Stillness

The rush of the holidays, like a swollen river eating away at muddy banks, is pulling and making the anyone and everyone’s time slip away. Just today, a short trip into town to pick up pictures lasted twice as long as twice the amount of people waited at the once photography now layaway and photography counter. My afternoon floated away giving me no chance to save it. So many eyes rolling at the store, so many sighs from shoppers pushing carts, so much frustration bubbled through the isles as people looked for anyone with a name tag to help them on what ever last minute search they were on. One thing no one was bound to find was more time.

In a desperate attempt to avoid a crowded isle and save time, I cut through the book department to try to get to where I was going. This was the wrong sort of short cut for someone like me, and I probably did not make up any time as I emerged with two books. I told myself not to linger, but two books for my nephews, at least not myself, caught my eye, and another title made me chuckle, but I didn’t pick it up. The title was “Waiting Is Not Easy!” and it seemed so very appropriate for a holiday shopping day. The little elephant on the front of the book looked as exasperated as I felt.

It occurred to me that we cause a lot of this exasperation to ourselves. Personally, I love holidays, holidays of all sorts, because I love the homemade traditions that go with them. I love watching cheesy Christmas movies at Christmas time, wrapping and making presents look pretty, decorating, and baking, but sometimes I think that I will miss out on the magic of the season if I do something out of order, not the same as last year, or not at all.

So despite not having watched all of my holiday favorites, having not baked anything in three days, or having all my gifts wrapped, this weekend I said to Shane, “Let’s go for a hike.” Which he interpreted as let’s go squirrel hunting. Tomato-tomahto. I was glad to bundle up and be outdoors with him and Jagger.

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Not to be too cliche, but all that kept running through my head as we walked through the snow was, “Be still and know that I am God.” The forrest was ever so still that day, it was so peaceful, yet every tree, every branch seemed to be crying out, “Oh glorious day!”

I hope you can feel that sense of stillness and quiet from these couple of photo’s from that day paired with Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Be Still and Know” lyrics.

Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know that He is holy
Be still Oh restless soul of mine
Bow before the Prince of Peace
Let the noise and clamor cease

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Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know that He is faithful
Consider all that He has done
Stand in awe and be amazed
And know that He will never change
Be still

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Be still and know that He is God
Be still
Be speechless

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Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know that He is our Father
Come and rest your head upon His breast
Listen to the rhythm of
His unfailing heart of love
Beating for his little ones
Calling each of us to come
Be still
Be still

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Psalm 46:10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Ricketts Glen, the Almost National Park

I happened to stumble across Ricketts Glen when researching “things to see in PA” for a Christmas present I was putting together for Shane. I knew it was important that he and I make “He and I Time” in our new marriage, so although not married last Christmas, I gave him a gift of various parks I basically made a report out of that we could do short weekend trips to. The only thing missing was the MLA citations.

Most of his vacation days would be used up on our honeymoon, then what was left over was to be split with his family vacation and time off at Christmas time for my family and muzzleloader, so these had to be trips I researched had to fit into three days. Out of all the places I looked into, Ricketts became the first park we traveled to together that neither of us had ever seen before. Okay, so technically Leah joined us on our travel there. Actually, to get even more specific, she and I were in her car belting out musical tunes and Shane followed us, after all, Ricketts Glen was on her way home, so she might as well join us for a hike.

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And what a hike it was! We hit the big one right off the bat, the Falls Trail that guided you down stone stairs and over wooden bridges to view some of the most picturesque waterfalls you could ever imagine. There were a few options for starting this trail, and we began ours from the Lake Rose parking lot and traveled counterclockwise on this 3.4 mile circular trail, it was a suggestion we had seen on line, and it said by doing this you’d be taking some of the steeper parts descending rather than climbing, and it did seem that way. Our other option would have been to begin the hike on the Kitchen Creek Falls Trail to take us to the loop of all the waterfalls, but it would add a few miles and therefor time.

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I won’t go on about each fall, and I’m not going to post a picture showing each one of the 17 waterfalls featured on that trail alone. You really can’t grasp their splendor in the pictures, and it is something you just have to see for yourself. It is crazy to think that this gem of a park was almost a national park, but now Pennsylvania gets to call it its own. Something Pennsylvania should be proud of! It was neat to learn that bit of history about this place too.

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We really hit it out of the park the first evening going on this hike. The next day was filled with other walks, but the seeing all the falls was definitely my favorite part. It was a hike that you could do multiple times on one weekend trip and still see something new.

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Clarion River Float

Last weekend was filled with waterfalls and small hikes, and this weekend was spent floating down the Clarion River. Our starting point was Ridgeway, Pennsylvania, and we pulled out at the Halton bridge. It is a two day trip in which we always camp overnight at Pine Tree Island. Shane and I were two of a handful of adults on a youth groups trip.

I have been going on this same trip since I was a small child, nestled in the middle of my parents canoe munching on trail mix. Then I got to enjoy the trip with friends as a member of my childhood churches youthgroup. Through college I still wet along as a sort of leader because we never had an abundance of female leaders on the float. I still go as that female leader, and Shane, this year and last, joined us.

I love the Clarion River float with the youth group. I still live for capture the flag in the dark and don’t mind running full speed in the dark woods. I love sitting around the campfire enjoying everyone’s company. I’m blessed that I can still be a part of this long tradition, and love that Shane can come and enjoy and help out too.

Sunday morning, one of the church’s interns gave a brief message about God creating the beauty around us, and how even when we are right in the thick of it, sometimes we miss the general splendor. We forget how wonderfully creative our God is, and we don’t always make the connection that this creative all-powerful, most powerful being loves us. It really is a breathtaking thought.

God, the creator of the universe, whose creativity surrounds us, loves me and loves you.

It made me think deeper into this idea of God’s presence and the idea of kavanah. Kavanah means “intention” or “direction of the heart”. Each time we pray, we should have this intention or direction of the heart, because as rabbis put it, “A prayer without kavanah is like a body with out a soul.” I read that Abraham Heschel described it as an “attentiveness to God” or the ability to “sense the preciousness of being able to pray”.

That idea of kavanah just so matched the awh that the intern was speaking of. Every morning we get up, not always acknowledging that everything around us was made possible by God, and we are blessed to speak with him. That time we share in prayer is precious, is beautiful, and should be a time we are attentive to him too and not just assume it is me time.

We floated the last day in the pouring rain. Rain on the river creates a different kind of silence than any other. One where your imagination can run wild, but also one where there seems to be a buffer between you and the worlds distractions. The outlook for this week appears to be many more days of rain, and I don’t know if that is how the weather looks in your area, but if it is, and if you can, crack open a window, let the breeze flow in, and let that sense of kavanah fill you.

Luke 19:40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

Frances Slocum

When I put together this weekend, it didn’t feel last minute. I got the idea to plan this little trip over Memorial Day a little over a month ahead of time, and Shane and I were really excited by the idea. I pulled up my laptop to reserve a dog friendly camping site at Ricketts Glen and was out of luck. The place was booked solid. Okay, so not entirely solid. I think there was a tent site or two available, but they didn’t allow dogs, and dear Jagger would be coming with us.

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I searched other camp sites near Ricketts Glen, and although places came up, I couldn’t get a sense of what they were like. I expanded my search to other state parks near by, and I was lucky enough to discover Ricketts Glen had a next door neighbor called Frances Slocum State Park. It looked tiny, but with a body of water at it’s center, and a dog site available, I booked it.

Arriving in the evening at site 61 after one hike at Ricketts, the Frances Slocum campground seemed tight, but well kept, and the sites had ample room. The big trees that were on our site is what we needed for our tentsile tent to hover above the ground. We discovered the next day as we took Jagger on a walk that we were the last dog friendly site, so we could walk to the lake and the amphitheater with him, but not beyond us to the group tenting area, which was fine. The night we arrived, it was fairly quite, and we seemed to be one of the only fires that went on until dark, but the next day lot’s of families descended, and soon our quiet little camp ground was full of squeals and giggles from kids, nods from neighbors walking by, and an occasional dog bark, normally from Jagger himself. People still didn’t stay up very late, and everyone really respected the 9 pm quiet time, which made our evening fires very peaceful.

Saturday was spent exploring Ricketts Glen, a very cool state park I will get into in another post. Saturday evening, we did go to the amphitheater and enjoyed the music of Jay Smar, a folk singer who picked and crooned old folk songs and mining songs. Sunday was spent at Frances, beginning with a very long, slow breakfast of breakfast burritos at the fire. I had pre-made these yummy wraps before we left, so we sat at sipped our coffee while the foil wrapped mummies warmed up in the fire.

After breakfast, we searched the country side for a bait shop to get minnows for some bobber fishing in the Frances Slocum Lake. This became a meandering drive of at least an hour, if not longer because we couldn’t find a bait shop. The first one that Google took us too was not a bait shop, the address it dropped us off at was someones house; they didn’t even have a sign on their garage that said bait. Off we went to the another bait shop below 118 in Hunlock Creek called Bait Buddies. He had everything we needed and also had some cool handmade arrows and knives that his son from Maine created.

Back to Frances Slocum we went to do some bobber fishing. Shane commented that maybe once a year he would go bobber fishing usually, but he’s already gone twice this year and he said he can see why people like it. It is indeed relaxing and doesn’t take much effort. In fact, we played cards most of the time. We did get three bass, but lost them right before they were in our grasp, and beyond that we got a crappie and a big blue gill.

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At the end of the weekend, Shane was trying to make a pro and cons list of coming to this particular state park over Pymatuning State Park, and what was really decided was that the proximity to Ricketts Glen made this one appealing, otherwise Pymatuning is bigger and closer. Between the two, Frances Slocum would not win if we were to pick between the two for a weekend of boating and fishing.

But, the history of Frances Slocum was really neat, and gave the little park another point on the pro’s list. Apparently on of the trails, there is a rock shelter where five year old Frances Slocum was kept an evening by the Delaware Tribe Indians who took her from her family in 1778. She grew up as Maconaquah and stayed with her Indian family even after her brothers, who never gave up the search, found her as an adult.

Over all, I am glad we found this little gem of a park. We enjoyed live music, fishing, and got to try out our tentsile tent for the first time. Jagger was able to join us because they had dog friendly sites, which resulted in him enjoying his own tent. We weren’t far from Ricketts Glen, and although it wasn’t our original intent to stay there, we did and found out some great Pennsylvania history.

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The Pace of Nature

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

This weekend was one where Shane and I could sit back and adopt that pace. Back before the wedding bells, during our counseling and through books and conversations I had, it was made pretty clear that Shane and I should carve out time for just us. Knowing we both find relaxation in nature, I gave Shane as a Christmas present a packet of information I had gathered on state parks and sites neither of us had been to. This was the weekend that I would get to work out my planning skills and Shane and I could get away together.

Our spring has been hectic, but not by any fault of our own. It just seems that the pace of life really took off on us. Before we got married, things seemed to drag on as I planned what centerpieces should look like, he picked out our honeymoon location, and we figured out groomsmen outfits. Then we said “I do” and time has gotten away from us. This spring has really been a time of learning for us, and there isn’t a pause button on life to help us get our bearings, just each others hand to hold as we keep moving forward.

Even the week leading up to our little getaway was jam packed. Leah came down for a visit getting in on Tuesday, a day I was still working, then Wednesday she and I started our morning with a Bible study, a craft store stop, then off we went to the zoo followed by a concert that had been meant for her and Scott. The next day was a slow morning that included the gym, grocery shopping for the camping trip, then an evening of just enjoying everyones company and some ice cream. Friday was some last minute packing, a few more business calls for Shane, then it was off to Ricketts Glen State Park to get in a hike before Leah had to head back to Connecticut.

Back at home, thinking back to the weekend, part of me wishes we could’ve been there longer, but looking around, I know I can’t suspend reality for forever. There is so much to do at our little homestead, but being out in nature is a good reminder that great things take time. Trees don’t touch the sky in one morning, rocks carved out by water don’t happen overnight, even a good breakfast burrito cooked by the campfire need not be rushed.

“Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times.” Romans 12:12

Look at the Birds of the Air

There are just things I could not live with out. Bird chirps and tweets waking me up, bright yellow coltsfoot sprouting up from the gravel filled burms, horses tails gently tossing about in the breeze. It has been a blessing to have these things fill my spring days. I have to look at each thing sometimes and deliberately say, “That is a blessing.”

Spring just is an especially hard season for myself, despite all the promise every new start represents. From crisp green blades of grass growing, to birds carrying twigs to their nests, sometimes it can seem like the world is moving on, and it can feel like I am not. Or sometimes worse, I feel like, if I move on like the little birds building a new nest, that I am leaving behind a part of me, and I don’t want to.

I lost my son in the spring time, and most recently, Shane and I lost our dear friend. Here we are, in a most promising part of the year, visuals of new beginnings all around, but the gash left by loss is so painful. Part of me doesn’t desire moving on, fearing the distance that will surely come, the days that will stack up between the time of knowing the ones I loved and have lost and the present. I don’t want it to be almost four weeks, then five, then six, then a year since Scott was here.

But we cannot live in winter for forever. Spring must come. With it comes beautiful things, and even though those beautiful things can be hard to look at, they are a blessing. They are a reminder that beauty can come from the dirt and mud and once frozen soil.

Revelation 21:5 “And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new” and He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”

So I have been watching the birds. It has been a delight. We live in a place surrounded by water and woods, so to our feeder comes a fun variety of winged creatures. I am most excited by our little Eastern Wood Pewee couple I was able to identify, though they look like other flycatchers, their song set them apart. The little couple decided to build a nest on our home, and Shane was going to knock it down thinking it was just some sort of swallow, but I convinced him otherwise since Mr and Mrs Pewee are in the flycatcher family.

A cardinal couple has been flitting around our porch very often as well. They sit on our cars and chirp as they bounce from side mirror to ground and back again. I knew their nest had to be nearby, and after observing Mrs Red, I found her nest indeed was close. Right in the bush by our stairs to our porch. She has recently started sitting on her three little speckled eggs.

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Matthew 6:26  “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

Of course, it may seem overly cliche to bring up Jesus talking about the birds, or to put a few lines from the classic hymn “His Eye is On the Sparrow”, but how beautifully true it all is. Here we are, my husband and I and those who loved Scott, in the midst of grief, and God is not overlooking it. If he can supply little Mr and Mrs Pewee and Mr and Mrs Red a spot for their nests, then how much more will he supply for us if we just trust.

Just like he can turn around and make new things from the frozen, colorless mud winter left, he can make our colorless, sad days new. The days will come, we can’t stop that, but what we can do is trust the God of the universe to take care of our days. We can keep our eyes open for blessings and reasons to be thankful for each new day. He knows our pain and sorrows, He knows our relief and joys. Here it is, if His eye is on the sparrow, then you’ve got to know, His eye is on you!

Greek Yogurt Strikes Again

This weekend we were promised rain, and by the percentage pictured on Shane and I’s weather app, it appeared as though that our whole weekend would be dreary and wet. That, fortunately, was not the case. It did rain, but we were able to get lots of outside things done. Up to two hundred trees got planted all around our ten acres ranging from winterberry to hackberry, and lot’s of flowers got planted.

Every time we wander around our property, we seem to discover something new. Or we at least take the time to enjoy something different than the time before. This time, we noted all the wild onion we had. Shane stated he enjoys gathering it while fishing on the Slippery Rock Creek to cook with the trout he brings home, but with no trout, the onion we picked was up for grabs.

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I wanted to make something fresh with the onions to munch on that matched my mood of felicity for springtime, and also use up some Greek yogurt. So after all the planting, I whipped up a healthy and delicious salad. This Cauliflower Cilantro Salad leaves the cauliflower uncooked and is great after a long day of planting things.

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A word of warning, don’t make this salad if you aren’t a fan of crisp cucumber, crunchy cauliflower, or the spiritedness of cilantro.

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Cauliflower Cilantro Salad

  • 1 small head of cauliflower
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cucumber, chopped
  • 6 wild onions, sliced (or green onions)
  • 2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  1. Chop cauliflower into bite sized pieces
  2. Combine with halved tomatoes, chopped cucumber, sliced onions, cilantro and Greek yogurt

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