Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A Wednesday list...

Hello, friends!

1. Book-wise, I most recently finished The Case for Jamie, by Brittany Cavallaro, the third in her Charlotte Holmes series. I mentioned the series before, a riff on Sherlock Holmes that presents Sherlock and Watson as real people, and James (Jamie) and Charlotte Holmes as their great-great grandkids. It's a fun series, and although I didn't enjoy the second book as much, book three was a really fantastic follow-up - almost as though book two was a necessary set up, a crisis that readers had to get through to get to the next part of the story. I noticed that the fourth book is coming out next month, so I better go put my name on the holds list at the library!

Aside from the Cavallaro book, this article -- "How to Grow Wool" -- seriously blew my mind with its beautiful imagery of God as a shepherd.

2. In honor of Valentine's Day last week I'm going to link to this song:  "You'll Always Be My Girl", by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors. It's not a new song, but it is currently one of my favorite love songs, and one I could listen to on repeat for days.

I'm also linking to an episode of the podcast The Enneagram Journey: Episode 47 with Audrey Assad. Even if you're not familiar the Enneagram personality typing system/philosophy, this is a really wonderful interview with a musician that I wasn't familiar with, but who I am now listening to all.the.time. 

3. The past couple of weeks I've been really grateful that I've signed up to run a half marathon. That sounds weird to a lot of people, I know, but I'm grateful for the training plan that helps me push myself in my running. I know a lot of people don't love running -- and that's fine! I'm not going to try and proselytize you -- but it's something that makes me feel better mentally and physically, and training for a race just amps that up a little.

4. As for something challenging...a minor annoyance really, but still an annoyance: our utility district is doing maintenance on the fire hydrants, which means all last week and all this week (M-F only, thank  goodness) we can't turn on our faucets or run the washing machine between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. or run the risk of drawing in the minerals that can discolor the water. We're making do with cups and pitchers full of water, and it's not a huge deal (and only an issue since the kids aren't in full time school and I don't  go off to work), since at the end of the day we still have clean, running water. But it's just one more thing taking up brain space (remembering to alter our behavior), and it's enough of a challenge that I'll be glad when 3 p.m. Friday hits.

5. "This [Matthew 5:1-12] is an announcement, not a philosophical analysis of the world. It is gospel -- an announcement of wonderful news, of good news, not good advice." - N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Wednesday creative

Here it is, the first creative writing portion of the new blog experiment. It's a short story that may turn into a novel down the road, but for now, I kind of like it the way it is. Enjoy!

"Farm Girl"

by Amanda Waters

Penelope Hertz is about to dssappoint five people.
She drives the big Hertz Family Farms van into the Cypress Farmers Market parking lot, waving at Mrs. Walling (Big Bottom Bakery) as she guides the van down to spot number 32. It's prime market real estate - halfway down the center aisle on a corner. Penelope's father pays a little extra for the spot, less than he might since Hertz Family Farms has been a vendor since the Cypress Farmers Market opened its doors.
Penny parks the van and and helps her two brothers set up the booth with a silent efficiency born out of countless hours of practice. If Farmers Market booth set-up was an art form, they would be lauded as grand masters.
Once Ryan pulls out the final crate, Penelope turns and heads away from the booth, out toward the sidewalk then down the street toward the smell of coffee, cinnamon, and sugar. The cherry trees that line the sidewalk block the early morning sun and Penny shivers slightly in the shade, although it doesn't take long for her to reach the bright green door that marks Cinnamon and Spice Cafe. She walks in through the door and trades the sounds of commuting cars for the hiss of an espresso machine, the low murmer of voices, and the sounds of classic country music.
As Penelope waits her turn in line, she looks around the small cafe trying to memorize her favorite details -- the built-in book case housing dozens of antique cookie jars, the mis-matched wooden tables and chairs, the worn leather armchairs in the far corner.
A huge smile appears on the freckled face across the counter as Penelope steps up to order.
"Hey Penny," Georgia says. "The usual?"
Georgia Farmer -- the 19 year old daughter of Cinnamon and Spice's owners -- pulls three large cups off the stack to her right, scribbles across the outsides with a sharpie, then begins keying in Penelope's twice-weekly order of three large coffees, two with a shot of espresso and one with two inches of steamed milk.
"So," Georgia says as she makes change from the $20 Penny hands her. "How's Hertz Family Farm this morning?"
"Still growing things," Penny says with a smile. "How are the Farmers?"
"Still brewing coffee and baking things."
Georgia hands over the change then glances over Penny's shoulder, checking to see if there's a line behind her.
"So, I...uhhh..I ran into... Ryan at the movies last night," Georgia says. "He said he was there by himself. Does that a lot? Go to the movies by himself, I mean?" Her tone was almost too casual, and her cheeks flushed slightly pink.
It must be hard to have that classic red-headed complexion, Penny thought. I would never be able to handle having such visible emotions.
"He does, actually," Penny says. "He actually prefers going to the movies alone, even when he's dating someone. Which," Penny leans over the counter and lowered her voice, "I happen to know he's not at the moment. Dating anyone." She smiles. "And because I actually like you, Georgia, I'm going to give you a tip: Ryan doesn't like girls who throw themselves at him, but he does tend to wait for a sure thing. So access whatever inner confidence you have and let him know you're interested. You probably know that he loves almost any kind of outdoor activity, but what you might not know is that he's lately turned into a bit of a foodie. So maybe do some research and suggest going to try out some bougie restaraunt."
"Really?" Georgia sounds surprised. "A foodie?"
Penny straightens and rolls her eyes. "He's really annoying about it too, but probably only to us."
Georgia laughs and wedges the cups into a cardboard drink tray and slides it across the counter. "Thanks for the advice," she says. "Although I hate being so obvious."
Penny smiles. "Nothing to be ashamed about. And clearly it's not obvious to everyone, or the knuckle-head would have asked you out by now."
"You're sweet."
"Thanks for the coffees."
Penny picks up her cardboard drink tray and turns to leave. As she walks toward the door she glances over at a corner of the coffee shop, the corner with the worn leather chair, strategically placed floor lamp, and green painted three-legged stool that serves as miniature coffee table or extra seating. The chair is empty, and Penny's heart constricts. Nine times out of ten, this particular weekly errand -- like decades-deep rut in a well-traveled country lane -- includes a brief conversation with the first person who Penny is going to disappoint. Jake Harding's presence in that leather chair on Monday and Thursday mornings at 7:30 is as reliable as the sun rising and setting every day. He should be sitting there with a cappucino, the muffin of the day, his laptop, and Moleskin notebook. Why isn't he there?
Penny shakes her head and sighs. Why does it matter? What does she think she's going to do, say goodbye? Confess her undying love but lack of desire to stay in Cypress, Arkansas? Ask him to leave his tenure track position at the local university to come with her to rural Wisconsin? No. The time for pointless conversations has passed, and goodbye might hurt a little too much. She forces out a  cheerful "Bye, Georgia!" and shoves open the door with her shoulder.
Ten minutes later she's walking back down the market aisle, waving at people she will genuinely miss seeing twice a week -- and a few she won't. Two stalls before she reaches Hertz Farms, she stops.
"Hi, Mary," she says. A woman with dark skin and a warm smile looks up from her display of pies and tarts.
"Hi, Penny! How are you?"
"Optimistic." And also sad, she thinks. Optimistic, sad, nervous.
Mary raises an eyebrow. "Soon, then?" she says.
Penny nods. "Tonight. Late."
"Still sneaking out?"
Penny shrugs, "What can I say. In this, I'm a coward."
Mary glances around before walking out from behind her table. Penny is surprised by the hug, and more surprised by the tears that pop into her eyes.
"I'm going to miss you," Mary whispers. "Call me when you're settled in."
Penny nods, blinking fast and clearing her throat. Mary steps back. "Now," she says in a normal voice. "I stayed up most of the night working on a new tart recipe. I need you to try it and give an honest review. Then I need you to give it to that food-snob brother of yours for an actual honest review."
"Hey! I give honest reviews!"
Mary just rolles her eyes. She walks back behind the table and hands Penny a celophane-wrapped tart labeled "pear-blueberry-fig."
Penny pulls cash out of her back pocket, but Mary waves her money away.
"Just tell Ryan to be gentle."
"Done," Penny says. "I better get back to the boys. They get grumpy if I let their coffee get cold. I'll text you my tart review later. And...I'll call you."
When she gets back to their tent, Ryan is snoring in the passenger seat and Dean is talking on the phone. She hands Dean his coffee and taps on the window of the van. Ryan jerks awake, looking around in confusion before running a hand through his hair and opening the door.
"Thanks, Pen."
At 8:30 a.m. on the dot, the market manager opens the gate and the day falls into a predictable rhythm. A rhythm that weighs heavy on Pennelope as she helps shoppers find the perfect bunch of greens, the best peas and carrots, as she bags produce and calculates cost, smiles, makes change, and restocks the display after a partciularly long rush of customers. A weight that intensifies as they make quick work of Mary's ridiculously delicious tart, and heavily discount their remaining stock an hour before heading home. And as they pack up their tables and the small amount of produce left at the end of the day, Penelope's chest tightens and the weight threatens to suffocate her.
Ryan gives her a funny look as they slam shut the back doors of the van.
"What's wrong with you?" he asks.
"Nothing." she says, her voice sharp with defensiveness. "What's wrong with you?"
He rolls his eyes and walks around to the driver's door. Penny slips into the back seat, leaving shotgun to Dean who is -- as usual -- texting on his phone. Penny pulls earbuds out of her pocket, puts them in her ears, and finds the most soothing playlist she can. Only a few more hours to go. She rolls her shoulders trying to  dislodge the tension camped out there, then leans her head back against the seat and closes her eyes.
Exactly eight songs later, Ryan is parking the van beside the big gray barn, and Penelope opens her eyes, bracing herself for the rest of the evening. As she climbs out of the van, her eyes stray to the little blue car sitting patiently behind the farmhouse. Three bags crammed as full as she can get them sit inside the trunk, smuggled out when no one was looking.
Ryan and Dean head toward the barn to take care of evening animal chores, and Penelope walks to the house to clean up and help with supper. She goes through the mudroom -- which is so clean, can it still be called a mudroom? -- slips off her shoes, and places them neatly on one of the three boot trays lined up along the wall. She washes her hands in the little sink against the wall, and inspects her clothes for visible dirt. The whole ritual eases some of the doubts that had been creeping into her mind all day about her plans. Heaven forbid anyone track dirt into the house of a working farm. She shakes her head and puts a smile on her face before opening the door into the kitchen.
"Hey, Chelsea, hi mom."
  Chelsea turns from her place at the stove and smiles at Penelope. "Hi, Pen. How was it today?'
"Business as usual!" Chelsea walks over to the big wooden table and gives her mom a hug around the shoulders. The older woman smiles up at her.
"Hi sweetie," she says.
"What can I do to help?" Penelope asks, grabbing an apron from the hook on the wall.
"Do you mind checking the rice and setting the table?"
"No problem."
Penelope gives her mom's shoulder another squeeze as she walks by -- her heart constricts -- and her mom continues to slice peppers and carrots. Penelope walks behind Chelsea and peeks under the lid of the rice pot on one of the back burners, then turns off the heat. She glances at the skillet in front of Chelsae.
"Looks great," Penelope says. And it does. She may not miss Chelsea's obsession with a spotless house, but she will miss Chelsea's cooking, especially when she makes a curry like tonight.
"Thanks! Hey, did Dean talk to you about what we want to do with the north field?"
"Well, we've decided to turn that field into an organic field, see how it goes, and eventually we can transition to all organic produce."
Penelope glances at her mom and raises her eyebrows, but her mom just smiles, shrugs, and keeps chopping vegetables. When Dean married Chelsea three years ago, and then their Dad passed away just a year after that, Penelope's Mom took that as a sign that it was time for her to retire as farm wife. Now she spends most of her time either at the nearby yarn store, sitting on the front porch in her rocking chair with a mug of tea and a book, or taking walks long enough that Penelope teases her about being a Jane Austen heroine. Penelope doesn't blame her mom at all for her "retirement" -- Chelsea likes things a certain way, and has lots of dreams for Hertz Family Farms. Penelope sometimes wonders what her Dad would have thought about all the trends Chelsea seems to be chasing.
"He didn't mention it, but it sounds like a great idea!" Easy to say since it won't affect her at all.
"Ryan's not to on board yet, but I'm sure he'll come around."
Again, Penelope and her mom exchange a look.
"Oh, yeah, I'm sure he will." Penelope feels like she's mostly succesful in hiding her sarcasm.
After they've all eaten and cleaned up, Penelope feigns tiredness so she can hide out in her room. It's not entirely an act -- she is pretty tired. Mostly she feels anxious at the thought of trying to pretend it's a normal night.
Her emotions nearly betray her as she hugs her mom goodnight. This will be the hardest disappointment.
"You okay, honey?" her mom asks, pulling back and searching Penelope's face.
"Just tired," Penelope forces her emotions back down into her gut before her eyes can tear up. "I didn't sleep well last night, and you know how early market days are."
Her mom doesn't look satisfied, but doesn't push, just gives Penelope another hug and kiss on the cheek. "Good night then."
Penelope walks slowly up the stairs and into her room, grabbing the toiletry bag sitting on her bedside table and walking across the hall into the bathroom. She closes the door behind her and begins quietly loading her bag -- shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, razor. She rearranges what's left in the bathroom to try and hide the missing items before going back to her room. After putting the toiletry bag into her backpack, she sits down on the bed with a sigh, then lays back on the quilt -- one her grandmother made ages ago. Her brain is spinning. She pulls out her phone and pulls up the email she's read approximately a hundred thousand times since receiving it:

"Dear Ms. Hertz,
We are thrilled that you have accepted our offer to work with us! I think you'll find dairy farming and cheese making to be a welcome challenge while still in a somewhat familiar environment. Our current apprentice is leaving in two weeks, and we'd like a week to get the apartment ready for you. If possible, we'd love to have you arrive sometime between March 5 and March 12. Shoot us an email once you have a date nailed down so we can be expecting you. I know it's going to be a long trip, which makes exact arrival time difficult to determine, but I only ask that you don't come to the house after 8 p.m. Jim and I like to wind down early, as I'm sure you are familiar with! Those early morning chores do come quite early.
We can't wait to see you in a few weeks and welcome you to Sunflower Dairy!
Jim and Betty Nelson
p.s. March can still be quite cool up here in Wisconsin, especially compared to what you're used to, so make sure you pack a few warm clothes and a jacket for both work and play! 

Penny sighs. She knows she's being a coward, sneaking out in the middle of the night leaving only goodbye letters and questions behind. It bothers her, but not enough to change course now. She pulls open the drawer of her bedside table, empty now except for five thin envelopes. She double checks that they're all there -- Mom, Dean, Ryan, Jake. She debated leaving one for Chelsea, but they're not close, and she had nothing special to say. She debated mailing Jakes to him, but knows her Mom will see he gets it, and somehow a hand-delivered goodbye seems slightly less awful than a letter in the mail. Despite the adreneline coursing through her she feels surprisingly sleepy, her eyelids like weights on her face. She sets the alarm on her phone for 1 a.m. -- it's a working farm after all -- everyone should be deep into REM sleep by that time -- and clutches her letters to her chest. Soon enough she's asleep.
When her alarm beeps at 1 a.m., Penelope sits up wide awake. She sits for a moment, listening to the sleeping house before standing up, putting her phone in her pocket, and shouldering her backpack. One last look around the room, it's walls steeped in childhood memories, young adult angst, and lately, her restlessness. She presses her fingers to her lips, then gently pats the door jam as she walks out.
She creeps down the stairs in sock feet, into the dark kitchen where she lays out her slightly crumpled envelopes in the center of the big kitchen table. She walks through to the mud room, slips on her sneakers waiting patiently in their designated resting place, and grabs her work boots. She wonders what the boys will notice first in their early morning haze -- the envelopes on the table, the missing boots, the fact that she's not in the fields or the barn, or her missing car. Penelope walks through the grass to where she's parked her car, opens the trunk and stashes the boots. She tosses the backpack in the front passenger seat and slides in behind the wheel. She smiles a little as she arranges her phone, her charger, and the printed map. Dean had made fun of her when she'd decided to buy a hybrid after her beat-up Ford truck had died, but turns out that not having to crank a loud gasoline engine made it a lot easier to sneak away in the middle of the night. No pushing a hunk of metal down the driveway like he and Ryan and done a bunch of times in high school.
Penelope starts her car, connects her phone to the car's blue tooth speakers, and rolls her windows down so she can say goodbye to the place she loves with all her senses -- the rustling sound of the woods at night, the smell of earth and green grass, the sight of moonlight playing in the treetops, and the feel of the cool night air. When she gets to the end of the lane, there are tears in her eyes and a huge smile on her face. Before she pulls out onto the highway, she scrolls to the playlist she's been curating for months and presses play.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

A Wednesday list...

Sometimes, I decide to form a habit or routine, or to do things a certain way. Sometimes, I look up one day and realize I've stumbled onto a habit or routine or way of doing things because in the process of trying to achieve a specific outcome, a consistent pattern emerges because it works. Does this happen to anyone else? Here's an example: Wednesday lists on my blog. For a long time, most of what I wrote on the blog were book thoughts/reviews, with the occasional random other post thrown in for fun. After I had my youngest baby, I wanted to keep writing regularly on the blog, but my post-partum brain couldn't think in paragraphs -- it could barely think in sentences! I had things to say, but not in what I'd call a "long form" kind of way. Thus, the list. Then all of a sudden, I realized I was mostly (not always, but mostly) writing them on Wednesdays. Why mess with a good thing? Especially when one of the most common bits of writing advice is: be consistent.

And I like the Wednesday list. I like being able to write something without the pressure to make it long or deep or extra thoughtful. I like the accountability of consistency. And now I think it's time to take Wednesday lists to the next level, to give them a little bit of focus, and to shake things up just a little bit on this little square inch of the internet. So here's the plan: every other week, I'll post A Wednesday list, which will include:

1. Something I've read
2. Something I've seen or heard
3. Something I'm grateful for
4. Something that's challenging
5. A little bit of inspiration

On the alternate weeks, I'm going to post something creative -- a writing exercise, a short story or scene, one of my not-good-but-fun-to-write poems.

So. that's the plan for now. I'm going to take it out for a test drive for a few months and see how it goes. As the weeks go on, let me know what you think! I write for myself, but if I didn't want anyone to read it, I probably wouldn't be posting it on the Internet, right? So I'm always happy for feedback!

And since the title of this post IS A Wednesday list, here's the first go at the new scaffolding:

1. Something I've read
Because I started two books at once last week and have been bingeing a Netflix show, I haven't finished a book since Leviathan Wakes (see last week's list), but this morning I really appreciated reading NPR's transcript/fact checking and commentary on the President's State of the Union speech. I really dislike listening to political speeches (especially when the person's delivery style grates on my nerves), so this was the perfect way to get a little bit of current event knowledge, but in a way that suits me better. I thought the fact checking and editorial comments were brief, relevant, and appropriate.

2. Something I've seen or heard
I finished the third (and final) season of Broadchurch this week, and it was SO good. I was nervous going into the third season because the crime they are solving is a rape. However, I think the show and  the actors handled it really well, without getting sensational or graphic. I appreciated that we got to see how the loss in the first season continued to affect the family -- which is completely realistic -- and I appreciated that the B storylines echoed the main storyline in a really subtle way. Miller and Hardy's characters continued to shine and Olivia Coleman and David Tennant have now become two of my favorite actors (I know a lot of people are already familiar with them, but I wasn't before Broadchurch).

3. Something I'm grateful for
I'm really grateful today for our local public library, in particular the librarian who usually leads the preschool storytime at the branch we go to. Ms. Cathy is warm and kind and tries to remember the names of the children who come regularly. She also does a good job of mixing active songs and rhymes with the books she reads. My kids love going to storytime, and I like that they're developing positive associations with the books and reading.

4. Something that's challenging
A super energetic, physical, strong-willed three year old. Whew! That'll tired a person out. I know I'm not alone in this, which is a comfort. But it's still hard.

5. A little bit of inspiration
(this will probably end up being a quote or a Bible verse, possibly a thought someone shared with me that I found especially encouraging)
"You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet." -- Jesus, Matthew 5:13

Happy Wednesday!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A Wednesday list...

1. Show of hands: how many of you made donuts out of canned biscuits as a kid? We used to do that occasionally, and I finally had a good reason Monday to get over my intimidation of frying things to give it a try. My kids' preschool had "Donuts with Dad" yesterday morning, and the littlest one is allergic to eggs; but I knew they would enjoy doing something like that with their Dad, so I felt motivated enough to try the biscuit donuts. They were yummy! The kids helped me sugar them -- half powdered sugar, half with cinnamon sugar -- and let me say it's a good thing I already needed to mop my floors. Cinnamon sugar was the preferred variety, and fortunately it was a nice enough day that I could open up my kitchen window to help clear out the fried food smell (the smell is fine while you're cooking, but I don't love old food smells in general).

2. I recently started watching the show Broadchurch on Netflix. The first season (the only one I've finished so far) follows the case of a murdered 11 year old boy in a small coastal town that's never had any kind of violent crime. I think it's really well done. I like the slow pace and the way they portray the suspicion that takes over the small community where everyone (thinks they) know everyone else's business.

3. My friend Heather recommended The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey a while back, and I finally got around to checking the first book out from the library (Leviathan Wakes) It's a big, fat science fiction book, and so far I'm enjoying it. The story itself is very political thriller. Science fiction isn't one of my go-to genres, but the past couple of years I've been more open to it because I've managed to find some books that I really connected with. Which confirms my theory that sometimes all you need is the right-for-you introduction to a particular genre. I think my introduction to the sci-fi genre was actually television and movies, it just took me a while to make the jump from Star Trek and Firefly to books.

4.I listened to a brand-new podcast today: 10 Things to Tell You. Today was the very first episode of the podcast, and the host - who is an avid reader - spent the episode answering a question she said a lot of people ask her: when do you read? What's really funny about that, is that a friend asked me the other day! Laura Tremain (the podcast host) offered a lot of ideas, but one I loved is her personal tip for developing the habit: setting a timer. She sets a timer for 20 minutes, and during that time all she does is read. Now, at this stage in her life she says she does that a couple of times a day, or she often reads past the time. But she also said that she's found that even if all she does is read for those 20 minutes a day, it's amazing how many books she ends up reading. And I'm guessing that the reason is honestly why setting a timer is often a suggested tactic in a lot of areas -- cleaning, exercising, writing, etc. -- because we so rarely focus on ONE THING for any length of time, that we forget how powerful focused energy can be. Anyway, I don't use a timer, but there are a couple of ways I make time to read. Sometimes, I read instead of watching t.v., and I usually at least a few minutes in bed. But as a stay-at-home mom with two preschoolers, there's one choice that has the biggest impact: I recognize that there will always be chores to do. There will always be something to clean or organize or DO. So I don't try to get it all done before "allowing" myself a reading break. If the kids are playing happily, and I've gotten one or two things done, I sit down in the room the kids are playing in (or on my screened porch if they're playing outside), and let myself read for a few minutes. It's not always for very long, but every little bit adds up. (I also give myself permission to quit a book that isn't working for me -- Laura Tremain mentions this too -- so I don't waste a lot of time trying to force my way through a book).

5. I've been thinking of my friends who are experiencing arctic weather today. I hope and pray you all have plenty of blankets, warm drinks, warm food, and that you can stay inside today!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

A Wednesday list...

1. I think I've previously mentioned the stray cats in our neighborhood and how they irritate me to no end (peeing and pooping all over our yard, etc.), especially the one who has had kittens in our backyard twice. I finally got my rear in gear and borrowed a live animal trap and set it out last night, and low and behold, the mama cat took the bait! Animal control came this morning, and apparently what they do now is spay/neuter, vaccinate, and re-release the cats. On the up side, having a non-procreating community of cats will keep the rodent population down, so I'm glad I set out the trap even if it doesn't mean I will be free forever. I even set out the trap again to see if I can catch another one! I'm on a roll.

2. I finished Lethal White, by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) and loved it so much! I think this was my favorite of the series so far. I love how Rowling balances the complex mystery and plot with the character arcs and development. I also appreciated that Lethal White was significantly less grisly than book three.

3. My daughter would rather eat Saltine crackers than Cheez-its or Goldfish (to be fair, I think she got burned out on Goldfish during our road trip). Kids are weird.

4. I entered a manuscript contest this week. Fingers crossed! Winners get tickets to a Texas editors/agents conference, which would be so cool. But what I'm almost more excited about is the fact that even if you don't win you get a critique of your submission (synopsis and first 10 pages).

5. Speaking of of my top writing-related goals right now is to find a critique group or a couple of critique partners. This is a daunting task. I thought I might be able to network last year through a Houston area writers group, but it didn't pan out. I think one thing that's stood in my way is my own thinking that I'd like to find a person/persons I already know. But I think that's unrealistic right now. (unless you're reading this and want to form a writing critique partnership! If so, shoot me a message!) 

I'm extra tired this week, so I feel like I've been extra random. Oh well! Happy Wednesday from my scattered brain to yours!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A Wednesday list...

1. For the Love with Jen Hatmaker is one of the podcasts in my regular rotation, and yesterday I listened to one in her Giving series that I think will stick with me a long time. In it, she interviews two different people who have started organizations doing amazing work in some very hard places. She talks to Susan Ramirez, the founder of an organization called National Angels which works to provide practical support to foster children and foster families; and to Jon Huckins, the co-founder of Global Immersion Project, a peacemaking training organization. Here are a couple of the things that stood out to me, and why I think this podcast is worth a listen: In her talk with Ms. Ramirez, it was really inspiring and helpful to hear about VERY PRACTICAL ways in which a person who maybe doesn't have a calling or isn't in a place to foster or adopt can still minister to this very vulnerable group. The interview with Jon Huckins was challenging in a different -- also good -- way. He talked about how often for Christians the concept of being a peacemaker is a little bit nebulous and cerebral -- we have a thousand yard view of being a peacemaker. But what does it really mean to be a peacemaker? He presented ideas such as how being a peacemaker requires stepping into spaces of conflict (which we more often avoid), and requires making peace with turmoil and anger inside ourselves. it was a really interesting and challenging conversation, and made me curious about the book that the Global Immersion Project recently published, and just curious to maybe dive into studying more about peace and peacemaking in the Bible myself. Here's the link to the podcast if you're interested in checking it out:

2. The other night I woke up in the middle of the night for some reason and while it is not abnormal for it to take me a hwile to go back to sleep, this time it was for a really annoying reason: having a one-sided conversation with a person/people online whom I don't actually know. Because I have decided -- for now -- not to waste my time adding to the cacophony of arguing on the internet, I am going to briefly vent here by mentioning a couple of my biggest  peeves: 1. generalizing people by just one or two of their identifying characteristics/social groups (think: "teenagers always do this" or "all Catholics are like this" or "old people are...") 2. Condescending tones and attitudes. This sometimes comes from unlikely places, like when I hear or see someone mention "flyover states." You know what, random person I don't know? You may think you're being cute and funny, but implicit in that term is the idea that those places don't matter. Try something else: the Midwest, the Great Planes, the Middle States...anything else that is less dismissive and condescending. Condescension often comes from intellectuals -- or psudo-intellectuals, or people who spend too much time in an echo chamber of their own "brilliant" ideas and beliefs. It's okay to tell me something I don't know, or challenge something I believe, but a condescending attitude is the fastest way to get me to stop listening.

3. I recently watched the short series Derry Girls on Netflix, and it was so delightful! It's set in Northern Ireland during the mid-1990s, and follows the lives of a group of high school girls (and one dude cousin who hilariously ends up at their all-girls parochial school because he's from England and the adults decided he'd be safer at the girls school). Everything is so perfectly awkward, perfectly 1990s, and based on the reviews I'm going to say perfectly Irish (being that I'm not actually from Ireland, I can't attest to that 100 percent, but suffice it to say I enjoyed the setting immensely). The characters were so real, the relationship dynamics so nuanced, and the nun who is the head of the girls' school is my absolute FAVORITE.

A short list this week since I rambled on and on. Have a great Wednesday!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

A Wednesday list...

1. Jeremy and I are taking a trip to London this summer! Every time I say it or even type it out I get a huge grin on my face, and it's on my mind this week because we purchased plane tickets. I'm having to remember to pace myself when it comes to planning and dreaming. It's my second trip to London (once in high school, once in grad school) and Jeremy's first. I'm partly excited because I'm an Anglophile and there's just so much to explore in this city. I'm also super excited to share the experience with Jeremy. And as an added bonus -- we're going to get to go to Reims, France and watch the U.S. Women's National Soccer team play in the World Cup! Since marrying Jeremy I've become more of a soccer fan, and attending a World Cup game had made a spot on my bucket list. Also...I want to give an early shoutout to my parents and my niece who will be keeping our kids alive and having fun while we're gone. They are the best!

2. I came across this article [link] in the past week that I found really thought provoking. It's about parenting young teenagers through those first stages of puberty -- basically taking the time to explain to kids what's going on with their brain developmentally -- so they understand why they feel and act so differently all of a sudden. Not necessarily directly related to me at the moment (although toddler/preschooler brain development is REALLY similar to puberty brain development), but something to file away for the future for sure.

3. Growing up, Mary Poppins was one of my favorite movies and is still one I can watch and enjoy over and over again. Needless to say, I made a point to go see Mary Poppins Returns as soon as I could once it came to theaters. It was "practically perfect in every way." The acting, the music, the sets, the story, and the heart were everything I hoped for and I imagine I'll be listening to the soundtrack on repeat for a while.

4. Of all the random errand and chore combinations, for some reason I find the buy-and-change-the-light bulbs one to the most annoying. Of course, I also find a too-dark house to be annoying so I am nothing if not contradictory.

5. I finally picked up a book that's been on my nightstand for ages -- Audacious, by Beth Moore -- and I'll be alternating between that and a sci-fi/adventure/mystery that I have for review (Quantum Mayhem, by Lesley L. Smith).  I also couldn't help myself today at the library and picked up two books. One by an author I've never read -- Jo Walton -- that was recommended for fans of Golem and the Jinni, and one that simply sucked me in by the cover.