The Art of Loving// Loving Your Neighbors, Literally

I’ve been enjoying writing this series! Breaking it up into specific areas seems to cut back on the overwhelming factor. There are SO many things to do and people to notice and places you could put your energy into, that it helps to look at it in segments.

Today’s topic is close to my heart. Loving your neighbors, literally. Both my husband and I have a heart for reaching out to neighbors. We feel so blessed to live in a good neighborhood, and have enjoyed getting to know the people around us in the 2 1/2 years we’ve lived here. The majority of them are older people — the average age is 60+. (In fact, we found out that the one lady refers to us affectionately as “the kids”. Ha!!) Jonathan plows most of their driveways in the winter, and we like to randomly visit them on snowy evenings.

The last two summers, we have talked about hosting a neighborhood picnic in our back yard. Years ago, the couple that used to live two houses over always had a Christmas party in their basement for the neighborhood. They have since moved, and no one has picked up the ball to continue. We decided this is the year to make it happen! Partly because our widowed neighbor lady is moving soon, and partly because it’s time to stop talking and actually do it. πŸ™‚A week ago, I quickly whipped up a flyer type invitation and we walked around at dusk, passing them out. Everyone seemed enthusiastic and excited! The guy across the road said, “Last Sunday we saw your backyard picnic and my wife said, “We should have a neighborhood picnic!” πŸ™‚

Yesterday was THE DAY. πŸ™‚

I had visions of all sorts of artsy pictures — HA! When one is running around starting ice cream makers + putting food out + welcoming people, well — I’m just happy I have ANY pictures at all! (However dark and quickly snapped they are)

:::OUR NEIGHBORHOOD PICNIC:::

People starting arriving a little after 6, and it truly was a little smattering of all kinds of people. From the little Horning lady next door + her schoolteacher granddaughter, to the newest neighbors down the road with the million dollar house. There was a mostly blind former pastor + his wife (who happens to be my third cousin, originally from Ohio. Random, huh?),Β  a family who originally lived in Connecticut, and an eccentric widower who forgets who you are about 5 minutes after he meets you. (He also barks when he introduces himself, as his last name is the name of a wild animal.)

With the people came the FOOD. It was as diverse as the people who brought it! A delicious blackberry pie (the single man told me it was the first pie he’d ever made!), a gourmet corn + feta cheese salad, fresh zucchini cake, pasta salad in a Giant container, deviled eggs, a big bowl of fruit, a vinegary carrot salad, and so much more — too much to name everything. The invitation said to bring a salad or dessert to share, and we grilled hamburgers + hot dogs, and made two kinds of homemade ice cream. I was rather relieved that it turned out perfectly, as we don’t have alot of experience with making ice cream ourselves. (Thanks Cherie for the tips!)

I think my favorite moment of the whole evening was when we were going around the circle introducing ourselves and saying where we live. Jonathan’s Grandpa was explaining that their house has the red tractor on the mailbox. (Emphasis on the red of course) The ornery man who lives on the corner said, “Oh I was going to paint it green on Halloween!” Grandpa replies, pointing his cane at him, “You’d better not! You would be in TROUBLE if you did that!” Oh so funny!The children from across the road tossed corn hole bags, and people stood around in little groups and talked about things like water wells, investment properties, surgeries, and all sorts of other things. As it got dark, people started slowly trickling out, and the remaining few of us sat around the fire and talked.

I’m so glad we finally took the plunge and hosted it, and it seemed like everyone really enjoyed themselves. Hopefully there’s a good thing going now, as it sounds like the family across the road wants to host it next time. πŸ™‚ It was fun to learn to know people better, and to meet a few that I hadn’t met yet. If you are in any way interested in reaching out to your neighbors, this is a great way to do it! Be prepared for a lot of work, but it’ll be worth it. πŸ™‚

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Past posts in The Art of Loving series:

How To Start

How to Love Your Pregnant Friend

Words to Live By: II

A quick hello on this Wednesday!

Suddenly life has sped up and I feel like all I do anymore is make food and can. πŸ™‚ (With some coffee, baby cuddling, and cleaning thrown in there) Our neighborhood picnic is tomorrow evening, we helped with chorus snack last Monday, a family gathering is coming up on Saturday, and hubby turns a year older next week so we are celebrating with two different parties! These all involve food. πŸ™‚

Homemade ice cream, watermelon, grilled burgers + hotdogs, fresh salsa, Tomato Pie, potatoes au gratin, fresh peach pie, raspberry pie, party potatoes, grilled chicken, baked corn, red beet eggs, olive/basil/tomato salad, cookies, meadow tea… I think I have my work cut out for me. πŸ™‚

Hospitality always seems to be about food, and I’m anxious to read this book by Shauna Niequist. From the interviews I’ve heard and the reviews I’ve read, she seems like she is on target when it comes to hospitality + food. πŸ™‚ This quote says it perfectly:It’s not about our stellar hosting skills, our picture-perfect houses, or about our food being delicious. It’s about so much more than that. [Not that there is anything wrong with enjoying to host, or having a nice-looking clean house, or having tasty food] When those things become our focus, we’ve lost the true heart of hospitality. It’s about caring for the people and making them feel at home.

Any thoughts?Β 

The Art of Loving// How to Love Your Pregnant Friend

Last week we talked about How to Start. Today I’d like to share a few ways to bless your pregnant friend. Obviously every person is unique in what would make them feel loved and cared for, but here are just a few ideas I’ve gleaned from my own experience and those around me. πŸ™‚

First Trimester:

Every woman is different, but many suffer from that not-so-lovely affliction of morning sickness. A lot of people don’t choose to announce their pregnancy until around 3 months, so often you don’t find out about their sickness until it’s over or almost over. But in those instances that you do know about, there are a few ways to bless that sick mommy.

1. Take them food. Even if they can’t keep it down themselves, it will feed their husband. The less they have to cook, the better. And I found that someone else’s food tasted SO much better; probably because I didn’t have to smell it cooking. πŸ˜‰ Even if you don’t do a whole meal, something simple like a casserole, loaf of bread, or a container of pancake batter for breakfast can help tremendously.

2. If they have a child or children, offer to babysit so they can take a nap or have a little alone time. Growing a baby can drain so much energy, and a little break is nice for a weary mommy. Offering to babysit during prenatal appointments is very helpful, as well. (This can apply to all trimesters)

3. If you live far away, send them a “Morning Sickness Mommy” package. Include a wee outfit of each gender, so they have something to boost their morale when that sweet baby face (that they can’t see or feel) seems so far away. Other things you could possibly send, include: hard ginger candy, snacks, chocolate, and little items to pamper themselves like a foot scrub or face mask.

Second Trimester:

For me, this was the best trimester. Morning sickness mostly gone, and third trimester aches and pains are yet to come. Most likely, your friend will have more energy and will be feeling good. This is a good trimester to invest in your friendship.

1. Go shopping together. Wee baby clothes and maternity clothes needed, right??

2. Give her a gift card to a nice restaurant or a fun “date basket” for her to enjoy with her husband. Couples often need time to focus on each other, while in a stage when everything can be about all things baby.

3. Help her get caught up on things that might have gotten neglected during the first trimester . Weeding flowerbeds, doing laundry, baking, just whatever gives her a boost. This especially means a lot to moms with several little people — it’s harder for them to keep up.

Third Trimester:

1. Offer to help with any nesting project they may be tackling. There may be something they really want to get done before baby’s arrival, bit it just looks too daunting to tackle alone. House cleaning, nursery projects, prepping freezer meals, etc.

2. Give them a freezer meal. I felt so huge and miserable and uninspired to cook those last weeks, and a friend blessed me with a meal before the baby was born. It just totally made my day!

3. Text them with words of encouragement and prayers when their labor + delivery day is looming. It meant so much to know others were thinking of and praying for me!

Now that I’ve finished this post, I think I have my work cut out for me. πŸ™‚ I currently have seven pregnant friends in my sphere of friends!

How about you? Do you have anything to add — ways others have blessed you while you were pregnant?

**Many thanks to those friends who contributed their insights and ideas to this post** :::Next time with the Art of Loving: Loving Your Neighbors, Literally:::

August Tidbits

A few words describing life lately.

Grilling. We are certainly making up for not eating much grilled food last summer. More often than not, our meals have been grilled. One week it was chicken at our house, hamburgers the next two nights at friend’s houses, then chicken the next day at the farm. Our new favorite this year is vegetable packets. Fill tin foil with any fresh veggies you have around: here it’s carrots, peppers, onions, squash, and zucchini. Slice butter on top and sprinkle with salt and any other seasonings. They are so yummy!Hosting. I smile whenever I think of that night when a few of us gathered for a lawn party, and ended up talking late into the night, over cups of freshly ground coffee + watermelon. There were lots of laughs and a few tears too. I always forget to take pictures of these things, but that’s okay. Currently in the thick of planning our first neighborhood picnic — to be held here, NEXT WEEK. πŸ™‚ (eek!)

Canning. Yes, I’m at it again. πŸ™‚ Today was more salsa and I did some blackberry jam for fun! Not pictured: the howling baby, streaming eyes (onions, ya know), and the messy sink.Baby. Sometimes I just want to cuddle her all day long, because it still seems unbelievable that she is real. And she is ours. Of course, all the rolls make her that much more irresistible. πŸ™‚ (Yes, I am a biased parent)Singing. We’re nearing the end of chorus practice season, and I will admit that I’m ready to be done practicing and begin with the programs. I am enjoying the songs we’re singing this year immensely, though, and may or may not sing them over and over throughout the week. Today it was, “He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again…” (repeat 50x)Sometimes I feel panicky when I think of how fast summer is going and how much we want to do yet! And then I think of fall and all the fun things that go with it and it’s a little more okay to watch summer’s end draw nearer…

What have you been enjoying this summer?

The Art of Loving// How To Start

Isn’t this just so SPOT ON?

Loving God. Loving others. The two greatest commandments spoken by Jesus Himself. We all know this.

How does this play out in real life?

Sometimes I wonder how I can make a difference, with my small little life. I’m not in service or out on the mission field. I am so much more tied down than I used to be, with a house, husband, and child to take care of. I don’t have a job, so I’m not interacting with the community as much anymore. The circumstances I find myself in have changed, but this does not give me an excuse to not love. There is always someone around me to love and give to.

This is something I’ve thought about and pondered for years. The art of loving. Obviously this is going to look differently for different people. We have different gifts, talents, and abilities. We are all unique! In my own journey of discovering how to love others, I’d like to share a few ideas with you. A few small things that I have started doing or learned from others along the way. Maybe something will trigger an idea for you.

First, I think it’s important to let the Holy Spirit guide us. He ultimately knows the needs of others around us — far beyond what we can know in our finite minds. I have found that the people the Spirit brings to mind, are often the people who really needed love and care at that time. If you don’t know who to reach out to — ask God. He’ll show you.

Second, learn to observe and notice. Usually it’s not hard to pick up little clues from people. For example, if the neighbor lady comments that the applesauce I gave them tasted just like their mom’s from years ago, do a little extra when you’re canning and give them a few jars. Notice people’s needs around you.

Third, find ways to use your unique gifts to bless people. If you like to garden, give extra produce to neighbors or church friends. Like to play the piano? Play in a nursing home on Sunday afternoon. Love to cook? Bless an over-whelmed mom with a freezer meal. Enjoy hospitality? Invite a young couple over for supper. There are myriads of ways to use your talents to bless others.

And remember, it doesn’t need to be grand and glorious. Something small can mean just as much to someone!I don’t feel like I have had a lot of time this summer to devote to physically helping others around me. Summertime is fairly demanding when it comes to garden work and my mother-in-law’s surgery really filled up summer so fast! I get overwhelmed with my own work, and can’t very easily desert it right now. One small way I’ve been cultivating friendships has been through the mail. Everyone likes mail, right? I’ve started making my own cards and sending random friends a note + summery recipe. It’s a simple, small way to brighten someone’s day. πŸ™‚

How about you? What small ways do you find to love others around you?

Β :::Coming up next in the Art of Loving: How to Love Your Pregnant Friend:::

Farm to Table: Canning 101

I found this floor mat at Ross earlier this week, and just couldn’t resist. (I really did need a mat in front of my sink!) It combined so many things that represent our eating mission: organic, farm to table, and of course, chalkboard art is hard for me to pass up.

I’ve been rather surprised by my ardent love for canning, preserving, and harvesting.

Yesterday’s bushel of beans took me all day and certainly wasn’t terribly exciting, (think hours of picking, snipping, washing, chopping, filling, and canning) but those 17 quarts + 1 pint sitting on my counter this morning give me infinite pleasure. I consider them a bonus, as I was ready to call this year’s bean bounty “enough” at 45 pints. (I still have some left from last year)I do all the normal things like green beans, salsa, pizza sauce, corn, applesauce, and so on. I also like to change it up with a few out-of-the-ordinary things. Hot Pepper Rings (using banana peppers) was something new I tried last year, thanks to a friend giving us a pint to try and us loving them! Hot Pepper Jelly is a must now, too. (Notice a theme here? I have to plant lots of banana peppers to keep up) I also want to make some Blackberry Jam using berries from our little patch, possibly some Jalapeno Jelly, and a little more pesto to freeze. I’m hoping to get enough pumpkin/squash to can and freeze some for baby food.All these peppers were from one plant. 17 in one shot!

In order to get the best nutritious, chemical-free organic food, we grow everything we can. I don’t say that snobbishly, as sometimes people can take “only eating organic” that way. I see it as a small way I can contribute to the health of my family. It is a LOT of work, but well worth it.

And you can’t beat that cheap thrill of seeing those once-empty jars all lined up neatly on shelves — FULL!

How about you — do you enjoy preserving? What new things have you tried?

Friday Five

Just poppin’ in to say hi…

//Five Current Things//

Eating: Black Bean + Corn Salsa. Summer explosion in your mouth! And you know all that zucchini that seems to pile up this time of year? Go make these.Β  Moist chocolate-y zucchini bread? Yes please. I baked them in muffin tins and like them almost better that way!

Listening: No More Mommy Brain: Finding the Time for Learning

Reading: Baby books. I have always dreamed of reading out loud to my children, and suddenly it occurred to me that *lightbulb* I can start that NOW. (Still working on that mom-brain πŸ˜‰ ) So Avi and I read together almost every day. It amazes me how still she sits and how intently she looks at the pictures. This from an active wiggleworm such is her is nothing short of amazing!

Seeing: The Mount Everest of dirty dishes in my kitchen. But that just means that this morning’s jars of V8 juice are sealed and cooling on my counter. This week’s canning included banana pepper rings, salsa, V8 juice, and carrots. Purple carrots, at that! A new experiment this year. πŸ™‚ They are basically the same as regular carrots, only with a beautiful purple hue to the skin and they are a little extra nutritious.

Feeling: Happy that the weekend is almost here! I’m feeling much better, plus we have two evening supper invitations with great friends + a fun area Family Farm Days on the agenda this weekend.

Back to the dishes while baby’s sleeping. Have a good weekend, friends!

When Life Gets In The Way

Every time I think I’m going to be more faithful with blogging, life gets in the way. Right now it feels like I am running and running and just can’t catch up. Last week we were gone every evening and gone the entire day for four of those days. This week I am afflicted with a nasty cold —Β  being sick in the middle of summer is just. no. fun. Maybe God’s trying to slow me down? It’s kinda nice not to have to go anywhere, I must admit. πŸ™‚

We’ve been doing things like:

  • Peas. Peas. More peas. Hours in the garden, picking. Then- beans, beans, and more beans. Peas AND beans together. Makes for some full freezers and canning shelves. And now it is tomato, banana pepper, and carrot season. πŸ™‚ I’m happy for the bounty of the garden. It’s an even happier sight when the produce is contained in jars, and not overflowing on my kitchen counters. πŸ™‚
  • Having whole conversations in funeral home bathrooms with unknown little girls, who ask things like whether you’re sisters to a famous lady who has been dead for years and whether you have children. (After you have already answered her question that “yes! I am a mom!”) Oh, the amusement. πŸ™‚
  • Getting calls at 3:00 in the morning about mulch piles being on fire.
  • Learning, while washing those piles of dishes and folding those piles of laundry. Favorite blog posts lately: A Growing Pile of Pennies, (Dorcas Smucker) A Few Thoughts on Mom Guilt, (Sarah Esh), and When Life is Hard Slogging (Dorcas Smucker). (Guess DS is winning today!) And the podcasts I’ve been enjoying lately? Savoring Motherhood and Making Time for Creativity by Shauna Nyquist, and The Art of Simple podcast.
  • Cutting flowers from my gardens. I have fallen in LOVE with zinnias! So cheery. πŸ™‚ The cala lilies are almost done blooming, but quite a few of my perennials are still going strong. The sunflowers + zinnias in our surprise garden are my favorites. πŸ™‚ Sadly, my flower pots on the front porch just didn’t survive the extreme heat + our absence the last while. 😦
  • Three trips in two weeks time. Two business and one for Mom’s birthday party. It’s time to stay home for awhile. πŸ™‚ A few pics from last weekend: 1//Proud GrandpaΒ  + sweaty baby 2//Party decor 3//The gorgeous cake, courtesy of Grace.
  • Iced coffee. ‘Nuff said.
  • Getting news about lots of little ones on the way. It makes me smile! πŸ™‚

Happy July Wednesday to you!

Summertime Eating

Summertime eating is my favorite. I think it’s because there is all that fresh garden produce around and meals seem to fall together so easily.

Corn on the cob.
Tomato + zucchini sandwiches.
New potatoes.
Roasted broccoli.
Just picked peas.
Fresh salsa.

I like to try to find things to make that don’t take the oven, as that can really heat up the house. I need to find some more crockpot and stovetop recipes. Anyone have one to share?

A few tried + true favorites.

Texas Philly Cheese Wrap, topped with Southwest Spicy Mayo on homemade tortillas. Yummers! I don’t usually spend this much time on supper prep, but today is hay-baling day so we are eating supper much later than normal.

Of course, there is the old faithful Tomato Pie that I so adore. (If you’ve read my blog for any period of time, you knew it’d come up sooner or later πŸ˜‰ ) I make a version of this recipe — caramelizing the onions and adding a few more seasonings.

Crispy Corn Fritters always put a smile on the husband’s face. Whenever I ask him what he’s hungry for, this is his answer. πŸ™‚ They are especially good with fresh chives and parmesan cheese added to the batter.

Crispy Southwest Chicken Wraps is another favorite. I like that you can make the filling ahead of time and keep it in the fridge. When you’re ready to make your wraps, heat up your filling, stuff your wraps and voila — quick ‘n easy lunch!A few edibles I want to make this summer:

Southwest Quinoa Salad
Spicy Paprika Lime Chicken
Grilled Pizza
Bruschetta with Tomatoes + Basil
Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad

What are your favorite things to eat in the summer?