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March’s Secrets:
The Present Month Project

We just hit the first day of Spring – and we just had another snowfall. They say March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, but that transition is not always a straight smooth line. March keeps you on your toes, looking for those signs of Spring just around the corner. And then when you see those first green shoots sprouting up through the ground? Pure joy.

March Secrets - Present Month Project

Spring, the beautiful secret you get to re-discover every year in March.

It was actually March that first inspired this entire Present-Month series. Last March, after a brutal winter, there was one particular and unexpected thing that our family loved at that time of year so much that it got my mind whirring on ideas for every time of year. You’ll find out what that particular thing was below in the “Listen” section. :)

So here is March’s Present-Month Project post, all about the unique joys of the current month. As with January and February, the categories of things to enjoy in March will fall into the following categories: TASTE, LISTEN, DO, and LEARN.

taste

Two of my favorite savory foods are in season right now: asparagus and avocados. Delicious!

Asparagus - in season produce for March

— Asparagus is just a pleasure to eat. There are all sorts of beautiful ways to prepare asparagus (wrapped in prosciutto!), but my favorite way is also very simple. Simply cook on a griddle, seasoned with a little olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. I love the texture you can get cooking them this way – tender but crisp, with just slight hints of char. And the seasoning is subtle so you can truly enjoy the flavor of the asparagus. Couldn’t be easier!

Avocado - in season March

— Avocados are simply amazing – and one of my husband’s favorite foods. Often described as a “superfood”, there are all sorts of great things about avocados. But for my purposes, the two simple things I’m excited about: 1.) they taste amazing and 2.) they are in season. Open up some ripe avocados and toss in your salad, top on your eggs, mash in guacamole, slice on your sandwich, cube in your burritos, spread on your burgers – the list goes on and on. And while in the US avocados are generally used in savory foods, other parts of the world often use them in sweet foods. And let me tell you — a freshly made cold avocado bubble tea, such as I’ve had in a little mom-and-pop Vietnamese market, is a luxurious delicious treat on a warm day.

listen

— This is the one that inspired this whole series. Last March, we were still recovering (and shoveling) from blizzard after blizzard, and were eagerly anticipating a Spring that seemed to be tauntingly slow in its approach. Unrelatedly, I was also exploring the free audio book library online, Librivox. I found one of my childhood favorite books, The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and we started listening to it as a family whenever we were driving somewhere.

Secret Garden - Best listen for March

It was so perfect.

Even if you’ve read it before (you probably have), it’s worth another listen at beginning of spring. Consider: The main character, Mary Lennox, has just moved to England’s cold and windswept moors at the end of winter. Having lived in the sticky tropics, she has never experienced the onset of Spring. And having been spoiled, she’s has never really had to wait for anything she wanted. She plays outside in the cold wind, and keeps hearing about Spring, wondering what it will be – and then as it begins, she immerses herself in learning how to care and nurture for the secret garden she discovered hidden on the manor grounds. It is the perfect listen for March. All the eager anticipation for Spring, and then the joys of the beautiful growing things, and the renewal and refreshing of the children in the book … it could not be more timely than to start listening to it in March!

The audio recording on Librivox is excellent and free: The Secret Garden Ver. 2. (There is more than one audio recording of the Secret Garden on Librivox, but version 2 is the best.) It’s fun to listen to as a family, all of us including my husband enjoyed it. It also gave us the opportunity to discuss with the kids that the ‘magic’ the children talk about making and fixing things is just pretend, that it’s actually God who creates the world and who is the architect of Spring. The story is a beautiful classic, and March is the perfect time of year to listen to it – and the narrators do an excellent job. There are free apps to listen to Librivox books on your smart phone, or you can listen online. Either way, start giving it a listen in March, and enjoy!

Listen to The Secret Garden - March's Secrets - Seasonal Activities

do

— Spring cleaning!! Spring organizing!! Spring decorating!! You know that amazing feeling when you can finally have the windows open, bringing in fresh breezes, sunshine, and the sounds of chirping birds? I love it. And then when you turn around from that window, and see the dust and mess from a snuggled-in winter home … well, it’s not hard to see why spring-cleaning is a thing. Digging in and doing a lot of the deeper cleaning that might not get done as often, or more deeply organizing parts of the home that tend to accumulate clutter, or swapping out heavier winter linens and décor for lighter breezier spring options – all are work, but make the home so much more pleasant.
March - Spring Cleaning inspiration from GardenmisSpring scents can also help freshen up the home. Here is a lovely quote on a lavender sachet from a handmade shop I love, Gardenmis.

I’ve seen various types of guidelines and check-lists for spring cleaning and organizing a home, but living in apartments often gives me different types of spaces than a traditional house, and I find that the division of tasks often doesn’t fit my space. Plus, home to home will vary in particular needs anyway. So, instead of following someone else’s step-by-step plan, I plan to go around our home and take notes: What areas need a deep clean? Where are places that are clutter magnets? Of the clutter – what categories of things need to be assigned homes, and what types of things need to be gotten rid of? What are spaces that could be better utilized if they were reorganized? And so forth. Once I have a list of tasks, I can divide them up into manageable chunks that I can fit into my schedule. And then it’s hello spring-time indoors as well as outdoors!

Spring decor from Peony & ThistleA beautiful paper garland from the handmade shop Peony & Thistle. Wouldn’t this make the inside feel so spring-timey? Yes, I think so too.

learn

— It’s time to think about gardening! Exactly when to start what plants will vary by location – the end of frost here is much later than down south — so learn what types of plants you can start where you are. Or, if you’re like me and don’t have any outdoor space, learn about what types of plants can do well indoors! Herbs are a great choice. For the first time, I have plants in our home that have been growing for a year. I’m so excited! And I’m planning to start more now that the warmer weather is coming – a little herb garden, as well as just pretty succulents and greenery to freshen up the apartment. I always considered myself to have a black thumb, but I’ve been learning more and more about how to keep my plants alive, and I love having them in the apartment, especially since we don’t have a yard. There is something amazing about seeing the way God’s creation works, and the plant that can grow from such a small seed. This is the time of year to get into it, so check out some books, find a good gardening site, visit local greenhouses, and learn about how and when to get your garden growing – whether a backyard vegetable garden, or flower beds, or window boxes, or indoor container plants!

Vintage Gardening Books from BookBundle - March Seasonal FindsBeautiful vintage gardening books from the vintage shop, BookBundle.

March Seasonal Produce and more - Present Month Project

So, from asparagus and avocados, to listening to the excellent free audio book of the Secret Garden, to working on spring cleaning, to planning your garden, there are so many things to enjoy this during time while March is easing us into spring.

Do you have anything you would add to the list of things to enjoy in March? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!

Enjoying February:
The Present-Month Project

It’s February. The luster of the snow has faded, winter continues in its third month, Valentine’s Day over-hype can be grating … maybe it feels like there’s a reason it’s the shortest month. So what is there to enjoy about February? I’m glad you asked! Here is this month’s Present-Month Project post about enjoying February.

Enjoying February - Present Month Project

Similar to January’s post, there will be sections of “Taste”, “Listen”, “Do”, and “Learn”.

taste

– Chocolate is huge in February. And not just for Valentine’s Day – there are a whole assortment of national chocolate-related days in February. But really – does it actually have to be National Chocolate-Covered-Nut Day to enjoy chocolate? I think not. But it is really nice that your favorite coffee shop will probably be featuring specialty chocolate drinks this month, and all sorts of varieties of chocolates will be on sale after Valentine’s Day. Hot cocoa is so nice this time of year when you’ve had to spend time out in the cold. Or if you’re looking to create a chocolate treat at home, here’s something I came up with this month. I love the combination of chocolate and peppermint – so I baked a chocolate cake, and added in a few drops of peppermint extract. I got whipping cream to beat into whipped cream, and added peppermint extract to that as well. And then, using an idea my husband came up with, topped it off with crushed peppermint candy canes in a spice grinder. It was a glorious chocolate peppermint experience. But, if that’s not enough – you can also melt chocolate chips, white chocolate, and peppermint chips on top of the cake as well.
So, enjoy! (But don’t over-do it. Bear in mind that February is also host to National Toothache Day.)

Chocolate Peppermint for February

listen

– February might tend be the month where cabin fever sets in the strongest. So, for those days where you might be indoors more than usual, this is a perfect time of year for listening to a book being read aloud as a family. As Emily Dickinson said, “There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away.” I’ve been reading Snow Treasure aloud to our kids this month, and they have been loving it! And it’s a fun experience for me, too, both enjoying the story, as well as the excitement I see on their faces as we read the book together. Tonight after reading a chapter of the book aloud, my eight year old said something along the lines of, “Isn’t it amazing how a book can take you places?” A similar thought as Emily Dickinson! So pick a book, and have someone in your family read it aloud – or do it yourself! Do voices for the characters, get into the story. Snow Treasure is a book I remember reading as a child myself, all about children in Norway helping to sneak gold out of the country on the sleds, past the Nazis. It’s definitely a kids book, but still very neat, and it’s the perfect time of year for it!

Snow Treasure - February Read Aloud Book

do

– I remember when I did NaNoWriMo (November’s National Novel Writing Month, where you write a novel in a month), I thought to myself – “Why November?? That’s such a busy month, with holidays and travel! February would be perfect – there’s nothing much going on then.” And while there are legitimate reasons for NaNoWriMo to be in November, the argument still stands that February is a good get-something-big-done month. One year in February, I participated in a group project called “Thing A Day”, where the challenge was that every day in February, you were supposed to make something. It didn’t have to be anything huge, or take tons of time each day – but just the goal of making something everyday, and then posting a picture of what you made on the site. It was a fun project – sometimes it was something as simple as a doodle, or it might be that you baked something, or sometimes it was a bigger art of craft project like making a piece of jewelry. But it was really neat to look over your own pictures and see the different things you made in the month. The site is no longer up, but even so, I found myself kind of mentally noting this month what things I made. I wasn’t doing the full challenge, but even just noting the little accomplishments of things I made this month, whether a meal for my family or something artistic for my shop was a fun experience – even if I wasn’t intentionally setting aside time to make things. Late in the month this year, I started using the hashtag #makingfebruary on Instagram as a simple way to note some things I made this month. Even though it’s not as official or large scale of a challenge as Thing a Day was, it’s still fun to see progress and little accomplishements – especially in a month where it can seem like we’re just trying to get through. But whether you want to do a large scale project, or just enjoy the small everyday things, February is a great month for making things.

Making things - Febrary

– Speaking of making things, I want to share an idea of what my family did for Valentine’s Day growing up. I am intentionally not including much in this post about Valentine’s Day. It seems to be one of those holidays that gets so over-hyped that is becomes either a big pressure and high expectations, or depressing, or any number of things, which are pretty much the opposite of this post. Also, February is much longer than Valentine’s Day. However, what my family did growing up, I thought was really neat, and we’ve just recently started doing it in our family. For Valentine’s Day, we all would make homemade cards for each other person in the family (you know, construction paper and drawings and what-not) and made a big envelope for ourselves. Then at the end of the day, we gathered at the table to put our cards for everyone in their envelope, and we would maybe have made some sweet treats to eat, and we would all sit together and open our Valentines from each other. It was really fun and sweet, and an expression of love for each other. The cards were often funny, or clever, or artistic – I still have ones from my family tucked away, including some hilarious ones from my brother who has since passed away. Of course, you don’t need a holiday to tell people you love them, obviously. But if there’s a holiday about love that is unfortunately stressful or overrun by high pressure for lavish gifts and expensive dates for couples, feel free to reclaim it as a simple and happy time to let your family know you love them.

Non-stressful approach to Valentines Day - The Flourishing Abode

learn

– While February might feel like the season of cabin fever, you might be surprised to learn what all might be in your area to go and do out and about, even in the depths of winter. We, for the first time this year, were able to attend a big winter festival here in our city, which happens every year in February! Some friends of ours also found a February winter festival near their town. I’ve heard that Quebec has a huge winter carnival through much of February. I think various communities that experience cold winters realize that February could use some winter cheer, and you never know what you might find in your neck of the woods. And while you might not find something as winter-specific as that, at any time there might be jazz concerts, or craft nights at the library, or quirky vintage markets, or an art gallery opening, or any number of other things. And it is good to find ways to get out and enjoy something out and about, even when it’s cold! Search your city’s name and calendar of events, and find out what pops up. Here’s a few shots of the WinterFest we went to here in Lowell – I’m so glad we found out it was going on in our area!

WinterFest Lowell - February on The Flourishing Abode

WinterFest Lowell

WinterFest - Enjoying February

– There are also great individual or smaller-group things to do outside in February. Sledding or skiing or snowtubing can of course be great for this time of year – but also stargazing! It’s often in the early months of the year that there are the most interesting things to view in the night sky. And you don’t have to stay out all night (and freeze) to enjoy a little stargazing – but bundle up with blankets and hot cocoa (and I even made a printable stargazing chart for kids in a past post), and on a relatively “warmer” night clear night, head out to a low light area and see what you can see for even just a little while! You can check astronomy sites online to find out when and where events like meteor showers, the northern lights, or visible planets might be happening, to find a good opportunity as well! Stargazing is just one of those things that fills me with wonder, and this is a good time of year for it.

gostargazingphoto heavensdeclare printablechalkboard

I hope that gives you some happy February things to think about or do. This being a leap-year, we have an extra February day, so I hope you enjoy it! Any unique ideas for what to do on a leap-year day? What are your favorite February things to do? Let me know by clicking here to leave a comment below the post, I love to hear from you! :)

Enjoying January:
The Present-Month Project

As much of the east coast is blanketed in white blizzard drifts, even though it is late in the month, it seems an appropriate time to post about January! And whether the thought of snow-days already fills you with images of steaming mugs of hot tea while watching the snowflakes flitter past the windows, or whether your mind first goes to thoughts of cold toes, this post is for you: a post about the things to enjoy in January. This is part of the Present-Month Project, focusing on the joys of each month as it comes.

What to enjoy in January

Overall, January is new and fresh. A time to make new goals, to step back and evaluate. A time that is less hectic, after the holidays. A time for renewal and freshness. Even the ground is often covered in clean, white snow.

January is also, in my mind, the purest Winter month. December is wrapped up in the holidays, February is heavily themed in Valentine’s Day, and March is looking toward Spring. January is a wonderful time to truly appreciate the slower, cozier side of winter, full of thick blankets, fresh snows, steaming mugs, and good books.

This post will largely be a list of ideas, centered around these themes. The categories: TASTE, LISTEN, DO, LEARN. As you scan it, and find which parts you like, I hope it gives you a variety of pleasant connotations to the month of January!

taste

TO TASTE:
January suits itself well to fresher, brighter tastes … especially after the richness of the last couple months’ turkey dinners, egg nog, and sugar cookies. I love foods in January that are still cozy, but not so heavy.

– Ginger and Cranberry. This is a flavor combination I started noticing a lot last January, and immediately fell in love with it. We had cranberry-ginger bagels, cranberry ginger-ale, cranberry-ginger anything I could find. It is such a fresh and clean and delicious combination, and just feels perfect after the richness of holiday foods. Keep your eyes open for it in January, or concoct your own versions at home.

– Citrus. There’s something so nice about that cheerful splash of brightness that in-season citrus brings us on the grey days of winter. I like to keep a bowl of clementines readily available for January noshing.

– Soup. There is nothing quite like having a pot of homemade soup bubbling away on the stove on a winter’s day. There is an absolutely endless variety, as well, just pick a favorite! I tend to like simpler flavors in January, like chicken and vegetable with dumplings.

January is National Hot Tea Month

– January is National Hot Tea Month! I love hot tea this time of year. A delicious steaming mug to wrap my hands around on a cold January day is simply perfect. And unlike coffee or hot cocoa, where I limit to maybe one or two cups, I can drink hot tea pretty much all day. And there are so many delicious options- green teas, black teas, herbal teas, you name it. Tea bags are convenient, and what I often use, but there is something beautiful about the ritual of brewing a pot of hot tea. (And it’s very easy. My favorite way? In a French Press!)

Here are a few of my favorites teas:
(and I do recommend a splash cream and sugar!)

Hot tea and other things to enjoy in January - The Flourishing Abode

– Harney & Sons: Boston. This is a black tea that was gifted to me and became an instant favorite, with its caramel and floral notes.

– Twinnings Irish Breakfast. A rich, malty tea, Irish breakfast features my favorite type of black tea, Assam. Assam is notably dark, sometimes called “the coffee of teas”.

– Republic of Tea Ginger Peach. Ginger is a favorite flavor of mine in January, and pairs deliciously with peach in this tea. One of the few fruit teas that you can have with cream.

– Cinnamon Plum. I rarely drink teas that can’t take cream (the fruit would curdle it), but this one is worth it. With the combination of warm spice and bright fruit, this is a refreshing but cozy flavor combination- which fits January perfectly!

listen

Classical Music and other things to enjoy in January

TO LISTEN:
– I think January is an excellent time for classical music. In general, I tend to listen to a lot of modern indie music, but classical music resonates with me this time of year. There is something beautiful that is a mix of somber and sweet that just fits the feel of January, at least in my mind. My husband took me to the symphony this month, and I can’t imagine a better time for it! I also stumbled across a Winter Classics album on Google Play Music, which I have been listening to and loving. (In fact, while writing this, it is playing, and I am sipping hot tea. Yes, it’s lovely.) Plus, I do like to have our children grow up experiencing beautiful pieces of culture like classical music.

Classical Music in January.jpg

Some favorites for January:

– Vivaldi’s Winter. This is a perfect choice, for obvious reasons. Music written specifically to capture the beautiful essence of winter? Yes, please. Do look for all 3 movements of “L’inverno” (Winter).

– Peter and the Wolf. Beautiful music and story. This, in my book, calls for both watching and listening. There is a very beautiful stop motion film made of Peter and the Wolf. It has no dialog, only the classical music, accompanied by the visuals of the story, and sound effects such as wind. It is set in a rather grim winter setting, and much like European desserts tend to be more bittersweet than their sugary American counterparts, this film it certainly more European in feel as a tale. Some people might not like it for their children, as it does have some bleak or dark aspects to it. Our family very much enjoys it, though, it is a January tradition in our house.

– Dvorak’s Cello Concerto. This is one of the pieces we heard at the symphony and has become a new favorite of mine. Three richly beautiful movements featuring a soloist of one of my favorite instruments, the cello.

– Gustav Holst’s Jupiter. One of my favorite pieces of all time. This is one very warm and powerful section in the middle which is the music I walked down the aisle to in my wedding. But the piece overall has a fascinating colder feel to me, perhaps tied into the outer space theme of the Planets suite. Regardless, I love all the dynamics of it from start to finish, and feel it is very fitting in January.

do

TO DO:
– Plan a long project. Especially if winter seems to go slowly to you, pick a big project that you want to get done before winter is over – one that you’re not sure if you can get done in that timeframe. I have a children’s book about winter that I’m wanting to write before Spring – and I don’t think I’ve ever known of a winter that has seemed to be rushing by more quickly. Because instead of the end of winter seeming distant, as each week passes, it seems like too short of a time to get my project done! Plus, slower snowy days can lend themselves well to indoor projects.

– Go sledding. It’s fun, it’s active, it’s only available part of the year. Bundle up the kids and go do it. Make sure you go down the hill yourself, too!

January - a good time for reading

– Read books. Go to the library and stock up. Read books aloud to your kids. Read books yourself. Put books and blankets around where you can grab them just as easily as your phone! Have a reading party where all the family piles up pillows and blankets in the living room, and have mugs of tea and stacks of books, and everybody enjoy reading together. It’s so cozy to be warm and snuggled with a book in your home while the January snow swirls around outside.

– Make goals. Not just resolutions that are going to be given up before the month is even over, but more substantial goals. As a new year has begun, it is a good time to ponder. While this post is about more light-hearted things, don’t neglect the more important things. Ecclesiastes is a good book to study this time of year, in thinking about perspective. (There’s a separate post on that coming later.)

– Light candles. It’s pretty, it’s cozy, it’s warm, it’s lovely, it’s perfect for January. Need I say more?

Board games and other ideas for snow days

– Play games as a family. This is the perfect time of year for board games with your family. Even simple ones – I’m not one to get excited about jigsaw puzzles, in general, but this time of year when we’re more homebound, spread out the puzzle pieces (and maybe some mugs of tea and a bowl of clementines) on the table, and before long you’ll find I gravitate to it, and we’ll be chatting and putting the puzzle together. Just pick and game and set it out on the table. A favorite of ours this January has been Suspend – it’s a building game, similar to Jenga, but with wires balanced on a post. Simple but fun. Whether it’s a new game like Suspend or Splendor, or old classics like Battleship, games are a great way to spend a snowy afternoon with family.

learn

– Learn about what other cultures do in the winter-time for fun. That is the basic concept behind our January WinterFest celebration. We pick a different theme each year and plan fun January activities, food, and puzzles about that theme. But you don’t have to build a holiday around it – just find a couple good ideas that other places do to make winter-time lovely, and try adopting them. Here are a couple fascinating articles to get you started: one about how the Norwegians enjoy all of winter with koselig, and one about the hygge approach to winter in Denmark (disregard the alcohol references). These are fascinating examples of how people in places that have even longer and colder winters than the US, don’t see winter as something to put up with, but rather something to enjoy.

Enjoying January on TheFlourishingAbode

I hope this has given you some pleasant thoughts about January! If sipping a cup of hot tea while curled up in a blanket reading a good book to your family sounds like a pleasant way to spend a snowy afternoon, then I call it a success. What are some of your favorite things to do in January? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

The Present-Month Project

The Present Month Project - TheFlourishingAbode

I love living in New England. One of the things I particularly enjoy is that we get to truly and fully experience all four seasons. Fall, in particular, is absolutely glorious here, not just a quick blip in time, like in some other places I’ve lived. However one of those seasons is, obviously, winter. That’s not naturally my favorite time of year, and we certainly do experience it fully! But even winter has its advantages. Peppermint mocha and mittens, for instance.

The Present-Month Project - The Seasons

One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is choosing to enjoy whatever season I’m in – whether it is a season of life, whether it is a season of the year, or whatever the circumstances are where I find myself — instead of wishing for something different.

I remember when I was about 10 years old, we were living in Europe. It was an amazing experience, and one of my favorite places I’ve ever lived. But I had to leave all my friends in the US to go there, which made me sad. And then when I was about to move back to the US, I was really sad to leave Prague. I was pretty down about it, and in both directions. I remember my dad sat down with me and explained something that affected me deeply. He said:

‘You can be the type of person who is always sad about what things you don’t have right now – you can spend your time in Europe being sad you’re not in the US, and spend your time in the US being sad you’re not in Europe, and you’ll just stay sad wherever you are. Or, you can be the type of person who focuses on what good things you do have right now, and spend your time in Europe being glad you’re in Europe, and then when you get to the US, then be glad you’re there. And then you’ll spend your time being happy. Which type of person would you rather be?’

I knew which kind of person I wanted to be, and I decided that then.

Seasons - The Present-Month Project

This past year, I started noticing a trend with my daughter, who is 8. If you asked her what her favorite season was in January, she would say “Winter!” After a couple months then she would answer, “Probably Winter – but also kind of Spring.” Soon the answer was “Spring!” Come July, it was “Summer!” In September, she would answer “Summer and Fall!”, and by November, it was fully “Fall.” I don’t know that she even realized that her answer was changing. She just fully appreciates whatever she is getting to experience at the time. She’s that type of person, and I admire it in her, and I tell her so.

When we hit the middle of winter, though, I struggle to keep that in mind. It doesn’t help that culturally, people here bond by commiserating together about how bad the weather is. And, to tell the truth, it really can be bad – here in Lowell last winter, we broke records for amount of snow, and were at the time the snowiest city in the country. It was blizzard after blizzard. But for some people I know, and in some areas of the world that do a better job embracing the cold, that is exciting, and this winter I want to focus on the positives. Because the fact is, it is going to be the current season whether I like it or not, so I might as well enjoy it!

And after all, in any season there are amazing things that you typically can only find peaking at certain times of the year, and that gives them a delicious feeling of expectancy and exclusivity. Fresh strawberries sliced on a puffed German oven pancake in June. Going apple picking in October. Hanging twinkle lights in December. Fireworks at the baseball park in July. Baking pumpkin pies in November. Juicy red ripe tomatoes in August. The scent of bountiful lilac bushes in May. A day of sledding ending with mugs of hot cocoa in February. And recognizing these things is what I’m calling “The Present-Month Project”.

The Present-Month Project - enjoying the season of each month

I often hear people talk about how they want to do a better job of eating seasonally- focusing their cooking on the particular produce that is at peak for that time of year. This is the same concept, just broader than food alone. The idea is that each month I want to come up with things that are unique or particularly enjoyable for that time of year, and take the time to recognize and appreciate them. Not all of them will necessarily be absolutely exclusive to that month, but I do want to really focus on what makes that particular month special, whether foods, activities, holidays, opportunities, or what-not-and-what-have-you.

fourseasons

I want to make this more specifically focused than just by season – I’ve already made illustrated art lists of general seasonal activities, above – and I love them, but those are fairly broad. Because after all, even though both are associated with winter, December is very distinct from February. And September has a very different feel than November, even though both have autumn. The Present-Month Project is about finding the particular tone of the present time of each month.

This project is not only about months that are perhaps not as popular, either, because even in months I just naturally enjoy, sometimes opportunities fly by and I suddenly realize I’ve missed it for the whole year (I always miss pick-your-own strawberry season, for instance!).

Also, it can be easy to mentally skip past special and wonderful times of year, in the hurry to get to something else down the road. For instance, how Christmas season often starts the day after Halloween. There’s still a lot of fall (and Thanksgiving!) to be enjoyed before winter begins, and it often gets missed or overshadowed — and in the meantime we hype up all the winter-cheer, but then Christmas and New Year’s Eve are over in just the first two weeks of winter and the whole freezing remainder lies ahead, with the festive side of “winter” having passed while it was actually still autumn. That’s just a weird set up, to me personally. We do only a little for Christmas, and just use it as a spring-board into the winter season, and have our big winter holiday (WinterFest) at the end of January. I know that very non-typical, though! While not all my monthly focuses will be so different from the norm, I still do want to be aware, as I go through the year, and as I go through my life, that I’m not neglecting to see current blessings in my hurry to move on to something else I want.

I think this will be a fun way to really take advantage of each month for myself and for my family. Plus, with a list in mind of all the happy things about each month, that will be an easy way to combat the list of complaints that can sometimes pile up at certain times of year. *cough cough* winter *cough cough* I’ll be planning to share each month’s post here on my blog. January’s is in the works, I want to get it up soon before too much of the month is gone!

I’m really glad I live in a world where God made seasons. All four of them.

(But I still totally reserve the right to have fall as my favorite.)

What is your favorite season, or some of your favorite seasonal things to do? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Some happy thoughts on a sad day

It was a year ago today that my younger brother passed away in drowning accident. I recently mentioned some more serious thoughts about his life and example, because his life truly was focused on what was important – serving God. Today, though, on this day where tears keep springing to my eyes, I wanted to share a few things that can’t help but bring a smile to my face, even while the tears still come.

Just random funny stuff he would say on Twitter…

A quote from one of his sermons, which our friend Hannah Roy sketched. It’s very indicative of how Adam thought … thankful for even little and quirky things, but always with a mindset toward God. You can listen to his lesson here (first one under Sermons -> 2012). Here is Hannah’s sketch…

And my new shirt, which features one of Adam’s original drawings of a robot punching a T Rex. I love it. Adam had been planning to sell t-shirts to help put our younger siblings through college. Adam didn’t get to fulfill those plans, but some of Adam’s friends, including Stephen Rouse, have helped to make some of Adam’s t-shirt designs a reality. So thankful. And the mug is a random quote mug we gave Adam that he used a lot:

I miss him. But he still makes me smile.

You are invited!!

Even if you don’t know much about me … you may know that I love books. In my art shop, FlourishCafe, I have designed a whole slew of prints with the theme of books and reading. I tend to devour books and have trouble putting them down. I love classics, I love sci-fi/fantasy, I love historical fiction, I love dystopian, I love mysteries, I love non-fiction.

So! Here’s the plan. As a part of kicking things back off in my blog and business this month, I’m going to be having a Book Party next Tuesday, live on Facebook!

I’ll have fun bookish games, ideas for encouraging a love of reading in kids, holiday shopping, aaaand, of course, fun prizes. I’ll have free book/reading-themed art prints from my FlourishCafe shop for prizes – and also free books from Usborne Books & More. Ever since I was … I don’t know, 13? … I LOVED Usborne books. They are my go-to place for engaging non-fiction. I’ve loved them for a long time, but just recently I became a part of their team, so I’ll have some Usborne books to share and give away for prizes as well.

Here are some previews of some prize options…

And here’s what to expect at the party:

SO! If you’d like to come hang out for some bookish fun, prizes and holiday shopping, let me know! It’s going to be a Facebook Event, and invite only, because I don’t want to be one of those people who is flooding everyone’s feed with stuff they’re not wanting to see. So if you want to come, just message me on Facebook, and I’ll add you as a friend so I can invite you to the party. (You can always un-friend me afterwards if you want, but Facebook is set up so the only way I can invite someone to an invite-only event is to be friends with them!) Here is my Facebook: www.facebook.com/april.s.starr

And … the first 20 people to RSVP “going” on the event each get an extra entry for the prizes, so don’t be shy to drop me a note. :)

So, here are the details …
What: Book Party!
When: Tuesday, Nov 18th @ 9:30 pm EST
Where: LIVE on the Facebook Event page
Who: Anyone who gets in touch with me to let me know they’d like to come! (Although, fyi on legal stuff … due to rules I have to follow, I can only offer the giveaways to 18+ in the US only.)

Hope to see some of you there – I think it will be fun!

A Fall Favorite – Spiced Tea Recipe

I love seasonal foods. Fresh strawberries sliced onto oven pancake in the spring, homemade chocolate ice cream in the summer, rich white chocolate “snowball” cookies in the winter. And in the fall, spiced tea. One of the reasons I love spiced tea is because you get to enjoy it in two different ways. First, as it simmers during the day and fills your home with the delicious aroma of cinnamon, cloves, apples, and a touch of citrus. And then, of course, as you wrap your hands around the steaming mug and get to sip the cozy autumn flavors.

It is very easy to make, and just creates a really nice atmosphere to have simmering as guests arrive for a fall gathering. Basically, it is a matter of throwing a lot of things in a pot, and enjoy the aroma and the taste. I also sometimes put in in the crockpot to keep warm and serve.

Below is the recipe I use. You can click here (or on the image below) to get the printable PDF version. Enjoy! :)

What are you some of your favorite autumn foods? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Opinions wanted!

Hello again friends. I have so many ideas bouncing around in my head, and I need your opinions!

So, as I mentioned earlier this week, I’m dusting off my blog and getting back into the swing of things. I’m working on planning my upcoming blog posts, and I’ve been trying to get a sense for which types of topics and directions I want to focus on with my blog. But, considering I’m not the one who reads this blog, I thought it would be a good idea to get input from those of you who do. :)

The types of topics I cover on my blog are pretty varied, but all have the central theme of things that affect our home and lifestyle. Here are some topics that I’ve done in the past … some of which I intend to include, but some of which I’m on the fence about continuing. So, let me know which types of things sound most interesting to you – and also if you have any ideas/requests that are not here! This is certainly not an exhaustive list, just kind of a sampling of things I’m tossing around…

Topics! In no particular order

DIY: Projects and how-to’s

BIZ: Running a handmade or creative business

OM NOM: Cooking, food, recipes

BIBLE: Verse printables & perspective

HOME: Family, marriage, schooling

APT: Organization & decor

DESIGN: Graphic design & art tips/info

WORDS: Books, reading, writing

PANACHE: Fashion & style

GO: Travel & exploration

So, a couple questions – and feel free to only answer one or answer all! I appreciate any feedback!
Questions:

1. Which of the topics interest you?

2. Are there any topics not listed above that you would enjoy seeing here?

3. Is there a post or topic on my blog that you’ve found particularly helpful in the past?

4. If you remember, what first brought you to my blog?

Leave your thoughts and answers in the comments below! Thanks!

The Last 2 Years & what it means to Flourish

Hello friends!

Well, despite a couple very half-hearted attempts to revive my blog, it has been sitting dormant for almost two years. In some ways I’m rather embarrassed about that, but in other ways, I’m not embarrassed at all. It’s been a difficult couple years, and honestly, there have been more important things that truly needed to take precedent. But as things are rolling into a little easier phase now, I feel I can again pick up blogging — and I’m looking forward to it! As for the last couple years, though, I’d like to share what has been going on … and what it is that I mean by a “flourishing abode”.

There was a time a little over a year ago when I was considering whether I could get back into blogging.
It didn’t end up working out. But I do remember one thing that struck me, as I considered my little online domain … the name of my blog. “The Flourishing Abode”. I looked around at my life – and it struck me that some people might not call it “flourishing”.

In the past few years, there has been a lot of upheaval….

There have been times where we had no idea where our income would come from or where we would be living. We’ve had job changes, and we’ve moved several times in the last few years … the last time was a very sudden move this summer which was not by our own choice, but circumstances outside our control. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, and we love where we are now — but there were scary moments not knowing what was going to happen. Over and over again, when things were unknown, we were blessed with what we needed and more, even if it was difficult or different than we had planned. But to an observer’s eye, the word “flourishing” probably isn’t what would come to mind to describe our physical situation over the last few years.

In the past few years, our marriage has gone through a time of change….

There was crisis – serious crisis. But we came out of it on the other side with a deeper and happier love than ever before … and it’s because long before either of us took vows to love each other, we each committed to love God more than anything else. It was that first love, and being true to it, that carried us through the hard times, through the tears and heartache, to the other side where we could actually overcome the crisis. And now, we are happier and more in love than I could have imagined, and I am constantly amazed by what a wonderful husband I have. But in the middle of the hard times, it didn’t look like or feel like “flourishing”.

In the past two years, my family has experienced the joy of birth – and ache of death…

In August of last year, our daughter Evangelene was born into this world. A few months later, in November, my brother Adam passed from this world in a tragic drowning accident at the young age of 25. Evangelene and Adam never got to meet. We were going to get to see Adam just a little later in November … but it never happened. My little brother was gone. And yet … not lost. He was first and foremost a child of God. His determination to serve God defined him. He also had an incredibly silly sense of humor, he was a talented musician, and very athletic. But those things are not what defined him. It was his faith in God.

A year later, I still miss him terribly … I wish he could call me on the phone and do his ridiculously accurate Chewbacca impression or recite random facts on my voice mail about African elephants (yes, he’d done that before).

That won’t happen now.

But there is a much greater hope: “But I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” 2 Timothy 1:12

And that gets back to what it means to flourish. When I describe our home as a flourishing abode, I don’t mean there are no hard times. I don’t mean we always have tons of money. I don’t mean that there aren’t tears, heartache or sadness. Those things happen.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. … So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

(2 Corinthians 4:7-10, 16-18 ESV)

A lot of things may crumble around us … but the “inner self” can still be “renewed day by day”. That is how I want to flourish.

When I first started this blog, I initially considered naming it “The Flourishing Home”, but I chose Abode instead, because it sounds more temporary. Where we are right now — this apartment, this body, this life — is just a temporary abode. Sure, there are hard things sometimes. The last few years have been the hardest of my life so far- and I’m sure there will be other hard times ahead. But even in the midst of it, we can flourish, because we are not alone. There is One who will take us to our true home someday, when this temporary life is over. It is that hope and focus that can make a home flourish, whatever comes. It’s not just a catchy title, it’s my goal. To flourish in this temporary abode, because I know what I have believed, and I AM persuaded that He is able to keep me until that last day.

Here is a verse that has long been a favorite of mine … I’ve read it over and over and over again.
This is how and where I want our family to flourish…

That also ties into the verse I have on the banner at the top of my blog: “A merry heart has a continual feast.” (Proverbs 15:15) It’s not, “the one who has a physical feast on the table has a continual feast” or “the one who has an easy time in life has a continual feast.” It’s the one with a merry heart … the one who chooses to see the joy, whatever is on their figurative plate.

And lest this seem like a dreary post about how hard life has been in the last couple years … things are really wonderful right now. I even have enough time to get back into blogging! As my friend Lori Biesecker says, life is full of mountains and valleys. I’ve recently been through some difficult valleys, but right now I’m enjoying a peaceful mountain top. And I’m sure, for as long as the Lord lets me continue in this trek through life, there will be more valleys and more mountains. But He is there through all of it, and that is a blessing beyond words. That is the reason to have a merry heart, and to flourish, whether there are mountains or valleys along the way.

Thanks for sticking around with me. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, even if it’s just a “hello!”

A happy announcement for our family…

Yes, we are expecting or second child!!

And yes, I am still alive. After almost a year of posting on my blog multiple times every week, even while travelling, or packing, or moving across the country — I suddenly fell off the face of the internet. My last post was at the end of November saying I would be back in a week. Yeaaah, that didn’t happen. There has been a lot of difficult things going on lately, and added on top of that, we just moved into a new apartment, Tim had to start working both an overnight job and a day job, and I have been very sick.

BUT – the good news is … Tim was able to quit both of those draining jobs and is now, for the first time ever, able to put his masters degree to work, and is officially an engineer! So happy for him – and so happy that we get to have more family time now that he only has to work one job. And, super happy news for us, the reason I’ve been so sick is that I’m expecting! I’m due in August, and I’m currently 16 weeks along. Our 5 year old is SO excited to be becoming a big sister. :) And a lot of the other difficult things are simultaneously getting better and making us stronger in the process. We are so thankful to God for his provision and seeing us through some dark days.

And sometimes in life you have to say “good-bye” to things that are, perhaps, nice and fine, in order to make room for something better. And so, I am officially closing down my graphic design business and shutting down my Etsy shop for good. We are no longer dependent on it financially, and while I’m grateful that I was able to help our family while still staying at home with our daughter, I am SO much looking forward to being able to devote more of my energy to our family and to more important things. I was, in fact, also planning to shut down my blog, but various family members and friends (including my husband) really urged me to keep it going. And I think I will – it is nice to have a creative outlet, and one where I can chronicle and look back at later and (perhaps) write something that someone else will enjoy, is worth it to me. I will not plan to post 3 times a week, like before, probably more along the speed of once a week. And the focus will be much more on the home and not on business … which was, after all, my intention in the first place with this blog.

But my Etsy shop … it’s going. I’m planning to close in about a week. So if there’s anything you’ve wanted to buy from my shop, now is the time to grab it. I’ve got some inventory I’m looking to get rid of, so starting today until I close, with any order I will also include 3 more prints for free (of my choosing from my inventory.) But very soon it will be closed for good. It feels a little bitter sweet, but I’m also really looking forward to the first time in 3+ years to not be shipping out orders anymore. :)

Anyway, I know I kind of abandoned my blog for a couple months there, and I’m not sure how many of you are still around. If you ARE still around … thank you for your patience. :) I’m so excited about this new phase of our life, and I’m also looking forward to writing here on the blog again.

Onward!