Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Wild and Free: My Rambling Introduction to a New Study Group

Dear friends,

On a Sunday morning over a week ago, I sang in the hymns and worship choruses in church and felt uplifted and refreshed in my spirit. An hour later, I stood in my kitchen trembling with PTSD. I had only been looking for something healthy to eat when a cluster of memories whispered to me, suddenly triggering sadness for the past and fear of the future.

My first impulsive thought was to find a box of donuts and eat every one of them. But I didn't. I had no donuts. I didn't even have any chocolate. And anyway, I knew that sugar would be an ineffective escape from anxiety. Instead, I needed a way to fully face and then safely process my feelings. So first I ate a little chicken salad on whole wheat and tried to breathe. I managed to pull myself together a little for the moment.

Driving my son to his friend's house a little later, the overwhelming feelings welled up again into quiet tears. My son turned to me with a questioning look, laid a warm hand on my arm, and offered words of comfort before we arrived. 

Alone again in my van, I sobbed. I could not go home just yet. Mama needed some time to herself to clear her head. Mama had a Barnes & Noble coupon. Mama was going to the bookstore.


I'm flying to Switzerland and France with one of my adult daughters soon (she's a grad student presenting a paper at a mental health conference), so my first stop in Barnes & Noble was the travel section. I already had tourist guide books, but I picked out a tiny French phrase book to help me on my adventures. The very thought of our upcoming trip brought joy to my heart.

Then I wandered around the Christian inspiration section and browsed through several books. Maybe one could help me focus my thoughts and soothe my soul. This one here looked interesting, right where I was at in life. I could have bought it then, but didn't. I wanted to keep looking. At least I snapped a picture of it on the floor for future reference. (You can click on the title below to see my affiliate link at Christian Book Distributors.)

Wild and Free: A Hope-Filled Anthem for the Woman Who Feels She Is Both Too Much and Not Enough by Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan

Next I went to the bargain section and found another cheaper book to buy on the same general topic as Wild and Free. Reading that one later at home, I wasn't impressed. I knew I should have spent the extra money and bought Wild and Free instead. More on this later! Stick with me to the end here, OK?

My final stop in the bookstore was the huge magazine section that had hundreds of different titles. I decided to try a little personality experiment. I walked around and took note of what appealed to me. Sports? No way. Cars? Guns? Fishing? Nope. Fashion? Celebrities? Nah. Gourmet cooking? Not so much. These just aren't me. 

Who am I?

I am a Christian. A mother of 10. A nurturer. A reflective thinker. A blogger. A poet. A longtime home school mom. An artist. A nature photographer. A beauty lover. A home creator. A penny pincher. A peacemaker. An advocate/activist for women's and children's justice issues. An adventurous soul. A wanna be world traveler. Don't box me in. I'm WILD AND FREE. That's all part of how God wired me. 

So what magazines there reflected these facets of who I am? These are a few of the dozen I actually picked up to look through.

Artful Blogging: I blog. I love art. I try to make my online space attractive with pretty photos. Yet words and ideas are the main focus of my blogs. I put it back, along with another one on blogging as a business. Maybe in the future. Not now.

Home: Why yes, I love my home. You probably know from reading this blog that I'm always puttering around trying to make my house prettier and more practical. Yet this magazine was full of complicated projects that didn't interest me and that I would never get around to doing. I put it back too, along with some other homey magazines. 

Womankind: Hmmm. I love being a woman. I want to see women empowered for life in the real world. This one had an intellectual flavor and featured women around the globe. I figured it could be very enlightening for me to broaden my perspective. I nearly bought it. I looked at the price tag. I put it back. 

Hey, most of these magazines are pretty expensive. For $10-$20, I'd usually just buy a book instead. 

I did buy this one magazine - life:beautiful. I've read a few issues of it before. It's Christian. It's pretty. It's got a variety of articles on inspiration, health, recipes, home decorating, crafts, and community service ideas. And it's only $5. I brought it home and enjoyed it. I'll pass it along to a friend when I'm done with it. Let's spread the joy, eh?

After over an hour at the bookstore nourishing and tending my soul, I had settled back into peacefulness and hope, unshackled from my sadness and fear. My mind was stimulated to think of bolder solutions. I could breathe and think and embrace my life again.

But this story isn't over. It isn't just about me. 

It's about all of us women.

It's about being WILD AND FREE.

I mentioned the book to my oldest daughter, a busy working mother of four. She decided to order it for my birthday. It arrived last night, and I snatched it from the mailbox just as I was leaving to take a teen to a sports physical. I flipped through it in the doctor's office and read several pages that night at home. Yep, right up my alley. I could really use this book in this season of my weird life.

On a whim, I posted a photo and synopsis of it on Facebook. 

On a whim, a local friend suggested getting some ladies together at her house for a study group on it. 

Then another friend across the country wanted in on the fun, so on another whim, I mentioned the possibility of an online study in a private Facebook group. A friend who had moved to Japan then quickly jumped on board.

A day later, we now have eight members of the group with more still considering the opportunity. We're in the "getting to know you" stage now, and we'll start our actual study on September 24 when everyone has their book.

These are precious Christian women who, like me, have often been made to feel like they are both too much and not enough. Most of them don't know each other at all. We're each in unique circumstances, but each of us has perspective, comfort, and good cheer to offer to one another. We want to be set free from unrealistic expectations and legalistic assumptions that Christian women so often face. We want to move beyond the hurtful memories and hindering habits that hold us back. We want to venture into the vast wildness of our faith, to be bold enough to step forth into all that God has for us as his liberated and empowered daughters. 

This isn't about me. It's not even about us as a group. It's about being all that God has called us to be so we can reach out with healed hearts and healing hands to a world that is hurting like never before. Blessed to be a blessing.

I can't wait!

~~~ Virginia

P.S. We still have room for a few more women to join our group. If you are interested, message me on Facebook

Related posts:

Saturday, September 3, 2016

What's Working in My Kitchen

Do you get frustrated in the kitchen? I sure do! I hope this post gives you some ideas and resources to make your time in the kitchen a little more pleasant and productive. I'd like to share some items that I've been using (which I am not selling and in no way profit from sharing) and strategies that are keeping me a bit more sane.

That's my youngest daughter up there, happily helping out in the kitchen. I'm glad somebody does this without being asked! She's home schooled, so she has a bit more time than the other four kids who live at home. My teens are so busy with high school and middle school that they tend to ignore the mess and wait for someone else to clean it up. I had them taking turns unloading the dishes and taking out trash, but here is what's working so much better. I have to pick one or two teens up after ROTC competition team activities each weekday afternoon. In exchange for the ride, the deal is they have to do a kitchen chore right away when we get home. While they don't always get it done (sometimes they walk straight to bed and crash) they are doing chores more promptly and cheerfully. I have the same deal if they miss the bus and need an early morning ride. Works for me!

This same youngest daughter loves to cook, and we work well together in the kitchen. She often makes me breakfast, lunch, or snacks just to be nice. Every time we're in a store with a home goods section, she wants to check if they have Kitchenaid mixers. She's obsessed with them, even though it's not likely I'll ever buy one!

Even though I'm not in the market for a Kitchenaid, I try to keep my eye out for products that will make it more effective and efficient to work in my kitchen. After she ogled the mixers at Sam's, we saw this.

But instead I decided to buy this. I stocked it with disposable dishes, napkins, bottled water and tea, powdered drink packets, popcorn packets, and other things I like handy. More paper plates and cups means less dishes!

I thought of buying a matching dark paper towel holder but decided to be content with this one we've had for a while. I found the paper towels at Walmart and stocked up. BLISS is the name of our home school so I snapped up a bunch.

I like little things, too. These bag lock clips from Publix (less than $2 per package) are a perfect alternative to frustrating twist ties on bread bags.

My bread is in a large white wire basket on the counter, just behind the bin that holds reusable water bottles and smoothie mixing cups. I can also slip the bread bag locks onto the wire basket when they aren't in use.

This counter was completely different just a week or so ago. I moved the little shelf from the counter where I put that big three tier rack thingy.

I had a four slice toaster but it took a lot of room. There are less kids at home making toast now, so I figured the smaller one at the left would be fine. 

I also had a much larger electric skillet which I used nearly every day since some of the burners on our old stove don't work. Unfortunately, the glass lid suddenly shattered with a loud pop when I was making bacon. Boo for lost bacon! Since the skillet also took a lot of room, I decided to buy this smaller one, which cost half as much. (The brand is Bella. It was $20 at Walmart.) Ironically, I later found an extra lid for the big one when I was cleaning our storage room. So now we have both. I keep the big one in a cupboard now. The new one slides nicely under this wood shelf.

This area is now also our smoothie making center. The small blender can puree frozen fruit for the kids. I don't have a large blender anymore. I have bought several in the past few years but the blender jar has always broken. It either falls out of a full sink, gets crushed in a full sink, or gets knocked off of a full counter. So there's that. No more. They have to make do with that little blender with the plastic cup.

I found the three plastic storage canisters at Dollar General for about $3 each. The key is that you don't take the lids off to get food out since they flip open. One of my big frustrations is kids getting out food containers, losing the lid, and putting it away wide open. Ick. As it is, I have to save extra peanut butter lids and milk jug caps for when we lose the current ones. Anyway, I love love love these canisters. One has stevia sweetener, another has chocolate protein drink powder, and the other has peanut butter powder. The pink cup/lid below is about $6 at Walmart. I can use it to shake up my protein powder with almond milk and/or regular milk without using a blender.

I actually like these blue cups better. I bought two of these at Publix for about $2.50 each. They are smaller, which is a better serving size for me, and they fit in the dishwasher better. This is also a great size for tucking in a purse for traveling, so I've already packed one away for a trip I'm taking next month. I don't want to risk it getting lost before then.

What I love about both kinds of cups is that they are so easy to clean. No place for yuck to hide in the cup or the lid!

Contrast this to a squirt style bottle lid I just threw away today. EWWW!

I bought this one a while back but have never ever used it. It has a juicing section to make fruit infused water. I thought it was cool but I just haven't been motivated to try it. And it gets in the way. It's going in my giveaway pile along with a bunch of other kitchen clutter that wasn't "sparking joy" in my soul. I guess you could say this is one thing that's not working in my kitchen. Oh well.

We've been using Anchor Hocking glass bowls with lids for months. I bought three sets which each have four different sizes of bowls. Then I threw out most of my plastic Rubbermaid storage containers. The glass bowls can go in the refrigerator, microwave, and oven, which means I use less dishes with leftovers since I can take it right out of the fridge and heat it up. I can also see what's in them, so I'm more likely to use leftovers before they go bad. These are definitely keepers in my kitchen!

I bought this wood spice shelf with steps at Walmart to replace a lazy Susan carousel.

Last week, I bought several mini green kitchen accessories. The grater is only a few inches high, perfect for shredding just a little cheese for a single serving without dirtying up a big grater. (We don't actually grate cheese often. I buy shredded cheese in bags.) The measuring spoon is adjustable. One spoon, many sizes!

Look at these little rubber tipped tongs compared to the big ones! They take a lot less room, which is good because I often keep them on the shelf by the toaster for getting toast out without burning fingers.

I've had this big red food chopper tool for months. You can use it to break up ground meat while it's cooking, as well as mash up soft fruits and veggies into small pieces. But compare the thickness of the blades with the little green one I just got at Bed Bath and Beyond. The smaller one does a better job because the blades have more of a thin chisel edge. And it takes less room in my utensil jar.

I also got green spatulas and a small rubberized whisk to match! Cute, yes?

My kitchen is dark green with a butterfly theme. This is what I had on the back of the stove last week.

But now it's almost autumn! While I'm not switching over the decor for the entire kitchen, I am adding in a few touches for the season.

This is my new stove decor. The little pumpkin is a salt shaker from Cracker Barrel. The pilgrim figurines are flat on the back, so they stand nicely against the stove back splash.

I brought out the autumn hot pads and dish towels, too. They go in a basket on the microwave.

Since we don't usually use the right hand stove burners, I put this rack here for drying dishes. We can move it as necessary.

Parchment paper on cookie sheets saves washing time and prolongs the life of the pans.

Another basket on the microwave holds scissors, kitchen shears, tape, a dry erase marker, sticky notepad, and other things I might need to open, fasten, or label food packages.   

My kids like to eat baked potatoes for snacks but they always go rotten if we leave them in the cupboard. I tucked a big bowl of raw potatoes in between the microwave and sink so they're easy to wash and bake, without getting in the way on my other counters.

This basket holds measuring cups for baking, as well as our vintage crank hand mixer.

While I was editing the photo above, I realized there was a dirty item in the bin that isn't even a baking cup. So I went through the basket and sorted out what didn't belong.

This is one of the items I found misplaced in the baking cup bin. It's a small crinkle cut chopper that I bought recently. I haven't even used it yet!

One of the biggest hassles in my kitchen is the sink. My kids tend to pile the dishes on top - that is, if they even make it that far. I regularly have to round up dishes from other rooms, checking in the couch cushions for silverware, under beds for cups... Either way, look at the crime scene I found this afternoon! Yuck! How can I even get to the faucet to wash my hands or rinse off a dish?

I dutifully set out to rinse and stack the dishes in preparation for loading the dishwasher. But...

While rinsing, I discovered that my sink drain was clogged. Neither side would drain. If I ran the disposal, the water from the left side would back up into the right side along with a bunch of drain crud. Then the right side water level would go back down, but only because it was draining back into the left side again. Blech! I took all of the dishes out and stacked them on the stove. Then I bailed out the dirty water with a big cup into my utility bucket that I use when I do tie dye. 

Then I reached for a bottle of Drano Max Gel. I used the whole thing as recommended for the worst clogs. I took about a half hour for the clog to clear. Next I had to scrub down the sink to get rid of all of the stinky dishwater residue.

Then I finished rinsing and loading the dishes. Ah!

Another problem we have is that the sponges and dish brushes get buried in the sink because the kids don't put them back where they belong. I just bought a new clean set of green brushes for dishes and popped them into a pretty canister. The detergent, dish soap and hand soap have their own plastic tray. The sponges have a little dish.

I don't want the dish brushes and sponges to get mixed up with the sink cleaning brushes because the latter get quite germy. So I bought blue brushes for cleaning and put them in a well labeled plastic flower pot on the opposite side of the sink, along with disinfectant cleaning wipes and powdered scrub cleaner. Now if everyone can just remember which to use!

Coming down the home stretch here. Long blog post, eh?

I was presenting a Homeschool Hangout morning retreat for a bunch of ladies with two friends recently. Jennifer's session was on homemaking. After some introductory inspiration, she asked each of us to share the one chore that gives us most trouble, and she would tell us her best tips for that area. 

My trouble spot? I have a hard time getting motivated to make dinner every night for a few reasons. It's hard to work in the kitchen when it's messy. My kids are busy and it's a challenge to get all of us to the table at the same time. I do a lot of chauffeuring near dinner time, and I'm usually tired at the end of the day. I could never find the ingredients I needed. And isn't it easier to pick up a rotisserie chicken or frozen convenience foods at Sam's Club, a pizza at 7-Eleven, or a bag of Wendy's burgers? (True confession time!)

As I was thinking about this later, I realized I just need to make my kitchen work for me no matter what it takes and no matter who is helping me. If I personally clean and tidy the kitchen every day, they are more likely to keep it that way. It's too easy to dump more mess on top of an existing mess, especially if you can't even get to the sink faucet because it's so piled with dishes. Am I right? That's why I've been looking for all of these ways that I've shared to make kitchen life easier.

The evening after the morning meeting, I was finally ready to tackle my two freezers with newfound enthusiasm and determination. I have a big freezer drawer at the bottom of my kitchen refrigerator. (Which, by the way, I hate. I much prefer a regular freezer door at the top of the fridge. The drawer is a pain in the butt. Understatement, there.) I also have a chest freezer in our storage room. Everything was all mixed up in both of them. I took some time to think it through before I did anything. After I formulated my strategy, I took everything out of both freezers, and cleaned them out. I found a lot of unrecognizable food to throw away. This process also meant de-icing the chest freezer. My 13 year old son saw me leaning into the freezer to do this, and grabbed the spatula from me to finish the job himself. Kudos to him! There is hope in the universe!

I determined that the kitchen freezer should be for food the kids need to grab for a quick meal or a snack. In the left bin, I stashed lunch items like burritos, pocket sandwiches, microwave dinners, pierogies, single serve chow mein noodle & veggie packets, etc. In the right bin, I put breakfast foods like sausage links, waffles, and bags of fruit for smoothies. Weeks later, this freezer is still organized!

The storage room freezer is all mine! This is the dinner prep freezer. This is where I stash frozen vegetables, skillet dinner kits, raw meat, and meat that I've cooked and divvied up into gallon size bags for quick prep later. Yes, this freezer is also still nicely organized with very little effort weeks after I cleaned it out. I'm delighted! I can find what I want! And I'm making dinner more often!

Just two more pictures, and these are actually not in the kitchen. Instead, they are of things that used to be in the kitchen but were taking too much room.

Since our cupboards are full of other food, I used to store plastic cereal containers on top of the refrigerator. However, my youngest daughter couldn't reach them and she's the most frequent cereal eater. So I set up a cereal bar on a shelf in the dining room right next to the kitchen counter. I also put the kid vitamins there and the extra protein drink powder there.

The china cabinet, which I bought at a thrift store last year, holds all of our company dishes down below. This is the hutch on top. I just put my apple basket decor up for the autumn season. Isn't it lovely? This is also where all of my cookbooks go since there is no room in the kitchen. I always wished there was space above my kitchen cabinets for baskets and plants because they look so pretty there in other kitchens I've seen. My kitchen cabinets go to the ceiling, but now at least I have one place to get the same effect!

That's it for my kitchen (and dining room) this time, but here are some related posts with more ideas and information!

What's working in YOUR kitchen? Do tell!

God bless!
Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Big Makeover for My Blue Haven

If you've been reading this blog a while, you may know that "My Blue Haven" is my affectionate name for my bedroom, which I'm trying to make into a  restful and inspiring place to sleep, think, talk, read, write, and create. It is mainly decorated in robin's egg, aqua, turquoise, and teal shades of blue.

This summer, My Blue Haven got a big makeover! I didn't replace the carpet or repaint, but I do have several ideas here for making a bedroom practical and pretty while being creative and resourceful.

It started with a bed bug invasion in a child's room, which soon spread to the rest of the house, including my very own bed. Itchy itchy bites! We called an exterminator who came out four times to spray. We also decluttered most of the rooms and washed loads upon loads of laundry in hot water. I think all the bugs are gone now.

In the process, I realized that the old queen size bed was probably harboring lots of bugs in the wooden grid below the platform frame. The frame was over 30 years old, clunky, and too long for a standard queen mattress since it used to be a water bed frame. The 20 year old mattress was completely shot with lumps and holes galore. I disassembled the whole thing and had my teen sons drag it outside the house for the trash folks to haul away. I had to sand and spackle the wall where the frame had badly gouged it. I still need to touch up the paint, but it's good enough for now.

Then I bought a universal bed frame at Sam's Club for less than $40, a beautiful Ethan Allen headboard at a thrift store for $60, and a queen size pillow top mattress and box springs set on clearance at a furniture store for about $250. I quickly put it all together in a new spot in the room. 

Then I decided I needed new bedding for it. I found a gorgeous teal blue quilt with matching pillow cases at Ross for less than $50. I chose king size instead of queen size because I wanted it to drape down the sides and cover the box springs so I could avoid buying a dust ruffle. As it turns out, I turned it sideways, and it covers the foot end of the bed, too. Yay!

I did have one problem with the bed. Since I sit on the edge of it so frequently (and my kids plop on it), it seemed like the top layer was getting squished down and tilted to the side. When I climbed in at night, I felt like I was about to roll out of bed just a little bit. I tried rotating the mattress, and I checked the bed frame to make sure it was level, but none of that helped. After a few weeks, I added two layers of 1" thick 10" wide foam sheets under the mattress along the edge where I get out of bed. After I took this photo, I tucked them in under the fitted sheets.

I also bought a really soft fluffy blanket for underneath the quilt. There are two standard size pillows under the quilt for sleeping, and the big king size one with the teal pillow case goes on top as decoration after I make the bed.

The place where I put the bed this time has wall space above it. I looked for coordinating artwork in a bunch of stores and couldn't find what I wanted, so I decided to paint my own. It's inspired by cathedral rose windows and you can read more about its creation here: Sanctuary: The Story of My New Blue Painting.


You may remember that I bought this blue IKEA cart for our school room, but then decided to use it by my desk in the bedroom. Well, now it's my bedside "table" since what I had before won't fit in this spot. I love that it has multiple levels to store my lamp and medicines and tissues (top bin), CPAP machine (middle bin), and miscellaneous supplies (bottom bin).

I was diagnosed with diabetes this past spring and take metformin orally twice a day. Though my doctor didn't tell me I needed to test my blood sugars yet, I decided last week to get a glucose monitor anyway and keep track of the levels occasionally. I bought an opaque blue mason jar with a straw hole in the lid. I drop my used lancets and test strips into it so I can dispose of them hygienically later on rather than dumping them in the regular trash with blood on them. I store the jar on my bedside cart, where I also keep my glucose monitor.

I took down the net layer of my curtains, and left up just the muslin under layer. It has a more subtle look.

I found the light blue and white basket at a yard sale for $1. It sits on the file cabinet next to my desk along with my magnifying mirror and my tweezer jar. (When I moved the cart, I replaced it with a file cabinet from the closet. The cabinet now holds my tools and sewing kit. I put a decorative blue medallion dish towel on top.)

I found these closet organizers on clearance at Ross for about $5 each.

After our bed bug crisis, I took my four younger kids on a 15 day road trip to visit family in Maryland and New Jersey.

I brought home a whole box more of my late mother's pretty things. The newest additions to my bookshelf on my desk are the little vase and jar that are near the left side of this picture.

The calming glitter jar sits on my desk. I made it last week, and I love to turn it over and see the colored glitter swirl around. You can read more about that here: Calming Glitter Jar

While on our trip, I bought a lovely blue sun hat at the Jersey shore. It is now perched on the top shelf of my desk.

I rearranged this bookcase with other treasures!

On top, I put a sign that I bought for half price at Cracker Barrel on our way home from Maryland.

The stained glass piece on the right was made by my mother.

This platter that I painted used to sit on my bedside table, but there's no room for it on my cart, so I moved it to the shelf. The crystal pieces were my mother's. I brought them home with me when we were visiting my dad.

I bought the tea cup on the right at an antique store at Savage Mill in Maryland.

I already had a hymnal collection, but found a few more, along with a Book of Common Prayer, in a box in the basement in Maryland. I brought them home.

This one belonged to my great-grandmother Olive (Mrs. C.B.) Ransom.

And finally, I bought new pull thingies for my ceiling fan and light at Cracker Barrel on clearance. I love the encouragement that I see every time I turn them on or off!

You can read the other Blue Haven posts here!