Monday, December 31, 2007

The Structure Of A Forest

Forests are habitats in which the trees are the dominant form of vegetation. There are six layers of vegetation that make up a forest.

The species composition of a forest is often unique to that forest, with some forests consisting of many hundreds of species of trees while others consist of just a handful of species.

Learn more about forests ... read the entire article.

Finding A Lost Cat

The owner of indoor-outdoor cats will eventually face the sorrow of having a cat turn up missing.

However, the chances are (for good or bad) that your cat did not run away. Cats are very territorial (even neutered ones) and will defend their territory at all costs, and if driven out by another alpha cat who is bigger and meaner, will seek safety indoors before running off.

In order to find your cat, you need to consider the possible reasons for his absence, many of them distressful. However, this is the time to set aside emotions and to rationally evaluate the possibilities, with an appropriate action for each.

Read the entire article.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Essential Oil Tips and Facts

• There are over 400,000 different plants on earth. Only a little over 400 of them produce a pure essential oil.

Aloe Vera Gel deepens penetration of essential oils into muscles, joints and tissues

• Inhale the oils directly from the bottle for properties its known for such as mood or congestion.

• Cinnamon essential oil helps a home to sell quicker.

• Peppermint helps people to adapt to new ideas.

AromaBall is an easy and low-cost way to control germs and microbes in your home.

• Avoid applying essential oils immediately after perspiring or using a sauna.

• Do not get essential oils in your eyes.

• All essential oils are antioxidants.

• Keep essential oils away from children.

• Take a tip from your nose - if you don't like the smell don't use it for emotional benefits.

• Essential oils should be diluted before using topically (with exception for lavender and tea tree). Massage oil, aloe vera gel, or olive oil can be used.

• Keep essential oils away from heat, light, dampness and electromagnetic frequencies (TV or microwave).

• Do a "patch test" if you are sensitive to things on your skin.

• Avoid strong sunlight or tanning beds after applying essential oils.

• Clary Sage and Bergamot essential oils help in withdrawing from smoking, alcohol and eating addictions.

• 100 pounds of lavender flowers are used to make 1 pound of the essential oil.

• Use Lavender essential oil in a spritzer bottle to spray on sheets and blankets at bedtime for a deeper relaxing sleep. It also repels insects.

• Frankincense decreases allergic reactions within seconds.

• Essential oils are great for disinfectants for natural, non-chemical household cleaners. Used with Sunshine Concentrate you can eliminate your chemical cleaning supplies.

• Cinnamon, Frankincense, and Myrrh are considered to be powerful anti-cancer and anti-tumor essential oils.

• Research shows Cinnamon and Peppermint essential oils increase alertness. Great travel companions.

• Lavender Essential Oil shows results for migraines and to reduce itching on bug bites.

• Essential oils can renew dying cells.

• Cellu-tone helps lymphatic congestion.

• Essential oils reach the limbic system in less than 1 second via inhalation and within 1-3 seconds with skin application.

• All citrus essential oils make skin photosensitive.

• Thyme, Clove and Lemon essential oils were used as hospital disinfectants before World War I.

• For effectiveness and the results you want, use 100% pure quality essential oils.

My choice is Nature's Sunshine essential oils.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Defeating The Giant

by Donna L. Watkins

© Donna L. Watkins - Squirrel Face-Off
After the army of Israel had spent 40 days in trembling fear listening to the taunting nine foot tall giant named Goliath, David appeared with food for his brothers.

When Goliath shouted his insults, David asked, "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?"

As you know David fought Goliath. Not with sword or spear, but with five stones he selected from a brook. But David didn't place his faith in those stones. As he approached Goliath, who looked him over and said, "Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?" He didn't think David was a worthy opponent, as he roared, "Come here, and I'll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!"

Have you ever taken those first few steps of faith and then heard the devil roar at you with words of accusation and degradation? Did you back down? Don't do it again! Dare to be a David!

In 1 Samuel 17:45-47 David said to this Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the easts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord's, and he will give all of you into our hands."

David saw God winning this battle, while Saul's army saw only what was in front of them. Too often we get our eyes on the circumstances and off of God's victory. David knew that his God was bigger than any giant. Is our God that big?

In the middle of your most giant problem, right now, take this example to see clearly. Don't look at the circumstances which are seemingly hopeless with no way to get around them. Don't waste time and energy looking at what the devil's doing .... focus on God's power that will knock those giants down.

We learn from our problems and we'll always have trials, but as we overcome them one by one they don't appear as gigantic as they once did. We learn to live and walk in faith ... or we choose to live in fear and failure. As we overcome, we become giants of faith and my goal is to become so large in faith that the devil can't create any problem taller than the faith God offers us.

It's been said that faith is a muscle, so we have to exercise it for it to grow. And if you let up on that exercise, like muscles, your faith will not be strong without use. You can't allow all those garbage thoughts to circulate hour after hour and expect to believe that there is victory for you.

Focus on God like David did and you will never stumble. You'll never win your battle if you go in your own strength. Walk with the Word of God in your mind and heart. Say like David, "I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty." Don't let the devil's discouragement enter your mind.

Three things that our Enemy can't withstand are: God's Word, the Name of Jesus, and the Blood of Christ. Use them all and let God take your giant down.

Copyright and Reprint Information
All photos remain the property of Donna L. Watkins and may not be republished without written permission. You may forward or use this copyrighted article on a website if you include the following credit and an active link back to this site:
© 2000-2007 Donna L. Watkins - This article was reprinted with permission. Visit the author's website, for more articles and free email subscription. Link URL:

Slugs and Snails Have Brains Like Mammals

From Creation Moments

So complex is the human brain that even some of today's most visionary scientists have commented that they doubt science will ever fully understand how the brain works. To better understand the brain, scientists have been studying the brains of so-called simple creatures like the garden slug.

But how similar is the brain of a garden slug to the human brain? Researchers have been amazed at the unexpected similarities and abilities shared by both the garden slug and man. Researchers have found that garden slugs can be trained, using unpleasant flavorings, to avoid their favorite food, potatoes. Eventually the slugs will avoid potatoes that have not been made to taste bad. Slugs, and even garden snails, can learn a sequence of events.

How much more simple are the slugs' brains than ours? To their surprise, researchers discovered that the slugs' brains use some of the same chemical methods to learn and store information as do mammals. In other words, the slugs' brains don't use a simpler method to learn and remember than do a cat or a dog's. Mammal brains and slug brains are based on the same design.

This finding came as a surprise and erases evolutionary distinctions between simpler and supposedly more evolved creatures. It reveals the Creator's pattern. He used the same design when He equipped the slug's brain to learn as He used when He made a dog able to learn.

Listen to an audio version at Creation Moments.

Winter Thoughts Of Gardening

© Donna L. Watkins - Bluebird Cove Garden
Winter can feel a bit empty for those with a love for gardening. I thought you might enjoy some garden thoughts that I gleaned from "Inheriting Paradise" by Vigen Guroian:

When I garden, earth and earthworm pass between my fingers and I realize that I am made of the same stuff. When I pinch the cucumber vine and the water drips from capillaries to soil, I can feel the blood coursing through my body.

Man is a microcosm in whose flesh resonates and reverberates the pulse of the whole creation, in whose mind creation comes to consciousness, and through whose imagination and will God wants to heal and reconcile everything that sin has wounded and put in disharmony.

Adam and Eve were placed in a garden where they walked together with God and did not need to garden. But when they sinned and were expelled, gardening began. Gardening symbolizes our race's primordial acceptance of a responsibility and role in rectifying the harm done to the creation through sin.

Adam and Eve were cast out from Paradise, but the memory of Paradise remains. So gardeners try to recreate Paradise in their own yards ... God gave us these growing things as signs and symbols of His redeeming love for the whole of creation.

Jesus prayed in a garden and agonized there, watering it with His tears. His body .. was also buried in a garden. Every garden is an intimation of the Garden that is Christ's that He himself tends in the hearts of those who welcome Him in.

In Oscar Wilde's story of "The Selfish Giant," he writes: "[The giant] did not hate the Winter now, for he knew that it was merely the Spring asleep, and that the flowers were resting."

What a lovely thought to get us through the winter. The flowers are resting.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Why Do Feet Stink?

The main thing that feeds foot smell is sweat. With more than 250,000 sweat glands each, your feet are among the most perspiring parts of the body.

In one day, each foot can produce more than a pint of sweat! Sweat is basically just salt and water, though, so it doesn't have a distinctive smell of its own.

The smell is actually caused by bacteria on our skin that eats the sweat and excretes waste that has a strong odor. It's perfectly normal to have bacteria on your skin, and it doesn't ordinarily produce a noticeable smell, but sweat attracts bacteria and gives them a whole lot to feed on.

Read the entire article.

Should Antibacterial Soap Be Outlawed?

Thanks to millions of misused antibiotic prescriptions worldwide, the bacteria you intend to kill are getting stronger. In fact, some bacteria - like the MRSA superbug - are immune to select antibiotics.

People take antibiotics to wipe out the bad bacteria causing an infection. But some bacteria are stronger than others, and if you don't finish the entire regimen of antibiotics, some bacteria will survive and pass on their resistance to antibiotics.

The evolution of drug-resistant bacteria is not just the result of prescription neglect. Antibacterial and antimicrobial soap, and other cleaning products you have in your bathroom and kitchen, are also responsible.

Read the entire article.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

© Donna L. Watkins - Juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Although the flowers are gone and the trees are bare, the positive side to all of this is that you can certainly view the birds more easily without all the foilage they normally hide in.

Our woodpeckers are a delight. I enjoy their sounds as they arrive and depart from our suet feeders (and grab a few black oil sunflower seeds for dessert).

I don't often get to see the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. The tapping is not as bold as our other woodpeckers and they have different food preferences since they like sap (hence the name :-)

Read detailed information on this bird with awesome close-up photos of this beautiful woodpecker at the Hilton Pond Center site. He calls them sap-lappers since they lap rather than suck the sap.

Four days after this was posted, I took this photo of a woodpecker on the holly tree outside the dining room window. I thought it was a hairy woodpecker from the size and beak and didn't give it further thought until my neighbor mentioned the odd coloring. Checked the bird book and it's a juvenile yellow-bellied. They are here in Virginia this time of year and there are juveniles through March. To confirm I checked the tree for the pattern of holes they drill for sap.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

530 Lbs. Lost Without Diet Plan

Weighing 700 pounds, Nancy Makin had lost hope.

After 12 years of weight gain, Makin had spiraled into despair. The more food she ate, the more shame she felt, and nothing could stop the cycle.

Then one day her sister gave her a computer. Inspired by the friends she'd made online and no longer judged by how she looked, Makin finally took control of the situation.

Makin said the psychological transformation was so complete that she lost all that weight without diet pills, exercise or even a diet. She just stopped gorging.

"I achieved this on my own, in a natural way, with no surgical procedures having been performed. No particular 'diet' plan was followed; no pills, potions or ab-crunching exercises played a part in my recovery," she wrote in a congratulatory letter to herself.

Read the entire article.

Take The Rescue - It Is God

by Donna L. Watkins

© Donna L. Watkins - Wren Babies
One of my translations of I John 4:18 is quoted as "Fear is crippling." Sometimes a light bulb comes on and you can see what is THE WORD and what is not! We get so used to operating in our comfort zones that we can't see the immense treasure of life that God has for us if we let go of some comfort zones.

I've always had tons of self-created responsibilities. I designed my life that way. I took on projects and programs and tasks and filled my schedule full. Yet I felt it was the people around me that forced my schedule to be full. I couldn't see life running any slower. God eventually showed me that I created all these tasks so that I wouldn't have to think about things. God wanted to heal my mind and body, but I was too busy to allow Him to.

I was so inflexible and wanted to do life my way. Isn't it interesting that my body became inflexible also as the rheumatoid arthritis ate my joints, especially in my fingers. Our hands do most of our busy work, don't they?

Our prayers for healing will open our minds to the iniquities that keep us trapped! God has already healed us, but we need to unlock the body to allow it to flow through and appear on the physical realm. I've been so disobedient and stubborn. Only wanting it my way. And not being willing to be open to any other opinion.

I prayed and asked God to rescue me from these diseases, and God sent a boat and I said, "You know I'll drown in the storm if I go into that realm. It's not me. This boat is not from You, God."

He sent a plane that I could safely walk into and fly away from these conditions, but I said, "If God wanted us to fly, He would've given us wings."

So He sent a helicopter with a harness to lift me out of my world and carry me away to safety and I said, "God doesn't want us to do things that seem crazy to us! Like bungee jumping, hanging on a rope while while being whisked through open skies, this idea is definitely crazy. That's not You speaking."

I've just had everything neatly lined up the way I wanted it to happen ... but guess what!? It doesn't always go the way we plan, does it? I've quoted and believed and rested in the healing Word, but sometimes our own sin blocks our prayers and God uses the circumstances for so much good in our lives, as He gently nudges us towards understanding and obedience.

When we take control of our lives, it's hard to break lose from our OWN WAY to know when God is telling us THE WAY to see results from our prayers.

God wanted to get me to a place where I would say, "Okay, Lord. I give up! It's all about YOU and not ME!" I am willing to do what seems crazy. One of those rescues He sent my way was for me to quit working. I had a zillion reasons why that could not be God. Well, at least 101. Now more than 3 months later, God has shown me so many things I am speechless about much of it. He is faithful and my letting go of my own fears of the unknown has given me great peace and joy on a level that I've never known.

All those years of having it my way now look like such a wasteland behind me. As productive as I was on tasks and accomplishments, I realize that staying in comfort zones doesn't take away any fears, they only allow them to build deeper and deeper roots and strongholds.

I should've been fearful of what my disobedience and rebellion was bringing into my own life and the lives of those around me. The choices we make affect our offspring. There's a spiritual realm to all of that but as a mother it's a motivating factor to keep on letting God have His way!

I don't claim to get it right every time, but the more I let go, the more I can hear God's voice more clearly and that's an exciting future to think about. What are you holding on to? Is God giving you a way of escape? Take one of the rescues God sends your way. Don't waste away in the wasteland when you can have the Garden of Eden.

Copyright and Reprint Information
All photos remain the property of Donna L. Watkins and may not be republished without written permission. You may forward or use this copyrighted article on a website if you include the following credit and an active link back to this site:
© 2000-2007 Donna L. Watkins - This article was reprinted with permission. Visit the author's website, for more articles and free email subscription. Link URL:

Two Weeks Till Costa Rica

by Donna L. Watkins

© Donna L. Watkins - Mockingbird On Palm

My husband and I visited a Costa Rica jungle lodge in November 1999 and I knew what Heaven looked like. Any time since then that I was asked my favorite place on earth, it was in the hammock on the porch of our little cabin in that southwestern Costa Rica jungle lodge.

It was surely a visual representation of the Garden of Eden. Lying on the hammock watching the toucans eat the fruit from the trees that I could touch, the squirrel monkeys at play, and in the black of the night (there was no electric or lighting), feeling the whir of wings as the bats flew by to pollinate the rich floral density all around us.

In my heart I've known that I'm supposed to go for more reasons than I can imagine. God has a greater purpose in it. I can see it in the way He's orchestrated getting it booked. I've loved the Spanish language since I first came in contact with it in Mexico in 1976. Since that trip we've sponsored children in various countries south of our borders.

It was the initial passion that turned our hearts towards frugal living - choosing to give up eating out, renting videos, and going to movies so we could make a difference in the lives of the poor. If you consider what the Bible says, we were only being opportunistic:

"He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward him for what he has done." Proverbs 19:17

Since our trip to Costa Rica I've also had a passion for rainforests. We found an organization, Target Earth, that served the poor by serving the earth and began protecting rainforest one acre at a time. It is the poor that is most affected with environmental issues. When rainforests are clear-cut and rivers polluted, children die and indigenous people can no longer support and feed themselves off the land they knew around them.

We stepped into our first rainforest experience at Carara National Park. We passed from a cleared parking area into a wall of vibrant, alive vegetation. The air was thick with the sound of wildlife and smelled almost sweet from the immense diversity of plants that not only grew from the ground up from also from the canopy down. The trees were so heavy blossoms, fruits, ferns and bromelaids that you couldn't tell what was tree trunk. Giant vines climbed the trees and wildlife climbed the vines.

The dazzling colors of birds and butterflies were astounding, making the memories of our birds and butterflies back home seem black and white. The procession of even the insects gave a profound impression that each tiny segment of this amazing ecosystem was part of God's original design. As Jeff Corwin says about his first visit to a rainforest:

"I have always been utterly thrilled by the display and the complexity of life in a tropical rainforest, and no matter how many times I visit this remarkable ecosystem, my sense of wonder and amazement for the weird and wonderful creatures living there remains strongly intact. [Rainforests] contain densely packed, thriving communities, where life has reached its zenith.

Tropical rainforests are precious jewels of biodiversity; they exist as reservoirs for much of our planet's wildlife. Globally, [they] take up less than 5% of the surface of the planet, yet contain more than 50% of all life on Earth. Just a few acres of tropical rainforest can have more species of plants and animals than the continents of Europe and North America combined."

Two weeks to go and where am I going? The first half will be in San Jose, the capital, for the language school, but I still have no idea what I'll be doing after that. There's an empty four weeks hanging out there till my flight home. I've had lots of options as I've read every book in the library on the country, but I've told God I'm going to let Him arrange the details of this trip.

God is giving me "trust classes." Do I trust Him to provide what's truly best for me? Of course, my heart says, and then my mind jumps in with all the but's. Each week that passes has been harder than the one before, after all, it is high season down there so things get booked early.

But I'm wanting to pass this class. So ... I wait and trust and allow myself to grow rather than to feel comfortable. Do I dare to be adventuresome enough to let God plan for me. Here's a chance to practice and a chance to bury my fears and choose the faith walk.

What do you want scheduled in your life that's not happening? What are you scheduling now that you know in your heart you shouldn't be scheduling? What are you not trusting God for? The plans we make may be comfortable, but they are not always the best and we don't get as much out of life by controlling it. Maybe you can let go of something today also. Life is an adventure if we allow God to shape it for us.

Join me in the trust class. Take the first step and leave a comment telling God what you're going to trust Him to do. What are you going to take your hands off of and allow Him to show Himself mighty in your life? You can post anonymously. Each post will be an encouragement to all of us!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Healthy Pet Newsletter

Each issue of this free email newsletter contains:

* Helpful Pet Information
* Interesting Stories
* Nutritional Advice
* Insight From Veterinarian Dr. Jane Bicks.

Sign up now!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Taunted By The Giant

by Donna L. Watkins

© Donna L. Watkins - Wisteria Growing In and Through Steel Gazebo Posts

Do you have any giants in your life that taunt you day and night? Depression? Health problems? Failing marriage? Children falling short of what you know God has for them? Financial troubles? Seemingly unbeatable sins? Maybe your daily job or daily grind is not what you want life to be, but there's too many fears to move forward.

Day and night the devil will taunt you and shout what a failure you are. He'll tell you that you're worthless and in your weariness, you'll retreat in fear and despair.

I Samuel 17 tell us about a man named Goliath, a Philistine from Gath, who was over nine feet tall. Goliath taunted the Israelites. For forty days this Philistine came out morning and night and took his stand to say, "Why do you come out and line up for battle? This day I defy the ranks of Israel. Give me a man and let us fight each other."

Every time Saul and all of Israel heard his words, they were terrified. This champion had a bronze helmet and wore a coat of bronze armor that weighed 125 pounds. On his legs he wore bronze and slung a bronze javelin across his back. The iron point of his spear weighed 15 pounds.

Do you have a visual picture of this giant? Heavy! Just reading what he carried around makes me weary. And that's what our troubles do to us if we listen to the giants of Hell. It's hard to get up and face another day. We see no end in sight to our problems because we're focused on and listening to the giant.

David came to this Goliath scene to bring food to his brothers who were part of Saul's army. As he ran to greet his brothers, Goliath came out and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it.

David spent a lot of time out in the fields as a shepherd with his father's sheep. When you spend a lot of time alone with God, your faith is high. David didn't take a split second to ask, "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?"

As you know David fought Goliath and killed him, and it wasn't with great and mighty visible weapons. There is no armor or sword greater than faith.

Max Lucado writes: "Rush your giant with a God-saturated soul! Tell him, 'Giant of divorce, you aren't entering my home, depression you won't conquer me, alcohol, bigotry, child abuse, insecurity ... you're going down."

The Bible says, "When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard (flag of victory) against him." (Is. 59:19)

God has given you the power to fight your battles. You can win!

Smith Wigglesworth says, "A keynote that runs through the entire Scriptures is that Jesus has vanquished and overcome all the powers of the Devil and has destroyed his power .... Whether we are going to believe it or not, this is for us. God sends out the challenge, and says, 'If you believe it, it will be so.' What will hinder us? Our human nature will."

God's provision is there. "Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world." You can do it with small stones and a slingshot. Nothing magical needed. God will fill in the strength and power. Just swing that sling!

Copyright and Reprint Information
All photos remain the property of Donna L. Watkins and may not be republished without written permission. You may forward or use this copyrighted article on a website if you include the following credit and an active link back to this site:
© 2000-2007 Donna L. Watkins - This article was reprinted with permission. Visit the author's website, for more articles and free email subscription. Link URL:

Monday, December 24, 2007

New Countdown Website For Dogs works with more than 120 shelters nationwide that destroy dogs. How much time the dogs get before death varies from state to state.

Each dog is tagged with a death date set by a shelter — and a countdown clock showing the days, or hours, until the animal is killed.

"It's not the fault of the shelters," said Alex Aliksanyan, a pet adoption advocate who made money in the Internet travel business. "They don't like doing this, but they have to abide by the law, which requires a shelter to control its animal population."

Aliksanyan spent a half-million of his own dollars to start The Buddy Fund Inc., a nonprofit organization that operates the site.

"I've done well, and it was time to give something back," said the 50-year-old Turkish-born entrepreneur of Armenian heritage. "So I thought, let's bring the story of these animals dying quietly in these shelters to the public and say, 'Can you do something?'"

Read the entire article.

7771 Birds Counted In Central Park

Teams of citizen birdwatchers, guided by park rangers, were assigned to zones within 843 acres of Central Park, where they identified and counted every bird they could find. Participants then gathered to share, analyze, and tally their findings. The Christmas Bird Count has been held annually since 1900.

Read the entire article.

Healthy Choice: Pedometer

The gadget, worn at the waist, counts every step of the wearer. As it turns out, that’s a surprisingly effective way to persuade people to move more.

In a review of more than two dozen studies, researchers at Stanford University found that people who used pedometers to monitor their daily activity walked about 2,000 more steps every day, or about one extra mile, compared to those who weren’t counting steps.

People who used pedometers also showed statistically meaningful drops in body mass index and blood pressure.

Read the entire article.

Note: I love my pedometer! I've worn it for almost 4 months. I even wear it in bed so I don't miss any steps till I remember to put it on in the morning. It does make me walk more. I even 'march' while I'm brushing my teeth to burn calories and build muscle. It's fun to record the steps each night before bed. Not every personality type is motivated for self-achievement, but it sure works for me.

Diabetes Rising In Pets

As with people, the incidence of diabetes in cats and dogs is increasing. Not so much of a problem in decades past, diabetes now affects as many as one in 50 of the animals, some statistics show, especially pudgy pets.

Veterinarians say that while obesity clearly is linked to diabetes in pets, it appears to contribute to the disease differently in cats and dogs.

The good news is that obesity is preventable and reversible, and oftentimes so is the diabetes.

Read the entire article.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Think Percentages To Save Dollars

When you shop and price comparison doesn't seem worth it, think in terms of percentages.

If a gallon of milk costs $3.75 at one store and $3.25 at another, you save 50 cents by buying the cheaper milk. This might not sound like much, but it's a 13% savings! What if you could do that with your entire food budget? It would stretch a lot further.

When thinking this way don't forget to consider the gas used. You don't want to run to 7 different stores to get your groceries. Your time is worth something also. You'll also have to consider quality.

There's great value in saving pennies. They do add up over time and you establish good frugal habits that will make a difference in other areas of your life also.

Search The Frugal Life Forum for answers to your questions or to share tips with other frugal folks.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Artificial Sweeteners - Safe or Sorry?

They pervade the American diet -- in pink, yellow and blue packets on diner counters, in sugar-free cookies and diet juices, in sodas and smoothies and low-calorie yogurt and boxes of powder for baking.

Every few years, a study links one to cancer. People get scared. Follow-up research finds nothing to worry about. Decades may pass, but sooner or later another scary study comes along. And still, we keep eating these faux sugars.

Today, nearly 200 million Americans consume sugar-free or low-calorie products, according to the Calorie Control Council. About half of those people consume an average of four of these products every day. Diet sodas make up 29% of the nation's $70-billion annual soft drink sales.

Obviously artificial sweeteners are consumed, but whether they'll ever be consumed with total ease is in question.

Read the entire article.

Keep The Flu Bug Away

We use essential oils to disinfect our home and office environment. No flu shot protects against all strains of the flu because there are new strains every year. As of now, there are no medical treatments for viral infection that are completely effective. We need to keep our immune systems strong during the year, since an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.

There are many essential oils that benefit the immune system. You can diffuse the oils daily in a room or on a desktop at work. There are little "crock pots" for essential oils that heat the water and allow the oils to vaporize. Inhaling them will give added benefit.

You can also blend a few drops of an essential oil with a bit of massage oil (or olive oil) and rub it into the skin. Massage onto chest in the morning and at bedtime.

A plug-in AromaBall is an easy way to sanitize an entire room, especially while you sleep.

You can also use a small spritzer bottle and mix the essential oil with water. Shake it before using each time. Spray it around your house or around yourself at work to "disinfect" the area without using drugs or chemicals.

By the way, essential oils are great for cleaning. I use them with Sunshine Concentrate to replace all my household cleaners. You avoid breathing the chemicals into the lungs and also avoid skin contact with the cleaners. These dangerous chemicals are contaminating water supplies.

Here's my favorite essential oils to keep germs and viruses from surviving in our home:

Cinnamon, Lemon, Pine, Rosemary, Tea Tree, and Thyme.

Get more info on essential oils.

Purchase quality essential oils.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Holding Your Tongue

by Donna L. Watkins
© Donna L. Watkins - Young Deer In Backyard
I've always been pretty outspoken and as you can tell from my writing, I have an outward flowing river. That has gotten me into trouble since our words and tongue can reap us many consequences. I've opened the door to the devil's dabbling many a time with my own mouth. After the words are out, they're sailing on their own. You can't take them back.

I've tried to memorize the Scriptures on controlling the tongue, but somehow don't get them deep enough to always work. I guess there are times when the pleasure of having said all is greater than the smug feeling of having been spiritual.

Sometimes I find a quote or comment that just settles in with me on areas of my life that are a challenge to control. Such is the case with this Winston Churchill quote:

"By swallowing evil words unsaid, no one has ever yet harmed his stomach."

The twist of humor in it gives me enough pleasure that I have no need for the pleasure of having spoken all my mind.

Solomon says, "A wholesome tongue is a tree of life." Proverbs 15:4

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

New Most Imperiled Birds List

The new WatchList 2007 reveals those birds in greatest need of immediate conservation help simply to survive amid a convergence of environmental challenges, including habitat loss, invasive species and global warming.

178 species in the continental U.S. and 39 in Hawaii have the dubious distinction of landing on the newest and most scientifically sound list of America's most imperiled birds.

Read the entire article.

Stray Cats - Trap, Neuter, Return

The estimates of how many stray and feral cats in the US vary greatly. Some say that there are 44 million while some say there are over 80 million feral cats in the US.

Regardless of the estimates, many animal experts agree that Trap-Neuter-Return is the most effective way to control the rising population of feral cats.

Cook County – which includes Chicago – recently became the latest community to pass an ordinance granting formal for trap, neuter and return (TNR) programs to control stray and feral cats. On October 16, which happens to be National Feral Cat Day, County Commissioners unanimously approved TNR.

Read the entire article.

Why Can't You Stop Worrying?

I open my eyes with a start, like the murderous freak in the slasher movie the audience thinks is dead but isn't. The clock reads 3:55 A.M. I've awakened within six minutes of this time for the past three nights. I shut my eyes and take a breath, hoping to ease back to sleep. Too late.

The anxiety is already gathering momentum, my brain roiling with thoughts that have no business being there in the middle of the night. It's like a Law & Order episode in my head: Opposing sides argue and counterargue, witnesses are badgered, lawyers shout objections. I bang the gavel and demand silence so I can get some rest. That works for a minute, then the ruckus begins again.

Read the entire article.

Anti-freeze Change To Deter Pets and Children

The Humane Society of the United States estimates 10,000 animals die every year from antifreeze poisoning.

An 11-year-old turned her mourning for loss of two dogs into a mission. She created a 4-H project about the dangers of antifreeze, wrote to area officials asking for changes in legislation, and created an online petition to garner support for her cause.

"There's a bittering agent, denatonium benzoate, and it can be put in for two cents a gallon, and it makes (antifreeze) taste very bad to animals and children, so they don't eat it or drink it," she said.

State Senator Raymond Finney, R-Maryville, says he's on board and plans to sponsor a bill during the next legislative session.

Read the entire article.

Violent TV: Public Health Threat

Watching media violence significantly increases the risk that a viewer or video game player will behave aggressively in both the short and long term, according to a University of Michigan study published yesterday in a special issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The study, by L. Rowell Huesmann, reviews more than half a century of research on the impact of exposure to violence in television, movies, video games and on the Internet.

Read the entire article.

Mid-Life Memory Problems

As I crossed the threshold into middle age, something happened to my mind. For the first time in my life, I felt vague and foggy. Almost overnight, I found that I was missing critical information - the names of people and places, the titles of books and films.

Words had started to play hide-and-seek. My mind emptied as quickly as the mental calendar, once easily summoned, grew elusive and developed blank spots, as did my sense of direction. The change was so dramatic that sometimes I felt foreign to myself.

It may seem as if midlife forgetfulness arrives overnight. In fact, the decaying of memory and attention is a slow process that begins in our 20s.

By the time we hit our 40s, though, compromised memory is a problem for most people. 'It may be normal,' a friend said over supper, 'but it isn't acceptable.

Read the entire article.

Answers To Recycling Quandaries

You have these questions? Co-op America has the answers.

1. If my recycling gets picked up in the same truck as trash, is it really being recycled?

2. Is a biodegradable product better than a conventional product if they both end up in a landfill?

3. If I put the wrong number plastic in my bin, will it mess up the whole batch?

Find out all of the above and much more in this Co-op America's Recycling FAQs.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Spirit, Soul and Body

by Donna L. Watkins

© Donna L. Watkins - Mepkin Abbey Grounds
In our fast-paced lifestyles we have become used to expecting things fast. Fast food, drive-thru pickups, fast answers, fast lanes, and the desire for fast money. There's nothing fast about the life of Christ.

Walking Like Jesus is not a fast and furious lifestyle. If we want to hear what somebody's saying, we have to stop and listen. Children and adults want to know they are important enough to warrant your time and attention. Good listening skills requires that you stop, look somebody in the eyes, and hear what they are saying. It's about giving them your undivided attention.

Parents can relate to this with children. The rebellious nature of some children will indicate that they don't feel as though they are important enough to have the attention of their parents. In one way or another, they are determined to have that attention, even if it's bad attention.

Like the railroad warnings I heard as a child, Stop, Look and Listen, can be applied to hearing God also. Jesus taught while people stopped, sat and listened. You can't learn much on the run and you certainly don't comprehend correctly unless a subject has your divided attention.

Matthew 5:8 says, "Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God." Do we take time to be pure? It's so easy to gather dirt and grime as we muddle through our daily routines. We need to clean our spiritual house on a daily basis to be pure in heart or we get plugged up. Then we may need a spiritual cleanse. We take time for a body cleanse twice a year.

There are times when we need a spiritual cleanse also. Psalm 51:10 says, "Create in me a clean heart, oh God." Being used to fast everything, doesn't mean we're used to fasting. The Bible instructs us to fast and pray when we are not getting an answer to prayer. How long has it been since you fasted? The Church seems to have left this "inconvenient" truth behind.

If the pure in heart see God, how can we hear God when we don't take time to clean our spiritual house? Our heart gets full of junk that needs to be cleared. We carry around too much, when Jesus says, "My yoke is easy." We plow on with so much weight on our backs until we stumble and fall ... and then we turn to God.

Why not daily keep your heart clean. Time with God will always be recouped in so many ways. What you give to God always comes back to you, so there's no such thing as "not enough time" to read the Bible, pray or sit before the Lord to hear what He is saying to you. Besides the spiritual benefits, you will reap many health benefits since stress will be reduced.

Research even shows that digestion is better for those who take time to pray before a meal. Our rushed lifestyles push people to eat on the run, while in front of their computers and televisions, while they work at their desks. Shoveling food in doesn't mean your body will be fed. We eat to get nutrients from food that the body needs to function and remain healthy. If we eat on the run, our digestive rate doesn't allow for the assimilation of nutrients. If the body doesn't get the nutrients it needs, it sends out a signal to the brain that says, "Hungry!" And it becomes a circle of putting more and more food in, but not getting satisfied.

Getting the nutrients you need to feed the nervous system will enable you to slow life down, will put a smile back on your face and the immune system is healthier when the body is less tense. Stress is at the root of most diseases and until we get back to a slower, simpler lifestyle, our nation will continue to slide down the scoreboard of the healthiest nations.

We can't be healthy physically unless we're healthy spiritually. We are a three-dimension being: spirit, soul [mind/heart] and body. It all works together. Eat right, exercise, supplement ... but don't forget the most important link to good health. We are spiritual beings, created in the image of God. Feed your spirit and it will make your soul and body healthier.

Copyright and Reprint Information
All photos remain the property of Donna L. Watkins and may not be republished without written permission. You may forward or use this copyrighted article on a website if you include the following credit and an active link back to this site:
© 2000-2007 Donna L. Watkins - This article was reprinted with permission. Visit the author's website, for more articles and free email subscription. Link URL:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Decorating a Tree for Wildlife

Winter is a tough time of year for many wildlife. They have less food and fewer daylight hours to look. Why not make it easier for the wildlife in your backyard? Teach your children to enjoy wildlife and to make a difference for them in your own backyard. Here's an article with suggestions offered to make Christmas a delight for the wildlife in your neighborhood.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Alone For The Holidays?

Will you be alone for the holidays? We won't be alone with all the birds visiting our yard daily. This is one of our Carolina Wrens digging for mealworms in a dish of fruit and nuts on our deck.

Whether by choice or circumstances, many will be alone for the holidays. Holidays are an emotional time and statistics show that depression is at a peak for many. There's never a shortage of holiday scenes on tv or magazines to remind you that you're life is not matching up in the materialism realm or the area of relationships.

If you're single and have chosen to spend the season alone and not with family, you may get encouragement with this article.

For many people who won’t be surrounded by family or loved ones during this time of year for a variety of reasons such as recent separation or divorce, death, travel or simply because they live in different parts of the country, media portrayals can add to a sense of isolation with the continual scenes of what should be happening for your Christmas. Here's an article that will give you a change of focus.

Then move on to an action plan with "10 Things to Do If You’re Alone for The Holidays" which will get you out of the slump and into a plan that will take you through the holidays just fine, if you choose to implement it.

Randal and I will be alone for the holidays but we've been scheduling various activities and volunteer opportunities to make the month seem brighter and Christmas Day can be what you want it to be, not what the advertising tells you it should be.

Think of a place you'd like to be when nobody else is around. Maybe a park that's usually crowded? Take some peanuts and corn and feed the wildlife. They will be grateful and joyous company to have. Enjoy some quiet time by yourself. Make it a joyful Christmas because you can enjoy you without distractions.

For us it will be a Spinach, Mushroom and Roasted Garlic Pizza and some old-time movies from the library. When else is it "legal" to watch movies during the day time on a week day.

It's just a day and each year you can make it what it is in your heart ... or if that's not possible, then change your heart and choose something that's possible. Thinking negative thoughts about what cannot be is no way to spend any day, especially Christmas, a day celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ who came to give us eternal life. Keeping our thoughts controlled during December is a huge task in itself, but it can be done!

Best Soda For Your Teeth

I initially shared this information in January 2005, but it's a topic that can help a lot of people with some encouragement for those who may want to make "Stop Drinking Soda" one of their new year resolutions. Or at least you can learn a few tricks to have less dental decay. All those cavities sure do make sodas an expensive item in your budget. The study appeared in the January/February 2005 issue of General Dentistry.

Which Drinks Damage Your Teeth The Most?

Love an icy cold soft drink? Then choose a root beer. Of all types of soft drinks and canned teas, this one does the least damage to your teeth.

Researchers from the dental school of the University of Maryland, Baltimore determined that non-cola soft drinks, including ginger ale, Mountain Dew, and Sprite, as well as canned iced tea are much harder on teeth enamel than any other kind of canned drink, due in large part to acidic flavor additives, such as such as malic acid or tartaric acid, reports Medical News Today. Root beer has the least additives, making it the best soft drink for your teeth.

If you drink soda, you should never brush your teeth till one hour later. Give your saliva a chance to set up its own defenses. If you brush with the acid on your teeth, it strips layers of the protective enamel.

The study:
For 14 days the researchers exposed healthy dental enamel to a variety of popular soft drinks, including Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper, Sprite, Canada Dry ginger ale, and canned Arizona Iced Tea.

The results:
- All of them weakened and permanently destroyed the tooth enamel.

- Diet sodas had the same bad effect as the sugared versions since the main culprit is the acidic additives.

- The most harmful were non-cola drinks, which caused two to five times the damage as darker cola drinks.

- Root beer, which contains the least amount of flavor additives, was found to be the "safest soft drink to safeguard dental enamel."

- Canned iced tea caused 30 times the damage to tooth enamel as brewed tea or coffee.

- Brewed black tea, root beer, coffee, and water had a minimal effect.

Drink too much soda and you could face a higher risk of a certain kind of cancer that is usually fatal.

Adding to the problem is our own mouth acidity. If that increases, the chemical reaction with the soft drink hurts our teeth even more, according to lead study author J. Anthony von Fraunhofer.

The end result: tooth decay

One thing you can do to protect your teeth is to rinse your mouth with water after drinking a soda. We love soft drinks in this country. A whopping 95% of Americans drink soda. Soft drinks account for about 27% of the beverages consumed in the United States. The average 12- to 19-year-old drinks about 28 ounces of soft drinks every day. The study results were published in the General Dentistry, the newsletter of the Academy of General Dentistry.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Nature Has An Answer

The PAX Streamlining Principle, discovered by CEO Jay Harman, captures the force of nature and uses it to make technology better.

It translates nature’s flow efficiencies into streamlined design geometries. They employ these geometries to significantly improve the performance, output, and energy usage of a wide range of industrial and domestic equipment.

Increasing the efficiency of everyday technology is a huge boon for the environment. Harman points out, "If you use three-quarters less energy, then you have three-quarters less pollutants going into the atmosphere. Nature has already solved every problem humans face and have ever faced," he says. "If you see nature as our university, you're not going to burn down the university, you're going to protect it."

Visit the site and learn more.

How To Be Happy

Abraham Lincoln, he says that, "Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."

Living a happy, resilient and optimistic life is good for your health. Being happy actually protects you from the stresses of life. Stress is linked to top causes of death such as heart disease, cancer and stroke.

Some simple guidelines can help you work at turning that gloomy outlook around. Read the entire article.

I Think I Can, I Think I Can

by Donna L. Watkins

© Donna L. Watkins - Steam Engine, Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, Chattanooga

Do you remember the story of the little red train engine that got up the mountain by saying, "I think I can. I think I can?" I read that story many times to our son, Benjamin. I guess it's one of those children's stories that parents can really relate to when that season of life has so many tasks and so little strength. Raising children is a daunting task!

A couple of months ago I wanted to take a trip to Pennsylvania to see family that I hadn't seen for over 20 years. They were going to be there for a memorial service and I was only 5-1/2 hours away. At one time in my life that was across the street.

When I was single and lived in Mobile, Alabama, in the early 70's, I would drive 23 hours straight through to go back to Pennsylvania to see my parents for an extended holiday weekend. It was "no big deal." They say getting older makes you different, but I don't think it's age. Health is sometimes much different than it was when we were younger, and declining health can bring in many fears. Real and unreal.

The rheumatoid arthritis that I currently deal with has limited me in a number of tasks, so it's easy to doubt what I can do outside of my comfort zone. While my husband offered to change his schedule, which would've included canceling appointments with several people plus two classes he taught, I knew that was not an option.

Although we get covered with fears and doubts about ourself, inside there's that little voice that's telling us, "I think I can. I think I can," but we just bury it deeper with our own negative, fearful chants. The devil will give you plenty if you miss a beat of having your own.

I come up with my own easily since I can so easily see details. So, I went through the list:

I haven't driven that far in many years alone. My hands and wrists had little strength in them and I might not be able to handle the steering wheel that long. If it was a low energy day I could be very sleepy since riding in a car seemed to lull my brain to sleep. I didn't like the hotel option because of reviews I'd read. It was an old hotel and moldy smells really bother me. A family member offered a room to stay. I didn't want to be a bother.

The list went on and on to justify my case in this courtroom battle, with me as judge and jury. No matter which direction I turned I only saw me losing.

The fear of the unknown can ruin your life. There are homeless people that are hungry and that sleep on streets in freezing weather, refusing to enter a shelter. The fear of the unknown, even though it may be infinitely better than the known, is still frightening since it is unknown.

All the time, there was that still small voice inside that said, "You know you can. You know you can." I'm definitely considered a determined person, so I couldn't argue with that, so I confronted the Accuser (me) with this question:

What's the worst that could happen?

When you're confronted with that question, it really helps to sort through what's the truth and what's not. The case I'd built on why I couldn't go was crumbling. If I got tired or couldn't drive the entire way, I could pull over and rest. I could get a hotel room and arrive a day later. I could stay at another place in Pennsylvania if I needed to.

There really wasn't a case. All that was left was the realization that I had allowed fear to control my choices. What did I really want to do? I wanted to see a half-sister that used to spend summers with me when I was a young child, and I wanted to be with other family members that I had not seen in awhile.

So, I began the "I Think I Can" campaign and made the choice to go, I did all that was necessary to plan to leave but allowed myself the option to change my mind at the last minute if I really didn't have the strength. My sweet sister never pressured me at all, so we just hoped together. Once I did that, my energy and strength only grew because I was excited about the journey.

I took some music along and a Spanish language CD and the ride went amazingly fast! I was so into the music on the way back that I made a wrong turn and was 20 minutes down the wrong highway before I knew it. There was that moment of, "Oh boy! Now I've added to my driving time and I'm headed for the Washington, D.C. traffic. I'll never make it!" I barely finished the thought before smiling and switching it around to: "Well, Lord, what new adventure do you want on my itinerary today?"

I found a wonderful state park that was only 1 mile off the interstate and enjoyed the freshness of a late summer forest while praising God for His faithfulness. I'm so glad I listened to that still small voice instead of the one screaming at me.

End result? I had more energy and strength because of those good hormones buzzing through my body than I did most days. As my Daddy used to say to me, "Let that be a lesson to you!"

You can do the same! What is it that you don't think you can do? Don't allow one problem in your life make you prisoner from the rest of your life. Mistakes happen. Health problems come and go. Making life choices based on fears isn't living life at all.

Ask yourself what's the worst that can happen? Then say, "so what!" If it happens you can always turn around and go back to where you were. It's okay! You're not required to be perfect. It doesn't make you a failure ... but if failure is what you're afraid of ... haven't you failed if you are letting life float by by living in fear? Go for it!

I Know You Can! I Know You Can! You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you! (Philippians 4:13)

Copyright and Reprint Information
All photos remain the property of Donna L. Watkins and may not be republished without written permission. You may forward or use this copyrighted article on a website if you include the following credit and an active link back to this site:
© 2000-2007 Donna L. Watkins - This article was reprinted with permission. Visit the author's website, for more articles and free email subscription. Link URL:

My Cat's View Of A Christmas Tree

"Mom" has bought me a huge, fresh-smelling, scratching post with many shiny dangling toys. There are lots of levels of "shelves" ideal for napping or hiding, depending on my energy level.

At night, I am intrigued by flashing fireflies that flit all over it and I must chase them. I am the hunter and protector of the household! At the bottom are all these boxes I can also hide behind - some with ribbons and strings I can bat with my paw or chew.

The rest of this story and article include good tips for keeping the cat out of the tree.

One solution that is not mentioned is to use citrus peels around the tree base. Cats hate the smell of citrus and may avoid the area entirely. As you eat oranges throughout the season continue to replace old ones with fresh ones. The essential oils (smell) in the orange do evaporate over time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Are Bees Intelligent Planners?

While I was on retreat walking the SC gardens, there were plenty of bees. It was like seeing friends who had visited with us and moved on south. I wondered if any of them had been to our garden. I will have to study to find out if bees migrate to warmer weather. If anybody knows, leave a comment below so others will learn from your knowledge.

This information on the intelligence of bees thrills me because God is such a Master Creator and it's awesome to see the detail He used in the natural world. Makes me realize what detail there was in designing me!

From Creation Moments

Before we had detailed knowledge of the daily lives of many animals, it was easy for scientists to dismiss signs of animal intelligence as instinct. In the last couple of decades, animal intelligence has become a busy field of study.

Researchers are learning that animals can be just as intelligent as humans in their own area of specialization. In one experiment, researchers moved a supply of sugar water 25% further away from a beehive each day. The bees quickly figured out what was going on and started anticipating where the sugar water would be the next day.

In another experiment, researchers placed sugar water on a boat that was anchored in the middle of a small lake. When scouts returned to the hive to report their find, other bees refused to go with them, knowing that bees don't find food in the middle of a lake. Scientists have concluded that bees think events through to see if they make sense.

Reference: Do bees plan ahead intelligently? Science News, v.124, Apr. 23, 1983. p. 271.

Holiday Do's and Don'ts For Pets

Holiday Do's

Make New Year's Day the time to replace batteries in smoke detectors. This keeps the safety of the home in mind and avoids alarming your pets when the low battery alert goes off.

Do gift wrapping on a table where your pets cannot get to the string, paper and ribbons that can cause intestinal blockages.

Make sure you leave plenty of water for your pet since things get busy during this time of year. Switch to a larger bowl if you need to.

Post your vet's and the local emergency vet's phone number in an obvious location so anybody visiting would have easy access to it.

Holiday Don'ts

Don't allow your holiday guests to feed your companion animals human food, as this can result in diarrhea, vomiting and illness.

Some holiday plants are toxic to cats and dogs. Don’t keep holly, poinsettias, lilies or mistletoe where pets have easy access to them.

Don't leave extension cords exposed since they may resemble chew toys and seriously injure your dog.

If you decorate with tinsel, be sure to place it out of reach of pets. If swallowed it can cause intestinal distress.

Live Christmas Tree Don'ts

Don't let pine needles lay on the floor since they can perforate the intestinal lining if eaten.

Don't leave Christmas tree lights on while you are not at home. This is a safety hazard.

Don’t let your pets drink water from the tree reservoir. It is stagnant and contains harmful chemicals and bacteria.

Melt Ice Without Damaging Salt

City-dwellers know all too well the effects of salt. Although it does wonders for melting ice and snow, it wreaks utter havoc on boots, dog’s paws and car paint! The damage going on behind the scenes is even more disturbing, whether in the city or the country. Read about the environmental effects of using salt to melt ice, and discover the best natural alternative.

Read the entire article at Be sure to check out the comments below the article. There are some other suggestions and links to products.

Christmas Gifts For Pets and Pet-Lovers

Gift baskets for dogs and cats and a calendar for pet-lovers with photos that capture the charm and beauty of the lovable animals that bring us joy and comfort.

View Holiday Gift Ideas.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mepkin Abbey Day 1

by Donna L. Watkins

© Donna L. Watkins - Mepkin Abbey Entrance
I scheduled a week's retreat at an abbey in South Carolina back in the Spring. There are only 12 rooms for retreats so they fill up pretty fast. I arrived today after arising at 2:30 a.m. and traveled 475 miles to get here. That was step one in my adventure since I haven't driven that far alone for five years. The rheumatoid arthritis has challenged me in tasks I took for granted and the amount of wrist, finger and hand work it takes to drive made me not want to do so for long.

If you let that kind of thinking go on long enough, it'll end up a fear and you'll go from something being a challenge to it being an impossibility. I could see I slipping there fast, so I took a 5-1/2 hour trip in September to Pennsylvania.

That broke the pattern and enabled me to make this longer trip to SC. I think I'm now about as ready as I can get to embark on my nine-week Costa Rica trip. I've been used to having my husband as chauffeur, bellhop and body guard. Now I had to take the first two jobs and leave the third to God.

© Donna L. Watkins - Allee Of Long-armed Live Oaks Leading Into Mepkin Abbey

The Lord gave me a beautiful day for the drive and I enjoyed seeing Autumn come back into view the further south I went. We've already lost all of our Fall colors in Virginia. As I took the turn off the interstate and drove several country roads to reach the abbey I had the feeling that I was leaving the world behind. As I turned in the gates and drove down the long road lined with live oaks and draped with spanish moss, I felt like I had stepped back in time. Little did I know how true that was going to be.

© Donna L. Watkins - Inviting Garden Rest Stop
After checking in with the Guestmaster, I unloaded my car and got settled in. Another person had checked in at the same time and having been here before, was asked to show me the way to meals and chapel.

The brochure I received showed me that monastic days were very well ordered. The monks rose at 3:00 AM and had ten (10) short chapel services per day. Silence was the loudest part of the lifestyle at the abbey, but that would prove to become almost mystical. The many paths and gardens were enchanting, as were the many inviting chairs and benches placed amongst them.

View entire Mepkin Abbey photo album
Mepkin Abbey - Day Two.

Mepkin Abbey Day 2

by Donna L. Watkins

© Donna L. Watkins - Mepkin Abbey Chapel
Breakfast was served at 6 AM. Meals were very simple which I enjoyed since I'm not much into food at home. The odd thing was that with the silence, I found that I couldn't eat without hearing myself swallow. Something I'd never noticed before while eating.

Not having any Catholic background or experience, I didn't take the option that guests have to participate in the choir section for the services. I felt I could enjoy the experience more from the pews. I didn't want to be trying to "figure it all out" by participating. I just enjoyed the rhythm of it all and the smell of the incense which made chapel time a distinctive part of the day.

© Donna L. Watkins - Mepkin Garden Path
Today became a process of establishing what my rhythm would be on this retreat. The grounds were extensive and I wanted to do a lot of walking since God's Creation is what calls my heart to Him, but today was very cold, so I stayed between my room and the main area which was only 1/3 mile away.

I am excited about all the walking I'll be doing since I still wear my step counter to remind me to make my weekly walking goal.

There were beautiful trees, plants, flowers, birds and critters to photograph for my Mepkin photo album in the warmer afternoon. I discovered some ponds that were colored deep turquoise blue. It seemed to be colored with dye. There was much to discover on this beautiful estate.

The 3000 acre Mepkin tract was first recorded in 1681, in the name of Sir John Colleton, one of the original Lords Proprietors of the Carolinas.

© Donna L. Watkins - Wren At Mepkin
In 1762 the French Huguenot merchant Henry Laurens (1724-1792) acquired it from the great-grandson of Sir John. It was one of many plantations that Laurens owned but this property on the west branch of the Cooper River had a special place in his affections. It was a flourishing rice plantation and after the American Revolutionary War, Laurens retired to Mepkin, and there he died and was buried in the family cemetery.

The plantation passed through several hands until 1936 when publisher and philanthropist, Henry R. Luce, and his wife, Clare Boothe Luce acquired it. In 1949 a major portion of the property was donated to the Trappist monks of the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky in order to establish this Abbey of Our Lady of Mepkin.

I am in awe of people being able to commit themselves to this kind of discipline and what the world might call monotony. Besides brief uneventful meal times and some work hours, the days of the monks are punctuated by chapel time with the bells tolling and tinkling calling them back together to commune with our God. It puts a whole new definition to the word 'simplicity'.

View entire Mepkin Abbey photo album.
Mepkin Abbey - Day Three.

Mepkin Abbey Day 3

by Donna L. Watkins

© Donna L. Watkins - Mepkin Shop
Today I visited the shop which is also where you check in. There were items from many places and mostly handmade at other abbeys and monasteries. They also sell compost that my husband requested I purchase for our garden.

This building seems to be a favorite for the tree frogs, anoles, lizards and skinks. There was a tree frog amongst the bags of compost, an anole inside the umbrella that rested against the rail and the shop keeper mentioned that in the afternoon when the sun shines on the side of the building, the chameleons line up to sunbathe.

I feel rather settled in now. I enjoy my hours with the Lord in the mornings between breakfast and lunch and I look forward to my afternoons discovering more of the grounds and statuary. I have been amazed at how much is still blooming here and the appearance of so many palms is rather exotic.

© Donna L. Watkins - Luce Gardens at Mepkin Abbey
My stroll down to the Luce Gardens was lovely and the river views beyond it were magnificent. After clearing away the fallen magnolia flower cones from a spot under a tree, I sank into the earth, leaned back on the tree and watched the reflections on the water as the birds flew by. Sitting there beneath a magnolia on a plantation made me drift into lofty thoughts.

The immense live oaks seemed to be thousands of years old and their gnarled branches seemed to shout that they could tell lots of stories. According to local lore, the word "Mepkin" is of Native American origin. It means "serene and lovely." Was life on a plantation serene? Could it be called lovely for the slaves that worked the land?

© Donna L. Watkins - Carving in Fallen Live Oak
Yesterday I discovered a carving that somebody had done from the remains of a live oak that had passed away. It was of Joseph and Mary on a donkey with steps into it with a seat beside Mary.

Sculpture is amazing to me. What is it like to see something that could be brought to life out of a dead piece of wood? The artist's eye is surely a window to the soul of God.

Michelangelo looked at a piece of marble and saw more. He created such memorable works of art as the Pieta and David. He was also a painter, architect and poet.

Do you take time to appreciate art? Artists create for our inner enjoyment. There's a part of us that needs to come away from the left-brained work of each day, to find a whole new world of right-brain creations. I'm always surprised at what I discover about myself when I spend time amidst artistic works, so today I returned to sit in the seat that was carved into the tree behind the scene.

I visited the library and checked out a few books. Normally my agenda would be to read the entire book from cover to last page ... but somehow my mind was open to not being so methodical in my approach. I browsed the Contents and allowed the Holy Spirit to guide me on what to read. It seems my demands upon myself are greatly lessened, and although a bit foreign, it feels really good.

I've always heard that sleep before midnight is worth twice of that after it. It sure works for me. The only part I miss is having my honey next to me and my kitty snuggled at my side. I don't know of a time in the past 30 years that Randal and I have not talked for an entire week so that in itself is quite an oddity. There is no internet available and we've managed to avoid cell phones.

Being in a place where life revolves around prayer and lifting voices to God ten times a day at the chapel, certainly brings a sense of deep insight into your own sins and need for repentance. There is a need for more retreat centers. Places where we have the time to search deep inside ourselves for the little sins that hide neatly tucked away in our daily lifestyles.

In these silent places we can come face-to-face with our Holy and Amazing God and allow Him to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. It makes me think of when I was a little child and my mom would bathe me and shampoo my hair and then tell me I was squeaky clean. Alone with God in such a setting, by the end of the week, I should be once again squeaky clean.

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Mepkin Abbey -  Day Four.

Mepkin Abbey Day 4

by Donna L. Watkins

© Donna L. Watkins - Mepkin Abbey
Meals here are not a highlight of the day. They are very basic and similar to the previous day's meal. I like it. The mood set reminds me of the way we pull into a gas station to get the gas tank filled. It's a fact that the car won't run without energy ... neither will our bodies. So, three times a day, I pull into the dining area, eat a simple and quick meal, and move on down the road.

The contrast between this and the enormous emphasis on food in our country, and many developed nations, is astounding. Eating less brings a sense of humility that reminds you that there are many who have nothing to eat. Regardless of the simplicity of the choices, it brews a grateful heart to be fed at all, and to leave the table satisfied, breeds an attitude of prayer for those who are still hungry.

Today a bit of familiarity set in. Many of the words sung are repetitive. It's beginning to feel familiar to me. That helps me to settle in a bit deeper to what God has for me here. With too many new distractions, it's easy to get to thinking too much about the details around me. I seem to analyze everything so I have to watch my thoughts.

© Donna L. Watkins - Gulf Fritillary Butterfly
Although it's been a chilly day, the sun's warmth felt good to me and the butterflies. There's a huge labyrinth not far from my room and I felt today was the day for that. I don't know much about labyrinths other than that they're supposed to make you think about your path through life. That's something I think about all the time since I want so much to follow God's will and definitely spend too much time wondering if I'm in it.

This grassy path about 3 feet wide was planted on both sides with tall grasses and many varieties of wildflowers. As I entered I realized I didn't have a clue about where I was going. I found myself walking a little faster in the shady areas and as I thought about that, I heard God say, "I know you don't like being in the dark ... but there are sunny areas that this path will lead you to. Trust me and follow."

Life is like that. You can't see but a few steps ahead. You don't know when the next turn will be, or where it will go. We can choose to wonder and worry over all of that and miss what's at our feet now. I looked over the grasses to an area that had seats made from tree trunks and thought how nice it would be to sit in the sun there. I could tromp across the wildflowers and make it happen, but that didn't seem to be the right choice.

© Donna L. Watkins - Mepkin Labyrinth Late Fall Blooms
The thought reminded me of dreams I have. I look over and beyond where I'm at and dream of other places. Many times I gear my head and heart up to make it happen NOW ... but God's mercy saves me from bad timing and brings me back to the reality of today. Hopefully I choose to be content with that, rather than restless.

Contentment has been defined as "realizing that God has already provided everything I need for my present and future happiness." The secret of contentment is enjoying the presence of the Lord.

Dreams will come true ... but for today, it's about about taking the next few steps on the path you have in front of you. It's enough of an adventure. When you don't know what's ahead and you trust in the One who does, you can take in all the details of where you stand right now. I began to see the beauty of what was right at my feet and to appreciate each step forward.

My focus was now on the here and now. How alert I became to the details surrounding me and I found so much to be grateful for. How often do we miss the gifts that God has for us because we're looking too far ahead and not trusting Him to lead.

I noticed that when I walked in the dirt, it had some sand in it, so it was easy to leave footprints behind. The realization came to me that we leave footprints every day with our steps and choices in life. These footprints made it so obvious to me that my walk in life was being recorded.

Although I don't leave footprints in the dirt each day, my walk leaves a history behind me and an imprint on my soul. I want to visualize this as I think about how my choices affect not only me but those who follow behind me. Our choices affect our children and family and friends. I want to make my steps follow Jesus and not my own desires.

© Donna L. Watkins - Mepkin Northern Mockingbird
Suddenly while I wasn't looking for it, the path was at the entrance to the circle of seats I'd wanted to be in. I chose the one with the most sun shining on it and huddled in my black coat that soaked up the warmth. It was peaceful just being still. The thought came to me of God saying, "If you walk the path I put before you each day, and trust Me, I will give you rest, your burdens will be light, and your heart will be filled with warmth."

I didn't want to leave. I just wanted to be still. I thought of how the surface of a lake will not reflect an image. The water must be still to reflect what is above it. I want my life to be still enough that God's love can be reflected to all that surrounds me. We don't have to understand and know the whole journey. We can see God in everything and we won't miss the path He has for us if we spend plenty of still time with Him. Our provision will be abundant. There is no loss.

The devil will fill our days with busyness and anxiety about all the tomorrows if we let him. If you use your thinking time in the Word, you'll find life's path green and beautiful ... even after summer is past.

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Mepkin Abbey - Day Five.

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