WET WEATHER READS~

Late winter and the wet, dawning of spring is a great time to dive into some new novels, be it from your favorite genre or outside of your norm. A few I have indulged in over the last few weeks have helped me to pass the time during some torrential downpours as well as windy nights. All of them kept be me entertained and guessing.

THE WIDOW by Fiona Bartonwidow.jpg

This twisting mystery takes you through the years of Joan and Glen’s marriage, from the early days to the unspeakable drama that left the community—and a wife—reeling. Not for the faint of heart, this thriller deals with the dark evils of child pornography and missing children and will have you wondering how anyone could find pleasure in the loss of innocence and pure hatred. It may also leave your wondering how anyone can keep secrets for so long from the one person they have taken an oath to love, cherish and honor for all of their days knowing, that in the end, their secret will be revealed and another life will be destroyed. Fiona Barton has developed an in depth character in journalist Kate Waters and sets the foundation for future thrillers that are just as mysterious and enthralling.

THE SISTERS by Clair Douglas

sisters.jpgThis one is a little less my style but kept me entertained for several evenings nonetheless. While Abi struggles to come to terms with her role in the death of her identical twin sister, Lucy, feeling herself solely to blame, she can’t help but be drawn to a stranger who so closely resembles them. Her new friend, Beatrice, seems to be the perfect new companion and pillar of support in a new life that Abi is pursuing for herself. But Abi is soon pulled into the world of another set of twins with a secret of their own that will leave her revisiting her past and coming to terms with the life ahead of her. Abi overcomes so much self-loathing and anger that we are relieved when she realizes her own happiness and finds a way to move forward. Or does she? THE SISTERS has you rooting for Abi and her ability to grow into her own person alone and will leave you wondering where the next path she has chosen will lead.

THE CUCKOO’S CALLING by Robert Galbraith

cuckoo.pngI read the third installment of Robert Galbraith (AKA, J. K. Rowling) this past winter and immediately checked out books one and two from my local library. This series of thrilling adventures starring private detective Cormoron Strike takes you through danger and mayhem to find the one person Scotland Yard seems to have no luck finding–the murderer. Strike is a charismatic character with a way of charming information out of even the most guarded potential suspect and his penchant for finding the truth at all costs helps him to follow leads that others might, and often do, toss aside as inconsequential. At heart, Strike is a likable and generous spirit whos charm is not lost on his accidental, and very engaged, receptionist-turned-partner. As the mystery plot thickens, so does the relationship between Strike and the one person he thinks he can’t have. Galbraith builds a strong character and a good mystery that will keep you entertained and guessing all along the way.

Wet, soppy weather is great weather for indulging in a good book. If you don’t find one that suits you here, visit your local library or bookstore and enjoy!

As always, live a beautiful life.

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GOING CRUELTY-FREE~A Gradual Transition

Like many people, I transitioned to a cruelty-free beauty lifestyle when China opened its market to American and European cosmetic companies but required animal testing for those products in order to be sold in mainland China. This is NOT OK with me and it’s bunny rabbitNOT OK for tens of thousands of people. Fortunately, there is access to vast information right at your fingertips to help you determine your preferred definition of cruelty-free, as well as to help you find cruelty-free products that meet your needs. I also went the route of cruelty-free household chemicals at the same time, which was just as simple.

 
Once you decide to go ‘cruelty-free’, you might be tempted to toss all your now non-cruelty free items into the recycle bin and embark on a major spree. No need, however. To toss out items you have already paid for isn’t hurting anyone but you by wasting your hard-earned money. Regardless of your budget, wasting money is always a bad idea. dollar bunny
It’s far easier to do your research at home with regard to substitute brands for items you know you will repurchase and then start a list that you keep handy. When you find yourself in need of a product, you will already be armed with information to make new, cruelty-free purchases as the need actually arises.

 
Another way to ensure you are shopping cruelty-free is to research and download a couple of cruelty-free shopping apps on your phone or tablet and then you will be able to look up products you stumble upon when you are out and about. Once I decided to go cruelty-free, it took me about six months to convert the majority of my products to safe bunniescruelty-free brands and I still have a few items from non-cruelty free lines in my vanity drawer. Those Estee Lauder and Dior eye and highlighter pallets which last forever are still in my makeup stash and will remain so until they spoil or are used in full. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I spent a lot of money on those products, I still enjoy them, and I won’t disrespect my wallet—or the animals that now find themselves in research facilities—by tossing them in the trash.

 
If you are truly adamant to rid yourself of non-cruelty-free products in one swift motion, consider sanitizing and donating your products to family, friends or a women’s charity where they will find a new life. purchase on sale or full price

 
The transition to cruelty-free products will go much more smoothly than you think. There are numerous brands in all price ranges to fit everyone’s budget or level of prestige. A little homework and a bit of shopping now—and later—will help you begin—and live–your new beautiful, cruelty-free life.

CHARITY ON A BUDGET~Helping Others in Need

I want for nothing. I have been blessed with a profitable career which I was able to give up when I needed to take care of myself. My husband has a career that supplies us with all our essential needs and then some. I have nothing to complain about.

 
Unfortunately, not everyone can say that. And in rural America, it can be particularly difficult for people in need. Our communities lack the resources for the hungry and the homeless that many find in larger, more metropolitan areas. We lack both shelters and soup kitchens. We have nothing much beyond the social service welfare programs that the state and federal governments provide and then you must meet the eligibility dollar-bill-1237473.jpgcriteria. Often, the working poor don’t meet those criteria and they still don’t have enough to make ends meet. Living in a small community, I know elderly who don’t have enough retirement income to cover both necessary food and prescription medication. There are single parents earning near minimum wage, paying rent on run down apartments, struggling to maintain a battered automobile and lacking in nutritious food for their families. The homeless have established communities in sheltered areas of a wooded park in my community within walking distance to town where they can access public restrooms and purchase what goods they are able. All of these people and more are dependent on the kindness of others in order to survive. I’m sure it’s this way in your community as well. It is up to those of us who have, to provide every little bit we can. And how can we best give?

 
drawing-5-1411626.jpgOne need not be well to do to make a difference for others. No amount is too small to help just one person in need. You might think helping one person won’t change the world but it will certainly change the world for them. Even if you are struggling yourself, you can do something to contribute. It’s easy if you add charitable contributions into your budget and commit to paying them just as any other expense. Here are some actions I take that make contributing an easy habit to maintain:

 
1. Determine a charitable budget and withdraw it in cash each payday. Be it $10.00 or $100.00 per month, it all helps.

 

2. Locate charitable collection sites in your community where you can make donations and frequent those establishments, if only to drop off a few dollars from time to time. By having your donation available in cash, you can easily give when a spur of the moment opportunity arises.

 

3. Consider altering your charities to spread your donations further around. Perhaps you donate your entire budget to only one charity every month, but in choosing a different charity each month, you personally touch more people. And don’t forget the animals. Pet charities are always in need.dog-1153564.jpg

 

4. Inquire with your local grocery store as to any food bank programs they participate in. My local grocers collect for specific charities throughout the year, such as United Way and the Red Cross but they also accept donations of canned or boxed food for the local food pantry and you easily buy one or two items when you do your personal shopping and leave them in a cart by the door.

 

5. Consider making your charitable donations at the cash register. Many businesses collect for worthy, well-known charitable causes making donations easy. McDonald’s run it’s very important Ronald McDonald House and several retailers collect for St. Jude’s and the Red Cross.

 

girl-silhouette-1153730.jpg6. Look into payroll deduction as a means to make charitable contributions such as to an annual United Way campaign.

 

Of course, our money is not the only thing we have to give that will help others but it usually is the easiest way for most of us to contribute. If you have time to spare, that is just as valuable if not more so. Consider giving just one hour a week to a charity in your community and see what a difference your time makes. Some of the local charities that likely need you include:

 
1. Your local library or community college, which often needs volunteers for literacy programs.

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2. Food banks always seem to need people willing to cover a few hours now and again to stock shelves, pack boxes and hand out supplies. “Meals on Wheels” programs look for drivers and food prep workers, both of whom provide a much-valued service to the elderly and disabled.

 

3. Local parks often host ‘spring clean-up’ days or weekly maintenance shifts that require assistance from the public so you can enjoy the park while helping others enjoy it as well.

 

All of these charities and more will be grateful for any time that you can give but more importantly, those who benefit from your time will reap rewards you probably can’t imagine.stark-tree-1247860.jpg

 
Giving to others is a gift to both the recipients and the donors. Knowing you have done something to make life better for others in your community will give you a feeling of contribution and elation. While your contributions may almost always be anonymous, know that recipients are grateful beyond words. You may make the difference between a family having a bowl of soup or an entrée with healthy sides tonight. That homeless man you pass in the park who walks with the stray dog may keep his companion for a while longer thanks to the heartworm medication he received from the local animal clinic. No matter how much you give, or where it goes, it is lending a hand to a good cause and improving the life of someone in your community. And that is a gift we may all benefit from.cats-in-love-1147252

 

Live a beautiful life.

Images courtesy freeimages.com

LEARNING LESSONS OF LIFE~The Cleveland Museum of Natural History

I am by no means a history ‘buff’ but I do enjoy reading, learning and immersing myself in various forms of history. Be it books, movies or a visit it a museum, there are alwaysafrica.jpg valuable lessons in the history of absolutely everything. And a trip to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History is a great place to learn about the roots of our planet, our universe and all of life.

 
The Cleveland Museum of Natural History explores everything from the foundations of the planets in the Planetarium, to the dinosaur age, to formation of life from human and plant to aquatic. There are museum sections dedicated to the preservation of wildlife including an outdoor walkway complete with various animals native to the otter.jpgNorthern part of the Unites States and Canada. This ‘mini-zoo’ provides entertainment and education that all ages love to enjoy. The museum even houses a gem and jewelry collection that is sure to put a smile on the face of everyone who adores natures brightest decorations.

 
I had the opportunity to visit and learn about Balto, the beloved dog who inspired the Iditarod Race, one of my favorite events to follow, as well as dozens of other animals tbalto.jpghat have shaped our surroundings. I learned more about native cultures from my own area, including the Erie, as well as those of more distant regions. I loved hearing about the predator and pray relationships of the wildlife of Africa, which I dream of visiting via safari one day. The display of our own animal ancestry is telling and moving into the prehistoric and ice age displays is a massive joy for every visitor. For those who love the sea life, there is a bit of that as well, and also a grand opportunity to learn much that is known of the construction of our universe and space.

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There is absolutely something to suit everyone at the Cleveland Museum of Natural wolf.jpgHistory and there is likely something that will peek your interest at your own local museums. If you have the opportunity to visit any museum of natural history, you will have spent a day doing something enjoyable and educational for yourself and your companions. Most museums also host seminars, classes and field trip opportunities which focus on specific areas of interest for those who want to learn more about any area. And once you’ve made the trip, you are likely to consider a museum membership to save on your many return visits.

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Consider spending a day supporting your own local history museum or visiting those around the world, wherever your travels take you. You won’t be disappointed.

 
Live a beautiful life.

 

A SUMMER DAY IN FEBRUARY~The Cleveland Botanical Garden

Winter is particularly cruel here in the Midwest for weeks on end and finding escapes to warm your he

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art and lift your mood can be difficult. Just traveling can be a burden when the roads are often snow and ice covered, not to mention the layers of clothing you have to endure to fend off the bitter winds. Any escape in a warm, relaxing environment is a godsend. And the Cleveland Botanical Garden is just the place.

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Each February, the Cleveland Botanical Garden is host to Orchid Mania, an exhibit of thousands of blooming orchid plants throughout the halls and green houses. The vibrant colors are stunningly vivid amongst the greenery. The sauna-like feel of the

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greenhouse is a welcome reprieve, allowing visitors to check their coats and enjoy hours walking about the bright, colorful displays in a single layer of clothing. What a joy in and of itself!

Accompanying the gardens and greenhouse are art displays, a children’s learning center, gift shop, café and a variety of classes available throughout the year. A spring and summer trip to the gardens also provides vast outdoor enjoyment amongst the many flowers, while the winter allows for a brisk walk through the

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dormant shrubs and trees around University Circle’s park. There is also a bit of wildlife within the gardens, both indoors and out, as birds and turtles live within the greenhouse and butterflies are released indoors each afternoon. Visiting a botanical garden is a gift any time of the year but especially in winter when many of us see so little sunshine and color.

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Orchid Mania is a delight for those of us who enjoy our own orchid collections as well as for the non-green thumb who likes to dream in wonder amidst these amazing stunners. While orchids were once only maintained by the elite with far deeper pockets than my own, modern science has made breeding hardier, easier to maintain plants a reality and rapid multiplication of these blooms has made them ever so affordable for everyone. Today you can purchase of variety of orchids in home and grocery stores. Maintaining orchids requires less maintenance than you might think and the beautiful, long term blooms they provide will brighten any living area.

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I was lucky enough to add two less common varieties to my own orchid collection via the Cleveland Botanical Garden Orchid sale, as a birthday gift from Mr. LucyLoves. While a bit pricier than orchids I would have purchased for myself, the proceeds benefit the ongoing success of the gardens. My sister and I have already planned a return trip to take part in an upcoming silk painting that will allow us to enjoy another day in the warm, gorgeous surroundings of this special event. Another summer-like reprieve to look forward to.

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Anyone who lives within a couple hours drive of a major city is likely to have a botanical garden or public greenhouse at their disposal and a visit is well worth the trip. Especially for

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those who live in darker, colder climates who go months without exposure to regular sunlight or colorful outdoor views, a public botanical garden is a real treat. As pleasant as a day at the spa and as lively as a walk in the park.

If you have the opportunity, check out a botanical garden or greenhouse near you. You likely won’t be disappointed and you may be inspired to perk up your own indoor or outdoor greenery.

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As always, live a beautiful life.

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WINTER READS 2018~

I’ve been loving this winter with all its heavy snows and bird watching and of course, reading for hours on end. Here are just a handful of the finds I’ve indulged in over the last couple of months that are well worth a day curled up in a cozy chair.

THE PERFECT HORSE by Elizabeth Letts

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The author of the Eighty Dollar Horse does the equine world justice again while delving into the United States Calvary’s final mission to ensure the majestic horses of Austria and Poland were not lost to Europe and the world. This biographical account of the parties from both sides of WWII, who fought to protect and preserve these precious animals for all our generations to come, is a spellbinding read for not only the horse lover but the modern history buff as well. You will quickly find yourself immersed in the daily struggles of trainers, farm owners, soldiers and leaders who come together despite political differences in order to save herds of horses that remain well known entertainers and educators today. The perfect book for everyone.

THE ELEPHANT WHISPERER-MY LIFE IN THE HERD by Lawrence Anthony

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Years before Lawrence Anthony’s untimely death, he was able to put pen to paper to record the amazing account of his life in South Africa, developing a wildlife preserve to protect his native species for future generations, which came to include the African Elephant. But Anthony didn’t take on just any herd, he committed to adopting and acclimating a rogue herd that destined for slaughter. While the task was far from an easy one, and in fact, nearly cost a few human lives, Anthony was able to build a success that was profitable not only for himself and the surrounding community, but for the elephants throughout South Africa. These beautiful creatures have a new lease on life in their native land thanks to the hard work and dedication of Anthony and his team. This turbulent, sometimes sad, often frightening but always enlightening account will leave you wanting to book your trip to the range faster than you can get to your keyboard. Anyone who loves animals, the wild and safari life in particular will love this read.

UNDER A SILENT MOON by Elizabeth Hanes

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Deep in the heart of small town England, country life is rocked by the deaths of not one, but two women from the same town, who die under violent circumstances on the same night. And it’s up to newly promoted DCI Louisa Smith to crack the cases and find any relevant links that may link the two women and their deaths. Haynes, a former police intelligence analyst, does a superb job in leading the reader through the process of fact-finding, sorting, and pin-pointing the evidence to lead her force in the right direction. Mystery lovers will delight in this new series and be left wanting for the next installment.

VILLA AMERICA by Liza Klaussmann

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Period drama lovers will find themselves quickly taken back in time when the elite relished in the glamour and the arts, the latest technology, and traditional as well as ‘forbidden’ love in this WWII romance. Set primarily in the French seaside, the reader will travel from America to Europe and back in this racy story of life and loss during one of the most tumultuous periods in our history. The well-known characters in this story were real, although quite some liberty has been taken to give the reader insight into what life was like for the 1% of the day. This purely fictional account provided entertainment and insight into a different period in time, for an elite group who find themselves suffering from the same heartbreak and loss that nearly everyone from the era suffered to some extent. Those who survived to go on had decisions to make that would forever change their lives. Romance readers in particular will relish the vivid accounts of the years that once provided the rich and famous with a lifestyle that few enjoy. A box of chocolates and a cup of cocoa are just the thing to see you through the journey.

CAREER OF EVIL by Robert Galbraith

book.jpgGalbraith, a.k.a. J.K. Rowling, does not disappoint true mystery aficionados in the latest installment involving P.I. Cormoran Strike.  Yes, this series is as beloved as Harry Potter for those who immerse themselves in the world of hardcore detective fiction and you even watch the TV series based on the books with a monthly subscription to Netflix.  But diving into the details of Strike’s life, his past and his penchant for solving the most gruesome and puzzling crimes is pure satisfaction.  Even Scotland Yard has been put off by Strike’s ability to piece together the puzzles that have left HRH’s best at a loss.  And this installment is no exception.  Not for the faint of heart, Career of Evil will leave you breathless and exhilarated, while keeping you guessing through every plot twist and turn.  If you haven’t been introduced to Strike yet, now is the time.

Whatever you’re reading this winter, enjoy your immersion into another world.
Live a beautiful life.

REFLECTING ON THE SEASON AT HAND~

Christmas is more than a week behind us and the New Year is a but a few days old.  We’ll soon move on to the continued work of winter, plowing snow, clearing the walks, and weeding through the seed penquinscatalogues as we dream of spring’s thaw and those first buds that will blossom.  For me, the end of the holiday season is just the beginning of a new adventure.  My birthday will soon be here and I’ll have the opportunity to celebrate via my traditional day trip with Mr. LucyLoves, some lunch dates with girlfriends and a gathering with family.  Spring will bring clean up and colorful blooms in the yard, followed by the heat of summer, walks on the beach, hikes in the park, and a road trip or two.  Then fall will roll around again and we will start the preparations for this joyous season once again.  That’s not enough for me however.  I like to reflect on the year that has past, the beauty and newness of our most recent holiday season and find a way to keep it alive in all the months to come. 

 

red p pI’ve cleared the tree and packed most of the decorations away but there are still reminders throughout my home of the happiness my family is still enjoying.  There are still Christmas fragranced candles burning, poinsettias around and about, and a couple of my favorite ornaments that I maintain on display for the entire year as a reminder of the beauty of the season.  My holiday china remains in use until winter’s end and comfort foods remain a staple.  All of these things and more help me to maintain the joy in my heart that is so very full this time of year. 

 

But the absolute best way to maintain the holiday spirit is to practice gratitude.  In my family, we are so very blessed and so very grateful.  Not a day passes that I don’t think my higher power for the gifts in my life, from family and friends, to animals, to a few cherished items that bring me elation.  Being grateful for what you have is the key to being happy no matter what your current situation may be.  Grateful people don’t want more, they want to give more.  And that brings a joy that many have yet to grasp.

 

Of course I maintain holiday spirit by enjoying my material gifts to the fullest.  My family goes to great effort to share truly meaningful presents which I cherish the entire year through.  And not only my own, but those giftsMr. LucyLoves receives as well.  Every time I wear my new cashmere sweaters, which are quite a treat, I will think of Christmas morning.  Listening to music on Mr. LucyLoves new, long wished-for BOSE will absolutely fill our home with joy.  The new hot pink leather gloves I received from my niece and the puzzles we so love that Santa left under the tree will make me happy long after the wrapping paper is stowed away.  Gifts should be shared and enjoyed and bring pleasure when you see and use them.  But gifts received are not the spirit of Christmas, it’s the joy in sharing gifts that sustains true meaning.

 

My favorite way to keep the holiday spirit alive is through the act of giving throughout the year to come.  We all tend to consider giving more generously during the winter holidays.  Who can resist the bell ringers and the food collection bins, the children’s toy charities and the coat and blanket donationcookies sites when we are vividly reminded of them each time we go out?  Yet, once the weather begins to warm, many tend to slip back into life routines without a second thought to charities in need.  I make a conscientious effort to continue giving throughout the year, be it a few dollars at the grocery store fund drive, purchasing and delivering extra pet supplies to a local shelter or even buying fundraiser items from the children in our local schools and scouting troupes.  The need of our local charitable foundations doesn’t stop when the holidays fade and often the need increases.  I may not always be able to contribute as much as I would like but there is no amount too small, be it a few coins or just thirty minutes of time.  There are always people, and animals, who are living in strife and I can make some bit of difference.  Doing so has become a pleasure.

 

Perhaps the liveliest way I maintain the Christmas spirit year-round is to keep a few reminders withincandles.jpg eye’s view in my home.  I have a lovely cloisonné bird ornament that sits in my dining room to remind me of holiday joy.  A miniature snowman wind chime hangs in my stairwell and smiles at me every time I climb passed.  Even the bright blooms on my orchids have me recalling the wonder of Christmas and the New Year long after the normal décor has been restored. These few reminders are all I need to keep Christmas alive and the spirit soaring with me.  I am Christmas-time happy all the time.  I am filled with the joy of the New Year the entire year long.  My journey is living in this snow-globe season and we can all live happier, more bliss-filled lives with a little effort.  And a little effort leads to a lot of ease. 

 

Whichever way you choose to keep the holiday spirit alive, share your blessings and ideas with those around you.  Make your home a holiday haven, twelve months out of the year, by living every moment like it is as special and meaningful as it is and be grateful for the same.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

Live a beautiful, holiday life.

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A RURAL AMERICAN NEW YEAR~

Not much happens here in rural America on New Year’s Eve. Truth be told, if you are up at midnight it is probably because you have farm chores to do or you’re basting the pork roast for your family’s New Year’s Day brunch.

tree 2017.jpgWhen I was a child, ringing in the New Year in rural America consisted of a card and game party at my parent’s house while the kids watched the ball drop in Time’s Square on TV. Not much has changed since I was a child. Mr. LucyLoves and I prefer a movie or music to today’s televised ringing in, as New Year’s Day is our holiday to host our family for a traditional pork and sauerkraut dinner so we are usually busy making preparations on New Year’s Eve. But on occasion we have ventured out, when the weather wasn’t terribly bad and a few others wanted to meet up for a night on the town at a local pub. If my eldest niece isn’t on duty, she has hosted a family gathering at her house. Otherwise, Mr. LucyLoves and I celebrate at home in cozy pajamas with a glass in hand. And so, this is life in the middle of nowhere.

zoo lights 2.jpgI imagine the city dwellers attending street parties or dining with friends, wearing their sparkly garb and clinking champagne glasses while music blares in the background. I see couples attending the theatre or a museum event that promises some wonderment or another. I envision families walking through city center light displays and buying cocoa and roasted chestnuts from the street vendor. None of these are a reality here in rural America. We have a few restaurants and bars that stay open late and serve New Year’s Eve drinks while the zoo lights.jpgbig screen TVs are emblazoned with a variety of events. Churches open their doors for evening services. The local community theatre sometimes hosts a New Year’s Eve matinee. Little else happens here in the small town. If you are lucky, you might get invited to a friend’s house for dinner or host a party of your own. Otherwise, New Year’s Eve is like any other eve. Quiet and down to earth. And I love that.

After the bustle of Christmas preparations, celebrating for two days with family, and puzzle.jpgbeing relieved of the anticipation of Christmas morning, it’s nice to have a laid-back holiday. A quiet evening of cooking and setting the table for the next day’s feast. When New Year’s Day arrives, we can then enjoy a hot, cozy meal, talk, play a game or solve a puzzle with the kids and just be at peace. It is a joy to appreciate all the gifts we have in each other and relish life in our home. There is no chore in doing the dishes together after everyone has left, cookies.jpgand to savor the peace of a hot cup of coffee and some leftover Christmas cookies. This is our rural American New Year.

The New Year holiday always puzzled me. As I child I wondered why everyone was so anxious to see the old year die. What was wrong with the old year? What is going to be so great about the new one? Perhaps that’s why I still appreciate a quiet ringing in. I don’t understand the excitement surrounding the transition. alpaca.jpgNonetheless, I love this quiet, undisturbed holiday in my remote country house on a dark, dirt road. I love the only light coming from the stars overhead instead of a sparkling disco ball. I prefer the warmth of the fireplace over the blare of fireworks. This is what New Year’s means to me: a joyous but down-to-earth celebration of our future, just the way I want the future to be—quietly joyful and graciously blessed.

However you celebrate your New Year, live a beautiful life.

A RURAL AMERICAN CHRISTMAS~

sitting rm 2.jpgPrepping for the holidays in rural America provides a spectacular kind of fun. In my family, it starts with a late fall girl’s trip, including my sister and eldest niece and this year, my sister-in-law and younger niece who have recently moved back to the area. We usually spend a weekend in a community within a few hour’s drive or less from home where we can visit Christmas themed shops and events. This trip is a time to do a little girl bonding, pick up a few decorative baubles for home, and perhaps a gift or two as well. As for family gifts, my siblings and our families have spent the last few years enjoying what we refer to as a “white elephant” Christmas. Because we are all well into our secure good shop.jpgmiddle years, none of us truly wants or needs anything but we still enjoy giving to one another. Our rules for gifting are to give something we already own, something that we made or purchased from a community crafter, or from a resale store. That being said, the gift must have meaning to the recipient and not just be something that we wanted to rid ourselves of. This is a great way to share our blessings and perhaps ‘trade’ for things we would like to have or even to share an artistic skill.

After girl’s weekend, hubby and I can start to prepare our home for the holidays. We used to go to one of several local tree farms, take a horse driven cart ride through acres of woodlands, and dig or cut our own fresh tree every year. Now that we are a bit older, tree 2.jpgwe prefer to skip traipsing through the snow in the bitter cold and head instead to a local garden and landscaping center to select a fresh tree that they have cut from their own fields. We then stop for lunch at a local restaurant and enjoy a hot cup of coffee to warm our chilly hands and toes. The tree is my favorite part of Christmas so getting it set up and decorated the next day is something I always look forward to. Listening to ‘White Christmas’ or ‘Christmas in Connecticut’ in the background really puts me in the holiday mood.

Over the years, I have tired of some of the interior decorations we have accumulated so I have started decorating more with live plants and flowers throughout my house, including Poinsettias, Christmas Cacti and Rosemary shrubs. The colorful blooms and aromas throughout the house, accompanied by a balsam candle or two really make our home look and smell of holiday joy. I do still like to decorate but I have pared down the pre-made decorations that I have to clean and store and I find that I do enjoy the environment more. After Christmas, any plants that do not survive are relegated to the compost pile while others are placed in my greenhouse for another season.

While Mr. LucyLoves used to light the exterior of our house with so many jeweled lights we used to tease him about airliners approaching, we have cut back in that area of décor as well. In our younger days, we spent a weekend climbing ladders, maneuvering across the roofline and around windows and doors and covering every limb on our wooded acres with beautiful lights. Now in our middle years, the prospect of climbing and candles.jpgtraversing the rooftop in icy weather from dawn til dusk for two straight days has lost appeal. We have settled for decorating our rural home with a less artistic but still tasteful presentation, succumbing to the pre-lit spiral trees, roaming reindeer and a giant frosty to grace our frontage, with a fresh wreath from the garden center that I decorate with miniature lights. Oh, and my electric bill is much lower in January, too.

While we love to celebrate, life here in rural America doesn’t afford us a lot of opportunities to do so. Aside from a couple of family events, we spend most of our time enjoying our own tree, snuggled up with cocoa and a good book or working a jigsaw puzzle together. There are no block parties or museum galas, no disco nights or tree lighting events. If we had those things within driving distance we would love to attend but alas, getting to the few events we do have is always ‘hit-or-miss’ depending on the weather conditions and the distance we have to drive. No, the majority of our party experience is watching the birds at the feeders we maintain through one of many windows or listening to classic Christmas music while we play a couple rounds of snowman 1.jpgScrabble at the dining room table. It may not sound very exciting but it’s cozy, warm and stress-free. When I get the urge to dress to the nines in holiday attire, we head out to a restaurant and make a night of it, indulging in a favorite desert and a second glass of wine. There is the occasional low-key dinner party with friends and the sleigh ride with one of my horse riding pals that we always look forward to. Our town does host a fundraising light display at the park where Mr. LucyLoves and I got married and the county seat decorates to the hilt, complete with playing Christmas music over the town loudspeakers by day. There’s a Christmas tree decorating contest sponsored by the local Rotary Club for the local businesses and of course, every church and school has some sort of concert or pageant that all are welcome to attend. Rural Americans also seem to love their craft shows and we have dozens of them leading up to the holidays where you can buy everything from hand carved wood bowels, to maple syrup from local farms, to beach glass jewelry and sand castle figurines made of Lake Erie’s treasures. If you like a quiet life, you’ll find plenty of low-key, low-stress, low-commercial events to attend.

Here in rural America, we are content with family feasts, horseback rides under the moonlight wearing our coveralls, and bonfires on the lake shore. We cook and drink and we’re merry. If I could change one thing, it would be accessibility to all the festive light displays, theatre productions and public party events that the city has to offer. But I

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wouldn’t change my country cottage Christmas for all the riches in the world nor would I wish for a different life. Christmas is about being grateful for our many gifts and appreciating the wonders at our disposal.

Wherever you live, live a beautiful life.

 

 

 

HOLIDAY EMPLOYEES~thank you!

I am in awe of holiday workers.  From the gas station attendant to the nurse and his floor aids to the chemical technician and her subjects, I thank you. While the rest of us are at home enjoying a feast with family or a party with friends, you are hard at work, across America.  While we are celebrating in the couple-on-vacation-1427848.jpgwarmth of our homes, aromas wafting from the kitchen and joyous clatter filling the air, you are slinging coffee from a drive-thru window, tending the injured and infirm, and changing the hotel bed linen.  Our trees are lit, the menorahs standing in their places of honor and the turkey is safely basted and tucked in the oven as you dash from your warm beds, head out into the mean streets of Consumerville, USA and set to work leaving your own families and friends behind.  And for that, I am grateful.

 

Here in rural America, farm life waits for no one.  Cows need to be corralled into their parlors, liverooster-1248500.jpgstock need to be fed and barns need to be cleaned.  Across the nation, hospitals will be staffed, pharmacies will be manned and even the seemingly necessary, 24-hour mini-marts and liquor stores will open their doors.  And what would America do without ‘Wally-Mart’ seven days a week?  Travelers will continue to stop for hot meals and restroom breaks that waiters and attendants make possible, while emergency personnel will be there to try to insure it is all done safely.  Steam will still pour from the towers of power stations and trains will still run towards their destinations while church bells chime in the background.  Cruise ship attendants and taxi drivers will greet their customers and see they have what they need to enjoy their trips while emergency room providers treat the latest drug overdose and check in the stroke patient from the local nursing home.  It seems holidays are no cause  to rest and relax for many.  

 

In my own family we will have a few empty seats at our upcoming holiday feasts as the nurses work 539989668their assigned shifts, the chemical technician mans his research station and even the fast-food peddling teenager fulfills his work obligation.  And I am grateful to each of them.  They are doing what they do for their paycheck but also for you and me.

 

No, I won’t be up at 12:01 A.M. on black Friday to fight the crowds in your customer service line.  I won’t even be out at noon to bid you well while you wrap up your shift and await your afternoon relief.  539668126Instead I will be nursing a cup of cocoa, reading a good book, and staying out of your way so you can make it safely home to your own rest and relaxation.  With the grace of God, no one I–or any of you–love will be in need of the emergency pharmacist in town, or the local E.D., but I’m happy they will be there for those who do.  I try my hardest to prepare for the holidays in advance–gassing up my car a day early, ensuring I have everything I need from the grocery store, filling my prescriptions on time–so that you have one less burden on your holiday.  For those who must stop for coffee, pick up breakfast or grab a windshield wiper refill to make it safely to their own place of employment or, perhaps home to grandma, I am grateful you are there for them.  Know that some of us are thinking of you and the sacrifice you’re making so that the rest of the world can go on.  Some won’t think twice about stopping for that daily donut on their own day off, commenting that if you didn’t want to work this holiday, you should picked have a different job.–as though that’s always a reality.  But most of us are aware of the demands of modern life and its refusal to stop just because the rest of the world 531309386.jpgrejoices.  We know that the holidays don’t mean a ban on emergencies and the infirmities of life, or even shopping for new shoes.  The world will continue to turn and all of you holiday employees will be the ones who keep the cogs well oiled as it does.  For that, I say THANK YOU.  

 

Live a beautiful life.