January 19, 2017

Spark Joy

Shooting star tree (Clerodendrum quadriloculare)

Every new year I begin with an announcement: This year, I am going to get organized! Usually, I will read a book or two to get me motivated, and start cleaning the kitchen. Last year I laid out a plan and shared it with you here on Daily Divertissements. In case you missed them, my previous posts on organization can be found HERE, or by clicking on the "organization" label on the right. These include my experiment with the ten item wardrobe, as well as my series from last January. Hint: if you start at the bottom of the page and work your way up, you will see them in chronological order.

The plan I put together is a good one. When implemented, it really works. The trouble is, usually after awhile, life happens, and the whole routine is forgotten. Papers start to pile up, clutter starts to accumulate, and before I know it, I'm right back where I started. So I thought it might be a good time to revisit the ideas I wrote about, evaluate the process, and get back on track.

Meanwhile, I am reading two books to get me going: David Allen's best seller Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, and Marie Kondo's book Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. I have read David Allen's book before; I am going through it now as a refresher course in his method, which I have applied, to some extent, in my own strategy for organizing my life. The other book is the second one written by the Japanese decluttering guru -- a continuation, if you will, of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. While some of her ideas are a little unusual, the main concept she promotes is intriguing. Marie teaches that we should only keep those things which "spark joy" in our lives. And that goes for everything -- clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous stuff, and sentimental items. Why keep them, if they don't bring us joy?

So with that in mind, I will set to work. I will look at my things with new eyes. As I work my way through my belongings, I am going to keep only that which I truly love. In other words, I will only keep those things that spark joy!

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, 
or believe to be beautiful. 
William Morris

January 11, 2017

A Dream and an Inspiration

I had a dream a few weeks ago in which the book The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady came to mind. Many years ago, I had seen this book and admired its beautifully illustrated pages. Edith Holden started her diary in 1906, and filled it with poetry, quotes, and observations of her surroundings. She painted the birds, butterflies, and flowers in her little village with detail and delicacy, her love of nature obvious with each stroke. Edith's lovely book was her own personal treasure until it was published in 1977, many years after her death.

I searched the online catalog of the public library to see if the book was still available. To my delight, there was one copy of it, and I promptly made a trip to the appropriate branch to check it out. Edith's book is still just as enchanting as I remembered, and it has inspired me to try something similar. I purchased a new planner to use for my art journal this year, and I like the idea of focusing on a theme. While I will probably include other items in my book, the wildlife in my own backyard is always there to be observed, written about, and illustrated.

I recently discovered another book, The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling by John Muir Laws. Here is a book packed with information, illustrations, and inspiration. It takes the idea of a "country diary" and guides the reader through the process of awareness, observation, and inquiry, while teaching techniques for drawing the wonders of nature. This book brings together perfectly the disciplines of science and art.

This year I hope to keep a record of God's creation by observing the flora and fauna in my garden. Although South Florida lacks the drastic change in seasons that exist in other places, there are subtle differences that occur with the passing of the months. Each day brings something new to discover, if we take the time to notice. Unlike Edith's diary, my little book will probably never be published for all the world to see. It will be my own personal treasure to enjoy. I am looking forward to the journey.

January 8, 2017

Happy New Year!

ruby-throated hummingbird perched on firespike

The ribbons and tinsel in the stores have given way to storage boxes and exercise wear, and here we are at the beginning of a new year. Although some stayed home New Year's Day, recovering from late night parties, many of us got up and went to church. An abundance of fireworks into the wee hours of the morning, coupled with an early morning drive to the airport had resulted in a  restless night, and I struggled to stay awake, having had just three hours of sleep. I noticed more than one person in the congregation with head bowed and eyes closed. In spite of  their prayerful appearance, however, they were actually dozing off, as evidenced by the sudden lifting of heads, furtive glances, and embarrassed smiles. 

We spent the day after New Year's taking down the tree and packing up the decorations. Of course, before we could take the boxes out to the garage for storage we had to rearrange everything. And, of course, that meant cleaning the garage and throwing out some of the junk that had accumulated there, washing throw rugs and sweeping the floor. It was an exhausting day, but what a feeling of accomplishment I had when it was all done! Suddenly the living room seems so much bigger, and I'm ready for a fresh start.

Now that our Christmas break is over, I will spend this week getting back into a routine, examining my life, setting goals, and making plans. I already have some ideas and can't wait to get started! Be sure to join me as I share the blessings of life with thoughts, ideas, and encouragement! Happy New Year!

December 12, 2016

A Cup of Home-Grown Coffee

Well, I finally did it! I processed my home-grown coffee beans from start to finish! In my previous two posts, A Bowl Full of Cherries and Processing My Home-Grown Coffee, I described the first steps of turning those pretty red fruits into a tasty caffeinated beverage. We left off with my coffee beans drying on the kitchen counter. After about a week, they seemed to be ready to go. I let them dry a few more days for good measure, and then I proceeded.

When the beans are dry, they are covered with a papery skin that must be removed. This was done by spinning them  a few times in my food processor with a plastic blade. This loosened the "parchment" without grinding the beans. Then I used a hair dryer to blow away the waste, leaving the beans behind. I did this outdoors to avoid a mess.

Next, the beans were roasted. This can be done either in an oven or on the stove top. I simply put the beans in a skillet and roasted them, stirring and shaking to brown them evenly.

When the beans looked nice and brown, I let them cool a few minutes.

Then I ground them in a coffee grinder. The result was a delicious-smelling product that looked just like the stuff you buy in the store!

I brewed the coffee and tasted it. What do you know? It tasted just like coffee! It wasn't the best cup I've ever had, but it certainly wasn't the worst, either. This coffee wasn't "mountain grown" after all -- it was grown at about 10 feet above sea level. The whole process was quite involved, but it was a fun experiment that gave me a new appreciation for my morning brew. Now that I have satisfied my curiosity, I think I will leave the berries for the birds, and buy my coffee at the grocery store. It's much simpler, and nothing beats a good cup of Colombian coffee!  

December 1, 2016

Processing My Home-Grown Coffee

In my last post, I promised to share my experience with making coffee from my own, home-grown coffee beans. I started with these pretty red coffee cherries.

Some of the cherries are still ripening on the tree. Since a few of the cherries had been nibbled by the birds, I decided to leave some on the plant for their enjoyment. I am still picking more of them, however, as they ripen. The first thing to do after picking, is to peel the red pulp away from the seeds inside. There are mechanical gadgets for such a task, but I simply use my fingers. I split each cherry open with my nails and pop the coffee beans from their sweet surroundings. They have a fruity aroma with a hint of coffee scent, and they leave a sticky, slimy film on the fingers.

The next step is referred to as fermentation. The beans are soaked in water for a day or two to break down the slippery mucilage surrounding the seed. 

I soak them about 24 hours and rinse them in a colander. If they still feel slippery, I put them in clean water another day and repeat the rinsing. When the beans are no longer slimy on the outside, I can proceed to the next step.

The coffee beans must be spread out to dry. This can be done on a screen in the sun or in a food dehydrator. Since the weather is humid and sometimes unpredictable, I chose not to place them outside in the sun. Instead, I spread them out on baking parchment to dry and stir them up every now and then. The air conditioner keeps the environment from being too humid. I have dried fresh herbs from the garden this way with success, so I figured this would work for coffee beans, too. It may not be the most scientific method, but this is an experiment, after all. When my coffee beans are good and dry, I will report back with the news and share the rest of the process. Meanwhile, I will sip on my store-bought Colombian coffee and look forward to satisfying my curiosity in the near future!

November 15, 2016

A Bowl Full of "Cherries"

Several days ago, we noticed that the coffee cherries were getting ripe. First, there were just a couple red fruits on the branches. Then suddenly, it seemed the whole bush was loaded with them! They clung to the branches like pretty red beads -- almost too pretty to pick. But I had determined, after seeing so many blossoms this year, that I would try to harvest them and see if I could brew some coffee from my own, home grown coffee beans. It took about seven months for the flowers to turn into ripe cherries.

Last year's crop was just too small to deal with, but I did do a little research to see how to prepare them. So this will be an experiment. We'll see how it goes.Some of the cherries still need to ripen; it will take me a few more days of picking. I did notice that some of them had been nibbled by birds, so I guess I will leave a few for my feathered friends. Next, I will have to remove the pulp, or husk, from the beans. I will be doing this by hand, so it will take some time. Once I get that job done, I will post an update. So stay tuned!

November 10, 2016

The Sun Will Come Up in the Morning

It has been a week (or maybe I should say a year!) fraught with emotion. Another presidential election has come and gone, with many people happy and many others angry and disappointed. But, as President Obama told Americans, "The sun will rise in the morning." And it did. You see, while nations rise and fall, and leaders come and go, God is still in control. And He always will be.

This morning, I noticed that my coffee cherries are beginning to ripen! It looks like I will have quite a few to pick, and I'm hoping to actually have enough to brew a little coffee. Quite by accident, I noticed a year or two ago that the fruit of the Coffea arabica is quite sweet, although there is not much flesh on each cherry. I will have to start picking them as they ripen, but I must not let the dog see me do it! Penny observed us picking the fruits of our strawberry tree (see my post, Coffee Break: The Strawberry Tree) a while back and decided to try them herself. Each morning, she reaches up at the lower branches in search of some sweet fruits for herself, which she gingerly plucks from the tree and eats. I am afraid if she sees me pick those coffee cherries, she will do the same. Of course, if that were to happen, I might be able to try some kopi luwak!

My star fruit tree, Averrhoa carambola, is blossoming, hopefully to be followed by some lovely golden fruits. We haven't gotten many star fruits from this tree, but maybe the fertilizer we applied will change that.

The hummingbirds and painted buntings have returned from their summer homes, and I have been enjoying their show each day as they fly to and fro and splash about in the bird bath. The butterflies still dance around in the garden, the bees still buzz, and the mockingbirds still sing from the trees. This evening, the sun will go down in the west, spreading glorious color across the sky. And the sun will come up in the morning. 

From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the LORD is to be praised!
Psalm 113:3 (ESV)