F is for Frozen Moments

It is the first week of December and we just had our first official hard frost here where we live in Washington state. What happens to some veggies when they freeze? Well they turn to mush when they unthaw. Check out my frozen lettuce.

It is actually beautiful frozen, it looks nearly perfect. Bring it inside and watch it unthaw and it remained crisp and still edible. I got to it just in time–I was very surprised! Most vegetables hit with a frost don’t fair so well.

Consider what you perceive if you look at a “frozen” snapshot of people’s lives. It may appear perfect; beautiful even. For example, there was a family that used to sit in front of us at church. My kids could hardly sit still for one minute, and those parent’s kids sat perfectly still. I used to think, “If only my kid’s could be so nearly perfect in behavior and appearance!”

What I know now is that this scene was only a frozen snapshot of their family. Over time I have come to recognize that this family has had set backs, challenges and battles just as we have–just as every person and family does. Frozen snapshots of people’s lives are beautiful, but so often not the whole picture.

Before I became sick, too often I sought for us to be a picture perfect family. Over time and with experience, I know that seeking these comparisons does not bring happiness and that such a life is not even obtainable because as human’s we are simply imperfect. I believe that our imperfections are beautiful and are what brings us to seek Christ, who is perfect.

From the Bible we read in Luke 12

9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

Sunday night, our 11-year-old daughter Keepsake Collector gave our family night lesson and as she concluded she said, “Christ needs to be at the center of our Christmas.” I did not help her or prompt her in anyway, she just knew the real meaning of Christmas for herself. My heart was aglow! I conclude, this first week of December, that moments like this are the real, perfect, frozen, snapshots we seek for in family living. May your December 2017 find many of these beautiful moments and may they be frozen in your hearts always.

C is for Cranberries

It is cranberry season. Yum! I would like to share two of my favorite cranberry recipes and my budding ideas about growing cranberries in my garden.

First, I am sure you understand why I try to eat foods that are well known as cancer fighters. Cranberries are one of these foods. They are high in antioxidants, known to reduce inflammation and are high in Vitamin C. As you know cranberries are tart and not sweet at all, obviously they aren’t really edible fresh. I am searching for more recipes that include cranberries (share your ideas with me by posting a comment). I also try to freeze several fresh bags of cranberries for later use when fresh cranberries are no longer in season.

Here are two of my favorite cranberry recipes:

Cranberry Sauce

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (you can use store bought but do not use frozen orange juice)

1 cup of honey or sugar (can be reduced by 1/2 but the flavor will not be as good)

1 bag fresh cranberries (sorted, washed and dried)

1/4-1/2 cup water (depending on the thickness you like)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

In a saucepan combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Once boiling reduce heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Serve in a white serving dish and it will look fantastic on your Thanksgiving table.

Cranberry Muffin Pudding with a Butter/Cream Sauce

Muffin Ingredients

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 can evaporated milk

1 bag fresh cranberries (sorted, washed and dried)

Sauce

1 stick real butter

1 cup sugar

2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup eggnog (Optional add only if you enjoy eggnog) This add came from this past weekend when we forgot the cream and only had eggnog. We used it and it was actually delicious!

Muffins

Combine all the ingredients except the cranberries. Hand mix. Add the cranberries and mix again. This recipe is best if mixed by hand as over mixing can occur. Using a muffin or ice cream scoop to fill each muffin tin full of the batter. Bake on 350 for 18 minutes.

Sauce

Place all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer on low for 15 minutes.

Serve the warm muffins with the cream sauce drizzled on top. Don’t be skimpy on the sauce.

Adapted from a Recipe from my mother-in-law Susan Stallings

Growing cranberries in your garden:

Finally, here are my ideas about growing cranberries in a home garden. Watch the three YouTube’s below if you are interested.

How cranberries are grown.

American cranberry or high bush cranberry

Growing cranberries in your garden

What I learned from a small amount of research is cranberries do not grow in water but the plants are bogged with water twice a year on large commercial farms. Cranberries make great ornamental plants in containers or as ornamentals along pathways or entry ways. The typical cranberry plant takes about eighteen months before it will produce fruit. There are many varieties of cranberries, one I would like to try growing is called the American cranberry. It is actually not a cranberry but resembles one. It is a bush that can get up to 15 feet in height. I am hoping to try cranberries starting early next spring. Enjoy cranberry season.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Sharing Seeds Near and Far

Our gardens contain an ever changing assortment of experiments. Perhaps one explanation for my love of gardening is because it is so connected with my passion for learning and continuous improvement. Much of my learning comes from discussing ideas with other avid gardeners. I also read books, magazines and blogs about gardening, and I follow the progress of numerous gardens and their gardeners by witnessing the happenings they post to Instagram. I also learn all that I can about new plant varieties and new culture techniques, which I put to use where beneficial. I’m filled with curiosity as I peruse favorite seed catalogs, talk with friends about their gardens, or as I read of recommended varieties from contacts on social media. While I have a number of regular go-to varieties that I tend to plant every year, I make room for growing varieties that are new to me. Would gardening be so engaging if we planted the same things every season?

Buying a packet of seeds for everything I’d like to trial would get costly. Growing just a bit of so many seed packets would get expensive! While I do grow a large garden, the quantity of seeds in most of the seed packets is far more than I could use in a season or two. Instead of letting these seeds age and go to waste, I share seeds with other gardeners. I meet annualy with a colleague at work who also likes to grow vegetables. We talk about what we hope to grow in our gardens during the coming season. Where our plans overlap, we decide whether we could share. Knowing what my friend plans to buy and would be willing to share enables each of us to buy fewer seed packets. Once our seed orders arrive, we get together in person, where to the outsider we probably resemble two little kids at Christmas. We divide up the packets and talk excitedly about our plans for the spring.

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Many of us have local seed exchanges and swaps in our areas attended by many people with a similar desire to experiment and share. I have attended one each spring for the past few years. I shared seeds that I had saved with other attendees, which was exciting. I also came home with more than a dozen new varieties from other gardeners in attendance to grow in my garden.

Last month I participated in a virtual seed exchange. The participants were all enthusiastic gardeners who came together because of an Instagram post. There were 130 participants from 36 different states. Two individuals organized and “hosted” the swap. Participants sent in 22 packets of seeds and a check for return shipping. We were shipped a box of 22 various packets in return. So many possibilities!

National Seed Swap Day is coming up January 30th. Do a bit of research in advance so you can plan to attend a swap in your area.

Grow well,

The Midnight Gardener

A previous post about this topic: Start With Good Seeds

  Three Years and Thriving

I have walked down this long, drafty, hospital breezeway too many times; some times moving very slowly, such as during periods of recovery, and other times suffering considerable anxiety. Last Friday I walked away with resolute purpose. Moments before I had met with my thoracic surgeon to review my CT scans, which I am excited to share indicate that I am clear from any sign of cancer! As I was departing, a feeling began to spread within me, one I recognize–it was a realization that I am beginning to thrive.


Recovery for cancer patients is not simply a physical recovery, it is also an emotional, and a very much a mental recovery too, and these last two take much more time than the physical healing alone. I have come to understand from my own experiences that any trauma our bodies go through affects our whole system and it takes time and work for these to adapt into their new normal state. Patience is required of caretakers (my family) and of the patient themselves. If you know anyone that is recovering or in treatment, I highly recommend the book After Cancer Care, written by three oncologists.

I do feel pleased “with me” right now, in part because I have taken time for myself,  and you know for the first time in so long, I feel I am starting to thrive. Yesterday, for example, I had been working on a piano piece to accompany my daughter and a friend. I have never been able to play for others without anxiety my whole life–not even during practice. After my cancer surgeries and treatment, I stopped playing all together. Yet today I played one whole song through without stumbling over the notes. All this time I just thought I was an untalented piano player who could not focus long enough to practice well. It was an overwhelming feeling to realize, “Hey, I may have some talent in me after all!” 😊

Before I started to take time for myself I was merely getting by, just trying to survive. As I am recently focusing more on caring for myself, not being self-absorbed, but taking the time to ensure that my whole system is functioning at it’s maximum potential, I am starting to feel that I am entering a thrive-mode instead of just a life spent surviving.

My take away from year number three is this: It is okay to love yourself enough to ensure that your mind and body are well cared for! If you are limiting yourself to just surviving, this is a sign that you may need to make time for your “whole person.” Listen, I know we have so many things to do and so many people that need us, but when we give time to ourselves we actually become more capable of giving to others in a way that is useful and helpful because we are well.

Taking time for my whole self is little by little helping me to become a better everything to everyone! Perfect? Not a chance! Not even possible–but better? Yes! Celebrate with me year number three! My heartfelt gratitude goes to everyone who offered a prayer on my behalf.

My gratitude also continues to God for the miracle of life.

Live well.

W is for a Winter-Ready Garden ❄️

It is time to begin garden preparations for winter. In the fall, there are a few preparations that are needed for the garden to be at rest during the winter and ready once spring arrives for another season. The principal activities involve cleaning up crop residues, cultivating the soil to remove weeds and shape the rows or beds, and feeding the soil by sowing cover-crops and/or applying compost.

Last year the rains came before we took these steps and when spring arrived, everything was a mess and my kids and I paid the price of endless hours spent weeding and preparing the garden. This fall we are trying a new technique. We purchased a massive tarp (24′ x 100′), and once an inch or two of compost is in place, we plan to fully cover our garden soil. The tarp will function as an occultation cover that should eliminate surface weeds and weed seeds, as well as create a rich environment for earthworms. Additionally, come spring, the plastic will allow us to plant the beds right away, rather than have to wait for the soil to dry out. What we have learned about this practice leads us to have faith that this method will prepare our soil to be weed-free, rich and fertile for a productive garden in the coming year.garden-1176406_1920 (1)

Due to a mistake on my part, this entry was published last week, before I had finished it. So, you got a sneak peak! Last week I was also sick with a stomach virus. My parents were visiting, so they took care of my kids as my husband was traveling for work. I was sick enough that I couldn’t get out of bed and I was unable to attend the performance dress rehearsal of the Ensign Symphony & Chorus, of which I am a member. As I was trying to fall asleep that night, I thought about all the work I have put into learning and memorizing the music, learning the lyrics and traveling back and forth to Seattle to practice. I was determined not to miss the performance! So I did what I was taught to do from my childhood. I asked my Dad for a priesthood blessing. If you don’t know what I mean by a blessing, and want to understand more then please click this link to learn about Blessings of God’s Priesthood Power. My Dad gave me a blessing and left the room so I could rest. Within myself I exercised my own faith to be healed, and I then fell asleep. I woke up at 1:30 a.m. and I felt so much better.

What is faith? To me it is knowing that good will come no matter what happens to us. Live, die or suffer the challenges in between, good will come through faith in God and Jesus Christ. This simple faith is one of my greatest strengths. For me, the hard part has been developing a depth to my faith that enables me to believe that no matter what difficult winters I must go through, good will come of the trials.

Since my cancer diagnosis in 2015, I have struggled to keep the sunshine in my life when everything seems to be dark. I have been buoyed up by courage and faith. At times I have felt covered over by a large tarp within which the sunshine just cannot get in. I have often felt that the “me” within is working to outlast the winter, and to witness the snow and the cold turn to a beautiful spring. I am getting there little by little, day-by-day, continually working on my faith that no matter what, good and God will come.

W is for Watermelon 🍉

I want you to show you our homegrown watermelons. They were so amazing this year!! Ha ha, amazingly tiny!! They just didn’t turn out as expected or planned–and we’ve grown wonderful melons in other years. One of our children proclaimed, “Mom why does this watermelon taste like a cucumber?” Wow, now that is a statement every gardener wants to hear. Nope, not at all!

Our expectations are so often way off, are not met, and simply are not reality. Why do we approach everything with so many expectations? Should we have any at all? Perhaps being comfortable with the uncertainty of not knowing and expecting the unexpected may be a wiser approach in life. 

The word “unexpected” is often used in our home. Life just keeps us guessing and curious as to why things often don’t go as we planned. My Dad told me on the phone the other night that he thinks God must have a great sense of humor. I think that is likely true but I also believe that His intended course for us is never our own because who would choose to have cancer, have a life long illness or get hit by a car, etc.? Ahhh, that would be no one. 

When the unexpected occurs (and it will) we can fuss and pout and vow not to plant watermelons ever again, but really what good comes from all that whining? In my experience the refinement and growth that comes from the unexpected has been life changing. Of course we are allowed to whine sometimes… I whined and complained through my surgeries and treatments, but I also made great efforts to fight against negativity and whining and tried very hard to find joy in this unbelievably difficult “unexpected” turn.

When the unexpected occurs give yourself time to adjust to the new course, it is okay to be sad for a time, but intentionally revaluate, make a new plan and start again. The Midnight Gardener and I are already discussing the reasons our watermelons were so tiny and what we can improve on next year. We are also still celebrating the amazing tomato crop we had this year. It is true–our tomato plants are still producing beautifully. 

Celebrate what is abundant in your life! Accept the unexpected and trust that God’s plan for you, though it may be a completely unexpected turn of events, will be just what you need.

B is for Blackberry Defense

Blackberries. They look and taste delicious. They make sweet jam, combine well with yogurt, and make a wonderful blackberry pie. Yum!

However, gardeners from western Washington do not hold any sweet feelings towards the plant that produces this seemingly unobtrusive fruit. In fact, two varieties are considered a noxious weeds! Found across the region, the Himalayan and evergreen blackberry are European species of blackberry that are highly invasive and difficult to control. We use words like bramble, or thicket to describe the plants because if left unattended they will invade gardens, overwhelm shrubs and outcompete trees. The ranging, thorny vines must be constantly battled. How they sap our energy and time!

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When we first moved into our Washington home, we noticed blackberry plants in the preserve at the back of our property that had entangled many of the native shrubs and trees. I recall my distress at noticing a particularly sad looking evergreen tree that was completely stunted because of thick blackberry vines entrapping the tree’s growth. When young and tender, the trunk of the tree had been forced to curve and dip along the ground in order to escape the blackberry vines. Over a period of weeks and with the held of some hard-working teenagers we hired, we hacked through the brambles, dug out the blackberry roots, and freed the bushes and trees from the thorny vines. Once the little evergreen tree was no longer on the defensive, it doubled and then tripled in size within a few short years, returning to it’s intended, ascending course.

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I am certain you know the meaning of the word Defensiveness (definition #5), but have you considered that the existence of defensiveness within relationships is like a thick, strangling, thorny blackberry vine? Defensiveness has the potential to stunt our relationships and our personal growth. Defensiveness keeps us from meaningful progress. What I share now I have learned through personal experience battling my own defensiveness.

I had been contemplating why some of my children are so defensive. There was no ownership, merely hollow words to blame and redirect scrutiny elsewhere. I felt frustrated that we often battled over defended positions rather than communicating effectively. It always became worse whenever I sought to provide the individuals with feedback about the impact of their choices or behaviors. When I combined prayer with my examination and reflection on the behaviors, it was made clear to me that my own defensiveness (and perhaps that of the Midnight Gardener 😇) was at the root of the behaviors of our children. At first I was heartbroken that I hadn’t realized this sooner. It is often very painful to examine our own faults and make needed changes, however as I have begun to change so have they, and in return our relationships have started to improve.

What is helping me? I am learning that in relationships, defensiveness needs to be traded in wholly for curiosity and empathy for those around us. Here is a YouTube clip that really helped me understand.  Molly Fletcher on Defensiveness into Curiosity  

Consider for a minute wether you might be even a little like the defensive and strangling blackberry vine. Perhaps you don’t think you are at all defensive (which, I’m just sayin’, is highly unlikely 😊). I encourage you to consider the following everyday scenario. Even if you think these can’t help you (wink, wink), may help “other people” in your life.

1. A child responds to their parent and says “You over-talk about everything.” The parent has two choices, defensiveness or curiosity. They could say, “No I don’t! Why are you always exaggerating?” Or they can respond with curiosity, “Tell me more about that.” And after the child explains, the parent could inquire further, “What do you feel inside when I over talk?” And then listen fully to their response and acknowledge you understand.

2. Your spouse comes to you and says, “I have noticed that you are a little on edge today.” Defensiveness = “No I am not! You don’t know anything about my feelings today.” Curiosity = “Hmmm, what are you noticing today that brings you to this conclusion?”

3. Parents say to their college student, “We are concerned that you aren’t using your money wisely.”
Defensiveness = “You are always judging me and assume I am making bad choices.”
Curiosity = “Help me understand why you are concerned about my  recent spending.”

4. Senior parents say to their adult daughter, “We feel that you aren’t keeping in touch with us enough.”
Defensiveness = “You could call me too!”
Curiosity = “I’m sure that is true, what would be better for you?” (And if you are really brave and comfortable in your own skin, add this next bit.) “As a parent myself, I am curious. How do you feel when I don’t maintain frequent enough contact?”

These are just examples of the wording we can use to turn our defensiveness into curiosity.  Be aware that demonstrating curiosity also requires us to be sincere, and to demonstrate that in our expressions and the tone of our voice. Otherwise, our loved ones could make an assumption that we are faking it.

If you are interested in learning more, consider reading Feeling Good Together, by David D. Burns, M.D. I found this book to be eye opening in healing relationships through curiosity.

Blackberries, like relationships, can be deliciously flavored. In order to enjoy the sweetness we must take time, choose humility, show empathy and find patience. We can let our loved ones know that we are working on changing and ask for their patience as we untangle possibly thick, defensive blackberry vines. The sweetened relationships will be genuinely sublime.

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Green is the Color of Hope


Green is the color of hope. Oscar De La Renta
To Plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. Audrey Hepburn

Gardening brings me hope for tomorrow and the next day and the next. It is so rewarding to create a  small garden that is enjoyed each day. I sometimes feel gardening has been a life saving hobby for me. If I feel down a bit of hard-work in my garden cheers my heart. 

While I have been visiting my sister I am replanting some of her gardens. I find such joy and hope even on vacation in the garden. 

Enjoy gardening even a small spot of earth. It will brighten your day.

H is for Honeycrisp Apples

May I share with you the first moment I took a bite out of a Washington Honeycrisp apple? My husband and I visited Washington State over a decade ago during the fall while on a recruiting trip for work. We were enamored by the clear weather, crisp fall air, and quaint farms and fields in the Snohomish and Sammamish River Valleys. One night during this trip we stopped by an adorable local market to pick up some snacks. I eat an apple nearly every day during the fall and winter months, so I went to find one. I noticed an apple we didn’t have in Florida, where we lived at the time. What variety could it be? Yep that’s right, it was a Honeycrisp apple. No words can adequately describe my surprise and delight as I took that first juicy bite.

Honeycrisp apples have a gorgeous appearance and in Washington you’ll find they reach a size nearly two or three times that of a regular apple! When you take a bite…WOW that is all I can say! The flavor is sweet, but not too sweet, while being simultaneously tangy but not tart, and ever so juicy while also being crisp and satisfying with every last bite.

Ok, I get that not everybody feels the same way that I do about fruits and vegetables, but go with me here as I relish in apple bliss!

Honeycrisp apples are exceptionally good when eaten fresh out of hand. They are mediocre in pie, apple crisp or fried apples, as they become very soft and don’t hold their shape well when cooked. Other varieties are better for these uses. Honeycrisp apples could be used in a delicious apple juice or sauce, but there are far more economical choices. Besides, Honeycrisp apples are divine and because of this they are likely to be eaten before you know it. In my opinion, they just have to be enjoyed as they are and for what they are. Eaten fresh they are pure goodness.

Speaking of pure goodness, I am the mother of three amazing daughters, and an aunt to sixteen amazing nieces. I am a daughter, granddaughter and great granddaughter. I have lived on both the East Coast and the West Coast of the United States. I have lived in two foreign countries. During all these experiences, I have met so many good women and shared in wonderful friendships. What I have observed from all of these women is that we simply think too little of ourselves. We don’t love and appreciate ourselves as we are. We are looking to be more of this, less of that, more like her or something more like that. It really is exhausting! It does not help us be at peace with ourselves and it prevents us from finding joy in being ourselves–being amazing women.

My post today is to encourage women everywhere to recognize the greatness others see in you. Think more of yourself, be gentle with yourself, forgive yourself, and love yourself as you are. Sadly I struggled with thinking too little of myself into my late thirties. I wrote a little about this in my post entitled Fluffy Soil. In my recovery from cancer the second and third time, God let me see myself as He sees me, as his daughter, and I am forever changed by these experiences. I discovered that God and Christ have an infinite love for us. This love allows me to just be me. Because of this knowledge, I understand that within each of us there is pure goodness. Remember what God said in Genesis 1:31, “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” We are very good even. Don’t forget it!

We are inherently good. Our choices, thoughts and actions increase our goodness and our ability to love and serve others. I want to encourage us to remember our own goodness more often and choose to care for and love ourselves. Don’t forget to enjoy a Honeycrisp apple as often as possible this fall and winter–it will remind you that you are purely good!

L is for Lettuce Alone

Flashy Trouts Back Lettuce


What do you call lettuce alone? Honeymoon salad! Super funny, right? Ha ha. 

My kids would tell you that all of my jokes are lame. I don’t remember jokes very well. I do have three go-to jokes that I remember and will use. The joke above is my number three joke. When I ask my kids about this topic, they will fain annoyance and make comments like, “Not again mom!”

Writer’s block has plagued me this last month and I have decided it is because I have needed “lettuce alone” time. I am not talking about the honeymoon kind! Goodness! It has been family time that I needed. We took our kids camping, canoeing, waterfall-exploring, and hiking during August. We also did a lot of things together at home: we made jam, tried some new dinner menus, snipped sooo many green beans, started some art challenges, played UNO (too many times), and worked and worked in the garden. The lasting memories we made brings me, and I hope them, such joy through the mundane moments of life. When we are sad or discouraged these memories we make in life will lift us and unite us.

I believe that my past battles away from death have given me a perspective that our time is limited and precious while here on earth. I feel the urgency to ensure that my time is given to my family and that we have quantity and quality time together. I protect this time to make sure my little family knows that they are loved by mom and dad. For example: at Valentines I always prepare a fancy dinner and we skip any prescheduled activities, making sure that no work travel or anything else takes us away. I do the same during our kid’s birthdays, and often extend their special time by celebrating them all week. I try very hard to be in attendance at family member’s key events. Each night I try to take the time to check-in and spend a few minutes with each family member before bed. We sing, pray, read or talk. I am not perfect and some nights I am so tired that I do just say, “Say your own prayers.” I do try, because I have learned all too personally that time is fleeting.

My encouragment this week is for all of us to enjoy some “Lettuce Alone” family time. The time spent will be lasting.