Five Fall Favorites

Welcome to Fall! I’m not a summer person. At. All. Give me ten below over 90 above any day! So I’m ecstatic that fall is finally here.

Fall is my favorite season, hands down. Here are a five reasons why:

  1. Sweatshirt and shorts weather begins. And bare feet, of course. That’s my wardrobe throughout winter and into spring. In the house anyway. I will dress warmer to go outside the house once the temps drop below 65. Usually.
  2. I love the fall colors. Who doesn’t? This year I’m hoping to drive up along Lake Superior’s north shore to view the leaves. The colors can be spectacular up there!
  3. Windows in the house are open. Since I dislike hot weather, AC is on pretty much all summer. I love being able to open up the house and let cool breezes refresh it. Don’t you love the scent of fall?
  4. Pumpkin pie season. My favorite pie of all. Just add a dollop or two of whipped cream, and I’m set.
  5. Fun bird watching. I love watching the flight of birds heading south, and it amazes me to think of the God-built-in instinct given to His creatures. Hopefully on our trek along the North Shore we’ll make a stop at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory. I’ve heard that’s the best place to take in the migration.

What are your favorite things about fall?

Autumn crafts

When autumn rolls around, there’s a lot of things people get excited for: cooler weather, falling leaves, football, cold weather comfort food, and more.

What do I get excited for?

Craft fairs.

Sure, you can go to a craft fair anytime of year, but there’s just something about a craft fair in autumn that is better than any you can go to in winter, spring or summer. Maybe it’s because fall is my favorite season, and I love the decorations that go with it. Plus with Christmas just around the corner, there’s something for everyone! Just this weekend,  I went to a huge craft fair that featured over 500 vendors, and came away with a beautiful wreath for my front door, a piece of art for my office wall, a Christmas present for my nephews, a collection of dip mixes for my husband, and two block of homemade cheese.

My new front door wreath.
My new front door wreath.

This coming weekend, my mom and I are going to make our annual pilgrimage to Clarinda, Iowa for the Craft Carnival featuring 430 booths of handmade items. We’ve always come away with presents, ideas for crafts to make ourselves, and wonderful mother-daughter bonding time. This will be our eighth year attending.

Anyway, for the next two weeks the Inkspers are going to be talking about our favorite crafts, whether we’re Pinterest fanatics who love call Hobby Lobby our second home, or just casual observers who really enjoy seeing what other people can make. Join us!

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I love crafts and homemade gifts. They are a great way to be creative, and when given as gifts, it’s a gift that’s a lot more meaningful than something you can buy in a store because of the time invested. I try to make at least one handmade Christmas gift each year for someone. One year, I collected beautiful fall leaves from my neighborhood and made a beautiful collage that I framed for my parents. Another year (when we were hard up for cash), I made recipes in a jar, by layering ingredients in a Mason jar and including instructions on how to make the recipe. Here’s a link to some that sound delicious!

Another year, we found some beautiful photos we had taken the previous spring of my mother-in-law’s garden, and framed them. She hung it in their living room and I catch her looking at it often when we come to visit.

cherry towelThis year, since I love to cross stitch, I’m embroidering a dishtowel for my in-laws featuring a cherry pie, since my father-in-law has a sweet tooth for pie (thankfully, they aren’t on the internet and won’t see this!). In the past, I’ve cross stitched Christmas ornaments, wall hangings, and even a baby bib! Cross stitch projects are relatively inexpensive, but the time invested in them is quite a lot. For example, the dish towel kit cost me about $3, but I’ve already spent at least five hours working on it, and I’m still not done.

What are your favorite homemade gifts?

Easy Corn Chowder

I love fall! It’s my favorite time of year. I love the colors, the smells, and especially the tastes! And I really like the taste when it’s easy to make (because I’m busy writing, don’tcha know). Fall means soups, chilis, and stews. Warm bread with melted butter. Apple crisp (with vanilla ice cream, of course) for dessert.

So how about this yummy, easy soup (a Pampered Chef classic)?

Easy Corn Chowder
2 medium unpeeled red potatoes (1/2″ cubes)
1 c. cubed cooked ham (1/2″ cubes)
1/2 c. diced red bell pepper
1/2 c. coarsely chopped celery
1 tsp butter or margarine
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour1 can (14-14 1/2 ounces) chicken broth
1 can (12 ounces) fat free evaporated milk
1 can (15 ounces) creamed corn
2 tablespoons sliced chives
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Cooked crumbled bacon (optional)

* Heat butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add bell pepper and celery; cook and stir 3-4 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Stir in flour; heat until bubbly. Gradually whisk in broth, evaporated milk and corn.

* Add potatoes, bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cook, uncovered, 10 minutes (or until potatoes are tender). Stir in ham; heat through. Remove from heat; stir chives into soup and season with salt and pepper.

* Ladle soup into bowls, top with bacon. Enjoy!

Run the Race

September is a time of big change in my area, and it often feels like the beginning of race. Kids are back in school. Business conferences abound. The air cools, winds blow, a hint of winter scents the air, and leaves become a kaleidoscope of colors as the days race toward winter.

Sometimes those changes are welcome, yet other times they hurl tension into our lives: adjusting to new schedules, prepping the yard for winter, going to all those conferences!, taking time to appreciate nature’s new artwork.

Some people love change, yet others prefer the status quo.

Autumn ValleyBut, the fact is, life changes. It throws detours at you, forces you to jump hurdles, makes you climb mountains, or slog through valleys. At times life blinds you with its brightness or envelopes you in darkness. Sometimes you get stuck in the muck, other times you’re slipping on icy terrain.

Regardless of what road life takes you on, the important thing is to keep going, though it often seems so easy to say I Quit! I’m done!

Raise your hand if you’ve said that in the last year. In the last month? Week? Today? Yeah, I think my hand went up every time.

Yet, I’m continually reminded of Paul’s letter to the Philippians where he tells them “… I press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Road through ForestAre you in a place in your life right now where you want to quit? Have you encountered nothing but dead ends and potholes and detours? Is a cold, dead winter all you see ahead of you? Then pray about it. Lay your concerns at Jesus’ feet …

Then stop and listen.

Maybe you’ll hear, Keep going! in spite of the road block ahead of you. God can move it! Or maybe you’ll hear, Your race has changed course. What’s important is that you “…run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1b – 2a)

And remember, while you’re running life’s race, don’t forget to enjoy the ever-changing view!

E is for Eager

I love fall, especially September. I was one of those kids who loved school. I was ready for it to start by mid-August (but I always had to wait until the Tuesday after Labor Day). I still wander through the school supply aisle when summer winds down – what writer doesn’t love new pens, pencils, and paper?

Living in Minnesota, I love the change of every season. Even when we first head into winter. (The problem is, it takes MONTHS to head from winter into spring so to say I’m eager for warmer weather by then is a huge understatement.)

candy cornI’ve been eager for September to arrive, eager for the cooler weather, although we had a really lovely summer here, and for the smell of bonfires and the sound of football games on a Friday evening. And my hubby is eager for candy corn and those candy pumpkins.

The changing color of the landscape is always something I look forward to, although I can’t say I’m quite as excited by how quickly the yard gets piled with leaves needing to be raked. I’m eager for the amazing smells of fall – baking pies,  crisp fall air, evening fires, and apple orchards.

I’m also eager to see where God is leading me in the coming months. To book publication? A new job? New writing friends? My eagerness can easily slide into impatience when change is slow to come. In the midst of the life’s occasional harshness, I have to cling to His enduring promises. And yes, be eager for whatever He has in store for me, because it will only bring me closer to Him.pumpkin pie

What are you eager for as we head into fall? Are there potential changes looming? A particular dream you’re waiting to see realized? Are you eager for that first taste of pumpkin or apple pie, or to eat smores around a blazing fire? Whatever it is, I pray it’s all that you hope it will be.

 

Appreciating the Light

I am the very opposite of most people. I enjoy cool (and cold!) weather so when the cicadas start signing and the calendar page turns to September I begin to look forward to the autumnal equinox.

For those unfamiliar with an equinox, it happens twice a year. Once in mid-March (vernal equinox) and once in mid-September, we experience approximately equal length in day and night. Of course, after is happens in the spring the daylight hours last longer and in the fall darkness reigns and the daylight hours grow shorter.

With this shift of light comes an abundance of fall foliage. Leaves change from greens to gold, orange, and vibrant reds. Gardens are dotted with deep green, tan and yellow varieties of squash, not to mention orange pumpkins.

Various 006Autumn’s colorful palate that the autumnal equinox gives us a fair trade for stealing some of our daylight hours, don’t you think? In addition, the autumnal equinox makes us appreciate the precious light of the day that we may have taken for granted during the long dog days of summer.

It’s true the lack of daylight can affect our mood, making us cranky, tired or lazy. When that happens we need to turn to the true light of the world, Jesus. He can fill our darkest hours, whether it’s caused by hurt, grief or confusion. His light restores our spirit and when we let His light shine from our heart, we show our true colors to the world in the same way the lessening light after the autumnal equinox reveals nature’s hues that have been masked in green throughout the summer sunshine.

You can appreciate the seasons of light and darkness in your life when you know Jesus is your beacon!

**This blog has been brought to you by the letter “E”.

Harvest Your Blessings

Are you ever burdened with a load of care? 
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
 
  The familiar words from one of my favourite hymns haven’t been far from my mind lately. In fact, those first two lines of the second stanza from Count Your Blessings by John Oatman Jr. (1856-1922) have been replaying over and over in my head for months. I was in a rut, dwelling on heavy crosses and burdens instead of the uplifting promise in the chorus:

Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done.

 I’ve always had difficulty with math, and, when circumstances in my life seemed to tip the scales towards tempests and discouragement, it was easy for me to get bogged down in the technicalities of doing the arithmetic. Even an operation as basic as counting escaped me…until I finally remembered how – at a funeral I attended recently.
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged thinking all is lost.
 
It was a difficult and painful gathering. The friend/father/husband/co-worker we were mourning had chosen to end his own life. Anticipating a small crowd, the family had arranged for a quiet, intimate service at the cemetery only to discover that they had radically underestimated the breadth and scope of this dear man’s influence.
 It wasn’t long before cars overflowed the cemetery parking lot, spilling out onto the quiet lanes that meandered through the grounds. In fact, the sheer number of cars turning off the main road caused traffic to back up for blocks.

churchThe little chapel was filled beyond capacity. Crowds spilled into the foyer and overflowed into the hall until the line-up of people wishing to pay their respects extended right out the front door.

As I stood in the midst of the throng – a cross-section of age and gender from all walks of life – I marvelled that a man so loved and respected obviously hadn’t realized the impact he had made on so many lives. And it was there, as I contemplated the many ways he had touched my life, that I remembered my favourite hymn’s promising refrain.

Count your blessings, name them one by one

Obviously my friend had forgotten to count. Or maybe he had started counting the wrong things, like we all do from time to time. However it happened, he had lost touch with his blessings and in the process had become so discouraged that he actually believed all was lost.
Count your many blessings, name them one by one
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
 
It shouldn’t surprise us, should it? The bible is full of examples of the promises He has made to us but somehow, during times of trials, it is easy to overlook those words of comfort.
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by.
 
Johnson Oatman’s words rang out like a challenge – one that I readily accepted. I have been counting ever since and I think I’m getting the hang of it. Perspective is the key.
 
From, Lord, how can you let my dog’s lymphoma come back? – to – Lord, thank you for the blessing of six years with that little scamp.

From, Lord, I don’t know how much longer I can work 6 days a week. – to – Lord, thank you for the blessing of having two jobs when so many are losing theirs.

From, Lord, why can’t I breeze into Sears and pick out brand new furiniture? – to – Lord, thank you for the unexpected blessing my neighbour left at the end of his driveway. With a little bit of paint and some new fabric that chair will be perfect in my living room.

Count your many blessings, money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven nor your home on high

 
This weekend marks Canada’s Thanksgiving celebration and the perfect time to contemplate a harvest of blessings. So, quick, grab a piece of paper – wait, make that a pad of paper – and a pen – oops, you’ll likely need a couple – and start counting.
 
 Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
 

A Harvest of Do-Overs

The green of the grass beneath their cleats is beginning to fade. It crunches slightly as the teams line up across a white line from one another. Head to head. Face to face. Hovering over an oblong-shaped brown ball. The left tackle adjusts his facemask. The center flexes his fingers before he wraps them around the rough leather held together with white laces. A whistle blows. The quarterback barks out numbers and colors. “Hike!”

The air is so still you can hear the swish of the ball as it slides across the grass and into the air. The quarterback is a split second too slow. The brown pigskin slips through his fingers and skitters to a stop five yards behind him. The crack of helmets against hard plastic shoulder pads is drowned out by shouts.

“Get it!”

“Somebody get the ball!”

“Where is it?”

“Over there!”

Then comes the loudest command of all. “Do-over!”

The referee blows his whistle. The hullabaloo calms. The youngsters quickly stand up and hustle back to the white line formed by a string stretched from one of the posts supporting the porch roof and the big oak tree whose golden leaves are the cheering crowd gone silent as the wind dies.  Once more the left tackle adjusts his facemask and the center flexes his fingers. They’ve been offered a second chance. A do-over just so they can get it right.

That’s why I love this time of year. Oh, not for the backyard football game where kids become their favorite college player proudly displaying their orange and blue or red and white jerseys. And not even for the sweet aroma that floats on the crisp breeze or the brilliant kaleidoscope of colors that mottle the forests and mountainsides. But because it reminds me that God is the God of second chances.

Just take a look at those beautiful trees outside your window. Beautiful in spring when green leaves and new buds of life abound, they absolutely explode with their second chance to put on a display of nature’s handiwork.  The fields reaped of their harvest of vegetables are plowed under, offering them a second chance of rest before the warmth of spring brings the next round of seeds. All around us, God’s creation is begging for a do-over. And autumn reminds us that He graciously offers it. Again and again and again and…thumbnail.aspx

And it isn’t just nature that benefits from this abundant grace. We humans do, too. After all, fall brings a new school year. A second chance for a child to achieve things he was reluctant to last year. Another chance to score a touchdown. Or become drum major. Or take the lead in the school play.

For those of us who are way past crushes on the quarterback and homecoming dances, we get second thumbnail.aspxchances, too.  All we have to do is take them. Reap the harvest of second chances God freely offers with each new sunrise that kisses the vibrant reds and oranges against a cloudless blue sky. So go on. What are you waiting for? Get up and take them. You’re never too old for a do-over. All you have to do is get up, dust yourself off, and take your place on the field.

My favourite season is…

You guessed it right. It’s autumn.

I’m a fall baby. I don’t know if the love for the season was encrypted in my genes or if I developed it over time, but either way, this is by far my favourite time of year.

Autumn is synonym of beauty, reflection and peace.

I grew up back East where leaves turned crimson red, fiery orange and sunshine yellow. I spent my weekends in the woods collecting leaves that I would keep between the pages of my favourite books. There was something mystical about hiking alone on a trail. The sounds were more eastern_grey_squirrelpronounced: the dry leaves crunched under my steps, the chipmunks and squirrels chipped high in the trees, the wind whistled through the branches. The colours were more vibrant: the red, the orange, the yellow, the green contrasted with the bright blue sky. The air was crisper, its scent richer, earthier. I was alone, and yet, I felt a presence, a warm, cozy presence, that filled my soul and lightened my burdens. It was almost like shedding a layer and emerging from the woods revitalized, invigorated by an invisible source.

For days on end, it seems that time stood still, allowing me to finish all the projects started in the summer. A cool sunny day was perfect to give a coat of paint to a fence, fix a leaky shed or seed bulbs for the spring. Even the cold rainy days had their purpose, giving me the excuse of working inside without feeling guilty about not enjoying the outdoor.  And I can’t skip over those precious moments where I sat on a bench and simply admired God’s work.

imagesThose quiet interludes were occasions to reflect on what was accomplished, to be thankful for the blessings received, to acknowledge expectations not met, to reassess priorities, to establish new goals and to follow a new trail.

Autumn might be harvest season, but it’s also a sowing season. Like the bulbs and seeds buried under a layer of dirt and leaves, autumn sets the foundation for the spring to come.

Take Time to Listen

“A few days ago I walked along the edge of the lake
and was treated to the crunch and rustle of leaves with each step I made.
The acoustics of this season are different and all sounds,
no matter how hushed,
are as crisp as autumn air.”
~Eric Sloane

I promised myself I could write this without crying, but now I seriously doubt that. It’s okay. Often my tears fall in autumn like the leaves from the trees. At least they have for the last twelve and half years.

You see, my mother’s favorite season was autumn. She loved it. Summers in Iowa are hot and humid. Winters can be bitterly cold and brutal, and spring, as unpredictable as a new baby. But fall? Fall you can count on to be beautiful in every way, from the crunch of leaves underfoot to crisp autumn air. My mother beamed from the moment the first leaf made is fluttering descent to the grass below. It was almost like God painted all the trees just for her.

Brilliant yellows, deep rusts, warm oranges, vibrant greens, and dark burgundies mottle the bluffs. Road trips just to see the hillsides were a must. Everyday, the portrait changed, depending on how deep into the season we got, and the vivid colors eventually gave way to the stark realities of winter.

My mother loved it all. As if that wasn’t enough, she surrounded her home with those same warm shades. Remember harvest gold of 70’s? Ugh. (What were they thinking?) Well, she liked it. Thankfully, that particular refrigerator died.

100_1395But what did she love about autumn? She said God could have made the leaves all one color, but He made them special, each unique, for us, His creation. And when she said it, you could almost hear God whispering, “I love you” in the breeze.

What do I love about autumn now? Not only does the season remind me of my precious mother, it reminds me that as much as things change, they stay the same. Guess who now reminds her children to look at the beautiful trees? I can’t help but point out the first ones to turn, and my favorites as we drive. We’ve been known to go on our own road trips into the bluffs, too.

Autumn also reminds me that even when the world feels chaotic, God is in control. Daniel 2:21 says, “He changes the times and seasons; He sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.”

A God who gives us beauty, who controls the universe, who sets kings on thrones, loves me – and His creation shouts it.

Fall reminds me to take time to listen.

bushEarth’s crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning