Perfect Harmony

New Harmony, Indiana is one of my all-time favorite small towns. I’ve been there on several occasions, with my daughter, with my sister, and even on a couple of solo trips. I got one of the best massages I’ve ever had in New Harmony. The food is always delicious, and I come away feeling stress-free and refreshed after a couple of days in this beautiful little oasis.

My daughter and I were on an adventure through Southern Indiana, so we decided to make our way back to New Harmony for another visit.

We usually stay at the New Harmony Inn when we visit this town, but we decided to be a bit more adventurous this time and experience a stay at the Old Rooming House.

This old Italianate Victorian home was built in 1896. Owner, Jim Stinson, has decorated the house with a large collection of vintage books, magazines, and knick-knacks which he has collected through the years. The exterior of the home could really use a little paint, and the grounds could use some sprucing up, but the beds are clean and comfortable. Old-fashioned lawn furniture adorns the lawn along with a swing on the front porch, and vintage bicycles are available for guests to use while exploring the town. Jim has been quoted as stating that he decorated it with the intention of giving one the feeling of visiting a grandparent’s old house, which is funny, because that’s exactly what my daughter said when she saw our room.  He told us that most of his guests are artists, writers, or musicians. It certainly is a quiet place to allow one to focus on their craft. And the price is right!

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We had two very comfortable beds and a private bathroom. The stairs to the attic were being used as a bookshelf to hold several old books. There was a wide selection of vintage magazines available to us, hot coffee, and even old-fashioned View Masters on the bedside tables. The Old Rooming House isn’t for everyone, but it certainly was a fun experience compared to the usual hotel room.

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Once we were settled into our room, we ventured out to do a little exploring around town. We were excited to see that the Iris’ were blooming!

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We had dinner at the historic Yellow Tavern. It’s a beautiful old building, offering everything from pizza and wings to T-bone steaks. They don’t accept credit or debit cards, but there is a teller machine in the back of the restaurant. After a dinner of steak and shrimp, we did a little exploring in the town, enjoying the art sculptures and brightly-painted homes.

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The next morning, we headed to the Red Geranium for brunch. This charming restaurant offers beautiful views and delicious food. It’s a bit pricey for dinner, but more affordable for breakfast and lunch.

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With our bellies full, it was time to do a little more exploring. We visited the Roofless Church, a non-denominational church where everyone is welcome to worship. This church is an entire city block, with art sculptures, fountains, reflecting areas, and open windows looking out over a beautiful field. The only area that is actually covered by a roof is the statue of Christ, surrounded by angels and the Holy Spirit.

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There are many historical sites to see in New Harmony, including the Owen House and the old log homes. There are also many gardens, including the Harmony Labyrinth.

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Photo courtesy Visit New Harmony

 

One of our favorite parts of this trip was running barefoot through fields of golden flowers! It was something my daughter was able to mark off of her Bucket List.

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Next on the agenda was shopping and there are plenty of shops in New Harmony, from artist shops to antique stores to clothing boutiques. My daughter was searching for vintage photographs, books, and glassware. She was not disappointed!

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Our final stop was at Sarah’s Harmony Way Coffee Shop and Wine Bar. Like most everything in New Harmony, it’s an eclectic, artsy establishment with comfortable furnishings, inviting one to sit and sip while taking in all of the interesting decor.

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We were reluctant to say goodbye to New Harmony, but I know it won’t be our last visit, for it’s a hard place to beat when looking for a place just to relax and refresh one’s mind and soul.

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New Harmony’s History

New Harmony sits on the Wabash River and has a population of only 749 people. The town was originally called Harmony (or Harmonie) when it was founded, in 1814, by Johann Georg Rapp, leader of a German religious group known as Harmonists. The group came to the area from Pennsylvania, with the intent of building the “most beautiful town in all of western America” The town was built in a perfect square, offering its citizens a quiet, holy life of discipline and simplicity. Many in the group eventually decided to go back to Pennsylvania after a few short years. The remaining Harmonists left the area in 1824, after selling the town to a wealthy industrialist from Scotland, named Robert Owen.

Owen purchased the town and renamed it New Harmony, with the vision of creating sort of a Utopian society of “happiness, enlightenment, and prosperity through education, science, technology, and communal living.” It was, basically, an experiment in bringing Socialism to America, in which everyone would work hard and share equally of the goods produced. Owen’s experiment was short-lived, however, due to his rejection of established religion as well as the fact that, along with the many people who were committed to the Vision, were many others who were also drawn to the town with the idea of free-loading off of those who were working hard. The Socialism experiment was a complete failure, and the Owenite community broke apart in less than five years.

Because the first residents of this town were deeply committed to their faith in God and the second group of residents were committed to education, technology, and the arts, New Harmony is currently a rich mixture of all of these components. There are churches on every corner, including the Roofless Church, which has walls but no roof. Only a statue of Jesus, with angels below him and the Holy Spirit above him, is covered with a roof-like structure. The non-denominational church is a serene setting with art sculptures and serene gardens.

Many artists, educators, writers, and musicians have flocked to the town over the years. There are reflecting gardens filled with art sculptures and labyrinths all around, as well as art galleries, boutique shops and antique stores.

The town hosts several festivals and art events throughout each year.

God Loves Women

I recently read an article which appeared to encourage women to disengage from the church, stating that the Bible depicts God as believing women are second-class citizens on this earth, that they are somehow “less than” their male counterparts. The author of the article even went so far as to add several facts regarding the brutal treatment of women in many cultures where God is not honored and revered as “proof” of this claim, That’s kind of like telling people that healthy food is bad for you and, then, listing several unhealthy foods to back up that statement.

Several women had “liked” and praised the article. It saddened me to see this, for they accepted this lie and they had, obviously, never really studied the Bible to learn the truth about how God feels toward women.

My mind reflected on the life of a woman whom I’ll call “Amanda” in order to protect her identity.

Amanda was raised in a home where no one ever spoke about God or the Bible. Her father ran off and left the family. Her mother struggled to make ends meet on a weekly basis and never seemed to have the time to invest in her children.

With no fatherly influence in the home, Amanda grew up without knowing how it felt to be truly loved and appreciated by a man. She developed into a beautiful woman at an early age. Men began to pay attention to her, but for the wrong reasons. She accepted the advances of some of these men, simply because she was starved for love and affection, even if it was only for a few minutes.

When Amanda turned 18, someone approached her about dancing at a strip club. She gave it a try and was quickly seduced by the money she earned as well as the attention being lavished on her by the men in the audience while she was dancing on stage.

The next decade of Amanda’s life was not pretty. It was filled with men who abused her terribly as they used her for her body and, then, tossed her aside like a piece of trash. She had suffered many injuries from physical assaults, and even came close to being killed on a couple of occasions. She turned to alcohol and drugs to numb the emotional and physical pain.

Amanda had almost hit the breaking point in her life when she found God. She learned that God had created her and that He loved her unconditionally. So much so that He sent His son, Jesus, to die for her sins, so that she could live eternally with God in Heaven. Amanda had never known a love so pure, so true. She made a decision to accept Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. Filled with the Holy Spirit of God, she found the strength to leave her old life behind. As she began studying the Bible, Amanda realized that God had a special plan for her life, and that nothing was impossible with Christ. It was only through her relationship with Christ that Amanda gained the strength to stop allowing others in this world to treat her as “less than.”

I bet Amanda would strongly disagree with the writer who wants women to think God doesn’t love them.

I haven’t suffered the hardships that Amanda has endured in her life, but I do know how it feels to be treated as “less than” by the world. I also know that it was through my relationship with Jesus Christ that I was able to truly discover my worth as a woman.

The Bible tells me that I am beautifully and wonderfully created by God, out of love. He has given me certain gifts that I can use to serve Him and to make a difference in the lives of others. He has a plan for my life which, if I follow, will bring me peace and joy, in all circumstances.

I see example after example in the Bible, where Jesus treats women with love and respect. I read the words that instruct husbands to be loving, kind, faithful, and loyal to their wives. I also know the difference in how a man treats women when he puts Christ first in his life as opposed to one who doesn’t.

The Bible also tells us of many times when God used women to do some mighty things on earth, filing them with the inner strength, power, and wisdom to accomplish great and challenging tasks.

It is true that women have not always been treated well, especially in the past, but that did not come from God; it came from the sinful nature of a fallen world. And I’m sure there are some people in the world who take the Bible out of context in order to hold women back. But don’t blame God for man’s sins.

God loves everyone He created, and that includes women. He created us a little differently than men, but that is a good thing, for women fulfill some things on this earth than men could never fulfill, and vice versa.

Trying to convince women that God thinks of them as second-class citizens and that being a part of the church will only hold them back is a lie. It is Satan’s hateful attempt to turn women against the only One in whom they can find their true value.

Don’t be deceived. God loves you and wants good things for you. Satan does not.

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“God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.” – Psalm 46:5

“She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed.” – Proverbs 3:15-18

 

Antiques, Art, and Some Really Fun Junk

Day two of my adventure with my daughter led us to the Corydon Extravaganza of Antique, Art, and Junk Festival. There was some rain and a little mud to dodge, but we weren’t about to let that deter us from having a great day. We were on a mission to find some great vintage treasures!

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The event, which was held at the Harrison County Fairgrounds, in Corydon, Indiana, charges a $3.00 admission fee to help offset the costs of hosting and advertising. We hadn’t eaten yet when we arrived, so the first thing we did was head out to where the food trucks were located. We met a very nice couple who owned the Dang Quesadilla food truck. The name was a family joke from the Napoleon Dynamite movie, which their three sons loved. They let us sample some steak which they had just taken off of the grill, and prepared a delicious lunch for us. The perfect fuel for shopping!

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Once our bellies were full, we were ready to begin hunting for treasures. We started in the antique and collectibles area. We found lots of fun vintage toys and kitchen items, many of which I had in my childhood! I suppose that makes me “vintage.” My daughter was thrilled to find several books dating back to the 1800’s to add to her vintage book collection. We also found some beautiful sterling silver jewelry at great prices.

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We ventured outside after the rain stopped to explore the artists’ booths. We met a nice lady from Ireland, who had a booth filled with hand-made soaps, hand-ground teas, and other Irish treats. We had fun trying on some vintage hats, and tested out some organic lotions and body scrubs. One of our favorite’s was the umbrella booth.

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My daughter’s favorite find of the day was this set of blue Mason jars, which she plans to fill with tiny white lights and make a chandelier. She left a happy girl!

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We explored Corydon a bit more before heading on to our next destination. It’s an adorable, quaint town, filled with vintage stores, a really cool ice cream shop, and a wonderful coffee house. We stopped in there for iced coffee and peach iced tea. Ahhh.

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It was time to head on down the road, laughing all the way!

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The Secret Garden

Located just off the beaten path in Commiskey, Indiana, walking into Stream Cliff Herb Farm is like stepping into a Secret Garden. Wildflowers and lush landscaping line brick pathways which lead from one beautiful discovery to another, from reflecting ponds to serene gardens to an old wooden chapel. My daughter and I spent an afternoon there while off on a mother/daughter adventure.

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We started with lunch in the Twig and Sprig Restaurant, which offers some unique recipes for salads, sandwiches, and soups served in homemade bread bowls. The restaurant is decorated in a garden theme, with large windows looking out on the flowers and herbs that are available for purchase. All recipes are created using the Farm’s home-grown herbs and plates are decorated with edible flowers. My daughter had the pulled pork barbecue sandwich with potato salad while I enjoyed a farm burger with a dill and apple coleslaw.  The specialty desert at the farm is Hummingbird Cake, which is made from scratch by the owner’s grandmother.

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After lunch we browsed through the endless plants available for purchase. The selection is amazing. We didn’t purchase any since we weren’t planning to be back home for a few days and feared they wouldn’t survive the trip, but we enjoyed exploring the wide variety of colorful flowers and fresh-smelling herbs.

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We did a little shopping in the gift shops, where we skimmed through books on garden fairies, tried on some fancy hats, and purchased some unique teas in old-time wooden boxes.

 

The Farm is a photographer’s paradise! My daughter was able to get some stunning photographs of the gardens and reflecting ponds.

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There’s even a little pink playhouse for children!

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We especially enjoyed exploring the the Little Chapel.  The Farm is an ideal place for small wedding ceremonies. The chapel is also used for classes and workshops which are offered on a regular basis.

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The Farm also has a Winery, which offers free tastings of their hand-crafted wines. Other items are also available for purchase, including hand-made chocolates, pumpkin butter, and assorted jams and jellies.

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The history of Stream Cliff Farm dates back to 1821, when bachelor James Harmon traveled to Indiana to claim his father’s land grant, which was offered to Revolutionary War soldiers for their service. James’ father had served in that war under Benedict Arnold. James lived in a hollowed-out tree and had pigs under the floor of the tree to help keep him warm at night. He built the old barn and he baked all of the bricks to build the house, which he completed in the 1830’s. The farm was once occupied during the Civil War by Morgan’s Raiders. Upon his death in 1863, James left the farm and all of his possessions to Asbury College, a part of the Methodist Church. Current owner Betty Manning’s grandmother purchased the farm from the Methodist Church and lived there for 50 years, where she spent her days quilting and gardening. Seven generations of the family have grown up on the farm, and it’s now available for everyone to enjoy.

The Farm hosts many festivals and musical events throughout the year, as well, but it’s a beautiful place to visit any day of the week.

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Awesome April

Springtime is in full gear and the celebrations are non-stop for my family during the month of April. Here are some of the things for which I’m grateful during this sweet time of year:

BIRTHDAY BLESSINGS

We kick off the month of every April by celebrating my husband’s birthday. The grand kids have the best time deciding on a theme for their Pappy’s birthday party and decorating the table with lots of streamers and favors. This year, they decided on a “Go Big Blue” party. We had all of my husband’s favorite foods, of course, which makes it kind of easy because he loves burgers and brats. Instead of a birthday cake, we make something gooey, with lots of cinnamon, because that’s what Pappy loves best. It was Cinnamon Monkey Bread this year, and it was a hit! He always has a lot of help in blowing out those candles. I am grateful for my husband and for every birthday I get to help him celebrate.

 

EASTER JOY

There is no other celebration more important to our family than Easter, for celebrating the resurrection of Christ is what gives us hope for our eternal future! We decorate the house in festive spring colors, enjoy Easter Egg and Treasure Hunts with the grand kids, share the story of Easter, and feast on ham, beef brisket, and an array of salads and veggies. There are always lots of fancy sweets and chocolate bunnies, as well. We celebrate Jesus on Easter morning at the Sunrise Easter Service. It’s an added bonus that it’s our son who is preaching the sermon! Afterward, we enjoy a good, old-fashioned potluck breakfast at the church. There is usually time for a quick nap before heading out to visit relatives for dinner and more egg-hunting fun with cousins.

THE THUNDER ROLLS

The last two weeks of April are filled with non-stop Derby Festival events around Kentuckiana. The first and biggest event is Thunder Over Louisville. Hundreds of thousands of people gather around the Ohio River to view a spectacular air show, in which dozens of our military’s magnificent aircraft and pilots will show off their powerful skills. It’s beyond amazing to be sitting in a boat on the Ohio River when a Stealth Bomber comes sneaking up on you with unbelievable speed! It’s an all-day party, with food trucks, music, street vendors, and lots of people-watching. When night falls, the skies light up with one of the largest fireworks shows in the world. It’s a fabulous kick-off to the many Kentucky Derby Festival activities. Some of our other favorites are the Pegasus Parade and the Great Balloon Glow, in which all of the hot air balloons are lit up, glowing in the night sky before the next morning’s Great Balloon Race. Louisville is definitely the place to be for festival fun in April!

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MOTHER-DAUGHTER FUN

My daughter and I always like to sneak away for a little adventure sometime in the spring. We plan to do that in April this year, and I’ll blog about our experience soon. I’m always grateful to get my daughter to myself for a couple of days.

April goes by in flash with so many things to celebrate. Amidst the flurry of activities, however, I still find time to just be still, to appreciate the warm spring days and to notice the tulips blooming. For as long as the earth continues to turn, Spring will continue to come. God promises!

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Mad About March

March is the month when we, hopefully, say goodbye to Old Man Winter and prepare to welcome the wonders of spring. Who wouldn’t be grateful for that?  It’s a time of transition and new beginnings. This is my list of gratitude for the month of March:

RAIN, RAIN, YOU CAN STAY

I love sunny days, but I admit that I also love it when it rains in March. I love how my grandchildren giggle when we grab an umbrella and go walking in the rain, always stopping to splash in the puddles. I love to sit by my window and watch spring thunderstorms. Even when it’s a cold, dreary day with a steady drizzle, all I can think about is how that rain is watering the spring flowers that are popping out of the ground. Everything smells so fresh and clean after a good rain shower and, if you’re lucky, you can spy a rainbow afterwards, as the sun peeks out from behind the clouds.

SPRING BUDS

Nothing says spring is near like the sight of daffodils beginning to bloom. The trees are starting to bud,  the grass is getting lush and green, and everything feels new again. I’m grateful for this time of new beginnings.

BABIES IN THE FIELDS

If you take a long drive down a country lane this time of year, you’re bound to see baby animals frolicking in the fields. There is a farm about 40 miles from my home, where I can always count on seeing adorable little lambs hopping about. Just down the road from that farm, I’ll find a pasture filled with cows looking after their calves. Kentucky is horse country, so I can drive in most any direction and soon find myself watching newborn foals skipping around alongside their watchful mamas. I watch them grow a little bigger each week, and wonder if I might be watching a future Kentucky Derby winner! I don’t have to drive to the country in order to see baby animals, however. I can look out my back windows and see Bambi nibbling on my bushes, or drive around the corner and see little ducklings, waddling behind their mother. I’ve even spied a red fox leading her three babies into the woods, and a mama skunk with her adorable little ones. Babies, of any kind, always bring me such joy.

MARCH MADNESS

We have no major league sports teams in the state of Kentucky, so college sports reign around here. NCAA basketball is an especially loved sport for us, which makes March Madness an exceptionally exciting time! Both, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville, have outstanding basketball programs. Most folks in this state love one of those teams and love to hate the other one. When March Madness rolls around, however, all except for a few stubborn heads hop on board the fan wagons of both teams, hoping to bring an NCAA Basketball Championship back home to Kentucky again. March is always a time of endless pizza, nachos, wings, and exciting hoops. Go Big Blue!

SHENANIGANS

It’s only natural that St. Patrick’s Day is a special day to a family with a name like Murphy. We started a tradition, years ago, when my children were very young, of hosting an annual Shenanigans Party to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with our Murphy relatives. We’d serve Irish Stew, green jello salad, and cupcakes with green frosting. Everyone would wear something green, of course. We drew names to exchange gag gifts, and adorn ourselves with funky hats, over-sized eye glasses, and fuzzy green wigs for family portraits. One year, my mother-in-law bought sweatshirts with the Murphy family crest on them for all of those whose birth name was Murphy. Those who married into the family received sweatshirts that read, “MURPHY’S in-LAW.” Clever, huh? Our Shenanigans Parties stopped for a few years, after my father-in-law passed on. It didn’t seem right to celebrate without the head of our Murphy family being there. A few years later, however, after our hearts had some time to heal, my mother-in-law decided to reignite the annual celebration, in her husband’s honor. There weren’t as many green foods, and she would order potato pizzas rather than serving Irish stew, but the gag gifts and funny family portraits continued. She also taught all of her grand kids how to do the Irish Jig and gave out cash prizes to the best dancers. My mother-in-law has since passed on, as well. The Murphy grandchildren grew up and some of them moved to different parts of the nation so, once again, the tradition came to a halt. My husband and I now have four grandchildren of our own, so this March seemed like the perfect time to rekindle the Shenanigans fun, once again. I hope they treasure the memories as much as I do!

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May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.           -Irish Blessing

 

 

 

Clearwater, St. Pete’s Beach, Ybor City

The first couple of months of 2017 had me in a whirlwind of stress due to some difficult work projects, so I was even more excited than normal to be able to get away with my husband for a relaxing beach vacation in Southeast Florida.

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Clearwater Beach, FL

We weren’t the only ones who thought a February beach vacation was a good idea. Clearwater Beach was packed! It was fun to watch so many toddlers and children building sandcastles in the sand and wading in the ocean. It kind of made us wish our grandchildren were there with us.  We were also entertained by a marching percussion band on the beach. A group of young men, who appeared to be part of a college soccer team, held soccer practice right in front of our chairs. I guess practicing on the beach is more fun than practicing on a soccer field. They had some serious skills! It was fun to see them in action. The ocean was packed with boats, as well. People were sailing, dolphin cruise boats were all around, and Captain Memo’s Pirate Ship fired a few “cannons” at us!

We browsed the Art Festival on the Pier, did a little bit of shopping, and searched out the best places for seafood before taking in the glorious sunset.

We spent the next day on a smaller, quieter beach, just enjoying the sound of the small waves splashing against the sand and watching for dolphins to pop out of the water. We did a lot of reading and a little napping. The weather was perfect, with warm temperatures, sunny skies, and a gentle breeze. Before we knew it, the pirate ship was sneaking up on us again. It looked like the passengers were having fun!

 

St. Pete’s Beach, FL

We did a bit of exploring on St. Pete’s Beach, and found ourselves at the Postcard Inn. This is an old motel that has been renovated with a vintage art deco theme. I was mesmerized by the over-sized bookcase that lined one wall. The end tables in the lobby were made out of painted bicycle rims, and the huge coffee table held a centerpiece of vintage luggage. The courtyard was lined with palm trees and eclectic lawn furniture. We enjoyed a lunch of fish and chips and tropical chicken wraps on the beach while watching some young people play beach volleyball.

Historic St. Petersburg, FL

We spent one afternoon exploring beautiful Historic St. Petersburg, where we found some amazing architecture and beautiful boats on the water. Wide sidewalks and park benches surrounded by flowering plants made for the perfect place to take a long walk. Adorable animal statues are relaxing on the benches in the town square, and the store front windows were filled with artistic creations. We loved visiting the Sweet and Savory Spice Shoppe, which offered a large selection of freshly-ground spices. I’m looking forward to experimenting with some of the spices and seasonings we purchased.

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Ybor City, FL

Once the hub of Tampa’s cigar industry, this historic Tampa neighborhood is now a hot spot of cultural entertainment for tourists as well as Florida residents. Beautiful old buildings with wrought iron balconies line the brick-paved streets. Flavors of the cultures of Cuba, Spain, and Italy abound as a result of the many immigrants who once worked in the cigar industry. You can still watch people hand-rolling cigars in many store windows. There is an abundance of restaurants, offering every type of cuisine imaginable, as well as eclectic coffee shops and artists’ shops.

Restaurant tours and cigar factory tours are available, as well as trolleys running through the heart of the neighborhood, but we enjoyed just walking around, checking out the art galleries and Latin markets, having lunch, studying the architecture and doing some people-watching while relaxing on the sidewalk benches.

We visited during the early afternoon but I’m guessing that, with its many cigar bars, nightclubs, and occasional tattoo parlors, Ybor City is definitely an “adults only” place at night, but it’s rich history makes it a fun place for families to visit during the daytime.

One other fun thing about Ybor City is the fact that chickens roam freely along the streets. Upon doing a little research, I learned that they are the direct ancestors of the chickens that belonged to the immigrants who lived and worked there more than a hundred years ago. We saw a few chickens and a couple of beautiful roosters!

 

Warming Up to February

I find myself sorely missing the sunshine by the time February rolls around. Sometimes it’s necessary to combat the blueness of the season by making a little sunshine of our own in our hearts. These are the things that top my gratitude list this month:

SOUP’S ON!

I like to make a lot of soups  and stews during this time of year, and the best way to do that is in a crock pot. I’m grateful for my crock pot all year long, because I use it so much that it seldom gets put back into the cabinet. I’m especially grateful for it, however, in February, because there is nothing better than a hot bowl of soup on a cold winter’s night.

 

WATCHING GOD WORK

I was chatting with three of my friends, a few weeks ago, about wanting to stay focused on reading through the entire Bible this year. We made an off-the-cuff decision to start a private group page on Facebook so that we could work together to accomplish this task. Word got out about our plan and, within a few short days, we had 30 people in our group! We’re all reading the same chapter assignments each week and discussing what we’re reading, learning and growing together in God’s word. I’m so grateful for this group. It always amazes me to see how God works when we least expect it. The awesome thing about reading the Bible is that you learn something new every time you read it. I’m grateful for that, and for my friends who are on this journey with me.

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FINDING LOVE

February is, of course, the month to celebrate love. Most people think of Valentine’s Day as the day to celebrate romantic love with our spouses or significant others. This can be a sad and lonely day for those who do not have someone special in their lives. But love is all around us, if we just stop and look, and we can find many ways to celebrate it!  I like to bake some sweet treats to deliver to a few friends who may be struggling with loneliness this time of year. Small expressions of love can mean a lot to others when they’re feeling down. I remember, years ago, when I was young and single, dreading Valentine’s Day. One of my co-workers received a dozen red roses from her husband. She pulled three of them out of her arrangement, wrapped them in fancy tissue paper, and brought them to work to give to me. That was 38 years ago and, yet, I still remember that kind gesture. I think, perhaps, the best way to celebrate love is by doing something totally unexpected for a complete stranger. Giving a Dairy Queen gift card to the mother in the store, who is juggling three small kids while trying to shop on an extremely tight budget, is an awesome way to share some love. Delivering a home-cooked meal to a senior citizen who doesn’t get out much during the winter time would definitely brighten his or her day.  Regardless of whether we have someone to spoil us on Valentine’s Day, or not, we can always find ways to share love. I’m grateful that, as we mature in life, we start to realize that giving to others often brings us more joy than when others give to us.

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LIKE MY OWN

Another thing about February for which I am grateful is the fact that we will celebrate my daughter-in-law’s birthday! I am constantly thanking God for bringing her into my son’s life and, as a result, into our family. She loves and supports my son in every way possible. She has given us four of the most beautiful grandchildren, who light up our lives with joy and laughter and adventure. She juggles the tasks of raising her family, managing her home, and assisting her husband in his ministry with a Christ-like spirit and complete devotion. I always wanted a third child, and she is it! We are grateful and blessed to have her as part of our family. I love her “like my own.”

 

CHASING SUNSHINE

One of the ways I battle the Winters Blues is to make plans to get out of town for a few days each February. It’s not always possible, but I am extremely grateful when the opportunity presents itself. We usually head south, looking for that sunshine! I come home recharged with the energy to get through the last few weeks of winter, anticipating the first buds of spring.

 

If you’re battling  Cabin Fever or the Winter Blues, hang on; Spring is coming!

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And now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go make a big pot of homemade soup.

Finding Joy in January

 

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to be more aware of the many things for which I am grateful by keeping a Journal of Gratitude. I’ve made this resolution before, and I never seem to stick with it – isn’t that usually the case with most resolutions?

I’ve decided to hold myself more accountable this year by posting on my blog the things that bring me joy, or inspiration, or motivation. Each month brings it’s own unique gifts and, while January is one of my least favorite months of the year, it is no exception.

A SLOWER PACE – While the month of December is filled with the excitement of celebrating Christmas, it is also filled with seemingly endless tasks of decorating, buying and wrapping gifts, baking treats, cleaning the house, preparing meals, and entertaining, not to mention cleaning up the messes that accompany many of these activities. I’m not complaining, because I love every extremely busy minute of it, but I am usually exhausted by the last day of December. I am grateful that January brings a slower pace, with fewer “To Do” lists. It offers an opportunity to recuperate from the hustle and bustle of December.

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BLANKETS OF WHITE – The first week of January, 2017 brought with it a few inches of snow where I live. I’m not a huge fan of cold, icy weather, especially considering that my work requires me to travel. But there is something magical about watching snowflakes trickling down, covering the ground like a white blanket. The world just seems quieter when it’s snowing. I am grateful to snuggle up in my freshly-laundered white cotton blanket as I sit and watch the snowflakes dancing through the air.

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BOOKED UP – I love to read, and the winter months always seem to offer me the most time to do so. I just read Ellie Wiesel’s “Night” for the third time. Everyone should read that book at least once. I’m, now, starting “Go Set a Watchman,” by Harper Lee, the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” This book met with some mixed reviews, but I feel compelled to see for myself. Another book that I am really enjoying is entitled, “At My Grandmother’s Knee,” by Faye Porter – “a collection of recipes and memories handed down by women of the South.” I am also planning on re-reading “The Case for a Creator,” by Lee Strobel. This is another one of those books that deserves to be read more than once. I highly recommend it!

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BARGAINS! – Many are eager to hit up the After-Christmas sales on December 26. Not me. The last thing I want to do the day after Christmas is fight traffic and shopping crowds. I do, however, love browsing through the clearance sections in January, as that is when the true bargains can be found. I’ve already purchased Valentine’s Day gifts for my grandkids, at 75% off!

OUT OF THE CLOSET – Not only does January offer me the time to reorganize my thoughts, it also offers the opportunity to do a little organizing of my closets; a chance to pull out the things I no longer want or need, to donate to charity, and to organize the things that will stay. I’m going to be stricter on myself this year, in efforts to streamline and simplify my life. I’m grateful for all that I have, and realize that I might have more than I need when it comes to things such as clothes, dishes, and books. My husband and I are hoping to downsize to a smaller home soon, so it’s time to start downsizing the amount of possessions we own. Out. Out! OUT!

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REFLECTION – Remember when I said January was one of my least favorite months of the year? The long, cold nights have something to do with that, but another significant reason is the fact that both of my parents passed away on cold January days. As I spend time reflecting on the experiences of the previous year, I can’t help but to find myself wishing that my Mom and Dad could see how my children have grown; the storms they have weathered and the accomplishments they’ve achieved. I wish they could meet their great-grandchildren, for they would be “over the moon” for them! I wish I could enjoy my Mom’s fried chicken one more time.  No one can top my mom’s cooking. I wish I could tell my Dad about my grandson’s first steamboat ride. My Dad grew up on the riverbank and he loved steamboats. Mostly, I wish I could tell them both how much I appreciate all that they sacrificed for me, that I’m sorry for the times I let them down, and how much I love and appreciate them. I’ve battled this a lot over the years, but now that my children are grown and I have grandchildren of my own, I’ve come to a point of realization that they would probably answer, “It’s okay. It was worth it and, given the chance, we’d do it all over again.” I know that’s what I’d tell my children, and I think that’s what my parents would say to me. The cold, biting air of January might bring up some painful memories of my parents’ final days on Earth, but I am grateful that those memories also remind me of who they were and how much love they gave me.

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There is joy to be found in all things, at all times. I’m grateful for the joys of January.

And, now, I’ll leave you with these adorable photographs from my grandson’s first steamboat ride!

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The Imperfect Person’s Guide to a Perfect Christmas

We all work so hard to create the perfect Christmas celebrations for our families, only to be reminded that we are far from perfect. I seemed to have had a more-than-normal amount of mishaps this past Christmas.

I made a pie that turned out HORRIBLE – had to trash it.

I tried a new recipe for a special Christmas garden salad that I thought looked so festive and tasted awesome – I’m the only one who liked it.

I realized an hour before everyone arrived that I had forgotten to put ribbons and bows on the presents.

I was short a gift for one of my kids.

Those boots that I searched so long and hard for as another gift didn’t work out very well.

I had too many stocking stuffers for some, not enough for others.

For a minute, there, I was starting to feel a bit defeated in my attempt to create a wonderful Christmas experience for my family. But, when I look at these photos and see the huge smiles on everyone’s faces, and think of the hugs and excitement and laughter, I am reminded that “perfection” is not actually obtainable, and it isn’t even necessary. Our house was filled with love and joy, simply from being together.

The only perfect gift is the gift of Jesus Christ, and being able to celebrate that gift with my family was all the truly mattered.

The moral to this story is, if things didn’t go exactly as you planned but you celebrated the birth of Christ with those you love, it was the perfect Christmas! 

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