8 Strategies for Holiday Self-Care

As I stood at the kitchen island tying my apron strings, I caught a glimpse of my husband walking into the great room. There was sadness in his eyes that first holiday after his mother had passed away. That was years ago, but I still remember the visibility of his silent struggle.

It’s no secret that bereavement increases during the holidays. For many, grief and COVID-19 restrictions signify celebrations without loved ones.

So, how do we create a joyous holiday without extended family or those we’ve lost?

Self-care is the best gift we can give to ourselves and our loved ones. It’s a gift that will move us forward to a happy future.

Enter a journey of self-care by reflecting on past holidays and note what gave you joy, made you laugh, or feel contented. Then plan ways to recreate those activities (and perhaps a new one) that will inspire a day worth celebrating.

If you are single:

  1. LOVE yourself with all the things you adore. Pets, cozy blankets, DVDs, music, books, snacks, etc. Make this a day to pamper you.
  2. Forget tradition. Cook what you want without domineering suggestions from others. Or order a holiday dinner from your local deli.
  3. REACH OUT to loved ones with a holiday cheer via phone or Zoom. Plan to end conversations with humor. It will leave you and them uplifted instead of sad and lonely.
  4. Studies show breathing fresh air can improve one’s mood. So, spend some time in a park, on a bike trail or walking path.

If you and your immediate family can’t gather with extended family members:

  1. Give yourself and your family GRACE. Grace to be less rushed, less perfect, less insistent to follow traditions.
  2. Decorate as usual (use the china and candles) or not. Maybe the family would enjoy a dinner party on cozy floor cushions.
  3. EMBRACE unhappy emotions, but don’t stay there longer than it takes to recite a poem, song, or Bible verse.
  4. Gather around the phone or monitor to speak with extended family. For a joyful virtual reunion, keep it light and uplifting.

That first holiday after my mother-in-law had passed away, it was just the two of us. My husband joined me with the meal preparations. Food sampling and laughter filled the kitchen. When everything was ready, we sat at the dining room table with flickering candlelight. A little self-care and comfort food served on china from my mother-in-law lightened his heart and brought joy to the holiday.

Looking through the Lens with God.

Outdoor photography prompts me to notice—truly notice—something other than me. When I look through my camera’s LCD monitor to make an ordinary scene or object picturesque, the moment feels magical.

I often dream of traveling the world with my camera; capturing the uniqueness of God’s character through nature.

Mountains and deep waters display His power and strength.

Fragile snowflakes reveal His mystery and grace.

Fragrant flowers divulge His love for calm and peace.

Nature’s colors, shapes, and sizes express His boundless heart for variety…

…a heart for all things to live in harmony.

But I have learned we don’t have to travel the world or even parts of it to capture God in nature. We see His character, draw near, listen, and learn from Him in our own backyard.

Most of the pictures that I make are taken on or near my rural property. Mornings are a good time to photograph outdoors. The air is crisp. The vegetation is perky, and the light is just right. Somehow, these natural elements open our soul and mind to the positive tempos in our life.

So, I head out the kitchen door loaded down with props. My camera hangs from its strap over my shoulder and bounces against my hip as I stroll to the barn, smiling with anticipation.

The small outdoor space where I create still life sits between one end of the barn and a locust tree. Beneath the tree, thick lantana drapes across low mounts. The ground cover has a pungent scent. But its graceful movements and lavender blooms are pleasing to the eye.

I use an old window to stage windowsill compositions. For the picture below, I snipped the last of three Pentas Falling Star clusters, dangling from the tops of dying stocks.

As I photographed them, I thought of a Facebook friend who commented pink is her favorite color. I don’t believe it’s an accident that others come to mind while we work (or play). God speaks to us no matter what we are doing. But there is something special about hearing His still small voice while we’re surrounded by nature. Perhaps, because His voice fills us with gratitude and prayer on behalf of those we know and love. Maybe it’s because there is peace in knowing He is the creator of the first garden.

Excitement feels my heart as I look through my camera’s monitor. Later, when I sit at my desk and study the images on my computer screen, I wonder if observers will notice the fine, almost invisible veins of a leaf. How will they translate the delicate curl of a pedal? Or the color that graduates from deep velvet to soft pastel.

Each of us interprets a different message, a different story.

Whatever prints hang on your walls, I hope you see an artist working with God.

You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” —Ansel Adams

Master Your Comeback

The weird thing about life returning to normal after it knocked you down is facing a comeback.

It’s been a month since I worked on my manuscript or blogged, and two weeks since I communicated on social media. When I thought about reentering the online world, I felt anxious and unsure. I tried to imagine what that would look like, especially on my Facebook author page. Do I post without an explanation, as if I’ve been gone for a day only? Will anyone notice? Is anyone even curious?

Have you ever felt this way after taking a leave of absence from your job, a book club, sports team, or a church group? It’s easy to lose touch with people. You feel like a stranger. Soon, you’re nervous about jumping back in.

So many thoughts, emotions, and imaginings go into a comeback.

Finding my way through these emotions.

Two trips to the ER, ongoing dizzy spells, more time in bed than out, on antibiotics twice, a limited diet of bland foods, and I couldn’t stop thinking about Job. 

You know, the man in the book of Job with painful sores covering his body, who lost his adult children and his large flock. The man left with a wife who wanted him to curse God and friends who assumed his hardship was the consequences of sin.

All this hardship and criticism would make anyone question his or her behavior. But not Job. He knew he had not sinned against God.

I wasn’t the only one suffering.

While I lay in bed more weeks than I wanted, I prayed for a son grieving the loss of a sweetheart because of colon cancer. An acquaintance and USA Today Bestselling author hospitalized with Covid-19. A colleague unable to type because of a shoulder injury. A friend diagnosed with DVT. And another friend on dialysis.

Plugging into God’s power source on behalf of others wasn’t new to me. However, my prayers were more compassionate, and if I’m honest, they were more frequent. Who knew? Suffering yields deeper empathy for others. Less busyness provides added time to focus on those we love.

What happens when we pray for others?

Job prayed for his accusers. He even forgave them. I’m sure it wasn’t easy. Job (and his wife) suffered more than any person should, yet he knew God was the answer to all his problems. And because he remained faithful, God healed him.

Then He blessed Job with favor.

 “Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him: every man also gave him a piece of money, and every one an earring of gold.” —Job 42:11 (KJV)

We may not receive money or gold.

But Job’s comeback reassures us God will provide comfort.

We may not experience harsh judgements like Job.

But his locality toward God encourages us to stand firm.

Our circumstances may not be as tragic as Job’s.

But we can have a victorious comeback in any situation.

What steps will you take or have taken to master a comeback?

Did you know that God doubled what Job had lost? He lived to have seven sons and three daughters, 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. Job lived 140 years and saw four generations.

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What’s cooking in your kitchen that brings a lesson or two?

The tomato vine grew taller and fuller. Tiny yellow blossoms developed. Then, little green globes dangled securely from lean branches. Seeing such a delightful yield in my garden reminded me of the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, and the first time I had prepared this iconic side dish.

The cookbook I received as a wedding gift didn’t have recipes for fried green tomatoes. The novel and the movie came out long after I had married. But somehow, I heard about this intriguing side dish. So, I fried up a delicious batch for my groom who thought his bride had lost her mind. . .until he tasted them.

Then, one evening, I did something even stranger. I served waffles for dinner. . .most likely because I forgot to thaw out beef or poultry.

The idea of eating breakfast at dinnertime felt improper to his rigid upbringing. His tone and shocked expression spoiled my proud moment. Seeing my wounded face, he did what all husbands (eventually) learn and said, “thank you dear.”

Over time my groom adapted to new traditions and foods…including burnt meals.

When responses aren’t what we expect, it’s okay to feel hurt.

We have a Healer of the heart, body, mind, and soul.

When practices flip-flop, it’s okay to feel unsure.

We have the One who reassures us that change can be good.

When relationships are hard, it’s okay to feel disappointed.

We have the One who doesn’t disappoint, who lifts our spirits with sweet assurance.

In my upcoming novel, Molly and Ted are learning about these truths. Their struggles are much deeper and more complex than a new recipe or altered traditions.

They try to find God’s grace while deception thwarts a dream and a dream prevents a proposal. This isn’t easy for Molly or Ted.

Life isn’t easy for anyone.

We’re too busy with self-focus or stuck via outside influences to move forward.

Although you’ll have to wait for the unfolding of Molly and Ted’s struggles, YOU can ask God right now to heal a hurt, to help you accept change.—

He’ll never fail you.

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Proverbs 3:5-6 (KJV)

The End of a Nine-Week Start, or is it the Launch of a New Beginning?

It has been nine weeks since I started blogging based on writing prompts in the Facebook group, Welcome to My World. Unfortunately, the admin has decided to close the group.

The writers in this group each served—and continue to serve online—a specific purpose to their audience. I’d like to tell you about them.

Shirley Corder shares the writing process and character development of her WIP (work in process.) I find her style engaging. She knows how to keep readers interested with the next bit of information. She’s honest about the struggles she encounters and then shares her journey and solutions. She isn’t shy about asking for her fans’ input regarding some aspects of the story. How fun is that? Readers get to be a part of the process, and so can you.

Deryn van der Tang has opened readers’ eyes to abuse, grief, art, and travel. Her posts are purposeful, informative, and well written, always offering hope through her faith. She takes readers on tour to the many beautiful places in the world where she has traveled and lived. Her attention to detail is incredible. As I read each blog post, I felt as if I was there with her. Swing on over and take a tour with Deryn.

Rob Corder began his journey with the group by teaching from the book of Habakkuk and how it relates to the pandemic…to life’s hardships and the benefits of relying on God to bring us through. He writes of God’s wisdom and the blessings of faith to draw us closer to the Creator. It’s a bible study packed with biblical background that one can apply today and in the future. It’s not too late to join in, read from the beginning of this study or start with the current post.

I’m going to miss the prompts at Welcome to My World.

Yes, it was a lot of work. But it challenged my writing skills, self-discipline, ability to meet a weekly deadline, and loyalty toward my cohorts and you.

It provided commonality among one another. It exercised my creativity muscle and direction for each prompt. Often I started going one way that turned messy before I discovered the message…the purpose of my words.

Writing prompts doesn’t work for everyone. And they won’t work for me all the time.

My season with them will change.

Meanwhile, I’m searching for a new writing prompt group…blogging inspiration for however long God provides something of value that will best serve you.

So, this brings us to the end of Welcome to My World and at the launch of a new beginning, whatever that may be.

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What are you Going to do About it?

This week, Welcome to My World wants to know, What question would be good to ask yourself—or if you’re a fiction writer, your characters?

Whether I’m reading a novel or writing one, the characters always face conflict…some sort of problem that needs to be resolved. My characters haven’t defeated an evil monarch or chased a killer. But they have healed from loss and family drama, found love, and stepped out in faith to achieve a dream.

When adversity blocks their lifelong dream, my question to them is always, what are you going to do about it?

In Kiss under the Lemon Tree, my secondary character, Addie, knew the world is filled with possibilities.

Being a television travel host was her childhood dream. She studied vacation magazines and watched TV tourist hosts for tips on speaking and presenting facts in a precise and exciting manner. Then, when life got hard, she stopped dreaming of possibilities. She let circumstances and her deep sense-of-duty control every aspect of her life.

This is also true of real life.

Many people will carry their aspirations with them long after retirement. But there are no last chances once we’re too elderly to fulfill our dreams.

Following God with the dreams that He puts in our hearts isn’t always easy. We’ll make mistakes along the way. We’ll run into roadblocks. Fear or doubt may overwhelm us. But we can trust God to help us through the tough times, to direct our steps every inch of the way.

A man’s heart deviseth [plans] his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.”-Proverbs 16:9 (KJV)

My male protagonist, Sonny, in Kiss under the Lemon Tree took an approach different from Addie: Being a photojournalist was his childhood fantasy. As a young boy of a widow, he spent a lot of time alone at home while his mother worked. To help, he taught himself how to cook and bake. He also toiled at improving his skills with a camera. But it took money to buy film and then have it developed. He didn’t let this stop him. He used his baking skills to raise money to support his dream.

Do you see what happened?

He didn’t give up.

He used what he had to grow his God-given purpose.

This is powerful.

Do Not Wait; the time will never be ‘Just Right.’ Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.”- George Herbert

Yes, start where you stand, work with what you have, but first ask God to be the CEO of your dreams, to guide you on the right path with the right tools.

Ask God to be the CEO of your dreams, to guide you on the right path with the right tools.

What step will you take today to begin a dream?

If you’ve already begun, what tip can you share that will help others pursue their dreams?

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Hello friends! Welcome to where I live

This week’s Welcome to My World challenge is to Give one word that best describes where you live.

E d e n:

Rolling hills, grand oaks, and wide open space filled my heart beyond its capacity. The depth of God’s exquisite taste to create beauty, peace, and bounty lay before us. I thought it to be a bit like the Garden of Eden.

My husband and I viewed the country real estate beneath a deep blue sky and a bright winter sun. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to purchase the land. A few months later we moved onto the property where we’ve lived for nearly thirty years.

In the evenings, the stars and a moon are visible. Coyotes and owls call out mysterious legends. On rare occasions deer pass through. A distant moo reminds me of my grandparents’ dairy and the song, Home on the Range, I learned to sing as a child.

Written by Kansas homesteader Dr. Brewster Higley in the 1800s first as a poem, its original title was My Western Home. The verses which you can read here—reveal Higley’s deep affection for nature and where he lived.

In my memoir’s WIP (work in progress) I express this same love for my country home.

But you don’t have to be a country dweller or live on a range to be content. You just need to love home.

You just need to love home.

Since the pandemic, people, worldwide, have spent a lot of time at home. We’ve learned much about our spaces, our family members, ourselves, and time. How we spend it homeschooling, exercising, ordering necessities on line, Zooming with co-workers, doctors, elderly parents, and grandchildren.

We’ve had to be creative, seek support, take a deep breath and pray for a miracle to help us get through these strained and trying days.

Psalms 91:1-2 (ASV) reassures us that, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of Jehovah, He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in whom I trust.”

He is my refuge and my fortress.

I’ve said these words many times to the Lord. Only then can I block out pandemic depression, cabin fever, loneness from lack of human contact, or fear of COVID attacking my family and friends.

There are so many reasons to feel anger, hopeless, or out of control even when there isn’t a pandemic.

I’ve lived in a 10×50-foot mobile home in an almond orchard, a triplex with a yard half the length and just as narrow as a bowling lane, a three-room rental infested with mice, and a fifth-wheel camper.

There are also reasons to resist feelings of anger, hopelessness, and lack of control.

There are also reasons to resist feelings of anger, hopelessness, and lack of control.

The mobile home where I lived had plenty of shade on hot summer days. I got acquainted and chatted with a neighbor my age over the fence in our tiny triplex yard. The infested rental had a working kitchen, shower, and a kitchen-living space large enough to gather with friends. The fifth-wheel provided shelter while my husband built our house among the rolling hills.

This is where we experienced our first encounter with a serpent. But unlike Adam, my husband protected me and our young sons. Who says we can’t learn from the Bible?

Who says we can’t learn from the Bible?

There have been, and continue to be, deep satisfaction and contentment where I live among rolling hills, grand oaks, and wide open space. After all, in my mind, it’s a bit like the Garden of Eden.

What word or phrase describes where you live?

How do you overcome negative symptoms of the pandemic?

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It’s Good for the Soul

This week’s Welcome to My World blog challenge question is What is your favorite type of scenery?

For those who know me, it’s no secret what outdoor setting I adore.

My fondness for gardens began with my grandmother’s snapdragons that lined the exterior wall of her cinder-block house. Every summer, as a young girl, I’d play puppeteer with the red, pink, orange, and yellow flowers. One gentle squeeze on the side of a blossom and it would open and close like a dragon’s mouth.

Grandma and Grandpa had a large vegetable garden behind the house, past the clothesline. Lush vines, plants, and stalks camouflaged long rows of tilled soil. I’d step over foliage, hunt for oval watermelons and bright red strawberries. Before I reached the house with my treasures, I smelled of fresh-picked berries, and my fingers and lips were stained red.

The Bible tells us in Genesis 1:11 that “God created sprouts, plants yielding seeds, and trees bearing fruit.” Verse 12 says God saw that it was good.

He saw that the scenery was good.

The Garden of Eden must have been exquisite. In my mind, I imagine thousands of textures, hues, various heights, and shapes. The Bible doesn’t tell us, but maybe streams, bubbling creeks, waterfalls, and ponds were part of Eden.

Some years ago, home garden tours were fashionable. I’d buy a ticket and spend the day up-close viewing sceneries graced with overflowing perennials and annuals landscaped in spectacular designs. Low growing white and purple alyssum bordered beds. Large blue Hydrangea clusters reflected their preference for shade. Rose petal droppings sprinkled repurposed hardscape. Moss grew on rocks, stepping stones, and driftwood brought from beaches. Old barn wood and paned windows built into tool sheds and green houses added interest and functionality to many of the home gardens that I toured.

I don’t know about you, but I am always reluctant to leave a garden and return to reality.

Gardens have positive effects on humans. It’s where one can escape on a long leisurely path, smell fragrant blossoms, or sit to meditate. Where hands work the soil, nurture seedlings, prayers unfold, and visions are realized. It’s a place where frowns turn to smiles and hope uplifts hurting hearts.

If I’m happy, I’m cheerier when I enter a garden or see one from a distance.

If I’m sad, my spirit is lifted.

This is why I mention gardens or flowers in each of my books.

God created the Garden of Eden because He saw that it was good for the soul and the body.

Do you find gardens to be a place of healing?

Or do you favor a different scenery?

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The Books We Read

This week’s Welcome to My World blog challenge question is what new thing have you learned this last week?

I learned that crushed eggshells DON’T stop snails.

But this post isn’t about snails or eggshells or my half-eaten sprouts. It’s about…well, I’m guessing you read the title.

I admit to researching—strictly from curiosity—books about my garden foe. There are lots of children’s books with fictional snail characters. But only a few snail books appeared in the adult nonfiction category with titles like, the world of snails and snail farming.

Regardless of age or topic, fiction and nonfiction can entertain and be educational.

My preference is nonfiction. In fact, my interest in real-life accounts began with slick magazines.

Their charming essays, striking captions, and feature stories drew me to the many creative lifestyles and elegant words.

When my monthly issue of Victoria arrived in the mail, I’d plop onto the sofa, recline with my knees pulled up, and then rest the magazine against my legs. I’d turn to the last page, delight in the writer’s childhood memories of summers on the lake, Sundays after church, that last remaining china cup filled with tea, and more.

The essays so inspirited me I wanted to write my own. This is how God began a work in me to become a writer.

I didn’t know at the time that reading essays in Country Living and Victoria magazines was part of God’s plan for my life. I simply enjoyed the lovely stories. It was through these narratives that I related to the musings of Bo Niles. Some of my favorite lines written by her include:

 “While I work, tall grasses whisper to me. I listen to them, and feel good.”

Country Living October 1995

“That is the best thing about traditions. They grow to embrace other traditions, like a tree with many branches.”

Country Living December 1995

“We cannot let the sense of wonder wither and die in our children. It is the key to our humanity.”

Country Living July 1997

At bookstores, I browse the nonfiction section first. I love books about people who accomplished a dream. Who beat the odds and established a hopeful path for others. Who learned to trust God with their careers, hobbies, or personal growth.

I also look through the fiction books offered on display tables. For me, fiction is about the author’s creativity, skill, and compelling characters I love or love to hate. (The latter group sure stirs us up, doesn’t it?) Fiction allows me to get lost in the writer’s make-believe mind and experience extraordinary plots. I can go through a time machine, be a detective, visit fairy lands and make-believe worlds.

At home, I keep my fiction and nonfiction print books on different shelves. They are almost equal in number. But nonfiction wins. On my Nook and Kindle, fiction wins.

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Out of Nowhere an Ordinary Moment can Change within a Second

Week 5 of Welcome to My World blog challenge.

Under the morning form of bright sunlight, I turned on the outdoor faucet, and then held the long-handled watering wand at the base of my potted Zinnias. The leaves wiggled. I moved the wand. A small snake poked its head out from among the leaves.

I jerked back. My heart raced. My mind flipped through what-to-do tips when one encounters a serpent. Then I realized it was a harmless gopher snake.

This hasn’t always been the case.

In my memoir’s WIP (work in progress), I share a dream come true of fleeing life in town for open space with my husband and two young children. Set among breathtaking rolling hills, I tell a tender and sometimes hilarious story. There was a swarm of grasshoppers, an army of frogs, a full-scale vole invasion, and rattlesnakes. Yaks!

But there were wonderful compensations where we found deep satisfaction (and still do) with life in the country.

Today, it’s rare to see rattlers on our property. This hasn’t stopped me from using outdoor precautions. Like Sherlock Holmes inspecting a murder scene, I scan the surfaces surrounding me. I use long-handled wands, and poke an old broom stick in dark places where visibility is nil.

On a recent evening walk with my husband, I spotted a skinny two-foot snake stretched out on the side of the road. “Stop,” I hollered, and then pointed a few feet ahead of us.

The snake froze.

Joe moved to the side to examine its tail.

I cautioned him to stay back.

He moved closer. Oh, the fearless will of my country dude.

He reassured me it didn’t have rattles even though it resembled a rattler. Some gopher snakes have similar splotchy dark markings on their backs, yellow or brownish coloration and large heads.

Like the Queen of Prudence, I insisted we turn back.

Practicing safety measures is something most of us do daily, whether we realize it. While chopping food, we curve our fingertips in toward our palm to avoid cutting them off. We look both ways before crossing the street. We train our children to put their toys away when they’re done playing with them. Have you ever thrust your toe into a Tonka truck or stepped on a Lego®?

Good safety practice is essential.

We know this by our own mess ups…and by the first colossal mistake made by the first human couple, Adam and Eve. What they did (touched and ate of the forbidden fruit) and didn’t do (seek God’s wisdom first) changed humanity.

Every action produces an outcome.

How about you? Are you practicing skills that will help to avoid life-changing ripples or a painful blow to the toe? Do you have some practical, easy tips to share? We’d love to read them in the comments.

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