Pausing to Process

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I took for granted so much about America.

The election process.

The peaceful transition of power.

The behavior of professional, adult politicians.

Last Wednesday changed everything.

Now I feel the fragility of our democracy is real.

I see the weakness of our nation divided against one another, families and friends.

Trapped in a pandemic that is ripping holes in families.

Bad behavior does not need a group label. Personal choice. Personal responsibility.

We must stop generalizing the actions of a few as the position of an entire party.

Violence is not resolved by blame.

Words matter.

When we talk about rights, we are not all on the same page. Or even in the same book.

I do not have the emotional capacity to process this quickly and easily.

I will write about fun and thoughtful things another day.

Not this week.

My mind is consumed with current events.

Thank you for your understanding.

This was not a bad dream.
Many on both sides of the aisle acted with courage.

Stay prayerful, my friends.

Are You a Paper Planner Person?

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January 2021 is coming! If you are a paper planner person, I have two things to say to you:

  • You are probably already in possession of your 2021 planner.
  • You are my kinda people.

But first, it is so weird to be a planner person and to look deep into the eyes of 2021 and see very few things to plan. Just like that last nine months. Yet I still have goals and a schedule, so here we go! Big dreams on pause. Small steps and what’s next in clear view. We are often what we do. The pandemic has forced us to face who we are. Oh, and quick question. What day is it? “Blursday.” Here is a great seven-minute story from CBS Sunday Morning, December 27, 2020: Going to Plan B: When COVID pulls the rug out from under you.

I love planning. I love paper planners. I work at living an intentional life and these tools help me. I can be a procrastinator and a last-minute kind of person, too, and planning provides more of a guardrail for that.

Maybe I should open a planner store or work for a planner company. I have a good time looking for the right paper planner. Too good a time. I enjoy seeing what friends are using for their planners. It’s a hobby as much as it is a practical resource. I own multiple planners and calendars. I’m not sure if I’m asking for help or bragging. I’m not sure if I need an intervention or to start a club.

For a brief time, I used only a digital calendar, my phone’s iCal, and then also Google Calendar. That didn’t work for me. Putting pen to paper makes a difference. The full visual of a month or a week on paper gives me a better sense of time and space for planning projects, next steps, and prep work. Paper planners also permit doodling and decorating with colorful stickers or stamps and art, which is important to me. That’s a creative outlet I find useful, relaxing, and rewarding. As a result, I am now a hybrid planner person, using a combo of digital and paper. That has worked for me for years.

Planners and Systems

My hybrid planning includes:

  1. Phone iCal digital calendar: For appointments, scheduled things, and repeating routines. I love the convenience and mobility.
  2. Paper planner: For plotting out the months, weeks, and days to plan projects, next steps in pursuit of goals, and preparation for various coming events and activities.
  3. Teacher planner: Used exclusively to plan my writing business in blocks for all the aspects of my duties and projects as a writer.
  4. Bullet Journal: For collecting notes on projects, making lists, mapping out a plan, notes from a phone call, and all kinds of notes and doodling. This tool broke me of the scattered sticky notes life. Weekly, I summarize any growth opportunities, celebrations, and blessings from the previous week to help keep perspective.

I like Franklin Planners for a variety of reasons and keep coming back to them. I was required to use one as part of my graduate studies in educational leadership, and that is something that has helped me to this day. When priorities are important, planning is the tool for success.

Wanderlust Planner – 2-page per day

I also like some of the features of the Happy Planners, along with some of the planning stickers.

Planner and stickers from Happy Planner
The big clean boxes on the 2-page monthly spread are perfect in the Happy Planner.
I like the three horizontal blocks for each day in the Happy Planner.

I started using a teacher planner in August for my writing business. It adapted so well to tasks that I treated as I would have subjects and periods in the school day. After so many years as a teacher, it felt quite natural.

Teacher Watercolor Planner Month
Teacher Watercolor Planner – Week: I like how I can plan various parts of my writing duties: Book project, blog post, author platform, marketing, craft, etc.

I also use a Bullet Journal, as I mentioned above. I’ve modified it so that it works well for me. For more information on Bullet Journaling, I recommend the book, The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future. Or check out the website: Bullet Journal.

My current bullet journal

Wall Calendars

I also love wall calendars both for the art and for the practicality. Time is a gift, and wall calendars remind me of that, and make me pause when I find myself wishing time away. Here are some of my favorite wall calendars.

Erin Vaughn 2020 Trees Calendar
Susan Branch Desk Blotter – June 2021
Susan Branch working on her illustrations.
  • For practical planning:
    • Wanderlust Wall Calendar: We post a 12-month wall calendar in the kitchen to communicate housemate dishwasher duty rotation, monthly house dinners, reserving the kitchen or living room for guests, and the dinner duty schedule for my husband and me. (Photo below.)
    • Paper Source Mini-Accordion Calendar: It is helpful for planning in business and personally to have a quick view of the next 90-days. (Photo below.)
    • Paper Source Great Big Calendar: This large planning calendar was on my desk at the office, but now that I work remotely, I repurposed it. I use it strictly for work deadlines and meetings and it hangs on two large clips on the wall behind my studio desk. It’s part of my virtual meeting background. (Photo below.)
This is our 2021 Milton House Calendar because we all want to travel again.
My 90-day view using the mini-accordion calendar.
The Great Big Calendar

When I look for a paper planner, I look for a pretty design, a monthly spread with large blank boxes, a place for notes, a place for scheduled appointments and tasks, and a place for the to-do list. For my Bullet Journal, I use a Leuchtturm1917 journal with dotted pages. What do you look for?

What works for you in planning? Do you have a favorite planner brand?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.

– Mary Oliver

Here are some other questions:

  • Do you put work and personal things on the same calendar? I keep them separated, but I might blend them this year.
  • Do you tend to be the planner in your family?

Perhaps there are four kinds of people in the world. Paper planner people, digital calendar people, hybrid planner people, and then everyone else. This time of year, switching calendars and setting up new planners, is fun for those of us who are planner people. I hope you are pleased with your new planner and that you have a year that is organized, relaxing, and filled with moments that become great memories.

May your new planner full of blank spaces bring a sense of hope. I share your optimism.

Stay planful, my friends!

Have a Resilient Christmas!

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Christmas is around the corner with New Year’s Eve and 2021 just beyond that. How are you feeling today? Are you, like me, working to wrap your head around a pandemic Christmas? Are you looking at your 2021 calendar hoping for better days? I cannot believe we are still dealing with these restrictions, over nine months later.* Is pandemic fatigue or frustration fogging your season?

Heading into my 10th month….

I made a list of my favorite things about Christmas, the fun and meaningful ones. I assessed the list and realized most of my Christmas favorites can still be part of Christmas 2020. That was so encouraging and provided a good perspective. A few things were adapted in new ways. And just a couple were actually put on hold this year.

Perhaps you too have noticed how much is similar to past years. For instance, here’s a few:

  • Decorations inside and outside our home
  • Enjoying some of the same favorite holiday foods
  • Stockings are hung
  • Baking cookies
  • Pretty presents wrapped and ready for delivery
  • Holiday music playing
  • Steaming hot cocoa fills our mugs on cold evenings
  • Taking a drive after dark to see Christmas lights
  • Favorite Christmas movies and claymation stories entertain
  • Cards and letters are trickling in
  • Plenty of Hallmark movies with quaint snowy towns and holiday romance. Who ever tires of a happy ending?
Decorating at home has gotten simpler over time. The tiny tree is still a happy tree.
Favorite foods – I love Stouffer’s lasagna, especially at the holidays.
A lovely neighborhood home with gate decorated
More outdoor decorations in our area
The stockings are hung by the chimney with care.
Gifts wrapped and waiting to go.

And yet hovering over everything is the ominous CoVid19 cloud and all the challenges with that. It has taken the shine off this time of year for many, even if only slightly. It also brings a more intense sense of missing and longing for people and traditions, not part of this year. I have to acknowledge that for many of us this time is also littered with disappointment, stress, uncertainty, painful loss, and limited social life for those following guidelines. Those are weighty things for sure.

Sometimes this virus feels like a Grinch ready to steal Christmas. So much is so different. Yet we can choose to not let the pandemic ruin Christmas. I hope we can all find a centered place of contentment, reflecting on the good we have encountered this year. What can you find to enjoy? Who can we encourage? Maybe we can express thanks to any essential workers with whom our paths cross. Perhaps we can focus on what we have, what we hope for, instead of what is missing and has been lost. Then the Grinch virus will not ruin Christmas. It is about more than the fixings and the fuss.

From the TV special, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (1966)

I know some are so lonely and blue this Christmas because of cancelled plans and limited contact. My heart goes out to them. It is so hard to overcome in these circumstances. I pray those dear ones can find hope and joy in their holiday, too.

Here in Los Angeles County, we are on a stricter “Stay at Home” order through Christmas. For most years of my adult life, I’d be thrilled to be asked to stay at home for Christmas. But somehow this is not exactly what I meant.

We are having a very different December. Christmas celebrations for us won’t include the physical presence of family or friends beyond our CoVid home bubble. We choose to do what we can to slow the spread and to follow the county and state requests. That isn’t easy, but we feel like we want to contribute in that way.

I hope you and your loved ones are doing OK as you finish planning and preparations. I also hope you are kind to yourself this year, accepting what you cannot control, and enjoying what you can. Maybe if we just have a day without controversy, conspiracy, or conflict. That would be a good gift. And I hope you, like me, are able to enjoy a slower schedule.

In closing, I also want to wish happy holidays to all my friends who celebrate different traditions with family and friends. Perhaps you recently finished the meaningful time of Hanukkah. For those honoring Kwanzaa, you will begin soon and are probably already looking forward to the feast. As the different celebrations always remind us, we can get through this together.

Stay resilient, my friends! And merry Christmas to all celebrating the birth of Christ this week.

I toast to you and yours this Christmas with hot chocolate in hand. Cheers!

P.S. *Speaking of nine months of pandemic life, here come the babies! Perhaps you’ve noticed that we are heading into a little baby boom, and it’s underway now. New sweet little ones are making their way into the world, and we are cheered by that for sure!

Simmering Scentsibility

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Years ago, I found a recipe for simmering scents that bring a sense of the holidays to our home. I made a batch recently. I love that the ingredients are all-natural and incorporate my favorite holiday smells. There are no exact measures on this for the ingredients. If that makes you uneasy, the photos will help. Once you get more adventurous, play around with various amounts of this or that and see what scent gets the emphasis.

Add the following ingredients to a small saucepan or pot:

  • Lemon slices
  • Orange slices
  • Rosemary sprigs (I cut some from our backyard plant)
  • Vanilla (a few drops)
  • Water

I also add:

  • Cranberries (I toss in a handful mostly for color)
  • Cinnamon stick
  • Whole cloves
Ingredients gathered and ready to go in the little pot to simmer.
Everything is in the pot, ready for the water.
After adding enough water to fill the pot at least halfway, place the pot on the stove.
Set the heat at medium to bring it to a boil. I also set the timer for 3-minutes so I don’t forget it and get busy elsewhere in the house
Bring it to a boil. The cranberries will pop when their skins burst. I don’t think I caught that sound on the video. No cranberries were harmed in the filming.
I bring it to a rolling boil and then turn the heat to low. Just watching this video calms me. I can almost smell all the delight.
Once it’s on low, keep an eye on it. You don’t want it to boil dry. You can add more water along the way. Always clean your stove before photographing a close-up.

I often turn the burner off, and the smell continues to waft as the brew cools down. Then I don’t worry about it burning dry. I use the same mix for a few days, just adding water and reheating it.

Turn on some holiday music and fill you home with the sounds and smells that can bring simple joy, even in these uncertain days.

Stay charming, friends!

Pandemic Tug Experiment

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What? No hugs? For months on end that has been a caution and a challenge for me and many others. I have devised a solution. Pandemic tugs.

It is recommended that we do not hug friends and family at this time. Nor strangers for that matter, but who wants to hug a stranger? That’s creepy. In the combat of the subversive spreading strategy of the current coronavirus, we stay distant. I pondered the fact that many remain without hugs and the deficit in our sense of connection that can create. There must be a short term better way.

There is beauty and purpose in a sweet, safe hug with a loved one or someone you simply want to encourage. I miss that. Maybe you do, too. What can we do instead to stay safe, respect others, and still sense a physical connection? This sent me on a quest. I came up with this idea.

Tugs! Isn’t that what you were thinking, too? No? Well, then, let me explain.

As I thought further, the idea came to me that maybe tugging on a rope would help. Crazy, right? Think about it. In a hug, you touch another person tenderly. You sense they are really out there and you are connected. The second best idea could be a tug when you cannot hug.

Tugs and hugs do have some similarities:

  • Two or more people are usually needed.
  • Some resistance is applied, so physically you know someone is out there for you.
  • There is a sense of connection.
  • Often people feel better afterwards.

So I began to explore with my theory and then found a few friends to experiment, I mean play, with the theory. Let’s see what happened. Here were my next steps.

  1. Find something to tug. A rope came to mind. Knots would be helpful.
  2. Get a rope with knots, or add your own to a plain rope.
  3. Make sure the rope is long enough for social distancing.
  4. Make sure the rope is washable for germ precautions. That, and dirt precautions.

Amazon, naturally, had a dog toy rope long enough for my purposes, and it was also washable. It is knotted and has a tassel, which adds a sense of play and silly. Now, we’re talking!

I ordered two for tugging with friends without passing them around. I don’t feel that is a high risk, but it is courteous.

The ropes arrived. I was very pleased. The experiment was underway, supplies in hand.
Each rope was long enough to provide a measured physical distance. Perfect!
I was prepared and ready to try my fresh idea.

Two friends came over for a physically distant outdoor visit. They were game to test my tug hypothesis which was: Tugging on a rope with a loved one would be fun and provide a sweet physical sense of connection.

Here goes! We all tried it and tugged together. My hypothesis proved true.

The resistance needed to tug on a rope provides a fun sense that someone is out there engaged with you. It worked!
We couldn’t help but smile, but you cannot tell because, well, masks.
This did not feel like a hug, obviously. Yet it did create a sense of connection and play, and that lightened our hearts.

The experiment was a success! The tugs are a cute replacement for hugs while we are in this pandemic. I was so happy we each felt the physical presence of friends in this off-beat way, and that brought joy.

And then we tugged good-bye, with smiles on all faces.

Some of you will find this awesome, too, and may even need to invest in your tug of love rope. Or get a four way tug of love rope to extend to a group tug.

4-Way Tug Tool

Desperate times call for creative solutions! Tug someone soon!

Stay connected, my friends, and may tugs of joy be yours this holiday season.

Cozy in Crisis

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The fall season is a favorite of mine. This year, it’s a balance of joy and struggle. The pandemic, a guest that has worn out its welcome, makes it more complicated. The anticipation of this week’s federal election fogs my joy, too. I feel the stress of wondering about the results, the response of leaders, the response of Americans, and the responsibility of the media to be patient with reporting results. You might be feeling all that, too. But, hey, what’s a little more uncertainty? After all, it is 2020. When all I want to do is curl up with a cozy blanket in a fall chill, I feel the weight of our current circumstances that leave me cold in a different way.

I do love autumn, but I have to get creative this year and not give up on the joy. What are you doing this fall to enjoy the season? Here are some of my favorite activities lately.

  • While at my desk, sometimes I sit virtually by the river to enjoy the calming sound and beautiful fall color while working, using the YouTube video below.
  • We enjoy a simple cup of hot tea in the evenings, a November ritual that gets interrupted by hot cocoa once December comes.
  • To cut back on all my computer screen time these days with working remotely, I went old school and ordered actual paper magazines. Remember print magazines? Do you still read physical magazines?
It is fun and relaxing to flip through pages for color, design, articles, and ideas.
  • I enjoy watching Hallmark movies with an autumn setting. The sets of those movies are always beautiful.
Hallmark is one place I get my fall color fix, since I live near Los Angeles.
  • My college football team did not play for the first half of the season. Fortunately, the Big 10 did start their schedule on October 24. I hope it works out safely for all the teams.
Purdue’s first game took place on October 24, and they won!

Some days are like a scavenger hunt for contentment, to find a centering joy not dependent on what life looked like before. Fall is a favorite time and I want to keep that feeling. Lets’ not give up. I want to look back and feel like we made the most of it, in spite of the limits and heartache of separation from loved ones.

Although cloudy moods can set in, and that is natural, many days have sweet encouragement in simple things, including these for example.

Slow Cooker Chili
My Annual Great Pumpkin Personal Party
Fall Baking
Dodgers won the World Championship and that brought lots of local joy.

This fall will not be the same. We must shift expectations. I love how some friends have taken road trips to find fall color and beauty. Following their inspiration, we can choose to be OK and get through it, making the most of it. Then we can look back on it to see it worked out after all. Maybe not without disappointment, but hopefully still with joy.

What are your November or autumn rituals or plans? Can you still do those even in a pandemic? Where will you have to get creative? What will Thanksgiving look for you this year?

Stay cozy this fall, my friends.

It’s Almost Halloween, So When Do You Start Christmas Fun?

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It is almost Halloween. Scary, isn’t it? Time still creeps by, even in a pandemic.

O.K. Corral Museum, Tombstone, Arizona – 2019

And if it’s Halloween with all the tricks and treats, you know that it’s almost Christmas somewhere.

Sugar Cookies from Alicia’s Cookery & Catering, Brea, CA

Now I know there are some strong opinions on Christmas and timing, too. Since everything seems controversial this year, let’s add this to the mix. We each probably land somewhere different on when is too soon for Christmas or not soon enough.

Some of you (us) are already turning our thoughts toward Christmas. You know who you are. This post is specifically for you, Christmas people. I am interested in your timeline and how you are doing in this pandemic year with setting your expectations accordingly.

First of all, how do you rate yourself as a Christmas fan? On a scale of 1-10. A “1” would be someone who appreciates usually getting the day off, but that’s about it. You might be a “10” if:

  • Your home, once decorated, looks like Hallmark used it as a set for one of their Christmas movies.
  • You go to Disneyland (if you are local) multiple times during the season (years when it is open – boo, hoo).
  • You have multiple Christmas items of clothing in your wardrobe.
  • You start listening to holiday music, well, already.
  • You are a professional when it comes to shopping for gifts and love it all – purchase to pretty packaging for delivery day. You may be done already. Or maybe you’re one who makes gifts for everyone on your list. I think that is meaningful, but definitely shows a higher level or ambition and organization.
  • You quite possibly stress out with all the demands and busy days of the season – on purpose, filling every free moment on your calendar, and then collapsing satisfied or let down shortly after the big day. And just before putting away the decorations.
  • Your expectations are high for the best Christmas ever – every year.
  • You send Christmas cards early and every year.
  • And what else?
    • For any of you who qualifies as a “10,” you probably do not have time to read this post, even now.
    • For those of us who observe, and love, the ambitious “10’s” around us, what did I forget that should be on the list?

Like I mentioned, I am interested in your traditions and how you are doing this year in light of the pandemic guidelines and how that impacts our mood. Hopefully, we can still enjoy the season in many ways. Please share!

  • When do you normally begin to honor Christmas? Does this year feel different?
  • Have you already begun to watch Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas movie series? Or do you plan to wait on that?
  • Have you been to Home Depot to check out the tree display? Or other retail displays of decorations?
  • When do you usually start listening to holiday tunes? What do you think about this year?
  • When do you decorate? What are your traditions with decorating? Will this year be any different?

I’m not feeling the momentum yet that sweetly builds from Halloween through the next two months and settles back down quietly by New Year’s Day. I typically make myself wait until after Halloween to begin listening to Christmas holiday music. My parents laid down that law when I was growing up. This year I don’t think I’ll be in the mood for the music that early. I do have election fatigue, pandemic fatigue, and conspiracy theory fatigue. That can stifle the mood, but I predict I’ll bounce back, possible later than usual.

From Lindsay & Letters (no longer available)

I go back and forth as a mid-range fan of Christmas fun. Lately, I am a “5,” average fan of Christmas who loves it, enjoys it, but keeps the calendar as open as possible and has toned down the decorating to quite minimal. I’m not into the gift part. In the past, I was more of a “7” or “8.” Going to Disneyland, if it were open, is part of the holiday magic for me. I also plan to watch a Hallmark Christmas movie. Or many. But not yet.

I have another post on Christmas 2020 coming soon, but for now, if you are a Christmas enthusiast early bird, I hope you’ll share your perspective in a comment.

Stay cheerful, my friends.

P.S. For a quick look at Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas: Are you a Hallmark fan at Christmas?

Are you a Hallmark fan at Christmas?

Did I Mention Prevention?

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I take prevention seriously. I’m on the five-year plan in this case. I have the pleasure…no, that’s not quite accurate. I have the privilege…nope, not exactly the right word either, although having health insurance that covers the procedure is a privilege, and I am grateful. I have the practice (that works!) of having a colonoscopy every five years. This was my year. Again.

Prevention is helpful. My mom was diagnosed with colon cancer in her early young 80’s. That gave me the fast pass to more regular (pun intended) colonoscopies. I was fifty-years-old at the time, the expected time to start the exam. I just completed my fourth one. By the way, my mom survived colon cancer, thankfully. People without a family history of colon cancer typically get one every ten years.

Please take prevention seriously. Perhaps you’ve heard about how a colonoscopy can prevent or even treat colon cancer early enough to correct it. Perhaps you agree that it sounds like a good idea. Perhaps you are a procrastinator. It is understandable. Perhaps you should schedule one soon, depending on your age and situation.

Prevention is only good if you take the steps. I want to encourage everyone to do so when it’s your turn. I also hope you have insurance to help cover it. Here is a great four-minute video explaining the procedure and the peace of mind it can bring. If you are unfamiliar with the colonoscopy, this may help you feel more relaxed about getting one.

Let’s switch to the prep part of the experience. The day prior to the procedure, the goal is to clean up your colon for picture day. I’m looking forward to when they make this easier. The first part with a diet of clear liquids, a day that could include jello, apple juice, and broth, goes fine. I had to just get over how much I enjoy three meals a day. I drank extra water and clear beverages all day, which is really helpful for staying full and avoiding dehydration, which helps the nurse find your vein for the IV the next day.

I always use a straw to shoot the prescription laxative right down my throat and shorten the time it spends sliding across my taste buds.

In the evening, it’s showtime. I used the prescription laxative, as always, but this one was new to me. I’m glad they make advances in this category. Someday, if the laxative is a chewable tablet that comes in an easy to tolerate flavor, I’m buying stock in the company.

This time I was happy to find out there was less to drink. That’s a good thing and an advancement since my first one. Let’s just say it really worked well. Don’t picture colon fireworks. Don’t picture the thrust of flames at a rocket launch with the rocket not leaving the toilet seat. Just don’t. It is an exciting time and everything usually comes out alright. In the end. And we get to do it all over again the morning of the procedure. Those prescriptions are effective and a clean colon makes the colonoscopy go better.

My husband surprised me with a package of Charmin. We don’t usually buy that brand. I really appreciated the extra comfort for this event. Very romantic.

Back to the prep. I got my supplies ready and poised near the toilet. I planned to camp out for an hour. Or two. I got some reading done. I played a game on my phone. Time to myself is often a luxury, just not in this situation. It is a good idea to keep friends and relatives away from the bathroom door in case of smells or sounds that could embarrass one. Light a candle in a favorite – or any scent. I’m considering getting a padded toilet seat for my next round.

I was able to sleep fine that night. I had to get up early for round two of the laxative. I was feeling clean and confident by the time I was ready to head over for the procedure. All I could think of was lunch. My colonoscopy was mid-morning, so lunch was my goal. Having something to look forward to, to focus on, is helpful. Mind over matter. I felt proud of my effort once the prep was done and I’m ready for my little inspection and the nap that comes with it.

Every patient gets to wear a face mask this year. No surprise. I wondered if it would feel weird, confining. It did not.

I got wheeled into the procedure room. A team of three men in masks and medical clothes all introduced themselves to me. Not awkward. I was so ready to have it all over with for five more years. After the introductions and pleasantries, I woke up in recovery and felt just fine. It seems to go just that quickly.

The procedure went so fast. My results were all clear. That is tremendous peace of mind. I am thankful to the people who do this for a living. Of course, they send you home with pictures. I’m choosing one now for our family Christmas card photo.

I got a wheelchair ride downstairs where my husband waited outside to take me home. I discipline myself to take it easy for the rest of the day, and that always pays off. And my lunch was delicious. I always choose macaroni and cheese.

Since it is 2020 and things are uncomfortable anyway, why not just add a colonoscopy to the mix and make your intention prevention?

Stay healthy, my friends.

P.S. I have to include this comedian sharing his colonoscopy experience, both the abbreviated version in the video and the full column from the Miami Herald. Here is Dave Barry. If you need a few laughs at this time in your life, this could help.

This is a summary if you prefer watching to reading.

Here is the link to the article: Dave Barry Article, Miami Herald

Slow Cooker Applesauce

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Washed and ready to go.

Since 2020 has had so many lowlights, I figured this was the perfect fall for me to also cut back on seasonal sweets for health reasons. Why not make things even more miserable? I can go one autumn without homemade desserts like apple crisp, apple pie a la mode (topped with a little cheddar cheese), and Disneyland apple slices with dipping caramel. My waistline will thank me, even though my sweet tooth feels abandoned. But then we come to homemade applesauce.

Slow cooker applesauce to the rescue. I love making applesauce in the fall in the slow cooker, with plenty of apple and cinnamon scents wafting through the home. I eliminate the added sugar, often as an experiment to see if it turns out sweet enough. After all, when I bite into a raw apple, I don’t sprinkle sugar on it. It is plenty sweet on its own.

When I was a fourth grade teacher, as did many of my teaching colleagues, I’d make slow cooker applesauce in the classroom every fall. The apples would soften and warm all day long and the classroom smelled much better than usual. Many teachers do this for Johnny Appleseed Day, which may be a celebration merely to give a theme to making homemade, or classmade, applesauce during the hours of academic life. What a little sweet treat for the students in the afternoon!

Here is the recipe I used this year. I used all the apples we had around the kitchen. I’m not sure of the brands. I don’t peel them either. We like a more rustic applesauce around here. And I love skipping that step. I did not add any butter.

The recipe is from WW (Weight Watchers).

The first batch of apples I cut into were bad on the inside. You can read more about that here. I had to use other apples. These are said to not taste great. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch, contrary to the popular saying.

Why Apples Are Brown on the Inside

I substituted other apples and washed them off to use.
Squeezing the fresh lemon juice to add to the apples.
All chopped and piled into the slow cooker.
Looking through the lid, slow cooker on low, and the cinnamon sticks stand at attention like little spice soldiers.

The sweet and cinnamon aroma filled the afternoon, building anticipation of a homemade evening treat.

Such a rich color and flavor!

Later that night, we enjoyed small bowls of homemade, delicious, chunky, rustic applesauce and added some whip cream, just to add a little pizazz. The applesauce was sweet enough, even without the added sugar.

Fall foods and cooking are part of the season, even in a pandemic. I am grateful for these simple traditions and pleasures. Next up, butternut squash? Perhaps. We’ll see.

Simple pleasures. Simple blessings.

Stay saucy, friends. Applesaucy.

Birthday Love Long Distance

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Long Distance Daughter – Part 2 (For Part 1: Click here.)

Here’s an idea for those with aging parents living far away or those who cannot have visitors currently. I know this can bring heartache and frustration. With the pandemic, circumstances beyond geography may limit how we share the love and care well for our parents. Here are two ideas that could encourage you to find a way to care creatively.

Back in January 2019, as my mom’s 95th birthday approached, I felt challenged by some of the limits placed on celebrating this milestone. If you have loved ones far away, you might identify.

  • My mom and I lived about 2,300 miles apart.
  • She had specifically instructed me that she did not want a party. I always try to obey and honor her.
  • I felt guilty that I was unable to travel to be with her.
  • I knew she did not want a gift that needed storage, display space, or dusting.
  • I felt societal expectations and pressure to do something big for her.
  • I felt internal pressure out of my love for her and desire to honor her.

A little idea came my way. I had no idea how it would work. I want to share it with you now, in case it inspires you to borrow and adapt it or it prompts new creative ideas for celebrating your long-distance loved ones. Here’s what I did:

  1. Created a postcard non-party invitation, using a resource, Vistaprint.
  2. Picked a design and color she would like.
  3. Added a photo of her as a young woman.
  4. Added the information announcing her birthday and no party.
  5. On the other side, some of my mom’s favorite activities were listed.
  6. Recipients were invited to select one activity to do in honor of my mom, to think of her in that, and to have fun!
  7. If they wished to let her know, they could do so. I provided her address at the bottom of the card.
The front of the card sent to her friends and family….

Next, on the reverse side, I…

  1. Listed some of my mom’s favorite activities
  2. Invited people to select an activity to do in honor of my mom.
  3. Included her address, in case they wished to let her know what they did in her honor and for greeting cards.
And the back with fun ways to honor her.

I was sneaky prior to this. On a previous visit, without her knowing, I’d taken photos of her address book to have names and addresses to mail the announcements. I addressed the envelopes, stamped them, and sent them on the way with a hope and a prayer prior to her birthday.

Here’s what happened:

  • She got many, many lovely cards from her beloved family and friends.
  • People wrote amazing messages and caring thoughts to her.
  • People did fun things in her honor and shared the stories with her.
  • Someone sent a gift card to the Olive Garden, with instructions for my brother to pick up tiramisu for her to enjoy.
One group, business associates, sent a photo seated in a room eating tiramisu.
  • Someone sent flowers.
  • The cards kept coming.
  • Someone sent her violets.

My mom was so touched by it all. She had the best time checking her mail. She was so amused by the whole idea. I never could have imagined the sweet impact this would have on her. She said to me, “I feel like my life really made a difference.” That still fills my heart with so much joy.

I had no idea how this would fill her heart with love on her ninety-fifth birthday. Needless to say, I was so happy. What started as a desperate attempt to celebrate a precious woman from far away, to ease my guilt of being a long-distance daughter, turned in to one of the most memorable things of her recent years. I was deeply touched as well.

Four months after that fun time, my mom passed away. I had the peace of mind that all those written tributes, words that might have been shared at a funeral, were shared at just the right time. She got to read them all. And over and over. Sometimes, even in situations where we feel so limited in what we can do, love breaks through at just the right time in the perfect way.

May 2018 (Mom at 94-years old)

By the way, she didn’t want a funeral either. We honored her request.

Stay creative in loving others, my friends.

P.S. Here is another idea that brings sweet joy, too. My friend made this amazing photo wreath for her mom’s recent 95th birthday. My friend is also a long-distance daughter with her dear mom living just under 2,000 miles away. I love this idea! Getting creative to show our love long-distance goes a long way.