Monday, April 20, 2015

Why I Don't Have My Favorite Songs on my iPod (Or, Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder)

Into The Mystic by Van Morrison is one of my all-time favorite songs. And, for a time, I had it on my iPod. Because, you know, iPods are the receptacles of all your favorite songs, right?

Except. Turns out, for me, they're not.

Sometimes the songs we love the best aren't the ones we should have accessible at all times. Sometimes the songs we love should be the things we happen upon, the things that are precious because of how rare they are. Sometimes happening upon our favorite song on the radio or hearing it piped through the speakers in the grocery store can feel like magic. In the midst of our ordinary, the right song at the right time can feel downright holy.

I took Into The Mystic off my iPod and decided for it to wait to come to me when I needed to hear it most.

And so I am sharing the video today, because it's Monday. And it rained all weekend in my neck of the woods. And it's a new week full of possibility, and also, responsibility. And we could all use a bit of magic, courtesy of Van Morrison:

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Friday, April 17, 2015

What I've Been Reading

I am linking up to Modern Mrs Darcy's Quick Lit roundup today.

First of all my apologies for being gone so much longer than I planned. When I set the date of my return to blogging, I wasn't thinking about spring break following the end of Lent. We went on a quick trip to the beach while the kids were out of school and, upon returning from that and getting back into the swing of school again, life has been crazy.

But I'm back now, and plan to return more consistently next week.

For my return post, here's what I've been reading lately. I've got some good books to share!

Gods In Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson: Anyone who knows me knows I love Joshilyn's writing. This was the only book I hadn't read by her and I think I was kind of hanging onto it because I didn't want to be done with her books. (At least until the next one's out.) But one day I decided to read it, and 24 hours later, I was done. This one was every bit as good as the others and I highly recommend it. 

For 10 years Arlene has kept her promises, and God has kept His end of the bargain. Until now. When an old schoolmate from Possett turns up at Arlene's door in Chicago asking questions about Jim Beverly, former quarterback and god of Possett High, Arlene's break with her former hometown is forced to an end. At the same time, Burr, her long-time boyfriend, has raised an ultimatum: introduce him to her family or consider him gone. Arlene loves him dearly but knows her lily white (not to mention deeply racist)Southern Baptist family will not understand her relationship with an African American boyfriend. Reluctantly, Arlene bows to the pressure, and she and Burr embark on the long-avoided road trip back home. As Arlene digs through guilt and deception, her patched-together alibi begins to unravel, and she discovers how far she will go for love and a chance at redemption.

My Sunshine Away by MO Walsh: I listened to this one on audio and, while I didn't love the narrator, I loved the story. It will definitely make my top ten list for this year. 

"My Sunshine Away" unfolds in a Baton Rouge neighborhood best known for cookouts on sweltering summer afternoons, cauldrons of spicy crawfish, and passionate football fandom. But in the summer of 1989, when fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson--free spirit, track star, and belle of the block--experiences a horrible crime late one evening near her home, it becomes apparent that this idyllic stretch of Southern suburbia has a dark side, too.
In "My Sunshine Away," M.O. Walsh brilliantly juxtaposes the enchantment of a charmed childhood with the gripping story of a violent crime, unraveling families, and consuming adolescent love. Acutely wise and deeply honest, it is an astonishing and page-turning debut about the meaning of family, the power of memory, and our ability to forgive.

Home Is Where My People Are by Sophie Hudson: This memoir about what home means, what it's like to grow up southern, and the power of friendship. Oh, and it's really funny. 

All roads lead to home. It's easy to go through life believing that we can satisfy our longing for home with a three-bedroom, two-bath slice of the American dream that we mortgage at 4 percent and pay for over the course of thirty years. But ultimately, in our deepest places, we're really looking to belong and to be known. And what we sometimes miss in our search for the perfect spot to set up camp is that wherever we are on the long and winding road of life, God is at work in the journey, teaching us, shaping us, and refining us--sometimes through the most unlikely people and circumstances. In "Home Is Where My People Are," Sophie Hudson takes readers on a delightfully quirky journey through the South, introducing them to an unforgettable cast of characters, places, and experiences. Along the way, she reflects on how God has used each of the stops along the road to impart timeless spiritual wisdom and truth. Nobody embodies the South like Sophie Hudson, and this nostalgic celebration of home is sure to make even those north of the Mason-Dixon line long to settle in on the front porch with a glass of sweet tea and reflect on all of the people in our lives who--related or not--have come to represent home. Because at the end of the day, it's not the address on the front door or even the name on the mailbox that says home, but the people who live and laugh and love there, wherever "there" might happen to be.

Those Girls by Chevy Stevens: this one is an advance reader copy of a book coming out this summer. It's gripping and gritty. Chevy Stevens' female characters are so much tougher than me! 

Life has never been easy for the three Campbell sisters. Jess, Courtney, and Dani live on a remote ranch in Western Canada where they work hard and try to stay out of the way of their father’s fists. One night, a fight gets out of hand and the sisters are forced to go on the run, only to get caught in an even worse nightmare when their truck breaks down in a small town. Events spiral out of control and a chance encounter with the wrong people leaves them in a horrific and desperate situation. They are left with no choice but to change their names and create new lives. 

Eighteen years later, they are still trying to forget what happened that summer when one of the sisters goes missing and they are pulled back into their past. 

This time there’s nowhere left to run. 

As much of a thriller as it is a deep exploration of the bonds among sisters, THOSE GIRLS is an unforgettable portrait of desperation, loyalty, and evil.

Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight: I just started this one-- but I've been waiting for it to come out for months. Can't wait to really dig in. 

From the author of the New York Times bestseller and 2014 Edgar and Anthony nominee Reconstructing Amelia comes another harrowing, gripping novel that marries psychological suspense with an emotionally powerful story about a community struggling with the consequences of a devastating discovery.

At the end of a long winter, in bucolic Ridgedale, New Jersey, the body of an infant is discovered in the woods near the town’s prestigious university campus. No one knows who the baby is, or how her body ended up out there. But there is no shortage of opinions. 

When freelance journalist, and recent Ridgedale transplant, Molly Anderson is unexpectedly called upon to cover the story for the Ridegdale Reader, it’s a risk, given the severe depression that followed the loss of her own baby. But the bigger threat comes when Molly unearths some of Ridgedale’s darkest secrets, including a string of unreported sexual assaults that goes back twenty years. 

Meanwhile, Sandy, a high school dropout, searches for her volatile and now missing mother, and PTA president Barbara struggles to help her young son, who’s suddenly having disturbing outbursts. 

Told from the perspectives of Molly, Barbara, and Sandy, Kimberly McCreight’s taut and profoundly moving novel unwinds the tangled truth about the baby’s death revealing that these three women have far more in common than they realized. And that their lives are more intertwined with what happened to the baby than they ever could have imagined.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Break For Lent


I am taking a blogging break over Lent. If you're stopping by between February 18 and April 5, you will find no new posts. I plan to return with new material on April 6th. I hope you'll join me then!

In the meantime, please scroll back through my past posts, check out my most popular posts (in sidebar), and my "About Me" tab to learn more. 

And if you're looking for a speaker for your women's event, check out my "Need A Speaker?" tab at the top of the site. I'd love to come to your neck of the woods and share the "More To Your Story" message. 

I hope you enjoy this time of preparation for Easter. If you're giving up something, what is it?

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Friday, February 13, 2015

In Praise of Productivity (A Book Roundup)

With the new year, my thoughts turned to becoming more productive. I am almost certain this happens to everyone around this time, but the difference was, for me, the thought stuck around past January 1. I've continued to read up on and seek out ways to become more productive, motivated, and effective in the areas of parenting, time management, organization, clutter, writing, exercise, etc. It wasn't that I wasn't doing these things before, I am just trying to do them better. As with all things in life, I turned to books to discover new ways I could do that. Here's a list (with descriptions) of the ones I've read or aim to read very soon:

What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam

Mornings are a madcap time for many of us. We wake up in a haze—often after hitting snooze a few times. Then we rush around to get ready and out the door so we can officially start the day. Before we know it, hours have slipped by without us accomplishing anything beyond downing a cup of coffee, dashing off a few emails, and dishing with our coworkers around the water cooler. By the time the workday wraps up, we’re so exhausted and defeated that any motivation to accomplish something in the evening has vanished.

But according to time management expert Laura Vanderkam, mornings hold the key to taking control of our schedules. If we use them wisely, we can build habits that will allow us to lead happier, more productive lives.

Drawing on real-life anecdotes and scientific research that shows why the early hours of the day are so important, Vanderkam reveals how successful people use mornings to help them accomplish things that are often impossible to take care of later in the day. While many of us are still in bed, these folks are scoring daily victories to improve their health, careers, and personal lives without sacrificing their sanity. For instance, former PepsiCo chairman and CEO Steve Reinemund would rise at 5:00 a.m., run four miles, pray, and eat breakfast with his family before heading to work to run a Fortune 500 company.

What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast is a fun, practical guide that will inspire you to rethink your morning routine and jump-start your life before the day has even begun. 

What The Most Successful People Do On The Weekends by Laura Vanderkam

Many of us breathe a grateful TGIF when Friday rolls around, envisioning a weekend full of both productivity and refreshment. Yet too often our precious weekends seem to disappear, eaten up by unproductive work or leisure that fails to energize us. Monday morning comes too fast, finding us still unrested, with too much still undone.

Time management expert Laura Vanderkam, continuing her series on What the Most Successful People Do, shows how we can take control of our weekends to get necessary R&R, while also using our downtime as a springboard to a productive week. 

Drawing on real-life anecdotes and scientific research, Vanderkam explains why doing nothing can be more exhausting than doing something and why happy people make weekend plans in advance. She shares weekend tips gleaned from busy people such as politician and talk show host Mike Huckabee, former CEO Frank Baxter, and TV producer Aliza Rosen. She reveals the kind of weekend activities that make people happiest, explains why it’s important to unplug at least for a little while, and shares the secret of why Sunday night may be the most important part of any weekend.  

What the Most Successful People Do On the Weekend is a fun, practical guide that will inspire you to rethink your weekends and start your workweek refreshed, renewed, and on track.  

How She Does It: An Everywoman's Guide to Breaking Old Rules, Getting Creative, and Making Time For Work in Your Actual Everyday Life by Anne Bogel

Today’s working woman looks a lot like you. 

She’s a: 
• stay-at-home mom, working on her passion at naptime 
• a part-time professional sharing childcare with her husband 
• a full-time creative planning a future on her own schedule 

She’s a woman – like you – with the opportunity to find fulfilling and profitable work without the mother guilt of previous generations. The possibilities are endless for today’s woman in this shifting work place – but the roadmap for getting there hasn’t quite been written. 

Until now. 

In How She Does It, author Anne Bogel unpacks these trends in family & work culture, and gets to the core of HOW you can make your work goals fit into your unique family situation. 

Inside, you’ll find the personal success stories of 30 women who found – by playing to their unique strengths– solutions that really work for their families. 

Better Than Before: Mastering The Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

The author of the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, tackles the critical question: How do we change? 
Gretchen Rubin's answer: through habits. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life. It takes work to make a habit, but once that habit is set, we can harness the energy of habits to build happier, stronger, more productive lives.
So if habits are a key to change, then what we really need to know is: How do we change our habits?
Better than Before answers that question. It presents a practical, concrete framework to allow readers to understand their habits—and to change them for good. Infused with Rubin’s compelling voice, rigorous research, and easy humor, and packed with vivid stories of lives transformed, Better than Before explains the (sometimes counter-intuitive) core principles of habit formation. 
Along the way, Rubin uses herself as guinea pig, tests her theories on family and friends, and answers readers’ most pressing questions—oddly, questions that other writers and researchers tend to ignore: 

• Why do I find it tough to create a habit for something I love to do? 
• Sometimes I can change a habit overnight, and sometimes I can’t change a habit, no matter how hard I try. Why? 
• How quickly can I change a habit? 
• What can I do to make sure I stick to a new habit? 
• How can I help someone else change a habit?  
• Why can I keep habits that benefit others, but can’t make habits that are just for me? 

Whether readers want to get more sleep, stop checking their devices, maintain a healthy weight, or finish an important project, habits make change possible. Reading just a few chapters of Better Than Before will make readers eager to start work on their own habits—even before they’ve finished the book.

Listful Thinking: Using Lists To Be More Productive, Highly Successful, and Less Stressed by Paula  Rizzo

What do Madonna, Martha Stewart, John Lennon, Ellen DeGeneres, Ben Franklin, Ronald Reagan, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison, and Johnny Cash have in common? Each is (or was) a list maker. These successful people, along with CEOs and successful entrepreneurs, all use lists to keep track of their ideas, thoughts, and tasks. Finding enough hours in the day to get everything accomplished and allow for some downtime can be a struggle. It's no wonder so many of us are stressed, overextended, andexhausted. More than half of all American employees feel overwhelmed, according to a study by the nonprofit Family and Work Institute. For the 54 percent of us who feel like we're chasing our own tails, Listful Thinking is here to prove that it doesn't have to be that way. You can still find time to relax, read a good book, and do the things you love. Listful Thinking is the book that will give readers their lives back with indispensible tips on saving time, getting organized, improving productivity, saving money, and reducing stress

Manage Your Day To Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus and Sharpen Your Creative Mind by Jocelyn Glei

Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky

According to productivity expert Scott Belsky, no one is born with the ability to drive creative projects to completion. Execution is a skill that must be developed by building your organizational habits and harnessing the support of your colleagues.

As the founder and CEO of Behance, a company on a mission to empower and organize the creative world, Belsky has studied the habits of especially productive individuals and teams across industries. Now he has compiled the principles and techniques they share, and presents a systematic approach to creative organization and productivity.

While many of us focus on generating and searching for great ideas, Belsky shows why it's better to develop the capacity to make ideas happen-a capacity that endures over time.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

Franz Kafka, frustrated with his living quarters and day job, wrote in a letter to Felice Bauer in 1912, “time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through by subtle maneuvers.”
Kafka is one of 161 inspired—and inspiring—minds, among them, novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians, who describe how they subtly maneuver the many (self-inflicted) obstacles and (self-imposed) daily rituals to get done the work they love to do, whether by waking early or staying up late; whether by self-medicating with doughnuts or bathing, drinking vast quantities of coffee, or taking long daily walks. Thomas Wolfe wrote standing up in the kitchen, the top of the refrigerator as his desk, dreamily fondling his “male configurations”. . . Jean-Paul Sartre chewed on Corydrane tablets (a mix of amphetamine and aspirin), ingesting ten times the recommended dose each day . . . Descartes liked to linger in bed, his mind wandering in sleep through woods, gardens, and enchanted palaces where he experienced “every pleasure imaginable.”

Here are: Anthony Trollope, who demanded of himself that each morning he write three thousand words (250 words every fifteen minutes for three hours) before going off to his job at the postal service, which he kept for thirty-three years during the writing of more than two dozen books . . . Karl Marx . . . Woody Allen . . . Agatha Christie . . . George Balanchine, who did most of his work while ironing . . . Leo Tolstoy . . . Charles Dickens . . . Pablo Picasso . . . George Gershwin, who, said his brother Ira, worked for twelve hours a day from late morning to midnight, composing at the piano in pajamas, bathrobe, and slippers . . .

Here also are the daily rituals of Charles Darwin, Andy Warhol, John Updike, Twyla Tharp, Benjamin Franklin, William Faulkner, Jane Austen, Anne Rice, and Igor Stravinsky (he was never able to compose unless he was sure no one could hear him and, when blocked, stood on his head to “clear the brain”).

Brilliantly compiled and edited, and filled with detail and anecdote, Daily Rituals is irresistible, addictive, magically inspiring.

(I am linking this post to Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly book roundup.)
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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What's Working This Week (The Valentine's Day Edition)

A long time ago, I stopped trying to make Valentine's Day uber romantic and decided to make it a fun family evening instead, eliminating the desperate search for a sitter, the crowded, expensive restaurants and the pressure on couples to up the ante. (Really, who needs that?) Instead I make spaghetti (it's red) and something chocolate for dessert, then we try to find a "love" movie that we can all watch together.

But you've probably guessed that's not so easy.

So here are 5 movies we've deemed appropriate and not cringe worthy. As always, do your due diligence and look the movie up on IMDB to see why it garnered the rating it did, and if there are things in it that you would not think appropriate for your kids, or yourself for that matter. Movies are so subjective and everyone's threshold of what's appropriate is so vastly different.

But as romantic movies go, these are about as innocuous (without being vapid) as you can get. However you celebrate Valentine's Day, I hope it's wonderful!

Sleepless in Seattle: Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan star in Nora Ephron's wonderfully romantic comedy about two people drawn together by destiny. Hanks stars as Sam Baldwin, a widowed father who, thanks to the wiles of his worried son, becomes a reluctant guest on a radio call-in show. He's an instant hit with thousands of female listeners who deluge his Seattle home with letters of comfort. Meanwhile, inspired in equal parts by Sam's story and by classic Hollywood romance, writer Annie Reed (Ryan) becomes convinced that it's her destiny to meet Sam. There are just two problems: Annie's engaged to someone else and Sam doesn't know yet that they're made for each other. Co-starring Rosie O'Donnell, Rita Wilson and Rob Riener.

Return To Me: Who knew that when he ordered the special, he d get the dish of his life? David Duchovny ('the X-Files ) and Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting) ignite sparks in this warm-hearted winner (JeffCraig, 'sixty Second Preview ) about a widower and a waitress who meet and fall in love. Featuring an incredible all-star cast, this hilarious romantic comedy delivers a lot of laughs, tears and joysthat will make your spirits soar. It took a lot of cajoling to get Bob (Duchovny), a recently widowed architect, to go on a blind date at a quirky Irish-Italian eatery. Once there, he's smitten instantly not with his date but with the sharp-witted waitress, Grace (Driver). With unsolicitedhelp from Grace's matchmaking grandfather (Carroll O Connor), Bob asks her out. And as their relationship blossoms, everything seems to be going great, until an unbelievable truth is revealed one that could easily break both of their hearts for good.

You've Got Mail: The stars (Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan) and director (Nora Ephron) of Sleepless in Seattle reteamed for this charming audience favorite. Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey, Jean Stapleton and more great co-stars add note-perfect support to this cinematic love letter in which superstore book chain magnate Hanks and cozy children’s bookshop owner Ryan are anonymous e-mail cyberpals who fall head-over-laptops in love, unaware they are combative business rivals. You’ve got rare Hollywood magic when You’ve Got Mail. 

My Big Fat Greek Wedding: Toula is 30. And unmarried. Which means as a nice Greek girl -- she's a failure. All her cousins did the right thing -- married Greek boys and made Greek babies. So everyone worries: what will become of Toula? Then one day she sees the ultimate unattainable guy and realizes the only way her life will get better is if he gets away from her big, fat Greek family. Toula escapes from the family restaurant. She exchanges her seating hostess jacket for a college diploma, convinces her aunt to give her a new job, and trades in her coke-bottle glasses for contact lenses, just in time for "him" to walk back into her life. Ian Miller is tall, handsome but defnitely not Greek. Their courtship is an Olympian culture clash. Can Ian handle Toula, her parents, her aunts, uncles, cousins and several centuries of Greek heritage? Will Toula discover the love she's been missing right in the heart of her big, fat family? One thing is for sure, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, with Ian's proposal Toula is headed for her big, fat Greek wedding.

While You Were Sleeping: You'll fall in love with WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING, the hit romantic comedy that woke everyone up to adorable Sandra Bullock (SPEED, A TIME TO KILL). As Lucy, a lonely subway worker, she becomes smitten with a handsome stranger (Peter Gallagher -- MALICE). But when she saves his life after he's been mugged and fallen into a coma, his hilariously offbeat family mistakes her for his fiancee! Soon, the mix-ups escalate as Lucy fabricates a life between herself and a man she's never met! And when Lucy falls for his charming brother (Bill Pullman -- INDEPENDENCE DAY) the situation really gets uproarious as she's forced to make a choice between the two!

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Friday, February 06, 2015

On Social Media As A Time Suck: The One Question To Ask Yourself

Ever found yourself falling down the rabbit hole of social media? You know, the one where you start out on one thing, then find yourself 30 minutes later viewing photos of your college roommate's sister's child's wedding and think... what am I doing???

Here's a question I've started asking myself whenever I look up and realize that I am in danger of this being the case. Before I click any further I ask myself one question-- 

Will this change your life? 

Nine times out of ten, the answer is no. A resounding no. 

Does this mean that all social media is unnecessary? No. There is useful stuff out there. A post about a marriage issue you're struggling with. A link to a workout video that might be just the ticket to get you exercising again. A recipe on Pinterest that inspires you to make dinner for your family for the first time in a week. These things could potentially change your life, or at the very least your perspective.

But will another cat video do that? No. Where will your time be best spent? On the things that will change your life. At least for me, this has been a help... and a way to stop the madness.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2015

What's Working For Me This Week

It's time to share what's been working for me this week. I spent far too much time yesterday going through Modern Mrs. Darcy's linkup, reading about what has been saving other women's lives during these long, dark days of winter. Reading about what saved their lives saved mine, at least in a small way. So along those lines, here's what's worked for me this week. It might not be saving my life, but it made life nicer, which is no small thing...

Love the light on the water, and the lone seagull keeping vigil

A beach trip with a friend. We got away to her mother's condo to write, talk about writing, take nice long walks on the beach, and just retreat. It was just what the doctor ordered.

You might not can tell but those are frosted pinecones in the hurricane. The runner is kinda burlap /kinda golden with pretty beaded snowflakes on each end. Very understated and the table looks so nice with all the candles lit. 

New tablescapes for everyday. After our fall and Christmas centerpieces, I decided to go with something that can be for everyday use and I am enjoying them so much. They are a nice change of pace and I find the less colorful schemes soothing after so much color at Christmas and fall.

I love this black and white runner I picked up at a local favorite store.
And my black iron centerpiece filled with white candles makes it perfect. 

A handpainted wine glass from a friend, featuring all the words I've chosen as my one word for the past five years. You can't tell in this picture but the blocks look exactly like scrabble tiles. I will treasure it for sure!

Grapes: an easy snack to grab on the go, and for some reason they're super sweet right now. Since I'm trying not to eat sweets, I get my fix through fruit. I'm no expert but I'm guessing either grapes are in season or my grocery store just got a really good batch.

This picture makes me smile. I love the purple grapes and the pattern from the colander.  Chances are you will be seeing this photo again. 

A coat for the dog: After having her groomed I realized that she was going to be a bit more prone to the bitter cold we've been having off and on, so I bought her this spiffy little coat in fun colors. I love seeing her in it and she seems to like having it on. I group texted my older kids this photo after I got it and said, "We are now a family that dresses our dog." Their responses were hilarious.

What's saving your life/working for you lately? Share here, or at Modern Mrs Darcy's linkup! I'll be sharing this post.

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