Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Week Of Titus Older Women

Many of our oldest trees are dead or dying. They've been there for ages and have stood the test of time. They've seen storms come and go, faced drought, flooding and disease. Their bark is tough and their trunks are thick and sturdy.

Next to most of these older trees is a smaller tree, like the one pictured here. The old tree has dropped its seeds and they have taken root. Someday the large tree will probably fall over and decay back into the soil, while the new tree grows up big and strong from the nutrients in the old tree.

The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Titus 2:3-5

We may not be ancient like these old trees, but we are being called to bring up women younger than us in holiness. We have learned so many lessons, regardless of how old we are, that would be greatly appreciated by a woman who is struggling. One day when we're ready to topple over, there will be a forest of young trees around us growing healthy and strong because of our love and care.

Make this a week of being a Titus older woman to someone younger than you. Read back over the list of things Paul outlined that were of greatest importance. Think back on your own experiences, pray that God will show you someone who needs you and then share what you know so she can have the precious gift of your wisdom. Somewhere down the road she will share with a younger woman, and God's word will continue for generations.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Such A Warm February

February has been unseasonably warm in southeast Iowa. After a light snowfall in January, overcast winter days have turned into a breath of spring when we needed it most. I can't remember the last time I was able to walk the property in February in short sleeves, but that's exactly what I did this week.

With the leaves still gone, it's much easier to see just how many tall, stately trees we have. It fascinates me that there is such a variety of sizes, shapes and species of trees we have. Over the past few months we have also had several wind storms, so there are many fallen branches - and even some whole trees.

Some of the trees snapped in half, while others were knocked over at the roots. There is quite the spiritual application here, as I think about these short roots snapping under the beating of the wind. Only those trees with the deepest longest roots and those protected by the trees around them will remain standing after the storm.

 At the base of this particular tree, animals (and I don't necessarily need to know what kinds) have made a nest in the empty space. Molly was fascinated by the smells, so apparently it was something good. Here they could burrow around and be safe from predators.

It's even been so warm that the tadpoles are out! The small pond is beginning to turn clear after being frozen this winter, so it's easy to see the tadpoles in the blue-green water. 

And the after-effects of our walks are always the same - we come back to the house dog tired and ready for a nap. I don't know if this month's weather is a hint of what's too come, but I'm looking forward to finding out.

Friday, February 24, 2017

What Customers Are Looking For In Addition To Your Product

Chances are that if you have any kind of job - from your home or outside the home - you interact with people. You provide goods or services that require you to offer yourself in one way or another. Those customers aren't coming to you solely for what you provide, either. They expect many things from you beyond what can be boxed up and delivered.

Are you providing what they need?

* A solution to a problem. The problem will vary based on our profession: a woman needs new clothes that will fit well and make her feel good about her appearance. A family needs to find a new house in a city where they don't know anyone yet. Parents bring their sick child to the doctor's office for a diagnosis and treatment. In every situation in our job, we are asked to solve a problem, big or small, and our performance affects how they feel mentally, emotionally and sometimes physically.

* Personalized service. We all know the feeling we get after we've called a company's customer service line and been less than satisfied. We want to talk to a real person. We want to be treated like we matter. We want someone's undivided attention while they go above and beyond to handle our issues. Our wants are exactly the same as our customers', so this is the perfect time to do unto others as we would have done unto us.

* Something original. Those of us in creative industries know that you have to do something out of the ordinary to catch a customer's attention. In a sea of people who make handmade cards, I have to make mine differently, in a different style and with attention to detail so my shop doesn't get lost on the Internet. Keep doing what you do, but do it with originality and flair.

* Honesty. If you say you'll have it there by the weekend, do everything in your power to have it there. If it can't be there by the weekend, truthfully explain why it can't. Admit your mistakes, be clear about your intentions and promote your goods and services honestly. This can make all the difference when the customer considers becoming a repeat customer.

* A bang for their buck. Customers have literally millions of options while shopping today. The only difference they see might be your price. Do your homework and price your items and services competitively while still making the profit you need to survive. If you are priced above your competitors, explain how the extra dollars translate into time saved, a personalized experience and a one-of-a-kind product.

* Consistency. No one likes a mystery, unless it's in a novel. If you've always included a hand-written note in your packaging, keep doing it even if you don't hear any response from it. It's still making an impression. If you've always shipped the same day the order arrives, keep doing it even if no one mentions it in your review. If you've always made follow-up phone calls after the sale, keep doing it even if all you do is leave messages. You never know what small detail of your business is keeping your customers loyal.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Eggnog Snickerdoodles

So what's a girl to do when she needs eggnog for the cookies she wants?

She makes her own.

Once Christmas is past, it's very difficult to find eggnog in the stores. The ingredients for making your own, along with everything to turn the eggnog into scrumptious cookies, can be found all year round.

So try this combination for yourself and see if eggnog can be good in February, too.

Ingredients for eggnog:
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups milk (I used almond milk)
2 tsp nutmeg
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp rum extract

Ingredients for cookies:
1 cup flour
3/4 tsp cornstarch
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
pinch of salt
2 Tbsp melted butter
1/4 cup of the eggnog you just made
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar

Ingredients for sugar topping:
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg

1. Begin with the eggnog. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a medium bowl so they're lighter in color and fluffy.

2. Combine the cream, milk, nutmeg and salt in a medium sauce pan. Simmer the mixture on the stove on medium high heat, stirring often.

3. Once simmering, slowly add the hot mixture to the egg bowl. You have to do this incredibly slowly or you will cook the eggs - which is bad.

4. Pour the bowl's contents back into the sauce pan and put it back over the heat. Use a candy thermometer in the pan to show you when it's reached 160 degrees.

5. At this point, remove the pan from the heat and add vanilla and rum extract.

6. Pour the eggnog into a pitcher, cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator until it's chilled.

7. For the cookies, start by combining the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.

8. In a separate bowl, combine the butter, eggnog and vanilla. Add in the white and brown sugars.

9. Stir in the flour mixture in small amounts until all combined.

10. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least an hour.

11. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line your baking sheets with parchment paper - this is super important since the dough will be a little sticky.

12. Combine the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a small bowl to roll the dough in.

13. Roll spoonfuls of dough into small balls and coat completely in the sugar bowl. Place them on the baking sheet and lightly press them down into coin shapes. This will help them cook faster and more evenly.

14. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, until the edges are just turning brown. Allow them to cool for several minutes before removing from the tray, otherwise they will break apart.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

How To Wood Burn Stamped Images

When you have acres of woods on your property, it only makes sense to want to use some of it for your craft projects. I'm always on the lookout for fallen branches and logs that can be turned into something even more beautiful. Obviously, that's why my Etsy shop is called Stuff From Trees.

This particular piece of tree was the perfect size for stamping, which I had done in the past. But this time I wanted to kick it up a notch and do some wood burning on those tree cookies, too. And that's how these ornaments came to be.

After cutting the discs, sanding them smooth and drilling a hole in the top, I matched them up with stamps that would fill most of the space.

Then I used a pigment ink on the stamp. It was just dark enough to be seen but not too big to cover with a wood burning pen. Since I've only done a few wood burning projects, I started as simply as I could with this method, sticking to thin line drawings.

Once I went over them with the wood burning pen, they were exactly the way I pictured in my head.

I added a little bit of color with colored pencils and strung them with baker's twine. This little bear stole my heart.

All but one of these ornaments are now available in my Etsy shop. Come visit today and see which ones you'd like to have for your very own.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Lessons On A Servant's Heart

I knew it was a problem when I checked caller ID and didn't pick up the phone. I knew exactly who it was, but I was too busy. Too tired. Too strung out by the events of my own day to listen to hers.

I was "too" a lot of things, but mostly I was too selfish.

When the phone rings and your first instinct is to just unplug it, you know it's a problem.
When you really do have some time to talk but you'd rather spend that time on your own stuff, you know it's a problem.
When innocent people are an inconvenience as they're reaching out to you, you know it's a problem.

God has a habit of convicting your heart in ways you can't ignore. He's not going to be subtle when what you need is to be slapped upside the head.

So when I began my Bible study the next day and found myself in the middle of Matthew chapter 14, it wasn't a physical slap. It did, however, make me a little queasy as I suddenly saw two verses in a whole new light.

The portion of Scripture beginning at Matthew 14:13 gives us the first account of the feeding of the five thousand, a story that is detailed in all four gospels. Jesus had just heard of the death of John the Baptist and had taken a ship across the sea. On his heels were five thousand men, plus their wives and children. As Jesus left the boat and saw the multitude that had followed Him, Matthew says the Lord was "moved with compassion toward them." These thousands spent the day with Him, watching as the sick were healed and miracles were marveled over.

And then the evening came.

His disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals. Matthew 14:15

It seems like a natural human response to a long day of work. "Master, it's late in the day and these lovely people need to get on their way so everyone can rest. They can go get something to eat and get to bed early. We'll gladly meet up with them again tomorrow."

To the ears of a Savior whose very character is hospitality, this was not the right course of action. Yes, the people were hungry. Yes, it had been a long day. Yes, it was getting dark. But the Bread of Life had a different meal in mind.

But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat. Matthew 14:16

The disciples' first reaction was to send hungry people in search of food. Doesn't sound so bad, does it? They'll find something, somewhere, right? There's nothing here for them to eat, so there's really no other option.

I can almost hear Jesus' heart break as He gently nudges them in the right direction. No, they don't have to go anywhere. Everything they need is here in the presence of the Christ.

And here, at the end of the day and in front of thousands of people, provision was given where there seemed to be so little. A handful of loaves and a couple of fish. Good for one or two people, but surely not a multitude.

Until Jesus steps in.

When the disciples began passing baskets of bread and fish around, each row of people had more than enough. Matthew described them as "filled." Not just enough to get by or a snack to tide them over. They were filled to the brim and could have had even more. The disciples brought back twelve full baskets - one for each of them.

When the disciples held out their hands to be used as waiters for the Lord's meal, Jesus Christ was able to use them to share His miracle. Jesus filled their hands with everything they needed to do as He commanded: give ye them to eat. They didn't have what they needed under their own power, but with Christ they had more than they needed.

It was at this point that I understood the message God was laying on my heart that morning. When I was too wrapped up in my own agenda and my own schedule, I had echoed the disciples: Lord, it's time to send the people away. By not giving up even a moment for the needs of another, I mirrored the request of the disciples: They'll find something, somewhere. Send them on their way.

Praise the Lord that He never sends anyone away. He never says He's too busy, too tired or too anything. He will never take the phone off the hook or pretend He didn't hear it ringing. His heart is too loving to turn anyone away when they approach Him. How many times has He been there waiting for me when I needed Him most? Isn't this, then, an example of how we should be treating one another?

Once I had confessed my heart condition, I immediately went to the phone and called that number. We talked, and I was able to provide a listening ear, a suggestion to a problem and opened the door to some hospitality down the road. Through His word, God gave me exactly what I needed to give up my selfishness and take the opportunity to reflect Him a little brighter. I pray now that I will see these moments not as interruptions, but as opportunities to do for someone else what Christ has done for me.