Monday, February 28, 2011

In A Food Mood

What I eat.

That's what everyone always wants to know when I tell them about the whole eating healthy thing.

So today I am going to tell you about what I eat. But I am going to preface what I am about to say by telling you that this time I am going into it as a lifestyle, not as a diet. To me, diets are finite. Something you do with a goal in mind. Lifestyles are forever, a habit you're building one meal at a time like I talked about last week. So I will say that I don't do this all perfectly every day. I might declare that for one meal I am going to have what I want. I might have a small dish of ice cream.

The main reason I am changing my eating habits is because 1) I found myself getting sick several times in a row and 2) I was waking up in the middle of the night and could not go back to sleep. Both of these things didn't happen when I was eating right. So I thought-- get back to what you know works if you want to see change occur.

So I have. But I think being as stringent with myself as I had to be when I was doing it as a diet would make me give up in despair. So I am lenient with myself, allowing myself a few cheats here and there, not sticking to it so harshly that I make myself crazy.

Ok, getting back to what I eat.

For breakfast I eat 2 eggs, usually soft boiled, or 2 pieces of turkey bacon and a grapefruit. I love grapefruit so this works for me. And yes, I pretty much eat the same thing every. Single. Day.
Cheat: McDonald's maple and fruit oatmeal

For lunch I eat a big salad with deli turkey meat, sliced strawberries and slivered almonds on it. I put olive oil and balsamic vinegar on it along with some fresh ground pepper and sea salt. It's delicious. If I don't have time to make that big salad, I eat some deli meat and some cubed melon (I try to keep some on hand at all times-- the kind they have in the produce section already cubed).
Cheat: Wendy's Apple Pecan Salad
Cheat: If I really really really want bread, I will buy Ezekiel bread and make a sandwich with that or just dip it in some olive oil with fresh ground pepper and sea salt in it. Delish!
Cheat: If I am really in a hurry I grab a Special K protein meal bar.

If I need a snack I keep Blue Diamond Sea Salt Almonds on hand for those times when I am just so hungry.
Cheat: Dove Dark Chocolate Bites, decaf coffee with cream

For dinner I have some sort of meat-- rotisserie chicken, grilled chicken, steak, hamburgers, etc.-- and steamed broccoli or cubed watermelon or another salad on the side.

At night when I am just wanting something special I will make hot tea sweetened with stevia.
Cheat: an occasional real hot chocolate made with skim milk , a dish of cut up strawberries with stevia sprinkled on top.

So far this is working. There are times where I say that I just can't eat another piece of lettuce-- and those are the times where I allow myself to eat something else. A lot of it boils down to just making good choices. To not choose to have potatoes on the side-- to choose broccoli instead. To choose fruit instead of fries. To choose to have salad and not a sandwich. Living a bread and sugar free life is not easy-- it takes a change of mind and a change of habit. But the more you think that way, the easier it becomes to live without.

Next week I will be back to share what I eat when I go out and some of my faves you can find at the chain restaurants. See you then!
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Friday, February 25, 2011

Fiction Friday: Sarah Pekkanen Interview

I often counsel new writers who ask me for advice to read great writers in their genre. For me, ABA (Christian publishing is classified as CBA, and everyone else goes under the ABA umbrella) author Sarah Pekkanen is just such an example. She burst onto the scene last year when prolific and acclaimed novelist Jennifer Weiner enthusiastically promoted her debut novel. That got my attention and I ordered a copy of the book. I wasn't disappointed and have looked forward to her newest book with great anticipation. That book came out this week! I posted my review yesterday so if you missed it, scroll down to see it. Today I have the double treat of an interview with Sarah!

Sarah,I loved your first novel about twins yet you are not a twin. This time you delve into a marriage. Did you mine your own marriage for the emotions and experiences in this novel?

Thank you! I'm thrilled you enjoyed The Opposite of Me and hope you like Skipping a Beat every bit as much. Neither book is autobiographical, but emotions like love, jealousy, anger, joy, and hope are universal, so of course I've felt them many times. Bits and pieces of the story of my own marriage, as well as of the marriages of my friends, have made it into my novel - though they've been fed through a kaleidoscope and reshaped into something completely new. I think women are amazing at sharing and supporting each other thorough times both tough and wonderful - it's one of the things I treasure most in my relationships with my girlfriends - and many conversations I've had with women over bottles of wine started me thinking, "What if....?"

What inspired you to write this novel?

I wanted to write about a woman who woke up one day and discovered her husband had turned into a completely different person. That was my starting point, but other details for this novel - like my main character Julia's love of opera, the dog that swims underwater, and Noah the math genius - didn't form immediately. I've described writing like cooking soup: sometimes you throw in a bunch of ingredients and let them simmer and then check out the result!

Share how you balance writing and motherhood? Do you have an especially good tip you've learned along the way?

My kids come first. Always. But I know writing makes me a happier Mom, so I make time for it whenever I can. I wrote part of The Opposite of Me at Chuck E. Cheese. I had this little system down where I'd buy a bunch of tokens, settle into a table in the middle of the play area, and keep the tokens on my table. My kids had to come up and check in every time they needed one. In the meantime, I'd be typing away frantically!

What is your writing routine? Do you even have one? I try to have one... but life keeps changing and, therefore, so does my "routine."

Oh, I hear you! I try too, but we Moms know that when something has to give, it's usually the time we've set aside for ourselves, right? Now that I have a book contract, I do have a babysitter who comes for several hours a day, but often that time is eaten up by school conferences or doctor's appointments or school holidays... Plus promoting a book takes an enormous amount of time. I do try to write in the mornings, when I'm fresh, and I love it when I wake up early and it's just me and the dog sharing the couch. I can usually get in a few pages that way.

And finally just a random question, what would you choose for your last meal?

Something amazingly decadent! I'd probably go to Restaurant Nora in downtown D.C. It's a fancy organic restaurant with vegetarian entrees, and I've always dreamed of eating there. I'd start with something comforting - maybe a roasted tomato and garlic soup - and finish the meal with chocolate mousse. Good wine would have to be involved, too!

Thanks for joining us and sharing a peek into your life, Sarah. I know my readers have enjoyed meeting you today.

Thank you so much and I'd love it if your readers wanted to find me on Facebook or swing by my website at, where I do giveaways for books and Godivas!
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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thursday Thought: Skipping A Beat, A Review

Today I am just going to include a quick review for Sarah Pekkanen's book Skipping A Beat. Tomorrow I will be back with an interview with Sarah so be sure to drop back by. This mom of 3 boys has just released this, her second novel, following up on the success of her first novel The Opposite of Me.

True confession: as I write this I am only halfway through the book. But I at least wanted to say a few words about the book before Sarah's interview runs. Here's what I like about this book so far:

1. The complexities of the main character, Julia. She's a wealthy woman who hasn't always been wealthy. She carries a lot of issues attached to money from her past into her current situation. This is a great way to address the question-- can money really buy happiness? Julia knows both poverty and opulence. They have both shaped who she is. But what will she do with what she comes to know about herself?

2. The premise is unique. Julia's husband Michael is a business dynamo and a self-made multi-millionaire. When he has a heart attack in the middle of a speech and is clinically dead for 4 minutes and 8 seconds, he wakes up a new man. But does Julia want a new man? And how does she resolve her feelings for this new man... or the old one, for that matter? The book takes a good look at the little ways a marriage can grow apart-- and the big sacrifices that must be made for it to come back together.

3. Julia's best friend Isabelle is not a cliche. She was born into money and has the world at her feet-- yet she struggles with choices and issues just like everyone else.

4. There are hints that both Michael's and Julia's pasts are going to catch up to them. I can't wait to see how and what they learn. The point is, the ending is not a foregone conclusion-- that's refreshing.

5. The book has Sarah's sense of humor and wit all throughout. I love books that can tackle serious subjects, yet still make you smile.

I will finish this book, which is really saying something. I am reading it really fast, because I can't wait to see what happens. I love reading a good story, and this is one.

Here's a summary of the book so you can read more:

What would you do if your husband wanted to rewrite the rules of your relationship?

Julia Dunhill, a thirty-something party planner, seems to have it all: Married to her high school sweetheart and living in a gorgeous home in Washington D.C., she imagines her future unfolding very much as it has for the past few years, since she and her husband Michael successfully launched their companies. There will be dinner parties to attend, operas to dress up for, and weddings and benefits to organize for her growing list of clients. There will be shopping sprees with her best friend, Isabelle, and inevitably those last five pounds to shed. In her darker moments, she worries that her marriage has dissolved from a true partnership into a façade, but she convinces herself it’s due to the intensity of their careers and fast-paced lifestyle.

So as she arranges the molten chocolate cupcakes for the annual Opera benefit, how can she know that her carefully-constructed world is about to fall apart? That her husband will stand up from the head of the table in his company’s boardroom, open his mouth to speak, and crash to the carpeted floor… all in the amount of time it will take her to walk across a ballroom floor just a few miles away. Four minutes and eight seconds after his cardiac arrest, a portable defibrillator jump-starts Michael’s heart. But in those lost minutes he becomes a different man, with an altered perspective on the rarified life they’ve been living and a determination to regain the true intimacy they once shared. Now it is up to Julia to decide — is it worth upending her comfortable world to try to find her way back to the husband she once adored, or should she walk away from this new Michael, who truthfully became a stranger to her long before his change of heart?

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher. This post will also be entered into a sweepstakes. But I was already going to do this before I knew anything about the sweepstakes. Once I heard about it I thought, why not?
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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Psalms For Moms

Psalms 51:12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.

Oh to be restored to the joy of salvation! To be brought back to that simplest of places where we realized the crux of our existence... to be saved even though we don't deserve it, to have grace reach through the muck and mud of our lives and tap us-- us!-- on the shoulder. That dawning realization that all of this-- this abundance-- can be taken hold of. Joy.

And yet we get busy and distracted and crazed and anxious and we lose the joy of our salvation. We start thinking about the tyranny of the urgent and we don't think about the sweet simplicity of the plan of salvation. We forget all about "the hour we first believed."

Just for today, let's try to focus on the joy of our salvation. Let's get back to our first love and feel God's arms under us, upholding us by His generous Spirit, freely given in exchange for placing our trust in Him.
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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Top Ten Things I Like About Writer's Conferences

In honor of the writing conference I spoke at last weekend and the She Speaks registration going live yesterday, I am posting the top ten things I love about writer's conferences:

1. Meeting other writers. There are people in this world as crazy as you! Who knew?

2. Learning new things about the publishing industry.

3. Taking classes that make me better at what I do.

4. Meeting professionals within the industry-- agents, editors, etc.

5. Serendipitous meetings that might seem insignificant at the time, but later prove to be invaluable.

6. The creative energy that exists anywhere that many creative types are gathered. It inevitably inspires you to create more.

7. Connecting with old friends you've made in years past.

8. Hearing from inspiring keynotes and scribbling down secret goals, wishes, and dreams as you hear their stories of setbacks and successes.

9. Watching people celebrate when they've had a particularly good meeting.

10. The slumber party atmosphere that comes whenever friends are all staying in one place.

If you've always wanted to go to a writers' conference, consider signing up for She Speaks this year. I am particularly excited about the pre-conference track we're offering for the first time. Talented inspirational novelists are going to share the secrets of story. Whether you tell true stories while writing nonfiction or speaking or whether you make them up for fiction, you will gain insight into what the elements of a gripping story are-- and how to include them when you write or speak. Spaces for this particular track are very limited so don't wait!
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Monday, February 21, 2011

In A Food Mood: One Meal At A Time

About four weeks ago I went back to eating healthy. Two years ago I lost 30 pounds eating this way. But after I lost the weight I gradually went back to eating the way I used to eat. It was so gradual, that I barely noticed how the bad habits had crept back in. I was choosing more starches (potatoes and bread are a big weakness for me!) and skipping meals. (Some people struggle with overeating, I struggle with undereating based on a lifetime of skipping meals.) Soon I noticed that I was not feeling hungry at all. That's a big sign for me that my metabolism has turned off entirely. To make matters worse, over the fall and winter, I was sitting a lot while editing the new novel and not exercising because I didn't have time to spare. And I was not eating right either. Not good.

Then I ran into a friend who had lost a lot of weight-- gone from a 12 or 14 to a 2 or 4. She confessed that she had gained all her weight back. And she told me that she felt foolish for not getting on top of the gain before. She said that she almost did when she had only gained like 7 pounds but she chastised herself for being "obsessive." She said now she regretted that. She should've gotten on top of things when it wasn't so overwhelming.

That was all I needed to hear. It was time for me to get back on top of things before I slid down that slippery slope. And so, I started making the necessary changes to get back on track. I know how to eat right. I know what I need to do. It's just that doing it isn't all that much "fun."

And so today I just wanted to share one thought about healthy eating: Take it one meal at a time. Wake up and think about what you're going to have for breakfast. If you eat what you're supposed to at breakfast, congratulate yourself. Speak kindly to yourself. Tell yourself that you did great. Don't get all caught up in what you're going to eat three days from now. It can depress and overwhelm you. Instead just get through one meal at a time. Then feel good about what you just did. This might sound silly but it's been very helpful to me. I think speaking kindly to yourself is underrated and seldom practiced.

And now I thought I'd include this recipe for Taco Soup that a friend sent me that doesn't include beans or corn-- things you aren't supposed to have when eating mainly lean meats and certain veggies/fruits like I am. Perhaps you'd like to make some up and have it on hand to dish out. And then after you have it for lunch or dinner, you can congratulate yourself on a meal well done.

For the next several weeks I am going to be sharing things I am eating, restaurant meals I've found I can eat, and tips on shedding pounds. If you're going on Lysa TerKeurst's Made To Crave journey or simply just want to change your eating habits or stick to your new year's resolution to lose weight, stop back by on the next few Mondays to receive some encouragement.

"Healthy" Taco Soup

1 lb beef, cooked
1 lg onion, chopped
1 can rotel
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 to 1.5 bags frozen mixed veggies (I did half bag of french style green beans and whole bag of mixed with broc, cauli, carrot, asparagus) Just eyeball the veggies
1 10 oz green chilies (optional)
1 packet of taco seasoning (see my substitution below, which I use)
1 pk ranch dressing (see my sub below)
2 cans of beef broth (look for sugar free. I use Pacific (organic), which has no sugar. Eyeball this as well. I ended up pouring basically a whole 32 oz carton of beef stock in there.
Mix all and simmer 30 minutes or more.

Taco seasoning: 2 tsp minced onion, 1tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp red pepper, 1/4 tsp oregano, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp garlic minced, 1/2 tsp cumin

Ranch seasoning: 1 TBSP parsley, 1 tsp dill, 1 tsp onion powder, 1 tsp salt (optional, and I omit), 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 tsp pepper

Thanks to Jenny B Jones for sharing this recipe!! Her new book Save The Date is out now!!
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Friday, February 18, 2011

Fiction Friday: An Interview With Juliette Fay

I read both of Juliette Fay's novels: Shelter Me and her new one, Deep Down True. She's a talented writer and she's a mom of four. When I found that out I just had to hear more from her. She graciously agreed to drop by my blog today to talk about her new book and striking the balance between writing and motherhood. I hope you enjoy meeting Juliette Fay today!

Q. Your new book Deep Down True deals a lot with the relationships between women-- and how in some ways we never advance past middle school. What made you want to write about this?

A. Writers write about thing that fascinate them on some sort of a personal level -- otherwise how could you spend a year or more on the same subject? Middle school was the worst three years of my life, and though the story isn't at all autobiographical, the idea of those awkward years intrigued
me enough to use it in a story.

I wanted to write about the actual middle school that Dana’s daughter experiences, but also the adult version of middle school that Dana herself is caught in – the insecurity, awkward romances, rapidly shifting allegiances.

I think that middle schooler inside us is always there, ready to raise her uncertain head in challenging times. So I wanted to juxtapose Dana’s daughter’s experience with Dana’s own experience, which is not actually that different. The people are bigger and have more control over their wardrobes.

Q. Oh goodness can I relate to that-- middle school is hard to escape from unscathed! Did you mine your children's lives for this novel? The middle school language and culture is very real!

A. No, I never base my characters or story lines on actual people. It's much more fun to create them myself. However, living with four children, you do pick up the lingo. I often asked my daughter for help with Alder, Dana’s teenage niece, and how she would say things. It was great to have an
in-house consultant!

Q. How long have you been writing?

A. Growing up, it actually never occurred to me to be a writer, but I always had stories playing in my head. It’s the way I’ve always entertained myself when I’m bored or can’t sleep. I started writing about 6 years ago and just fell in love with it. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.

Q. Was Shelter Me your first novel?

A. No, like many novelists, I have a first novel "sitting in a drawer" as they say. I consider it my practice novel. But every once in a while I pull it out and work on it a little. It may never see the light of publication, but it's fun to visit with those characters again -- sort of like bumping into an old boyfriend whom you liked but wasn't quite right for you.

Q. You're a mom of four. How do you balance family and writing?

A. It does take some juggling, but so does everything. My work is flexible, so I think it’s probably easier for me than for a mom who has to put on nice clothes and go to an office everyday. I’m a pretty organized person, and that helps. Ultimately, I love to write, so I look for every chance to
spend some time with my “people.” It’s the housework that suffers more than my writing.

Q. What one writing tip have you picked up along the way that you could share
with us?

A. There's an old saying: "Write everyday." For many years I couldn't even hope to do that. My kids were too little and life got in the way a lot more. Recently I decided that, like exercise, I would try to do something--even just writing a paragraph or editing what I'd already done--everyday. It makes a huge difference not only in how much I actually produce, but also in how connected I stay to the story. It really helps.

Thanks for dropping by today Juliette! If you want to learn more about Juliette, visit her site at!
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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thursday Thought: My Facebook Life

Today I have a devotion running at Proverbs 31. Thanks to all of you who stop by after reading. On Thursdays at my blog I share something I am thinking about. (See the "About Me" page for a schedule of what I share each day.) Today I am sharing my thoughts on being real versus being encouraging...

I think there's a fine line between sharing the positive side of life so that people are encouraged by what you share, and being real about the tough things you encounter on a daily basis. I find myself walking that line like a tightrope, hovering this way and that, always wondering if I am striking the proper balance. I want to encourage, but I want to be real. If I only say the good things does my life look too perfect, too unobtainable? And yet, if I complain publicly will those of you who come for encouragement be put off, saying of me, "She's so depressing."

I thought about this the other day when I was reading through Facebook statuses. Everyone mostly seems happy on Facebook, probably because of what I am talking about. They want to put their best foot forward. They want to be a ray of sunshine. And yet... they can't all be that happy. They are, after all, living with imperfect husbands and children and friends and extended family. They have rainy days and cars that break down and home appliances that go on the fritz and bad news and disagreements and... you get the picture.

And yet, if you read their Facebook statuses, you usually only see the happy, good moments. This is pretty true with me too. If I do write down something negative I usually try to find the humor, so it looks like "well yes this was not the best but hey, I managed to find humor in it!"

I thought of this one evening when I tweeted/Facebooked about a meal I was serving. If you just took the tweet at face value, you might think that all is well in Whalen world, happy children and parents gathered around a table with smiling faces, ready to enjoy a delicious meal together. That's my Facebook life.

My real life was not that way at all. I was grumpy because I didn't feel like my family appreciated my efforts to make said meal. My husband was quiet because he'd had a bad day. The kids were grousing at each other and not using good manners. And no one wanted to be the one to clean up after dinner. That's my real life.

Which do you want to read about?

I think that we want to believe that somewhere out there, people are living that life we see on Facebook. We need to believe it because it gives us hope that it's possible. And so we follow people on Twitter and friend them on Facebook and read their blogs, hoping that in our connection to them, we can find the secret we're missing so that our lives are happy and perfect and joy-filled.

I will keep trying to strike the balance between what I share and what I hold back, offering glimpses of the life I strive for and being real about the life I end up with. There is no perfection this side of heaven. Yet there's beauty to be found in the reaching for it. And there's camaraderie that happens as we all reach together.
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Psalms For Moms

This chapter stayed open on my dresser for over a week. When I'd walk by, I'd read a few verses, letting the words wash over me, a baptism of Truth. On different days, different verses jumped out at me.

I like the Message version of this Psalm, so I thought today instead of sharing just one or two verses, I'd share the whole thing. Maybe you need a baptism too...

Psalm 25 (The Message)

Psalm 25

A David Psalm

1-2 My head is high, God, held high; I'm looking to you, God;
No hangdog skulking for me.

3 I've thrown in my lot with you;
You won't embarrass me, will you?
Or let my enemies get the best of me?
Don't embarrass any of us
Who went out on a limb for you.
It's the traitors who should be humiliated.

4 Show me how you work, God;
School me in your ways.

5 Take me by the hand;
Lead me down the path of truth.
You are my Savior, aren't you?

6 Mark the milestones of your mercy and love, God;
Rebuild the ancient landmarks!

7 Forget that I sowed wild oats;
Mark me with your sign of love.
Plan only the best for me, God!

8 God is fair and just;
He corrects the misdirected,
Sends them in the right direction.

9 He gives the rejects his hand,
And leads them step-by-step.

10 From now on every road you travel
Will take you to God.
Follow the Covenant signs;
Read the charted directions.

11 Keep up your reputation, God;
Forgive my bad life;
It's been a very bad life.

12 My question: What are God-worshipers like?
Your answer: Arrows aimed at God's bull's-eye.

13 They settle down in a promising place;
Their kids inherit a prosperous farm.

14 God-friendship is for God-worshipers;
They are the ones he confides in.

15 If I keep my eyes on God,
I won't trip over my own feet.

16 Look at me and help me!
I'm all alone and in big trouble.

17 My heart and kidneys are fighting each other;
Call a truce to this civil war.

18 Take a hard look at my life of hard labor,
Then lift this ton of sin.

19 Do you see how many people
Have it in for me?
How viciously they hate me?

20 Keep watch over me and keep me out of trouble;
Don't let me down when I run to you.

21 Use all your skill to put me together;
I wait to see your finished product.

22 God, give your people a break
From this run of bad luck.
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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tuesday Top Ten

Ten Things I Am Wondering About...

1. The direction of my writing. Will there be more books and, if so, what will they be?

2. My new book coming out in June. It's not a love story like Mailbox but I've been told by advance readers that it's a good one. Will it be well-received?

3. The power of the words Ann Voskamp shares in her new book, 1000 Gifts. How can I make gratitude a more natural part of my thought life?

4. How many days til spring?

5. Where will my oldest go to college?

6. Why can't my kids ever do chores without complaining? Even giving them more chores for complaining doesn't seem to help the next time.

7. What happens when you lose all motivation for meal planning and cooking? Is there a good way to get it back?

8. How can I add more time for writing in the midst of a busy schedule? How can I be more intentional about making it happen?

9. Will I be able to read all the books I want to read this year? It's a long list.

10. If I got a Kindle, would I find myself enjoying it? Will I ever get past my love of an old-fashioned printed book and join the ebook revolution?
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Monday, February 14, 2011

Bonus Announcement

Today is a day to celebrate romance so I thought I would share this announcement about a new blog I am involved in. Last week we featured a romantic story that you all might enjoy reading today!

Southern fiction authors, Lisa Wingate (Larkspur Cove), Beth Webb Hart (Love, Charleston), Marybeth Whalen (The Mailbox), Rachel Hauck (Dining With Joy), and Jenny B. Jones (Save the Date) started a new blog last month filled with tips, food, faith, and fiction.

Last week featured a serial story set on Whirlaway Island, South Carolina, a quiet little place with a little romance and mystery. Over 2000 viewers joined us on our island last week, and the story garnered interest from a publisher. This week, we're doing writing tips, and then soon we'll be back by popular demand to Whirlaway Island.

Hope you'll join us on our cyber-porch. We love to have visits with new friends ;o)

For this week's series of writing tips, go to

To read the first installment in the Whirlaway Island serial story, visit:
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Sunday, February 13, 2011

In A Food Mood: Valentine's Day Pasta

As I've said before, we always have spaghetti for our "red meal" for Valentine's Day. But I thought today I'd post two homemade pasta dishes in case some of you are in the mood to kick it up a notch.

Valentine's Day Penne Pasta Chicken and Tomato Toss

1 lb penne pasta
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp chopped fresh garlic
1 can diced tomatoes
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1.5 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Cook and drain penne pasta. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic and cook for one minute. Add tomatoes and basil, cook for two minutes. Add chicken, simmer for five minutes. Toss with pasta and cheese. Season to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper. Serve with 1-2 pounds of grilled chicken tossed with it.

Sausage Tomato Sauce

1/2 pound italian sausage
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp Italian seasoning mix
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce (w/herbs added is best if you can find it)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp honey

Cook italian sausage until meat is no longer pink. Drain and set aside. Saute onion and garlic in hot oil in a dutch oven until tender (2-3 minutes). Stir in Italian seasoning and cook 1 minute. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low, add sausage, and simmer 40-45 minutes or slightly thickened. Stir in salt and honey. Serve over angel hair pasta or the pasta of your choice.
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Friday, February 11, 2011

Fiction Friday: Learning From The Soaps

The other day I had the clearest memory of sitting at my grandmother's large island on a bar stool, eating lunch with her and watching "The Young and The Restless." I can't recount to you how many times this took place-- I just know that through the years it happened numerous times.

Then I had another memory. We were watching one of the soaps and had planned to go out for lunch. But something big was going to happen that day. We were in a quandary. My grandmother had nothing for lunch. We were hungry. But we couldn't miss the exciting thing that was going to happen either.

Then my grandmother hit upon an idea. She had a portable tv we could take with us! We grabbed the tv, drove down the street to a little deli, set up the tv on our table and munched on our lunches while watching happily. It's one of my best memories of my grandmother.

As I thought of these memories I realized that-- make fun of them or not-- what my grandmother and I felt that day is a fine example of engaging the audience. When people talk about not being able to put a book down, it's the same thing as not being able to go eat lunch for fear you'll miss out on the "big thing" that's about to happen. Promise your audience a "big thing" is coming and you'll keep them glued. I learned that from soap operas. A good novel is just a succession of big things happening... each building upon the next.

I also learned other things, I realized, as I processed those afternoons watching soaps with my grandmother:

If you are creating an ensemble cast-- presenting multiple points of view-- they need a point of connection. I remember thinking as I watched the soaps that it was highly unlikely that people would spend as much time at the hospital or the police station or the local boardinghouse as we are made to believe they do. I for one have only visited a hospital when I had to and have never elected to hang out at the police station. And yet, there simply has to be a connection point for these characters to interact or there'd be no story. In a novel it might be one character's house that has the gift of hospitality. Or a restaurant they all frequent. Or a school they teach at and their kids go to. It becomes the hub in the center of the wheel, linking all these characters' plotlines at one juncture.

It's good to get your reader invested in the characters. My grandmother honestly felt a kinship with these people. It was like she didn't realize they weren't real. She really got invested in whether so and so were going to stay together or so and so was going to find out so and so's secret. We want to create characters our readers will be that invested in-- characters who are so real that the audience forgets they're not. One of the best compliments I can get is when someone reads my book and tells me later they found themselves wondering how the characters are doing... then feeling kind of silly when they realize with a giggle that of course these people aren't real. That tells me I've done my job. I want you thinking about them even when you're away from the book.

And finally soap operas teach you how to get the audience to suspend their disbelief. Just like me thinking that no one really spends that much time in a hospital or police station, I willingly suspended my disbelief in the name of being carried along with the story. I wanted to believe there was a place where people lived life that way, where you could run into your neighbor or your mom or your evil twin or the sister you only thought was dead in the halls of the hospital. I wanted to believe that people really could break up and get back together 27 times even after having 4 different babies by 4 different people. I wanted to believe because I craved more of the story. A novelist has to write a story so compelling that your reader will also dive deep with you, submerging themselves in the flow of your story just because they want the rush of the wild rapids you've created.

Soap operas taught me a lot about writing. I make fun of them but the truth is, I learned some good lessons. My grandmother is dead now and sometimes I find myself with a longing so sharp to travel back in time and sit with her just once more, watching her "stories," and learning how to fashion a story from bits of dialogue, scraps of settings, and the multi-colored threads of drama and intrigue. Maybe one day I'll write a novel about a girl who gets to do just that.
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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thursday Thought: Making A Home

She's crouched over this elaborate construction of her own design. Household odds and ends have been collected and organized in odd groupings. None of it makes much sense as I observe from where I am looking down from the treadmill as she plays beside me. I walk endlessly nowhere, huffing and puffing as I accelerate, accelerate, accelerate. She pauses, lingers, tinkers some more. We are a metaphor for our individual lives: me on fast forward, her on pause. I look down and wonder what I am racing for. She looks up at me and smiles.

"Do you like my house mommy?" she asks. "I made it." Her smile is proud. It is a house she has been making. From my perch just above her she gives me the bird's eye tour. This is the kitchen and this is the bedroom and way over here? This is the living room. "See mommy?" she asks. "Do you like my house?"

I assure her she has done a beautiful job, because she has. I love the creativity, the thought, the imagination that has gone into creating this house. I even love the borrowed GI Joe from her brother serving as the daddy of the family. Because, she says matter-of-factly, every house needs a daddy. And I think of the talking heads endlessly arguing over whether daddies are necessary. And I think maybe they should just ask a five year old. She'll answer their questions without spending thousands of dollars on research to prove what her simple heart is telling her. And then I think of my friend who lost the daddy in her house and how sad it is that some homes simply don't have one for whatever the reason.

We don't change much from five to forty, it occurs to me. Deep down I am still trying to make a home out of odds and ends, cobbling together a structure that meets my needs-- being creative at times when I can't do it the obvious way, taking what I have and hoping it will work.

I could've bought my daughter a "Dream Home" and it would've all been done for her. She wouldn't have had to make it herself. And yet, I think that would've cheated her out of the pride and perseverance that came with making this one instead. This one is all hers, it bears the mark of who she is and what she needs, specifically. I am making a home just like she is. From time to time I look up, smile and ask, do You like it?

And my Daddy looks down and answers, "Yes. You're doing a beautiful job." I let His words soak in as I turn back to what I was doing, ever intent on making the most out of what I have, grateful that somehow, it is always enough.
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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Psalms For Moms

Someone who is reading this needs to make this her prayer all day long today. I don't know who you are, but I know this is for you.

Psalm 38:22 (New Century Version)

Quickly come and help me, my Lord and Savior.

If it doesn't apply to you right now-- ask God to show you who in your life needs you to pray that on her behalf. Then pray this verse for her whenever you think of it.
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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Tuesday Top Ten

10 Things You Can Do With Coil Bound Index Cards
1. Make a list of gifts from God. This is inspired by Ann Voskamp's book 1000 Gifts. She has promised to drop by at some point and visit with us here and I can't wait for it. If you don't have the book yet, really, don't wait to get it. In reading it myself, I wanted to start a gift list but I didn't want to do it in my current journal and I didn't want to start a separate journal. Then I had the idea to get a set of coil-bound index cards to jot down my list of 1000 gifts. I have loved the size and portability of this and I know it was an idea straight from God because I have never used these before! However now that I have discovered them, I have a whole bunch of ideas for how to use them...

2. Record and save the verses you've memorized. Having them all in one place makes it easier to flip back through and review them so you don't forget them.

3. Record and save favorite verses. You may not have them memorized-- they may just be verses that have stood out to you at different times, for different reasons.

4. Record and save quotes you love-- little lines that encourage and inspire you, something you can flip through for a dose of inspiration when you need it. This could be quotes about your Christian walk, your motherhood, your marriage, your writing... whatever strikes your fancy!

5. Jot down writing ideas as they occur to you, then you have them all in one place and won't lose them.

6. Jot down recipes in them and keep the cards in your kitchen for quick reference.

7. Let it serve as a handy, not so serious journal-- a place where you can jot down quick observations without writing a ton. If journaling overwhelms you, perhaps this bite-sized version will be less cumbersome to get you started. Again, it's also small and portable so you can throw it in a bag or purse easily.

8. Jot down the funny things your kids say that you always mean to remember.

9. Make a chore chart and put a different household task on each card. Flip through and assign chores to your kids-- and yourself-- using the cards.

10. Jot down ideas for whatever your hobby or passion is. This could be speaking topics, blog post ideas, scenes for a novel, names for characters, stories you remember that would make good illustrations, images you want to preserve for painting or drawing or photography, scrapbooking pages you want to create, etc.

I bought my index cards at Walgreens for $2.50. Mine are colorful and the coil is plastic and not wire, which I love. Pick yourself up some this week and then see what you can do with them. The sky's the limit!

Have some other suggestions I missed? Please feel free to add to the list!
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Monday, February 07, 2011

In A Food Mood: Valentine's Day Desserts

I've written before about how we always celebrate Valentine's Day at home with a "red meal." Which means, I make spaghetti and serve red soda. And then, for dessert I always make something chocolate. It's simple, but it's a tradition and honestly, I think the simpler traditions are the best ones-- the ones that we can stick to because we've not overwhelmed ourselves.

And so, this week I am sharing two easy and good chocolate desserts you might want to make for your family for Valentine's Day. Next Monday I will be sharing a pasta meal (red sauce!) you could make. I will post it on Sunday night just in case you more adventuresome types want to get to the store Monday morning and have it made in time for your family on Monday night! Your kids will love being included in the V-Day festivities. Last year we invited another couple over too. Make it fun!

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

(This first one tastes and works like those little individual molten chocolate cups that seem to be on the front of magazines this month. But it makes a big serving so your family can enjoy!)

1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
1 cup flour
7 Tbsp Hershey's Baking Cocoa, divided
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups hot water

Heat oven to 350. In medium bowl, combine 3/4 cup sugar, flour, 3 Tbsp. cocoa, baking powder and salt. Blend in milk, butter and vanilla, beat until smooth. Pour batter into 8 or 9 inch square pan. In small bowl, combine remaining 1/2 cup sugar, brown sugar, and remaining 4 Tbsp cocoa. Sprinkle mixture evenly over batter. Pour hot water over top. DO NOT STIR! Bake 35-40 minutes or until center is almost set. Let stand 15 minutes. Spoon into dessert dishes, spooning sauce from bottom over top. Serve with ice cream or Cool-Whip.

Mississippi Mud Fondue

(This is what we had last year with marshmallows, strawberries, graham crackers, brownie bites, pretzels, etc. for dipping. It was a huge hit and I am planning to do it again.)

1 cup heavy cream
1 (12 oz) pkg dark chocolate morsels
1 (7.5 oz) jar marshmallow creme
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Bring cream to a boil in a large heavy-duty saucepan over medium high heat. Reduce to low, and simmer. Add chocolate morsels and stir until melted and smooth. Stir in marshmallow creme and vanilla, stirring constantly until smooth. Transfer to fondue pot and keep warm.

(Note: this recipe came from Southern Living, November 2009 edition)

Don't forget to come back next week for the main course!
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Friday, February 04, 2011

Fiction Friday: Rae Meadows' Rules For Writing


I’m not getting much writing done these days and sometimes I worry about having lost the ability. If I start thinking too much about the process, it all seems impossible. But I keep a list of things to remember—rules, I guess—which usually helps get me in the mood to write. I hope other writers might find some of these to be useful reminders, too. In no particular order, my top twenty.

1) Write a book you’d like to read.

2) Find an author you admire and learn from their plots, structures, and characters.

3) Finish the day’s writing when you still want to continue, so you have somewhere to start the next day.

4) A writing problem often clarifies itself in sleep, in the shower, or on a walk.

5) Beware of clichés at every level: expressions, set-ups, reactions, etc.

6) Use the verb “said” for dialogue. And stay away from adverbs modifying “said.”

7) Avoid going into great detail describing places and things. It’s usually boring.

8) Read dialogue aloud to yourself. This is the only way to hear the rhythms of speech.

9) If you feel very proud or attached to a turn of phrase, you’ll probably need to cut it.

10) You can never read your own book with objectivity. Show your work to a trusted friend.

11) When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, listen to them.

12) Give your work a title as quickly as possible.

13) Don’t overwrite. Cut out the metaphors, similes, adverbs, exclamations points and flowery language, wherever possible.

14) Editing is everything. Learn to be ruthless, even if it means cutting the first chapter.

15) Pace is essential. Think about books and movies you like.

16) Don’t be afraid to change your mind.

17) Be honest with yourself.

18) Be persistent.

19) Read.

20) Write. Writing is the one thing you can count on to make you a better writer.

(This post originally appeared here: )
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Thursday, February 03, 2011

Thursday Thought

Today I have a devotion running at P31. Thanks to all of you who visit after reading about sunshine and shade. What are you in right now? Sunshine? Shade? What are you looking longingly at? Are you missing what God has for you right where you are?

I will post this quote from writer Ann Voskamp, who is going to be stopping by to visit soon here at my blog to talk about her most excellent book One Thousand Gifts. "There's a reason I'm not writing the story and God is. He knows how it all works out, where it all leads, what it all means. I don't."

It's like Lisa said yesterday-- it's the not knowing that causes us to trust God for who He is and not what He does. That's when our faith grows.

May you feel shade today if you're limping along in the heat. And may you feel sunshine warm your face if you've been shivering in the cold. And in those moments of grace, may you draw the strength to keep going.
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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Psalms For Moms: Guest Post!

Last week my friend Zibilee commented on my Psalms for Moms post about some people at her church that had been healed of cancer. Her comment made me think of my friend Lisa, who just experienced an amazing healing in her life. She is one of the most profound prayer warriors I know so it makes sense that she would have something to share about this whole experience. With this in mind, I asked her to write this week's Psalms For Moms post and she graciously agreed. So, here's my friend Lisa Shea to share with you her experience about healing prayers and a Psalm that inspired her.

Psalm 18:25 “To the faithful you show yourself faithful….”

When we face trials of any kind we all struggle for wisdom in our situation and trusting God with a good outcome. The key to walking in adversity with a peace that surpasses all understanding is comprehending who God is in our life. It’s not a faith in our belief of who God is but a faith in who God says He is. There is a big difference.

I have walked through some rough trials in my life, as I am sure most of you have. Looking back I can see that God showed Himself faithful. As much as I hated going through those times, I wouldn’t change any of them. Why? Because it was in those trials that God showed up powerfully. I would not trade my deeper relationship with Him for a smoother path.

Setting your minds on who God is and being determined to glorify Him no matter what comes your way puts your best foot forward on a scary path. Remembering all He has done in your past reminds you that He will show up in the midst of what you are facing. Deuteronomy 31:6 promises that God will never leave you nor forsake you. If you have never stood on that promise, please start today. It is true and I have seen it over and over.

I love standing on God’s promises and declaring them over my life. The Word is powerful and effective as well as an offensive weapon in our armor of God. When I was told recently that I had an ovarian tumor and was given every possibility, (none of them good), I stood on who God is and what He can do. Regardless of how it played out, (a miraculous healing or walking through a long battle), I resolved to give God all the glory and trust in Him. We need to focus on His Truth not just man’s “facts”. I am thankful that God heard the prayers of many on my behalf. What was discovered on January 4th was no longer there on January 19th!! I praise Jesus, I am healed!

I know that outcomes aren’t always what we hope and pray for. God’s ways are not our ways yet He does promise to work all things for our good. Sometimes He doesn’t answer with a miraculous healing. I have seen that happen. What I stand on though, is that He is who He says He is and He will do what He says He will do. If we do our part in trusting Him, He will do His part and show up in ways we can never imagine. It’s because He IS faithful!

Lisa has set aside today to have her intercessors with her ministry, Rise Above, pray over any requests you guys post here. If it's private, feel free to post anonymously. She and her 12 intercessors will be praying on your behalf. This is a true gift for her to offer and one that you might want to take advantage of if you have a pressing need.

Thanks again Lisa-- I am still celebrating your miraculous healing (guys, her initial news was NOT good). A big smile crosses my face every time I think about it.
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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Tuesday Top Ten: My Favorite Cookbooks

Today I thought I'd share some of my "go to" cookbooks that provide me with lots of inspiration to make great food!

1. Sharing Grace This cookbook is by the Executive Director of P31, LeAnn Rice. LeAnn also shares recipes on her blog Check out both of them!

2. Taste Of Home magazine I have subscribed to this magazine off and on throughout my married life. As of Christmas-- thanks to a gift from my mom-- I am back "on" with getting it. I have so many clipped favorites from my years of subscribing to this magazine collected in my recipe notebook.

3. Super Fast Slow Cooker Recipes (really any Gooseberry Patch cookbook is good but if I had to pick just one, this one would be it. I collect these cookbooks-- it's sort of embarrassing how many I have.

4. Fix It And Forget It Recipes For Entertaining Since I have a big family the "entertaining" part of this mostly just means larger portions that are just right for my crowd. I have made many recipes from this cookbook. It's one I will just pull out and start jotting down things to cook for the week when I am making my menu.

5. The Cake Mix Doctor This is a go-to for desserts. Easy cakes in a variety of flavors that all start with a box mix-- yet taste nothing like one when you're done. My husband really really dislikes box mixed cakes but he will eat these, which should tell you something. My friend Shari Braendel's birthday cake is in this cookbook-- she asked me to make her an orange cake and I thought "What?? Who asks for an orange cake??" I went to this trusty volume and found one and it was dee-lish with fresh squeezed orange juice in the glaze that went over it. We all barely refrained from licking our plates.

6. Cooking With Class This is only available used now but this locally produced cookbook is a classic you will find on many cookbook shelves in kitchens across our fair city. I have both volumes. Buy them if you can find them. The first volume is where my banana bread recipe came from!

7. The Pioneer Woman Cooks Her cinnamom roll recipe is in here. And many, many others. With pictures. I like pictures. I like her humor. This is a cookbook you want to get in bed with at night and read before you fall asleep. It will definitely give you sweet dreams.

8. Southern Plate Christy's new cookbook is similar to PW's in that it also has lots of pictures. My aunt made the depression bread pudding and said it was wonderful. Again, you had me with the pictures. And southern cooking. I love my southern cooking.

9. Rival CrockPot Three Books In One (Slow Cooker Favorites, Winning Slow Cooker Recipes, Slow Cooker Recipes For All Occasions) I have so many of these recipes marked to try. This one seems to have a lot of Mexican themed recipes so if you like slow cookers and you like Mexican, buy it. I found mine on a bargain table at Barnes and Noble or somewhere like that but I've included a link to buy it at Amazon.

10. Granny's Drawers This one also appears to be out of print, but there were used copies to be had on Amazon. I almost forgot this one because I've-- gulp!-- lost mine. I think I loaned it to someone and it wasn't returned. Which means I will be buying one of the used copies at Amazon posthaste. This cookbook is actually written by a family friend a couple of times removed. (My step-sister's husband's mom's best friend's niece wrote it-- see what I mean?) From it I derived my brown rice casserole and learned how to cook a frozen turkey breast... while it's still frozen. This is worth the price of the cookbook right there.

Ok I hope maybe out of this list you'll find one little treasure to purchase and peruse. It's been fun to take stock of my cookbooks and figure out which ones are my faves... and why. Many of my faves are the church ones you can't buy off Amazon, so I couldn't list them here. Why tell you about something you can't have.

And my most favorite resource is the one I made myself-- the notebook of all my clipped recipes I've collected over the years.

Someday I will write a cookbook for you guys. Just as soon as I get the time...
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