Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A Wednesday list....

Y'all. Last week was about 25 years long, so I missed my typical creative post. This week a lot of my creative energy is being funneled into a fun Instagram challenge, so we're going to stick to regularly scheduled programming and I'm hitting you with a list of things I'm digging. Enjoy!

1. What I'm reading.
I'm currently reading a sci-fi space opera called Enemy Immortal, by Jim Meeks-Johnson; and I just finished a light and breezy book of essays by Lincee Ray called It's a Love Story. I've got a big stack of library books waiting for me when I finish Enemy Immortal, and I went to a local author fair at a neighborhood bookstore last weekend and picked up a historical fiction novel that looks really interesting.

2. What I'm watching.
Jeremy and I spent the last couple of weeks watching Umbrella Academy on Netflix, and I thought it was fantastic. It's the story of a dysfunctional family of orphans in superhero wrapping. It has a highly stylized aesthetic (it reminds me a bit of early Quentin Tarantino), a nice mix of action and quiet interpersonal drama, and a top notch cast. There's a character who is a 58 year old man stuck in the body of a 12 year old boy, and I never of that actor as a 12 year old, he did such a good job.

3. What I'm grateful for.
At this very moment I'm grateful for high speed internet access and the ability to stream music all day long. It's also grocery shopping day, and I am always grateful for our local HEB grocery store. I told Jeremy the other day that if we ever move, I'm going to miss HEB the most.

4. A little inspiration
"The effect of Jesus' giving of his own life; the example of love, non-retaliation, the kingdom way of confronting evil with goodness; Jesus' taking of the world's hatred and anger onto himself; and beyond all these, the defeat of the powers of evil, the blotting out of the sins of the world, the love of God shining through the dark clouds of wickedness -- all of this is now to be seen around the world. It is seen not only in the millions who worship Jesus and thank him for his death, but in the work of healing which flows from it; in reconciliation and hope for communities and for individuals."
 - N.T. Wright

Thursday, May 2, 2019

A Wednesday list...

Yes, I know it's Thursday. Just go with it.

1. What I'm reading
Unsurprisingly, I follow a lot of literary-adjacent accounts on social media, so when poet Mary Oliver died a few months ago, my Internet was chock full of quotes and snippets from her poetry. So, I checked out Evidence: Poems from my local library, and it proved to be a delight. Mary Oliver writes poetry that is really accessible, and I found that reading a poem or two a day was like the literary equivalent of eating a small piece of dark chocolate, or the perfect cup of coffee or tea. I also recently finished The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, by Joshua Hammer which was a fascinating look at the rich cultural and intellectual history of the Mali region, the various political and religious conflicts that have threatened to erase that history and heritage, and the people who worked to preserve that heritage. The author is a journalist, and that background comes through in his spare and succinct writing, but I think it served the story well, allowing the story and place to shine.

2. What I'm listening to:
I've got the new album by Johnnyswim -- Moonlight -- on repeat right now. It is just so good.

3. What I'm grateful for:
There's always so much to be grateful for, but today I'm particularly grateful for conversations with friends.

4. A little inspiration:
I have a twofer for inspiration this week. The first is a blog post from author and podcaster Emily P. Freeman. It's a really thoughtful essay about regret, particularly as it relates to making decisions. I have a tendency to look back and analyze decisions I've made and waste a lot of effort thinking of all the things I could have done differently, so her words really spoke to me.
How to Handle Regret: When Your Next Right Thing Turns Out Wrong

My second bit of inspiration comes from Mary Oliver (I'd give you the whole poem, but that's copyright infringement, but I think this little taste is still worth it)

"...Sometimes I need
        only to stand
             wherever I am
                  to be blessed."

--excerpt from "It was Early" by Mary Oliver



Thursday, April 25, 2019

Meet a new character

I've just started working on a new story that I think might turn into a novel, but I've taken a break from the narrative to write character profiles of a few of my main characters and get to know them better. Just for fun, here's a snake peek at one of them. Enjoy! 

Hickory (Hicks) Aaron Phillips 
The first thing I should tell you is why I haven't just started going by Aaron. I mean...I'm a freshman in high school. I'm pretty sure I could dig in my heals and make everyone start calling me Aaron. Well. I could ask my parents and they probably would. And my friends would. My older sisters June and Daisy would most likely laugh at the request and there's no way I could make them do anything. That's not the way the whole youngest sibling thing works. But here's the truth -- in eight grade, the baseball team was playing an away game and after the  game, the team went to get dinner at a diner in town. The waitress at our booth was smokin' hot. Like, we could barely form sentences hot. She asked our names and when it got to me and I said "Hicks," her eyebrows went up and she grinned. "That's a really cool name. Like, it sounds like a rock star name or something." So basically, that was the the end of one day going by my middle name.  
Here are some other things about me: 
 I have a mom and dad and two older sisters. My Dad's a preacher who decided before I was born that he was called to serve rural churches, so I spent most of my childhood in a few small towns in Tennessee and North Carolina. When my middle sister Daisy started high school, we moved to a slightly bigger town, and one only a an hour or two away from Greenville, NC. I didn't mind super small-town life too much, but I can't say that I'm upset to live someplace with, you know, a movie theater and more than one restaurant.
I love Marvel comic books and super hero movies, baseball, music with red-hot guitar riffs, playing drums, fried chicken, cinnamon chewing gum, camping,  and -- don't laugh -- romantic comedies. I know, I know...but I have two older sisters.  
I dislike football, deli meat, cake, heavy metal music, getting up early, cats, growth spurts, bowling, and feeling like I'm going to be permanently stuck in the friend zone.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A Wednesday list...

1. What I'm reading...
A few weeks ago I was talking to the mom of one of my daughter's classmates, and we started talking about books. She said she'd recently read a fantasy series that starts with The Watchmaker's Daughter, by C.J. Archer, and y'all I am DIGGING these books. They're a combination of Victorian mysteries and light fantasy, and they're fun, quick reads. I also recently started a book that caught my eye on a library display: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, by Joshua Hammer. It's a story about the preservation of ancient manuscripts in Northern Africa. I'm just a few chapters in, but already it's extremely fascinating.

2. What I'm watching/listening to...
The Amazing Race is BACK!!! This season is a "reality showdown," with contestants from The Amazing Race, Survivor, and Big Brother. I'm familiar with a few of the teams, including one of my all-time favorite crazy Amazing Race team from several years ago (Colin and Christie!!). Jeremy and I also recently finished the third season of The Expanse, and it was everything I wanted it to be.

3. Grateful...
Jeremy and I are traveling to England and France this summer for a week-long vacation, and it's been on my mind this week because we recently booked the train travel and accommodations for our overnight in Reims, France (we'll be watching a Women's World Cup game! U.S. v.s Thailand). I am beyond grateful for the chance to take this trip (with a special thank you for my parents and my niece who are coming to watch our kiddos during that week! Y'all are the best!)

4. A little inspiration...
The song "Brother" by Needtobreathe has been out for a while, but I've become re-obsessed with it lately. It's such an inspiring, beautiful, heart-full song (I realize heart-full isn't really a word, but it's my blog, I'll make up words if I want. ;-) ) anyway...if you need an excuse or push to call someone you love, give it another listen.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

An Ordinary Girl

Hi y'all! Today's bit of creativity is something that I think might have the makings of a cute children's book, inspired by a certain red-headed girl I know who had an early hat-loving phase. It definitely needs illustrations to get the full picture of my idea -- think unconventional and creative "hats", like a bundt pan for a Space Hat and, a crocheted penguin hat with ear flaps for a Racing Hat, and red plastic bucket turned upside down for a Parade Hat. Anyway, you get the idea. Enjoy!

An Ordinary Girl,
by Amanda Waters

Nina is an ordinary girl, who lives in an ordinary town, in an ordinary house, with an ordinary family. She gets up every morning, and puts on her clothes…eats her breakfast…hugs her mom and her dad…pets her dog…and plays with her brother. 
But then…Nina has extraordinary adventures. 
She puts on her Racing Hat… ladies and gentlemen, start your engines! Nina zooms around dangerous curves, passing one…two…three cars. Now she’s in the lead! Nina wins! 
She puts on her Cowboy Hat… and rides across the prairie , looking for stray cows or bandits or maybe just a nice place to sit and eat a snack…. 
In her  Space Hat, Nina climbs into a rocket ship for a trip to the moon. 5..4…3…2…1
She puts on her Parade Hat. Toot! Toot! Toot! She plays her horn and marches to the beat.  
She puts on her Snow Hat…brrr! It’s cold out here in the snow. But Nina is warm in her  snow hat, mittens, and snow boots. She builds a snow man and a pile of snow balls and then…. 
Puts on her princess hat. A shiny, sparkly, princess hat. Perfect in a big castle where she can twirl and dance in her tutu.  
Uh oh! What’s this? Her castle needs a repair! So she puts on her Construction Hat… She hammers and saws and uses her screwdriver to make the castle strong and safe before she… 
Finally takes off her last hat, and hangs it up, and once again becomes an ordinary girl, in an ordinary town, in an ordinary house, with an ordinary family.
Which isn’t so bad, really, because even ordinary girls can have extraordinary adventures.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

A Wednesday list...

Well, hello! This has been a weird day, and I almost forgot it was Wednesday (I thought yesterday was Wednesday almost all day so...you get an idea of where my head's at this week).

1. What I'm reading -
The past couple of weeks have been sluggish on the reading front, mostly because I was trying to finish a very un-interesting book that I'd committed to reading for my occasional review gig. But I procrastinated by reading a couple of interesting articles including this one in Christianity Today resonated with me because I'm often frustrated with the dismissive attitude a lot of people have toward the middle of the country - those who don't live there anyway. I haven't lived in the Midwest for a lot of years now, but moving away really helped me see and appreciate the region I'm from a lot more, but so many people dismiss it as "flyover country." I've started a couple of new books, one for review that should be interesting (it's young adult magical realism, and just three chapters in we've already met a telepathic dog) and a fantasy novel by Kate Elliott, a long-time favorite.

2. What I'm listening to and watching --
I finally re-activated my CBS all access subscription so I can watch the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, and so far I'm enjoy the second season a lot. I was also introduced to some new music this weekend when Jeremy and I went to a Needtobreathe concert. Is anyone else familiar with Sean McConnell? I am obsessed! His style is folksy singer-songwriter, his lyrics are heartfelt and poignant, and his voice is outstanding.

3. Grateful -
We've had beautiful weather the past few weeks, and I've noticed how well our county parks department takes care of the county parks and playgrounds. There are a few near us that we go to semi-regularly, and they're always clean and well-maintained, even the bathroom facilities! Which is extremely important and not always the case with public restrooms.

4. Something inspiring:
 I came across this article and found it really encouraging, especially to anyone who's ever found themselves awake in the middle of the night longing for sleep. It's not overly deep or profound, but it does contain some beautiful thoughts about God's presence in our lives.

Have a great rest of the week!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

What are you doing here?

Hello, all! Welcome to another un-edited creative exercise. This one gets a little background: I listen to a podcast called Writing Excuses (excellent podcast for writers and creatives, by the way) and at the end of each short episode they give a writing homework. Here's the one that inspired this story: 
A husband and wife find themselves at the same coffee shop, when both of them are supposed to be somewhere else. Write a conversation between them without using any dialogue markers (he said, she said, etc.). The point of the exercise is to practice writing character voices that are distinctive and unique. So. here's what happened when I sat down to participate in this particular exercise Enjoy! 

What Are You Doing Here?

I've always had a soft spot for those unlikely encounter jokes. You know the ones -- x, y, and z walk into a bar. My dad always told them, and my brother and I always rolled our eyes, but secretly I thought they were usually pretty funny.

Yeah, when your life feels like the set up for a punch line...it's not quite as funny.

A man and a woman walk into a bar.

Nope, not quite.

A husband and wife walk into a bar.

Closer, but still not it.

A husband who's supposed to be on a 25 mile bike ride in the opposite direction and a wife who's supposed to be at work an hour away walk into a coffee shop. Well, technically, the wife walks into the coffee shop and sees the husband sitting at a table in the corner. 

My first instinct is to march over to the table and demand to know what he's doing there. In fact, I take a step out of line before it hits me that perhaps I don't want to be throwing stones from inside my glass house.

I get back in line and place my order and walk around to the other side of the counter to wait. My stomach knots up, but I force myself to keep my head down and look at my phone -- pretend to be looking at my phone, if I'm honest -- instead of staring at Denis. Which is what I want to do. But I don't want to risk him looking up because he feels eyes on the back of his head.

The coffee shop is busy, so I have to wait longer than is really comfortable, but finally they call my name. The knots in my stomach clench, hoping that Denis has his earbuds in or at least isn't paying attention to the baristas. At least Sarah is a pretty common name. I walk up to the counter and grab my latte then head quickly toward the door, head still down.

Ironic, because if I'd had my head up I might not have literally run into the person I was trying to avoid.

"Oh, I'm so sorry!"

"Excuse me."

I am now intimately acquainted with the phrase 'my heart was about to beat out of my chest.'

"Well. This is awkward."

"Awkward!? I was thinking something more along the lines of -- 'what in the world is going on?'"

"No...I mean...I think we're blocking the door."

We move outside into the gorgeous spring day step to the right of the door.

"Well?'

"Well, what?"

"Well, what is going on!? Aren't you supposed to be at the depot by now, chowing down on a BLT from the Bacon Burner?"

"That was...that was what I said, yes. On the other hand..."

"...On the other hand?"

"You're going to make me say it."

"Yes! I'm going to make you say it! For goodness sake, SAY SOMETHING!"

"Fine. If you're going to be like that. What are you doing here? I thought you had a shift this morning?"

"That's it. Mild curiosity? 'goodness, this is odd.' Are you mad? hurt? confused?"

"Are YOU mad?"

"Yes! I'm mad! Why did you lie"

"Why do you assume I lied?"

"Gahhh!!!! This conversation is so frustrating! YOU are so frustrating!"

"Can we start over?"

"Well, it can't get any worse."

"I'm surprised to see you, and I bet you're surprised to see me."

"Yes. And I'm unsettled, and suspicious, and right now I suspect the worst."

"Don't. Please. The truth is, I've been working on a project for a few weeks, something I wanted to be a surprise. The only time I could figure out to work on it without letting anyone know is during my usual bike ride. I come down here because it's away from work and school and most of the places you shop or run errands. It's nothing bad just...I didn't want to talk about it yet."

Seconds tick by.

"Well, I"m intrigued. Less scared. How long until you were going to tell me about your...secret?"

"Surprise...not secret."

"What's the difference?"

"Well, one implies the possibility of something shameful, or at least something that I don't want anyone to know about at all. The other implies something good. Happy. Something to look forward to. But also, to answer you question: in a couple of weeks."

"Hmmm...ok. I'll concede to your semantic clarification, and allow this to pass. But the waiting might just kill me."

A smile.

"And to answer the question you'll be too 'polite' to ask -- my being here has to do with more of a secret than a surprise, but it's not bad. I'm not cheating on you."

"That wasn't my first thought."

"Seriously?"

"Maybe my second thought."

"Finally! A little honesty and openenness! Look...I'm...I've started seeing a therapist."

Blink. Blink.

"And you're...ashamed?"

"A little, yeah. I never know what you think! You always seem to have it together, and I didn't want you to think it was all about you, or that I was dissatisfied or unhappy."

"But if you're seeing a therapist, doesn't that imply that you ARE dissatisfied or unhappy?"

"Well, yes. But not with you. A few months ago, I started having trouble sleeping, and -- you remember how I told you I had panic attacks in high school? -- well, I've experienced a few panic attacks at work, and between that and the insomnia I thought I'd get a little help."

"Sweetheart...why didn't you tell me?"

"Honestly, I don't know. Because I thought you'd try to fix me yourself. It's so hard to know what you think, and...I needed to do this without assuming any judgement."

My stomach is still in knots, but now my anxiety is directed at myself. I'd been staring over Denis's shoulder, afraid to look at his face and see judgement or worry or the lack of visible emotion that I'm used to seeing. But when I finally glance at him, all I see in his dark eyes is love, and worry, and sadness. He sets down his backpack and closes the distance between us, wrapping strong arms around me. A sob erupts from my chest.

"I'm so, so sorry. I should have trusted you. I shouldn't have kept you out."

"No, I'm sorry. I'm sorry you didn't feel comfortable sharing with me, and that my tendency to fix things is too strong sometimes. I would never judge you for seeing a counselor. In fact, I am so proud of you right now."

I pull back a little bit, so I can see his face. "Seriously?"

He nods. "You're taking care of yourself, and that is admirable."

"I love you, you know that?"

He pulls me in close again, kissing me like we're not standing on a sidewalk in the middle of the day.  A kiss full of apology and promise and love.

It's not exactly a punch line, but I like this ending better.