What I Learned in February 2016

Monday, February 29, 2016

Feb. 29, 2016

We've covered a lot of ground this February. I'm amazed at just how much we packed into this short month. Who is ready for another round of Emily's What I Learned link up? Here are six things from my list!

Francis Hodgson Burnett, the author of "The Secret Garden", wrote other books. To name a few: "The Shuttle," "The Making of a Marchioness," "The Methods of Lady
," "That Lass o' Lowries," "Through One Administration,"
"Little Lord Fauntleroy" and "A Lady of Quality".

How to clean a gas range. Simple enough, but a tutorial gives me confidence that I'm doing it "right". Don't be afraid to pull out the 409 for tough spots.

Command + c = copy. Thanks to my sister for the tutorial after learning how clueless I was about these shortcuts. Rach also commented to tell me about command + z = undo and command + x = cut. Apparently EVERYONE knows and uses these shortcuts except me. What else am I missing out on, people? 

Free Willy was filmed in Mexico City and off of the coasts of WA and OR. This was one of my favorite movies when I was little. I never even thought about filming locations.

About 3/4 of writing fiction is simply making decisions. Setting, plot, time period, character names, and every single detail is a fork in the road waiting for your to decide as an author. I'm hoping it gets easier with practice!

Rosa Parks' collection of papers and pictures are available online. Her reflections after her arrest in 1955, this picture from 1948, and a pancake recipe that she jotted down are some of my favorites so far. 

What did you learn this month?

And...What are you doing with your "extra" day this year? 

The Feathered Bone Review

Saturday, February 27, 2016

I have always been one to choose a book because of its cover. From the moment I saw the mostly blues and blacks and the font that reminded me of ribbons on the cover of "The Feathered Bone" by Julie Cantrell , I was drawn in. I've never read anything by Cantrell and I didn't even know what the book was about. All I knew was that THIS looked like a GOOD one.

Last Friday night, I pulled it out before bed and read the first few chapters or so. That little preview clued me into the fact that it was set in New Orleans just before Hurricane Katrina. Cantrell didn't waste any time setting the stage. By the time I read a few more pages the next morning, I had a pretty good idea about where the plot might be headed.

By Sunday afternoon, I couldn't put it down. I did something I rarely do and spent pretty much the entire afternoon finishing this book. I HAD to figure out where these characters were going and how the story line resolved itself. So, there is my pitch. "The Feathered Bone" by Julie Cantrell is hands down, the book that has proved to be the most difficult to put down so far this year.

Now, you need to know that this is not a happy book. As I told Allegra and Cassandra about it at church Sunday morning, Cassandra made a face and shook her head, "Oh, my! No, I can't read books like THAT. I'd get depressed."

This fiction book deals with some HEAVY topics It's not a lighthearted beach read, but rather a book that will dig deep and really make you think about life and your philosophy of it. Seriously...I actually wrote notes in the margins in several places. I almost never do that with fiction.

That said, it's exactly the kind of book I crave as I prepare to come out of winter. This book couldn't have come along at a better time. I've been thinking and reading and writing about the idea of home and the tragedy of longing for it. I've been wrestling with the theme of suffering and slowly coming around to see God's good purpose and HAND in it. I'm always curious about New Orleans. I've spent 25 years in a world where husbands and fathers hurt the very people they are supposed to take care of.

This book leaves no stone unturned. It takes the hardest things in life and places them right in your face. My pastor's sermon on Sunday even tied right into the way this book connected the things in my mind lately (I'm telling you this so that I can share the link with you if you're interested).

If you need a book that will challenge you and give you something to chew on for a while, this is it! Cantrell is fantastic. Maybe it's because I read it in one weekend, but this book really affected me in so many good ways. If you read it, please be sure to tell me!

Grab your copy HERE.

*I was provided a review copy of this book by the publisher. All thoughts are my own honest opinion. 

What I'm Into: February 2016

Thursday, February 25, 2016

This morning, I'm sitting at the writing table that I set up in the corner of the bedroom that I share with my sister at The Queen's Cottage. It's near a big window (complete with window seat) and the morning sun is streaming in. I've just finished sending a few emails, eating a blueberry muffin, and topping off my coffee.

The end of February has been beautiful. It's still super cold, but the sun has been shining and I love discovering all the sun spots in this house. We've got about a month left here at The Queen's Cottage before it's time to start going back and forth between here and our other house.

We've all got mixed feelings. My anxiety feeds off of uncertainty and unrest. I've got a lot of taking it to God to do. A lot of not borrowing tomorrow's troubles. A lot of enjoying today and trusting that every trial is God's way of teaching me to be Shepherded by Him.

What I'm Watching

The Life of a King on Netflix. SO good. 

Murder She Wrote and Kitchen Basics with Ina Garten on Netflix. These are my go-to shows that I watch in snippets while I eat lunch or on Saturday mornings. 

Brigadoon. It's a February tradition that I love.

In The Kitchen

I've got lists of great menus from this month. It's great to look back over them for inspiration. Some recent favorites:

Crockpot porkchop dinner (with apples and stuffing)

Enchiladas with refried beans, rice, and salad

Sausage with alfredo and broccoli salad

meatloaf with mashed potatoes and greenbeans

blueberry muffins with homefries and sausage patties

I'm currently craving a big ham with all the fixings, spaghetti, biscuits, and salad bar. Hopefully we'll work these menus in soon.

At My Writing Table

One of my writing goals was to make a space for writing. I accomplished that and I have been spending a lot of time there. Some of my writing has shown up on this blog, I've been preparing guest posts for other blogs that will be going live over the next few months, and I've been putting some work into my novel.

You guys, I'm really writing and it feels so good! Writing time 2016 is going full speed ahead. Here are a few samples in case you missed them:

Six Months to Live

A Strategy For Beholding God: Purposeful Prayer

Inspired by Marina: An Essay On The Writing Life

Around The Internet

Rach introduced me to a FREE tool that allows bloggers to find out what people REALLY think about their blogs. I did it and discovered that I need to make some changes, especially in the font department. Any reccomendations for a good font for the body of my posts?

You remember that song, "Where I Come From"? My favorite Southern Gal wrote a version of her own. Read it and write your own. It'll be fun!

Monica is planning her garden. Are you?

As always, I'm linking up with Leigh. What are you into?

My Writing Workshop

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

I grew up with a Mom who was always explaining things. I rarely had to ask "Why?" because behind every "We're going to do this." was a "Here's why!". Eventually I would meet people and teachers who despised my obsession with "WHY". These people taught me to keep track of my questions and seek out the answers on my own.

When I decide to try something new or to get better at something I've been working at for a while, I always take a step back to consider my questions. My questions usually revolve around "Why?" and "How?" which both make great starting places for learning.

Resolving to start working on a novel meant that I had some serious learning to do. I had an idea of WHAT I wanted to write, but I had lots of questions to answer before I was ready to sit down at my writing table. Out of my curiosity on the process of novel writing, a workshop was born. I didn't plan it out beforehand, I just kept my eyes open for things that might be helpful and ended up stumbling upon resource after resource.

Here they are, organized by category:

Video Series

Story Structure with Dan Wells  2

There are five videos in this series. You can get through all five in about an hour. One of my greatest weaknesses in writing fiction is the plotting process. Basically, prior to watching Wells' videos,  I didn't have one. Now I do!


7 Habits To Reach Your Writing Goals with Jerry B. Jenkins 3

Right around the time I decided to get writing, I came across  those two webinars. Both authors are working on building an online community, so I have a feeling that they will be offering both sessions again in a few months. In the meantime, you can check out a post  that Emily wrote, this list of books on writing, as well as Jerry's articles on writing.


The Portable MFA in Creative Writing 6

The Art of X-Ray Reading 8

Mary Higgins Clark's advice was to always be learning more about writing, especially in the beginning. I came across the first book at the library and knew it was the perfect tool to get me going. Some of the examples in this book are not very savory, but the exercises and explanations are great. The second book JUST came in at the library, so I'm excited to dig into that next.


First Drafts and Advice For Writers with Neil Gaiman 1

Conversation with Mary Higgins Clark for more from her go HERE 5

Writing Process of Roald Dahl 7

I am always listening when writers talk about writing and especially when they talk about their personal writing routine. I'm more apt to pay close attention when it's a writer I have enjoyed, but I'm really just interested in seeing what I can learn from other writers.

My writing workshop covers a little bit of everything...Plotting, character development, important habits, researching, getting published, practice exercises, and most importantly: sticking to it. I have a feeling I'll always be learning. Now it's time to do join Clark in asking "What if?" with a pencil in hand and Dahl in "putting my bottom in the chair."

Happy writing!

*The tiny numbers following each resource show the order in which I used each one. :) 

In Every Season

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Nearly 7 years ago, I came across a post that has been challenging me every August since then. The post consisted of these two lines:

"Don’t say 'It’s August? The summer is almost over!'
Rather, ask 'How can I, today, enjoy God’s glory in a way that I can’t in winter?'

Someone named Chris left this comment, "“How can I enjoy God’s glory in these bone chilling temperatures and snowstorms that I can’t in the warm and sunny summers?"

As summer fades and then a few months later as I watch as fall turns to winter, the sick feeling in my stomach is accompanied by a little voice, "How can you glorify God in this season in ways that you can't in the others, Victoria?"

I've put a lot of effort into looking for ways to glorify and enjoy God's glory during the winter. I like to think I've grown a lot, but I also know that I still have a long way to go. It shouldn't surprise you that I was soooo excited about Alicia's course.

On Friday evening I made a batch of enchiladas along with some rice and beans and settled in for my annual viewing of Brigadoon. I nibbled on some Christmas candy and managed to stay awake long enough to see one scene that I had never seen before.

This tradition is one that got started after a particularly rough winter. Christmas was over, but there was no sign of winter letting up. On top of that, I was dealing with the fact that my brother had recently moved to SC. One February evening I curled up on the family room floor with some of my Christmas candy and I've been doing it every February since.

I look forward to setting aside one February night for this tradition because it's the only time I watch Brigadoon. My family kind of groans about it, but I smile and give them the option of joining in or not.

In Christie Purifoy's book  "Roots and Sky", I came across this line, "I would have limited God's glory to sunsets and rainbows...But in August I understand that the earth is full of His glory. It soaks everything, seeps from every seam."

God calls us to glorify Him in everything and at all times. He surrounds us with His glory. He teaches us how to glorify Him. It's imperative that I approach each season with my face turned toward His. Staying in His Word and praying are crucial. After that, I employ Ken's "fake it till you make it" tactic.  My point here is this: There are good things in every season that provide us with unique ways to enjoy the glory of our Creator! Looking for them and nurturing them and then thanking God for them are key ways to receiving them as the gifts that they are.

Here's a list of some "only in winter" things that I  use to glorify God during my least favorite season:

Longer Nights - I learned to appreciate these during the "Domino" winter. Every evening, as darkness fell my Mom, brother, sister, and I would gather in the living room to hang out. We played a lot of dominoes that winter and it was the one that convinced me that it wasn't so hard.

Movie Nights - Movie watching is a great way to spend time with each other. As you know, we do a fair amount of this, especially during the winter.

Fluffy Socks - I actually look forward to pulling out my stash of "winter only" socks.

Hot Drinks - Whether it's a fancy hot coccoa, a peppermint mocha, a cup of tea, or a regular cup of coffee, cooler temps allow for hotter drinks. I take full advantage!

Baking - This hobby of mine gets unleashed when there isn't any danger of heating up the house.

Longer Lasting Manicures - I discovered this one this winter. I haven't been working outside and my nails manage to look nice for most of a week.

Comfort Food - When the weather is cold people are ready to eat! I've got a recipe book full of our favorite recipes to keep their plates full.

Reading - This winter my Mom and I have spent more Sunday afternoons reading than we have in years and it's been really nice. Winter reading  is special because it calls for cozy blankets and a hot drink.

Shoveling Snow -  This is my first time living in a neighborhood that receives serious snow. Over Christmas and New Years I started looking forward to this terrible job....The whole neighborhood seemed to be working together. When Don offered to bring his snowblower over and the morning that I stood outside visiting with our next door neighbors and their company, I was convinced that this job was actually a gift.

There you have it...A rambly post to help you (and ME) make the most of these last few weeks of winter! It's felt a lot more like spring than winter here lately, but my soul needs to be reminded of God's call to glorify Him in every season.
What winter things make your list?

Is there a sentence or two that comes back to challenge you at a certain time?

Do you have any late winter traditions?

Me too, Emily

Monday, February 22, 2016

Two years ago, I spent the Wednesdays in February sharing pictures from the trip that I took to George Washington's Mount Vernon in 2010. Today is Washington's birthday and I'm thinking about him and the impact he has had on my life. As it turns out, Emily Dickinson shared my admiration for Washington. She wrote about her trip to his estate in a letter to Mrs. J.G. Holland in March 1855.

As I read her words one January afternoon, I got all teary eyed...

"...if you haven't been to the sweet Mount Vernon, then I will tell you how on one soft spring day we glided down the Potomac in a painted boat, and jumped upon the shore - how hand in hand we stole along up a tangled pathway till we reached the tomb of General George Washington, how we paused beside it, and no one spoke a word, then hand in hand, walked on again, not less wise or sad for that marble story; how we went within the door - raised the latch he lifted when he last went home - thank the Ones in Light that he's since passed in through a brighter wicket! Oh, I could spend a long day, if it did not weary you, telling of Mount Vernon..."

Me too, Emily. Me too.

Today is Washington's birthday and I'll celebrate by remembering.

Do you have a favorite person from history?

Is there a place that you could spend a long day telling of if someone was willing to listen? 

Roots and Sky

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Every now and then I come across a book that really resonates with me. Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy is one of those books. Purifoy has been blogging and writing articles for other websites and now she can call herself a published author.

I'm not exaggerating when I saw that Roots and Sky is made up of the most refreshing prose I've ever read. Reading this book is like stepping outside on a spring day and taking the deepest breath you possibly can. You can feel the sun, but you can also feel the cool breeze and the fresh air in your lungs helps you to forget the months you've spent cooped up inside waiting for a moment like this to come around again.

This book is basically a memoir of the seasons. It's about Purifoy's longing for home and how finding it helped her to see that the home God is preparing for her (or her for) is where lasting satisfaction will be found. Each chapter is short. Each section corresponds to a season. I recommend reading it through once and then digging into section by section as the seasons pass.

As you know, I've found myself in a strange situation. I'm in a new house, in a new town, with a brand new church. I don't know how long this temporary move will last or if it will even be temporary. The last few years have taught me that a lot of my unrest has come from a certain longing, namely, a longing for the home I once knew and the stability and security it offered. Reading about someone else's longing and one whole year of receiving was exactly what I needed this winter.

Not only does Purifoy share my longing for home, she also shares my love for God, family, gardening, tea, books, and gathering people together. I learned more about the church calendar and I have a list of flowers to research. More than that, the perspective that God has been teaching me was strengthened.

I think we all long for home. Some of us have homes to keep and to guard and to hang on to. Whatever side of the longing we find ourselves on, there is one thing we need to know and Purifoy uses this book to lay it all out. As she says in the introduction, "This is the story of my journey home. This is the story of a kingdom come."

Order your copy today by clicking HERE.

*I received a review copy from the publisher and all thoughts are my own honest opinion.

An Invitation to Search and Earn

Friday, February 19, 2016

I've told you guys about my favorite search engine before, and I'm back at it today because they've got a lot of great stuff going on right now.

Swagbucks, the free search engine that allows you to search and earn, is celebrating their 8th birthday with a big bash. During the bash, you can earn even more points than you normally would.

Maybe you've heard about Swagbucks before or maybe this is your first time. Here's what you need to know:

Begin by signing up and searching. Your searches can earn you points. As you accumulate these points, you can trade them in for gift cards to pretty much any retailer you can think of.

Searching is NOT the only way to earn points. You can also earn points from: your shopping, completing surveys, playing games, watching videos, and completing daily activities.

Just to give you an idea...My Mom has earned over $200 since she joined. I primarily earn my points by doing searches and taking part in the daily poll and I've made almost $100.

Sign up now and start collecting those points! Be sure to keep your eyes open for the extra earning opportunities happening as Swagbucks celebrates their 8th birthday!!!

Just so you know, when you sign up using any link in this post, I'll get points.

When you invite your friends to sign up, you'll get points.

Happy searching (and earning)! 

*Even though there are "affiliate links" throughout this post, Swagbucks did not ask me to write it . I use Swagbucks and I'm sharing it with you because I think you'll enjoy using it too! 

On Writing: Goals for 2016

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A few days ago I shared an essay on the writing life. Today, I'm sharing a list of ten goals that I jotted down in my journal on the 4th of January.

If you're a writer, maybe this list of mine will help you make a few goals of your own. If you have some other task you hope to accomplish, maybe my list will inspire you to break it down into manageable steps to get you a little closer to the mark.

Pretty much everything I have ever accomplished found its beginnings in a list. Here we go!


*Make a space for writing

* Enter library writing contest

*Watch videos on plotting/character development

*Establish a writing routine and keep it

*Work on a novel

*Watch for and enter other writing contests

*Share pieces (polished?)

Style Goals:

*Get rid of or at least use fewer (  ) with under your breath explanations in them.

*Make use of your Thesaurus.

*Take time to let pieces sit and then edit, edit, and edit some more. Improve them. Put the work in. With journaling and blogging, things get recorded and stay as they are. There are no rough drafts. Change that.

*Learn more about writing narrative.

What's a goal your working towards right now?

Do you have any writing goals for 2016?

The Cirlce: February 2016

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

It's Valentines party time thanks to Kiki and The Circle link up!!!! We're all making mailboxes and then we'll take turns visiting everyone's blog to leave a little valentine behind.

It's second grade all over again. Except, now we're adults and we've only got words to offer each other. There won't be any flavored tootsie rolls or pencils from the teacher. We won't find any cookie crumbs lurking in the bottom of our little mail box. I'm not bringing rice crispie treats wrapped in pink plastic wrap and there won't be any apple juice to wash all the sugar down with.

The very best thing hasn't disappeared though! We're still celebrating each other and we're still taking a minute to explain WHY.

Happy Valentines, friends!!!!

Dinner Fit For Winter

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Every family has their list of favorite dinners. They are usually indulgent. They might require a bit of planning ahead and maybe even a little more effort in the preparation department. As I write this post I happen to be listening to The Shirelles' song "Mama Said" on repeat and thinking back to the January day my 19 year old self copied this recipe down into my recipe book.

The recipe I'm sharing today is for those winter days when you want comfort food, but need it to be quick and easy. I've been making it for years and I think it is responsible for helping my sister to come around when it comes to stuffing.

It's a weird combo, but you've got to try it at least once. Trust me.

You can go one of two ways with this recipe! You're going to need three things: 4-6 pork chops, one can OR one recipe of apple pie filling, one box OR one recipe of stuffing. That's it!!!

Whether you choose to go the easy route or the homemade route, you'll get no judgment from me because I've done both.

My Mom taught me everything I know about cooking. One important lesson I learned from the years I spent shadowing her in the kitchen is to pace yourself. If you need to take shortcuts, take the shortcuts. My Mom is one of those women who doesn't apologize for every little thing. She just goes for it. That's what this recipe is about: if you've got time, go for it. If not, go for the shortcut.

The first and most important step is to trim and debone your pork chops. Everything is layered and melds together as it cooks. Those bones will disappear into the stuffing and you DO NOT want to have to deal with that.

So, trim the fat and remove allll the bones from those chops. Then, lay them in the bottom of your crock pot so that they are touching.

Next, scoop your prepared stuffing out onto the pork chops. You want to keep as much of it ON the pork chops as you can. Easy, right???

Then, you'll scoop your apple pie filling out onto the stuffing, put the lid on the crock pot, and set the timer for 3 - 4 hours. My crock pot only has a low and high setting, so I end up cooking them for about 3 hours on high.

The key is making sure your pork is DONE, but not overcooked. If you do this recipe right, you will have the tenderest pork chops EVER.

Here you have it, your pork chop dinner alllll ready to dig into! I serve it straight from the crock pot so that everything stays nice and toasty, but you could separate each layer in individual serving bowls if you wanted to. By the time the food makes it onto my plate, I separate it out. My sister, on the other hand, likes hers to stay all piled together! 

The best family dinners include CHOICES. This is one of those from start to finish.  


When I made this a few weeks ago, I challenged my family to take pictures of their plates. ^ Here ^ is my sister's prize winning picture! I told you she likes hers in one big heap. :)

Special thanks to my brother for jumping up from his homework to take some pictures over my shoulder for me!

Ready for the recipe?

Crock Pot Pork Chop Dinner
adapted from cooks.com serves 6

4-6 pork chops, trimmed and bones removed
1 recipe stuffing, prepared
1 recipe apple pie filling, prepared

Layer pork chops in the bottom of the crock pot so that they are touching. Cover with stuffing. Top with apple pie filling.

Place lid on crock pot and set the timer for 3-4 hours, just until pork is cooked through and still tender. My crockpot only has high and low, so I end up cooking mine for about 3 hours on high. 

Remove lid and dig in!!!!

If you need stuffing and pie filling recipes, click HERE.

What are some of your family favorites?

What's one piece of cooking advice your Mom taught you?

Inspired By Marina: An Essay On The Writing Life

Monday, February 15, 2016

Today I'm sharing something from my journal. The date on the upper right hand corner of the page is May 3, 2015:

* * *

I just finished Marina Keegan's book, "The Opposite of Loneliness." I was impressed by the words her teachers said about her work as well as what she accomplished in her short lifetime. We were both born in 1990. We both liked to write. We were both goal setters, thinkers, and had a desire to be encouragers. I think that is where the similarities stop. I grew up on the west coast in a tiny town. She grew up on Cape Cod with all of its advantages and opportunities. She achieved so much with her pen. As I read I kept thinking, "This is it. This is all that's left. She's gone." Knowing how her story ended (in a car accident a few years ago) before I ever knew anything else about her,  really gave me perspective as I worked my way through this book that her parents and teachers had published after she had already died.

The book has a speech she gave (I think it's a speech, but maybe it was an article) called "The Opposite of Loneliness." It was addressed to her fellow graduates at Yale in 2012. That piece was followed by works of fiction and then non-fiction. Each section was introduced by a short piece of poetry that was also written by her. In order to get to know her and to get inside of her head, I decided to go to the back of the book to read the non-fiction first. I'm so glad I did! The very first thing I read was the story of her first car which she called "Stability in Motion." I loved that piece. Hers was a 1990 Toyota Camry. Mine was a 1988 Honda Accord that started out in GA and somehow made its way to WA state...There was an outline of an Atlanta Braves bumper sticker faded into the black bumper. I hated that car and loved that car and it was its story and that bumper sticker that changed my mind. Anyway...As I read that piece, I thought to myself, "These are the things I want to write! I could have totally put this together." And I decided that maybe I would learn a lot from this book.

As I made my way through the rest of the non-fiction section, I skipped bits and pieces. The fiction called for even more skipping. She wrote pieces that were unguarded, raw, and 100% honest. She may have had a different view of the world and life and a brutal way of communicating, but over all, it was good. She loved the word "profundity" and used it every chance she got. She was always thinking about things' opposites and using them as springboards. I think she had some things figured out, but that a lot of life left her so confused.

In the introduction, her teacher shared emails that Marina had sent as well as a story from the first time they met. Marina questioned a writer as he was speaking by blurting out something that made me think of a similar event in my own life, "You can't really mean that?!?!" Marina had a notebook that she used to keep track of descriptions of things such as, "a waiter's hand gestures...my cab driver's eyes...strange things that happen to me, or a way to phrase something." And she called it "Interesting Stuff." Eventually, she started using a Word document and filled up "32 single-spaced pages."

When she didn't make it into some club at Yale, she decided to use the time to write a novel - 12 hours each week. 6-12 on Thursdays and Sundays. I think of making time like that to WRITE too! Her teacher said that she was a re-writer. She would work on a piece over and over because "there can always be a better thing."

Marina is gone and I am here. We are so different, but I want to remember that I must write. I must take the time to write and to re-write. And once it happens, I must hand it over for people to read. She died and people went through her things. That's one thing about dying that kind of scares me - people will go through my things and I'm afraid that they'll be very disappointed.

* * *

Most of a year has passed and Marina is still on my mind. I've mentioned that I plan to write and write some more this year and I made reference to a writing workshop that I created for myself. The journal entry that I shared today is just one piece of inspiration that I'm taking with me. Stay tuned for more details on that workshop, my writing goals, and what it takes to write and write some more. 

Who has inspired you with the kind of inspiration that sticks around? 

Do you have anything specific you want to hear about when it comes to writing? 

Introducing: Journey Together

Thursday, February 11, 2016

July 1, 2014

For a while now I've really wanted to make some kind of regular email update available to my readers. After much research, I learned that there are far too many rules and regulations involved with this process than I want to mess with right now. SOOOO, after almost deciding to give the whole thing up, I came up with the idea of making this update available right here on my blog.

It's going to be called Journey Together and a new edition will go live on the first Thursday of the month. It won't be shared like a regular post which means you'll have to watch for a link in order to access it.

You can expect content that I won't be sharing anywhere else. My goal is to use Journey Together to offer you a few more things that I think will brighten your day, encourage your soul, and give you a reason to praise God!

After a few few hang ups on the technical side of things, I'm excited to announce that the first edition is available now. You can view it by clicking HERE. I've added a button on my side bar that you will be able to use to view the most recent edition.

Before you head over to check it out, I need to ask for your help...The technical issue I was dealing with involves getting Blogger to interact with/read the HTML on a .png with links built into it. I've scoured the internet for tutorials and asked a few people that I thought might be able to help me, but I can't seem to get it to work. Anyone know how to do this? If you do, please let me know! 

5 Recent Reads

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

After making my way through some great books last fall, I decided to finish up the 2015 reading challenge and then allow myself the freedom to read books that didn't come off of a list that I had made for myself. I get in the mood for that kind of reading just about every winter. This winter was no different and some great books have found their way into my hands.

Here are five of my most recent reads and my most recent submission to Quick Lit with Anne:

This is my first Sayers and it was a great introduction! I've also finished "Whose Body?" and am now craving more of her detective novels. Gaudy Night is set at Oxford in 1935 and is narrated by an authoress. Don't wait to pick this one up!

Just the kind of quick mystery I needed to go along with the stack of classics that I've been reading.  Kidnapping, FBI, and a woman with Olympic figure skating in her past collide in Thin Ice to make for an enjoyable contemporary mystery. 

 My poetry pick for January. I flew through the poems and savored the letters and the biographical information. If you want to get to know Emily, Linscott's selection of Poems and Letters by Emily Dickinson is a great source.

I ended up reading this when I agreed to teach a 5th grade literature class online. Teaching my way through The Swiss Family Robinson helped me to enjoy it more than I normally would have. Apparently, it started out as Wyss' survival guide for his children. Years later, one of his sons asked Wyss if he could get it published in his father's name. Knowing that makes you "Oh!" your way through it. As the story came to a close, I was actually sad to leave the family behind.   

A breezy YA novel that is perfect winter reading. Picture a book store, New England, and a mystery that sort of involves E.B. White who happens to be my favorite author from my childhood. Frederick is a fantastic storyteller and I think you'll Absolutely Truly love this book.

What have you been reading this winter?

Spring's First Conviction

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

January 31, 2016
"Spring's first conviction is a wealth beyond its whole experience." - Emily Dickinson

On the last Sunday afternoon of January, things had warmed up just a little bit and I had stepped outside with my Mom to turn my face to the sun that was peeping through the clouds. I couldn't help but notice that the large bush that hangs over the fence from our neighbors' yard was full of fuzzy little buds. 

Just the day before I had read Emily's words about the first conviction of spring and made the decision to look for it so that I could document it as soon as I found it. When I read those words, I didn't expect this spotting to come for MONTHS. 

Emily is right though...Seeing those buds and taking that picture did something for me. They reminded me that for all the snow and cold and fog, spring IS coming. It may have only been the end of January, but spring's first conviction had arrived. 

Every time I look at that bush, I'll be reminded that winter isn't all there is. One day soon it's going to get warm again and things will start waking up from their long sleep. I don't know what that bush looks like when spring arrives, but I'm excited to find out. 

Six Months To Live

Monday, February 08, 2016

February 8, 2016

Last September, I sat in the front row of a room full of people who had gathered together to celebrate the graduation of 39 men and women who had just completed their training as police officers. An older gentleman sat down beside me and we quickly struck up a conversation. It turns out that his grandson and my brother were from the same department. We talked for quite a while before my Aunt leaned over to make sure he wasn't bothering me. He wasn't. The man was beaming from ear to ear and was eager to tell me all about himself and his grandson. Before we knew it, the graduates were ready to march to the front of the room where they would be recognized for their achievements.

The moment my brother walked up to the stage, I started whooping and hollering at the top of my lungs, just like I used to during his football days. I was prouder than proud and afterwards he told me that he thought all of our family was working together to make all that racket. When I had finished cheering, the man beside me said, "Oh! That was your brother? You shoulda warned me. If I'da known, I'da hollered too!" Needless to say, I gave a couple of cheers when his grandson marched across the stage.

After the ceremony, everyone joined their police officer for pictures and congratulations. From there, the officers wandered around congratulating each other and saying their see ya laters. When we were on our way back to the dorms to pick up my brother's belongings, we passed the old man one more time and congratulated the family. As we were walking away he said, "Goodbye, sister and brother!" And I smiled all over again.

It was raining that day. The same rain that turned into the flood in Columbia less than one week later. But the rain didn't take away from the excitement and the pride and the joy that was floating around that gym.

I got news today that that man's grandson committed suicide yesterday. Last September when we watched him march across the stage, none of us knew that he only had less than six months to live. Nobody knew that this man with a badge and a gun and a bullet proof vest would use a gun to take his own life. None of us knew the pain that he carried with him in his heart. We knew that he was young and had his whole life ahead of him. Turns out, that "whole life" was less than six months.

When I received the news, I walked directly to the window to look at the sun streaming in. I thought of the young man and of the stories my brother has told me about him. I thought of his grandpa and what this news will mean to him. I did what I promised myself I would do in 2016 as I mulled over this bad news by whispering the words, "Behold, our God!" to myself.

I sit here at my table by that same window looking up every now and then to see the sun shining through the big maple in our backyard and to watch the squirrel scurry around collecting nuts and seeds and I'm still thinking of that young man and his grandpa. News like that cannot be easy to receive. I have so many questions and the one I keep coming back to is, "What now?" The young man is GONE. He's finished carrying around the burdens life on this earth gave him. His family just got a new burden added to their shoulders.

And I'm thinking about my Grandma's sister who finally called to tell my Grandma that she was diagnosed with ALS in October and was given six months to live. One at the cusp of adulthood, choosing to take his life less than six months after a huge accomplishment and the other dealing with a diagnosis at 50 years old  knowing that her time is running out and FAST. Suicide and disease are both heavy burdens to bear. They both remind us that life on this earth will always be tainted by sin.

I could talk about how none of us know how much longer we have, but that's not what's on my mind. What's on my mind are the stories of the lives that we DO have. We took my Mom out for an early birthday lunch yesterday. She'll be 49 on Saturday and hearing my youngest brother pray the words, "May she be with us for a good long while." made me tear up then and they're making me bawl today. All I can do is cry and pray and remind myself to behold OUR God.

Pray for these families. Pray for the family dealing with this young man's suicide. Pray for my Grandma and her sister. Pray for my Mom, that her 49th year would be full of God's grace and that we would have her with us for a good long while.

Death and disease and aging and burdens play a huge part of life here. May we work together to make finding the answers to the "What now?" question a little easier. Along the way, may we stop to behold God, for the wonder of His glory is all around us. Even in times like these.

A Strategy For Beholding God: Purposeful Prayer

Friday, February 05, 2016

February 5, 2016
"But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life." Jude 1:20-21

Purposeful prayer is one of the main means by which Christians can position themselves to behold God as they wait on Him. It is informed and strengthened by consistent Bible reading. In purposeful prayer, we are resolving to wait on God while paying careful attention to what we are waiting for and exactly what it means to be waiting on God.

Faith in God sustains us when we don't think we can wait on Him any longer. It shouldn't surprise us that God means to use the purposeful prayers of His people to stir up the kind of faith that sustains.

Pay Careful Attention To What We Are Waiting For

When we take things to God in prayer, we are declaring that we are waiting on Him for certain things. It is important to consider the themes that our prayers are taking. Doing this requires some effort. It's sort of like taking an inventory  and we should be specific.

Andrew Murray gives some examples of what may be waiting for. Namely, for:

God to take His place as God in our prayers

God to work in us the sense of His holy presence and nearness

a special petition that we expect an answer

God's power in our inner life

the state of His Church and saints

some part of God's work that we are looking to Him to do

He goes on to say that, "it is good that we sometimes count up to ourselves exactly what the things are we are waiting for, and as we say definitely to each of them, 'On Thee do I wait,' we shall be emboldened to claim the answer, 'For on Thee do I wait.'"

Christian, taking specific things to God in prayer and then going over that list is a great way to keep yourself dedicated to this kind of praying. Exactly what are the things that you are waiting for right now?

Pay Careful Attention To What It Means To Be Waiting on God

Paying careful attention to what it means to be waiting on God is the part of keeping our prayer purposeful that helps to ensure that we truly are praying to GOD. I know that's a mouthful, but it is easy to get so caught up in either not praying at all OR in the things that we are praying for that we actually forget about the God to whom we are praying. This will never do.

The very purpose of prayer is to unite us with God in Christ. We take our needs to Him and turn them over to Him. Prayer leads us to trust Him and to KEEP trusting Him. While we pray, we are turning our attention away from everything else in order to direct our gaze to God.

Murray reminds us that we are waiting on "the living God, such as He really is..." In all His:

great glory

infinite holiness






"It is the presence of God, as He can in Christ by His Holy Spirit make Himself known, and keep the soul under its covering and shadow, that will waken and strengthen the true waiting spirit." Christian, you must guard against the tendency to turn away from God as He presents Himself in Scripture.

You see, purposeful prayer goes hand in hand with consistent Bible reading. You cannot be purposeful in your prayers without being impacted by your time in God's Word. This Word shapes our prayers and our view of God in a way that binds these two means together so that we may truly be waiting on God as we go about the business of beholding Him. What do you know of God and what role does this knowledge play in your praying?

What It Means To "Pray In The Spirit"

Before I close, I would like to go over what it means to "pray in the Spirit". This is where the "purposeful" part comes in. We must not be careless about HOW we pray.

Packer describes "prayer in the Spirit" as, "prayer from the heart, springing from awareness of God, of self, of others, of needs, and of Christ." He goes on to say that, "he (or she) whose heart seeks God through Christ prays in the Spirit." Praying in the Spirit is a means God grants His people to keep themselves in His love and as such, it is a means by which He keeps them in His love.

Just in case you missed it, praying in the Spirit requires a heart that is truly seeking God and His will. Have you been praying in the Spirit?

If you know your heart isn't seeking God, take it straight to Him and ask Him to teach it to. If that seems odd, read over the first few books in the Old Testament (especially Deuteronomy) and watch for the ways that God taught and instructed His people even before He gave them commandments. He is the best Teacher you'll ever have.

The Place of Purposeful Prayer

Though many of us struggle with keeping up with purposeful prayer, it is a true gift of God. If we doubt the power or place of prayer, we ought to look at the life of Christ who modeled it so perfectly. He was always meeting with God. It was something He could not neglect if He was to carry on with the work He came to earth to do.

The very fact that we are looking to and waiting on God will stir up in us natural utterances of prayer, just like it did for Christ. Murray puts it this way, "It is a great thing for a soul not only to wait upon God, but to be filled with such a consciousness that its whole spirit and position is that of a waiting one..."

If we are struggling to carry on or to keep our resolve to behold God, it could be that our lack of purposeful praying is playing a big part in that. May God grant us grace to employ this means by which our souls are kept in His love and may our prayerlessness be one more thing that makes us aware of our need to go to God.

To those of you who are purposeful prayer warriors, may your dedication of this means of grace remind you daily of God's work in your heart! May you remain strong in this area and may it accomplish much in your life as well as in the lives your prayers are touching.

How are you planning to devote yourself to purposeful prayer in 2016?

Where are you when it comes to this area of the Christian life?

Packer quotes taken from p. 79-80 of "Keep In Step With the Spirit".
Murray quotes taken from  chapter 7 of "Waiting on God".
If you would like more on the topic of prayer here's a very helpful sermon.

Currently: February 2016

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

February 3, 2016

I'm looking forward to quite a few things this month: a show this weekend, a visit with Ron and Julie, the superbowl (GOOOO Panthers!), my Mom's birthday, and maybe getting together for coffee with my friend Allegra. We're also going to exchange the Christmas gifts we never got around to exchanging due to my sister's travels, so that will be exciting! In the meantime, the cold snap came back and brought some flurries with it. I'm currently....

Sending: I'm really struggling with what to write for this category...I'm going to go with phone calls. I've been working my way through calling people that I haven't talked to in forever. It's been really nice to catch up! 

Planned meals and onions on everything! Any time I think of a meal, I jot it down and then about once a week I look over the list and plan out the next five or six days worth of dinners. Some day I hope to have a "this is what we eat" plan for every season.

Dreaming: Of getting together a monthly newsletter for YOU guys. Also, of starting up a podcast. The newsletter is a new dream and the podcast is something I've been kicking around for ages. I just need a co-host and a theme. We'll see!

Smelling: The crisp winter air on the few times I've gone for walks over the past few weeks. Also, cinnamon and maple syrup. I made a french toast casserole the other night and the leftovers smell sooooo good. I wonder if there is an essential oil that smells ANYTHING like maple syrup?

Hearting: Our routine lately and Emily Dickinson. It took some getting used to, but I've got a schedule going and that makes all the difference. Alicia's course has helped me approach winter in a new way too.

As always, I'm linking up with Jenna and Anne and I think you should too!

On Getting My Blogging Motivation Back

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

I spent the last half of 2015 limping along as a blogger. At first I thought I just needed a break. Then I got behind on emails. I was posting occasionally and every single time the comments continued to flow in. A few months into this blogger's slump, I realized that I still had just as many ideas and that I had every intention of resuming my regular posting schedule. The missing ingredient was simply MOTIVATION.

I posted about my struggle and my blogging friends told me to plug ahead anyway, jot down ideas, let them know when I figured out how to get back to blogging regularly, and that I would come back to it when I was ready. Their words were truly encouraging. Every time I didn't have a fresh post up, I remembered their words.

Eventually, I decided to take the first piece of advice and just start plugging ahead anyway. I was skeptical at first. I didn't want to make any announcements because I was SURE that after a few weeks, I'd find that my motivation was gone again. I kept sitting down at the computer, but I was holding my breath.

It's the beginning of February and I'm nearly two months into NOT losing my motivation again. About a week ago I decided to let myself breath and to be confident about the fact that my blogging motivation was back.

MOST of my readers have blogs of their own. I know you have struggled struggle with balancing life and blogging and keeping your motivation going strong. Here are some things that brought my motivation back and continue to give it a boost:

I made a list of my most faithful commenters so that I could send them an email explaining how grateful I was to them for sticking around even when I wasn't. I'm still making my way through that list, but it frees me from feeling bad about the pile of emails I never sent to my commenters during my slump.

I went back to keeping an editorial calendar. The one I use contains a whole month at a glance. It has one section to jot down ideas and then an actual calendar where I can pencil in a schedule. If I had to pick one step that makes the most difference, it's this one.

I made a resolve to answer emails every few days and I kept it. The fact is, I blog with the intention of people reading my posts. Receiving comments lets me know that people ENJOYED what they read. Emailing these commenters lets them know that I read their comment and APPRECIATE it. The key is keeping up.

I agreed to a sponsored post. I'm dipping my toes in slowly, but sponsored content really pushes me as a blogger. It forces me to get creative, to plug my blog on social media, and to look at my writing through the eyes of someone expecting to get something out of it.

I put in the work. This looks like taking the pictures, drafting the posts, editing the sentences, and hitting publish. I haven't done this PERFECTLY, but the goal is to get the posts that I have planned up even if it's 4:30 in the afternoon on the day AFTER I had intended the post to go live.

That's it. Five simple steps.

When I made the decision to plug ahead anyway, I did what I always do when I'm overwhelmed. I took a step back and started with a list. I thought about what might be missing. I thought about what would keep me in line. Slowly but surely, I started working on each of the steps I listed above. Two months later, they're still working!

Whether you've been struggling with blogging or can feel your motivation slowly drifting away, I'd encourage you to start there too.

After that, sit in the chair and blog.

Where are you on the motivation scale right now?

P.S. Renee, you're the one who told me to plug ahead anyway. I owe you big time!!!!