The Joy of Rediscovery

As part of my path to “balance” this year, I’ve been working on cleaning out and re-organizing my house. (remember my “Word for the Year” post?) It’s slow work, as I’m only able to do a little at a time due to time restrictions and other obligations. But it’s very rewarding.

Cleaning out an area, even if it’s just a small kitchen drawer, feels so good! Usually, if I just do one small area, I get energized and want to do more.

Last weekend, I cleaned out 2 boxes of stuff I was storing in my basement. Then I moved on to the kitchen. I was just going to do “one drawer,” but I ended up tackling the whole thing. Every drawer and cabinet and the pantry!

At the end, I had 4 bags of trash to take out. It felt GREAT!

Once the old stuff was cleaned out, I re-organized what I wanted to keep. Everything fit so nicely on the shelves and in the drawers. Those items had room to “breathe” with empty space around them, and I had some “room to grow” for new items I may need later.

I also found a few things I had either forgotten I had or lost all together.

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My “old” apron

One of those things is an old apron that once belonged to my grandmother and was later used by my mother. I “inherited” it during one of those times when my mom was cleaning out her own kitchen. Actually, I think I said something like, “Don’t get rid of that! It was Granny’s! I want it!”

I’m not usually the sentimental type. I can throw things out and never look back. But there are just a few things that tug on my heart strings, and that apron is one of them. I don’t really remember my grandmother wearing it because she passed away when I was young. But I do remember my mom wearing it and telling me how it had belonged to Granny.

Something about it conjures warm, happy memories for me. The smell of my mom’s kitchen when she was cooking homemade biscuits or peach cobbler or something good straight from her garden. Me, hanging around watching, maybe helping, but probably reading a book. Ha, ha!

But, it reminds me of being home, of feeling safe and warm, and loved. And happy.

The apron is worn out and faded. But whenever I come across it in my own kitchen drawer, I smile.

I don’t wear it much myself, mostly because I don’t cook very much. Which is another issue I’m working on.

A friend of mine has been shaming me into cooking again. Well, actually, I guess I’m shaming myself. It seems like whenever we talk, he’s always cooking something. And it always sounds so good, and healthy, and economical. And grown up.

And I look over at my frozen, microwavable burrito and feel like a cop out.

I CAN cook, I say, I just DON’T.

Truth is, I used to cook. And I was pretty good at it. But life got busy, and I “didn’t have time” for bothersome things like cooking. Why bother when I could just nuke something, open a can of something, run through the drive-thru window somewhere? And there are still days when that is really all I can manage.

But I think there’s something to be said for cooking a meal. Taking the time to plan it out, buying the ingredients, putting everything together. The way it fills the kitchen and the house with delicious smells. Even the mess and the clean up is good, in a way. It forces me to slow down. Take time AWAY from things like social media, the computer, the television.

I’m up, moving around, working with my hands. It’s soothing, cathartic. Normal.

Before there were microwaves, electric stoves, and take out – food was WORK! Our ancestors had to hunt and kill their food, grow it in their gardens, and go through the process to bring food to the table.

And it was good for them.

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My “famous” spinach lasagna

Tonight I made spinach lasagna. This is a recipe I’ve had for years and made many times. It’s a lot of work, but it always turns out well. I figured, if I’m going to start cooking again, I should probably start with a “sure thing.” Once I get back in the habit, I will try some new recipes. For now, an old standby will do.

So, I tied my grandma’s apron around my waist and cooked! And you know what? I really enjoyed myself! It’s amazing what you can discover, or rediscover, when you slow down, clean out, and find those hidden treasures.

Now, it’s your turn. What is something you used to do that you’ve stopped doing? Why did you stop? What would it take for you to start again? What kind of joy could you get from rediscovering something? Join the conversation and leave a comment below.

What are you reading?

I’d like to start something new today. How about a recurring feature called “What are you reading?” I know many of you are avid readers, and I’d like to start a discussion around that.

There are so many great books out there (and so little time to read them all, right?). How about we share them with others?

I’ll start.

I just finished reading a great book by author K.M. Weiland called Dreamlander. I’ve actually had this book on my Kindle for a couple of years now. It was one of the first books I ever bought in electronic form.

I started reading it a while back and then never finished. Now, that has nothing to do with the quality of the book. I’ll get to that in a minute. But, it’s taken me a while to get used to reading a book on my tablet.

You just can’t beat REAL books. I love the feel of an actual book in my hands. The smell of it, the texture of the pages.

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Some of the books on my bookshelf

Reading in electronic format is different. You can bookmark a page in an e-book, but it’s not the same as putting my little bookmark in a real book. I can’t hold it up and see how much I’ve read and how much is left. There is a “page counter” thing at the bottom of the screen, but somehow it’s not the same.

And I can’t flip back over to an earlier section to check something I may have missed or forgotten in the e-book format. (Or skip ahead to make sure the hero/heroine makes it through the latest crisis!)

So, yeah, I prefer to read an actual book, but once I got into this story, I didn’t mind as much.

Dreamlander would be categorized as a fantasy novel. Think along the lines of Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia, with strange creatures, glorious castles, and epic battles.

The tag line for this book is something like, “What if our dreams are real?” Basically, the story is about Chris, who goes to sleep in our world, and wakes up in a different world, the land of Lael, where he is a chosen one called The Gifted.

Chris thinks he has completely lost his mind, but he soon finds himself caught up in a battle of good versus evil, where he may be the only one who can save both the dream world and his own world.

The plot is well done, with plenty of twists and turns that kept me turning pages (or clicking the little “next page” button, as if were). The characters are well-developed, interesting, and relatable. I found myself wondering about them during my day and itching to get back home and into their world to find out what was going to happen next.

I don’t know about you, but when a character comes to mind when I’m not reading the book, I think of that as great writing. The character has gotten under my skin, into my soul – and that is a very good thing.

I certainly feel that way about the characters I write, and I hope that my readers will feel that connection with them as well.

I really enjoyed this book and plan to read more by this author. Now … to figure out what to read next!

What about you? What are YOU reading? Are there certain genres you like reading more than others? What do you love best about your favorite books? What things really pull you into a story? Join the discussion by leaving a comment below.

Expect the Unexpected

What do you do when things don’t go as planned?

The beginning of a new year is a time to start out fresh, to “hit the ground running” with renewed energy, to make a dent in your “to do” list and start reaching your goals.

Unless it’s not.

So, I had great plans for where I’d be 9 days into this new year. I was supposed to have cleaned my house, organized my files, and gotten a kick start on growing my “writing platform,” not to mention have at least another chapter of Book 2 under my belt.

One of my goals is to blog weekly with regularly scheduled, timely posts. This blog is a small attempt to keep that goal.

But instead of doing any of those things I mentioned above, I am right now sitting at my parents’ dining room table in my sweats. And not only have I not done any of those things on my list … I haven’t even taken down my tiny little Christmas tree. And that was the only Christmas decoration I put up this year.

Yes, I know it’s January 9th.

My new year has not started out according to plan. And it’s not even a case of switching from Plan A to Plan B. I think I’m on about Plan W by now.

New Year’s Eve morning, I awoke with a stuffy, runny nose and sneezing. That progressed to what felt like a full-on head cold, and I was in bed New Year’s Eve night by 11 p.m. No, I didn’t even stay awake to see the ball drop – very unusual for me.

I spent the next couple of days doing much of nothing but lying on the couch binge watching a favorite, old TV show. Back to work on Tuesday, and on Wednesday morning, I woke up with a strange rash on my stomach and back.

A trip to the allergist confirmed my fears: shingles. Never had that before, although like most of my generation, I had chicken pox as a young child. I was sent home with a big bottle of large pills to take every 5 hours for the next 7 days.

Not knowing exactly what to expect with this virus, I went to my parents’ house to recuperate and got snowed in for the weekend.

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I’m so very thankful that my bout has been on the milder side and I’m now on the mend.

But it’s just a reminder that life doesn’t always go according to plan. In fact, it rarely hits anything resembling a plan. Rather, it seems to be a series of ups and downs, mountain top experiences and deep valleys of woe. You never know what might pop up around the next bend in the road.

A friend and I have been discussing this fact recently, and he’s reminded me that life was never intended to be smooth sailing. Life is hard and filled with things that test us, try us, but ultimately, improve us.

The raging waters of our life journey are meant to rub off our rough edges and make us stronger while also making us more acutely aware of our human weakness. We are reminded that we are not meant to go through life alone, and that in fact, we are never alone. God is walking each step with us. For He alone is the one who knows what lies around the next bend, and what we endure today will prepare us for what’s ahead.

Life isn’t meant to make us happy. It is to make us holy. More like Jesus Christ, our ultimate and perfect example.

Does that mean we should throw out all of our plans? Should we just ramble through life with no direction, no goals, no dreams? Absolutely not. The old saying goes, “If you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” Life is meant to be lived with goals and dreams. But when Plan A becomes Plan W, we must learn to roll with it, to adjust and adapt, to change direction based on the new information at hand, and forge ahead.

The only way to prepare for the next bend in the road is to expect the unexpected, knowing that everything that comes our way has a Divine order to it, even if we don’t understand how or why.

Overall, this has been a good time of relaxing and enjoying my parents’ company, of being loved on and nurtured. A reminder that I need some down time and companionship once in a while.

Just a little detour on my way to reaching my goals, but they will still be there when I am well and can get back to them. After all, who cares if my Christmas tree is still up? It’s not bothering any one but me, and if I hadn’t told you, you would’ve never known. Maybe learning to take things in stride and not getting stressed out over things I cannot control is one way God is teaching me to achieve Balance in my life. (Remember that goal?)

What about you? Can you think of a time when things went wrong? Did you learn a valuable lesson through it? How do you handle the unexpected? I’d love to hear from you, so please share by leaving a comment below.

2017 – A New Year, A New Word

I just re-read my entry for last January 2016 about my “Word for the Year.” And I’ll tell you the truth … I had tears in my eyes while reading it. I was excited about the “possibilities” of what lay ahead in the new year, and wow – did God deliver!

(Check out this post here about all the things that happened throughout 2016.)

Since last year’s word proved to be so prophetic, I was excited about what God might give me for this year’s word. He actually started laying it on my heart before Christmas, and I feel even more confident about this word as 2017 has begun.

This year’s word is: Balance.

There are so many things going on in my life right now. Work. Writing. Friends and family. Church. And the everyday things. Like laundry and housework. Cooking. Exercising. Just life in general.

And it all feels very overwhelming.

I focused a great deal on my writing in 2016, which was good and right and necessary. But in doing that, so many other areas of life kind of fell by the wayside. And now I’m having to pick up those pieces and try to put things back into some semblance of order.

I don’t function well in chaos. My type A, high C personality craves order, organization, systems, and a methodical pace of life. I want to make plans and keep plans. I love to make lists and actually check things off of it! I need down-time to think and just relax and BE.

This year, I’m striving to find that place of balance – where all the wonderful and necessary pieces of my life can find a way to co-exist. And not drive me crazy in the process!

I know what has brought me to this place, and while it’s not all bad, there are things I can do to improve my situation. Things I can do to help create that sense of balance in my life.

Last year, I had a Scripture to go with my word – Matthew 19:26.

This year, I’m reminded of the passage in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, the famous “Seasons” passage. “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” It goes on to list a myriad of things we experience in life. And each one of them is needed. Each one must have its place in order for us to live full, abundant, fulfilled, and healthy lives.

So there it is – my new word for a new year. Balance. I’m putting it out there, and I hope to have some good news to report on this time next year.

Have you ever had a “word” for the year? Or maybe even just some goals or the dreaded “New Year’s resolutions”? Have they worked out in the past? If not, what are you doing differently this year to make that happen?

Please share in the comments. And if you have any tips or advice for finding balance in your life, I’d love to hear that, too!

 

2016 in Review

Well, this has been an amazing year, to say the least. If you’ve been following this blog this year, then you’ve heard about some of the things I’ve been up to, and more importantly, what God has been doing in my life this past year. I’m sure I’ll more to say about that later, but for now, I’d just like to take a moment and list all the wonderful things that have happened in the last 365 days.

Here’s a quick run-down of 2016:

  1. January – went to a writers conference in Greenville, SC, hosted by one of my favorite authors, Lynette Eason. Met some really wonderful people and had an extremely encouraging critique from another of my favorite authors, DiAnn Mills, and a very insightful mentoring appointment with Lynette. Got some really great advice from a number of the other author instructors while there as well. Felt renewed to continue pursuing my writing.
  2. February – made my self-imposed deadline of doing the “final” edits on my manuscript so that I could send it to a publisher who had requested to read it.
  3. March – entered the ACFW Genesis contest for unpublished writers, hoping to get some good feedback on my first 15 pages.
  4. March – also this month, I taught a day-long workshop on social media for my critique group.
  5. April & May – geared up for the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference by creating all of the materials needed for pitching my work to editors and agents.
  6. May – a couple of weeks before the conference, I found out that I had made it to the semi-finals of that Genesis contest! This was so unexpected and exciting! That meant I was in the top 7 of my category. Wow!
  7. May – I went to the BRMCWC and had a wonderful time. Made lots of new friends and had great pitch appointments with a couple of agents and editors. I walked away with so much knowledge and even some requests to submit my work!
  8. June – Began outlining Book 2!
  9. June – After the conference, while I was working on getting my proposal together to send to the editors/agents who had requested it, I got another phone call … I had made it to the final round of the Genesis contest! This meant I was now in the top 3! The winners would be announced at the Awards Gala during the ACFW national conference in Nashville in August. And so, I made plans to attend.
  10. July – The publisher I had submitted to back in March actually offered me a contract. After a lot of prayer, I ultimately decided this was not an opportunity that God wanted me to pursue. But I was very excited to have received the offer. It reminded me that God has a plan for my writing.
  11. August – the ACFW conference in Nashville was amazing. Again, I made lots of new friends and had great appointments with more editors and agents. I didn’t win the Genesis contest in my category, but not to worry. Even being a finalist was more than I’d dreamed, and something very important happened during the Gala…
  12. September – I submitted my proposals to the editors and agents who had requested it, and then I waited … and began the actual writing of Book 2!
  13. October – I began the Citizens Police Academy with my local sheriff’s department. The 6-week program which took me through every aspect of how the department functioned, including real-life experiences of shooting my first shotgun and AR-15, plus a ride-along with a deputy (a female officer – which goes right along with my main character!). It was a wonderful experience that was important and necessary research for my writing, especially for Book 2.
  14. October – I received an offer of a contract from one of the agents I had submitted to! I prayed and felt God leading me to sign, so I did. I now have an agent! Just one step closer to publication!
  15. November/December – these months have been filled with the holidays, but I’ve managed to get in some writing here and there. I’m about halfway through Book 2 now!

What a whirlwind this year has been! Thank you for reading and for supporting me this year. I am looking forward to walking through more writing adventures with you in the year to come. Let’s journey together!

 

A New Season

Ah… Fall. My favorite time of year! I love the colors of the leaves, the crispness in the air! It’s the time to take long walks down leaf-strewn country roads. The time to wander through a corn maze or go to a Fall Festival. The time for apple cider and hot chocolate and all things “pumpkin spice.”

It’s the beginning of a new season. The heat of the summer is past, and as we look forward to cooler weather, we put away our tank tops, shorts, and sandals. I’m ready to break out my jackets, sweaters, and cute boots. How about you?

It’s a new season for my writing, as well.

I’m working on Book 2 in my series, and I’m finding that it’s a very different experience the second time around.

When I started working on Book 1, no one knew about it. Just me and the Lord. It was our little secret. I could work at my own pace. I could make mistakes. I could start, stop, and then start again. I had the freedom to create this little world of my imagination however I wanted.

After a little while, I let a few people in on my secret – those I trusted with my little dream. I even let a few of them read my work! It was thrilling and terrifying at the same time.

As time went on, more people entered my writing world, as I joined a writers group, then a critique group. I met more writers at conferences and made new friends.

But for the most part, my writing world was still “quiet.”

As I begin work on Book 2, it’s so very different. My writing world is crowded. There are more people involved. More who know about my little dream. More who ask me, “How’s it going?”

I’m trying to get published. Which means going to conferences, meeting agents and editors. Sending proposals. And waiting. Lots of waiting.

But there is still much to do during the waiting periods. I have social media to worry about. Did I tweet today? What should I share on Facebook? I need to update my blog. What will I write about? Am I “engaging” my audience? Am I building my “brand” and “platform”?

For, you see, that is what agents, editors, and publishing houses look at. It’s what they expect me to do – to market myself and my writing. But also, to write. All while holding down a day job. And cooking. And doing the laundry. And oh yeah, trying to have a life somewhere in between.

And I’m finding that it’s just much “louder” this time around. I’m not sitting in my writing room, just me and the Lord, playing with words, creating characters and worlds from my imagination.

There are expectations, people to please, audiences to find, pressures to excel.

And while all of this can be a good thing, it does a number on one’s creativity.

I’m finding that I must try even harder to shut out the “noise.” I have to be mindful to close myself off to the outside world and immerse myself into the writing world. Consciously. Forcefully, even.

The desire to write is still there. Maybe even more so, since I am re-visiting characters I have come to love. Like visiting with old friends. And I can’t wait to see what the future holds for them.

It’s still fun. It’s still thrilling and terrifying. But it’s just different. A new season. But just as I look forward to sweater weather and bonfires, I can look forward to this new season – with all its possibilities and unexplored paths and new discoveries that are just waiting for me. And soon the new will become as familiar and comfortable as my favorite pair of boots!

What about you? What is YOUR favorite thing about Fall? What have you discovered through the different “seasons” of life? Please join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

ACFW Conference Day 1

Hello all! As promised, this begins the run-down of my time at the ACFW Conference in Nashville, TN.

I’ll try not to bore you with ALL the details, because a LOT happened. But I will give you the highlights.

I met up with my friends from our local ACFW Chapter early on the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 24, and we headed out. My friend Ane, who was driving, and my critique group leader, Ruth, and I. We stopped a couple of hours away and picked up another member, Cindy.

The day was lovely, even though it had started out with rain. But as we drove, the skies cleared up. We stopped for lunch just outside of Chattanooga in a little town called Monteagle. And we had a great time in fellowship together and talking about writing on the way. I felt like the conference had already started as I was already learning so much!

We arrived in Nashville a little after 3pm Eastern time. Nashville is on Central time, so it was 2pm there. That was a little weird to get used to.

The conference was at the Omni Hotel in downtown Nashville. It was a beautiful building inside and out. My room was very nice!

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I didn’t have the best view as I looked down onto the building across the street, which I later learned was the Music City Center.

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After little sleep the night before, and a 6-hour trip, I was tired. So I took a quick nap before meeting up with Ruth and Cindy for supper in the hotel restaurant. It was nice, and we sat near the window, where we looked out on a beautiful old church building and could watch people passing by on the street.

The conference didn’t officially start until the next day, so we had the evening off. We walked around the hotel, getting familiar with the surroundings, and visited the conference registration table to get registered.

We got cool nametags to hang around our necks. Each person had a unique set of ribbons. Mine had brown for the “First Time Attendees,” a peach colored one for our “zone” – which is the Southeast Zone. And I had a light blue one indicating that I was a contest Finalist.

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We also got a nice nice bag to carry our stuff in and an almost 50-page booklet with a map of the conference center, each day’s schedule of meetings and classes (and a description of each class), pictures of the conference staff, ACFW board, and the various editors, agents, and mentors available for appointments. Plus, lots of cool features, like an interview with the keynote speaker, best-selling author Ted Dekker. And a feature on the recipient of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the legendary Janette Oke. Yep, THAT’S the kind of company I was in.

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Among the various ads for books and publishing houses, there was a list of this year’s Carol Awards nominees. The Carol Awards are for “recognition for quality fiction published in the previous calendar year.” So many great books were listed there.

And then there was the Genesis Award Finalists. How cool to see my name listed among those! And the First Impressions Winners. That contest takes place in the Fall and is for the first five pages of a manuscript.

There were also pictures of the winners from the 2015 Awards Gala and the list of other nominees for this year: Mentor of the Year, Editor of the Year, and Agent of the Year. And a list of the MANY conference volunteers! It takes a LOT of people to make something this big go so smoothly.

There was even a helpful section called, “Getting the Most from Your Conference Experience.” How thoughtful!

I got settled into my room and had a good night’s sleep, anticipating the next day when the conference would actually get started.