First Freeze of a New Year

I greet the first dawn of the New Year, standing in a familiar place, toes chilled by an unfamiliar freeze. First freeze of the new year.

Goodbye 2017first freeze beach

2017 was a challenging year, horrid for some people in my life. I’m tempted to join the “Good Riddance, 2017!” chorus but I’ll resist. The lyrics to that song don’t honor the blessings, however brief or small, that I experienced this year. So, I’ll give my challenges and shortcomings a nod, because they deserve that much if I’m going to learn from them. However, I choose to focus my memory energy on the good things.

Some of the highlights:

  • 20-foot U-Haul New Orleans to Chicago trip through Storm Helena and a child’s successful step towards her future
  • burning trees
  • Cakes beach trip
  • mom’s cognitive therapy and mom’s green thumb in my garden
  • Magical Mystery Gleaux (Mardi Gras)
  • blue birdsfirst freeze bluebird
  • A grandmother’s garden” canvasses (I love PhotoShop!)
  • boatloads of code in my brain (I can explain why to use overflow-x:auto with overflow-y:hidden)
  • pins, fieldwork, and a bright career ahead for my oldest
  • work trip to Chicago, joyful visit with daughter
  • 40th high school reunion: old friends, new friends, heartwarming events
  • birthday and drop dead slumber party
  • beginnings of a new novel (can’t finish what I don’t start!)
  • birthday surprises for family and friends (I love Photoshop!)
  • 13th Gate Escape (we died the first time)
  • #ruralhomeoffice established: more time with mom and dad and a beautiful setting for work
  • Washington Parish Fair with my folks
  • Thanksgiving with family and a wee morning talk with my favorite nephew
  • Christmas with all my children, my folks, and family friends
  • And, on the last day of the year, a brand-spanking new (first-time!) subscription to PhotoShop (no more sluggish outdated PhotoShop for me!)

Hello 2018

As any good freelancer would do on a holiday, I was on my way to work at daybreak on this first day of 2018. But I saw the first colors of the new year sky, and a minute later, I stood in bare feet in a frozen yard trying to capture the colors with a phone.

I will work today, but, first, I’m saying hello to 2018 with my words. First, I’m making a 2018 folder in my Pictures library. First, I’m writing for myself.

First me on this first day begins 2018 on the right foot (no matter the frozen toes). First me feels good and opens the door to more blessings.

I’m not one to make robust resolutions on the first day of any year, but I have become a fan of the monthly calendar resolutions. So on this first day, I look forward to the good habits that each month will bring. On this first day, my first promise is to take better care of myself and my time. On this first dawn, I resolve to seek the blessings in each day and make more time for family and friends. On this first freeze of the new year, I’ll allow the distractions of beauty, curl my toes against the frozen brick, and snatch a bit of the moment for myself.

This is how I find my first blessing of the new year. Wishing you a first and many more blessings this new year.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2018.

Even the Weeds

I’m leaving my rural office until November in the morning. I’m grateful for this place. Even the weeds. And the butterflies and bees that are drawn to the weeds.

I think I’ll get some beehives.

Shut up! Now you’re complicating things!

But, it’s  just . . .

Stop it. Just be here. See the beauty before you.

I’m grateful for these weeds. For the beautiful things that are drawn to them. But mostly for the time with my parents. Yes, those folks who might mow down these weeds from time to time.

But not these weeds at this moment.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Right Reserved, 2017.

Why I Look Up

Every week I spend at my rural office, I can’t help myself. I look up. I stare at the sky. I nearly lost the dogs walking through the dark fields one night because I couldn’t stop looking at the stars and the moon.

I look upI look up

A few months ago, I made a commitment to spend a week each month in my “rural home office” so I could hang out with my parents a bit more. You can read about this Uncertain Journey here. An unexpected delight of these visits has been the sky. I didn’t come for the sky’s daily pageantry, but it’s why I look up when I do.

Perhaps looking up is part of my living metaphor. I don’t know what I’m doing on this journey. I could look up more at home. There is, after all, a sky, followed by the expected entourage: sun, moon, stars, and clouds. The blessing when I come here is not so much the looking up, but that I’m inclined to look up.

Sky FuelI look up

I expected these visits to be challenging because of my schedule. Instead, they’re becoming easy, like muscle memory. I look forward to the visits. The time here, however, has not weakened my connection to my home fire. Since beginning this journey, I feel more connected and engaged when I’m home. The long list of to do’s doesn’t magically shrink, but I’m more focused and energized when I set out to tackle it.

Maybe looking up for a week fuels me.

The sky, the light, the colors, and the dance of the clouds are a faithful source of healing energy and peace. I need to remember to look up more when I’m home.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2017.

Gratitude in the Garden of Plenty

Like many middle-aged humans, I have a tendency to assess what’s left to do, accomplish, or reach. This is not necessarily unnecessary, but unbalanced amounts make us focus on what we lack, think less of of what we have, separating us from gratitude for what is already growing and within reach.

  • My thumb isn’t as green as mom’s.
  • What’s taking my cucumbers so long?
  • I wish I had more flowers and color in my yard.

I was having these thoughts as I watered my flowers but I decided to take a few photos. When I opened the images on my computer, I realized how disparate the lack I feel is to the garden I have.

These images brought me joy.

Maybe this is my lesson: If I zoom out and focus on what’s not there yet, I miss all of this joy. If I zoom in, I swoon through the colors, shapes, light, and insects. My gratitude and celebration for this wonder is good for me (especially for those around me) and I’m sure they will hasten the wonders to come in my life. Sometimes this (taking a photo and stepping away) is what it takes for me to return and be truly present. Enjoy.

© Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2017

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Thanksgiving Leftovers

Part 1: A circle of thanksgiving

We stand in a circle holding hands, a tradition that evolved in my parents’ home from a combination two traditions, leftovers, if you will: grace before a meal and gratefuls during meals.

Boil these down for gumbo tomorrow.

Every link in our circle has suffered at least one wrench or break from another link in this circle. Yet, here we are. “First, we’ll take turns expressing what we’re grateful for . . . It can be anything,” to ease the younger links into the tradition.

“I’m thankful for this family . . . “

Gratitude has become a bandwagon for those anxious to reap the emotional, spiritual, as well as fiduciary benefits of thankfulness. Rewire your brain! Relieve stress. Improve sleep. Improve relationships. I ride that bandwagon. Gratitude helps me deal with leftovers of relationships, disasters, even meals.

What are we going to do with all of these potatoes?

In gratitude we push away shortcomings to focus on our strengths, we see beyond our losses to be joyful for our blessings, we displace grudges with forgiveness.

“I’m grateful for this time together . . .”

We acknowledge that, like all families, there have been unfortunate turns in our family. Ours comes back to this circle of thanksgiving, woven with the strength of our love for each other, the joy of the blessings we share, and the magic of forgiveness. And food.

Can we freeze the rest of the cranberry relish?

Thankfulness in many ways is magical. When divides —whether political, religious, social, or emotional— feel irreparably deep, gratitude for the leftover goodness mends, a circle of thankfulness bridges gaps between us.

“I’m grateful to be included in this family.”

We all have at least one thing in common, at least one thing we can be grateful for together.

How many pies?

I’m thankful for common ground.

“. . . and for the children, who are present and engaged.”

My dad closes the circle of gratitude with a prayer.

” . . . and for these blessings, we give thanks.”

We squeeze hands and chime in “Amen” before we dig in and begin creating . . . the leftovers.

Part 2: Leftovers

Stacks of dishes, naps on recliners, impossible puzzles, long walks through the fields, disappointing football games, and then the question.

What should I do with this?

For those of you who tuned in for leftover recipes, here are a few ideas.

Turkey Gumbo

In Louisiana, we often pull the okra and sausage out of the freezer and cook up a pot of turkey gumbo on Black Friday. Online recipes for exact ingredients and measurements are plentiful. This is the basic process.

  • Start with a stock.
    • Boil the bones alone or with some herbs (bay leaf, oregano, for example) and vegetable scraps (onion ends and skin, a head of garlic cut down the middle).
  • Make a roux.
    • About 1 cup each of flour and vegetable oil for a big pot of gumbo.
    • Slowly heat the flour in the pot until it becomes golden.
    • Add oil and whisk until it blends smoothly with the flour.
    • Continue to heat slowly until the roux is dark.
  • Add vegetables.
    • Add chopped onion, bell pepper, and celery (1-2 cups of each).
    • Once these are soft, follow with minced garlic (4-5 cloves).
  • Add the stock, leftover (and chopped) turkey, Andouille sausage medallions (Italian sausage will do), sliced okra (1-2 cups), and 2-4 tbsp of Worcester sauce (to taste).
  • Season (salt, cayenne, Tabasco, black pepper) to taste.
  • Bring the gumbo to a boil, then simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  • Serve with rice.

Dressing BallsThanksgiving-2

If you end up with extra dressing or stuffing, make dressing croquettes.

  • Work a beaten egg into a bowl of about 3 cups of dressing.
  • Form balls (slightly bigger than a golf ball).
  • Optional: Fill the balls with cranberry relish or any compatible leftover.
    • Poke a hole.
    • Fill.
    • Reclose.
  • Cook for about 5 minutes:
    • To fry, roll in a little flour then deep fry.
    • To bake, place on cooking sheets and bake at 400º.
    • To air fry, place balls in Airfryer and cook at 330º.

Sweet Potato Chips

Leftover baked sweet potatoes?

  • Slice the cooked sweet potatoes about ¼ inch thin.
  • Season to taste (salt and cayenne or cinnamon and brown sugar).
  • Cook.
    • 300º for 10 minutes in Airfryer.
    • Deep fry for 2-3 minutes.
    • 400º for 10-15 minutes in the oven.

I was the last to leave my parents’, which means my mom filled my car with the leftovers she didn’t want. As I repurposed the turkey, dressing, potatoes, and relish, I reminisced about the week our family spent together. I’m grateful for that leftover lagniappe.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Pennie Nichols, All Rights Reserved.