Wednesday, January 30, 2013

When It's Better To Be Honest

I got a letter from a reader the other day referencing a book that my husband and I did a few years ago called Learning To Live Financially Free. It's the story about how we worked hard to get out of $95,000 worth of debt in 4 years on one income. I hadn't thought about that book in awhile and to be honest, little alarm bells started going off when I read her letter. She wants me to give her advice? Me? I started thinking about how absolutely comical it was for me to give anyone advice on money right now. Because while we know what we should be doing, the honest truth is we don't always do it. Not because we don't want to but because we can't. The realities of our lives right now mean we can't do everything financially perfect. We wrote that book, you see, before we had two kids in college. That, my friends, is a game changer. We still believe everything we wrote and aspire to it. We just don't always get it all done perfectly.

And so, after debating how to respond, I decided, like the saying goes, "Honesty is the best policy." After I wrote the response, I decided it was worthy of sharing here, in an effort to be as real as possible with the face I show others:

I was going to write you this very nice-sounding response and say all the right things but then I decided it's better to just be honest.

First of all I am no longer with P31-- long story but suffice it to say I'm much happier where I am, writing what I love, which is fiction. Your email was just a reminder of why I make stuff up now instead of trying to tell people how to live their lives. I'm just not cut out for such things. There is what is true and what we wish were true. And in between there is a gap that I think a great many well-intentioned Christians are falling into.

Which leads me to my response to your questions. That book was true-- every word-- when we wrote it. We did all those things. And they are all things you should be doing. However, over the years it's been harder and harder for us to do. We now have a car payment. With two kids in college, we've taken on some debt. We live by a budget, but it's much less rigid than it was described in the book. And while we do try to communicate about money, it's not as often as we'd like. Life with six kids and two demanding jobs just makes it hard. The good news is, we still don't fight about money-- that is a lasting affect of our financial journey. We still recognize that our struggle is not with each other and that we must be on the same team if we hope to come out on the other side still married.

That's the reality of where we are. We have debt again. We struggle to find enough month to our money just like many people. And while we know the right things to do, we sometimes fall short of making those things happen. We even quit tithing for a time and are trying to get back into the habit in this new year.

In short, I have no words of wisdom to offer you save this: Lean into God. Approach the throne of grace with confidence that He DOES care. Ask Him for all your needs and then practice the faith that He wants to see in your life by actively trusting Him to provide. When the Pharisees asked Jesus what they must do to do the works God requires, He answered simply: "Believe in the One He has sent." (John 6:28-29) I try to keep that in mind whenever I start to worry about finances. I must believe that He's got this. Jesus understood that was WORK. It's not easy.

My advice to you? More than anything, let this financial stress draw you closer to Him. Let it teach you about what that work Jesus referenced looks like. Let this increase your faith because you see Him answering prayers and showing you that He really is love and that grace and mercy are what He can't help but give because of who He is, not what you do.

That's what I'm doing.

Incidentally we recently got notice that the publisher was taking that book out of print and both of us felt a great sense of relief!! :) I hope you get some sense of comfort from this email. I just wanted to be honest and, more than anything, let you know you're not alone.
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Monday, January 28, 2013

Planning Special Meals

My mind lately has been on some special meals that are coming up: the Super Bowl, Valentine's Day, Mardi Gras, and St Patrick's Day. It's one thing to plan Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, but what about those meals that, while not as BIG on the radar, are special in their own way? Why can't we make a little extra effort, create some mini-traditions in the midst of an ordinary week, and have fun? At least, that's been my thinking.

So I decided to share with you what I've got planned in case you'd like to do some thinking ahead too.

The Super Bowl: I like to put out an assortment of appetizers for the family to snack on. With it being a school night we usually don't go to or throw Super Bowl parties, but we can still make it fun while we watch as a family. This year I'm thinking about sausage balls, chicken wings, french bread pizza, and this walking taco casserole made with corn chips, taco meat, and cheese. Easy. I'll put it all out and let them go to town and probably have some sort of dessert too. If I was super adventurous I'd make these. (Won't happen.)

Mardi Gras: I'm planning to make Slow Cooker Jumbalaya and King Cake. I found the recipe for King Cake in the most recent issue of Taste Of Home, one of my favorite magazines, and am excited to try it. We are not cajun and have no ties to New Orleans, but I still think it's good to plan a themed meal and have a little fun on what would otherwise be an ordinary Tuesday. Maybe we'll invite our friends who actually are from New Orleans. Only if they promise not to laugh at my paltry attempts to make a Mardi Gras worthy meal. And bring his famous pralines.

Valentine's Day: I have written before that I make the same meal every Valentine's Day. It started as a one-time thing, but if there's one thing I've learned about kids, anything you do once you better be prepared to do again in the name of "tradition." So every year I make a red meal: spaghetti and red soda (usually Cheerwine or Cherry 7Up or you could always make this) and serve chocolate fondue or a heart-shaped cake for dessert. It takes away the need to make fancy dinner reservations and spend a ton of money. Curt and I like being all together and celebrating the love around the table, since that's the point of the holiday.

St Patrick's Day: I've still got some time to think about this, but I usually make Irish Stew and Irish Soda Bread. And I serve some sort of green dessert. Maybe this? My kids love anything that involves pudding and Oreos.

So that's what's on my mind-- probably should be writing but this is much more fun!

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Marinated Pork Tenderloin

(Disclaimer: this photo is from some another blogger. This is not my actual pork tenderloin but I promise this is what mine looked like. I even served it with yellow rice and broccoli so this was about as close as I was going to get to the real thing. I was very tired when I made this-- as you will read about in the post below-- so I didn't snap any photos.)

The other night I made a pork tenderloin that was easy and good. I actually impressed myself because I was beyond exhausted after my whirlwind weekend at Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend (for pics and a rundown of the weekend, head over to this post at She Reads). Because of my babbling exhaustion, I didn't think I had dinner preparation ability in me. But I did have a pork tenderloin sitting in my fridge and, after a quick perusal of one of my favorite cookbooks-- which was put together by the women in my mother's group back in the early 90's and is no longer available-- I found a recipe for marinade that actually included ingredients I already had. Dinner nirvana.

I threw together the marinade that morning, put the pork tenderloin in it and let it soak all day. Just before dinnertime, I put the marinated pork in my Pampered Chef clay baker and cooked it at 375 for an hour. It came out perfect and tasty. What I liked about it is it could be baked instead of grilled-- a great option for a cold winter night. I paired it with some roasted broccoli and yellow rice and my family proclaimed me a hero. (Not really, but in my mind they did.)

Want to be a hero in your own mind? Here's the recipe so you can pull a dinner out of thin air too!

Marinated Pork Tenderloin

1/2 cup soy sauce
3 Tbsp sugar
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp ginger
2 Tbsp olive oil

Mix all ingredients and pour over two 1 lb tenderloins. (Poke holes in the tenderloin with a fork for better absorption.) Flip the tenderloins throughout the day to disperse the marinade. When ready to bake, place tenderloins in 9X13 pan and bake at 375 for 1 hour. You could also grill it.
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Friday, January 18, 2013

Nonfiction Books I'd Like To Read This Year

(Image Source:

So over on Pinterest I posted the many, many novels I'd like to read in 2013. It's massive but not un-doable based on what I read last year. The key (for me) to getting this many books read is NOT WATCHING TV. Really, how many old episodes of Law and Order does one woman need to watch? How many times do I need to see detectives track down a killer on ID Channel?

I will, however, keep watching Castle. So other than that hour of viewing a week, I need to be in my bed reading fastidiously in the evenings before I fall asleep.

But that's not what this post is about.

I thought I'd post about the nonfiction books I hope to read in the coming year, books that have captured my attention because they speak to some need or desire in my life that I think they will assist with. Because isn't that what we read nonfiction for? To become better people? More productive people?

So, here goes. I already wrote about my one word for this year (LOVE). With that in mind, I've been on the lookout for books that will lend themselves to that theme for this year.

One is Love Does by Bob Goff. What was my tipoff? Well, the title of course. If I want to live a life of love, then I need to act in love. This book, I suspect, will help with that.

The other is Because He Loves Me by Elyse Fitzpatrick

Another one is Etched Upon My Heart by Jill Kelly, a book that was sent to me unsolicited. When I saw that the first chapter was titled, "Love" I knew I was meant to read it. Serendipity!

I'm sure I'll find others along these same lines.

Other books I hope to read:

My One Word by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen (I just finished this one but I wanted to count it. I can tell you that it's worth the read. I wrote about it last week if you want to scroll down and learn more about it.)

Back of the House: The Secret of Life of a Restaurant by Scott Haas (I have an idea for a novel that would involve a restuarant, so this is research.)

Life After Art: What You Forgot About Life and Faith Since You Left The Art Room by Matt Appling

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

The books below are all to help me run She Reads more effectively:

What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam

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

Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, Actions by Guy Kawasaki

The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

These books are for the mom in me:

Cleaning House by Kay Wills Wyma

Train Like A Mother by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea

The Element by Ken Robinson (A friend recommended this as a wonderful book for helping your kids find and tap into their passions. With teens in the house, that really spoke to me. I've met too many adults who have no idea what their passions are or how to pursue them.)

You might notice I don't have many spiritual self-help type books listed. That's because I've really shied away from those because of a couple of reasons. Mostly I'm just convinced that if we want to grow spiritually, we should read the Bible. I am so grateful for Community Bible Study allowing me the opportunity to do that weekly in a group of women I've grown to love. And I love that they don't allow any other books/authors to be mentioned. It's refreshing after years of being immersed in a culture that seemed to, more and more, follow people and their words more than Jesus and His. My daily Bible study will always come before any of these books. All this other stuff is just gravy meant to help me be more successful in parenting and business.

I also have a long list of writing books I'd love to read this year that I didn't dare include here, lest I completely overwhelm you all. It's a sickness I freely admit to having.

So what's on your list of books you'd like to read this year? Books to make you a better mom, wife, business person, writer, etc?  Got any "can't miss" recommendations? Leave a comment and let me know!

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My One Word for 2013: LOVE

I'm reading my friend Rachel Olsen's book My One Word that she wrote with her pastor, Mike Ashcraft who started doing this each year with his church Port City Community Church in Wilmington NC. He saw such a tremendous response that he asked Rachel to help him turn the concept into book form so he could share it on a larger scale. Years of wisdom and stories from people about their One Word experiences are in this book. I raved about it so much that my husband bought it for his Kindle because I wouldn't share my copy.

It took me awhile to pick my word for the year. That's never happened before. Usually the word comes to me and I just know that's the right one. (Two years ago was JOY and last year was DELVE)But this year I had about ten before I finally settled on one that I thought best encompassed all the thoughts bouncing around my head: LOVE. Be a better, more intentional mom who cares more about feelings than rules? Love. Serve people well in my work, be it readers of my books or patrons of She Reads? Love. Be a more affectionate and attentive wife? Love. Reach out to others in vulnerability? Love. Grow spiritually? Love. You get the point.

I always like to pick a verse to go with my word and this year I've picked I Corinthians 13:1: "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal."

Things I Want To Get Out Of My Word This Year:

A better grasp on God's love for me.

Stronger relationships.

Learning to speak in love.

Putting action behind my love.

Look at all aspects of life through the lens of love.

I loved this quote from My One Word:
"We drift into the patterns of our lives unintentionally, because we don't have anything else training our view. Your one word can frame your view of this year. Train yourself to look through it." (p.112)

I'm very grateful for the one word concept. It certainly has helped me set a goal for myself that feels doable instead of long lists of overwhelming resolutions. It's not too late this year to take part and choose a word of your own!

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Monday, January 14, 2013

The V Word

This weekend I tweeted/FBed this: "I'm learning that the best fiction is born when your passion and your vulnerabilities meet on the page." That's what I feel like I'm learning with my own writing right now-- to not be afraid to be vulnerable. And to delve into my passions. If I'm going to write, it needs to matter-- to me and to readers.

With this in mind, I saw this in a blog post and wanted to share it with you:

That’s what readers need to feel you’ve done on the page: responded to their needs. But how do you know their needs? Because you know your own.

Are you in despair over a failed marriage? Are you physically hurting because you have fibromyalgia (as I have), so every day tasks are full of pain? Are you rejoicing in the birth of a new grandson, but also grieving because the grandson has Down’s Syndrome and you know that he will be much loved, but your daughter’s family will be very different from what you had expected and hoped? Are you raging at the stupidity of a teacher who has only managed to teach your son that he’s stupid and can never learn math?

Where are you hurting? What are you passions? Where do you CARE ENOUGH to put yourself into a story? THAT is the story you should be telling.

(Quoted from this post.)

If you are a writer, then maybe this will give you something to think about-- how are you tapping into your passions and exposing your vulnerabilities through character, theme, plot, etc.? If you aren't, how could you start? I'm convinced that the books that truly move us-- that stick with us long after that last page is turned-- are the ones where the author has combined those two elements: passion and vulnerability. It feels risky, but it's necessary.

If you're not a writer, then how could you use this same concept in whatever it is you do? Mothering? Marriage? Your job? Your hobbies? I think that the same is true in all areas of life.
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Friday, January 11, 2013

Little Red Wagon: The Movie

What are you doing this weekend? Got any fun family plans? At some point this weekend, I'm planning to sit down and watch this video with my family.

Little Red Wagon is based on the inspirational true story of eight-year-old Zach Bonner on his quest to change the world with nothing more than his beat-up red wagon and a blazing spirit of philanthropy. When Zach sets out to help homeless children in America in the wake of Hurricane Charley, by walking from his house in Tampa, FL to the White House, he must overcome bureaucrats and blisters, and capture the hearts of his fractured family and the entire nation.

If you'd like to watch this movie with your family, leave a comment on this post as I have a copy of the dvd to give away! And if you simply can't wait, look for the movie available on dvd at Walmart!

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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

These Are The Days

This is the song that's been running through my head ever since the calendar page turned to January. So I thought I'd share it with you, and include the lyrics. And maybe, like me, as you make your way through these first days of 2013, you'll find yourself humming the tune as you witness your days, whatever your days hold, and you'll be filled with desire to be part of the miracles you see in every hour. A perfect song for a new year:

These are the days
These are days you’ll remember
Never before and never since, I promise
Will the whole world be warm as this
 And as you feel it,
You’ll know it’s true
That you are blessed and lucky
It’s true that you
Are touched by something
That will grow and bloom in you
These are days that you’ll remember
When May is rushing over you
With desire to be part of the miracles
You see in every hour
You’ll know it’s true
That you are blessed and lucky
It’s true that you are touched
By something that will grow and bloom in you
These are days
These are the days you might fill
With laughter until you break
These days you might feel
A shaft of light
 Make its way across your face
And when you do
Then you’ll know how it was meant to be
See the signs and know their meaning
It's true
Then you’ll know how it was meant to be
Hear the signs and know they’re speaking
 To you, to you
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Monday, January 07, 2013

The Anti-Resolution Resolution (A Quote From Christy Jordan of Southern Plate)

"I don't make New Years resolutions. Setting one day or section of the year aside to resolve to do better doesn't make sense when that is what you do every day anyway. Each day I wake up and try to be a better person, gain some wisdom, try to use my life in a positive way, and each night I go to bed early so I can get up earlier the next day and try to top my performance from the day before.

I don't berate myself if I didn't reach a goal, and I don't feel disappointed or throw a pity party because I'm not "good enough" according to a fashion magazine or a television shows standards - Their aim is generally far lower than mine anyway.

Every morning of my life is the first day of a new year and I wake filled with with gratitude, joy, and hope in knowing that I'm here for a reason and I've got some work to do. If you're reading this now, the same applies to you. You're here for a reason - but its up to each of us to live for a real purpose beyond earning a paycheck or making it through rush hour. So lets get to it."

Want to know more about Southern Plate? Go here:
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Thursday, January 03, 2013

Reading Goals

I said this on Tuesday but I really like pausing as one year turns to another and setting new goals, evaluating the year past, etc. It speaks to the control freak within me and brings out the type A firstborn tendencies I work hard to squelch during other times of the year. (Being a mom of six means I don't have much control at all and must learn to hold on loosely to any plans I make.)

Nevertheless, when it comes to a new year, I embrace the compulsion and just let my control freak flag fly for a few days.

One area in which I started setting goals a couple of years ago is reading. Before that I just read like a normal person might-- books came my way, I read them and promptly shelved or returned them. I had no idea what I'd read (save for a few memorable titles that replayed in my mind long after they were over), how much I was reading each year, or if there was any pattern to my reading. So I started a reading log to record what I'd read, with a few sentences about my feelings about the book. 2012 was my second year of this and I have grown quite fond of the practice. I know more about my reading habits than I did before I started.

In 2011 I read 60 books, which averaged to 5 books a month. Always one to try to up the ante on myself, I decided I'd try to beat that in 2012. If, I reasoned, I read one more book a month, I could read 72 books in 2012. Though it was down to the wire, I'm happy to report I did just that! I know, I know, it's crazy but I love knowing I did better this year than last. Will I try to top it in 2013? Come on... you already know the answer to that. Of course! I'd really like to read one more book a month and hit 84 books this year. One of the ways I think I can do that is (as I've written about before) listening to one book a month on audio. My library has a pretty decent collection, so I figured if I just keep a book on cd in my car and listen while I'm out running errands, sitting in the carpool line, etc., I can work in that one extra book and meet my (self-imposed, ridiculous) goal.

What books am I looking forward to reading in 2013? Check out my "Massive, Infinite TBR List" board over at Pinterest. I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon creating this board and had an absurd amount of fun doing so. What can I say? "I've grown too fond of books and it has turned my head." (Quote originally attributed to Louisa May Alcott but fitting here.) Check out my board and you just might find some books to grow fond of yourself.
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Tuesday, January 01, 2013

The New Year's Post

So after days of family togetherness, we are spending this last day of break doing a whole lotta nothing and mourning how fast the time went. Tomorrow it's back to real life but in the meantime today I have some new novels I'm reading, one of which is set in England and has prompted me to make multiple cups of tea to have at my side in order to evoke the proper mood. The boys are watching football. The girls are doing a lot of running around and giggling. Seems they are already bored with their new stuff. Sigh.

Later I'm making a traditional southern New Year's meal, which includes some form of pork, greens, & black eyed peas as its main ingredients. Each food has a meaning: pork (health), greens (wealth) and black eyes peas (luck). We figure we can always use all three of those things so we take part in the tradition. I have added that dessert must be served with this meal so your new year will be sweet! This year I'm making pork roast, rice and gravy, black eyed peas, field greens salad, and cornbread. We seem to vary what the "green" item is each year as none of us are fans of collard greens. I'm also making apple pies (we have to have two for this crowd) with vanilla bean ice cream.

We rang in the new year last night with old friends, making it all the way to midnight, which is a feat for us. I like new years because they provide us with a chance to pause and evaluate. What's going well? What could be better? What changes could be made? But sometimes all the areas of change that could be initiated get overwhelming. If the idea of making a bunch of resolutions has grown old for you, I invite you to check out my friend Rachel Olsen's book My One Word, a wonderful alternative concept in which you choose just one word as a theme for your year. It simplifies things so much. I've done it for several years running and I will tell you it's been a meaningful way to mark each year. The word I have chosen has always shown up in amazing ways throughout the year, taking on meanings and ramifications I never expected. If this intrigues you, Rachel and her pastor, Mike Ashcraft have explained it all in their book so pick up a copy from your favorite bookseller or load it on that new ereader you got for Christmas. Read a chapter each morning for the month of January and you will feel better equipped to take on 2013. What's my word for this year? I haven't quite decided yet, but there's one I'm leaning towards. I'll share it once I'm sure.

And now it's back to my novel and more hot tea. I'll share about my reading in a few days, letting you know how my goals for 2012 turned out and what I'm planning for 2013. Yes I do set reading goals each year. What can I say? I'm a firstborn.
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