"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for March, 2014

A Literal Story of Taking Writing Out of the Box

About four years ago, I started writing a romance story by accident. It began with a scene in my head that I kept developing until it became a draft about 100 pages long. In fact, I called the file on my computer “the scene in my head” because I didn’t know what I wanted to call it. I spent hours each day working on it. I dreamed about the characters and the story. I researched drugs, gunshot wounds and police protocol. I cared about these fake people I’d created. And then I just stopped writing.

It wasn’t a purposeful decision to stop. I read and re-read the parts I loved, like I would when reading a favorite book. But my story was never a complete draft. It had holes I didn’t know how to fill and when I tried filling those holes I didn’t like my story anymore. What would I do with the draft anyway? I didn’t even let my husband read it, except for when I had questions about cars and needed his input on a scene. (He only got to read that part.) And really, the premise was pure cheesy romance. Who, besides me, likes cheesy romance novels these days? My characters weren’t believable and I was just a mediocre writer. So I got discouraged and believed all the negative critics in my head. And I gave up.

Writing resources always say that it’s best to put a piece away for a time, even if you’re satisfied with it, to read it with renewed perspective. I thought if I did that, I could return to the draft and re-write it and complete it someday. I put it all in a binder, along with my research notes, my scribbled up notebooks and my books about writing and stuck it all in a box. I unsubscribed to all those writing websites. It felt like it was what I needed to do. There were bills to pay, a house to clean and my family that needed my attention. The box got shelved out of sight where I wouldn’t see it and be reminded of my silly attempt to write a novel.

I had failed.

But I didn’t forget about the box or my story, especially the characters. I’d see an actor on television and think of how he reminded me of one of my characters. Or I’d read a romance novel and think how my story had a premise just as good. Even with the job and the house and the responsibilities, I found a way to fit writing back into my life. I started remembering how good it feels when the words just flow onto the pages by themselves. How I love words and grammar and when a paragraph turns out just the way I want it to sound. Last week I found the box and I had the nerve to open it. And for the first time in four years I thought about taking out that story and looking at it with those fresh eyes I should have by now.

In the short time I’ve been blogging I’ve learned something. What I post might only get read by two other human beings besides me, but I’m a happier person for having written it. My brain works better when I have a creative outlet. In the case of the draft of my romance story, it’s not all about success or failure with writing; it is the process, and I genuinely love it, even those times when I think I don’t. Do I like having an audience for my writing?  Of course.  But while I enjoy when other people like what I write, I need to remember that it’s the actual writing part that makes me a “writer”.  Not how well it’s received or by whom.

Will I ever finish this story of unrequited love that now sits in the box in my office? I’m still not convinced. But I now think it might be time to dust off the binder and at least take another look and decide. It’s time to take my writing out of the box and back onto the computer.

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Springtime and Daffodils

My cousin, Ruth, took this picture of the daffodils by her garage.  Her picture inspired this post.

My cousin, Ruth, took this picture of the daffodils by her garage. Her picture inspired this post.

When I was a little girl, I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandparents.  I loved spending the night at their house, sleeping in Grandpa’s undershirts (even when I brought my own PJs with me), drinking homemade milkshakes and baking fun stuff with Grandma.  Days at Grandma’s—it was always Grandma’s house and Grandpa’s car to me—were full of endless rounds of “Go Fish”, Crystal Gayle records and swinging on the homemade swing in the big maple tree in their backyard.  I’d jump rope on the back porch, roller skate in the basement and type nonsense on Grandpa’s typewriter.  It was good to be a kid at Grandma’s.  It’s true that my grandparents spoiled me, but they also loved me in a special way that no one else has ever loved me—before or since.

Since my mom is an only child, my older brother, Kevin, and I were Byron and Vivian Long’s only grandchildren.  They had grown up in a small town called Rector, Arkansas, and moved to St. Louis when they got married in 1941 so that my grandpa could get a job up here.  Grandma was a housewife.  She never learned to drive, so Grandpa took her everywhere she went.  She was reserved, a little shy even, but with us kids she completely showered us with affection.  Grandpa was one of the most selfless, genuine people I’ve ever met.  He had a silly side that always delighted me.  When our visits would come to an end, he’d do silly, waving dances for us in the driveway until the car was out of sight.  He was smart, too, and was one of those people that if you asked him a question he didn’t know the answer to, he’d find a way to look it up.  Keep in mind this was 35 years before the internet.

Grandma and Grandpa always had a small garden in their backyard.  I remember chasing away the bunnies that would eat the little yellow flowers on the cucumber plants.  One year, though, they had a rabbit Grandma called Bunnikens.  They let the grass grow long in the yard where Momma Bunny kept her nest.  Every Spring Grandma’s house would have flowers all around.  The back of the house had a huge snowball bush as tall as the house.  In the front there were always daffodils that Grandma called yellow jonquils.  They were the bright yellow ones.  I loved those flowers, and Grandma would always cut me a bunch to take home. She’d wrap up their stems in wet paper towels and put aluminum foil around them so I could take them home with me.  It felt like I was taking a little bit of Grandma’s house with me.

Years later, after my grandparents passed away, my parents and I had the task of cleaning out their house and putting it up for sale.  Grandma had died in 1996, and Grandpa lived almost ten more years, living out the last few of them with my parents in their home.  Needless to say, the landscaping in front of Grandma’s needed some attention; except in early Spring when the daffodils were in bloom the area by the front porch needed some color.  In the fall of 2005 when we listed the house, I dug up as many of the bulbs as I thought I could find a spot for at my house and replanted some tidy, boring shrubs in their place.

The bulbs stayed in a bag almost two years.  I never got around to planting them at our house, which turned out to be a blessing because we moved the next summer into a new home where I finally planted them.  Every year they pop out in front of the garage.  Today they are all covered with buds, ready to open this week.  I love seeing those daffodils come up because they don’t care if it’s a long, cold, snowy winter.  They still come up—even in snow—their yellow heads a joyous golden testimony to the inevitable Spring.

The unassuming daffodil will always be my favorite flower; its simplicity reminding me of the unconditional love of two of my all-time favorite people and a time when happiness grew in bunches by the front porch.

Grandma and Grandpa Long--still two of my favorite people who ever walked this planet!

Grandma and Grandpa Long–still two of my favorite people who ever walked this planet!

Clean Eating Challenge Day 15

Ground Turkey with broccoli and pasta

Ground Turkey with broccoli and pasta

I haven’t posted a lot about what’s going on in my Clean Eating Challenge. The good news is there’s not a whole lot to mention. Other than aside from the first few days of running around like a crazy person trying to find specific items for my meals, it’s not been all that different than the spells I have where we skip eating out and I make all of our family meals. I have taken my measurements, and within the first week I lost an inch and a half around my waistline. I have some “before” pictures to share, but I want to wait to post them with the “after” pictures.

I found a resource called “The Daniel Plan” and I am really liking it (thanks Karen D.). It’s easy to follow and involves your whole lifestyle, including elements of faith, friendship, focus (brain training), food and fitness. The Daniel Plan (www.danielplan.com) was developed in part by Rick Warren, who you may be familiar with as the author of The Purpose Driven Life. The dietary part was developed by Dr. Daniel Amen and Dr. Mark Hyman. It focuses on clean eating, and it had a 40-day element to it, so I thought it was a perfect fit for this challenge. You eat a lot of whole foods, including nuts and seeds, beef, chicken and fish and plenty of vegetables.

The best part is, other than feeling a bit overwhelmed the first couple of days with all the slicing and dicing, I’ve tried to keep it simple. I quickly figured out that making the meals from scratch took me a little longer to cook than just heating up something pre-packaged. I like having leftovers for lunch the next day or even another dinner if it’s just me. There’s nothing worse for me than when I’m hungry and there’s nothing quick for a meal if we’re on the go. I try to grab a handful of almonds if I’m really hungry. It takes the edge off the hunger enough I’m able to think straight and figure out what to cook. Planning ahead seems to be the key for me to stay on track eating healthy.

As far as expense goes, I’m going to be honest and tell you that yes, it’s more expensive to eat this way. However, I look at it this way: if I’m healthier for eating right, it costs less money down the road in health expenses. I read the labels to find the closest things I can to what the recipes call for. If the organic version costs a lot more, I skip it. Maybe someday that will become a factor, but right now I feel that I’ve improved on poking more vegetables down. It is more expensive to eat at a restaurant when you’re trying to be conscientious, depending on the restaurant. Fast food is generally not an option if you’re trying to eat whole foods, and nicer restaurants usually mean meat/fish and veggie or a salad minus all the goodies.

That being said, my biggest stumbling block is the weekend, when everybody’s running around and we can all be on different schedules. I’m glad there’s a “cheat” day built in. I know that technically it’s Sundays that don’t count as part of Lent, but I used Saturday instead this past weekend. I ran a St. Patrick’s Day 7K with my friend Amy and my daughter, Erin, in the morning, and we hung around after the race for the parade. The food options for me were not ideal—I ended up having “lunch” around 9:30 am—a ribeye sandwich where I only ate part of the bun. I skipped the chips, but I did have beer after the race, which I had not had since starting this Challenge.
So overall, I’ve felt pretty good about my adherence to the Clean Eating. I’m probably clean eating around 90% of the time, especially now since the first ten days of “detox” are over (no gluten, no dairy during the first ten days).
The pictures  above is what we had for dinner last night. It was ground turkey and broccoli pasta. Fairly quick to make (under half an hour) and very good. It only had ground turkey, onions, broccoli, tomatoes, soy sauce, mustard, salt and pepper in it, so it wasn’t one of those recipes where you have a ton of ingredients. The pasta was whole wheat—you can use gluten free, but neither Darrell nor I seem to have a problem with gluten, so I just opted for the whole wheat. Yum!

clean living plate 3-14

Being a Martyr Mom

When I got to work this morning, my boss had cut out a cartoon and had left it on my desk.  It was a Baby Blues cartoon, and began with the kid asking the mom if he and his sister could watch some TV while she cooked dinner.  The mom answers “sure” and is shown tackling laundry, childcare and dinner duty solo, all the while grumbling how she LOVES doing everything around the house all by herself.  It ends with the kid returning to his sister and letting her know, “She said ‘sure’”.

I appreciated the laugh and seeing that on Monday morning, after leaving a messy house with a to-do list a mile long, made my day.  The timing was perfect—I almost wondered if my boss had been a fly on the wall in my house at dinner last night!  The fact that it was so relatable hit me in a couple ways.  First, I can be that Martyr Mom at times, complaining about how I have to do everything, after having never asked for help.  I forget my kids (and even sometimes my husband) don’t read minds and if I want them to do something, I need to specifically instruct.  Second, I began to wonder what message, if any, I send my family as I putter about in the kitchen, closing cabinet doors a little too hard and muttering to myself.  The reality is, they probably hear what they want to—Mom’s got dinner covered, let’s play XBOX until she calls us in.

I admire Marla Cilley of Flylady fame.  She has a website, www.flylady.net, where she helps those of us with Housework Attention Deficit Disorder (my terminology) develop routines and habits for keeping an organized, tidy home.  One of the points she makes when people whine that their families don’t help them is that it’s better to lead them by example than nagging them to death.  I guess I’ve never quite been a good enough example to test that theory, but I love how she sees the complaining as being a martyr.  I’ve been around enough martyrs in my life, haven’t you?  You know the type.  They do this, that and the other and it’s so hard and nobody appreciates them and blah blah blah.  I have to put the blah blah blah in there because I honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard what comes after that.  And neither do our kids.

None of us wants to be that person, yet I do think all of us have felt that way at times.  Whether or not we verbalize it depends on who we’re with and what mood we’re in.

So Martyr Mom tendencies aside, the cartoon made me think about what we Moms (and Dads) need to do to get our families more involved in the household routines.  I stayed home with the kids until my oldest was a freshman in high school.  From the time they were born, I did all the household tasks—laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc.  I considered it my full-time job and felt blessed to be home with them when they were little.  Any time I tried to develop some kind of chore system I became so frustrated I just gave up.  As they got older and I became more involved in activities outside the home (many of them revolving around the kids like coaching, leading Girl Scouts, etc.) eventually returning to work part-time, I should have been more diligent in assigning them specific things to do.  Instead, I mistakenly just believed that they were mini adults, and would see something that needed to be done and just do it for sake of cleanliness and hygiene. (They’re good kids, but not that good!)

Now don’t get me wrong, my kids will do chores when specifically asked, even if at times I have to ask more than once.  The problem is that I need to let go of the idea that they will use their observation skills to see I need help and instinctively offer to set the table.  Like the mom in the cartoon, my frustration is, in part, of my own making.

Because while nobody likes being given Mom’s To-Do List, they dislike Martyr Mom even more.

What a Difference a Day Makes

Yesterday was rough. No singular reason, but just a tough, glitch-filled day at work, a lack of energy and that overwhelmed feeling that no matter what I did, I’d never catch up.  Scheduling conflicts prevailed and I fell off my “perfect” streak on my Clean Eating diet in a moment of weakness.  So nothing catastrophic, but the day where nothing went as I’d planned and I felt out of control.  Bottom line, it was one of those days where I felt like I was drowning.

Today, though, today is a brand new day.  Where yesterday I felt like I took two steps backwards for every one forward, today feels like a breeze.  I received some paperwork I’ve been waiting on to move forward on a project at work (with no nagging involved) and the afternoon is stretched out before me as time with my kids on Spring Break.  Not that today hasn’t had its hiccups, it has, but this feeling like Ms. Black Cloud Karma is hovering over me isn’t there today.  I haven’t been second guessing every move wondering what could go wrong next.  The cosmos have shifted, and I though I can’t explain why, I am grateful.

It makes me very understanding of early civilizations who believed in the wrath of gods and nature.  When everything piles on all at the same time, there has to be some force behind it orchestrating it that way, right? Do negative thoughts really breed more negativity?  Does a positive outlook bring about positive events. Perhaps.

Isn’t it funny what a difference a day makes?

Clean Eating Challenge Day 6

I’ve learned quite a bit in the last six days about eating clean:

  1.  Tempeh, though not easy to find, tastes pretty good in stir fry.
  2. Eating clean, including all the vegetables, takes dedication and planning.
  3. Leftovers are manna from heaven.
  4. I can go to Applebees and not feel deprived. (steak and broccoli)
  5. When you are really hungry, it is harder to stay on the plan when presented with pizza.
  6. Homemade concoctions of healthy stuff are time-consuming and hard to enter into My Fitness Pal—I still think I like pen and paper, even if it’s not as thorough of a tracking calorie-wise.
  7. I love the Dr. Hyman’s Whole Food Protein Shake.  It’s made with a bunch of nuts and seeds, blueberries and a banana.  It really is filling.

I’m pretty pleased with how it’s been going.  I really only craved sweets this afternoon.  I was standing at the kitchen sink, and out of nowhere the thought of something sweet just jumped into my head and I really had to work to shake it.  I was tired today, and was getting ready for lunch, but it did pass.  I have felt good and not hungry, which I was afraid of when beginning this detox part of the plan.

Now I have to be honest, tonight I was “off plan”.  The girls and their moms from Erin’s basketball team went to Pizza Street.  I rarely show self-control at buffets, but I did better tonight.  First, I made a really big salad and, knowing it wasn’t on the plan (crust and cheese!), put one slice of veggie pizza on my plate.  I was still hungry, so I had a second piece and then a third.  (They weren’t very big pieces.)  I’m just really glad they didn’t have the chocolate desserts out, or it would have been all over!

I only feel a little bit guilty about tonight, because I have been totally on the plan the rest of the time, and I did eat a ton of vegetables today.  If I feel bad tomorrow, I will think otherwise!  I didn’t eat mindlessly, and I savored each bite.  Also, no soda.  And in contrast to how I usually eat, I wasn’t so bad!

Does the proceeding sound like justification?  (I’m good at justifying my bad behavior!) So yes, I caved, but it’s done and I need to just go forward.  Tomorrow is another day.

Remembering Charlie

Charlie hanging out in the yard.

Charlie hanging out in the yard.

Today, one of my best friends who happens to be my cousin, had to euthanize their family dog, who succumbed to cancer.  Kim and Matt had Charlie since the early days of their marriage, and like most newlywed couples, Charlie the dog was like their first child.  Charlie was exceptionally smart and well-behaved.  In fact, I wish our two dogs now had half his manners!  We all loved Charlie.

We have had to have two dogs euthanized and one died on her own.  Each loss hurt tremendously and I felt like I’d lost one of my best friends.  I pulled this out of my writings that I wrote after we had to put our dog, Amber, to sleep back in 2004.  Today I’d like to dedicate the message Kim, Matt, Joe and Jason in memorial to Charlie!  RIP sweet friend.

HIS EYE IS ON THE SPARROW

This past March, I had to take our beloved dog, Amber, to be put to sleep.  Now, if you’re not an animal lover, you may be thinking, “It’s only a dog.” But if you’ve ever loved a pet you’ll know how difficult it is to make that decision.

I’d had Amber since I was 15 years old—a little over 17 years.  Before I met my husband, had babies and became a “grown up”, I had Amber.  Yes, she was just a dog, but she did teach me a lot about loyalty, unconditional love and devotion.  Though I’d had other pets growing up, she required a bit more care and attention (I couldn’t just leave her in the cage like a guinea pig or hamster), teaching me responsibility and how to nurture another.  And during her puppy “chewing” phase, she taught me patience—I went through a lot of shoes.  She was a wonderful companion.

So, other than memorializing my pet’s memory, what does this have to do with the Bible?  Well, it got me to thinking about where pets belong in God’s kingdom.   I desperately wanted to believe that somehow my dog—my loyal friend—was in some sort of “doggie” heaven.

Once I asked a former co-worker, who happened to be going through seminary, if dogs go to heaven when they die.  He explained to me that the Bible didn’t say anything specific about pets, because back in the time it was written animals were either food or workers.  So, unfortunately, there are no “Rover” verses for me to look up in my Concordance!   Yet we know God created animals, and it does speak of God’s creatures.  The verse that came to me was Luke 12:6-7.  I didn’t remember the words of the passage perfectly, let alone the Scripture reference, but I remembered the song, “His Eye is on the Sparrow”, with the line, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know that he watches over me.”  So, when I felt ready, I looked up “sparrow” in my Concordance and found where I could look it up.

Call it coincidence (I don’t), but the verse just so happened to be the one the Sunday School kids were talking about the very next day in Chapel at Sunday School.  I’m not sure if my son, Tyler, who was grieving for his pet, made the same connection with that verse that I did.  But I found it comforting.

In the Scripture passage, which really begins with Luke 12:1, Jesus is speaking to his disciples, and an apparently “rowdy crowd” (I call trampling on each other rowdy!)  He starts to warn them about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  He tells them not to be afraid of those people who can do physical harm to them, but instead, they should fear Him who “has the power to throw you into hell.”  Not exactly a warm fuzzy, huh?  But he goes on, and what he has to say in verses 6 and 7 is heartwarming to me.  “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Don’t be afraid;  you are worth more than many sparrows.”  In other words, the mere sparrow was just a lowly creature not given much value here on Earth.  But still God cares for it, knowing each of His creations intimately.  This Scripture gives me hope and gives us a glimpse at a God who lovingly created our world, down to the tiniest, seemingly insignificant creature.

Our pets, creations of the same loving Father who made us, have a place with Him.  Now does this mean dogs and other pets go to heaven?  I don’t know.  And I am certain that there are numerous arguments to be had about an animal’s soul or lack thereof.  But a God who loves the insignificant sparrow created it all, and I can put my faith in that fact.  “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know that he watches over me.”

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