Top 5 Takeaways from 2020…

So not to be redundant with… well, the WORLD

…but WOW!… What a year!!!

Once we made it to the end of the last school year, I needed a serious sabbatical! All of the humans in our house have processed the year differently… between working & studying virtually from home and trying to remain socially responsible in all our comings & goings, I don’t know about you, but I feel blessed just to be breathing in & out each day.

So because gratitude is important and does the mind & body good, these are my top 5 takeaways from 2020…

#5 Chalupas from Taco Bell!…

Did you know about these? I discovered them in December, but they totally made the list! First, it’s important for you to understand that I recently realized that I subconsciously attach some specific meal or culinary experience to most of my best memories… honeymoon, vacations, road trips… and this is no different. Chalupas transport me to growing up on the Pow Wow trail and looking forward to the fry bread deliciousness coming from the food vendors. If you have never had fry bread, it is similar to a carnival funnel cake. But Native American fry bread is SO much better and usually comes in a powdered sugar, fruit, chocolate or honey topped dessert option… or my favorite, the Indian Taco. Oh yeahhh… and the Chalupa is a pretty close second, if there are no Pow Wow food trucks to be found. Thank you, Taco Bell.

#4 Covid, You’re NOT the Boss of Me!

I’m not sure how your pre-Covid life played out each day, but mine was incredibly hectic and dappled with a lot of errands, to do lists, appointments… that led to a whole lot of exhaustion. When the Life-go-round came to a halt, and I woke up from a week long daze, and like most of the world I found myself gripped by fear-induced precautionary safety measures every time I stepped out of my house. I mean, there was a lot we didn’t understand at first, I’m diabetic, a tiny bit over 50, and well… I’m sure you get it. I had to make a choice… spiral into despair or put my big girl pants on. I decided to do what I could to help people who were more vulnerable than me for as long as I could… I didn’t know if that meant a month before I succumbed to the virus or never, but I knew I needed to be part of the solution. With the concern of pre-existing health risks prevalent in our family, thankfully, no one has tested positive for Covid.

#3 Purpose is Powerful

As I pondered how I could join the pandemic-fighting effort, I decided to tap into my creative skillset by making face masks. With one kid in college and 3 more enrolling in the Fall… yes, THREE high school seniors in our house this year!… I needed to figure out how to replace an old broken sewing machine & purchase materials. My sweet husband had gifted me with a beautiful bracelet on the previous Christmas, but the clasp had broken and needed to be replaced. Now I love the bling as much as the next girl, but my husband & I agreed that a refund on the bracelet could pay for a heavy duty Singer instead, and more importantly, could help save lives. That was a no brainer for me. Then we were able to use some of our stimulus check to purchase fabric, elastic, thread, ribbon… and so it began. To date, I have sewn over 600 face masks, donated most of them and intend to sew 400 more to meet my 1000 mask goal this year… insert high-five here! Even my amazing 88 year old father-in-law repaired a sewing machine he bought a few years ago at a yard sale to sew & donate about 500 face masks so far… and he is STILL cranking those things out! We are thankful for finding and being able to earn the resources necessary to help others in need.

#2 Forgiveness Feeds the Soul

We are a blended family of 6… my husband with his twins and me with my 2 daughters, which in and of itself brings a host of challenges to a home. My husband’s first wife passed away from breast cancer more than 10 years ago, and I endured a painful and difficult marriage that sadly ended in divorce… suffice it to say, the members of our family have all lived through some serious and life-altering traumas. Through mandated self-quarantines and lock-downs, while we have enjoyed spending more quality time together, we have certainly had our share of tension. It’s great when situations can be diffused with a good comedy on Netflix or a well-planned road trip… but then there are times, inside and outside of our home, that require forgiveness. It is almost always a process depending on how deep the injury or the wound may be, but it is so very necessary. Anger and resentment can be the worst kind of self torment that hold us captive and affect our health, our relationships and our life choices. When we allow ourselves to forgive, we not only stop the hatred from growing within us, we open ourselves to truly healing. Forgiveness is not saying ‘what you did is okay’, and doesn’t have to be accepted by the person who hurt you. In my experience, and particularly in the most serious cases, it is rarely a neat & tidy process tied up with a bow and a group hug at the end. When I forgive, either directly spoken to the person or by a decision I make privately, I am saying ‘I do not allow what you did to define how I feel or live anymore.’ And in the most severe and abusive situations, healing may require physical and sometimes permanent distance from the abuser. In fact, it’s important to say that if you or you know someone who may be encountering any kind of abuse, please find help yourself or through a friend, family member or pastor you trust to get you to a professional who can help you assess your situation and provide the protection and critical care needed. I am grateful for the daily strength and courage it sometimes requires to forgive those who have hurt me and the people I love.

#1 Life is Short… Pray Hard!

Despite learning about painful losses and health challenges over the past year from family and friends and experiencing some of our own, it didn’t take a pandemic for us to appreciate how unexpected life can be. Every day is an opportunity to choose how you walk through your circumstances. Some days it may take all that you have inside you to put some fresh clothes on & come out from under the covers. I have definitely been there multiple times… but I have also found that in the moments I have felt the most hopeless… and in some cases even breathless… when I cry out to God, He is always there. In fact, these are the times I have grown closest to Him, when I find a way to trust and rest in His loving embrace. I have learned that the meaning of life is not all about us. It is about all the choices we make in every situation and how it affects those around us. This can be as obvious as verbal or physical interactions and as seemingly insignificant as self care… taking a moment to pause with a cup of coffee and just breathe can entirely alter the direction of your day. We cannot and were never meant to do it all alone, even in the times when we feel most isolated or even abandoned. I know that pain all too well and have come to realize that true strength and fulfillment begin with a prayer. The prayer does not have to be formal or formulated… it’s simply a conversation from your heart to your Creator who adores You. Thank You, Lord, that in our weariness, You strengthen and sustain us when we choose to walk in Your way.

So as we say goodbye to 2020 and stand at the starting gate of 2021, I pray that you are blessed with health, vitality and a passion to bring light into the darkness… wherever that may be. God be with you & bring you restoration each morning to rise up & shine!

Raindrops on Peonies

Raindrops on... Peonies
...and whiskers on kittens

sing along with me, my interwebbery friends

…how I’ve missed you!

Bright copper kettles
...and warm woolen...

Okay, it’s May… in Maryland… and almost 70 gorgeous degrees F outside (21 C for most of you outside the U.S.) on this sunny Sunday morning, but I do love that song… especially sung by the ever-so-talented Julie Andrews from Nanny-Nun to the quick-witted Poppins… oh, how I dreamt as a child how exceedingly exciting my days could become if only she would float down from the sky onto our doorstep… I digress.

Peonies! I LOVE them!!! They are short-lived when you wait ever-so-patiently for them to unfurl their tightly formed delicate petals into magnificent beauty, but they are SO worth the wait! I just planted these beauties last year, so they are just beginning to fill in this season.

Ahhh, yes… there are few things in life better than garden therapy… except maybe cheesecake therapy. I haven’t tried cheesecake-in-the-garden therapy yet… I think I may have struck gold there… Mmmm. And speaking of Yum!… if you want to try a fabulous french toast favorite, you can find the recipe by clicking here. I even photographed it on my peony painted plates! (See what I did there? Sometimes the tangents can lead to wonderful places… wait ’til you try it!)

Heavenly French Toast Casserole

It has been a wild couple of weeks, to say the least. I finally passed my 500 face mask goal and joyfully donated 480 so far! (Insert Happy Dance here! 🙂 ) I’m now working on getting some face masks into my Etsy shop in the upcoming week, so I can earn money for supplies to donate more – the need out there is incredible! So I took a brief break to work on a few other projects and immerse myself in all things Algebra 2 to help my daughter get through her last 3 weeks of high school. All of that, along with a whole lot of Covid-stress in the midst of her ridiculously long 48-day horrific migraine, has been a one-sunrise-at-a-time process. Today we start her on a new round of meds with overflowing prayers that the migraine will finally break. So thank you, Cee, for providing this Flower of the Day topic to give me a bit of a much needed brain-break. Yeah, did I mention the Algebra 2? …it’s been a few years, let’s just say.

To all of you getting back to real life as much as you can… Be safe, stay healthy and say a little prayer for my ‘baby’ girl.

Michelle xo ❤

By the way, to join in the Photo Challenge fun, go to Cee’s Flower of the Day page to get more of the details!

I Sew & Sew, then Off to Mail I Go!

(Insert Snow White’s whistling dwarf buddies here…)

It has been a busy couple of weeks at Chez BellaZaria to say the least! Yesterday I finished sewing my 212th face mask to move me toward my next goal. This is a great way to redirect my emotional energy toward a meaningful project and away from the News for the majority of my days. I also joined the “Million Mask Challenge” community set up by Jan Brostek and her son, Connor, on his Sew-It-Online website. You can read more about my face mask donations and their Sew-a-Thon mission by clicking here.

Then a few days ago, I ventured out on my biweekly chore-run to drop off donations at UPS with packages headed to a few states in the U.S. & 3 Canadian provinces where it has been difficult for some people to purchase masks.

I’m taking it easy today to finish up my final local donation of the week before I have to jump into re-learning Algebra 2, so I can home teach my youngest daughter this weekend. Her ongoing migraines have been escalating with all the extra screen time of online learning, so we will need to be creative… this translates to ‘Mom needs to get the chalkboard out for some old-school engaging mathematical entertainment.’ And yes, I realize that is an oxymoron. If only School House Rock were here to help me… sigh. Alas, all I can remember is: Lolly-Lolly-Lolly, get your adverbs here… which she already has a pretty firm grasp on.

So for today, I’m back to my sewing machine and celebrating the small things, like getting ahead on my fabric batch cutting and finding a new TV series to binge while I snip threads & mold pipe cleaners into nose pieces. I’m just so grateful for my family’s health and so happy to be able to focus some time on being a blessing to other people. Have a great weekend, and wish me well with our studies! 🙂

Lotus Flowers & Tea for Two

I finally passed my 100 face mask goal milestone, so I am rewarding myself with a brief break from sewing this morning to sip some coffee and post some photo challenge pics for Cee’s Flower of the Day.

I love lotus flowers, however, I was not able to find any photos that I had taken of a true lotus flower… or even a waterlily cousin! Sorry, Cee! …so this is the next best thing! 🙂

These beautifully beaded and handpainted Lotus flower earrings were crafted by a Maine Penobscot artist, Jo-Ellen Loring Jamieson. Her tribe is one of four tribes of the Wabanaki Confederacy, where my ancestors can also be traced back, so I was thrilled to commission her talent for these earrings I wore to the All Tribes DC gathering. To the Wabanaki people, the Lotus flower symbolizes transformation and the double curves are a symbol of unity. Both are as meaningful to me now as we navigate our uncertain days ahead together. If you would like to see more of Jo-Ellen’s work, you can visit her site at Fisher Clan Creations. ❤

While I realize these are not actually photos of lotus flowers, I decided to share these blooming flower tea pods which remind me of the delicate lotus petals that emerge and open above their floating leaves. A few years ago, one of our daughters had a sudden interest in all things Japanese, Manga and of course… Tea! I found these jasmine green tea pods that open when added to boiling water, and they were a huge hit… so magical to watch!

If you have some Lotus flowers to share, join in the photo challenge fun by visiting Cee’s site: FOTD – April 24 – Lotus

Nothing Tops a Rainbow

Top of Niagara from the Top of our hotel!

So this is my entry for the April #Square Tops Photo Challenge. Rainbows… they are on ‘Top of the World’, and let’s face it… few things can bring a smile to your face like the beauty of a rainbow!

My first photo was taken at Niagara Falls from the gorgeous touristy mecca of the Canadian side. Our somewhat newly blended family was taking an epic excursion through Canada to visit my family in Ontario, New Brunswick and breathtaking Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. This was the first time my husband and his twins had ever seen Niagara Falls up close and personal. It was also the first stop on our 10 day adventure, and this was the awe-inspiring view when we opened the door to our hotel room. Talk about an incredible start to our amazing family vacation!

Top Priority for the Top of the Week!

This next picture is my rainbow of ribbons I have been cutting for my face mask production line. Our county in Maryland announced an executive order that goes into effect today for the requirement to wear face masks while shopping. I had already been gearing up to begin my batch sewing for our family, local hospitals and recently heard that the police department was looking for face masks, as well. Originally, my goal was to sew 150 face masks, but I have grown to realize that the needs of our community and nation are escalating. I sifted through my bins and drawers to find suitable materials, then placed multiple orders to meet my original goal. Now I’m looking forward to our COVID-19 stimulus money so I can buy more ribbon, elastic & fabrics! We’re gonna need it!

Top priority for the Top of the Morning! 😉

And finally, this is my husband’s rainbow… and his personal Easter miracle when the Nespresso box showed up next to our garage door a week earlier than the estimated delivery date. 🙂

If you would like to join in the photo fun, these are the themes, which you can read more about by visiting Becky’s website, “Life of B” – Top of the Morning to You:

  1. On Top of the World – summit, crown, peak or uppermost part of something
  2. Under the Big Top – topping or covering (or if you’re really lucky circus)
  3. Room at the Top – first or highest in position
  4. Cherry on Top – something made even more wonderful by becoming square
  5. Top and Tail – or maybe you’d prefer to play around with word combinations such as top dog, top stitch, top full, top line, top fruit, top hat, top secret, top knot, top drawer and top dollar!

Easter Gratitude

As many of us are emerging from a time of fasting and bible studies in preparation for Easter, this is truly a joyful day… the symbol of Amazing Grace and hope, and here in Maryland that’s something that we could all use right now as our Coronavirus cases are growing into ‘hotspot’ status. I have been blending patterns, watching YouTube videos and working out my face mask prototypes with my new sewing machine, so I can go into mass production in the coming weeks. But before all of that begins, I just want to acknowledge that despite all of the quarantining, the COVID-19 facts and figures we are all navigating and the uncertainties that we are faced with each day… there is so much for which I am grateful…

❤ I am grateful that my family is together under one roof, safe and for the time being, healthy.

❤ I love having my oldest daughter home from college. This was her first year at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. While I was so proud of her and excited for this time in her life to spread her wings, I missed her SO much!

❤ I am deeply grateful for the many ‘essential’ people who go to work, day in and day out to carry out their part in the mosaic of frontline workers treating the sick and dying, comforting families, stocking the shelves, operating the cash registers, making deliveries, tending the farms, working in factories, cleaning our communities… SO many incredible people! Thank you so very much!

❤ While I know his days are fraught with teleworking technical difficulties for his work team, I love having my husband working from home, reminding me how much I appreciate all that he does every day to provide for us and how much he genuinely cares about his employees.

❤ I am thankful that we are able to stay connected online with our loved ones and how blessed we are to have so much entertainment and educational opportunities at our fingertips while we follow the directives to slow the spread of this pandemic.

❤ I had been exhausted for months since the school year began, between caring for my youngest daughter’s post-concussive symptoms and constantly driving to doctors’ appointments, school, other activities, college road trips, weekly errands… while these were all necessary, this time at home has helped me regain some of my sanity, some much needed quality time and some normal sleep.

❤ No matter what happens over the next few weeks or months, God has been so very gracious to us and I wish you and your family abundant blessings, moments of gratitude and Heavenly protection in the days ahead.

Peace! ❤

I Can Almost Smell the Roses

My new “Gertrude Jekyll” David Austin rose

I have been looking forward to contributing to Cee’s Flower of the Day Photo Challenge, so I jumped at the chance to add to the Rose galleries…

After landing myself in bed two winters ago with a horrible flu that lasted for weeks, I watched every Monty Don show I could find on cable! I eagerly waited for Spring to go on the hunt for roses, so imagine my delight when I went to a local nursery and found my first David Austin rose bush! I have read that they can sometimes struggle in our unfamiliar ground, but I amended the soil like a pro & mulched her up! Last summer was particularly hot for us, as well, so while this little “Gertrude Jekyll” bush had a rough start, I’m hoping for the best this year. Here in Maryland my rosebushes are just beginning to leaf out, but the few blooms I got last summer were absolutely gorgeous!

Another bush I could not pass up was this HUGE beauty that I saw while I was at Home Depot buying vegetable plants. I have never seen roses this massive before – they were larger than my hand! Once in the ground, the blooms seemed to become more ‘regular sized’, so I’m curious to see what they do this season. Either way they smelled divine and certainly had staying power… I found a photograph of one remaining rose that held on into November! That’s pretty impressive when our temperatures can drop below 30 degrees F here in Zone 7a. So that’s a bit of inspiration for resilience found in nature and inspiration for the day…

Just keep on keeping’ on, Friends!

Oh So Many Fabrics…

So I’m finally coming out of my self-quarantine after returning to Maryland from my daughter’s college in Hyde Park, NY, fifteen days ago. I have been anxiously waiting to break open the box with my new sewing machine, replacing one that has been in disrepair for a few years. With the current needs of our incredible healthcare workers and essential personnel who are keeping us all safe, I am looking forward to contributing my efforts to the great face mask commission of 2020. It’s also a much more productive way for me to put my love of fabrics — okay, true confessions… years of fabric hoarding, let’s call it what it is — to a much more constructive and worthwhile use. Let the pattern cutting begin!

Sunday Stills: Fantastic Florals

As Spring showers bring my sleepy garden back to life, I have been out excitedly taking pictures of the plants I just put in the ground last season. Today’s Sunday Stills Photo Challenge gave me the perfect opportunity to share some of my new blooms…

This tiny Almond flower is no more than maybe an inch in diameter. It’s one of my favorite bushes in my yard, as one of the first blossoms of the Spring and last year it even put on a repeat show in November! The Flowering Almond symbolizes “Hope”, something we could all use a little more of these days.

Then there is my Flowering Quince… I cannot wait for this beauty to take off and fill out into a gorgeous shrub in front of our house, but for now I will enjoy its early beginnings. Flowering Quince represents “Sincerity” and symbolizes “Love”, both of which were my inspirations for planting them last Spring.

Lastly, are my Lupines. They have not begun to flower yet so this photo is from last Spring, but oh how I love them! Most of my family lives in Canada where my favorite gardens are full of tall purple lupines. I was ecstatic to find this miniature variety in the nursery, so I’m praying they come back since our planting budget is a bit pinched this year. Lupines represent “Happiness, Creativity & Imagination” – Amen to that!

On Top of the World

Top of the Hill in Ogunquit Beach, ME

This is my first submission to The Life of B Photo Challenge. This quarter’s “April Squares” challenge is a celebration of ‘Tops’, so as a nice transition from her January ‘Light’ challenge, I’m entering my Hilltop Sunrise photo taken from Marginal Way in gorgeous Ogunquit, Maine. Ahhh, how I would love to be sitting on that bench with a cup of coffee right now! This particular weekend in March, we were on a college road trip to visit a first choice university up North. It was just after the bomb cyclone had settled off the coast of Cape Cod, so the ocean was incredibly powerful…

...and on Top of the Rocks!

When you experience that kind of power in nature, it’s a reminder that there is something… rather SomeONE greater than all of us, who created this universe and is able to handle all that we cannot control… especially now in these days of uncertainty.

I especially love the third picture in this challenge with the waves crashing against the rocks and my youngest daughter is standing in the front confidently, almost defiantly… unmoved by the thunderous surf. To fully appreciate the significance of this image, you have to understand that this has been a particularly tough season for my daughter. In January 2017, she sustained a concussion during a normal PE class at school. Another student threw a basketball across the gym, that struck her on the side of the head, and dramatically changed the course of her teen years. What we thought would resolve in a few weeks, evolved into considerable loss of her vision for the next six months. Our world completely shifted as I dropped everything to adapt all of her lessons to her academic needs at home with the help of a home teacher assigned by the county, just so we could get her across her academic finish line. Once her vision returned that summer, following intensive medical therapies and treatments by teams of doctors, nurses and various therapists, at Sinai Hospital and Kennedy Krieger Institute, her daily migraine headaches began to intensify. Finally in June 2018, after 3 days on ‘migraine cocktail’ IV’s at Johns Hopkins Pediatric Hospital, she experienced her first 24 hours of migraine relief in 17 months… Since then, she has continued treatment at Hopkins, Krieger and Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital to try to navigate her new life in the aftermath of her traumatic brain injury… still pushing through and managing the pain, still looking for solutions.

As her mother and her primary caretaker, you can imagine the range of emotions I have experienced. So in an odd way, with all that has recently rocked our world, I almost feel like I was prepared for this COVID-19 wave to hit. I don’t mean to downplay the seriousness or the impact this virus has had on individuals, our country or our world. I have simply learned how to roll with the challenges of unexpected happenings and unfolding circumstances. This is where we are… and we are all in it together. The sun will rise tomorrow, and we will start over with the new day, hopefully moving forward. And if we need to stop to take a breath, it’s okay…. take a moment… just don’t live there, and I mean that with love in my heart… Put on your fuzzy pajamas, eat a bucket of popcorn while you watch a movie that makes you laugh until you cry, then let it out, Sister… or Brother!… Let the rain… fall… dowwnnn… Then without touching your face with your ungloved hands, wipe your eyes with a tissue or your sleeve if you’ve run out of tissue… run a comb through your hair or polish that shine, slap on your good looks and step into the next day! You can do this… We all can do this… We need to do this for each other.

Sending you so much love, beautiful sunrises & healing prayers! XO