The Magic of Fairy Gardening

Fairy garden in yard

Yard garden

If you asked me about Fairy Gardening just a couple of months ago, I’m sure I would have responded, “Fairy what?!” Even my husband and his family, who for over fifty years have owned and operated Stockslager’s Greenhouse and Garden Center just west of Dayton, OH, would have looked at you with quizzical stares.

But that was September. By October 2011, we were in the throes of introducing our customers to an aspect of the greenhouse industry that has barely touched Ohio, but by all accounts is rapidly making its way from the West into the Midwest and on to the East. And, oh, the joy it is creating along the way!

Why Fairy Gardening?

If you asked me, “Why Fairy Gardening?” I would now say it’s because of that very joy! There is a magic, a quality about Fairy Gardening that seems to speak to our “inner child,” asking our imagination to “come out and play.” I can’t help but wonder who amongst us, as a child, did not believe in fairies? Or at least, in the depths of the heart, wanted to believe in the possibility of fairies?

For myself, I vividly remember watching the black-and-white movie version of Peter Pan in my grandparents’ living room, circa 1950’s. Poor Tinkerbell was in the glass jar, slowly dying after drinking the poison Captain Hook had intended for Peter. As Tink’s light was fading, Mary Martin, the pixie-like actress who played Peter, looked directly at the television audience and implored us to save Tinkerbell! All we had to do was say we believed in fairies!  I’m not ashamed to say that I fervently vowed my belief…and consequently basked in relief as I watched Tinkerbell’s life force glow stronger and stronger!

Simple fairy garden

A simple fairy garden

Tinkerbell didn’t die that day, but truthfully, somewhere through the years, the part of me that believed in magic forgot the thrill of my imagination transporting me to worlds unknown, worlds where anything is possible. The nearest  I ever allowed myself to that magical realm was when I looked at life through my children’s eyes when they were young  – or when I immersed myself in the beauty of the ocean or the majesty of the mountains. And then, right before me was Fairy Gardening, combining both nature and the opportunity to feel childlike. I experienced a tug in my heart and a sense of joy that only magic can create. What could be better, I ask myself? Based on the numerous entries I found when I Googled the topic, I believe many others have found the same joy, making Fairy Gardening a new and worthwhile pursuit in the garden center  industry.

Besides the joy inherent in Fairy Gardening, its versatility makes it a good choice for novice as well as accomplished gardeners. The preference to create a Fairy Yard Garden in a delightful outdoor spot allows perennials to spring up amidst whimsical elements of choice, such as mushrooms, cathedral-like lantern, fairy-sized arbor and bench (see picture Yard Garden). Of course, colorful annuals can be added to enhance the charm of this undersized, yet captivating world.

Miniature Fairy Gardens

Fairy garden kit

Fairy garden kit

I have a personal fondness, however, for Miniature Fairy Gardens. Planted in containers (some as small as teacups!), these fanciful worlds can be taken indoors during cold weather, which means that gardening can be enjoyed year round! Visit www.fairygardening.com, and you will find the main line of items we carry in our garden center (see picture FG Kit). Selected by Jeff and Emily Sorenson of Rabbit Shadow Greenhouse in Northern Colorado, the kits and individual items are perfect for all gardeners, especially because Jeff and Emily have developed a diminutive line of “Fairy Flowers.” Each flower tag identifies more than care instructions; the gardener is introduced to the fairy – Zachary, KayKay, and Viola, to mention a few – who purportedly oversee the growth and care of the plant (see picture Tags). Using these flowers and kits, Stockslager’s employees and customers are creating a range of gardens, from elegantly simple to more elaborate (see picture simple). No matter, each and every Fairy Garden is magical because of course, Fairy Dust is included as well!

Fairy garden plant tags

Flower tags for fairy gardening

Mencius, a Chinese, philosopher and follower of Confucius, once said, “A great man is one who does not lose his child’s heart.” Fairy Gardening has allowed the heart of my inner child to once again play in the world of nature. While doing so by no means makes me great, this pastime most definitely makes me grateful. If nothing else, life has taught me it is in gratitude that the seeds of joy have the best chance to grow, and like Tinkerbell, our life force has the opportunity to glow strong.

So why Fairy Gardening, you ask? Because creating a space for magic in our lives is beneficial beyond measure, and quite simply, it makes me smile!

My Favorite Holiday Tradition

Whenever I think of traditions I immediately start singing in my head the song, “If I Were A Rich Man” from “The Fiddler On The Roof” and feel my body move to the rhythm of the beat much like the lead character, Tevye.  This Broadway play that became a sensational hit movie with the well-known actor, Topol as the lead character is one of my all time favorites.  The theme of the movie has to do with adjusting to changing times and changing traditions.  It is a timeless theme as the observance of traditions gives you safe and secure boundaries in life.  There is comfort and order in knowing from year to year how things will be.

I understand the security in traditions.  Growing up, each holiday had very definite traditions.  What we ate and when we ate Thanksgiving dinner was the same from year to year.  I will never forget one year getting our Balzer clan together for Thanksgiving and several of us debating how to properly make a broccoli casserole.  You see some of the kids were old enough to want it done the way they traditionally ate it in their own homes while others liked it a different way.  Oh, the perils of not getting to keep the traditions exactly like you want!

Gorgeous butterfly

Photo Credit: Susan Muehl

In my family of origin we opened all our Christmas presents Christmas morning.  I had friends that got to open one on Christmas Eve.  I remember one year my family debating on changing our tradition and opening one gift each that Christmas Eve.  I can still feel the lump in my stomach over the mere thought of breaking with tradition.   I get why Topol held so tightly to tradition.  Breaking with what you always do or changing it can be difficult on your psyche.   Besides which, just like Tevey discovered in the movie, once you bend tradition just a wee bit, there is the risk of continuing to bend and bend until voila, the tradition disappears!   By the way, I am happy to report that we didn’t bend our tradition that year and we opened all our gifts the next morning.  In fact, I don’t think growing up we ever veered away from opening all of our gifts Christmas morning.

Year after year with my own three kids, holiday traditions remained constant and predictable.  Nothing ever changed.  My kids knew Christmas Eve meant church, dinner and a drive through nearby neighborhoods to look at the luminaries.  Those of us in my family that aren’t curmudgeons (I’m not naming names) still do this every Christmas Eve.  Then, Christmas Day had another set of traditions spread through the day.

A new tradition

Things never changed…until just a few years ago when I discovered a NEW tradition for the Christmas season.  Turns out, it has become my very favorite.  I discovered this tradition quite by accident.  I happened to be in Richmond, VA sometime obviously near the upcoming holiday and was invited to my niece’s house for dinner.  My niece, Jackie and her husband Scott had also invited his parents over.  When Barbara O’Connell arrived, she came in the front door lugging a huge garbage bag that appeared to be very heavy and very full.  Ever the one to not mind my own business, I asked what was in the bag.  “Advent gifts”, Barb said.  I was intrigued.  Then she showed me the Advent Calendar she had made Jackie and Scott for Advent.  Now I had always had an Advent Calendar in my house for the season as well.  But, traditionally mine was full of chocolates to punch out, one for each day of Advent. (My three kids spent copious amounts of time each year writing a spreadsheet of sorts to methodically divvy up the days equally amongst the three of them so that they could pop open the same number of chocolates on the Calendar.  This was more time consuming than choosing a tree!)  Barb’s calendar for Jackie and Scott was not only gorgeous – it was her handmade creation to boot.  Barb went on to say that her tradition for Christmas was to give each of her kids’ one small gift for every day of Advent.  With Scott now married to Jackie, she made sure Jackie was included.  I can still see Jackie’s infectious smile as Barb explained the whole thing to me.  Jackie loves Advent gifts.  In fact, she told me it’s one of her favorite traditions.

Bird loving berries

Photo Credit: Susan Muehl

The very next year after witnessing Barb O’Connell’s Advent tradition (it was too late to start that year) I began my own with my kids, David’s boys, spouses and grandkids.  My David is Jewish so Danny, his wife Lindsey and Michael get a Hanukah gift for each of the eight days of Hanukah.  Addison and Austin (my step-grandchildren) like this Advent tradition better than any other or so they tell me.  Many of the gifts they open are freebies we have collected over the year.  Once Austin got a small flashlight.  Several years later, it still sits on his nightstand beside his bed.  Mind you, these daily gifts are really, really small items.  There isn’t a lot of money invested in them.  But the fun I get in doing all this and the fun I think they all get in receiving them is priceless.

The season of Advent

By the way, for any of you unclear about what Advent is here’s a simple explanation.  Known as the season of “Anticipation” and ”Hope”, it marks the beginning of the new Church calendar each year in Western tradition.  Advent means “coming” or “arrival” and prepares Christians for Christmas.  It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is the Sunday closest to November 30th and ends Christmas Eve.

As Advent approaches the gifts are almost ready.  I love this time of year and am giggling inside with the anticipation of it all.  Thank you Barb for teaching me about this O’Connell family tradition.  Making this a tradition in the Balzer-Solganik family has been wonderful.  Oh, and Barb, you should sell your calendar creations.  They are true works of beauty!

To traditions…

Whatever your traditions are for the season, I hope you enjoy the special moments to come.  Life is to be lived with bliss.  Let this season be full of blissful moments!

Add This Tradition To Your Thanksgiving Day

Our American Holiday, Thanksgiving is just a few days away.  Most of us have already planned where we will be, whom we will be with and what we will eat.  Whether you are traveling over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house, staying home with just your core family unit or taking part in festivities in some other fashion – memorialize the day with a photograph.

What a difference a year makes

One of the things I seem to say all the time is, “What a difference a year makes”.  This is so true.  And, this year is no exception as there have been many changes in my family since this time last year.  My precious granddaughter is of course the big change, but there have been a ton more.  Some are good.  Some not so good.  Regardless, they are changes.

For all of us a year truly does make a difference- kids grow, family dynamics change and friends change as well.  In my family growing up, the Thanksgiving table reflected these changes.  Friends with nowhere else to go were always invited to our family festivities.  Outlaws, in-laws, you name it – the table size always changed.  To this day it is still the same.  Everyone is welcome at our table.

The Tradition of a Kodak Thanksgiving moment

In my little corner of the world My David will be snapping his camera furiously in order to capture each moment.  Sammi and Kathleen will as well.  (I will just enjoy looking at all the pictures later as I am a really lousy photographer!)  But, my suggestion to you is more than to just snap pictures all day.  Make the festivities of the holiday a real Kodak moment.  Forget the warm fuzzies you get from the holiday Hallmark commercials.  Create a history of warm fuzzy moments yourself by making sure you capture this holiday feast (and each year after) by photographing it, framing it and then displaying each framed piece together as a focal point for the holiday each year to come.  What fun to have a display of these photographs showcasing an array of yearly Thanksgiving pictures from past feasts.  Talk about an instant conversation maker!

I don’t know about any of you but I get attached to things very easily.  I form attachments to everything from smells to songs. In other words, I have attachments to everything from “soup to nuts” as the saying goes.  I think that’s why I have so many Déjà vu moments.  I have a feeling attached to everything. For me, Thanksgiving and all it entails is no different. And for me the photographs of Thanksgiving add to the feeling of the holiday.

Memorialize the feeling of Thanksgiving

So, this Thanksgiving get out the camera and memorialize the holiday.   Frame the picture and put it away until next year to display for the holiday.  A yearly tradition of displaying past years’ Thanksgiving photographs creates history and an opportunity for not just reminiscing, but reflection as well.  Group them all together and I guarantee you that people will gather around throughout the day to take in this wonderful display of celebration.  Everyone will experience the feeling of Thanksgiving.

Enjoy Thanksgiving with whomever you are blessed to be with.  And, don’t forget those less fortunate this holiday season as well as those in Assisted Living Facilities, hospitals or situations that restrict them from getting out to be with others.

Give thanks.  Be blissful.  Live every moment this holiday brings to you.

For any of you that would like to share your Kodak moments of this Thanksgiving holiday, please send them to me and I will post them on my “Living in Perfect Harmony” Fanpage.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Simple Ways To Infuse Nature In Your Workspace

Most of us have very busy lives.  We go from home – to the office or our chosen place of work – to carpooling our kids – to activities.  Our lives are busy, busy, busy.  We rush, rush, rush through each task we have to check off on our daily “To Do List” ever reaching for the end of the day when we can relax, regroup and recover from the hectic pace to yet fortify ourselves for another day in the rat race of life.  This creates one big vicious cycle of commotion if you ask me.  It is no wonder that we hurry, hurry, hurry wherever we go.  If we stop and smell the roses along the way we get off task.  We are a silly bunch of humanity aren’t we?

My daughter Sammi and “God’s Littlest Angel”, Ansley were visiting us recently.  On Saturday Sammi and I raked leaves while my David cut the grass and Ansley played with her toys on a blanket in the fresh air.  Sammi hadn’t seen David cutting the grass in a long time and mentioned to me that he actually seemed to be enjoying it.  He was slow and methodical.  I told her that he used the time to think about life and mull over anything that popped in his head.  She said, “You mean he isn’t just rushing to get it done?”

This got me to thinking – thinking is something I regularly fixate on doing by the way, as I tend to over think everything. Anyway, I started thinking about how my David enjoys E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.  He enjoys yard work, housework and work at the office.  I know why, too.  David lives in the moment.

Not many of us have this gift of being able to live in the moment.  Most of us have to learn how to do it.  One absolutely, positively sure-fire way to help you learn to live in the moment is to get back to Nature on a daily basis.  Immersing yourself in nature every single day makes you want to smell the roses if you will.  You see there is healing found in Nature that is restorative and rejuvenating to the body, mind and spirit.  Spending time in nature is soothing, refreshing and inspiring and has the ability to clear our minds, providing a new and positive outlook on life.

Simply by infusing bits of nature in our workspace can give us this same soothing, refreshing and inspiring outlook on our work life.  Basic tools for thriving in the workplace I say.

Whether your workspace is in the form of an office cubicle, the corner office or a large spacious environment like my last office in Charlotte, NC here are some easy ways to bring nature into your space:

  • Bring live plants into your space.  Preferably use ones that are air purifiers such as the ones in Becky Balzer’s recent post, Top Twelve Best Indoor Plants For Purifying The AirFollow Becky’s guidelines for the number of plants per square footage of your space for the best results.  One other simple plant to use is Lucky Bamboo- place it in a unique glass container filled with water and enjoy.
  • View the outdoors as often as possible.  If you are fortunate enough to have a window in your space, position your desk to view the outdoors as often as you can.  If you don’t have ready access to a window, find other ways to look outside throughout the day.  Don’t ever go a full workday without seeing what is going on outside if at all possible.
  • View scenes of nature on your computer.  Make the screen saver on your computer nature friendly with pictures of nature on it.  Change the picture seasonally or even use pictures of your favorite season for inspiration such as a warm beach scene to ward off the cold winter blues.
  • Personalize your space with found things from nature.  This could be as simple as placing interesting rocks found on nature walks on your desk.  Visual cues such as found things from nature instantly connect you with the outdoors.
  • Display family photographs that have background settings in nature.  There is no better combination for feel good vibes than family photographs in outdoor settings.  This combination of family and nature is the ultimate visual cue that can make you feel a sense of deep connection to life without even realizing it.
  • Get a breath of fresh air.  If possible go outside at some time during the workday.  Take a short walk or at least enjoy the outdoors for a few minutes.  Breathe in the fresh air.  Even better, if possible open up the windows in your space to allow fresh air to circulate and revitalize your space.

Take the time to treat your workspace as a place to be honored.  By doing this you will connect more harmoniously with it and allow yourself to thrive each and every day.  All you need to do is make your workspace come alive with nature!  Without realizing it you will begin to feel better and begin to enjoy every moment of your day!

Enjoy your space, enjoy your work and don’t forget to live in the moment…

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is just around the corner.  Then, on the heels of Thanksgiving starts the busiest season of the year – the Christmas season.  For me, both holidays signal a time of not just fun and family gatherings but a time of giving to those not as fortunate as I am.

Glorious fall leaves

Photo Credit: Sammi Blake

Everyone has traditions for the holidays.  My family and I certainly had our own while I was growing up.  Most of my Thanksgivings were spent in Roanoke, VA with extended family.  Two of my aunts, Aunt Mary Ann and Aunt Becky were members of a Woman’s Club that always served a Thanksgiving dinner to the less fortunate the night before Thanksgiving Day.  In many ways, this set the tone for the entire Thanksgiving weekend.

This tradition of serving food to the less fortunate left an indelible impression on me.  I can see that it helped to shape me and instill in me the value system I have today.  It is my heart’s desire to carry on a tradition such as this with my daughter Ansley who is a week away from her first birthday.  From the time she was just a little bump in my belly I have thought about how I wanted to teach her the important things in life.  Reverence to God and the Earth as well as Stewardship to others are some of the core values to name a few.

Ansley was due to be born last Christmas Eve.   Funny, growing up and as a young adult thinking about having my own children, the only month I thought I would never want to have a child was in December.  God has his own timing I guess!  Once I knew her due date was Christmas Eve, I knew I was being given an angel.  So what if it would be in the month I had always said I would avoid having a baby in!  Not that I really thought she would come on her due date.  And, guess what?  She didn’t.  Ansley came a month early.  She was born on Thanksgiving Day.

I don’t want to relive the details of why Ansley came early.  Suffice it to say I don’t remember much of that day and didn’t get to see, touch or hold my daughter until a couple of days later.  The first time I “viewed” my new daughter was on a camera.  No celebratory Thanksgiving meal for me and as for my family- well, Ben and Kathleen brought it into the family waiting room and everyone except me ate there.  I couldn’t even get out of the hospital bed.  I have to say though that looking back I realize this last year has flown by like the speed of light.  And although that particular Thanksgiving was not the most traditional Thanksgiving, I can now say it was not only the most memorable, but also the most special Thanksgiving I have ever had.  I have a healthy, happy and yes – beautiful little daughter that is thriving.  For this I give thanks.

Beautiful fall day

Photo Credit: Sammi Blake

I also give thanks for having the opportunity to help my stepchildren learn the importance of stewardship.  Recently, my stepson, Austin had a food drive at his school.  It actually lasted the entire month of October.  While doing my normal weekly grocery shopping I bought items for the food drive.  I got enough food to fill a grocery bag for almost every day of the food drive.  At first Austin didn’t understand why in the world I would have bought so much- I took this as a teaching moment to explain about giving to the less fortunate.  I talked to him about how blessed we are and that we get to pretty much eat whatever we want at our meal times.  I told him that many kids throughout the world and even right here in our own city don’t sit down to regular meals.  I explained to him how important it is to help others in need.  Since that conversation there have been several times when Austin has talked about people in need and the other day he even reminded me about how he got so much Halloween candy while Trick-or-Treating.  He asked me if he could share his candy with the less fortunate.  I explained to him that it was important to provide nourishing food to those that need it.  To say that his desire to give even his precious candy to others touched me would not even cover the emotions I felt during this conversation with him!  Austin’s heart is in the right place.  For this I give thanks.

The Christmas season was another important season of stewardship I was taught growing up.  I can remember at least one year adopting a less fortunate family and giving gifts to them instead of getting many gifts for the three of us kids.  Doing this in your own family might seem a bit extreme.  You might even think your kids would rebel.  I challenge you to try it – the outcome might surprise you.  I can remember only feeling good about getting less and giving more.  For this I give thanks.

I myself need to do more for others.  I do know though that doing one small thing can always lead to another.  I challenge anyone reading this to start a tradition of stewardship with your own children and keep it going through the entire year and then, through their entire lives.  Teaching them stewardship is giving them a gift that keeps giving.

I give thanks for so much.  I truly am blessed in more ways that I can begin to count.  May you be as blessed.

To giving thanks.  Oh, and Happy Birthday my precious daughter…

Ansley

Photo Credit: Sammi Blake

Our children are our future.  We need to teach them to reach out and help others in need.  Start planting the seeds of caring in your own family when your children are young.  Instilling the value of stewardship never begins too soon.

A Cast Iron Skillet- The Only Must Have For Your Kitchen

My mother used to tease me when I was younger about being a hopeless romantic.  From the time I can remember ever being described by her to someone she would say I wanted to believe only in the good side of things.  She called that being naïve.   I felt like this wasn’t meant to be a compliment.  Whatever it was, I have grown to be all right with this – it is who I am and I am comfortable in my skin.  Try that I might, I cannot nor do I want to view the ugly side of life.  Perhaps that is why Laura Ingalls Wilder and her books about living on the prairie have always appealed to me.

When I first read these books in elementary school they made me feel good about life in a simple way.  My favorite make-believe play (outside of playing school with Julie, Cindy and Lisa) was with a school friend, Estelle Moundfield.  I have no idea where Estelle is now but we had such fun together.  You see, she lived on a large piece of land in what was the nearest to being a farmhouse of any of my friends.  Estelle even had a barn so we would play for hours in the hayloft.  I would be Laura and she would be Mary.  It was great fun until one day I watched nature in real-time when Estelle’s cat leapt in the air and caught a bird flying by.  So long little bird.  Ugh!  That was enough of the loft for a while…

Life on the prairie

Anyway, my point to this is that my inner child has always been a little bit Laura Ingalls on the prairie.  I love everything about the idealistic side of how she and her family lived.  Now here I am in the big state of Illinois right smack dab living on the prairie.  I am a good case in point for intention bringing to fruition what you want to achieve!

Pancakes cooking on the stove

Pancakes cooking on the stove

Having read “The Little House” series dozens and dozens of times I know that the one pan Ma always used was an iron skillet.  I’m thinking that might be why it is my all-time fave cooking utensil for my kitchen.  I am guessing my skillet is over thirty-five years old or rather in iron skillet lingo, thirty-five years “well seasoned”.  I cook everything imaginable in my cast iron skillet each and every day.  I use it on the stove and in the oven.  I use it for everything from making my Sunday morning pancakes I wrote about in my post, Homemade Pancakes – What Could Be Better?  to stir-fry to oven baked chicken potpie and cobblers like the recipe in my post, Quick Summer Fruit Cobbler.

The benefits of using cast iron cookware

Did you know that cast iron cookware has been around since 513 BC?  Did you know that the Chinese first introduced it?  I figure that for most of you readers, acting like you live on the prairie isn’t a reason to own and use cast iron cookware.  So, here is a list of reasons why if you don’t already own and use any you will want to now:

  • Cast iron is virtually indestructible.
  • Cast iron is an excellent heat conductor, retaining heat well and distributing it evenly over the cooking surface.
  • Cast iron is a long lasting choice and can be reused irrespective of its age.
  • Most seasoned cooks believe that food has better flavor when cooked in cast iron than other cookware choices.
  • Cast iron is the healthiest option for cooking, as it requires little or no oil at all.
  • Cast iron is low on maintenance and can be cleaned using dishwashing soap, hot water and old-fashioned elbow grease.
  • Cast iron is environmentally friendly unlike non-stick cookware that releases toxic fumes into the air.
  • Best of all ~ cooking in cast iron has tremendous health benefits.  One of the biggest health benefits is cast iron’s ability to increase the source of iron in the food that is cooked in it which then increases the iron you absorb in your diet.

Using cast iron properly

Stuffed Peppers hot out of the oven

Stuffed Peppers hot out of the oven

In a previous blog post, Creating Homespace Beauty With Family Treasures, I wrote about the clearing and dividing of our mother’s home we six siblings did after we moved her into Richfield, an Assisted Living Facility for Alzheimer’s care.  As I wrote in the post, the six of us very carefully and methodically thought through dividing Mom’s furnishings and each of us six sibs chose items we personally treasured.  Most of what I chose I then passed on to my children.  All three of my kids are stellar cooks.  We all routinely text each other photos of our latest beautiful meals we have cooked.  But, Jimmy (my baby) has a deep love of all things happening in the kitchen and so I gave him one of my mother’s cast iron skillets I got.  Well seasoned, it is ready for whatever Jimmy has in mind to prepare!

“Seasoning” is a must so be sure to do this when you purchase any new cast iron.  For those of you new to the world of cast iron cookware, here are a few tips on how to season your pieces:

  • Clean your new cookware thoroughly with dish soap, hot water and a plastic brush.
  • Rinse and dry the utensil completely.
  • Apply a thin, even coat of vegetable oil to the surface of the utensil.
  • In a pre-heated oven of approximately 300 – 400 degrees, place the utensil upside down on the oven’s top rack.  (Put some aluminum foil under the utensil to catch any oil that might spill.)
  • Bake the utensil for one hour and then allow it to cool in the oven.

Enjoy the art of cooking with cast iron.  In this modern world we live in with new gadgets and gizmos developed every day and advertised as the “latest and greatest”, do yourself a favor and return to cooking the way your ancestors did.  You and the environment will be glad you did!

To cast iron cooking…

Adventures In The Great Outdoors – Fall Style

Ever since I can remember, I have loved the outdoors.  Fall was no exception.  I used to beg my parents to go on weekend picnics in the fall.  True, partly I liked the “Live It To Beaver” image I thought a family function like this would bring but mostly I wanted to enjoy outdoor family fun.  Jumping in the leaves that we had to rake on the weekends was fun as well.  I can remember as a teenager dating (yes, we went on dates, we didn’t “talk” as the term is used today) and some of the best dates included riding or walking through the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.  Everyone visited Mabry Mill – it was a sure sign of fall and traditionally everyone went there to view the leaves.

Brynn singing in the rain

Brynn singing in the rain

I have to say my fondest memories; my best times are always when I am outdoors.  And, it was just in the last few years that I fully grasped the healing power of nature.  Sorry readers if I repeat myself in my posts but I have an important point to make.  As I wrote in my posts, Let Nature Restoreth Your Soul (And Your Home) and A Breath Of Fresh Air, nature is a powerful elixir.  It restores you in ways nothing else can.

No wonder that intuitively my whole life I was drawn to nature.  No wonder I felt the importance of teaching a love for the outdoors to my children.  Now, I hope to teach others through my writing and speaking of how important it is to connect or reconnect with nature.  I passionately believe that as part of humanity we must both singly and collectively connect with nature.  We must spend time in nature and then bring it indoors.

Recently I stumbled on a book by Richard Louv.  He wrote a book called, “Last Child in the Woods”.  He also coined the term, “nature deficit disorder”.  Take the time to read his book or certainly take the time to understand what he means by this term.  It is very thought provoking.  I for one absolutely, positively get where he is coming from.  We are seriously becoming a humanity of what I call participants in “man”ufactured fun.  We play indoor games, watch TV indoors, and exercise indoors.  If we spend time outdoors it is still in “man”ufactured ways more often than not.  We play tennis, soccer, go to football games and so on and so forth.  Vacations tend to be in places like Disney World.  Beach vacations are often spent shopping and putting our children in day camps while we play golf and tennis instead of lazing the day away together fishing, swimming, crabbing and walking the sandy beaches looking for shells.  If we do go exotic, we tend to go to tropical resort areas.  If you ask me, these places are just another man-made, “man”ufactured replica of another resort simply plopped down on a different island or locale.  What happened to real woods?  What happened to real lakes, ponds and streams?  What happened to real adventure that only nature can provide for us?

Don’t get me wrong.  I do believe that there is a time and place for everything.  But, as technology (and corporate greed) has grown our distance from nature has grown.  This is not something to be proud of for it is from nature we came and to nature we will return.  Why act unnatural and spend life away from it?

Enjoy nature-made fall fun

The season of fall is a spectacular time of year.  The air is crisp and the colors that burst forth from the changing of the leaves are simply glorious.  Every single day rain or shine is an opportunity to step outside and feel fall.  Weekends can (and should) be spent walking, hiking, biking, apple picking, canoeing or just sitting on a park bench or a fallen tree trunk breathing in the fresh air.

The Mullins kids loving outdoors

The Mullins kids loving outdoors

For both of my sons, fall signals the start of hunting season.  For my sister, Bee and her husband Dave it is another season to enjoy sailing the Chesapeake Bay.  For the entire Balzer clan, fall is a special time for the annual father-child weekend at Hunt Camp.   My David and I recently spent a Saturday in Wisconsin apple picking.  Not only was it fun but we are also still enjoying the “fruits” of our labor every day with the apples we picked.  And even this afternoon after David, Sammi and Ansley finish napping (Sammi and Ansley are visiting) we plan to rake leaves and let “Little Bits” (Ansley) enjoy her first adventure in playing in the leaves.  Talk about fun…  Talk about memory building…

Life is an adventure

Ryleigh and Blake working outdoors

Ryleigh and Blake working outdoors

Life itself is truly an adventure.  Figuratively, you never know what is on the other side of the next hill you climb or around the next bend in the road.  The same with exploring nature- it is one great adventure itself.  Remember one of my favorite quotes in my post, These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things, “And I took the road less traveled by”?  Take the road less traveled by.  Take to nature.  Forget “man”ufactured fun and take part in “nature-made” fun.

Yep, Nature is one great big adventure just waiting for you.  Fall is a perfect time to explore it!  Get out there and explore!  Head for the parks and preserves.  You will be glad you did!

David enjoying the “fruits” of his labor

David enjoying the “fruits” of his labor

To exploring nature this fall…

Check out a full album of outdoor photos sent to me by family, friends and fans on my Facebook Fanpage, livinginperfectharmony.  Feel Free to share pictures of your adventures in the great outdoors on the fanpage as well.  Enjoy the fall!

The Energy Within

The energy within our homes is comprised from many different sources.  An old home may have the energy of previous owners still lingering or a new home may have the builder’s energy or a very mixed energy from so many people going through it. When I speak of energy, it’s not the electricity provided by the power company but rather the feeling and vibration of a space, object or person.

Have you ever entered a room after an argument just took place there?  Even though the conflict is over, the charged, negative vibration remains.  Or, have you ever gone house hunting and for some reason, couldn’t put your finger on why the house just didn’t feel right or felt so welcoming?  Our homes are not only a reflection of us but of the other people who have entered or reside there.  Even a short visit by an angry person can affect the energy of a home or office.

The energy of conflict, anger, judgment, victim or other low levels can linger long after the event or person is gone.  It is important to clear and shift the energy in your home in order to create a space that reflects your vibration. This energy or vibration can be shifted through intention and action.

Rituals do the job

Practicing regular rituals to cleanse and elevate the energy of your home sets the intention of how you want your home to feel.  How does your home feel to you now?  By first building an awareness of the current energy, you will become sensitive to when a shift occurs.

Visioning how you want your home to feel to you when you enter is a good way to begin to build a home with the energetic vibration that reflects you.  Do you want to feel like you’ve entered a sanctuary?  A place of fun and high energy?  Joy? Tradition?

Native American Smudging Ritual

One common ritual to clear space involves smudging.  This is a Native American practice in which sage or cedar is burned to cleanse the energy.  You will need a sage smudge stick, a glass bowl or shell, and a feather if you wish.  Place a piece of sage in the bowl and light it.  It will begin to smoke and smolder.  Walking through your home, gently move the smoke in a circular motion with the feather or your hand.  You may choose to speak your intentions for your home out loud or in your mind.  Playing music that sets the tone for your intention is also a great addition to a smudging ritual.  Smudging accessories can be purchased online or at many book, botanical and new age stores. For a more detailed description of how to smudge your home, check out http://www.wehug.com/smudge-sage-ceremony.html

Quiet Space creates good vibes

Earth energy

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Another energy shifter I recommend to clients is to set aside a space where you meditate, pray or simply seek solitude.  This space can be a corner of a room or really anywhere that you can close the door and be quiet. Some people like to have an altar or focal point for their meditation or prayers.

Altars can be anything with meaning to you.  It may contain articles reflecting your spiritual beliefs, crystals, items from nature, candles, memory tokens or ancestral relics. Perhaps the décor changes with the seasons.   Ultimately the purpose of this space is to remind you of who you are and provide you with a private place to reflect, give gratitude, find peace and go inward.  It can also provide a focal point for meditation or prayer.

Other energy elevators include playing music, burning candles or incense, bringing nature inside with flowers, water, rocks and crystals, removing clutter and old belongings which no longer serve you and having colors and décor that reflect your spirit.

Boundaries protect Home energy

Learning to protect your home is also a good idea. Having good boundaries about whom and what is allowed in your sacred space is essential to maintaining a positive flow of energy.

One client used a very powerful energy shifting ritual prescribed by Sonia Choquette in her book “Trust Your Vibes.”  She was going through a difficult divorce and her future ex-husband kept entering her home unannounced and for no reason.  She used a ceremony called Green Fire to shift the energy.  It involves taking a large cooking pot and lining it with foil.  Place it in the main room or center of your home on more foil or a tile to protect your floor.  Pour Epsom salts into the pot and enough rubbing alcohol to cover the Epsom salts.  It doesn’t take much to get a really hot fire going so start small.  Think about the intention you have for your home.  (In the case of my client, she wanted the home to be hers and her ex to stop entering it without her consent.)  Light the mixture with a match.  You may want to stay near the fire until it burns out, saying affirmations for your intention out loud.  My client’s worked so well that the next time her ex came into the house he actually asked her “what the —- she had done to the house. “  It was the last time he came in without her permission.  This ceremony is a cleansing one for your home’s energy.  Holding good intentions for your space is positive.  In this example, the home’s new energy was so abrasive to her ex’s energy he was uncomfortable.

There is no wrong way to clear your home.  As long as your intentions for the space are clear, that is what will be conveyed.  Action is a powerful addition to intention because it gives intention form.  By holding both high energetic intentions and using ceremonies and rituals, your space will take on a beautiful vibration unique to you.

Honor your space…

The Love Of A Roaring Fire

Feng Shui has become a new trendy discipline that we look to for guidance in our homes both in how we decorate and how we live.  Vastu Shastra is actually the predecessor to Feng Shui.  Both are sciences that are a bridge between man and nature and offer guidelines to help set things in balance with the five elements of nature- Earth, Fire, Water, Space and Air.

The element of Fire is important in Nature for many reasons.  For one thing, Ecosystems depend on fire to balance environments.  I love going to different Nature Preserves in the Chicago area and observing first hand how this all works.

Laura and Tommy Balzer’s Country Home

Laura and Tommy Balzer’s Country Home

Throughout the history of civilization humans have used fire as a means of cooking and to obtain warmth.  Most of us were taught in elementary school about the discovery of fire.   I can still remember some of the pictures in both science and history books depicting this discovery.  I can also remember thinking fire was a simple concept and what was all the hoopla about anyway?

In today’s world, we take fire for granted.  Electric and gas utilities have allowed us to become “modernized”.   An open fire in a wood burning stove or fireplace is rare.  What was once considered commonplace, a roaring fire, today is typically meant for a time of relaxation.

I love fire and everything about it.  I love the burst of colors, the flickering flames, the smell and the sound of fire.  Some of my fondest memories include times around a roaring fire.  Growing up, the fireplace was in our living room.  No Christmas morning was complete without a fire burning to set the mood.  At the beach (Sandbridge, VA) we used to have bonfires at night.  To this day I think the best hot dogs come from roasting them on an open flame as the waves of the ocean crash nearby.  Marshmallows?  Who doesn’t love roasting them and making s’mores in the beautiful outdoors under a starlit sky?  Now, all grown-up (supposedly…) my David and I enjoy sitting in front of fires both inside and outdoors.  We have a small fire pit that we enjoy on cool fall evenings.  A fire like this sets the mood for quiet contemplation for us both.  What better way to spend time with someone you love than in quiet contemplation?  And, early the next morning after an outdoor fire the smell of smoke still lingers.  Talk about warm fuzzies!

My children grew up loving fire as well.  In fact, all three of my children learned to love and respect fire and understood how to build a fire at very young ages while camping and enjoying the outdoors.  Just ask any one of them and they will tell you potatoes cooked deep in the coals of an outdoor fire are the bomb.  Bonfires at Hunt camp were and still are a family tradition as well.  And, my son Ben even designed and built his own outdoor fire pit.  In a recent post, Home Through The Eyes Of My Son, Ben said, “The fire pit always draws a crowd when friends are over but I can also sit there by myself for hours and feed my love of nature.”

Coco Brami’s favorite spot

Coco Brami’s favorite spot

One of my sisters, Mary Ann (along with her husband, Jim) even has an annual woodcutting tradition.  All four daughters and their families along with close friends spend an entire weekend cutting wood for the coming fall and winter.  Believe me, I have many times enjoyed the wood from this weekend work the McAden family does.  Just last fall I happened to be in Roanoke for a few days.  Mary Ann and I came home after a full day of visiting our mother at Richfield (Mom’s Alzheimer’s Facility) and what did we come home to?  A fireplace full of wood readied for a beautiful fire greeted us and all we had to do was light a match!  Jim was playing tennis or soccer, I can’t remember which but he had readied a fire for us.  It was wonderful!  What a loving gesture in this simple thing he had done for us!  We were able to sit back, watch the fire roar to life and enjoy time together as sisters.

Architects, Designers and Decorators incorporate outdoor living spaces in most plans for their clients.  There is no coincidence that homes of today include these outdoor living spaces with gorgeous stone fireplaces or fire pits. We silly humans have spent so many, many years removing ourselves from nature by way of advancing technology that we have forgotten what nature does for us.  No electric or gas heat is going to give you the feel good vibes of watching a fire burn.  It is no wonder we are now creating spaces to return to fire!

Marc Killips to the rescue

Marc Killips to the rescue

Clearly, the sight, sounds and smell of fire bring different images and memories to each of us.  Just last weekend a colleague of David’s came over to our house to cut down a tree that was damaged in a summer storm.  Marc Killips and his son cut the tree down and then cut the wood up to haul off for their own family fires.  I have no doubt that Marc and his family will enjoy the fire more knowing the work they put into getting it.  Talk about memory building!  (By the way, more on Marc and his boys in an upcoming post, Actions Speak Louder Than Words.)

Why not begin to enjoy the benefits of fire for yourself?  Just sitting in front of a fire can relax you in ways that are incredible.  Fire brings people together, too.  It is a great way to socialize!  Use this fall and the coming winter as one more way to connect or reconnect with nature and begin to enjoy a roaring fire.  I can almost guarantee that you will feel relaxed, restored and renewed.  Nature has a way of doing that to us!

Lilly and Thomas enjoying s’mores

Lilly and Thomas enjoying s’mores

Enjoy the fire…

For a full album of beautiful examples of fireplaces and fire pits be sure to go to my Facebook Fanpage, livinginperfectharmony.

Home – Through the Eyes of My Son

Ben, three years old

Ben, three years old

Today is my son, Ben’s birthday  (I call him “Bub”)– he is 33 years young.  He is the oldest of my children.  The world totally changed for me the day he was born.  Nobody’s going to tell me there is any real responsibility in life until you have a child.  Everything else is simple stuff if you ask me. As I have often said, you aren’t playing in the big leagues until you parent a child.  Ben put me in the big leagues for sure.

Some days I think he is wiser than I am.  I call him an old soul.  Sure, he drives me nuts at times but most often I enjoy listening to his unique view on life.   He’s a little bit liberal where I’m a little bit conservative and he’s often a little bit conservative where I am a little bit liberal.  This makes for some wonderful conversations! I have even learned to enjoy times of silence with him in the last few years.  I believe it is in these moments of silence together that I learn so much about him – merely through being together.

My Wish for my son

Ben and Kathleen visit Chicago

Ben and Kathleen visit Chicago

Ben married a wonderful woman in 2007. Kathleen and I have a great relationship and have shared many moments of commiserating over his quirks and what I gently refer to as his “issues”.  I always remind her that yeah, I birthed him but honey, you chose him!  Ben and Kathleen got engaged in November of 2006 and married one year later.  I needed every day of that year of engagement as I needed time to prepare myself for the mother-son dance at his wedding.  You see I chose a powerful song by Rascal Flatts, My Wish.  It said so eloquently all that I wanted to say to him.  I literally listened to it every day while I exercised or worked in my garden to prepare to dance with him without crying buckets and buckets of tears.  Seriously, I listened to that song several thousand times.  To this day it still chokes me up as it expresses all I wished for him on that day and every day after.

There are many times in the last 33 years that have been special to me.  There are even a few times I regret the situations we found ourselves in as mother and son.  Forget those – I want to talk about the wonderful ones.

My grown-up son is a little bit Fred Sanford, Archie Bunker and Tim, The Tool Man wrapped all in one with a HUGE heart and an incredible analytical mind.  He loves dark beer, slapstick comedy, Civil War history and anything in nature.

From the time I first explored nature with Ben I saw his love for it.  Searching for rocks, walking in the woods, berry gathering – you name it.  We did it together.  I also loved reading with Ben, hearing about his antics with his imaginary friend, My Friend Monkey, working in the yard (he had his own little lawn mower and would follow behind me) and now as an adult simply spending time together in whatever capacity possible.  He has even unknowingly given me the title for my book I am writing, And so…The Shadow Woman Emerged as a few years ago he gave me a book for Mother’s Day on Native American History.  This book gave me the inspiration for the title of my own book.  Thank you dear son.

So, today is his birthday.  I wanted to give him a gift from my heart so I decided to write about him on my Blog.  I asked him to give me his top five things that are important to him in his home.  I wanted to hear directly from him what they were in order to write a post from his point of view.  What I got was oh so much deeper.  I found a new side of my son.  His words he wrote told me who he is in a way I never paid attention to.  What an incredible gift he gave me.  While reading his top five, I got to visualize him deep in the woods where he finds the most peace.  While reading his top five I felt closer to him than I ever have.  I could hardly read through it all as the tears flowed for this man that my son has become.  What started out as a gift to my son (this post) has turned out to be a precious gift for me.  Clearly, it exemplifies that it is in the giving that we receive the most.

HOME according to Ben

Here are the answers to the question I poised to him the other day of what five things were most important to him in his home.  Except for a few typos he made, I have copied what he wrote word for word.  I hope you enjoy!

  1. Keeping a clean and organized home.  Without that my life outside of home feels discombobulated and stressful.  It is easier to do things when you see them than it is to procrastinate and try to do them all in one day- plus you never know what else will come up.  I try to improve at least one thing in my home each day.
  2. I am not a hoarder, but a bit of a pack rat.  I don’t like to waste things that can be used later.  When I fix things around the house I try to use things that I already have instead of buying new.  For example, my wife and I got a new knife set for Christmas one year and we put the old one deep in a kitchen cabinet.  I decided to sharpen them one day and guess which set we use now?  It seems as though sometimes fewer is better.
  3. Fire.  I love fire.  We have a fireplace in our living room with what I think is a beautiful mantle.  There is nothing better in the winter than a few beers and a roaring wood burning fireplace.  We also have a fire pit in our backyard.  I designed it, dug it and built it myself.  It declines from the front to the back inside the pit and the rock wall does the opposite.  With the absence of very strong winds, it always draws in the same direction.  I specifically planned it this way with both the way it is placed in the yard and the seating around it.  The fire pit always draws a crowd when friends are over but I can also sit there by myself for hours and feed my love for nature.
  4. My garage and tools.  There are few things I enjoy more than tinkering in my garage.  I have quite a collection of tools and enjoy doing everything from hands on tasks to fix up the home to simply cleaning old tools and arranging them in order so I can find them when they are needed.
  5. Guns.  As I am writing this I am sitting in a tree stand in South Carolina with a deer rifle across my lap.  Don’t worry, I am still peeking up every few seconds and scanning the woods with my eyes looking for meat.  I love everything about guns.  How they look, feel and sound.  I have an extensive (probably excessive to most) collection of guns.  Everything from old style black powder rifles to the new stuff you see in the movies.  Each one is special to me in its own way.  I enjoy shooting them in target practice and in hunting, cleaning and disassembling them and taking them apart.  I will never have too many.
Enjoying a fire

Enjoying a fire

Ben (Bub), you already know what my wish is for you today ~ just listen to the song once more.  Happy birthday and love forever and always…

Mom

For any of you reading this today, humor me – google the lyrics to ”My Wish”.  Read the words carefully and then hand them to the universe as a prayer for every person you encounter.  Wishing that life were all that someone wants it to be is a powerful wish.  Reach out and touch someone today with the words of this song.