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.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Wednesday list...

Happy Wednesday, friends!

1. Reading:
This past weekend I read an advanced reader copy of a book called Collateral Damage, by Taylor Simonds. It was a fun take on a superhero story with a snarky heroine and a fast-paced plot. Before that, I read The Glass-Bottom Boat, by Laura Thomas (which I've been talking about for a couple of weeks on social media as part of the author's book launch team). It's Christian romantic suspense, and it's a good book to grab when you have a few hours and want to read something easy-breezy and familiar. Then before THAT I read Liane Moriarty's newest book Nine Perfect Strangers which was kind of bonkers but I LOVED it. Moriarty has a gift for crafting books that I find myself getting immersed in -- when I turn the last page I feel like I've been on a trip to Australia and gotten to know a whole bunch of new people (some friends...some not so much friends)

2. Watching/listening:
I'm going to mention two things this week. The first, is episode 7 of the 10 Things to Tell You Podcast: What are you assuming about others? This is a new podcast, and I've really been enjoying it. This episode in particular really resonated with me, and was a good reminder to stop and think about the power and potential harm when we make assumptions.
The second thing I've seen/heard is Captain Marvel! Have we become over saturated with super hero movies over the past few years? Maybe. But I still like them, and this one was worth the ticket and popcorn. Here are some things I like: Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel has the kind of confidence and swagger that doesn't need to prove itself, which is just so refreshing. Example: she's standing outside restaurant looking at a map and a jerkface on a motorcycle rolls up and says "give me a smile, sweetheart." She just goes about her business barely acknowledging his existence....and then steels his motorcycle. The other really standout feature of this movie is that the primary relationships are student/mentor and friendships. Now don't get me wrong, I like a good romance; but that's not the only kind of relationship that matters in a person's life, and I LOVED seeing a movie that explored other important relationships, and in my opinion was stronger for it.

3. Challenging:
I like spring-time, but this year allergies are kicking my butt. My two weeks of scratchy throat have settled into a cough that won't quit, and I'm over it.

4. Gratitude:
Going to the park is a favorite past time at our house, and I've noticed lately that the Harris County parks and rec department does a great job of keeping the county parks clean and in good shape, even the bathrooms!

5. Inspiration:
This was the verse of the day on my Bible app a few days ago, and it's just such a good reminder, both challenging and inspiring.

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. - Hebrews 13:16

Thursday, March 14, 2019

A love note to cappucino

Cappuccino.

Espresso, a little bit of steamed milk, and that perfect thick layer of rich and creamy foam.
The first espresso-based beverage I remember drinking was in college at Midnight Oil, a coffee house in a literal house. It was the perfect oasis on the edge of campus, full of art and light and cozy old couches. It had a big front porch for the days you just couldn't stay inside, and provided me with my first latte, full of sugar and flavor with a hint of independence and deep thoughts.

My first cappuccino was handed to me by a barista in Italy, where I also got my first introduction to the delightful experience of stove top espresso full of milk, paired with bread from the corner bakery and a think  layer of Nutella -- my first taste of Nutella. This memory lane includes afternoon siestas in the foot of that beautiful geographical boot, followed by chilled afternoon espresso -- strong and black and sweet. The Southern Italian cousin of sweet tea.

The first time I made my own cappuccino I stood behind the counter of a coffee shop in a North Carolina college town, just a quick 10 minutes to the beach. Married, no kids, and itching inside the constraints of perceived expectations -- a classic case of quarter-life crisis (is that still a thing?). I still feel a deep connection to the hum of an espresso machine, the caramel of the crema, and the hiss of steam in a stainless steel pitcher of milk. I learned to make foam not just bubbles, and to recognize the sound of milk steamed to just the right temperature.

Italy, London, Israel, Texas -- forget Coca Cola, cappuccino is the universal language.
The sound of people and cars and motorcycles. The smell of concrete, asphalt, cigarette smoke, salty ocean air, hot milk and toasted bread. Plucky guitars, raspy voices, low-toned pianos. Laughter, fingers on keyboards, stories shared. The shh-shh of pages turning and no one talking, and the warmth of the person next to you.

Cappuccino.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

A Wednesday list...

1. What I'm reading: I've mentioned before that I occasionally read books for paid review, and this past week I got the chance to read a book called Year of the Amphibian. It was surprisingly delightful! It's coming of age story about a year in the life of a 14-year-old boy in 1984 Los Angeles. It's about family, identity, belonging, friendship, and what it means to "home." Review books are hit or miss, but this one was definitely a hit. I'm getting ready to dive into Glass Bottom Boat, a Christian romantic suspense novel that I joined the launch team for (which means I get a free advance copy, yay!). It looks pretty good, and is available for pre-order now if it seems like your jam. Last but not least, I just started reading Liane Moriarty's newest book Nine Perfect Strangers. I've read a few other books by Moriarty (Big Little Lies, What Alice Forgot,) and suffice it to say she's super popular for a reason.

2. What I'm listening to/watching: My parents got us tickets to see the Old West Melodrama show for Christmas, and our reservation was last weekend. It's a fun, interactive, purposefully over-the-top show -- if you've ever seen Tombstone, there's a scene in that movie where the characters attend a Melodrama, so you can get the idea of what it's like. It was a lot of fun! (thanks Mom and Dad!)

3. Something challenging: I really like to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night. You may remember that my kids are early birds -- like, 6:15-6:30 a.m. early birds. In my dream world, I'm going to bed at 9 p.m. and getting up before they do. HOWEVER. For a variety of reasons, 10 p.m. is the earliest I manage on a regular basis (although there are the occasional 9 p.m. nights), so I've resigned myself to the fact that unless I drastically change my habits I'm not getting up before 6 a.m. on a regular basis. Somehow, that's also translated into me staying up later and later...yet still getting up with my darling alarm clocks. I don't know why this particular discipline is so hard -- there's even a built in external reward! (More sleep) One day this phase will pass, or maybe I will figure out mindset shift I need.

4. Gratitude: I mentioned last week that I went to Missouri for my Granny's funeral last week. Although the circumstances were hard, I am really grateful that I was able to spend time with my family, and am extra grateful for my husband and some good friends who made it possible for me to fly by myself. It made the trip a lot less stressful and hectic, and I am so thankful for that opportunity.

5. Inspiration: This is a little different than what I posted the past few weeks, but if you need someplace to go on the internet that's just visually inspiring, check out the author Sally Lloyd-Jones on Instagram (you don't have to be on Instagram to click that link and go look at her account), She posts the most lovely photos of the world around here, and always inspires me to find beauty and wonder in the every-day.

Happy Wednesday!

Thursday, February 28, 2019

In memory of grandparents

Earlier this week we said goodbye to my Granny Blair, and as is often the case the past several days have been bittersweet. We mourn the loss of someone's presence, the hugs and conversations and the comfort of just being with them. Perhaps we mourn the passing of time, or maybe a recent loss makes us think of other people to whom we've had to say goodbye. But then there is the sweetness of gathering with family and friends, of sharing and remembering and telling stories, and of my cousin Tod's absolutely perfect eulogy during my Granny's funeral service.

Sifting through memories this week has also got me thinking about my other grandparents -- I will never stop being thankful that I had two sets of wonderful grandparents that I got to grow up knowing and loving.

For most of my life, we lived one block away from my Grandma and Grandpa Rush's house. I remember when I was finally old enough to walk to their house by myself -- my mom watching me from the end of our driveway and Grandma waiting for me at the end of hers. There were always cookies in the cookie jar and treasures to play with. Grandma and Grandpa Rush were a little spicy -- not afraid to speak their minds or have a loud discussion -- which taught me that you could argue with someone and still love them, and that sometimes the best kinds of stories are told at full volume and end in belly laughter. They were generous and loyal and loved fiercely. Grandma taught me about the importance of faith, and Grandpa about the beauty of second chances. My grandma taught me that potato soup is  perfect when you're sick, that feeding people is a lot of fun, how to find a good sale, and an appreciation for soap operas and Golden Girls. Grandpa taught me that tomatoes are best eaten straight off the vine and warmed in the sun, and that the only kind of iced tea is sun tea.

Granny and Grandpa Blair's house sat up on a hill in the Ozark mountains in Southern Missouri. There were trees to climb, a garden to work in, woods to play in, swimming holes to splash in when the weather was hot. In winter there was a wood stove to heat the house, piles of blankets to curl up under, and homemade hot chocolate or mulled cider. There were games to play, cousins to play with, fudge, no-bake cookies, and stacks and stacks of books to get lost in.  Visiting relatives was a frequent occurrence. Grandpa was gentle and quiet -- unless you started arguing politics with him -- and you could usually find him working on a project, reading, listening to talk radio, or drinking a cup of coffee. He usually had at least one grandkid trailing him and "helping" and he was always so patient and never seemed to mind. Granny was a school teacher who'd started her career in a one room school house before getting a Master's degree in education in a time and place when that wasn't exactly the norm. She always had a sparkle in her eye and was always ready for a hug. She loved words as much as I do -- I'm pretty sure my love of books, crossword puzzles, and Scrabble were very much influenced by Granny's love of those things too. Granny and Grandpa taught me that a rich life has nothing to do with material wealth, and that there's always room at the table for one more.

Make no mistake -- everything I learned through my Grandparents was simply observed and absorbed. They were lessons passed down not in words, but in action and family culture and love, passed down through their own lives as well as that of my parents. They're lessons that are only clear once I take the time to pause, and think, and remember.  Lessons that come to mind when I answer my cousin-in-laws question: what kind of memories do you have of being at your grandparent's house? Lessons I hope I pass down to my own kids, even as they make their own memories and weave their own unique part of the family tapestry.

Were my grandparents perfect? Of course not. But they were pretty great, and I'm glad they were mine.

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?"
"Please."
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 he..uhh..do 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?"
"No."
"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!
Sincerely,
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 critiques...one 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:  
http://jenhatmaker.com/episode-05-national-angels-and-global-immersion-project

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. 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Reading...


Muse of Nightmares (Strange the Dreamer, #2) Muse of Nightmares is the fantastic sequel to Laini Taylor's fantasy novel Strange the Dreamer. Muse has everything I'd expect from a novel by Laini Taylor - creative world building; lush, lyrical prose; compelling characters; and spot-on pacing. There's redemption, revenge, and a LOT of emotions (sometimes too many emotions for my taste, but if angsty romance is your jam, that shouldn't bother you!). One of my favorite things that Taylor does in her books -- and in this duology particularly -- is explore the idea that things aren't always what they seem on the surface, and are probably a lot more complicated than what they first appear. Taylor deftly asks the question: can hope grow out of tremendous heartache and loss? 

Good Luck with That I've mentioned before that when I'm in the mood for a feel-good straight-up It romance, Kristan Higgins is one of my go-to authors, and her newest book Good Luck With That  is no exception. It has a charming setting, witty dialogue, messy families, loving families, close friendships, and of course swoony romance. Good Luck With That also explores a somewhat complicated theme -- that of body image, eating disorders, weight, and obesity. For this reason, I expect there will be some readers that are more critical of this novel than others, because people tend to have a lot of deep feelings and varied experiences surrounding those themes. That said, I thought Higgins did a great job of treating this controversial topic with sensitivity. 

That's what I've been reading lately! What about you? 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

A Wednesday list...New Year edition

Happy New Year, everyone! Are you back in the swing of everyday life yet? Still suffering from Holiday Hangover? Did you ignore the "holiday season" altogether and are just waiting for everyone else to catch up? We spent a wonderful week in Missouri with my family (wonderful IN SPITE of a little stomach virus. But who better to take care of you when you're sick than your mom and dad? Hi mom and dad!), and I'm letting myself ease into things now that we're back home (my present self is high-fiving my past self for getting the house extra clean before our trip. I love coming home to a really clean house).

I love the rhythm of the new year in a similar way to how I like the rhythm of changing seasons. Every day is a fresh start -- in some contexts, every moment can be a fresh start -- but for me there is something special about a definitive marker, an external motivation. Several years ago (and I have probably talked about this before) our friends began the yearly New Year's Day tradition of reflecting on the past year and setting goals for the next (even if the goal is as straightforward and un-fancy as -- keep my children alive one more year). Life has evolved to a place where that group of friends can't always do this together anymore, but I still find it a helpful practice to spend this time of year doing some reflecting and dreaming.

There are so many ways of approaching New Year's goal setting, approaches such as...

1. Don't set any "New Year" goals. Set goals whenever you feel like it. On a random Thursday in March, for example

2. Practice quarterly/periodic goal setting. Author Tsh Oxenreider talks about this some (you can read about it here), referencing her practice of scheduling "Think Days" throughout the year. It seems to me to be an approach that is both business-minded but also perfect for people who don't want to think past the next couple of months.

3. Re-frame it. My friends Sarah and Jonathan have started making "skills lists" in January of skills they want to work on throughout the year, instead of setting goals. The Lazy Genius suggests asking: what are you looking forward to this year? as a way to take a break from any pressure one might feel in the idea of "goal setting."

Personally, I like all of these approaches. But I also like some good old fashioned reflecting and goal setting. HOWEVER. I have learned to be okay with changing gears mid-year. I like to mix up specific goals with more nebulous theme words or phrases. This year I've been framing things in terms of priorities rather than goals -- what are my priorities for 2019? Are there specific goals I can set that fall in line with those priorities?

So even though I've said a lot of words already, in the spirit of The Wednesday list here are just a few reflections on the previous and upcoming year:

Four things I learned (or re-learned) in 2018:
1. It's okay to change direction, shift your focus, and reevaluate previous goals and plans. Y'all. When I looked back and my 2018 goals I just had to laugh. I  think the only one I actually accomplished was potty train the kids (all the hallelujahs on that one) and of the remaining goals, only one of them stayed relevant to my year. I completely changed direction and focus. THAT'S OK. Goals are for me, and if I learned something from erasing them instead of checking them off, then they still served a purpose.
2. I am not a naturally-inclined entrepreneur, and -- most important lesson of all -- THAT'S OK. 
3. Discomfort is necessary to growth.
4. How to froth milk with a mason jar and a microwave. Game. Changer.

Three goals/priorities for 2019, and three things I'm looking forward to:
1. Run a half marathon (I'm signed up! One step down...)
2. Write five days a week -- whether that's random essays, more blog post, or creative fiction. Less restriction on the "what" and more just getting words out and on the page.
3. I want to prioritize connecting with people: writing letters (I know, sounds weird to some of you, but I LOVE writing letters), texting, calling, inviting people to our home or out to do fun things. This also includes connecting with my family -- using our everyday opportunities (meals, movie watching, whatever) intentionally.
I'm looking forward to...
1 Some travel plans we have shaping up for this year.
2.Re-discovering bread baking.
3. Trying out a version of this quarterly Think Day idea (it may be more like a Think Hour. I've got preschoolers after all). I'll keep you posted.

So here we go. Bring it on 2019.