Lessons from screen free week

She handed her shirts to the cashier, and I noticed a theme in the inscriptions of each piece as they were unfurled, scanned, and bagged.

“I’m not listening”

“The less you care, the happier you’ll be.”

(I can’t remember the third one at the moment.)

There are times I think not listening and not caring might relieve some of the weight of life, but as I ruminated, I decided it would also remove the richness.

That’s how my mind works. That’s why my blog description says, “Reflections and Recollections from a Ruminator.”

Sometimes I wish a shirt could just be a shirt, and leaves on the oak tree could just be leaves, and skinned knees and struggling plants could be just that, but my mind always turns them into lessons I’m learning.

Every spring, the new leaves on our pin oak have to literally push the dead ones off. I think how resistant I/we can be to change. How sometimes I find myself clinging to old and dead and former instead of embracing what God is doing right now in my life and what he wants to do going forward.

She cried as I doctored skinned knees this morning, the medicine stung as it chased the “dirty bugs” away. I thought about how wounds hurt, cleansing stings, but untreated uncleaned wounds can literally kill us. I held her as I reassured it wouldn’t sting for long and caring for them would soon help her feel a lot better.

I pondered my one lone house plant, a starter my dad gave me years ago from a plant his mother had before she died. It’s definitely my kind of plant because it needs very little care. The yellow and green leaves remind me of my life, though. The green being times where I’ve nurtured and cared for myself, and the yellow times where I’ve neglected to drink from the fountain of living water. Usually, with enough faithful nurturing, the yellow leaves green again, and the plant plugs along, growing it’s vine and lengthening it’s reach.

Technically screen free week runs through Sunday, but I’ve succumbed to writing this post. Outside of work and school, our family has enjoyed an extraordinary week of planting garden, playing outside, storytelling, cooking together, and playing board and card games.

We inhaled lilacs. The girls and I made a mixed berry pie. (We used whole wheat pie and pastry flour for the crust. It was delicious!

I made chocolate pudding from scratch to serve with the pie, and topped it with whipped cream. Yum!

We lit oil lamps and my husband and I told stories from our childhood.

Most delightfully in my own screen free time, was the discovery this book.

This gem by Tish Harrison Ward is truly transformative. Every single page of my copy is dog-eared and marked up, noted and underlined. I tried to find a few nuggets to share, but choosing was hard because the whole book is a gold mine.

Here’s a quote from page 30.

“We don’t wake up daily and form a way of being-in-the-world from scratch, and we don’t think our way through every action of our day. We move in patterns that we have set over time, day by day. These habits and practices shape our lives, our desires, and ultimately who we are and what we worship.”

Then she references a sign in a New Monastic Christian Community house. “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.” Followed by Tish’s own comments that, “You can’t get a revolution without learning to do the dishes. The kind of spiritual life and disciplines needed to sustain the Christian life are quiet, repetitive, and ordinary… It’s in the dailiness of the Christian faith-the making the bed, the doing the dishes, the praying for our enemies, the reading the Bible, the quiet, the small-that God’s transformation takes root and grows.” (Pages 35-36)

This book has been a long cool drink of water to green the yellowed leaves of my sometimes soul-weary dry days. If you long to know that your daily ordinariness matters, and be confronted and challenged to examine what your days are imprinted with and how your habits shape, form, and inform you, please give yourself the gift of this book. (Side note: When initially forming this blog, a strong name in the running was The Ordinarian, because of the focus of my truly ordinary broken beautiful life.)

A gorgeous weekend brimming with love and ordinary to all of you!

Minivan Mom

With apologies to minivan moms who would never find stale fries underneath seats and who are comfortable in designer clothes. I salute you!

This post originated from a conversation with a best friend yesterday about the stigma of moms and minivans. Since I love poetry and it’s April/National Poetry Month, I couldn’t help but honor my minivan with a poem.

Minivan Mom

By Regina Cyzick Harlow

4/6/18

Hat hides uncombed hair

Yoga pants and maxi skirts

Feel good on a shape

That has birthed babies

And bears the look of one

Who stress eats and sneaks treats

From the children’s candy jar

Fancy vehicles feel as much a misfit on her

As designer clothes

Skinned knuckles reveal

Wrestling matches

With car seats and buckles

Stale fries underneath seats

Reminds her of bargaining for sanity

Sticky-fingered handprints

And cartooned stickers

Placed haphazardly on smudged windows

Evokes smiles

As she revels in the unspeakable joys of motherhood

I am she and she is me

I am a proud minivan Mom

As much as I own “minivan Mom” status, I have very few photos to prove it. Someone snapped this when I was leading runners and walkers for our annual 5K.

Then there’s that time we were snowed in.

And the other time when a summer storm brought a tree branch down on my van.

And that’s about all I’ve got for photos.

Currently my van is in the repair shop and I’m driving an SUV. The lovely folks in the school pick-up line shout out, “that’s a nice ride,” but I can’t wait to be back in this white beauty. (In the eyes of the beholder, right?)

Daybook – March 20

My friend does these occasionally on her own blog using the same list each time. I always enjoy reading them.

Outside my window…rain, sleet, and turning to snow! Expecting about six inches of accumulation for our area tonight and tomorrow.

I am learning…that worry really does rob us of present joys.

I am thankful…for our wood stove, extra snuggles with the kiddos, for a life of unfathomable blessings.

In the kitchenmini chocolate chip muffins from breakfast and our favorite chili in the crockpot for this cold snowy evening (recipe to come).

I am wondering…if the children’s school will release early today due to increasing inclement weather and declining road conditions.

I am listening…to Curious George.

I am remembering…several children and teenagers who are celebrating heavenly birthdays today.

I am going…to work from home today.

I am trying…to simplify my color-coded calendar. Too many colors means I’ve said yes to too many things. Slowly but surely I am successfully scaling back to focus on my most important priorities.

I am reading…”Black Milk: On the Conflicting Demands of Writing, Creativity, and Motherhood,” by Elif Shafak.

I am hoping…that our toddler will soon be fully potty-trained. So ready to move past this phase of parenting, but I’ll always remember how it felt when our first born died and I wanted nothing more than to change messy diapers and be the sleep-deprived parents we have since been so blessed to be.

I am looking forward to…snow, even in spring. We don’t get much snow around here and snow days are my favorites. I usually bake cinnamon rolls or doughnuts and share them with neighbors or those out plowing the streets and other community workers.

I am realizing…that our children are growing into little adults right before my very eyes. Be still, my heart.

Around the house…two dogs and two cats sleeping and children’s books scattered everywhere.

I am enjoying…our new CD by The High Kings, one of our favorite music groups from Ireland. I took our 9 and 6 year olds to see them in concert Saturday evening, St. Patrick’s Day. It was our children’s first concert and we got to meet the group. Amazing!

A kid quote…after gloomily watching a few minutes of a black and white Andy Griffith our free-spirited vibrant 6-year-old said, “Mommy, I like to see the colors of life. Gray things make me sad!” I laughed and told her she could change it to something she wanted. Immediately our 2 year old started asking to watch “Barney,” and she wasn’t talking about the big purple dinosaur. We love color. We love Barney Fife.

A few of my favorite things…dirt roads, mountains, and campfires.

A few plans for the rest of the week…much of what I had planned will depend on how much snow we get and how quickly it melts. I had planned to attend a funeral tomorrow, but if our children are out of school and the weather is bad I will regrettably not attend. I have much to do for our non-profit, some of which I can do from home, and I plan to do some writing, cooking, and baking and soak up whatever time I get with my husband and children. All of these pretty much sum up my life.

A good life happens when you stop and are grateful for the ordinary moments that so many of us just steamroll over to try to find those extraordinary moments. Brene Brown

Potpourri: no, yes, hope, food

Happy New Year!

Our family continues to heal from a grueling last half of 2017, but we are certainly here with more hope and peace than we’ve had in a long time. There are still remnants of illnesses, but overall we are much healthier now too!

I have been learning a lot about self care and setting realistic boundaries for what I can and can’t do. This work empowered me to say no to two seemingly great opportunities to serve our denomination and local church district. I love our denomination, but the heart of my ministry has always been with the local grief community outside the context of church and denomination.

Saying no in turn allowed me to say yes to more with the non-profit my husband and I founded to provide non-clinical peer support for those grieving the death of a child. Just a few days of laser focus on that work and multiple doors are opening that will guide us into the future. Our non-profit turns ten years old this year! Lots to celebrate, even though the work is related to much grief and sadness. I have been contemplating how many people I’ve come to love and cherish that I would likely have never learned to know outside of our deepest sorrow and greatest pain.

This has long been one of my guiding quotes.

In my personal work and soul care, I’ve also been having some fun trying to reconcile the multiple and diverse streams of culture and influence in my DNA. My dad is from an Eastern European immigrant family, Mom from generations of horse and buggy Mennonites in which faith I was raised and colors my understanding of God. Learning more about my whole identity has been fun, but I’ve also been reminded that my true identity is a child of God and the ultimate “Home” I long for is being at home with God.

As always, I’ve been enjoying making some great food! I’m posting some on my recipe blog, The Cultured Country Cook. My purpose for the blog is simply to share great recipes. I’m not a fancy food photographer, but we sure do eat good around here. I was thinking this evening, I sure hope there’s a kitchen in heaven, cooking and baking and enjoying good food are some of my life’s greatest pleasures. Simultaneously I pondered how my husband might hope there’s NOT a kitchen in heaven since he usually ends up doing the dishes.

I read through English veterinarian James Herriot’s books last year, so one evening I made roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, Yorkshire pudding, and creamed peas. I had read some chapters and paragraphs aloud to the family and we had a great time with that meal, recalling specific stories from his books.

We’ve had extremely cold temperatures here the past few days so tonight’s comfort food was cheese ravioli with mushrooms and browned butter, a simple spinach salad with strawberries, oranges, a drizzle of olive oil and a fresh-squeezed lime. Dessert was a homemade maple walnut pound cake with light maple cream cheese icing and homemade coffee custard. I had subscribed to the emeals menu planner several years ago, but haven’t used the recipes a whole lot. Tonight’s ravioli and last night’s Spanish Chicken Soup were both from emeals. I’m hoping to utilize that more!

I made cinnamon rolls for the pediatrician’s office who care so wonderfully for our children.

And a “poop emoji” cake by request for some friends who knew I had made one as a joke for Our son’s birthday last fall.

I continue to work out what it means to be fully present in my life and the invitations to be are all around me, if my eyes and heart are willing to see.

I’ve been delighting in the following words from Bob Goff in Love Does: Discover a secretly incredible life in an ordinary world.

“There is only one invitation it would kill me to refuse, yet I’m tempted to turn it down all the time. I get the invitation every morning when I wake up to actually live a life of complete engagement, a life of whimsy, a life where love does. It doesn’t come in an envelope. It’s ushered in by a sunrise, the sound of a bird, or the smell of coffee drifting lazily from the kitchen. It’s the invitation to actually live, to fully participate in this amazing life for one more day. Nobody turns down an invitation to the White House, but I’ve seen plenty of people turn down an invitation to fully live.

Turning down this invitation comes in lots of flavors. It looks like numbing yourself or distracting yourself or seeing something really beautiful as normal. It can also look like refusing to forgive or not being grateful or getting wrapped around the axle with fear or envy. I think every day God sends us an invitation to live and sometimes we forget to show up or get head-faked into thinking we haven’t really been invited. But you see, we have been invited — every day, all over again”

People might choose to turn down invitations to the White House these days, but I refuse to decline this invitation to fully live. May it be so. Amen.

Of Praise and Thanks

Words to one of my favorite hymns paired with snapshots I’ve captured over the past few weeks. 


For the beauty of the earth, 

for the glory of the skies, 
for the love which from our birth 

over and around us lies; 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 


For the beauty of each hour 

of the day and of the night, 

hill and vale, and tree and flower, 

sun and moon, and stars of light; 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 

For the joy of ear and eye, 

for the heart and mind’s delight, 

for the mystic harmony, 

linking sense to sound and sight; 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 


For the joy of human love, 

brother, sister, parent, child, 

friends on earth and friends above, 

for all gentle thoughts and mild; 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 

For thy church, that evermore 

lifteth holy hands above, 

offering up on every shore 

her pure sacrifice of love; 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 


For thyself, best Gift Divine, 

to the world so freely given, 

for that great, great love of thine, 

peace on earth, and joy in heaven: 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 
Text by Folliot S Pierpoint 

Music by Conrad Kocher

Confessions; just in case I’ve misled you

“You have the perfect life,” she said, “a great husband, beautiful children, doing what you love for work. I dream about your life.”

Wait! What?! I nearly spit out my tea. 

“You know, what you post on Facebook,” she added, “Your life is perfect.”

First off, I admit, my life is filled with many wonderful things. My husband is loyal, devoted, rock-solid awesomeness. Our children are adorable, have mostly great behavior, and are respectful, caring, compassionate little humans. I am in awe that I get to live my passion of being there for others in grief, even though that calling was birthed through my own dark night of the soul. 

Additionally, I am generally a “look on the bright side” kind of gal, so even when life’s suck-o-meter hits red hot, I hurt, shake my fist, and with almost every scenario, find a way to see the positive. (There are exceptions.)

I decided a long time ago a life of gratitude is much sweeter than constant comparisons. I’ve never wanted or intentionally tried to pretend my life was perfect. Sharing my shortcomings and chaos helps me connect to others, but I also don’t want to complain or come across as whining. Ask my children, I loathe whining. 

So here’s some real-life relatable blackmail material for you. 

I can eat nearly a whole bag of Lay’s BBQ potato chips in one setting, especially when paired with chunks of yummy cheddar cheese. Sometimes I have ice cream for lunch. As much as I enjoy exercise, I’ve been dealing with an excruciating bout of plantar fasciitis for months and just being on my feet is extremely painful. Exercise is pretty much impossible until this improves. So much for rockin’ 40 in August, but I guarantee I still will!

Those adorable wildlings that steal my heart create monster messes (shhhhh, so do their parents) and I’d rather write and read than clean. People, hear me when I say my house is nearly always in disarray. We have an endless cycle of laundry; dirty, drying, unfolded. The counter is a catch-all for school projects, art projects, and cooking projects to the point it becomes a science project. Once, a friend for whom I had set a place for supper said, “Wow, I’ve never seen this end of your kitchen table.” He probably hadn’t.

Sometimes the children fight and the baby cries to the point I give up on cooking supper and we eat cereal instead. My husband gets mad at me. I get frustrated with him. 

I have skeletons in my closet. I have family whose skeletons are currently curing. Even when their choices become maddening and hurtful, the decision to love and wrestling with what that love looks like continues to shape and mold me. I fail. Often. 

Hopefully this will change soon, but most all of my work is volunteer so we are always trying to make ends meet financially. I spend too much money on groceries. 

I deal with anxiety and situational depression. Many days I feel like I don’t do enough, am never enough, can never catch up, never measure up, and wonder if anything I do truly makes a difference. I shoulder the weight of the world, even when it doesn’t ask me to. I am not prone to compare myself with others materialistically, but I am my own worst competition when it comes to making a difference. 

I worry about ridiculous things, and our pediatrician can tell you I worry obsessively over our children. Although my Facebook posts might be positive, they are more often a statement of faith than anything else. 

So yeah, I love cooking and eating healthy, but am an emotional eater. I love happy kiddos, but ours are still typical stinkers. I love family, even when they make terrible choices. Our struggles might come in different forms, but ultimately we are all living our own vida loco. 

We all get lemons, I just much prefer lemonade and will go to great lengths to find the sweetness. 

Onward and upward, dear peeps. I’m signing off to clear clutter and eat chips. 

Character Test

It was the most basic character test and I blew it. Right there in front of God, my husband, and our children. I was looking for an important folder I need for an appointment today, and thought I knew exactly where it was. (Never mind I should have secured said folder several days ago, knowing this was coming up.)

I huffed around, shuffling papers and sighing, being snarky with my husband, and then of all things, blaming it on the children who hadn’t put their toys away. Really?!

For the sake of peace and sanity, I gave the folder search a break and went to get myself ready for the day. As I separated myself from the frenzy and frustration of the missing folder, I was convicted to ask for forgiveness.

The test of character is not in leadership training and board meetings, not in the face we wear and the facade we present in public, but in the ways we treat those closest to us. I was ashamed at what this most basic test revealed. And I repented.

Thankfully God and my family both have an overwhelming fountain of grace and patience, and I seemed to be the one most upset about my reaction. I still haven’t found the folder, but life will go on with no one the worse for wear. I, however, pray that this incident will continue to serve as a reminder for me to pray and breathe before I respond.

Character quotes I found on the Internet. 

“Our character is defined by what we do when no one is looking.”

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think of you.”

What has helped you refocus when you are stressing about something like this?