Categories
Recommendations

Helpful Little Hack of the Hour: Photo Books

Clutter! It isn’t always junk, right? Sentimental piles of things can grow faster than children!

What do you do with the special painting you purchased on your honeymoon that no longer matches your décor? How about the medal you earned for completing your first marathon or the years-of-service plaques from your place of employment?

What if you could display one tidy little book instead of all the stuff? Enter today’s helpful little hack of the hour.

Photo Books

Many of you know I recently moved. I had to fit everything I kept in a single 26′ moving truck. If I wanted my furniture, and I did, I didn’t have room for much else. I really needed a helpful hack!

I decided to take photos of the special things I couldn’t keep. I photographed art, medals, certificates, plaques, trophies, and trinkets. I expressed my gratefulness to God for each memory that came to mind as I sorted the items for trash or donation.

If you want to know how God brought immense joy in the journey, read The Amazing News I’m Really Excited to Share – Part 6

“How abundant are the good things
    that you have stored up for those who fear you,
that you bestow in the sight of all,
    on those who take refuge in you.”

Psalm 31:19

I created a digital album in my phone where all these items now live. It takes no physical space and I can view each item whenever I want. Someday soon, I will make a photo book with the pictures. When I do, I will have paired the piles and collections of clutter down to 8″x8″, which I can hold, display, and share.

A photo book with a measuring tape to show the dimensions of 8"x8".
A photo book I made in 2012

I was shocked when I counted how many photos were printed in the photo book above. 168! What would be different if you eliminated 168 dusty items from your storage and living spaces into one compact little book?

I recently discovered Chatbooks while working on another project. I created and ordered a photo book right from my phone. It seemed fairly intuitive and their turn-around time was impressive. There are also several other sites through which you can design and print photo books.

Clutter can be contained with the help of this little hack of the hour. What are you storing that you and your loved ones could just as easily (or perhaps more easily because of accessibility) enjoy in a photo book? Have you made photo books before?

Wondering why am I publishing these helpful little hacks of the hour? Read the Introduction and Intent post here.

Categories
Recommendations

Helpful Little Hack of the Hour: Meatballs

Hi there! Are you hungry? I am! Maybe that’s why this little hack of the hour is popping to mind. But I’m glad it is because it is a great one to keep on hand!

Meatballs

Meatballs are so versatile! They can be made from many kinds of meat or vegetarian ingredients. They can be store bought or homemade. They cook in large quantities and freeze well.

I always have a bag of meatballs in my freezer. They have saved my sanity on several occasions. Here are some examples from my experience. Have you found yourself in any of these situations?

  • Guests coming over before payday or your next grocery store run
  • Last minute potluck invitation
  • The kids have friends over and they’re scrounging for food
  • Out of town friends call and say, “Hey, we’re nearby! Can we come see you?”
  • A friend or neighbor has a mishap and needs help with tonight’s meal
  • You need food for a crowd that won’t break the budget
  • etc. You get the idea!

All the above dilemmas (and more, I’m sure) can be solved with meatballs. I prefer to heat them in my crockpot, but if time is short, the stovetop is faster. Here are 3 “Recipes”. (I put that in quotes because when there are only 2 ingredients, is it really a recipe?)

Meatballs three ways

  1. Meatballs and your favorite marinara sauce.
  2. Meatballs and your favorite BBQ sauce.
  3. Meatballs and your favorite teriyaki sauce.
A photo of Ragu marinara sauce, Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce, Soy Vay hoisin garlic teriyaki sauce.
These are our favorite meatball sauces. What are yours?

Instructions: Simply place frozen meatballs in a pan or crockpot with the sauce of your choice and cook until the meatballs are heated through.

Serving options for meatballs

You can serve the meatballs alone as an appetizer/snack or you can add one more plentiful ingredient to stretch them and feed more people.

  1. Meatballs marinara and rolls make an Italian-style meatball sub. Of course, pasta is also a delicious pairing with meatballs marinara.
  2. Meatballs and BBQ sauce are fantastic over baked potatoes. Bread is a good choice too because BBQ meatball sandwiches are delicious.
  3. Teriyaki meatballs over rice is simple perfection. Fresh or canned pineapple is also a wonderful accompaniment to teriyaki meatballs.

You can add other ingredients if you want. But you don’t have to! Meatballs are filling and I’m usually surprised how quickly appetites are satisfied.

“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

Romans 12:13

Meatballs are a helpful hack because they can be inexpensive, quick, and easy. Do you have any in your freezer? Will you think about stocking them from now on?

Wondering why am I publishing these helpful little hacks of the hour? Read the Introduction and Intent post here.

Categories
Recommendations

Helpful Little Hack of the Hour: School Supply Stock Up

Hopefully this helpful little hack of the hour is timely where you live. Are the kids in your neighborhood heading back to school? If so, your local stores probably have their school supplies on sale.

School Supply Stock Up

The price for a box of 24 Crayola Crayons is 54 cents at my nearby Walmart right now. Composition books are the same. Markers, glue, scissors – all are at the lowest prices of the year.

New crayons with pristine tips
Photo by Anthony on Pexels.com
A box of crayons stores easily until it’s needed. Just don’t forget where you put it!

If you have kids in school, you know how they love brand new supplies. Why not pick up extras to freshen their stock at Christmas?

Even if you don’t have children at home, now is the time to stock up for:

  • your own art and journaling/notetaking endeavors
  • Operation Christmas Child boxes
  • Sunday School supplies
  • missionary packages
  • birthday gifts
  • donation to shelters
  • entertainment for children who visit you

There are many possibilities. What else can you think of?

Back-to-School season usually brings the lowest prices of the year on school supplies. That is why I had to mention it as today’s helpful little hack of the hour. No matter what the school calendar looks like where you live, if you watch the sales you will know when it is time to stock up!

“Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
    you are exalted as head over all.
Wealth and honor come from you;
    you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
    to exalt and give strength to all.
Now, our God, we give you thanks,
    and praise your glorious name.”

1 Chronicles 29:11b-13

Wondering why am I publishing these helpful little hacks of the hour? Read the Introduction and Intent post here.

Categories
Introductions

Helpful Little Hack of the Hour: Introduction and Intent

My precious friends, gather in close for a second. How are you? No really… how are you?

We read each other’s blogs and we interact in the comments. We are able to make incredibly meaningful connections despite our distance and differences of all kinds. And yet I still wonder… is there a way I can be more helpful to you?

Introduction and Intent

I began this blog as a mom whose kids were becoming adults. Not just my own five children, but also the dozens, with no biological relation, who called me “Mama Lava”.

My original tagline was “A Dose of Maternal Love”. I intended to create a “comfy spot”, which I likened to hanging out on my Back Porch. I planned to share recipes and tips, and to encourage the next generation toward Godly living and maturity.

Somewhere along the way, as God knew from the beginning would be the case, my audience expanded. I think the median age of my audience is now closer to mine than my kids. I tried to adapt my approach to align with what God was doing.

I updated my tagline to read “A Place for Rest and Encouragement”. My “Back Porch” became a place of greater reflection. My focus has been to share the joy of the Lord and remind you, my friends, that even in these crazy times, God is always good.

I am so thankful to have this little platform from which I get to bless others with my words. And yet, it is not lost on me that words are just words. I wish there was more I could do.

I’ve been mulling this over for a whole year. I know because I wrote Words or Actions? 3 Reasons Why “Well Done” is Better Than “Well Said” last August. The question I’m wrestling with now is, “What can be done over a blog?”.

I wish I could help you with your chores. It would be fun to cook for you sometimes. I would love to show you some tricks I’ve learned that have made my life easier, and watch you demonstrate yours.

Sun rays bursting upwards and downwards from behind the clouds
The simplest prompt can lead to great inspiration!

Helpful Little Hack of the Hour

Today I had a sort of “ah-ha” moment, courtesy of Jillian Michaels and her fitness app. I logged on to fetch my workout and saw her “tip of the day”. I always like those. They are poignant and practical. Some of them I already know, some I disagree with, some amuse me, and others I find completely life changing.

I’ve decided to start something similar. It won’t be the same as being physically alongside you. But I hope it will be a way for me to pop in and share something I find valuable. Just a helpful little hack of the hour.

Don’t worry, I won’t actually send them every hour. But I do hope to send several in the remaining days of August.

I sincerely believe Jesus is the single, most valuable thing I can share with you. Any time I can testify of His goodness and love I want to do it. If I can encourage you toward Him in any way, that is my greatest intent.

In addition, I’d like to make daily living in this world, easier for you wherever I can. Helpful little hacks are a way to do just that… I hope!

It’s hard to know if an idea is a good one until you’ve tried it. Will you indulge me in this experiment? I’d love to hear your initial thoughts.

Do you like the idea of frequent, shorter posts, each containing a helpful little hack of the hour? Are there certain facets of life for which you could use a few helpful hints and tricks? How can I be more beneficial to you?

Thank you, my precious Back Porch friends. I hope I can add to you even a fraction of the value you bring to my life. You all are – you each are – a tremendous blessing to me!

Categories
Reflections

What Breakthrough Does Your Mind Miss When You’re Too Busy?

Have you ever been too busy to notice what was happening around you? Can you recall a time when you were so deep in thought you completely overlooked details that were right there? I sure have! And it makes me wonder.

What Breakthrough Does Your Mind Miss When You’re Too Busy?

Blinded by busyness, Example 1

I have an example from recent experience. My apologies if this is TMI (too much information), but I was seated on the porcelain throne next to the bathtub. The shower curtain was closed and hung mere centimeters from my right shoulder.

I lingered there, physically. But my thoughts were elsewhere, occupied with mental lists, strategies and plans. When my business was done, I leaned over to flush. Because of the tight space, my face practically brushed the shower curtain.

My mind suddenly dropped all other thoughts and joined me in the moment. Something was not right! You know that feeling? My scream was choked into silence by my heart as it jumped into my throat to hide from the hockey puck-sized black spider just chillin’ on that white curtain.

Black spider on a white surface
Photo by Paul Knut on Pexels.com
Not the actual spider. I didn’t have enough wits about me to think of taking a photo.

Had it wanted to, it could have reached with one of its long legs and touched me as I sat, I’m sure. My eyes frozen wide, I stared at it. How had I not known it was there?

There was certainly no missing it now!

I had been too busy ‘in my mind’s eye’ to see it, but now that I had, I couldn’t take my gaze off it. I am not a fan of spiders, especially big ones! I gathered my wits, a wad of toilet paper, and all those legs. A second flush and my heartrate returned to normal.

Blinded by busyness, Example 2

Maybe you can relate to another, less creepy, example. Have you ever had trouble with a word search puzzle? With so many letters creating busyness on the paper, sometimes a word can seem impossibly hidden. Then, once someone points it out, it almost appears to jump off the page.

Word search with one word found and highlighted.
As if this puzzle understood it was an object lesson, I had to ask my son to show me where “Memorable Impression” was. I couldn’t see it until he showed me. Now it is obvious!

The breakthrough my mind missed when I was too busy

I missed a breakthrough last week. Well almost. The two examples above helped me understand how it happened.

I cannot write all that was going on in my heart and mind – the busyness on my life’s page, if you will – so I am leaving that to your experienced imagination. I am just going to point out the pertinent, connecting letters. Let me know when you see the spider. (Can I merge my two examples that way?)

  • My husband and I have been talking and praying about a way to serve at our new church. We’ve been hesitant to dive into anything because our fall season is full of uncontrollable unknowns (medical procedures, travel, etc.).
  • The Youth Pastor asked my husband and I to take part in a Vision meeting for upcoming year.
  • Cindy Dawson printed the following quote in her realchristianwomen.blog.

“If I could relive my life, I would devote my entire ministry to reaching children for God.”

D. L. Moody
  • We attended the Vision meeting. We saw a need we could fill. We were assured our help would be welcome, even with the uncertainty of our schedule.
  • We left the meeting, still praying for God’s direction. (I’m sure you see the spider. We didn’t yet. We were preoccupied.)
  • Meanwhile, I walked the trails. God showed me his amazing wildflowers and I wrote the “Something to See” mini-series.
  • I had hurriedly written the rough draft of post #4 just before attending the Youth Group meeting. I wasn’t sure it made sense. I almost erased it, but I didn’t have time.
  • The next morning, I opened the blog to “fix” what I had written. When I read what was there, I broke down and cried. One paragraph stood out especially.

And, just like a summer blossom, my time to display His wonder will fade away. It is imperative that I invest in others, especially those younger than me, while I may. I need to sow seeds of my own.

Mama Lava, Spaces Surging with Stunning Splendor are Something to See #4

Suddenly, the dots connected, the letters fit in order, and I saw the spider in front of me. We were supposed to get involved in youth ministry.

God had practically paved the way in neon. Looking back, I could see the signs. But until then, each was isolated. My busyness obscured the connection.

Now, it seems so obvious!

God was answering my questions and I didn’t get it because I couldn’t focus. My mind missed the breakthrough because I’d been too busy.

Instead of scolding me, my Heavenly Father directed my attention to His beautiful flowers. He showed me the seeds in various stages of their lifecycle. He stirred me to write what He ministered to my heart. And then He used those words to inform me as He unveiled the breakthrough.

I published that post, exactly as I had written it. Turns out, it resonated with some of you too. How great is our God!?

What about you?

Are you busy? I am not only referring to the errands, commitments, and chores of life. It could be anything which drowns out the voice of God.

Music, screens, and people provide constant distraction. Worries, daydreams, and replays of conversations fill our heads. We can barely finish our own sentences, let alone listen while God completes His.

Are you too busy? What breakthrough might your mind be missing?

Categories
Reflections

Three Ways Sappy Stuff Sticks and One Fantastic Challenge

Well, my granddaughter left. Who knew a whirlwind could be such fun? I did very few chores, while she was here, which weren’t related to her care. Since my daughter and grandson are about to arrive for a few days, I decided to tend to my tasks ahead of time.

To that end, I was out sweeping my long driveway early this morning. We’ve had some incredible windstorms as well as the beautiful monsoons. This amazing weather makes a mess of whatever lies below the trees. Pine and oak particles almost completely hid the concrete from view.

About halfway through my job, I noticed that many sticks and leaves were stuck to the cement. I adjusted my sweeping motion to pry them loose, but some just wouldn’t budge. I leaned on my broom for a second and a little voice inside my head said, “the sappy stuff sticks”.

The sappy stuff sticks, while the dry and hard stuff brushes easily aside!

A pine tree with inner trunk and sap exposed
The sap in a pine tree is plenteous and sticky! I suspect our backyard porcupine ate the outer layer off this trunk, exposing the sap inside. Can you see it glistening?

Ah, I see! “The sappy stuff sticks, while the dry and hard stuff brushes easily aside”, I repeated to myself. Suddenly a thought process unfolded and I understood three ways this is true and one fantastic challenge!

Three ways the sticky sap stuff rings relevant:

1. This is why I’ve had a hard time with my devotions lately.

I’ve been reading in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. I’m into Joshua now, but I’m still struggling. There is a lot of repetition, chronology, and law. I know it is important. God put it in His Word intentionally. Some of it is downright fascinating even! But my mind wanders in these passages.

I would rather read about Jesus healing people and loving on the least likely. My thoughts breeze ahead in the pages to valiant heroes and poems of praise. The sappy stuff sticks, while the dry and hard stuff easily brushes aside.

2. This is why so many clamor to this trend of following Jesus while rejecting God.

I’ve noticed that Jesus has become trendy. Have you seen it? He was accepting of everyone, humble, and full of compassion. Pretty much everybody can rally around a deity like that these days! Problem is, it is only half the story. Jesus accepted everyone as they were, but they couldn’t stay as they were. Their encounters with Him changed them. They either bowed in repentance and reverence or they ultimately rejected Him.

“‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Jesus, Matthew 7:21

Jesus was humble and compassionate in his role as King of Heaven on Earth, but He is also part of the triune God. He was present in Genesis 1:1 and all the way through the Old Testament. We cannot honor Jesus and reject God. Jesus is God. But the sappy stuff sticks, while the dry and hard stuff easily brushes aside.

“I and the Father are one.”

Jesus, John 10:30

3. This is how social media, Hallmark, and advertisements choose their content.

Can you imagine a movie about real daily living? The part where dust accumulates, people battle cravings, and new shoes cause blisters? Or an ad about fainting in line at Disney or falling asleep at the museum?

This is real life! But no, the parts we see on the screen are the minutia – the moments people fall in love, are happily surprised, and overcome with joy. The sappy stuff sticks, while the dry and hard stuff easily brushes aside.

One fantastic challenge:

It was as if Jesus were out there sweeping with me and pointing out all these things. It was incredibly encouraging! You know why? Because, in this context, it was the dry and hard stuff that I appreciated the most. It was the satisfying part of my job. It brushed easily away while the wet and sappy stuff stuck.

I think Jesus wanted to challenge me to give credit where it is due. The dry and hard stuff has its merit. I need it. It provides fantastic balance.

And somehow, being reminded by Jesus to appreciate the dry and hard stuff was a sappy experience. It is just the way my heart feels when I talk to Him. I’m sure the lesson will stick with me for a good long time.

Hopefully this lesson is so sappy it sticks for you too! I know you’re dealing with dry and hard stuff. It is there for a reason. Lean in, my friend. Ask Jesus to meet you in it.

I want to challenge you – if you haven’t already, get to know Him for Who He truly is – Almighty God. It means everything to realize that the God of the Universe, of the Old Testament and New, wants a relationship with you. He desires to know you and be known by you. Please, let that sappy stuff stick!