Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A Wednesday list...

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

A Wednesday list...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A Wednesday list...

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

A Wednesday list...

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 6, 2019


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.