little tearoom and were able to visit for a couple hours.

I know Stephanie got more, and better, pictures, so maybe when the tea exchange is completed you will see a few from her.

Stephanie is a dear woman, as many of you know. I wish her many blogger friends could have been with us, just to see in person how lovely she is.  I felt so privileged that she took the time to drive over to meet me again this year. I enjoyed our visit so much.

After tea, we went next door to a yarn and quilt shop we had discovered last year. I had picked up some beautiful hand-painted yarn then, thinking I'd like to learn to make socks.

I've only succeeded in making 1/2 pair from that yarn, and 1 1/2 pair from another kind of yarn this whole intervening year, but that didn't stop me from buying more. Hopefully, I will end up with three complete pairs of socks someday. 

Stephanie gifted me with some lovely pretties she made.

There was a darling little fabric bag filled with lavender blossom-filled sachets.

There was also a cute little tea wallet filled with tea.

Thank you Stephanie! 

You can see more of Stephanie's beautiful handiwork and tutorials on her blog and in her etsy shop.

And when I got home, there was also a little thank you package waiting for me, filled with more little treats!

Two years in a row. Maybe this will become an annual tradition?


While I was in Colorado, I also got to visit another, very different tea shop with my mom and sister and her boys, the Dushanbe Teahouse in Boulder. The teahouse was given to the city of Boulder by its sister city of Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in 1987. It was built in Tajikistan, but then disassembled, shipped to Boulder, and reassembled there.  

It is stunning. The colors and mosaics and carvings are so beautiful, and so exotic.

This is a picture of the ceiling inside the teahouse.

The tea menu itself was five pages long, and included many exotic teas from China.

A few were familiar, but most were not. I need to be more adventurous with tea. I tend to stick to the same black teas like English Breakfast, and this menu opened up a whole new world of possibilities.

My sister had a puerh tea. Our waiter said puerh teas are fermented and contain lots of probiotics. I tasted it. It tastes like dirt, but in a good way, I told my sister. Very earthy, but I really liked it. I would buy some of this, and am going to see if my local tea shop carries it. 

Notice the descriptions -- "cooked puerh pressed into tiny bird's nests" and "aged in fresh bamboo stalks." They even have dates on them, like aged wines.

I had this oolong, ti khan yin.

We each got our own teapot with a timer to time the tea. After the three minutes were up, we were supposed to remove the tea strainer from the pot. I never time my tea, although I guess it's the thing to do to prevent tea from becoming bitter.

Our waiter said the only tea you don't have to time is herbal. Which is good, as I usually just leave my bag in the whole time.

This made a very light tea. I actually prefer a very dark, full-bodied tea, but this did have a nice flavor.

My nephews ordered various sodas laced with teas. They looked pretty tasty.

The menu included Indian, Middle Eastern, and Turkish foods. I had Afghan Mantu, which was beef and onion dumplings.

So I am back home now. It is rainy and cloudy and the weather this week will be in the 40s. I saw flowers in Colorado, and the trees are beginning to blossom there. We have another month or more to wait here in Michigan before we get to see flowers, but it will surely come. We Michiganders have learned to be patient.
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