Tuesday, November 24, 2015

My ABC's of Thankfulness...

Thought I'd make a list of some of the things I'm thankful for this year...

A:  Alex – For 32 years I’ve known this man of mine and I’m thankful that we’ve weathered the storms to celebrate our 31st Thanksgiving as husband and wife!  I love him.
B:  Belonging – I’m thankful that I belong.  To my family, to a church, to my friends, to a community of writers, to a community of artists, and most importantly, to God.
C:  Christina – My first-born (by a minute).  I am so proud of the woman she has become, the wife, the encourager, the athlete.  She’s an adventurous and creative soul who loves God with her whole heart.  I love her.
D:  Dad – My dad has had a rough year.  His body is aging and unwell, his mind and spirit are sharper than ever.  His love and caring doesn’t wane even when his health does.  I love him.
E:  Emily – My baby.  She is a brave and faith-filled soul whose biggest desire is to serve the Lord with her life.  She makes me laugh.  She’s comfortable with all kinds of people and loves them deeply.  I love her.
F:  Friendship – What would I do without my friends, old and new…young and old?  They challenge me, encourage me, stretch my faith and I love them.
G:  Generators – For the first time last week, we experienced the convenience of having a generator during a power outage and we’re never going back. 
H:  Health – I’m thankful for good health…and health challenges…because both highlight how important life is…how important it is to live our one precious life to the fullest every day.
I:  Ice Cream:  It’s my favorite.  So many flavors, so much to love.  Peanut Butter and Chocolate is my favorite…wait, no, Cappuccino Chip…no, it’s Rocky Road…never mind.  If it’s frozen, full of fat and covered in hot fudge, I’m in love. 
J:  Jacob – My first/middle born. He is ambitious and generous and athletic.  He’s so, so smart.  He is just enough crazy to make him a whole lot of fun.  His faith is important to him and his love for his family and friends runs deep.  I love him.
K:  Kranky cat – Lola may be cranky, she may embarrass me with her rude behavior to visitors, she may leave her hair on everything, but she’s sweet…to us…no one else will ever understand.
L: Ladies – The ladies.  I love their quirkiness, their stupidity, their beautiful feathers and their eggs.  They inspire me to be smarter.
M:  Mom – Mom is a rock.  This year she’s struggled with her own health issues all the while helping Dad wade through his.  She is an encourager and an real-life example of how God can make beauty from ashes.
N:  Nieces and Nephews – I have the most incredible nieces and nephews…they make me laugh and fill my world with fun!  I love them.
O:  Opus – My opus is my novel…I have fallen in love with imaginary friends and a story that will be completed, by the end of this year or early 2016.  I’m thankful for the light at the end of a very long journey.
P: Plays – I love plays…the theater.  I’m thankful for each and every play I’ve been privileged to see this year.  The art of live performance takes my breath away.  Amazing.
Q:  Quiet – In my empty nest, there is quiet.  It’s taken me a while to grow to love it.  Now I do.  I love the quiet of being alone…of being okay with being alone.  It is good.
R:  Roaming – I love to roam…to travel…to explore new places and see new things.  I’m thankful that we are able to roam and that even though our kids are far from us, we can roam on over to see them.
S:  Siblings – I love my sister and brother…and their spouses.  I am so thankful that over the years, we’ve grown closer.  I love them as siblings, as people and would choose them as friends…they’re amazing. 
T:  The other Jacob (Jake) – I’m thankful for my daughter’s husband Jake.  He’s a good man.  He just fits.  He’s smart and adventurous and loves my daughter with his whole heart.  I love him.
U:  Underserved favor – Grace.  Underserved favor. I’m thankful for the grace that has saved me from my sin, given freely to all who believe in Christ, and the daily grace that I experience both from God and those around me.  I don’t deserve it.  So thankful.
V:  Visitors – I love it when people from far away visit…specifically my children, but also my friends.  It is so good to hug them, to catch up, to just be with them, hearing their stories and getting to love on them in person!
W:  Writing – I love to write.  I love the feeling of taking the thoughts, or stories, or ideas out of my imagination, out of my heart, and placing them word by word onto paper…or a computer screen.  It’s magic.  It’s therapy.  It’s a gift.
X:  Xtra Shot or Xtra cup – Because a latte isn’t a latte without an extra shot of espresso…and an extra cup of joe in the morning is just a little bit of heaven.
Y:  Yoga – I’ve discovered yoga this year…specifically, Yoga with Adrienne (youtube).  She’s wonderful.  She understands that some of us can’t do the flying eagle upside down dawg where you balance on your pinkie finger while touching your toes to your nose…and that makes twisting into a pretzel a whole lot more palatable.

Z:  Zzzzzzz – I’m thankful for the occasional good night’s sleep…because they’re few and far between (thank you menopause, you dirty rotten #$%*)…so when I’m given the gift of a good night’s sleep, I’m thankful.  Very thankful.

What are you thankful for?

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Conflict of Conflict...

I'm relatively new to this novel-writing thing.
Granted, I've always loved writing, but to write a novel has always been something "real" writers do.
Calling myself a writer has always been a struggle.
I've been writing this novel for about three years now.
Really, purposefully, creating a story.
I like my characters very much.
I love them, actually.
They're lovable, interesting, fun...
and boring.
I loved them so much, I didn't want any harm to come to them.
That's a problem.
For the past couple of months, I've been stuck.
Stuck in the muck of "why isn't this working"?
I have a map of where my story will go, I like where it ends, but I was taking the long, comfortable route with potty stops and 5-star restaurants along the way.  We all like to travel in style, am I right?
First class all the way, baby!
So I remained stuck.
No one grew, everyone just moved along enjoying each others company.  

And then it struck me.

Novel writing is a lot like mothering. 
If I protect my children from everything that *might* harm them, their lives will be lived in a cocoon.  They won't try anything new because I'm afraid they might get hurt, or worse, get their precious feelings hurt.
That's no way to parent.
Kids grow through conflict.
Kids learn by doing.  
Kids learn through failure...and success.  
They learn who they can trust by putting themselves out there and getting burned.
They experience loss and learn to cope.
They drop into an unmarked pit and are forced to find a way to dig themselves out.
A hovering parent produces a stagnant kid.
A hovering writer produces a boring book.

So yesterday, I kissed all of my characters on the head and told them I loved them.
Then I dropped them into a deep, deep hole.
They all fell in.
Every single one of them.
Together, and separately.
Their fears are swirling around them and they're searching for a way out.
I have the luxury of knowing what's next for them...mostly.
I might leave a couple of them in the pit longer than others.
But as a mother, er...a writer, I know this is for their own good.
It hurts me to see them like this right now, 
But in a few chapters, I know they'll be better for it.
They'll suffer...
They'll heal...
and they'll grow...
And their story just got more interesting because conflict is inevitable.  We've all been there.  And a story, a life without conflict is colorless and barren.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Happy New Year!

I love fall...
I love anticipating fall.
I love back-to-school, which is ironic because I didn't like school when I was a kid.
When school supplies arrived on store shelves a pit would carve itself into my stomach.
When my kids were in school, fall marked the end of summer.
I thoroughly enjoyed having the kids at home all summer.
Summer days were filled with activities, day trips and crafts.
I also enjoyed watching the bus whisk them away at the end of it.
Now that they're grown and gone, I still look forward to fall.
To me, back-to-school is the new year.
Even more than January 1st.
I don't really care about January 1st.  But the first day of school, that's when I begin to take stock.

Maybe it's my love of school supplies.
I always slipped a few things in the cart for myself when the kids were little and now, I have no reason whatsoever to visit the school supplies section.
Why would I set foot in aisles filled with shopping cart jams and whining children?
Because, to me, it's fresher than a farmer's market.
Blank pages...
Fresh pens...
Glue...what will the glue be tasked to do?
Pencils and erasers...they smell so good.
Elements of learning and possibilities of genius.

I fall clean as well.  Some people spring clean...and maybe I should do a deep clean then too, don't judge me.
But I realize that we've been tracking dirt in the house all summer.
I love to garden, so it's an issue.
We will likely be stuck in the house more often during the winter, so I want to make it sparkling clean and pleasantly inhabitable.
So I clean.

And then there's the typical resolutions of every student:
"This year I will do my best, I will not procrastinate, I will get straight A's."
I'm not attending school, but I'm always learning.
I have things to do.
I want to do them well.
So I vow to myself to focus.
That's my constant resolution:
I tend to flit from one thing to another.
Not a bad thing, but not terribly effective in finishing projects in a timely manner.
So I resolve to focus.
Every single fall...
This fall is no different...

Then there's the baking, the pumpkins, the weather, the wind, the rain, the cold...
The cozy clothes.
I just love it all.

So Happy New Year my friends.
Enjoy the beauty of the season!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Writing Conference Report...

I recently attended my very first writing conference.
I've been putting it off.
Mostly due to my lack of believing I'm a writer.
And the fact that I haven't finished my novel.
Turns out, that doesn't matter.
I turned in the first 10 pages of my unfinished novel to be reviewed by a couple of agents.
I brought two of my children's books.
I brought several of my devotionals.
And I put my big girl panties on and decided to be brave.

We arrived and I immediately checked in for the boot camp.
A crash course in social media and establishing your platform...
My platform...
I've never considered a platform something to have...I mean...wow, okay, gotta work on that.
I realized that I have a lot of work to do in addition to actually writing my novel!
Then we dove into the classes and workshops and lunches and dinners and meetings and panels...
It was 3 1/2 days of constant, unending inspiration and information.
I was overwhelmed.
But I learned so very much...
I learned something that will stay with me and shape my writing from this point on.

Some set up...
My underlying premise for writing is to share my faith.
I want to entertain.
I want to inspire.
I want to provide fun in word form.
Ultimately, though, I want to offer hope...I want to offer the possibility of salvation from hopelessness.
At least I thought I did.

The first day was a little discouraging.
Between a non-review of my novel manuscript - "Keep going."
I felt discouraged.  I wanted something more...even a negative bit of advice...tear it apart...I've never done this, give me something to grasp and learn from...
Nope, I doubt the first agent had even read it.
And, really, I've heard agents don't want to be bothered with unfinished manuscripts, what if it's never finished?
But this was a conference, where people come to learn, so I learned that it's true...it's not worth their time.
Then I approached an editor to see if I could pitch a couple of devotionals (a huge risk for me...I don't just approach people...I don't just jump out of proverbial airplanes without a parachute!)
She told me that I had written for the parent and she was looking for parenting advise in dealing with children...not encouragement for parents.
Good to know...no harm, no foul.  She was very nice.  I didn't lose any blood.
Then we had dinner with an editor.
Editors and agents host tables at these conferences and you sit and eat with them as if they're normal people.  (Turns out they are!)
We were going around the table sharing what we like to write and one of the things I shared is that I love to write encouragement for moms...among a host of other subjects.
"Moms don't read" was the editor's reply.
"I did" interjected one woman.
"You're the exception." he replied.
He's right, you know.  They're busy wiping bottoms and noses!
So the discouragement settled right into my heart.
Maybe this writing gig isn't for me, I thought.
Maybe I'm not meant to be an author.
Maybe I'm not good enough.

And then we settled in for our keynote address from a pastor in California.
His message:
Write as worship.
My heart soaked those three words into its core.
And God spoke to my spirit.
You are not writing for you, you're writing for Me.

My heart shifted and discouragement packed its bags and left the building.
Material success and accolades weren't important, joy was what I sought.
The joy comes in writing the words for the glory of my Savior.
So the conference continued into the second day and the third.
I had meetings with editors and sold some devotionals.
I received another review of my novel that offered critique and encouragement.
"Interesting character and the writing is good"
Thank you.
I pitched my children's books and the agent liked them.
My heart was encouraged.

So, the take-away for me is that when my heart is wholly focussed on the One who gave me every ability that I possess, I will find success.
Success is defined by the amount of joy in my heart, not the dollars in my pocket or my name on the cover of a book.

*The inspiration I soaked up from that conference has sparked such a flood of words since my return from my vacation.  I feared all of the information was dumped somewhere in Yellowstone National Park, but it's still knocking around in my noggin!  I'm so thankful for the opportunity to learn from well-known authors and editors.  They were so generous with their knowledge and experience.  So, so grateful!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Some Thoughts on Ironing...

© HA! Designs

Why would you iron?
One of my greatest skills is my ability to avoid the chore.
Confession time...and this is a true story so please don't judge me...or do...I'm confident in my anti-ironing convictions.
My sister was teaching my daughter to sew (she's the seamstress in the family, every family has one)
And they needed to press a seam before sewing it...or something...
I don't sew so I don't know.
Ironing is part of the reason I don't sew.
But I digress...
She said "Let's heat up the iron so you can press the edge down."
My daughter said, and I quote:
"What's an iron?"
I know you're thinking that she must have been three or four years old at the time and you'd be wrong.
She was probably nine or ten.
So the other day I was pawing through clothes at the Goodwill outlet.
An aside...
If you haven't been to a Goodwill outlet, you simply haven't thrifted.
So I was sifting through piles of clothes in a bin with my friend when she found a cute blouse and held it up.
It was cute, albeit wrinkled, so I glanced at the label.
Ha!  That's what I thought.
"It's linen...you know you're going to have to iron that" I said with a scowl.
And she said "Oh, you're right" and threw it back on the pile.
I loved her just a little bit more...
Then she asked me about ironing.
And I indicated that I'd rather chew on chalk than iron (however I probably said something slightly less dramatic),
Let's just say that my dislike for the chore was conveyed.
She said that she ironed her husband's shirts, which caused me to shudder.
Although I have been known to iron a shirt or two...
Then I told her that one of the perks of the empty nest was the dry cleaners...
Since we're no longer feeding hoards of teenagers,
We can afford to have my husband's shirts pressed.
It's worth every red cent.
And picking up the plastic-covered smooth shirts is soooo satisfying.
Our dry-cleaning lady knows me well...she has the clothes rack moving around the track as I come through the door.
For the record, I do still iron on occasion...
Usually the occasion involves a major holiday and a tablecloth and a closed dry-cleaners.
But it's fairly rare when a shirt gets ironed in our house.
I'm very careful to buy clothes for myself that do not need ironing,
And my husband has plenty of shirts pressed and ready to go!
My iron enjoys semi-retirement in a cupboard over my washing machine.
Next to a can of starch...circa 1990.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


My kids are grown and gone...mostly.
Emily is home for the summer and I love having a "kid" in the house again.
But since she started her summer job, I've noticed that "mom-mode" has kicked in.
She gets up at 5am to get ready for work.
Her quiet stirrings slowly wake me up...
And rather than staying in bed - she certainly doesn't need me to get up,
I get out of bed to chat with her as she eats her breakfast.
I did this when the kids were in high school...long after they needed their mom in the morning.
Maybe they wished I wouldn't get up...but I did.
It's mothering I feel compelled to do even though I'm not doing much of anything...
Except being interested...
And wanting to wish them a good day and send them off with an "I love you!"

Mom-mode appears in other ways too...
My "teenager" chicks are being picked on by the older hens.
They spend most of their time on one side of the pen...that side changes as the hens move around.
Often quickly.
Squawkingly. (a new word)
It would be funny if it wasn't so mean.
Who knows...maybe the chicks are chirping obscenities at the hens...
Maybe they're disrespectful.
Maybe they deserve to be pecked once in a while
It could be the equivalent of getting your mouth...er...beak washed out with soap.
I don't know.
But mom-mode has kicked in and I peek out the window from time to time to monitor the situation.
Sometimes I go to the pen and scold the hens.
They hear "blah blah blah"
But it makes me feel better.
They often chase after one of the chicks right in front of me!
Spiteful creatures.

Today mom-mode kicked in when I learned that someone I used to know has lost her daughter.
She found me on social media about a year ago...
We have never been close, but she "friended" me and every now and then I see something she posted.
Nothing out of the ordinary...
Until a few days ago.
Her daughter died unexpectedly of a sudden illness.
That's all the info there was.
She didn't post a thing.
Her close friends were offering their prayers and condolences.
Her daughter was around the same age as my kids.
So when I read it, I went into mom-mode.
My stomach felt punched.
My heart raced.
I imagined what she must be feeling and then I stopped trying to imagine that...
It was too painful and dark.
I prayed for her...that God would wrap His arms around her and fill her with His peace that passes all understanding...
And I posted a lame offering of support.
And a promise to pray.
And I have been praying.
Because that's what moms do...
For their kids and for other moms.
Mom-mode at its finest.

Mom-mode is uncontrollable and undeniable.
I can't help it.
No mom can.
It's a gift imparted by God to every mother.
In different ways.
At different times.
To share love and protection and comfort with the world.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Massacre at Spurgeon Meadows

It could be a headline...
Except it won't be.
There was a massacre in my back yard last night.
A bloodbath.
I heard something early in the morning....
Was I dreaming?
It sounds like birds...
"Heather, what is that?"
"Mmmm...I don't know"....
I must be dreaming...
The sounds stopped.....
The sounds began again...
I tossed and turned...not thinking what I heard was odd.
What an annoying noise!
Then I woke up because I realized it was dark and I was hearing birds!
I ran downstairs and flipped on the porch light.
A raccoon ran from my chicken tractor.
It opened the door and helped itself.
I didn't realize they could do that.
There were five teenaged chicks in my tractor when I went to bed.
There are two left.
Two frightened chicks who witnessed the murder of three of their friends.
They were frantic.
There was a headless body by the door...
Feathers strewn about outside the tractor.
The scene of a crime.
My heart broke.
How could I have slept so soundly?
I gathered up the two remaining chicks and put them into the coop with Aretha and Gladys,
Named for their beautiful black feathers and their prolific chatter...
And explained that the little ones had been through a traumatic experience and now is the time to step up to the plate and be nice.
They just sat on the roosting pole scowling about the early wake-up call...
The ruckus hadn't awakened THEM...
I was hoping they would put their feathered wings around the two little traumatized pullets and help them to feel secure.
The first sign of scratch and it was all about survival of the biggest.
I'm disappointed in them...but I understand...
They're chickens after all.
And if I've learned anything from being a chicken farmer.
Chickens are not very bright.
So today I'll be a coop monitor...
So far, so good...the little ones are cautious.
The big ones somewhat oblivious.
I can't wait until Aretha starts crowing like a rooster...
Can you imagine?
A traumatic night and then that?
They'll think they're in an episode of the twilight zone.
poor things...
So I'll clean up the crime scene later...after a nap...
And hopefully, hens don't have the memory of an elephant...
Hopefully they forget things easily.
Like how their farmer slept through a massacre...
Where three of their friends were breakfast for a raccoon.

Monday, June 15, 2015

On Writing...

I've read several articles by famous authors...
About their writing process.
How do they get their novel out of their head onto the paper?
It seems to be different for everyone.
From extensive plotting and planning before the writing begins,
To just flying by the seat of their pants.
I'm more of a "Let the story tell itself" type of person.
I have a general idea of where I'm going,
But as I write, things happen naturally.
Often what happens is unexpected.
Sometimes I delete the new idea...
Sometimes I love it and it changes the direction I was going.
Sometimes I like it, but it doesn't fit where I put it.  
Maybe that should happen a little later on...
So I set that part aside to be pasted in another chapter.
I have found that I like to edit as I go.
Which is a bad thing.
And I'm trying to stop that.
It's not easy.  
I want it to be just right.
That's not a bad thing.
But it's not time for that yet!
I need to get the story onto the paper...
Then add the details and move things around.
So I struggle along.
Learning what my process is...
With stops and starts and start overs...
Until I finish...
Toni Morrison said:  "I wrote my first book because I wanted to read it." 
I want to read my book too...
And that inspires me to keep going!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Case of the Cat in the Morning-Time...

My cat, Lola, is a creature of habit.
She is so predictable, I could set my coffeemaker by her...

I get up at approximately 6am.
As I creak down the stairs...
An aside...can you hear yourself go down the stairs?
I can.
My knees sound like crinkling cellophane...
Yet I don't feel them, I just hear them.
Where was I?
As I creak down the stairs, Lola moves from the couch, where she's been slumbering,
To the kitchen...to stand in front of the fridge...and wait.
For fresh water in her "inconvenient bowl".
Her bowl is a custard cup that sits along the wall in the kitchen by the fridge.
I blame my daughter for that one.
She started this "water by the fridge" thing.
Her water bowl and food are in the laundry room.
Apparently she needs water in two locations because she is "special".
After I begrudgingly fill her water bowl, and gush over her cute way of looking up at me,
I get my coffee and sit down to check email, read news, and see what my friends are up to on Facebook.
When I do this, Lola parks herself nearby...
To do some personal cleansing.
And by personal, I mean private.
I don't want to see or hear her personal cleansing first thing in the morning.
Honestly, there is no good time for that.
So I swat her away.
And she goes into the bathroom to tell her "friend" what a jerk I am.
She jumps on the toilet and gazes in the mirror to have a loud, mad conversation with another cat.
It's like "coffee with friends" but angrier.
And psycho-er.
Either she thinks we keep her nemesis in the bathroom or...
She has a very compliant friend who doesn't eat her food or drink her precious refrigerator water,
And only shows up when she wants to see her...
Or when she needs to gripe about her housemates.
When her rant is over, she finds a comfy place to nap...usually on the couch or in a sunbeam...
And she rests from the busy morning she's had.
It must be exhausting to deal with the utterly predictable humans she's trained to do her bidding.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Starting Over...

I've been writing a novel...
There, I said it.
I've started it over 3 times...
No, as of this week, 4.
Here's why:
1.  Perfectionism
2.  Discontentment
3.  Lots of prayer
4.  The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman
Every time I start over - mind you, it's the same exact story, just tweaked.
I think "This is it!  I've got it this time!"
And I do until I decide I don't.
So THIS time, I've really got it.
I KNOW it this time!
I understand that this is typical writer behavior.
My situation is not unique...
which is encouraging.
I want to tell a story that will resonate...
That has a message...
That brings joy...
Mostly, though, I want to write the story I'm meant to write.
How vague is that?
Dang vague.
So here I go again...5,000 words in to version #4.
How many versions will there ultimately be?
In what year will I finally finish this work of my heart?
I don't know.
If I have my way, before I turn 50.
Wait.  That's just crazy.
But don't writers have to be a little crazy?
Excuse me, I need to get busy...

PS - If you're a writer-type, I highly recommend The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman...even though it caused me a lot of extra work!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Yoga with Adriene and Heather...

I recently met Adriene...
She has never met me, however.
We do yoga together.
Well, I do yoga with her.
She does yoga with EVERYONE!
I used to run...
I hope to run again, but I can't at the moment.
I am some sort of injured...
Tight, annoyed hip flexors and hamstrings will not...will NOT relax.
Could be the amount of sitting on my bum I've been doing...writing...
But I digress.
I've been doing less sitting lately and more moving and I think we're making some headway
Which brings me back to yoga with Adriene.
I never really considered yoga.
I am the world's most inflexible person.
(No, you're not, I am.)
Touch my toes?  Nope.
So when I was doing physical therapy (yes, it's that bad),
The PT gal pointed out that what she was teaching me was very yoga-ish.
Enter Adriene...
I did the 20-minute beginner video first.
It was sort of fun.
And stretchy.
It felt good to stretch like that.
And she's fun to listen to as I'm yoga-ing.
There's a lingo I don't know.
"Back to center"
"Your yoga practice"
"Create space in the body"
"Checking in with _____ (the neck, the feet, the wrists, the breath, the body)"
"Come into the moment with integrity, whatever that means to you"
"Anjali Mudra"
So many other Sanskrit terms that I cannot remember, nor pronounce...yet.
But I like it...I do.
I'm learning to relax my body and mind...
I use the time to pray a little...when I'm not checking my computer screen to make sure I'm doing it right.
I think it's getting easier.
I'm not tipping over as much.
That's good, right?
And I think I'm getting a little bit stronger.
Maybe working my way back to a bit of jogging...maybe by summer.
Fingers crossed...
Nice long breath in,
Nice long juicy exhale out...

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Writing Grace...

          It never ceases to amaze me.  A group of women enter a room.  Friends, acquaintances, and strangers.  The introductions begin and the familiar walls are erected.  Automatic self-protection.  We all do it.  Leading with our best foot.  Nothing wrong with that…
            But then the magic happens.  A woman begins to read.  It could be a work of non-fiction, a tale of real-life.  A moment of grace, a moment of fear, a time of great joy, a description of her life or an odd observation.  It could be a story of fiction.  A made-up tale of fantasy or hilarity or great mystery.  Whatever she reads, it is an intimate piece of her mind and heart.  She is in those words.  She is unveiled, unguarded and exposed…literarily naked.  She reads the words out loud and the words bless the ones who hear. The women are united by words, and as the women read, strangers and acquaintances dissolve into friends.
            The thing is, in our day to day, we aren’t always honest.  We put on a mask for those we don’t know.  We want to be accepted, to belong.  But writing…writing has a way of peeling away the layers of polish.   It’s hard to write and leave yourself out of it.  Our inner voice is always exposed.  Our characters take on our fears and angst.  They find humor in what we find funny, they are pieces of us and bits of our experiences.  So we expose ourselves.  We lay bare who we are in words and phrases until we finish reading, put down our paper and look up.  What do we expect to see in the faces of those who listen?  Blank stares?  Probably.  We never expect to be understood. 
            I usually start my reading with a disclaimer:  “I didn’t take a lot of time on this” or “This is just sort of rough and dumb”.  A way of softening the expectation. 
            But I look up from my page and I see knowing.  Relating.  Relief.  Faces that say “I’m not alone.  I’m not weird.  I’m okay.”
            Walls crumble.
            Bridges are built.
            Perfection is annihilated.
            And women are united in the truth that none of us have it all together, nor are we expected to.  God fills in the gaps with grace.  We are all gaping examples of grace.  And it’s all good. 
            That’s what writing is to me…what belonging to a writing group has done for me.  It isn’t really about writing well or writing books or gathering compliments or even being heard.  It’s about sharing.  Connecting.  Growing.  Empowering. 
            Sharing our hearts.
            Connecting with other women.
            Growing in faith and confidence.
            Empowering our witness to the world through the written word.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Merry Simplicity...

          In Olympia, on Christmas eve, if you go anywhere outside of your home, there is a harried rush of last minute activity.  Shoppers dart from store to store buying gifts they’ll realize they didn’t need and grocery aisles are a traffic jam of carts filled with the leftovers of tomorrow. 
           This Christmas eve we travelled to Regensburg to shop at a Christmas market we had read about.   We parked our car and began a walk through the narrow streets.  The first thing I noticed was the lack of activity.  The streets were empty.  No one was out.  Restaurants were shuttered, only a few shop doors were open.  The Christmas market, advertised online to be open until 2pm, was partially disassembled… empty.  We passed few people as we made our way by orange and blue and yellow painted buildings. The carved stone facades framed rounded old wood doors with hand-wrought iron handles.  We relished the architecture and marveled that the buildings we passed were older than any we’d ever seen in our young country! 
            As we toured the still, quiet city, our bellies began to rumble.  Deciding to go to the next open restaurant, we found ourselves in a small café with tiny tables and tall chairs.  The menu was entirely in German, no two-word quasi-English hint as to what each item was.  So we ordered blindly, looking around at the plates of those around us.  It was a true culinary adventure as the waitress brought plates of cheeses, meats, breads, and sauces – among them, a spiced honey, a fresh strawberry jam and spicy mustard.  There were a couple of bowls of soup as well.  We had a tasty meal and left the café filled with good, new food.
            As we walked back to the car, we passed a brass band playing Christmas carols.  A few onlookers had gathered, the most people we had seen all day.  It was very interesting how the German people had holed themselves into their homes on Christmas eve…probably preparing for the big day, or simply spending time with family.  Even though we didn’t get to go to the Christmas market we had looked forward to, I was satisfied.  I liked the quiet…the simple white lights strung from buildings across cobbled streets were evidence that Christmas was celebrated and loved.  I didn’t miss the hurried hubbub of shoppers.
            Back in Velberg, we took a walk through town as the sun set.  We were mostly alone, a few dogs wandered and a man swept his porch.  We smiled a greeting as we passed.  The narrow cobblestone streets wound through a tangle of buildings, most with a shop or restaurant on the ground floor and apartments above.  In the doorways of each were simple Christmas decorations consisting of twigs, logs, wood stars, mercury glass globes, red berries and a candle in a lantern, glowing with soft light.  Communal living is the standard in Germany and each porch hugged the street, leaving no room for fancy decorations, if the inhabitants had even wanted such a gawdy display.  The décor was much different than the shiny, colorful, cartoony décor of home.  A nativity scene in a window, unpainted wood ornaments, candles, greenery, white lights.  Simplicity reigned.  Much like the simplicity of the first Christmas.  Just a stable and some hay…a king in a manger.  Plain but profound. 
            I think I may pare back my Christmas décor after experiencing Germany at Christmas time.  The spare, natural way they celebrate is very appealing.  The way they finished their hustle and settled in to celebrate was sweet with solitude.  At first, a little haunting, but ultimately, serene and more conducive to worship and honor of the real meaning of the season. 
            Christmas in Germany was less than what I expected yet ultimately exactly what I wanted…to appreciate the purity of what Christmas is really about.  To celebrate the beauty and grace of all that God has given us in his Son and His creation.    

Monday, January 12, 2015

What I Did On My Christmas Vacation...

·      Took my virgin trip across the pond.
·      Got a stamp in my passport.
·      Became a foreigner.
·      Schlepped too much luggage on planes, trains and automobiles.
·      Dealt with MRSA.
·      Ate 1,279 pretzels and pastries and STILL lost 3 pounds.
·      Made my first Prime Rib and nailed it!
·      Made Christmas dinner using only the tools a typical bachelor would have on hand…translate:  spoons and knives and a whisk.  Super thankful for the whisk.
·      Climbed into the turret of a castle and surveyed the kingdom.
·      Trespassed at Neuschwanstein castle.
·      Witnessed an epic fall in which the fall-ee held a cup of coffee and did not spill a single drop.
·      Looked up “What to do if someone goes missing in a foreign country” on my iphone.
·      Nearly caused a coup.
·      Discovered Ouzo…a greek licorice liquor (yum)…and “took care of” all rejected shots.  *hiccup*
·      Pointed out 1,369,254 dips, divots, lips and holes to my folks as we walked the cobbled streets of Europe.
·      Cursed the European design of threshold unevenness as I stubbed my toe for the 154th time.
·      Said “Danke” in France and “Merci” in Germany and said “Thank you” in Prague because I could never remember to say “dejuki” (pronounced dye-quee).
·      Fell in love with the greeting: “Bonsoire”…it is just beautiful when the French say it…
·      Stepped in countless spit globs on Paris sidewalks.  (gross)
·      Bargained a few deals at the Paris flea market.
·      Imagined the damage I could have done at the flea market if only I had unlimited resources to get the stuff home.
·      Gazed upon the Eiffel tower with awe.
·      Met Mona.
·      Avoided pick pockets.
·      Avoided a terrorist attack.
·      Went to Christmas markets in Paris and Prague…after Christmas.
·      Ate Crème Brulee that just melted on the spot…
·      Went to the Moulin Rouge and caused a small explosion.
·      Had the best meal (goulash) of my life in Prague.
·      Discovered baked fruit tea…oh my…
·      Bought $650 worth of chocolate…when the salesperson in Prague charged my credit card 15,000 crown rather than 1,500 crown…luckily, it did actually come off of my card…whew. 
·      Prayed for the beautiful city of Prague, the most un-churched city in the world with 90% atheism, and a beautiful ancient cathedral on nearly every block.  Amazing.
·      Schlepped our bags home, arriving with them all.
·      Didn’t use a single curse word on the way home even though our flight was diverted and delayed…I thought them…many of them…but didn’t utter them.
·      Marvelled at God’s favor towards us as I came home with a heart full of love and memories of a trip of a lifetime!  So thankful!!