Finding Little Moments

To observe, enjoy and create in everyday life

Building One Another Up

In January I shared with you about a trip my husband and I would be taking through our church denomination to see first hand a ministry project in Monrovia, Liberia. This was the first time (and hopefully not the last) I have taken any trip like this, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have met the women behind the Liberia Women's Empowerment Project. We had heard about this project a few years ago when they were in need of sewing machines to start a project center, and we had wanted to know more about what they were doing. I am sharing with you today specifically because the project is celebrating its first graduation ceremony. Today, on March 29th, 2020,  in the capital city of Liberia, 174 women will be recognized for their successful completion of one of the project's four training courses! 

The Liberia Women's Empowerment Project offers four different training courses for women in the area at three different Nazarene churches. The program began a few years ago when a small group of women gathered at an area church to discuss how to help the women in their community. Many of the women had received very little education as young girls, had no marketable skills and were attempting to raise children on their own. They felt they had no hope. No dignity.
And so, the Project was born out of a desire to equip women with a skill that would allow them to operate a small business or be hired by a local employer. But more importantly, by learning a trade and gathering in community, the women of Monrovia were gaining self worth. They could begin to see that they each had value.

As the project wraps up it's first class, they have been able to offer four different training tracts. Women who come to be a student at one of the three centers are able to learn catering, tailoring, soap making or fabric dying. The catering and tailoring courses are currently 18 month classes that meet twice a week. The soap making and fabric dying are 6 month courses that meet twice weekly. Not only are the women taught a marketable skill while taking a course, but they are also encouraged to be part of a savings group. These savings groups are ones where women can safely save some of the money they earn so that they have the start up costs to begin a business or to purchase needed items for their families. The women are also led through different life skills classes. Other women in the community will mentor the students in homemaking, hygiene and parenting. Through all of this, the women are creating a deeper community with one another. One that is built on learning skills together and having trust in one another.

The final piece to this program is teaching the women small business skills. At the end of training, it is the hope that the women would either be able to have an individual market business or to create a small group business in  their neighborhood. They would be taught about how to make a profit, supply and inventory needs, and other necessary skills to operating a very simple business. Building a business component that is suited to the students is part of the next phase of the project. Brandon and I are hoping to be a help in this area.

Here is a group shot of some of the women at one of the centers outside of Monrovia. It was amazing to spend the day with them and hear their stories. Some of the women there hoping to be able to support their older kids through college and others have young families at home they would like to send to one of the local schools. The local grade schools charge a tuition, and uniforms need to be purchased as well as supplies. It is a costly expense for these families to receive a basic education, but it is one that many of these women hope to give to their children.
The day we were there, many students had come to the center to show us the catering skills they had learned as well as their soap making and fabric dying trade. We were served a delicious lunch of rice and fish with a large slice of cake on the side. During the training, the women can take some of the items made at the school back to their neighborhoods to be sold (soap, fabric, baked goods). The students get to keep a portion of the money made and the remainder is given back to the school to purchase more supplies. So from early on, the women get to practice their business skills.

During our visit, I was able to meet some of the children too. If any of you know me personally, you know that I always gravitate toward kids. It's typically where I feel most comfortable. The two little girls pictured above are daughters of two center students. While their moms were in class, I hung out with these little girls and a few of their friends. After a little bit shyness, we got to chatting. At one point I asked if the girls' moms were students at the school, their responses of how their mamas were learning to cook were so full of pride. This women's empowerment project is not only bringing dignity to the women in the courses but to their children as well.
This second photo was taken on our last day in Monrovia. We came to the center while school was still in session for the day. Many of the centers are multi-purpose. They are churches which offer grade school classes on some days and then the training centers other days. The day we visited was a Friday, so it was 'free dress' day for students. During their recess break, I visited with many of the students. They showed me their homework for the weekend, talked about their favorite classes and then shared with me what they hope to be when they grow up. There were many kids who want to be nurses, a few who wanted to be doctors, CDC workers, teachers, military and two who wanted to be president. Aspirations not really much different from kids in the United States. 

These are the ladies behind each of the centers. They are an amazing, giving group of teachers. Each of these women desire to see their students succeed. They work tirelessly as wives, mothers, business owners, as well as teachers at the centers. And, I am sure there are a dozen other things they are responsible for in their lives. But, they always had a smile on their faces. They are excited about the work being done in their communities. They have plans to improve, expand, and offer more to more women. All of the effort is worth it to them.

Thanks for letting me share a little bit about our trip. It was a quick trip! Not counting travel time, we were only able to be in Monrovia for three full days. Our trip was cut a bit short due to a snow storm, so we missed a visit to the tailoring center. But as you can see above, the tailoring students still found time to sew us custom made tops! The trip, though quick, was a life changing one for me. I was able to see a part of the world that I had never been to before. I was exposed to a community of women and men who have seen multiple civil wars in just a few short decades, who was devastatingly hit with the Ebola virus just a few years ago, who live in a country that ranks 150 out of 159 on the gender inequality index, and who daily experience a life in which I cannot begin to imagine the difficulties. I was allowed to witness a small group of people who are working hard to change the future. And, I was able to see how God works through all circumstances and all people. He uses each of us, if only we are open to it.

If you feel at all compelled to contribute to this project, you can do so here: Liberia Women's Empowerment Project. The project's ultimate goal is to have each center be self sustaining. The women who attend will pay a small tuition, and the items sold will also help support the cost of the centers. But there are start up costs to each of the centers, and hopes to open additional centers. Your financial contributions will help this project get on its feet.
Thank you.

Looking Ahead

I've been quiet here on the blog the last couple of months. Part of that has been because of the holidays and just not having time to sit and write. These past few months were also full with work travel for my husband, doctor appointments for one of my boys dealing with some health issues and some house projects. We did a mini makeover of our front room which started with taking out a large cabinet that held a TV we never used. I also took out other smaller pieces of furniture and some wall hangings. After that I worked on rearranging the room to open it up and make it more comfortable. I am really happy with how it all turned out. I probably should have taken before pictures. Oh well, such is life. Other house projects we've completed have been a similar makeover to our family room (which included purchasing a some new furniture and culling unneeded items) and just some general purges in various rooms of our home. On the list for this winter is to paint our bedroom, the kitchen and an accent wall in our front room.     

Looking ahead to this upcoming year is exciting. I'm not a huge resolutions maker. I do however like to set goals for myself. I suppose they are not so different from each other, but somehow the wording makes a difference. One of my personal goals for the upcoming year is to get outside more (even on the yucky days). I tend to be a fair weather walker/gardener/hiker/etc. So, bundling up and getting out regardless of the weather will be good for me. 
Another goal is to step out from my comfort zone. I like my routines. I like doing things where I can predict an outcome and (mostly) guarantee success. To begin the year with this goal, I started with baby steps. I took a ski lesson with my boys over our winter vacation and went ice skating with my husband. I was nervous as all get out for both of these excursions. I survived the few falls without hurting myself, and I had fun! We'll see how soon I get back out and do these again.
A bigger step out of my comfort zone will be coming up next month as my husband and I travel to Liberia on a ministry trip. I have not taken this type of trip (Brandon traveled to Ghana for a ministry trip a few years back), but I am looking forward to the adventure of it. We will be going to visit a church that began an Empowering Women with Dignity Project two years ago. The goal is to visit the project first hand and to see how more of these schools can be created in Liberia. This program teaches women a trade such as catering, tailoring, soap making or fabric design so that they can then help to support their families. I am looking forward to meeting the people and seeing their work. All of these areas are ones I have an interest in, so it is all very exciting for me. This trip will then lead to some fundraising on our end to help fund the start up of more of these schools. 

Another yearly goal is to find space in the midst of an upcoming busy season of life. Some of you may know that we are part of a church start that began a few years ago. My husband is pastor, and I lead the children. We have been asked to also step in as interim leaders at another local church for what will most likely be the bulk of this year. We are excited to serve in this church. The people we have met so far have all been so welcoming and supportive. I know that this will be a good season for our family here. However, these additional leadership responsibilities will need to be tucked into our weekly schedules. I am working on looking through my current responsibilities and commitments to see what I can step out of or put on pause while we focus on serving in this church. This blog is an example of something that I will be contributing to less in order to create space in my days. It doesn't take much time, but there is the mental time attached to it as well. We'll see how it all works out as the months progress.
What it all boils down to is ensuring that there is still time for space to rest, family, enjoying the world around me, and not being over committed. As simple or as silly as it may sound, I think scheduling days or pieces of days with open spaces will help me reach this goal. I have begun blocking out mornings or afternoons, as I am able to, that will be set aside to create that desired space. Days to be creative, putter in the kitchen, read, hike, go on dates with my husband, whatever the space allows. I'm looking forward to the fullness and the scheduled space of these days ahead.

My last goal for the year is seeking clarity. This one is a bit less defined, which is either ironic or a good thing. Part of it will involve removing things from my life that cause life to be fuzzy or undefined. That can mean something as simple as better sleep and cleaner diet choices for more healthy, clear days. And it will involve more complicated things like considering what my months and years ahead hold for me as our boys get closer and closer to graduating high school and moving on to begin their lives. I know I still have a few years before that season (our youngest is a freshman), but I have been avoiding thinking about it all. To be honest, it makes me a bit sad. The bulk of my career has been the daily care of these amazing boys. What will my days be filled with when they have gone off to college or careers? I think it is time to think about this a little more and seek some clarity. I want to enjoy the years we have left with the boys at home, but I also want to start mentally preparing for the years when they won't be here. It is time to start clearly defining (or thinking about) what my days will be like. As I have jokingly said for years..."I will need to figure out what I want to be when I grow up." I've been a homemaker for seventeen years, and I have loved pretty much every minute of it. I certainly would not change a thing. I have taken on small jobs here and there as they have presented themselves, and I also volunteer regularly as a Master Gardener and lead in our church environments, but my main job has been running our home and family. The years ahead hold excitement for all of us really. Our boys are beginning to seek areas of interest for study or careers, and I will be seeking as well. I look forward to a year of clarity.

How about you? Do you set New Year's Resolutions? Or, do you like to rename them as goals like I do? Is life taking you on any adventures outside of your comfort zone this year?
I wish you all an amazing year ahead. A new year always feels so full of promise, doesn't it?

Family Gift Making

A number of years ago, I can't even remember quite how many now, our family adopted the tradition of making a Christmas gift for extended family members. Throughout the year, we look for ideas of things we could make to gift to grandparents, aunts, uncles and close family friends. Often we will see something in a gift shop or craft store and find ways to make it ourselves. We have made candle holders, cutting boards, soaps, custom string art, crocheted or sewn items, birdhouses, and many, many other items. Over the last few years, we have fallen into a pattern of the guys (my husband and our two boys) crafting a wood project, and I will create something to go along with it. 
Last year we made the gifts you see above. (I couldn't possibly show you this year's gifts...we might have some family members trying to sneak a peek!) The guys made these beautiful trivets with brass nails, and I sewed up some pot holders and dish towels. While we do end up making about thirteen packages for different family members, they do not all end up the same. We might choose different designs or fabrics based on the family member receiving the gift. This is one way to make the gift a bit more personalized. 
This year there has been a bit of a crunch to get out projects completed. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas was shorter, our family Christmas party is being held a few days before Christmas, and the boys' school break won't begin until the 23rd. So, we have all been finding spare time here and there to finish up our gifts. The saw has been running, the sewing machine has been humming, and the boys are pitching in when they're available. I can't wait to wrap them up and present them! 
Are you a gift maker as well? What types of gifts are you making this year?   

In the Kitchen This Week

This last week or so I have been able to bake quite a bit. I usually bake something yummy for our Friday night church gathering, and then over the weekend my son Alex and I like to try a new recipes. And of course, there are the staple items that get baked throughout the week: breads, granola, etc. Although I could certainly consider cookies staple items! 
For cookies this week, I baked up a batch of Amish Sugar Cookies found on Our Simple Homestead's site. These really are the best sugar cookies! We have been making them for a few years now, and I love how simple they are to whip up. My son Alex and I had found a recipe for Madeleine's on King Arthur Flour's site. This is a cookie that he and I had been wanting to try and bake for awhile. They were surprisingly simple to make and so delicious! We both thought that the sugar dusted ones were better than the chocolate dipped ones. So, next time we would skip the step of dipping the Madeleines in chocolate. I did use the leftover chocolate to frost the sugar cookies. Now that was yummy! Either of these cookies are a perfect match with a cup of coffee or tea.
One more recipe to share with you is my granola. Granola is such an easy breakfast cereal to make at home. There are probably a thousand permutations of granola and a million more recipes to pair with that. But it really is quite simple...add what you like and omit what you don't like.  Granola is much like soup. I never make the same batch twice. And while no two batches are the same, I do follow the same formula each time I make it. In a large bowl, I place 3 cups rolled oats, a 3 cup mixture of nuts and seeds and 1 cup of melted fat and sweetener (for 7 cups total). You can add any combination of nuts and seeds to your granola: almonds (chopped/slivered/etc.), shaved coconut, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, really whatever you want or have on hand. Once you have these all tossed in a bowl, you need to add some sweetener and fats. Again, here is where you can use what is in your pantry or what you prefer. You can use butter, coconut oil, or a light liquid oil (like canola or safflower). If you use a solid fat, you will need to melt it first in order to incorporate it into the granola. For a sweetener, I typically use a combination of honey and maple syrup. I add 1/2 cup of a fat melted with 1/2 cup of a sweetener. I will heat these together in the microwave or on the stove top before adding to the oat mixture. Other things you can add to your granola would be a dash of salt, cinnamon and/or vanilla. All of this gets stirred together and poured out on a large jelly roll pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour, stirring every 15 minutes. But again. the temperature really can flex. If you have something else baking in the oven at 375, throw in the sheet of granola with it. Just stir it more frequently and know that it won't take as long to bake. Pull the granola out when it is toasted to a color brown you like. Let it sit on the counter to cool and then store in an air tight container. If you like dried fruit in your granola, stir that in before storing it in the container. If you are looking for something beside cookies to give to friends and neighbors this Christmas, homemade granola would be a good choice. Just make sure to save some for yourself!

Here's a simplified example of the granola I make:
3 cups rolled oats
3 cups total nuts/seeds
1/2 cup fat, melted (butter, coconut oil or light liquid oil)
1/2 cup sweetener (honey or maple syrup)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt

Stir dry ingredients together. Add in liquid ingredients and stir to incorporate. Pour granola onto a large baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees, stirring every 15 minutes. Granola will bake for about an hour, or until desired color is reached. Allow to cool on baking sheet before storing in a container.

What have you been baking in your kitchen this week?

A Weird Obsession

One of the very first natural body products I tried to make was deodorant. About ten years ago, I was on a kick to make more of my own things, and I had read that the aluminum used in anti-perspirants was potentially unhealthy. Plus, there was the money saving factor that came into play with making my own body products. So I thought I would give it a try. But in my attempt to find a homemade deodorant that worked, I failed many, many times. There were numerous times I would dash home in a stinky emergency to reapply whatever failed concoction I had used that morning.
I had become obsessed. I read about and/or tried so many recipes found in books or online in an attempt to find an easy-to-make, inexpensive, kind-to-my-skin deodorant. Some recipes called for ingredients that were just too costly or plain weird. The strangest one I ran across had you soaking grass clippings in vodka to make a homemade chlorophyll infusion...this is one I did not try. The other issue with homemade deodorants is that most rely heavily on baking soda for odor absorption. Many people, myself included, have really negative skin reactions to baking soda. Others sources swore that all you needed was a little witch hazel or a small smear of coconut oil to provide some deodorizing power. I am not quite sure who these folks are, but I needed a little more oomph than that. 
After all of these trials, I thought maybe it wasn't possible to find a homemade deodorant that really worked for me. I thought instead I could find a store bought deodorant that didn't contain aluminum. But again, many of these either did not control the stink factor, included too much of the rash causing baking soda, or were crazy expensive. So I went back to the drawing board. 
Finally a few years ago, I stumbled across multiple deodorant recipes on Wellness Mama's site and noticed her coconut oil based recipe. It used simple ingredients, was inexpensive, and I thought I could play with the amounts of corn starch and baking soda to keep it skin friendly. Her version called for equal parts baking soda and corn starch, but I knew that would be too much for my skin. Instead I cut back the baking soda to half the amount and increased the corn starch. 
I made up a small batch of the deodorant and crossed my fingers. And what do you worked! I did not break out in any skin rashes, I didn't get stinky and I didn't spend a lot of money or time making it. I have worn this deodorant for many years now. And even on the hottest summer days, it has not failed me. So in case you are on a quest to make more of your own products, want to save some money, or are as strangely obsessed with making your own deodorant as I was...I thought I would share this with you.

Coconut Oil Deodorant (based on this recipe)

6 Tablespoons melted coconut oil
2 to 3 Tablespoons baking soda
4 to 5 Tablespoons corn starch -- Essentially you want your combination of baking soda and corn starch to equal 7 Tablespoons
10 to 15 drops essential oils (if you choose)

Stir these ingredients all together in a small jar. Set the jar in the fridge initially to help the deodorant set up. After it sets, I have just kept it in my bathroom. Use a small, pea-size amount under each arm.

That's it. Pretty simple, huh?

Some additional notes about using homemade deodorant.  In other words, let me pass on more that I have learned in my ten plus years of trying to find a suitable deodorant:
  • Some people have zero rash causing issues with baking soda. And when that is the case, they simply put a little poof of baking soda under their arms and away they go.
  • When you move from anti-perspirants to either store bought or homemade deodorants...there is a transition period. I would recommend making this switch during a cooler time of the year (like now)...not the summer. 
  • If you don't feel like making your own deodorant, we did find that Jason's Tea Tree Deodorant worked quite well and did not contain any baking soda. This is the brand that two of the guys in our family use and like.
  • Coconut oil stays solid at temperatures below 72 degrees. So when the temperatures are warmer, this deodorant will not be as solid. You can move it to the fridge for the summer months if you choose. I haven't had it turn to a soupy mess, so I haven't bothered moving it out of our bathroom. 
  • The longer I have used this homemade deodorant, the more baking soda I can add to the recipe. But I still do not feel that I need as much as the original recipe states. The amount I have included here, seems to do the trick. 
Have you ever considered making your own body products? If so, which ones?

Sweater Progress

This last month I have found quite a bit of time for knitting, quilting and reading. Having the boys back in school has freed up some of my time during the week. I move through my household tasks faster and have fewer daytime meals to make, so that leaves a bit more time for me to sit and sew or knit. I did find myself ripping out some rows again from my sweater. I did not read the directions well enough when beginning on the short rows for the shoulder shaping, so it was totally my fault. But I made good progress regardless. I am about four rows shy of finishing the front body and will just have the shoulder shaping on the back of the sweater to do before I start the sleeves. I can't believe how well it is moving along.
Our little kitten Cookie was spayed this month (which is why she has a cone on in the pic above), and it has not slowed down her interest in my yarn stash or knitting needles. Lately when I come home from running errands, we have found balls of yarn unwound throughout the house. She also sits on the back of the couch while I knit and tries to grab or bite my knitting needles. It's cute the first few times, but then gets a tad frustrating. Thankfully kittens are not much different from toddlers....they are easily redirected to something else that will hold their attention so you can get back to doing what you were doing.
When I met up with my friend Heather from Quilts on the Fly for our monthly quilting day, I had decided to bring along a blue and white snowflake quilt I had started a few years back. All of the pieces had been cut and a few blocks were pieced as well. The quilt had originally been destined for my mother-in-law, but I ended up making a different quilt for her. I have decided to finish this quilt and keep it for a winter throw. It's funny to sit at our dining room table, looking out the window at the fall sunshine and imagine that in a couple of months it will be cold enough to really need a warm quilt. I have three more blocks to piece and then I will be able to pull the top together. It should go quickly from there.
I read a few different books this month. The first was a fiction book based on a true event in history my friend had recommended. The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams is a book about, "The stories of two unforgettable women thread together in this extraordinary epic of espionage, sacrifice, human love, and human courage, set against a shocking true crime . . . and the rise and fall of a legendary royal couple." Typically I like historical fiction and books that go back and forth between who is narrating and what time period the story is in, but this one didn't seem to meld all of that together well enough. I did like the twist at the end, but overall it wasn't a huge hit for me.
A book I am currently reading is Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things by Amy Dickinson. Dickinson's book is a memoir recommended to me by Tracy of Garden Cook Eat Repeat. I love to read memoirs. I love how they are a peek into other people's lives, different time periods, and often take a look at what we might consider an ordinary life but preserve it for others to read. From reading some reviews online, I know that this book will take a sad turn when the author discusses the grief experienced when her mother passed away but I am not to that point yet. It may be a timely read for me as the mothers of two of my friends passed away this last month. Maybe reading about someone else's experience with grief and the loss of a parent will help me understand a little more what my friends are experiencing right now, or know how to be the friend they need during this. 
And just for fun, and because I LOVE all things Laura Ingalls Wilder, I am reading The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic Stories by Barbara M. Walker. This is an enjoyable book to flip through. I don't know that I will make any of the recipes from it (I have no current plans to hunt Mallard ducks or starlings), but it is interesting none the less. I love the combination of history, excerpts and illustrations from the Little House books and the recipes. If I make a few, I will be sure to let you know!
Here is where I leave you. How has your fall season treated you? Have you found more time for making things with your hands or reading? I hope you have!

Linking with Ginny's monthly Yarn Along

A Week of Creating

A spider and its web seemed quite fitting for Halloween week! As a Master Gardener, I get to serve my community in a variety of ways. I work in our Answer Clinic on a regular basis answering the public's questions about their plants, plant problems/identification, insects and a whole variety of other questions. I also get to lead workshops and trainings, and I have helped with some of our school gardens. Every once in a while, I get a creative project handed down to me for use in the program. Recently I was asked to create a hands-on activity revolving around spiders for a group of Master Gardeners to use at a local kids event. I like these types of projects because they stretch me creatively. 
After a couple weeks of thinking this through....what appeals to a variety of ages, what kind of activity can be done in less than a minute, what do kids really want to know about spiders....I came up with the games "Feed Me Lunch (please)" and "Build a Spider". Yours truly constructed the spider seen above as well as a framed web. The web above on my kitchen entry was my practice for the game. 
For the "Feed Me Lunch" game, kids threw cotton ball 'insects' at a framed web I built out of string and double sided tape. For such a simple game, the kids were able to learn a ton about how a spider builds its web out of different types of silk and how it senses its prey. The "Build a Spider" game was a simple game of rolling a dice to earn felt pieces of a spider's body parts. The kids would put the pieces together to create a spider and learn about all of the different body parts in the process. The event went over really well, and I am told that the volunteers and kids in attendance had a lot of fun with the spider activities.
While I was working on this project, I learned so much about spiders. They are fascinating creatures! So fascinating that I thought you might like to learn a little about them as well...
  • There are over 40,000 species of spiders in the world, but only 30 are poisonous to humans.
  • Of these 40,000 species of spiders, only one species is vegetarian (and it is found in Central America)
  • Even though most spiders have eight eyes, web weaving spiders in particular have pretty poor eyesight. Instead of relying on their eyesight, they use the hairs on their legs to sense movement on their webs. 
  • A web weaver needs to rebuild or repair its web at the end of each day.
  • Spiders can smell and taste using their legs.
  • Spiders use fluid pressure to extend their legs and muscles to flex their legs.
  • Baby spiders (spiderlings) have the ability to produce silk and know how to spin a web from the time they hatch.
  • Spider silk is stronger than steel, tougher than Kevlar and almost as stretchy as rubber.
Maybe I am boring you with spider talk? Sometimes I can geek out about this stuff. If you want to read more about web weaving spiders (not all spiders weave webs), I found this great article: The Wonders of Webs. And another fantastic read was about spider myths found here.

Making a spider and its web is not all I was at work at this week. I also pulled out a quilt project I had begun a few years ago and got to work on it again. I am not really sure why I set it aside in the first place. All of the pieces are cut and ready to be sewn up into blocks, so it is not a very difficult project. I think because it does not have a set deadline, I am slow in finishing it. I have let other projects step in front of this one because they needed to be completed by a certain time or for a particular person/reason. I am hoping to keep picking away at this and finish it up this year. I love the blues and whites...reminds me of winter. I think a cozy blue flannel would be the perfect backing fabric for this quilt. 

How about you? Have you had any fun projects that you have worked on this week? Maybe something that stretched you creatively? 

Building New Friendships

At the beginning of this year, I joined a gym near our home. I started a membership there for all of the usual reasons...I wanted to lose weight, be more fit and gain overall strength. And all of that has happened, but I have gained friendships as well. But not with the 'typical' people I would have guessed when the year started out. It's possible that the average age of members at my gym is older than me or that the time of day I go in to workout is not when women my age typically work out, but whatever the reason, I found myself working out each day with women who are quite a bit older than myself. They would often joke that I could be one of their kids, or grand kids even. They would encourage me by saying that they wished they had taken the time when they were younger to get in shape instead of waiting until they were retired. They would joke that having a younger person to workout with inspired them to keep going. I, in turn, told them that they were each an inspiration to me to continue to exercise for as long as I am able.

One of the women I workout with regularly just celebrated her 85th birthday. We have become very good friends over the last year. We found ourselves swapping recipes or sharing about current quilting projects while working out. We discovered that we both had a shared love of gardening and reading as well. These common interests led to us getting together over the summer for coffee, scones, book swaps and garden tours. She is a little more than twice my age, and I joke with her that I want to be her when I grow up. The other ladies at the gym say that she and I are like twins, or that I am a younger version of her. I consider that one of the best compliments.

A few times now some of us have gathered together at a local coffee shop or around a kitchen table to celebrate someone's birthday or recovery from recent surgery. It is at these gatherings that I get to hear their stories. Tales of growing up on farms or in cities, the adventures they have had parenting, and stories of marriages that have been amazing or rocky. Sometimes the stories at the surface seem so foreign to me like being taken to the bus stop in a covered wagon because a family was too poor to own a car. Or the woman growing up in Minnesota whose mother made her wear wool pants under her dresses in the winter (which were promptly removed when she arrived at school for fear of being considered unfashionable...don't tell her mom!). Or parenting a rebellious teen who decided to leave home and hitchhike across the country.
I haven't experienced any of these things. And, yet I have. Most of us have in some way or another, haven't we? I quite literally may have only seen a covered wagon in a museum, but I know what it's like to not have money. Most of us have had seasons in life when money is stretched so thin we can't afford what we might consider a basic necessity. I didn't have to wear awkward winter layers under a required-to-wear-dress, but I know what it's like to want to fit in socially and attempt to be fashionable. Being in the thick of the teen years, I know what it's like to worry that your kids might rebel and throw off all that you have hoped for them. When it comes down to it, the difference in generations between myself and these women don't really matter. We still share many of the same experiences throughout our lives.

So a year that began with a goal to gain more physical health has also resulted in gaining new friendships. And not in friendships I would have pegged at the beginning. To be honest with you, I can't say that I would have sought out relationships with women who are twenty, thirty or forty years older than me. I would have thought that we didn't have much in common. But the truth is that I was wrong, and I am glad to be wrong. These friendships have shown me that all women, regardless of age, have much in common. Women of all ages can come together to share, mentor and encourage one another. I have also learned that it is worthwhile to others to share your stories. Whether those stories are needed to make someone laugh, to provide advice, or to help someone see that they are not alone...your stories need to be and should be shared.
I encourage you to strike up a conversation with someone new. Particularly someone who you think you might not have much in common with. You might surprise each other and find the beginnings of a new friendship. And share your stories with others. Do not think that they don't want to hear about the time you and your brother got in trouble for giving the chickens a bath in the cow trough, or the first time you fumbled trying to flirt with a boy and ended up utterly embarrassed. Others truly do want to share in those stories with you.
Have a wonderful week!

Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

Over the years, I have begun to make or bake many of my own things for our family. I bake our bread for sandwiches, make yogurt, soap, jams, pickles, household cleaners etc. Some of these I make because it's less expensive than buying it from the store, or because it tastes/works better, or just because I enjoy the process. Making my own vanilla extract fits just about all of these categories. 

For the last few years, I have made a big batch of vanilla extract at the end of each summer so that it will be ready in time for the Christmas baking season. One year, I made a doubly big batch so that we would have some to give as gifts at Christmas. Giving someone homemade vanilla along with your favorite recipe to use the vanilla is a perfect gift. And, it's so easy to make!

You can purchase vanilla beans from many online retailers, and that is how I recommend you find your vanilla beans. Many grocery stores sell them, but they are quite expensive if you go this route. I bought a package of ten, grade B Madagascar vanilla beans from Amazon for about $23. This is enough to make 16 ounces of vanilla extract. The price of vanilla beans fluctuates, but most run about this price.
You will also need some vodka for the extract. I don't spend a lot of money on this purchase. If you plan on drinking the leftover vodka after you pour what you need for your vanilla, you may want to splurge for a nicer brand. The cost for 16 ounces of the vodka I purchased was $6.50. It may seem that these two ingredients make this project quite expensive, but the reality is you are saving money. For this batch of vanilla extract (16 ounces total), I spent $29.50. A 4 ounce jar of pure vanilla extract at my local grocery store is $16.89. Can you see the difference? If I had bought the equivalent 16 ounces from the grocery store, I would have spent $67.56! 

So how do you make this lovely concoction for your own use or for gifts? It's simple. Cut your vanilla beans into one inch pieces. You will use five vanilla beans for every 8 ounces of vodka. I split my ten vanilla beans between two 8 ounce jars. Place the beans in the bottom of the jar, pour in 8 ounces of vodka, and put a lid on it. You're done with the hands on part. Now just shake the jar every couple of days (or, if you're like me, whenever you remember to do it) and wait 8 weeks. Once the beans have soaked in the vodka for at least 8 weeks, it is finished. Various websites say you can use a little less or a little more vanilla beans with the 8 ounces of vodka, and I have found that 5 is just right. Fewer than that and the vanilla extract is too week, more than that and the cost per ounce goes up.

If you plan on  making this as a gift, you may want to pour your finished vanilla into smaller jars. You have about ten weeks until Christmas, so just enough time to order some vanilla beans and make this simple gift! And if you need a recipe to use some of the vanilla you make, I suggest my Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe!

Happy Baking!

Purge Saturday

For years whenever my husband would come home from helping some friends move, he would scramble around our house working to get rid of stuff. After having spent a morning of moving boxes marked 'miscellaneous', he would want to make sure our home would only be filled with items of function or meaning. In his ideal world, we would live in a hotel room. He loves the clutter free, calm environment of a hotel. While I am not signing up to live in a hotel room, I do prefer a clutter free house myself. Yet another reason he and I work so well together :)

Just the act of everyday living seems to create clutter though. Add kids or pets to the mix, and you get more clutter. Our family of four (plus pets) does not live in a large home. We live in an average 3 bedroom, 2 bath, single story home. As I am sure is typical for most homes, ours can sometimes be a magnet for excess or unused items.
A few years ago, in an attempt to gain control of the excess that kept accumulating in our home, we came up with Purge Saturday. Purge Saturday happens on the first Saturday of each month in our home. Ten Saturdays out of twelve, it takes all of 20 minutes with the four of us pitching in. Most of our Purge Saturdays consist of us identifying one area for each of us to cull. It might be that one of our boys goes through the game closet while the other looks through their bookshelves. Or maybe they each go through their clothes. Each of the boys is asked to look through the items and determine if they are still being used and enjoyed or if they are no longer interested in a particular game/book/craft/toy/clothing item/etc. While they are doing that, my husband and I will be tackling another area. It might be our own closets, kitchen cabinets, or a shelf in the garage. The point is that it does not take all day. Some months we remove many items from our home and others it may just be a handful of items. Everything that is pulled from the house is placed in a tote in the garage. And then every couple of months, I load up the items and donate them to a local thrift shop. 

A couple of times a year, we pick a larger project for Purge Saturday. This often requires setting aside a few hours to accomplish. In the summer, we will pull everything out of the garden shed and go through it all, throwing out what is no longer needed, donating others and then reorganizing what is left. We will do this type of purging for the garage or the attic at other times of the year. 
Keeping up the consistency of a monthly Purge Saturday has helped our family keep the clutter at bay in our home. It's been a good practice to walk through our home and regularly ask ourselves if something is still useful or appreciated. Yes, sometimes our teens roll their eyes when we tell them it's "Purge Saturday!" over a stack of pancakes at breakfast, but they are good sports about it and have begun to pick up the habit on their own. I have found our younger son going through his clothes on a regular basis now working to remove items he no longer likes to wear or that have become too small. This small practice, over time, has helped us all to keep our home filled with things that we know we are using, are in good working order, and that we enjoy having in our home. An added bonus is that it takes us less time to take care of our home because there is less stuff in it to take care of!
I encourage you to give Purge Saturday a try! Decluttering an entire home can be an overwhelming task. But planning a day on the calendar, setting a timer for a short period, and getting everyone involved makes a huge difference. After a few months, when you have worked through many of the rooms or closets of your home, going back through them will be even easier.

Sloooow Knitting and Reading

I hit a lull in the last two months where it was taking me forever to read any books or to make any progress on this sweater. The books I read in the months of August and September were quite good...they just took me awhile to work through them. It is strange how some seasons I can zip through a book and others I cannot. 
One of the books I read, Firefly Lane, got to a point in the story that I knew was going to be horribly sad so I set the book down for at least three weeks before picking it back up again. I only had 30 pages left, but I could not bring myself to finish it. I finally grabbed a box of kleenex and finished the book. It was a good story, but I typically do not like books that end sadly. There's enough sadness in real life, that it is hard for me to read fiction that is sad as well. Does that make sense? 
Another great but slow for me read was the first book in The Crusades Trilogy by Jan Guillou. This was a fantastic book, and I plan on reading the other two in the trilogy. It takes place in Sweden in the 1150s...not a time period I would choose to live in! This first book follows a very young boy from his family home, to his education in a monastery back to his family home as a young adult. Why he lands at the monastery and the type of training he receives (from scholarly training to sword and archery skills) is not very typical, which causes complications when he comes back home. I am interested in seeing what the next book holds for this character.
Currently I am reading Jane Kirkpatrick's latest book, One More River to Cross. I am only a third of the way through the book, but I can tell you already that I will love it. I can say this, because I have yet to read a book of Kirkpatrick's that I didn't love. This particular novel follows a real world story of a wagon train that crosses through the Sierra-Nevada mountains in 1844, two years before the Donner Party's crossing. As is usual for me and her books, I am already sucked into the characters! 

We traveled quite a bit through the month of August, so I didn't knit as much as I would have liked. I didn't want to bring my sweater project camping, so I worked on smaller projects like some new crocheted dishcloths. I did pick the project back up in September and added more rows. I am finally finished (as of last night!) with the body of the sweater and am ready to split the front from the back to begin the sleeves. It's exciting to see the project grow little by little.
I was slowed down this month by a kitten who decided to chew my yarn in half and a pup who always wanted to sit on my lap whenever I sat down though! We had my sister's dog Auggie (isn't he a cutie?!) staying with us for a couple weeks in September while she and her new husband honeymooned in France. Auggie is a frequent visitor in our home, and we always love having him here. He just went back home this week, so I am back to knitting with a free lap.

One last project I have worked on this month is a little baby quilt for some friends who just adopted a newborn baby boy. I pulled a stack of blues and greens from my stash and settled on a scrappy patchwork quilt. I decided to add in the melon orange fabrics for a pop of color, and I am really happy with how the quilt top tuned out! I love scrappy quilts. It's fun to pull the squares as I build the rows and remember the different quilts that I have also used those fabrics in. Some of these fabrics were leftovers from my nephew's quilts, my boys' quilts and other baby quilts. Sewing together a quilt for a little one is a great experience. It's a good time to think about the parents and the adventure they are beginning on and to pray for the new baby who will be wrapped up in all of these patchwork squares.
I had thought I would have had time to quilt it last weekend, but that was not the case..maybe this weekend? Either way. It will be finished soon!

Linking up with Ginny's monthly Yarn Along.