Something New Saturday: Elderberry Syrup

Over the past year or so, we’ve purchased elderberry syrup made by a central Florida mom named Julie. We’ve been so pleased with what she produces as part of her cottage business, but it’d become increasingly hard to meet up to buy her product.

So…given the fact that this year’s flu season seems especially nasty, I decided I would make a batch of elderberry syrup myself to help boost my family’s natural immunity.

elderberry syrup
Reusing a jelly jar that was a Costco purchase…

This post is not intended as medical advice–everybody needs to do her own research and make decisions best for her own family. With that said, I’m intrigued by the reputed benefits of elderberry syrup.

You might be able to find elderberries yourself at Whole Foods (although I haven’t looked there) or simply buy the syrup ready-made at a pharmacy or online. For ours, I ordered a batch of organic elderberries from Amazon (with a Prime membership, which we make extensive use of every single year), and this order provided the perfect amount for making a batch of syrup. I used the honey my parents harvest from the bees they raise at their home in Mississippi, along with ginger and cinnamon. I also threw in some turmeric (for its anti-inflammatory properties), although my children are of the opinion that I added too much turmeric. With that particular spice, a little does go a long way. Here’s the recipe I used (although I omitted the cloves because I didn’t have any). I give each of my boys about a teaspoon a day to help ward off colds and flu (the same for my husband and me).

Here’s hoping that an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure! With “plenty” as my word of the year, I want to give my family plenty of resources to battle cold and flu season.



2018 Goals: Where I Am Now

One of my January goals was to complete a scrapbook from our family vacation to New York City last fall. I finished it on January 30, and, although it’s certainly not the most artistic presentation, it reminds us all of a wonderful adventure.

For 2018 as a whole, I set myself a handful of goals and blogged about them here. Now that a month or so of the new year has passed, I’m taking a quick review of those goals.

good morning coffee

  1. Continuing on the journey of being faithfully frugal… We did go ahead and cut out Netflix, and our one-month no-Netflix venture will end mid-February. We’ve been totally content without it (and haven’t had cable in many years). The boys like to watch Popular Mechanics for Kids on Amazon Prime a few times per week, and Mike and I watched a movie on Hoopla together in January. Hoopla is a free service provided through our public library (and many others across the country), allowing us to check out more e-books, audio books, and even movies and TV shows than we could access through our library alone. We just haven’t missed Netflix, and it’s been freeing to go without it–financially and otherwise. The jury’s still out on whether we’ll reinstate it after our one-month fast finishes.
  2. Using my mid-day downtown for quiet time with Jesus… I have continued this practice, and it’s been one of THE most effective uses of my time. I have energy; I don’t feel rushed. My thinking is clear. I think I’ve found a real sweet spot with this habit.

joy candles

3. Write + submit, submit, submit! Good news to report on this front:  I learned in January that a brief article I wrote on generosity will be published in December in a magazine called Purpose. As well, a Christian magazine for girls (called SHINE brightly) will publish a piece I wrote in their summer 2018 issue. This feels like such a victory. Whereas these 2 works are non-fiction, I also wrote a short story for a magazine called Brio (published for girls by Christian ministry Focus on the Family) that is being, as one editor communicated to me, “shown to the other editors.” The 2 articles that will be published later this year will come with a small stipend, and I plan to add that to the money I’m acquiring for extra giving projects. Which brings me to my next goal of…

4.  Raising $300 to give to needs… Right around New Year’s, I connected with a person on Craigslist who needed to have assistance with proofreading a story he’d written. I spent about 5 hours working on the project and earned $50. Then I sold some excess hand-me-downs at 2 separate consignment stores, earning $75.50. Less than 2 months into 2018, I’ve seen over $125 of my giving goal met! With that, we’ve helped a woman from our former church with funds for her cancer treatments. We mailed restaurant gift cards to a family facing huge transition due to a medical situation. And I bought a Valentine’s wreath made by some teens raising funds for a mission trip to help rebuild in hurricane-affected areas of Puerto Rico.

kids playing

5. and 6. Continuing parenting with the trust that Christ is my source of unshakable peace and teaching with the trust that the work of my children’s growth is done by the power of God’s Spirit… Somebody said, “Attitude is everything.” Or, if nobody said that, somebody should have. When I am resting in Christ’s sufficiency, I experience more peace. I combined these 2 goals, which I listed separately on my “2018 goals” blog post in January. I read a book called Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham over December and January, which has encouraged me in my parenting. I also recently finished an e-book titled The Homeschooling Housewife, by Amber Fox. It’s given me some good ideas to implement in our home, even if the title is a bit off-putting.

7. Creating more Wear It Well Wednesday blog posts… Check. Woodrow loves taking pictures, and he often snaps photos of me for these posts featuring outfits I put together for little to no money (through hand-me-downs, gifts, and items occasionally picked up at secondhand stores or yard sales). Please don’t be fooled by these posts that I actually get dressed every day. On cold days–well, cold for central Florida–I sometimes stay in my sweat pants from the night before, throw on a zip-up jacket of my husband’s, and call it a day. Hmm…maybe I’ll need to work on that as a goal for 2019.

How’s your 2018 going so far?

Haircuts: To Serve or To Spend

My husband grew up having haircuts given to him for free by his mother–a hair dresser. As a wedding gift, we received a set of hair clippers. We bought a pair of hair cutting shears to round out our hair dressing supplies, and I started giving Mike his haircuts.

Well, I started trying…it took several attempts before I provided anything approximating an actual haircut. But I got there eventually (after multiple follow-up trips to Great Clips). I wanted to learn to do this–and to do it well–not only for my husband but for our budget.

After a while, Woodrow came along, then Garfield, too. And I’ve cut their hair for as long as they’ve needed to have haircuts–which was years after they were born, since they were total cue balls until about age 2. For their entire lives, they’ve had only one haircut in a salon (with coupons in 2013).

puddle jumping

Every 4 to 5 weeks, I announce haircut day, and we drag a chair outside along with an extension cord so I can plug in the clippers. After this many years, Woodrow has learned to sit still and endure the cut; for the first several years, though, there were many tears and much squirming around. Same with Garfield.

However, Garfield–now age 9–simply hasn’t arrived at the place of being able to hold still in order to persevere through the dreaded cut. Every single haircut, he cries and agonizes. I’ve always known he has sensitive skin, and the hairs falling on his neck make him extremely uncomfortable, despite the cape I wrap around him before I start cutting.

This past weekend, I gave haircuts, and the saga continued. He sobbed throughout the entire process, flinching every time I snipped with clippers or scissors. Near the end of the cut, Garfield would duck and twitch and try to dodge me–accompanied by much sobbing–even before the scissors came near him. He confessed he was afraid that he’d get cut or scratched by the scissors, which he’s told me before. In the past, I’d be a bit offended by this, thinking he didn’t trust me (but this is not the issue). Throughout the cut, I offered calm reassurance (with intermittent pauses to bite my lips and breathe deeply because I was getting MAD and the cut was taking FOREVER). But it didn’t alleviate Garfield’s concerns.

mountains with fence

Later, he told he, “It’s just my instinct!” when I asked why he felt afraid and felt the need to pull away each time I tried to make a cut. I finally–finally–clued in to the fact that, all this time, he’s been afraid. Every month, he gets anxious and tense and tells me a haircut is “torture.” And that makes sense to me, as I watch him go into fight or flight mode. A few times throughout the years, I told Garfield he could participate in the haircut I gave him, or he could get his own money to pay for a haircut at a shop–which is, let’s face it, a gigantic stick and a non-existent carrot.

But that one time he received a haircut at a salon? He sat still, watched himself in the mirror, and stayed calm. And the hairdresser had no personal engagement in the procedure–he’s not her son, so she was simply doing her job, not wondering how this ordeal might affect her relationship with Garfield.

After this weekend, Mike said to me:  Let’s just take him to a salon. It’s not worth the tension it creates for him and for me, and we won’t make him pay for it. Because the issue is not really about obedience (eventually he does sit still long enough for me to finish the cut, even if it’s twice as long as the time it takes to cut Woodrow’s hair). We’ll cover the cost and hopefully provide a much saner experience for the whole family.

beach chairs

It’s a great solution, and I credit my husband for saying aloud what we all needed to hear–permission to go a different direction. However, I’ve long been the haircut giver for my family. It’s part of the efforts I make to save our family hundreds of dollars every year. So not only is this a different direction, it’s a departure from the way I serve.

Thankfully, my identity is not “money saving mama.” It’s never been “stupendous haircut giver,” either, that’s for sure. But the work I do to serve my family truly needs to serve us, and if that work doesn’t actually serve, it’s time to reassess.

I’ll continue giving haircuts to Mike and Woodrow (unless they ask to go elsewhere) and will cut Garfield’s hair again one day if he can tolerate it. But now the better way to serve my family is by spending a little money instead of saving it this time.


National Be On-Purpose Month: The Little Hero Inside of Me

Here’s a little-known celebration taking place in January:  National Be On-Purpose Month. When I think about being “on purpose,” I consider how that fits into the vision of my blog:  living life on purpose. So today, I’m sharing a story of how I wanted to live “on purpose” during the early season of motherhood–and how God presented me with the opportunity to do so beyond my own little family.

Growing up, my little brother and sister watched an after-school cartoon called “Duck Tales.” One particular day, the episode featured Uncle Scrooge regaling his nephews with a story about how there is a little hero inside all of us.

As a young teenager, I listened to that TV show, passing through to grab a snack on my way to finish homework. And I thought, “I have a little hero inside of me, too!” For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to give of myself to others.

yellow bulb

One volunteer project stands out as truly special for me; I consider it to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

This opportunity came about when I was a new mother caring for an infant son and wondering what else I could do with myself, my talents, and my time. I adored my child and felt thankful for this new season. I also longed to serve others in meaningful ways outside my family.

One night, I exclaimed to my husband, “I want to have more to show for my life than a million laundry loads of cloth diapers!”

So when I discovered a way to share myself that fit right into this new phase of life, I immediately embraced it.

white pine cones

One afternoon when Woodrow had just turned seven months old, my husband, baby, and I attended a reception for the birth center where I had given birth. After decades, this facility that had served thousands of women was closing, and we had come to say good-bye. While there, I noticed one mother wearing a t-shirt promoting attachment parenting.

Later that night, I looked up information on attachment parenting, curious to learn more. That search led me to an online group of attachment parents in our area. One of the moms on the site had posted details about a milk bank in the U.S. requesting donated mother’s milk.

just for you

You can donate breast milk? I thought. I didn’t realize this was possible. I went straight to the website for the milk bank and requested their information packet. I followed all the steps, got a blood test, completed the medical questionnaire, and waited to begin.

When I received the “all clear” along with a free pump for producing the milk donations, I could hardly wait to get started. At first, it was slow going. But I built up a supply over time—lots and lots of five-ounce white plastic bottles filled with “liquid gold” in our freezer.

Most every morning after nursing my own son, I would let him play near me on the floor or hold him on my lap as I pumped for the milk bank. Then I would wash all the parts and set them out to dry in preparation for the next pumping session. The process sometimes felt tedious and always felt time-consuming, but I knew my milk donations could help save babies’ lives. My milk, along with other milk donated to this bank, would go to hospitalized, premature infants who needed this nourishment. Because the mothers of these babies might not be able to produce milk yet—given the premature birth of their children—donor milk could make a significant difference in the health of these preemies.

baby in red dress

Sending in the first batch of my donated milk in a big cooler packed with dry ice brought a sense of accomplishment. I believed so much in sharing with others the life-changing gift of my milk that I continued donating with the birth of my second child, too. When I finally completed my donations, I had given 56 bottles worth of breast milk—a little over 2 gallons.

Apart from a kind thank-you note from the milk bank (and a refrigerator magnet I still keep on the fridge door after almost 9 years), my milk donating garnered next to no attention. However, from my own kitchen—with one or sometimes two children playing at my feet—I helped change the lives of babies in need.

*For information on milk donation, check out the Human Milk Banking Association of North America’s website. 



My 2018 Word of the Year: Plenty

When I think back to my 2017 word of the year–heal–I feel a bit sad that I chose that. Healing necessarily focuses on what’s wounded or ill–so it can get healthier, yes, but… I was pondering recently the idea that ruin always precedes redemption and, in fact, there must be ruin before there can be redemption. So maybe my “heal” gazed more upon the ruin than it should have.

Yes, I needed to trust God for some healing of heart and soul, and I sought to take those disappointments and wounds to Him (sometimes it was less prayerful and a lot more grumbling-ful)–and then throughout the year, additional hurts surfaced where I needed God to apply healing, too.

full jars

Isn’t that the way life is, though? Every new season of life brings its hurt and its happiness. One fundamental truth in my life has helped me rest in Christ’s healing recently:  Life is hard. Sometimes it feels that life is simply pain. But Jesus is real, and He’s with me.

I hear Him whispering to me, “Stay with me here. Stick close to me in this. I know when you hurt, and I also know this life may begin to hurt more. But if you stay with me, I will take you deeper into my love and my fellowship. And at the end, there will be a treasure.” Maybe this past year was more about God’s preparing my heart for healing, and maybe that will take root in more significant ways in the future.


But on to 2018 and a word that makes me feel full just saying it:  plenty. 

I began reading a book I got for free on Kindle called Minimalist Homeschooling in December. Early on, the author writes about the value of “enough”…having enough and doing enough and prioritizing enough. And that enough can also be viewed as plenty.

If I have enough, do I need more? If not, that’s plenty.

cookies for sale

Without gaining another single thing, I have plenty for which to give thanks. Plenty of reasons to rejoice in the Lord. Plenty of causes to be joyful always (and I believe joy and pain can co-exist in Jesus).

Throughout the year, I’ll be looking up Bible verses that speak to the topic of plenty–there are plenty of them (ha). Here’s one that I’ve long treasured…

Lamentations 3:24–I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

Although the word “plenty” doesn’t appear here (or any of its synonyms), I read this verse and think about feeling richly satisfied with (or in) the Lord, who is my portion. He has plenty of grace for me; and His grace is plenty good. When I’m full-up on what the Lord provides, that is plenty.

yellow mug

One way I’ve already applied this concept in 2018:  I noticed on Facebook a call for cold weather gear for a homeless ministry in Orlando. With this week bringing some below-freezing temperatures to central Florida, the homeless community has seriously been in need. So I began gathering up items, in particular a hooded pull-over (never worn) and zip-up fleece and a windbreaker, along with a hand-me-down coat and a hat and pair of gloves that were long-ago gifts. I don’t have another pair of gloves, although I’m sure my husband has some I could borrow if the need arose (I already borrow his socks on occasion.) That hat? I’d probably wear it–once in a very rare while–if I’d kept it. But I have plenty:  a warm house, lots of quilts, another coat that I DID keep for myself, lots of clothes that I can layer for warmth.

The giver in me says, “Give it all away!” while the pragmatist in me sometimes says, “Keep what you need so you don’t have to buy more.” However…when I approached the closet believing that I had plenty–and, if I had more need of my own, that God would sufficiently supply what I might need–it felt thrilling to keep adding items to the donation bag.

I think I’m already finding that “plenty” is a great perspective on the new year.





2018: New Year, New Goals

2017 is now in the books, and I’m ready for a fresh new start. This past year held many triumphs for me:  I made a Power Point presentation for the first time! I know, hard to believe. The first one of these I ever created was for the talk I gave this past summer at my sister’s church about the Luo Pad project.

I also explored some caves with the boys’ Cub Scout pack this past spring, on a camp-out at Hog Island recreation area in Withlacoochee state forest. That was a first for me, too.

roller skates

2017 also held hurts and loss:  My beloved Papa died on Valentine’s Day last year. And yet another dream I held for myself came to naught when I had to close the Women of Vision/women’s stewardship group I’d previously launched.

But 2018 is still wide-open, unclaimed territory, and I relish that. Looking toward the new year, I’ve set a few goals for myself–ones that are specific and targeted (although some are more measurable than others). I didn’t list everything that is a priority that I’m already doing, that’s already part of my normal rhythm, such as exercise, reading good books, or carving out time to be with friends. I tried to list what I might need to be reminded to keep at the forefront. Check it out…

balloons on train track

2018 GOALS:  

  1. Continue on the journey of being faithfully frugal. Remember that book I read that inspired me so?  I’m captivated by the idea of living intentionally this way. One way we’re implementing this in January is by cancelling Netflix. Well, for a month, anyway…I’d like to do away with it for longer, but we’ll start with a month. Our subscription price increases by $1 per month in 2018, so we’ll save about $11 monthly by refraining from being Netflix consumers. And it cost $11 to ship the final 2 quilt tops I sewed for 2017, so that savings is meaningful.
  2. Use my middle-of-the-day down time for quiet times with Jesus on weekdays. I struggle to get up early to start the day with the Lord, and not just because I’m a night person. I sometimes feel more sad in the mornings than at any other time of day, and for a while I found myself feeling some kind of barrier in connecting with the Lord in the morning that I don’t feel at other times. I’d been having my quiet times at night, but for the last week or so of school before Christmas, I used our after-lunch down time (when the boys usually listen to an audio book) to get alone with the Lord. And those times were truly rich. I plan to continue this new practice.

shoes and flowers

3.  Write + submit, submit, submit! Notice my goal is not “get published.” I have little control over that–although by not submitting anything ever, I’m guaranteed not to get anything published. I have a few irons in the fire–meaning I’ve submitted several pieces I’m awaiting a response for–and I know most of those submissions will be rejected. That’s just how it goes. Getting a story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul this year has spurred me on, and I want to continue attempting to put my work out there. Plus, if I get paying gigs this way, I’d like to use at least a portion of that money for extra giving, which absolutely motivates me.

4.  Raise $300 in 2018 (apart from our regular giving) to give to gospel-centered needs. At the end of December, I used some of the money from a recent thredUP cash-out–from selling excess hand-me-down clothing beyond what I needed for the second time–for a mom in need. Not sure yet where I’ll find $300, but that’s the reason it’s a goal, right?

5.  Continue teaching the boys from a spirit of trusting that the work is accomplished NOT by my might or power but by God’s Spirit. Zephaniah 4:6 pierced my heart recently, and I’ve sort of paraphrased the verse here. If I attempt teaching my sons as though it all depends on my best efforts and my good planning and my hard work, I’ll be frustrated and despondent when the fruit I see doesn’t reflect the labor I put in. But if I teach them trusting God’s Spirit to be at work in them, causing the knowledge to take root and develop over time, I can relax–and enjoy the process (and my children) more, not depending on my children’s academic growth to fund my sense of accomplishment.

6.  Continue parenting  with the trust that Christ is the source of my unshakable peace–not good days or nice circumstances. You probably noticed the idolatry I mentioned above (being tempted to draw a sense of validation from my children’s school success since I am their primary teacher), and there’s more to address within goal #6, too. Most days simply don’t flow smoothly from Point A to Point B, and if I depend on circumstances feeling peaceful in order to find the good in my life, I’ll end up disappointed and angry. In this world, we will have trouble; but in Him, I can take heart, because He is my peace.

allison in front of azaleas

7.  Create more Wear It Well Wednesday blog posts. See? Another targeted, specific, doable goal. Look for more of these posts coming soon!

What are your new goals for 2018? I’m also contemplating learning to play the ukulele this year–we have one that Mike’s brother gave to our boys. But I didn’t list it as a goal because I’m just not sure yet. We’ll see! There’s a whole year to fill, so maybe I’ll go for it after all!

The Companionship of Bread

Now that it’s December, I’m ready for a new challenge. Last month, I gave away everything from books to toothbrushes {unused, of course} to a solitary cookie cutter in my minimalism dare for each day of November.

I need to pursue a new project for this current month. I’m a “project person,” and having some kind of goal–with defined parameters and time frame–motivates and energizes me. In 2011, when I read the book Radical Homemakers:  Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture (which I’ve referenced in this post here), I filled several pages with notes from that book, such as…“Prod any happy person, and you will find a project.” {from Richard Layard, Happiness:  Lessons from a New Science, as quoted by the author of Radical Homemakers.} So here I am, devising a new project. Whether it means I AM a happy person or whether I’m ambitious for a new project in order to experience a bit more happiness, I’m not sure. Either way, a project gives opportunity to create.

circus pic

When I succeeded (on my 3rd try) to create a viable homemade sourdough starter in the fall of 2013, I stopped using much of the commercial yeast I’d ordered and stored in our freezer. I actually have a bit of it left; and since it’s been kept in the freezer–and is of a quality brand, Saf-Instant Yeast–it’s still useful.

Therein lies the fodder for my project:  I shall use up the freezer yeast this month. I’ll bake bread for my family (which I already frequently do, only using the sourdough starter that provides its own “wild caught” yeast instead of commercial yeast) and for others, too. It’s the Christmas season–a perfect time to bake and share, first checking on food allergies and sensitivities, of course. I’ve already promised a loaf to the woman who delivers the farm-fresh milk we order every few weeks.

bread on its side

Thus far, I’ve tried a no-knead artisan bread recipe. I don’t find the “no knead” bread recipes all that appealing, actually. I’ve always enjoyed the hands-on, physical act of kneading bread, ever since I began making brioche and braiding together strands of bread dough in my apartment in Starkville, Mississippi, in my mid-twenties. I even made homemade bagels once (they actually do get boiled) in that quiet little kitchen. But this artisan bread recipe yielded a loaf with lots of room in it (open, airy spaces and holes), which Garfield loves.

Next, I’m trying–it’s rising as I type this post–an Amish bread recipe that makes 2 loaves. It does require kneading, along with a bit of sugar, which I never put in my sourdough bread. This recipe is also called “church bread.” According to the blog post where I found the recipe, the Amish usually attend church in one another’s homes. After the service, they stay and eat a meal together. This bread is a typical part of that shared meal. The breaking of bread together, after feasting upon the Bread of Life together…

bread on table

As you can see, I have a special relationship with bread:  its humble, simple sustenance that serves as a symbol of fellowship and community–both with Christ and with others. In fact, I read a few years ago–in a book called Fit to Burst:  Abundance, Mayhem, and the Joys of Motherhoodby Rachel Jankovic–that the word “companion” actually comes from root words meaning “together with” and “bread.”

As I’ve continued using up food stored in the freezer in efforts toward greater frugality (see my post on Faithfully Frugal), I’ve finished the frozen blueberries and blackberries my parents gave us–added to smoothies and cobblers–and I’ll also wring the last bit of usefulness from this yeast. I’ll do so with the hope that those who receive and eat of the bread this yeast produces will experience Jesus during this Advent season–the Bread of Life who came for us and who wants to be with us.