Category Archives: This and That

Just a some things I felt like putting on here that really doesn’t have a category of its own.

God’s Timing: A Visual Aid

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This is my next door neighbors’ magnolia tree, as seen through my bedroom window.  It’s a big, beautiful tree.  Right now, it only has one blossom on it, that I’ve noticed, but it is still nice to look at.  It stays green all year round, which I didn’t realize magnolias did, and it sits just yards away from the western side of our house.  It is actually closer to our house than it is to our neighbors’.  If you look closely at this picture, you can see some power lines running right next to the tree, even somewhat tangled in it.  I’ve got a story about that, and if you’ll indulge me, I will now tell it.

Yesterday, little man and I went up the road about 70 miles to my hometown to run a few errands and visit some family.  I had it all planned out, even down to where we would eat lunch.  I had to make a stop at a store in one town, then head another 20 minutes down the road to my hometown.  I would stop at the Sonic there and get a one dollar hotdog and some tater tots for my lunch and use a coupon for a free kid’s meal for Connor’s lunch, and then head on to the first of my several visitation stops before coming back home and cooking a quick supper of spaghetti.

Well, my plans changed once I made it to my old stomping grounds.  The entire area where Sonic is located was out of power due to a short, strong rain that had come through just minutes before I made it to town, so no Sonic.  Instead, I headed out to the south end of town to my grandma Margaret’s house and visited with her for a couple of hours.  We left there and headed to the north end of town to my grandma Carolyn’s house.  A quick look as we passed through told me Sonic was still in the dark ages, so still no Sonic.  After a couple of hours with Grandma C., I decided we needed to head home so I could get supper on the table at a normal time, but it had started to rain and was coming down a decent clip.  On a whim, at the last moment, I decided to go ahead and make a stop at my dad and step-mom’s house the next street over.  I figured it had been awhile since I’d seen them, and I didn’t want to get blown off the freeway trying to make it home in the deluge.  My dad was working, but we stuck around and visited for a couple of hours anyway.  By then, it was five o’clock in the evening.  It was too late for cooking a quick supper, so I was glad to still have the Sonic coupon and opportunity for a cheap hot dog.  Nic wanted tacos from his favorite taco place, so Connor-man and I headed out.

The rain was at a steady sprinkle, which I was thankful for, even though I was sure it would follow me all the way home.  I made one more quick stop at my mom’s work to pick up some paperwork, then headed down the road for food.  The food, however, took much longer than I had expected, at both places.  I wound up being about 30 minutes later than I would have been without the stops, and I was lamenting at being so late.  The rain continued to taper off and was all but gone entirely by the time I made it home about seven in the evening.

I was about ten minutes from home when I noticed that there were a lot of leaves, twigs, sticks, and limbs strewn about everywhere:  in yards, on the highway, in parking lots, you name it.  Clearly, a storm with a lot of strong wind had just come through minutes before me.  Not a tornado, but certainly something I was thankful I wasn’t trying to drive through.  I turned onto our road, and noticed even more limbs lying around in the pecan orchard, and as I neared my next door neighbor’s house, I saw what looked like two downed Bradford pear trees in their yard, one on each side of the driveway.  When I got closer, I realized it wasn’t entire trees, but a large limb from each tree had been blown off by the wind.  Then, I noticed smoke on the far side of the magnolia tree, which is on the far side of their driveway.  I couldn’t tell what was burning from where I was, so I looked closely as I passed by, worried it was our house.  It turned out to be the tree.  The Bradford pear limb had pulled some power lines into the magnolia, and the magnolia leaves were trying to catch fire from it.  It was smoke and sparks when I saw it, but one small dry, dead limb was well on its way to catching fire.  I pulled into the neighbors’ driveway and told them about the smoking magnolia.  They immediately called the fire department and another neighbor.  Before long, we had a collection of trucks, neighbors, and firemen out in front of ours’ and our neighbors’ houses.

Thankfully, the tree never did catch fire, the firemen were able to remove the fallen pear limb from the wires, and the electric company turned off the power remotely until they could free the wires from the magnolia tree.  We spent about 13 hours without power waiting on that fix.  No one was hurt and no further damage to anyone’s property occurred.  Even our milk is still good.  I call that God’s provision.

However, as amazing as God’s provision is, what struck me most about the whole thing was God’s timing.  If my hometown hadn’t had a power outage, I would have used my Sonic coupon for lunch, leaving us with yet another expense for supper.  If it hadn’t been raining as hard as it was when I left Grandma Carolyn’s house, I would have come on home.  If the restaurants hadn’t taken so long getting the orders out to me, I would have been driving through and gotten home during the storm that caused so much damage.  If I had already been home, I would not have known about the smoke coming from the magnolia tree.  That’s not to say that no one else could have seen it, but they may not have, if anyone else would have passed by before dark.  What if that tree had not been noticed, and it had caught fire?  At best, the neighbors would have lost a lovely, large tree.  At worst, we, or even the neighbors, could have lost our home. None of that may have happened at all, and I know there’s no point in worrying about the “what if’s” of life.  I’m not suggesting we all start doing that.  What I am saying is this:  God clearly wanted me to be late in coming home yesterday.  He wanted me away from home yesterday, and he wanted me late getting back.  The entire day, down to a cheap meal ($2.92 for two people, by the way), occurred in such a way as to keep me in my hometown for far longer than I had intended.

God’s timing is perfect.  We get frustrated with people, things, and situations that cause our schedules to go awry.  We gripe, complain, and lament, even, when we have to improvise or play it by ear.  Most of the time, God’s timing of things is not something we see so easily.  It is something that often is years in the making, and we, being the imperfect humans that we are, forget what all happened or just simply don’t connect the dots.  Then, sometimes, God’s timing is as clear as day.  It’s right in our faces, demanding our notice, our praise, and our gratefulness.  It’s a reminder of what all is going on behind the scenes every day, whether we remember it or know it or not.  God is always working, and His timing is always exactly right.  He is never early, and He is never late.  He just wants us to trust Him.

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The Curse Of the Mosquito

A mosquito on a leaf

That, my dear readers, is a mosquito.  If you’re not familiar with it, it is basically a blood-sucking demon.  Considering that it’s indigenous to basically the entire planet, however, I’m betting you’re familiar with it.  Last summer, we moved from an area with just a general amount of mosquitos to an area where they could eat you alive in about 10 minutes flat.  I’ve never hated nor feared mosquitos so much in my entire life.  Seriously, when you’re faced with hundreds of mosquitos on a daily basis, you start to understand the fear of mosquito-borne illness.  And when you have a small child and are pregnant, that fear increases exponentially.

Recently, I posted this on Facebook:  “Everything in creation has a purpose. Worms turn the dirt. Snakes eat other varmints. Bees help in plant fertilization. But I am convinced that mosquitos and flies are just pure curse, especially mosquitos.”  It was humorous little status update that received a dozen “likes” and one comment (a hearty “amen”).  However, it has stuck with me.  And as much as I hate to admit it, even the things of earth that are purely curse, have a distinct purpose.

God originally created this planet perfect, pristine.  The lives of mankind were without any kind of difficulty.  Even the animals lived in peace with one another.  The weather was always perfect; there was always food; there wasn’t even a need for clothing.  Then, mankind sinned, and everything changed.  There was only one rule in that perfect world, and the human race couldn’t even obey that one rule.  As a result, God cursed this planet as a punishment for our sins.

The curse included everything painful about our world:  illness, hard work and toil for little or no reward, pain, death.  Sin has taken root in our very souls, and we see the results of that every single day, over and over again all over the world.  Greed, envy, hatred, bitterness, strife, foolishness, self-importance, and the list goes on and on.  It’s a disheartening world in which we live.  Even when we go to walk outside in our own back yards, we encounter stickers and briars growing among the grass that will prick and wound our skin.  And there are mosquitos that will bite us, causing an itchy spot, at best, and death, at worst.

You see, even parts of our lives that are purely curse have a purpose, to remind us of what we are:  sinners.  We are sinners, even those of us who are among the saved, the Christians.  We have sinned in the past, we sin now, and we will sin for the rest of our natural lives.  We have disobeyed God.  We have turned our backs on Him and declared that we know better than Him and can make it through this life on our own.  We don’t need our Creator.  We, as a whole, have even declared that we are better, smarter, greater than our Creator.  We have spat in His face and thrown everything He ever gave us back at Him, ungrateful to and despising Him.  We are sinners.  You are a sinner.  I am a sinner.

Those mosquitos, though I will not start liking them anytime soon, are a reminder to me of just how far I have fallen.  They are a reminder of just much I have despised God and just how much I need Him.  They are reminder to me that I am not in control; He is.  He decides where and how many mosquitos are born.  He decides if, when, and which mosquitos will bite me and my family.  I have no control over any aspect of those mosquitos.  I even spent an hour this morning spraying a gallon of mosquito repellant stuff all over the outside of the house, but there are still hundreds of them buzzing away out there, in the same places that I sprayed.  My husband and I mowed the grass within an inch of its life, yet mosquitos will still be out there tomorrow.  We do not control God’s creation, no matter what we think.  We do not control when our lives begin, nor when they end.  We do not even control whether we will catch a cold, regardless of how many times we wash our hands and use sanitizer on grocery carts.  These painful things, mosquitos, death, and sickness, are part of the curse.  They should remind us of our utter need for God, how powerless we are.

Though I will continue my war with the mosquitos, spraying them with insecticides, using repellant on my body, mowing the grass, and everything else, I can be thankful that God is in control of everything and sent those mosquitos to remind me of that.  It’s not a fun thing, but it is oh so necessary.  Just something to think about the next time you get bitten by one of those blood-sucking demons.

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Hooded Towel

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(******You can right click on the pictures and open them in a new tab to see them on a bigger scale.  I know they are small on this post.*******)

You asked for it, and now you’re going to get it.  Okay, so you didn’t actually ask for it, but you’re getting it anyway.  A sewing tutorial for a hooded towel, complete with examples of bad photography.

These towels are great!  I’ve been making them recently as baby shower gifts, and they have always been well-received.  I finally made one yesterday for Connor, and today, I made one for Zachary, even though he isn’t due to grace us with his presence until September.  Anyway, these are fantastic because they can be used on bigger kids, they actually absorb water instead of just adhering to the child, they are soft and fluffy, and you can get them in any color you want, assuming the store has that color in stock.  Not to mention, they are relatively cheap and easy.  Trust me, if I can afford it and am able to make it, that’s saying something.  We are by no means rich, and I am certainly no seamstress.  I have, however, gotten to a point where I felt like I could actually tell someone how to make these.  (I’ve made about 9 of them now, so surely I have learned something.  (And that’s A LOT of babies in one year’s time, and I’ve still got two more towels to make before this fall!  I think I know some fertile people, but I digress.))  So, without further hopping down rabbit trails, here’s the tutorial.

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What you will need:

  • One regular sized bath towel
  • One regular sized hand towel
  • Spool of thread to match
  • Scissors
  • Pins

What to do:

To make a basic towel, without any embellishments, you don’t really need anything other than the two towels and some thread.  Cut off all the tags and make sure you pull out all those plastic label attacher-thingies.  Lay aside the bath towel.  You’re going to make the hood first from the hand towel.

Cut off all four edges.

Cut off all four edges.

You’re going to want to cut off all the hemmed edges from the towel to cut down on the bulk of fabric you will later be sewing through.  If the sides of your towel are selvages, then you don’t have to cut them off unless you want to.  Your towel will need to be at least 24 inches long after you trim the edges.  It’s fine if it’s larger than that.  I think this one was about 27 inches long.  If you want to trim it down to 24 inches, go for it.

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Zig-zag or surge the long sides of the towel.

Zig-zag or surge the long sides of the towel.  This will keep the fabric from unraveling.  Thus, allowing the towel to last longer.

Fold the towel in half, short sides together.

Fold the towel in half, short sides together.

Once you’ve finished the sides, fold the towel in half.  In school, for some odd reason they called this fold “hamburger style.”  It always sounded weird to me, but if it works for you, then alrighty.

Hem the sides using a straight stitch.

Hem the sides using a straight stitch.

Okay, now close up the two sides of the towel using a straight stitch.  Sew as close to the edge as you can.  You do not want a lot of bulk that you will have to sew through in a minute.  Sewing up the sides will basically create a giant pocket.

Turn your towel inside-out.

Turn your towel inside-out.

Now that you’re done with the first part of making the hood, turn it inside-out.  From here, you’re going to want to tuck the side on your right into the side on your left.  (Right corner into left corner.)  I did not take a picture, but when lying flat, the towel will no longer be shaped like a square but rather a long, skinny rectangle.  (Hot dog style, anybody?)

Open up the rectangle, and you will get your hood.

Open up the rectangle, and you will get your hood.

Once you open up the hood, turn up the raw, bottom edge and pin it.  I like to pin it on either end and on either side of the bulky middle seam.  Use however many pins that you need.

A closer view of the bottom edge.

A closer view of the bottom edge.

Be sure that both the top and bottom pieces of fabric are folded over.

Sew a straight stitch down the bottom edge.

Sew a straight stitch down the bottom edge.

Alright, here comes the fun.  Sew a straight stitch across the bottom edge.  It will be bulky, especially in the middle where the seam is.  In fact, when I sew through the middle seam, I raise my presser foot, and slowly guide the fabric through.  If you go too fast, your needle will bend or break.  Slow and steady wins this race for sure.

Attach the hood to the middle top of the bath towel.

Attach the hood to the middle top of the bath towel.

Now, pin the hood to the outside of the bath towel.  Line it up in the middle of the towel.  I have discovered that most towels have a crease right down the middle of them from being folded on the shelf for so long, and I use that as a guide.  Also, cover all the ugly hood hem by the towel.  I just eyeball it and make sure the hood isn’t on the towel at an angle and pin it on both ends and on either side of the middle seam.

When I sew on the hood, I sew above the hood’s hemline.  It is less bulky above the line.  You just have to use your fingers and be thoughtful to be sure that you’re actually sewing the hood onto the towel.  If you run off the edge of the towel, carefully go back and try again.

Tack down the hood hem.

Tack down the hood hem.

Now, the thing that has driven me craziest with these towels is this little flap of a hem on the hood.  Since I attach the hood above the hemline, the whole hem can be flipped up and show off its ugliness.  I finally figured a way to at least make that not as easy to do that also won’t give my hands severe pain.  (You can hand sew the hem down, but because of carpal tunnel, I can’t do that.)  Anyway, simply make a short, straight stitch down both ends of the hood hem, and on either side of that middle seam (the same places where you did your pinning).  This will tack it down and keep it from flapping in the wind and being unsightly.

029And there you have it:  a basic hooded towel.  It’s cute; it’s practical; it’s easy.

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I followed a tutorial found here when I learned how to make these towels:  http://onesimplebliss.blogspot.com/2011/04/diy-hooded-towels.html.   This tutorial also has instructions for adding a ribbon to the hood.

As you can see in the pictures, I added an applique initial to the towel that I made.  It was fairly simple to do.  Use a pattern to cut out the letter from fabric and interfacing.  If you stack the fabric and interfacing together before cutting, you will be sure to have a perfect fit and will only have to cut once.  Lie the interfacing onto the center of the outside of the bath towel, and then place the fabric on top of it, lining them up together.  Using a low iron, iron it together, pressing gently with the tip of the iron on the edges of the letter (or shape).  Carefully, carry the whole thing over to the sewing machine, and with a zig-zag stitch, outline the edge of the shape.  I got mine on there a little crooked, but with an 18 month old pulling on the towel, it’s a wonder the letter made it on there at all.

I would also recommend adding the applique before you attach the hood to the towel, just to make it easier to turn the towel as needed to outline the shape.

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Oh, Lord, Where Are You?

Tornado that hit AR April 27, 2014.  This photo is from Searcy, AR, though, I am not certain who took it.

Tornado that hit AR April 27, 2014. This photo is from Searcy, AR and was taken by T.J. Stewart.

 

I do not know if you have heard in other parts of the country, but last night (April 27, 2014), central Arkansas was hit by a massive storm that produced this tornado that for around 45 minutes.  It was upwards to a mile wide in some places, and 1/2 a mile wide in some of its narrowest places.  It has been categorized as an EF-4 tornado.  (The ratings for tornados only go through EF-5.)  This was one of the most dangerous tornados in recent AR weather history.  At this point, the death toll is up to 14, including two children and one teenager, and there are still dozens missing.  Many small communities were hit, along with two small towns:  Mayflower and Vilonia.  All day long, local news stations have been having live coverage of search, rescue, and recovery efforts.  Though, I do not personally know anyone who was affected (Though, I do know of a family who lost three loved ones.), and I do not live near any of the places hit by this horrendous storm, I felt compelled to write a small poem about yesterday’s events.  In Arkansas, you learn that it could always be you next time.  There are no guarantees when dealing with tornados, and just because your area isn’t normally in the line of the storms, doesn’t mean it can’t be.  And when you see the images that have been playing across my TV screen and Facebook page all day, you can’t help but feel these people’s pain and loss to a degree.

*One week later, a baby that was born prematurely due to the mother’s injuries from the tornado, passed away shortly after birth, bringing the new total of tornado-related deaths up to 16.  Also, another person who had died was discovered a day or so after I wrote this post.

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“Oh, Lord, Where Are You?”

When the storms rage,

You are there.

When the wind roars,

You are there.

When the tornado destroys,

You are there.

When the night crawls on,

You are there.

When the sun rises,

You are there.

When the search commences,

You are there.

When the grief hits,

You are there.

When the healing begins,

You are there.

When life continues,

You are there.

You.  Are.  There.

Psalm 18:1-2 (NIV):  I love you, O LORD, my strength.  The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.  He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

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God bless all those who have been through last night’s storms and are dealing with the loss of loved ones and property in Arkansas and in other states.  And please bless those who are dealing with the same storm system today and will do so tomorrow in other parts of the country.

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Cake Baking and Decorating Tips

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We’ve all been there.  It’s eight o’clock on a Saturday night, and you’ve just remembered that there is a church potluck after morning services the next day.  You’ve been catching up on laundry, house cleaning, and play time all day long.  You’re tired and don’t even want to think about pulling out all the stops for homemade lasagna, but at the same time, bringing chips and a couple of two liters would feel like a cop-out.  Yeah, not going either of those routes.  But, you do have a cake mix and a can of frosting in the cabinet.  You bought it for just such a time as this.  Too bad it’s going to taste like it came out of a box, but now isn’t the time to dabble in the details…. Or is it?

I am here to let you know that you can have a tasty cake straight from a box without doing anything out of the ordinary.  And, you can double the amount of frosting you have in that can by adding one simple ingredient:  Air.  Let me help you out.

For a tastier, firmer cake, use these simple substitutes.  First, pull out that box mix and your bowl.  The box says to use water, oil, and eggs (probably three).  Ignore that.  You need to pull out milk, butter, and one extra egg.  Just simply swap the water for milk.  Then, double the amount of oil and swap it for butter and melt it.  The real deal would be better than margarine, but that’s up to you.  And last, but not least, add one more egg than they say to use.  Mix well and bake as directed.

Another hint to make your cake more moist is an oldie but a goodie.  Add about 1/2 a cup of mayonnaise or sour cream to the batter.  Mix it in well, and bake as directed.  Your cake will be good and moist.

Now, about that frosting.  Scoop it into a mixing bowl, and beat it with a mixer for a few minutes.  It will fluff right up, and you will end up with pretty much twice as much as normal.  No need to worry about having enough.

Finally, once you get the cake baked, cooled, and iced, you can jazz it up a bit with some candy – any candy.  I used fun-sized Hershey bars in the picture above.  But try out M&M’s, Skittles, Starburst, Kisses, even peppermints or fruity candies, such as Jolly Ranchers or Life Savers.  They add some color, and the kids will love you forever.  Or, just add a few sprinkles if you don’t have candy.  Of course, you don’t even have to add anything because simple is stunning.

If you want to write on your cake with icing, a good hint is to use a toothpick to trace out your message first.  Then, go over it with your icing using a fine point tip.  Also, a bit of food coloring to a bit of white icing will make things pop without causing a bunch of stress.  (Though, to be honest, in the cake pictured above, I did use a different flavor for the orange icing.  I saw it Wal-Mart and thought it would be a fun flavor to try since it was Orange-sicle.  It was quite yummy, by the way.)

One final hint from a Southern gal:  set your cake on a pretty plate.  The plate doesn’t have to be expensive, just decorative.  The one in the picture is a plastic plate from the Dollar Tree.  But, because of the design, it adds a bit of glamor to a rather ordinary birthday cake.

And once you’ve done all that, go rest so you can enjoy your Sunday.

*I learned most of these hints on Pinterest, but the mayo/sour cream one came from my step-mom.  I’ve done it for years, and it works wonders.

Happy Baking!  And feel free to share your baking tips and shortcuts.

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43 Helpful Hints

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I was sent this information on Facebook, and since it’s been a little bit since my last post, I thought I would pass it along.  I have not tried any of it, but I figure some of it is bound to work, and who knows, maybe you could try out some of it.

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Wow, Some interesting stuff here!

DID YOU KNOW?

1. Budweiser beer conditions the hair

2. Pam cooking spray will dry finger nail polish

3. Cool whip will condition your hair in 15 minutes

4. Mayonnaise will KILL LICE, it will also condition your hair

5. Elmer’s Glue – paint on your face, allow it to dry, peel off and see the dead skin and blackheads if any.

6. Shiny Hair – use brewed Lipton Tea

7. Sunburn – empty a large jar of Nestea into your bath water

8. Minor burn – Colgate or Crest toothpaste

9. Burn your tongue? Put sugar on it!

10. Arthritis? WD-40 Spray and rub in, kill insect stings too

11 Bee stings – meat tenderizer

12. Chigger bite – Preparation H

13. Puffy eyes – Preparation H

14. Paper cut – crazy glue or chap stick (glue is used instead of sutures at most hospitals)

15. Stinky feet – Jello

16. Athletes feet – cornstarch

17. Fungus on toenails or fingernails – Vicks vapor rub

18. Kool aid to clean dishwasher pipes. Just put in the detergent section and run a cycle, it will also clean a toilet. (Wow, and we drink this stuff)

19. Kool Aid can be used as a dye in paint also Kool Aid in Dannon plain yogurt as a finger paint, your kids will love it and it won’t hurt them if they eat it!

20. Peanut butter – will get scratches out of CD’s! Wipe off with a coffee filter paper

21. Sticking bicycle chain – Pam no-stick cooking spray

22. Pam will also remove paint, and grease from your hands! Keep a can in your garage for your hubby

23. Peanut butter will remove ink from the face of dolls

24. When the doll clothes are hard to put on, sprinkle with corn starch and watch them slide on

25. Heavy dandruff – pour on the vinegar !

26. Body paint – Crisco mixed with food coloring. Heat the Crisco in the microwave, pour in to an empty film container and mix with the food color of your choice!

27 Tie Dye T-shirt – mix a solution of Kool Aid in a container, tie a rubber band around a section of the T-shirt and soak

28. Preserving a newspaper clipping – large bottle of club soda and cup of milk of magnesia , soak for 20 min. and let dry, will last for many years!

29. A Slinky will hold toast and CD’s!

30. To keep goggles and glasses from fogging, coat with Colgate toothpaste

31. Wine stains, pour on the Morton salt and watch it absorb into the salt.

32. To remove wax – Take a paper towel and iron it over the wax stain, it will absorb into the towel.

33. Remove labels off glassware etc. rub with Peanut butter!

34. Baked on food – fill container with water, get a Bounce paper softener and the static from the Bounce towel will cause the baked on food to adhere to it. Soak overnight. Also; you can use 2 Efferdent tablets , soak overnight!

35. Crayon on the wall – Colgate toothpaste and brush it!

36.. Dirty grout – Listerine

37. Stains on clothes – Colgate toothpaste

38. Grass stains – Karo Syrup

39. Grease Stains – Coca Cola , it will also remove grease stains from the driveway overnight. We know it will take corrosion from car batteries!

40. Fleas in your carpet? 20 Mule Team Borax- sprinkle and let stand for 24 hours. Maybe this will work if you get them back again.

41. To keep FRESH FLOWERS longer Add a little Clorox , or 2 Bayer aspirin , or just use 7-up instead of water.

42. Gatorade is good for Migraine Headaches (PowerAde won’t work)

43. When you go to buy bread in the grocery store, have you ever wondered which is the freshest, so you ‘squeeze’ for freshness or softness? Did you know that bread is delivered fresh to the stores five days a week? Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Each day has a different color twist tie.

They are:

Monday = Blue,

Tuesday = Green,

Thursday = Red

Friday = White

Saturday = Yellow.

So if today was Thursday, you would want red twist tie; not white which is Fridays (almost a week old)! The colors go alphabetically by color Blue- Green – Red – White – Yellow, Monday through Saturday. Very easy to remember. I thought this was interesting. I looked in the grocery store and the bread wrappers DO have different twist ties, and even the ones with the plastic clips have different colors. You learn something new everyday! Enjoy fresh bread when you buy bread with the right color on the day you are shopping.

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Mary’s Visit

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Last month, I started seeing this Bible reading schedule make it’s way around Facebook and Pinterest.  I tend to have a hard time keeping a daily Bible reading schedule, but as I looked closely at this one, I noticed it was only a few verses a day, twelve verses at the most, in fact.  I thought that would be something I could do and could even read it to Connor each day, seeing as how it’s so short.  I quickly saved the picture and have been reading the verses all month.  There are a couple of mistakes that I’ve noted on this list so far:  Day 8 should be Luke 1:26-38, and Day 10 should be Matthew 1:22-25.  (There is no verse 26 in Matthew chapter one.)  I like to read the verses and think about and explain to Connor what they mean, why they are important towards the Real Meaning of Christmas.

Today, after I read the verses and began to think about them, I realized some things I had never before noticed nor been taught.  The verses are from the Gospel of Luke chapter one, verses 39-45.  They read:  “Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste to the city of Judah and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.  And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Then she spoke out in a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For indeed, as soon as your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.  Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.’ ”  (NKJV)

I’ve heard and read this story before.  The angel Gabriel goes Zachariah and announces to him that his wife Elizabeth, who has been barren her whole life and is now past child-bearing age, is going to have a son, and he shall be named John.  Zachariah doesn’t believe it, Gabriel strikes him mute until the baby is born, and sure enough, Elizabeth soon gets pregnant.  Six months later, Gabriel shows up in Nazareth and tells Mary that she, a virgin, is going to have a baby boy, named Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, making him God’s Son.  He will be the long-awaited Messiah, sent to bring salvation to His people.  Gabriel also tells Mary about Zachariah and Elizabeth’s good news, as assurance to her that what he has said about her is true; she will be the mother of the Messiah.  Soon after this encounter with God’s messenger angel, Mary sets out for a visit with Elizabeth, and sure enough, as soon as she arrives, Elizabeth knows that Mary is pregnant.  So, what the angel said is true.  End of story, right?

Wrong.

This is one of those glossed over passages in the Bible.  Sure, people mention it, it gets read in churches and homes during the Christmas season, folks know Mary visited with her cousins for three months, during her first trimester, but that’s as far as it goes.  Mary shows up on Elizabeth’s doorstep, sees that her much older cousin is pregnant, and sighs in relief that she doesn’t need to be locked up in the asylum after all.  Now, let’s get to those shepherds and wise men.  But wait, let’s look at this for a moment.  God does everything for a reason, whether we know the reason or not, and He is in control of everything.  Gabriel wasn’t just being an early form of Facebook, announcing the pending birth of baby John to some distant relatives, and Mary didn’t go just to make sure she wasn’t crazy.  And Elizabeth hadn’t been barren all those years just because she and Zachariah didn’t do the deed during the right days of the month, only to have suddenly gotten it right after 40-50 years during the one, final ovulation of a good egg.  Seriously.  Yes, it was nice to hear that your childless cousins are finally being blessed with a baby.  Sure, it was great for Mary to know she didn’t imagine talking with an angel.  And Elizabeth really has been barren all those years, but no longer, by the grace of God.  Now, how does all of that work together to form a greater picture?

Let’s start with Zachariah and Elizabeth.  He was a priest; she was barren.  In those days, being married and childless was neither desired, nor looked well upon.  People would have accused them both, but especially Elizabeth, of harboring some sin, of being outside the will of God.  Zachariah would have been disrespected as a priest, not taken seriously, and Elizabeth would have borne the barbs of gossiping neighbors and relatives.  We’ve all heard of in-law horror stories.  Most of them probably couldn’t hold a candle to what all Elizabeth endured those many, many years.  People would have refused to interact with them on anything, would have falsely accused them of an untold number of things, they would have been whispered about, and endured decades of persecution from people all around them.  It would have been a very long, lonely life for the two of them, during which time, they would have grown stronger in their faith of God, their trust in His sovereignty, and their belief that for whatever reason, it was for His will.  They had decades of not knowing why and decades of swinging between questioning and standing firm in their faith.  Furthermore, it would have worked in their marriage, making things difficult, and ultimately making them stronger.  They would have learned how to be content, just the two of them and how to lean on each other for support during those most difficult days.  They had a lifetime of learning how to do that.

Mary was a young woman when she was blessed with the announcement of her pregnancy.  Most likely, she was only in her mid-teens, engaged to married to Joseph.  At that time, becoming pregnant before marriage was not only considered immoral, it was illegal, punishable by death.  There was one thing extra special about her pregnancy, however, she was still a virgin, which would have actually nullified the capital punishment, but since pregnancy without sex doesn’t happen naturally, it was a no-win situation for Mary.  To top that off, her going around telling people that an angel told her she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit overshadowing her, thus making her the mother of God’s Son was downright blasphemous, also punishable by death.  It’s no wonder that Gabriel gave her a proof of what she had been told by telling her of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.  At least those closest to her would have to admit something super-natural going on when the upcoming birth of baby John was confirmed.  Elizabeth had “hid herself” and kept the pregnancy a secret for five months, according to Luke 1:24, so no would have known, especially cousins who lived several days’ travel away.  When Mary told her family and Joseph about the angelic encounter, she would have had something to back her up, Elizabeth’s pregnancy.  If that were true, then it stood to reason, the rest of her story was true.  So, off she went to Judah.

However, there’s even more going on here than that.  We learn in Matthew 1:19 that Joseph wasn’t so ready to believe Mary, despite any proof she may be able to offer.  It was just too preposterous.  Maybe he thought she had heard whispers from other people about Elizabeth, things she had thought were rumors but were perfect timing for excusing her own shameful situation.  Maybe he was just scared because even if he believed her story and went ahead and married her, then it would be thought that he was the father and they had jumped the gun on the honeymoon, which could mean death for him.  Whatever the reason, it’s likely that Mary left for her visit to her cousins heartbroken that her fiancé was not willing to believe her.  There probably was a fight, words said, tears shed, you know the drill.  Not to mention, there was the doubt of her family.  They may have let her go to Judah just to give them time to decide what to do with her, how to handle the situation.  She probably left Nazareth all alone, heartbroken, and fearful for her very life, afraid of a mob of people ready to pelt her with stones the moment she arrived back home.  It was the beginning of a lifetime of people heaping shame and false guilt on her.  By replying to Gabriel, “Let it be to me according to your word,” (Lk. 1:38), she was agreeing to a lifetime of false accusations, snide remarks, cold shoulders, being gossip fodder, and accusations of dishonor and shameful behavior.  For a young, teenage girl, she needed the comfort and wisdom of someone who had been there.  Enter her cousin Elizabeth.

Mary was welcomed by Zachariah and Elizabeth.  They did not doubt for a moment what she told them about the baby growing in her womb.  In fact, she did not even have to tell them she was pregnant; the Holy Spirit told them Himself.  Even unborn baby John knew who was walking through the gate the moment he heard Mary’s voice.  That was confirmation that she wasn’t crazy.  She had talked to an angel, and he had told her she would become pregnant, and she was, in fact, pregnant with the Son of God. But more than that, she spent three quiet months gleaning wisdom and understanding from the two people who knew what kind of life she was starting.  Two people who believed her and could teach her about the hard-learned faith in God that she would need.  The two people who could pray with her for a change in Joseph’s heart and tell her how to lean on him if and when they were married.  The two people who understood how it felt to be the parents-to-be of a child who by all laws of nature should not be growing in a woman’s womb.  The only two people who had that unique insight to what young Mary was experiencing because they had been there.  In that moment, I imagine it all became clear for Zachariah and Elizabeth, why they had been unable to have children, why they, Godly people, according to God Himself (Lk. 1:6), had endured decades of persecution and accusations, why they had had their marriage tested to the outer limits, why they had had their faith tested to the outer limits.

And to Mary, this visit was suddenly so much more than just a testament of truth to her story and a chance to lend a helping hand to a heavily pregnant 60-year old.  It was refuge and rejuvenation.  It was a chance to put her thoughts together, to think about what lied ahead, and to glean from the wisdom and experience of her cousins.  It was time to grow her own faith and trust and strength in spirit.  This was a time to come to terms with the possible outcomes of her situation.

What Mary didn’t know was what was happening back in Nazareth.  God was working on Joseph, at least.  The Bible does not talk about Mary’s family, but it does talk about Joseph.  God was taking this time to reach out to Joseph, and through an angel and a dream, He assured the young man that taking Mary as his wife would not be shameful.  She was still a virgin.  She was only doing God’s will.  The baby she carried was truly the Son of God.  And Joseph believed God and changed his heart and mind.  He married her.

So what looks like just a simple three-month visit with distant family was actually a perfectly orchestrated moment in time.  God had it all planned out.  There was plenty of heartbreak and sadness and difficulties that led up to that time and followed that time.  Some people are like elephants, they never forget, and years later, when Joseph, Mary, and Jesus moved back to Nazareth, I am sure there were plenty of people who “remembered” all that had happened.  They remembered how Mary turned up pregnant before being married; they remembered how Joseph had married her anyway; they remembered how the couple had fled until they felt enough time had passed to return without so much gossip.  Then when this child, conceived out of wedlock, grew up, He began saying He was the Son of God, a blasphemous pronouncement indeed.  He went around saying He was the Messiah.  These same townspeople actually tried to run Him off a cliff and stone Him.  Those three months in Judah were Mary’s preparation for a lifetime of being outcast and looked down upon.

I don’t know exactly what you may take from all of this, but for me, it’s a deeper look into what is so often a forgotten crumb to the Christmas story.  It’s proof of God’s control of all things, His perfect timing.  It’s assurance that when I’m going through something difficult, there is a reason, I may know why, I may know why later, or I may never know why, but I know there is a reason.  And that needs to be reason enough.

Merry Christmas!

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