Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Preparation

Photo credit:
(Ie, this is not my table. Mine is nice... but not this nice.)

Today is a day for preparation-- and not just food. It's a day of preparing our homes for guests, our minds for family interactions (for some this is a painful process), and our hearts for gratitude. It is a day of focus and intention. It is a day, for me, of having the Bible open to a page so I can stop and re-read all day long and hopefully keep the main thing the main thing. It is a day of taking time to rest, to reflect, and to savor. Because I never get to do Thanksgiving 2014 again.

What passage do I have open for easy access? I thought you might ask. Here it is:

Colossians 3:15-18New International Version (NIV)

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

May you have a lovely and sumptuous day of Thanksgiving. I will be back this weekend with a fun reminder as we kick off Advent 2014!

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Monday, November 24, 2014

The National Gingerbread Contest

So last week I told you about my trip to the Grove Park Inn to see the entry based on my novel The Mailbox. And I promised I'd share photos from the event but it took me quite a bit longer than I'd anticipated because I came home to a computer that had decided to stop working.
But this weekend my tech-savvy husband came to the rescue and got it up and running again. And so, better late than never I say! Here are some photos from the event, which was so much fun. If you ever get the chance to travel to the Grove Park, do yourself a favor and go see the amazing displays of gingerbread talent. The entries will be on display throughout the hotel until early January. They really are something to see!
This is a view of the tables of entries in the huge ballroom where the winners were announced. It was all very top secret and exciting.
This is the official badge you had to have on to get into the ceremony. I was honored to wear it, considering I had absolutely nothing to do with creating the gingerbread sculptures!

This is the pair of talented ladies responsible for the mailbox entry standing in front of their hard work. Rachel Olsen and Katie Hicks are not only talented, they're also quite fun to spend a girls' getaway at the Grove Park with! We stayed up way too late and laughed a lot!

One side of the gingerbread sculpture, showing the "Kindred Spirit" sign. The list on the sand is someone's bucket list. You can see my novel on the bench with the covered impressively rendered.

Here's the front view. See the cute flip flops? Inside the mailbox is papers-- notes people have left to the Kindred Spirit.
This is all out of gingerbread and sugar, people! Amazing!
Here are a couple of entries I also especially liked, though I have to say all of them deserved to win. As Rachel Olsen kept saying, "We're winning!" (a la Charlie Sheen). And the truth is we were-- just getting to be there and be part of the festivities was unforgettable.
And no, we did not win. But that doesn't mean there aren't talks of possible entries for next year. (I have other Sunset Beach novels, after all...)

A carrousel complete with elaborate horses, all unique

This nativity scene?? Love!
Other than the mailbox, this was my favorite entry, based on The Lion, The Witch And the Wardrobe. The sign on the bottom says "Aslan is on the move." (Yes, he is.)
See the child peeking out of the wardrobe? And the lamppost?
Here's the back of the same entry. This one had amazing detail and I was (am still) dismayed it did not win. This is the book on the back with text from the novel. All around it  (not pictured) are little vignettes of each character.
And because this is a gingerbread contest, I thought I should feature at least one actual house. This one made me want to go inside and spend Christmas there.

And finally, here is the winner from last year. I don't have a photo of the one from this year because there were people swarming all around it. This one is in a display case and still looks impressive considering it is a year old-- and made out of edible materials.
Here's hopin we go back next year!

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Monday, November 17, 2014


Today I appear to be here, but I am actually not. I'm in Asheville, NC, joining the talented ladies featured in this video. Some of you know my talented friend Rachel Olsen, author of one of my favorite books and go-to resources MY ONE WORD. (Ahem, now is the time to read that book if you haven't so you can start mulling over your word for the coming year.)

But you probably don't know Katie Hicks, another talented woman who read my first novel THE MAILBOX and up and decided to create a Kindred Spirit mailbox and enter it into the National Gingerbread Competition at the Grove Park Inn. Here's a sample of her genius-- she made this cake for my signing when THE BRIDGE TENDER came out this summer. That's the bridge and the logo of The Old Bridge Preservation Society, where the event was held. And those are all my book covers-- made in sugar!!

I hope to post soon about my time in Asheville-- a combination of girlfriend time, mountain time, creative rejuvenation time, and the surreal moment of seeing this full circle moment of my book becoming a gingerbread creation! I am so excited, I can't even tell you.

And so, this week, my scrap is simple-- this video news report about the lovely ladies who are doing the hard work behind this venture.

And here's some links about the competition, in case you'd like to see the masterpiece for real!

Grove Park Inn Gingerbread Competition

Romantic Asheville: Gingerbread Competition
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Monday, November 10, 2014


On Mondays I talk about scraps... odds and ends of stuff I want to say that really can't be its own blog post, so I hodgepodge it all together here.

I am not talking about my new novel. To anyone. Not my husband or my best friend. Not to my kids or students or strangers on the street. Not to my mom or potential agents. I am not talking about the characters or the setting or the plot or the title. I am silent about this book until I'm done with it. Reading this from author Jane Smiley made me feel like this is one of the smarter writing moves I've made recently. Whether or not it will pay off, remains to be seen, but in the meantime, it feels like I'm on the right track:

 "Exhaust your own curiosity about your project before showing it to someone else. Let your own ideas play out without getting input from others, then, after you show them your work, use their responses as input to push you forward. It may take you several drafts and a long time to come to the end of your ability to tackle a given subject, and when you do, you might be satisfied or dissatisfied with your product. If you are dissatisfied, the input of others will give you ideas for how to shape your novel further. If you are satisfied, the input of others will let you know if your novel is readable and accessible." Jane Smiley


Here's how to make this meat (since I was remiss in posting the recipe in a separate post). It's delicious and you should make it for your family this week! I have no name for it-- feel free to name it whatever you like!

3 lbs beef tips
1 pkg fajita seasoning
2 cans Rotel

Put all in crockpot and cook all day. When ready to eat, shred meat with two forks and serve with the juice over yellow rice. Serve with a salad or your favorite green veggie. My husband and I thought it was the tastiest meal I've made in a long time. (We might have fought over the leftovers.)

This is going to be a strange week with half of my children off for Veteran's Day tomorrow and half in school. Kind of weird to have a day off smack dab in the middle of the week. I've got plenty to keep me busy this week-- writing, She Reads, teaching etc. I've at least got my meals planned for the week, which is always a good feeling. I'm actually speaking twice this week-- once for a girls' night out event and once for the Women's National Book Association local chapter. I'm looking forward to both events. It's good to be speaking again, especially when I believe in the message like I do. This is a message I live daily, which makes me feel more qualified to bring it. (Want to know more about my speaking? See that little tab on my header that says "Need A Speaker?" Click on it to find out more.)

Finally, here are some links to things that have inspired/intrigued me recently.

Chris Botti (if you've been reading here long you already know about my feelings for him) playing the National Anthem before Monday night football. He made grown men cry.

This interview with Robert Harling, who wrote the play Steel Magnolias based on the loss of his sister. Even though the movie is 25 years old (not possible!) I learned things I didn't know.

This Christmas Pledge-- while I'm not sold on the entire thing, she makes some good points about getting ready now instead of later. Although just typing that makes me want to cry.

And finally this video of Brene Brown talking about faith and the truth about love. Good, powerful stuff. I think Daring Greatly should be required reading for all humanity.

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Friday, November 07, 2014

Why I'm Not On Instagram

"I'm serious," my friend says. "You need to be on Instagram. It kills me you're not on there. Like, it's to the point that if you don't get on it I'm not sure we can be friends any more." She's totally kidding about not being her friend any more but she's not kidding about wanting me to be on Instagram. She assures me I will love it. I'm sure she's right. But the trouble is, I tell her, I just can't do one more thing. Between blogging (which you all know how haphazard that has been of late), Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, I have my fill of diversions, am at my limit of the voices I let speak into my life. As good as Instagram sounds, it also sounds like another rabbit hole to fall into, another time suck when that's the very last thing I need.

These two quotes below, taken from two unrelated blogs, best illustrate my feelings on social media as of late. While I see the advantages, I am also increasingly aware of the disadvantages. Social media has added to my life, but it also has potential to cheapen it if I allow it to. I'm becoming more militant about doing whatever I can to keep that from happening. Including staying off Instagram-- that "one more thing" when I don't need one more thing. I appreciate these authors echoing what I'm feeling, and speaking up for what I've been thinking for a while. Their voices make me feel braver. It's good to know I'm not the only one who thinks that all of this at times can feel like madness... when what I want most is sanity.

From Elizabeth Foss:

I know that I write way too often about the perils of fast-moving technology, especially social media. Increasingly, I find that mine is a lonely position. The reality, however, is that, for some of us, it's all too fast. It's all too disconnected. We sit here wonderingly, while the people we love are swept along in the fast-moving tide of constant interaction and constant change. And we know that we will  be left behind. We might be able to maintain our own calm and our own capable, but we will be in that peaceful state mostly by ourselves.
...between digital technology and rising complexity, there's more information and more requests coming at us faster, and more relentlessly than ever. Unlike computers, however, human beings aren't meant to operate continuously, at high speeds, for long periods of time. Rather, we're designed to move rhythmically between spending and renewing our energy. Our brains wave between high and low electrical frequencies ,  our hearts beat at varying intervals our lungs expand and contract depending on demand. It's not sufficient to be good at inhaling. Indeed, the the more deeply you exhale, the calmer and more capable you become. --from Manage Your Day to Day.


From Allison Winn Scotch:

But sometimes, as in all things in life, it’s best to know when it’s time to shut up and reflect, and I guess I’ve reached that point. That point where I’m ready to be a listener and apply this quiet space to my writing. I’d never have imagined it but the quiet space is comforting now: I gravitate less to Twitter, away from chatter and blogs and comment sections, totally content not to document every last thing. (When and why have we become a society who documents every last thing? As if we don’t document it, it didn’t actually happen.) To instead, save some of that for me. My characters. My writing. My home life.


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Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Your Down To My Up

The other day I was running uphill. It was hard. The hill was steep. I was in pain every step of the way and most likely looked it. In the distance I saw someone approaching on a bike, the wind rushing through the spokes, making a whizzing noise. She was coming down the hill, I was going up. She was moving fast, I was moving s-l-o-w. She looked free and happy. I looked miserable. It turned out I knew her and we exchanged a quick greeting in passing.


After she was gone, I thought about that exchange, and felt for the briefest moment a bit of jealousy. I wished I was on a bike, that I was going downhill. Then I realized how absolutely stupid that thought was. We were on completely different journeys. I was in a tough spot, moving slowly and painfully uphill. She was whizzing along, the wind at her back and a smile on her face. But to compare our situations would be futile. She was on a bike. I was running. She was going down the hill, I was going up. It wasn't the same. Our paths may have crossed but comparison had no place in that encounter.

As I ran I thought of how many times I've done that-- compared someone else's down to my up, someone else's up to my down-- when the truth is, we were on completely different journeys and comparison was ridiculous. And as I ran I thought of how I needed to share this with you, because perhaps you've found yourself making the same mistake as I did. Whether someone is doing better or worse than you, there is no reason to compare. Because their journey will always, always be different than yours-- different income, home, family, past, physical and emotional limitations, etc. There is no one like you, and no one else that can do your life the way you are supposed to do it.

So if you see me running uphill give me the thumbs up and keep moving forward in your journey. And if you breeze past me on your bicycle, I promise to do the same.

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Monday, November 03, 2014

Monday: Scraps (The Photo Edition)

Every Monday I share scraps of stuff all in one post. This Monday I've done it using photos I took during the week and weekend.
My reading for the coming month. At least, that's the plan. My reading list is constantly in flux.
Not pictured: an ebook, The Storytelling God and 2 audio books, The Good Girl and We Were Liars. I listen to audio books on cd in the car when I'm out running errands and sitting in the carpool line and I can usually finish at least one a month that way. I typically read (or listen to in some cases) 6 books per month. In November I just might make 7!
My youngest went trick or treating with neighbors on Halloween which meant this was the first Halloween in 22 years we didn't have to take anyone out. It was also, consequently, the first Halloween we didn't have photos of her all dressed up. Our neighbors promise that photos are forthcoming. In the meantime, I have this one pre-game shot of the two buddies. They've known each other since they were babies and have grown into such lovely girls.
This is my youngest son after he got home from his candy-hoarding exploits. He's quite proud of his haul, as you can tell. He is missing his silver skeleton mask I bought him at the Target for $8.

And no Halloween would be complete without the obligatory silly shot. This is a husband who can't believe he got to sit inside the whole evening. Though I did make him answer the door since he's never done that before. (And lest you think I am embarrassing him by sharing this, he made it his profile pic on Twitter.)

Speaking of candy, I've been trying to eat healthy. (Confession: I did have 3 pieces of the kids' candy when they got home. What can I say? I am weak.) This is my new answer to my occasional craving for a good ole pb&j: Ezekiel bread, almond butter and sugar free blackberry jam. It's surprisingly good (as evidenced by the missing two bites I immediately took) and filling too.

This week's menu plan, all ready to go. The flash covers up the "roast beef with gravy"  and a little bit of the "white chili" that my husband asked for. And yes, I did spell penne wrong-- not sure what I was thinking except that someone was probably talking to me while I was writing. That happens a lot.

Required reading now that we're into November. I need some Thanksgiving inspiration as I start to think about that massive undertaking. (Source: Pioneer Woman Holidays cookbook)

My novel in progress, all printed off. It's not finished but there's a beginning, middle and end and just seeing it in this form feels like progress. I plan to spend the month of November shaping it into a story that people might actually want to read. Right now that is not the case.
I am basically starting over with my writing-- right now I have no agent, no publisher, and no book. Hopefully by the end of this month at least one of those things will be different. I remain hopeful, and honestly? Excited. I know I am doing what I'm supposed to be doing and moving in a direction I'm supposed to be moving. It's out of my comfort zone, but that's not a bad thing. I'll keep you posted.

And finally, I made this this past week. It might not look like much in the picture but It. Was. Delicious. I plan to share the recipe this week. Seriously. You have to make it once I do.

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