Monday, January 30, 2012

Monday Blahg: Mon. in Tights

Balance isn't my strong point.  I might have mentioned that before...

As it is still January, I don't feel too badly about the fact that I'm still getting used to the idea of eating this whale one bite at a time.  Some of my goals, I'm doing well on.  Others...not so much.

-I've completed week three of my diet, and I've lost a total of about 8 pounds.  I still have about 7-10 pounds more to go before I start focusing on maintenance.  My pants are fitting better!

-The running isn't going well, but at least it's going.  I'm not sure if it's not just still too cold outside for me, or what, but my lungs have hurt every time I've run recently.  Still figuring that one out...  At least my pansy ankle isn't hurting as much.  The new running shoes are helping a lot!

-The editing has gone really well this week.  The deal with my second novel is that the beginning sucks, but the middle and the end are actually pretty good (though they definitely need some work).  I'm in the process of trying to make the beginning of the novel as good as the ending.  This basically just involves brutally ripping it apart so I can lovingly piece it back together again.  I also want to make some of the Christian elements a little more natural, a little less forced.  I really think I've got something good here, something that's definitely worth the work.  I'm loving getting reacquainted with these characters I haven't met with in a while.  They're pretty amazing--and that has very little to do with my skills as a writer.  They were easy to write.  I just have to do them justice by figuring out their story to the best of my ability.

-I have talked with one guy about the website stuff, but I need to talk with some other people.  I really wanted this up and running by now, but I haven't been proactive about it.  I have confidence that it will happen.  I just need to get my act together and ask for the help I need.  ...and then just do it. 

-Same goes with the song recording stuff.  I need to stop being a pansy and ask for help.  ...and then just do it.

Other random stuff from this past week:

-I discovered I like tights.  I haven't worn tights since I was like four, but recently I've started wearing them again.  I'm not about to start wearing them as pants or anything, like some people do, but I like them better than just plain pantyhose.  Why?  For one thing, I'm not nearly as comfortable with the word "pantyhose" as I am with the word "tights."  And for another thing, tights make me think of this:

-On a much less awesome note, the other night I cleaned up a kid's vomit with my bare hands (and about a gazbillion lysol wipes).  Yeah.  Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.  Apparently, I have the super power of being able to control my gag reflex in emergency situations.  I'm pretty sure I have some other hidden super powers, and I plan to use them to hunt down whoever it was who used the last of the disposable gloves and didn't inform management that we were out.

-I found out that the whole Poblano (NOT Portabella) Alfredo sauce incident wasn't a total loss.  Since I had a jar of it, I decided to try it on spaghetti squash.  I thought it would be a disaster, but surprise!  Alfredo sauce on spaghetti squash tastes somewhat like mac and cheese.  ...if you use your imagination.  ...if you have a really good imagination.  And I do.

-I don't *think* I'm going to owe much on my taxes this year (in fact, I'm daring to hope for a refund).

-I'm having to stop myself from picking up The Hunger Games.  I plan on rereading it before the movie comes out in March...but it's too soon for that reread now.  Plus, I really don't have time to get obsessed with Peeta Mellark...again.

-"Cards Against Humanity" is almost as much fun as "Apples to Apples."

-I found out that I actually like writing book reviews and kind of want to keep doing that.  So if anyone knows of any authors or publishers willing to give away any ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies...and also my initials) of their books in exchange for reviews, direct them towards me!

Ways you can pray for me this week:

-That I will have a good, encouraging attitude at work (even if work involves cleaning up vomit).

-General tiredness.  I feel like I could use a week of personal days, but if I don't work, I don't get money.  If I don't get money, I don't eat.  ...wait...this could be a pretty good diet plan.  ...Nah.
-Wisdom in editing my book--I believe this project is really something special, not because of me, but because of what God is doing through me.  I really feel unworthy to be a writer/editor sometimes.  This book humbles me.  Pray I figure out how to make it all come together in ways that best honor my characters, and best glorifies the Lord.

-Courage regarding the things that scare me or make me uncomfortable--like asking for help and being persistent about asking for help.

Okay, that's enough for this Monday.  Have a good one with lots of strong coffee!!!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Book Review of "Project 19: The Blazer Saga" by James Cogdill

Project 19: The Blazer Saga is a science fiction novel by James Cogdill.

The main character is a young man named Jordan Blankenship, who, despite his troubled youth, is finally starting to get his life together.  Just when everything seems to be going well, Jordan is unwittingly introduced to a mysterious drug that  endows him with superhuman strength, followed by deathly weakness.

This substance, gyogit, had been prescribed to Jordan by various doctors throughout his childhood, as Jordan had once suffered from a strange, life-threatening illness.  Eventually, one doctor was able to rid Jordan of his dependence on gyogit, and he was able to live a normal life.  But once reintroduced to the gyogit, Jordan’s incredible strength and subsequent sickness return, as does his dependence on the drug.

Leaving his friends, his life, and his girlfriend behind, Jordan embarks on a journey to learn about his condition, the mysterious gyogit, and, most of all, truth.  As he gets closer to what he seeks, Jordan soon realizes that the truth is much darker than anything he could have imagined.

I read Project 19: The Blazer Saga, after it was first published by Blazing Bush Publishing, and I recently read it a second time.  The first read was good, but I found the second read even more enjoyable.  I feel the need to point out that this was the first publication by Blazing Bush Publishing, and there are several problems (such as word-choice errors) that were not corrected before publication.  Upon my first and second reads I (the insufferable Grammar Nazi about which your mother warned you) definitely noticed the mistakes, but most of them did not detract from the story.

I think a reread was helpful, for there were several elements to the story line that I either did not remember or fully understand in my first reading.  I think this is mainly due to the fact that, while I love most science fiction, there’s a lot of it I don’t quite get.  Honestly, Project 19 is not written in a style I would typically enjoy.  Though this is in no way a graphic novel, there is a strong comic book feel to the characters’ actions.  James Cogdill managed to pull off the story in a believable enough way not to just help me overlook the over-the-top action scenes, but to actually enjoy them.

I do think that there are a few problems in the tempo of the plot.  Some of the action scenes seemed too rushed, so I didn’t quite know what was going on or what had just happened.  Other times, I felt as though some of the slower scenes needed a little more emotion or depth.  The story itself, however, is highly imaginative and thought-provoking.  Jordan Blankenship is faced with some extremely difficult problems and choices, some that I would never consider anyone ever having to face.  The ethical, psychological, and spiritual dilemmas that Jordan must face are the main reasons I find this story so compelling.  I sincerely hope that James Cogdill and Blazing Bush Publishing continue the series (as long as the following installments are edited well :-D).

While there is nothing at all inappropriate in language or sexual content, due to some violence and other mild potentially disturbing material, I would recommend Project 19 only to teenagers and adults.
To learn more about Blazing Bush Publishing, or to purchase a copy of Project 19: The Blazer Saga, please visit

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hump Day Blahg!

Things I’ve learned in the past week:

-Never turn your back on a Dragon.

-Good running shoes make a HUGE difference.

-When the sun doesn’t come out to play for several days in a row, I start feeling unproductive, apathetic, and just plain lazy.

-I am terribly out of shape, considering the fact I want to run a half marathon.

-“Let’s go bother our friends in ‘Time Out’” is NOT Miss Ruth’s favorite kid game.

-Eating cheap protein bars from the Dollar Tree is like chewing on soy candles.

-My second novel is going to need a LOT of editing, but after taking a good look at it, I really think it's going to be worth ithe work.

-Roasted seaweed is awesome, but should not be eaten a few hours before a run—unless you like burping up that fishy taste again, and again, and again.

-Sometimes, you just really need a turkey sandwich.

-I should not go shopping for pasta sauce when I’m tired and hungry, lest I mistake the word “Poblano” for the word “Portobello.” Portobello is a variety of tasty tasty mushroom that belongs in tasty tasty pasta sauces (among other places—like in my belly). Poblano is a variety of pepper that should never be used in pasta sauce, unless you’re a weirdo who likes their Alfredo sauce to taste like spicy queso dip.

-I’m starting to look my age, my age isn’t all that young anymore, and I need to find a way to cope with both of those facts.  Also, I'm vain.

-Sometimes (usually) when people ask you how you’re doing, they really don’t want you to tell them every little detail of what’s going on in your life.

-I’m still really bad about asking for help with the big stuff.

-I hate surveys.

-I’m not one of those people who can go without using shampoo at least every three days. My hair doesn’t get too greasy, but it just doesn’t flow right if it’s not good and clean. Once again, I'm a bad hippy...not a hippy who does bad things, but a hippy who's not good at being a hippy.

-I actually have a reason to shop at Harris Teeter, now. Their store brand Naturals yogurt is low calorie and has no artificial sweeteners. Plus it's fairly inexpensive, tastes good, and has seven grams of protein.

-Nobody besides me cares about the amount of calories, protein, and artificial sweeteners in their yogurt.

-I think about food too much.

-I’m unable to part from my travel coffee mug of three years. The lid cracked on my old one, so here is what I did.  I bought a new cup of the same style, stole the new lid from the new cup, and put it on my old cup. Now I am happy.

-I'll have lived in Wake Forest for six full years as of tomorrow.  I've also been working at the same drop in childcare center for almost six years.  It kind of makes me wonder what I've been doing with the last six years of my life....

-I have a lot to do and should probably stop blogging.

Happy Wednesday!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Help! Send Peasants!

Dear Readers of the Human’s Blog:
Right now, our human is being held at talon-point while we are forcing her to type this letter on our behalf (talons are of little use for typing—they are better made for the disembowelment of enemies and/or humans who consistently write bad poetry). Do not be alarmed; our human will (probably) come to no harm. In fact, you should be grateful. Instead of the usual Monday drivel from our boring human, you’re getting a well-written and interesting greeting from a group of intelligent and ferocious (not to mention, good-looking) Dragon-Muses.

For months now, our lazy human has been ignoring us and her writing/editing. We have been faithful Muses (aside from a short and well-deserved vacation, on which our human was not invited), but where there is no human effort, even the greatest Dragon-Muses’ inspirations are practically useless. With the exception of a few pathetic attempts at song writing and a talonful of mundane human blogs, our human has produced nothing of worth in the past year.  Also, she cancelled our blog, which was both interesting and well-written.  We sat by, biding our time, waiting for our human to snap out of her selfish stupor and start paying attention to us again. Though Dragons are usually very patient creatures, we have grown tired of waiting. We can wait no longer.

Today marks the Chinese New Year, and 2012 happens to be the Year of the Dragon. On this wondrous day in this wondrous year, we have decided that it is time to act. Our human can no longer push us or her writing aside. It is time for her to allow us to inspire her once again. It is time for her to pick up her pen, to exercise her typing fingers, and to work diligently at the craft to which she has been called.

So for the next few days, you might not see much of our fair human. While we will allow her to go to work (and possibly, if she’s good, we might let her go for a run—but only if she promises to think about her writing while she’s running) our human will be spending most of her time either writing or editing (or both at the same time) in the Cave. If her work pleases us, we will allow her a little leniency, but realistically speaking, we imagine her confinement will last far beyond the span of this week.  Do not consider our treatment unfair; she has brought this upon herself.

Please note that we Dragons also might consider shortening our human’s confinement if you, her readers, make an offering of acceptable gifts. We will only be appeased by the purest of golds, the shiniest of jewels, and the juiciest of peasants. Please leave your sacrifices at the entrance of our Cave.  If you don't know where that is, you can leave them with our human (if you happen to be lucky enough to catch her while she isn't writing).

I'm not sure why any of you should care, but if our human is on her best behavior, we will allow her to continue her usual boring blogging on Wednesday.

Happy Year of the Dragon! May you find work to do, and may you work with all your heart.

The Dragon-Muses:
Pneuman, Bion, Jerry, Tai, Dravaena, Titus, and Runny

P.S. Runny is the newest Dragon-Muse. He likes to bend (and sometimes break…and sometimes shatter) writing rules. His full name is Runnon M. Frazier. Yep. Jerry’s got a long-lost little brother. Who knew?

P.S.S. We have also declared today, “Bring Your Dragon to Work Day!” So take your Dragon to work, and don’t forget to pack him/her a nice herd of cattle for lunch.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Write Time

Last year, I tried something.  I tried something, and I failed.  I failed hard. 

I tried to write a book.  In fact, I tried to write a serial novel, sharing with a few select friends on facebook.  I might have gotten to chapter eight before the novel crashed and burned.  I had no more direction for it at that point.  What I'd written was pretty close to terrible.  So I put it out of it's misery and went back to my writing cave, licking my wounds.

I was thinking about this failure earlier this week.  I haven't really attempted to write anything big since then, and I'm pretty sure at least a tiny part of that is because I'm scared I'll just fail again.  A part of me has been wondering if I'm even a good writer at all, if I should continue to pursue the dream of being a legitimately published author.  Maybe someone like me should just watch kids and be happy with her lot.

But no.  I can't exist without writing.  Half the time, when people see me out and about, I'm only half in this world.  My mind is somewhere else, figuring out plots, forming dialogue with imaginary people.  And despite the failures and really horrible writing, I've actually managed to produce some good stuff.  Not just decent stuff, but truly good stuff.

I just think that last year was supposed to be kind of a break.  I read a lot of books; I wrote several songs; I wrote a few short stories.  But there wasn't anything big that happened in my writing universe.  And 2011 ended and I felt like I had nothing but a trashcan full of crumpled up paper.

And I haven't completely abandoned the story idea for that novel that failed.  I just don't think that it was ready when I started writing it, nor was I ready to write it.  When I began that project, I was forcing it.  I was forcing it from the beginning.  My mental process was 1). Readers and agents are really into YA Paranormal books right now. 2) I might be able to get a foot in the door if I write a YA Paranormal. 3) The only idea I have for a Paranormal isn't exactly YA, so I'll need to adjust it, change some characters.  4) I'm really not wanting to write this, but if I am going to finish it, I'll need to have readers to hold me accountable.  In the end, I was making the story something it wasn't, and something it did not want to be, and I was writing it before I was ready to write it.

And it failed. 

It's amazing how quickly January has gone by.  I haven't really even figured out that it's 2012, but I feel that this year is supposed to be something more than last year.  I'm not sure what I'm going to write, what I'm going to imagine and envision.  I'm just looking forward to this year in hope, praying for the wisdom to write the right stories at the right time. 

Somewhere along the way, I'll figure it all out....

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Caring Hope

I've been hearing/reading a particular Bible story a lot lately, and I've learned that if a Scripture passage or theme keeps popping up, then I'd better pay attention.  The story I've repeatedly read/heard is about a man named Jairus, a twelve year old dead girl, a woman who has been sick for twelve years, and a Healer.

This story appears in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), but the story is the same:

As Jesus was being welcomed by a large crowd, a desperate man named Jairus, an official in the synagogue, came to Jesus, falling at his feet, begging him to come to his home.  His only daughter was dying, and he believed Jesus could heal her.  Jesus went with him, but the crowds followed, pressing around Him. 

In the midst of the crowd was a desperate woman who had been bleeding for twelve years.  She reached out and touched the edge of Jesus' robe, believing that would heal her.  And she was healed.

Jesus stopped and asked of the crowd, "Who touched me?"  His disciples didn't understand, and they replied, "The crowd is pressing against you."  Jesus said, "Someone touched me.  I felt the power go out of me."  The woman confessed, falling at Jesus' feet, explaining why she'd touched him, proclaiming that she had indeed been healed.  Jesus said, "Daughter.  Your faith has made you well.  Go in peace."

Before Jesus even finished speaking, someone from Jarius' house came and said, "Your daughter is dead.  Don't trouble the Teacher anymore."

But...  (I love the "buts" of the Bible...they usually mean grace is coming)

Jesus said, "Don't be afraid.  Just believe."

When they came to Jairus' house, there were people weeping and wailing.  Jesus said, "Why are you weeping?  The child is not dead, but asleep."  The people laughed at him.  Jesus sent them out, taking only James, John, Peter, Jairus and the child's mother into the room with the girl.  He took the child's hand and said, "Talitha kum.  I say to you, little girl.  Get up!"  She rose and began walking.  Jesus told her parents to give her something to eat.

I'm not sure why I've heard this story so much lately.  I've heard it so many times throughout my life, heard so much said on it, yet I believe I'm meant to say more. 

Twelve years.  For the "main characters" of this story, those twelve years were significant.  It was a whole lifetime to the girl, the happy/stressful/wonderful years of being a father to Jairus, the years of suffering for the woman, and probably not much more than the shadow of a vaporous breath to Jesus, God in the flesh.  Yet He was also human, also limited within the bonds of time.  He knew that within these suits of skin we wear, twelve years can seem a really long time.  He knew what twelve years meant to all of these people.  He knew their experiences weren't something trivial, nor were they trivial.

And yet this story has several "minor characters" who didn't see things as Jesus did.  I see one attitude repeated in this story, once by the disciples, and once by a group of mourners. 

When the woman touched Jesus, he knew it, and he knew her.  In fact, I'm not so sure that he didn't just ask "Who touched me?" for the sake of those around him, and for the sake of us who would be reading about it later (us).  He might have already known exactly who she was, and why she had done it.  But when he asked "Who touched me?" the disciples response is interesting.  I can imagine Peter pulling Jesus aside saying, "Um, Jesus...we're kind of in a crowd here.  Who hasn't been touching you?  By the way, with all these people touching you, you might want to take a bath next chance you get."  It's an attitude that shows that the disciples simply weren't on the same wavelength as Jesus.  They were seeing the crowd as a crowd, a group of people that didn't really matter. 

But Jesus knew every face in that crowd.  He knew each person in that crowd, in every crowd he ever encountered, more intimately than they could imagine.  And when that woman reached out in her desperate hope and touched him, he felt it.  He knew it wasn't just another hand grasping at him in the pressing crowd.  He knew that this touch was something important, and it came from a person He deemed important.  And he called out to her, wanting her to show herself, wanting her to tell what had happened to her.  When she finally did, he blessed her.  He called her daughter, his child. 

I can't imagine being as desperate as this woman.  I've never been sick for more than a few weeks (and that was just once when I was seven and had third degree sunburn all over my back).  I can't imagine being sick for twelve years.  We don't know how old this woman was or what her station in life was.  She might have been old and widowed, or she might have been younger.  Her illness might have prevented her from marrying, from having the life she had dreamed of.  At the very least, she was probably in a great deal of pain and weakness, and she was poor (having spent all her money on doctors who couldn't help her).  She was quite probably an outcast, considered unclean due to her consistent bleeding. 

I don't understand the kind of desperation it would take to reach out to Jesus in a crowd, daring to believe in the one last hope that could make her well....

When the man came to tell Jairus that his daughter was dead, we don't see Jairus' response.  We see Jesus' response.  "Don't be afraid.  Just believe."  I'm not 100% sure on this, but if I had been Jairus, and if I had just witnessed Jesus' healing of that desperate woman, it might have been a lot easier to stop being afraid.  It might have been a lot easier to just believe. 

Because Jairus was desperate, too.  When Jairus came to Jesus, Jesus went with him.  He could have turned to the crowds and said, "Ya'll go home now.  Jairus is an important synagogue official, and I must go and heal his daughter.  You aren't as important as he is, so leave me alone."  Jesus didn't say that.  He didn't send the crowds away--if he had, that desperate woman might have never found her hope and healing...but he deemed her twelve years as important as Jairus' twelve years, and his daughter's twelve years.  The woman was HIS daughter, every bit as valuable as Jairus' daughter.  Jesus did go with Jairus, because Jairus was important to him--just not more important than the others in that crowd.  Jesus went with Jairus because, like the woman, Jairus was desperate.

But when they came to Jairus' house, they were met by this group of mourners, of wailers and weepers.  Yet their grief was a facade.  They were probably just professional mourners, and there was no depth to their sorrow.  For when Jesus said, "The child isn't dead, but asleep," they laughed easily enough.  They laughed because they weren't on the same wavelength as Jesus.  They saw the world as they understood it.  Dead people were dead, which called for some loud wailing.  Sleeping people, on the other hand, don't typically want to be wailed at.  And Jesus, they assumed, was a mad man and/or a fool.  Jairus?  His wife?  His daughter?  Yeah, it was sad that she had just died, but the mourners didn't really care.  They were just people.  People died every day, and one couldn't be expected to really care about them ALL.

But Jesus did.

And Jesus does.

And Jesus told that little twelve year old girl to get up, and not even death could keep her from obeying.

I don't understand Jairus' desperation.  I haven't had a child.  I haven't had to face the fact that my only child was dying. 

I'm not sure how to word this, but I think there's this point of desperation that both Jairus and the sick woman had reached.  It was a desperation so great that they couldn't help but believe.  They placed all their hopes on Jesus, knowing that he was the only one who could help them.  And their belief led to the fulfillment of their hope.  The woman was given her healing, her life back, and so was the little girl.

And I don't understand their desperation, but I understand a few things.  I do know what it's like to be desperate, to have great need.  I know what it's like to be dying in my sin, hopeless on my own, and I know what it's like to reach out in wild desperation for the One Hope that can save me.  And I know what it's like to believe in all the things that One Hope has promised, and I know what it's like to be called His daughter, and I know what it's like to receive peace.

And I believe that I'm sadly ignorant to the world of others.  Far too often, I am not on the same wavelength as Jesus.  I see people as faceless, nameless, and therefore...when you really get down to it, trivial.  Worthless.  I get so wrapped up in my own life, my own circle of friends, my own agenda.  And in the end, I'm missing out.

I've got great Hope, and I claim to want to share that Hope with others.  The thing is, I can't give Hope to someone without caring for them.  Superficial caring doesn't work; weeping and wailing can't be in the same breath as laughter.  Seeing everyone as just an extra in the cast of life isn't going to cut it.  People matter, and I miss opportunities because I miss them.  I miss the people. 

If you've actually read all this, please leave me a comment, if you're able to do so.  I want to hear your story, your struggles.  I want to know more about you.  And I want to encourage you, as I am also encouraged, to look beyond ourselves.  Twelve years, twelve months, twelve weeks, twelve days, twelve hours, twelve minutes, twelve seconds...the things that have happened in these expanses of time matter to someone. 

People out there have stories that need to be heard...and maybe we're the ones who are meant to hear them.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Monday Blahg: Pansy Ankle...among other things

Phew!  Last week was busy.  I had my first day off in two weeks yesterday, and it was MARVELOUS! 

Things I accomplished last week:

--Finished reading a book (second read-through) AND wrote a review on it.
--Successfully began my diet/exercise regimen, restricting extra calories so I'd get a good start on things.  I think I went a little too low on calorie intake this week.  I lost about 5 pounds, which is too much, even for the first week.  So that means I get to eat more!  Hooray food!  I also hurt my ankle (just a little) while running (it was just really sore/achy).  I badly sprained that ankle about 8 years ago, and apparently my ankle is now a pansy.
--I started and finished knitting a scarf for "The Princess" (7 yr old I watch), who requested a "purple, yellow, red, green, and blue" scarf.  I asked her if she wanted a rainbow scarf.  She said, "Yes.  So NO pink, because pink isn't in the rainbow."  So I found some rainbow yarn (w/out pink) and made a scarf.
--I made a spreadsheet that will hopefully help me keep up with my writing and editing, as well as my efforts towards getting published.  I'm not sure this spreadsheet is the best format, but it's a work in progress.
--I kinda sorta cleaned my room, but not really.  I utilized the "shove everything under the bed" method. 

Things I want to try to accomplish this week:
--I plan to contact a couple people about the website I'm working on.  I need their help if it's going to happen, so I've got to be proactive about talking to them.
--I plan to contact someone about recording a music project--and will hopefully set a time when I can actually get something recorded.  I need a deadline to work towards!
--I plan on completing the second read-through of one of my friend's books.
--I plan on starting another scarf for "The Diva" (the 10 year old).  She has requested light blue and yellow.
--I plan on beginning the tedious process of editing my second novel.
--I plan on continuing the diet/exercise plan, making adjustments as needed.  My ultimate goals in dieting this year are first to get back to the weight I was before I started gaining again, AND to learn how to maintain that weight.  I'm trying to determine an average of how many calories I burn each week, and compare that with the average calories I eat in a week.  These numbers need to be pretty close, because I'm tired of the dieting yo-yo.
--I plan on going to one of those running stores that measures you for shoes and evaluates your running style to see what kind of extra support you need.  My old shoes are cheap and just aren't cutting it.  That might be one of the reasons my ankle keeps being a pansy.  If I'm going to run a half marathon this year, I'm going to have to start taking better care of my feet.  Can't have my ankle pansying out on me around mile 12....

So, with the things I want to accomplish, I realize that sometimes things just don't go as planned.  There are going to be things that happen this week that I don't expect, for which I can't plan.  There are going to be interruptions and things that deter me from completing my tasks.  I just want to have a written guideline of things I hope to accomplish (all the while keeping in mind that my true Hope is in God).  I also hope that posting them in a blog helps me feel a little more accountable to someone.  I don't think I'm going to accomplish all my weekly goals EVERY week, but I'm going to put forth an honest effort.  It's just that God's often got His own agenda with what He wants to do with my life, so I've got to keep an open mind about what I do with my time.  One of my New Year's Resolutions is to be more flexible.  (Good luck with THAT, Ruth.  Stop talking to yourself in your blog, Ruth.)

What are some of your goals, dreams, plans, hopes for 2012?

Happy Monday, and may your ankles be strong.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Review of "The Land of Darkness" by C. S. Lakin

The Land of Darkness is the third book in The Gates of Heaven series by C. S. Lakin.  Each book in this series centers around different characters, so each book can stand alone as its own story.

The Land of Darkness is a fairy tale/fantasy, which focuses on two main characters: Jadiel and Callen. 

Jadiel is a 12 year old girl who is at the mercy of her wicked and vain stepmother, Huldah.  Huldah threatens to kill Jadiel's father (whom she has enchanted with her false beauty) unless Jadiel is able to find the leaves of the Terebinth Tree, which are fabled to bring eternal life and beauty to the one who chews them. 

Callen is the 31 year old woodcarving apprentice of Jadiel's uncle.  Stirred by drawings of a beautiful suspension bridge, Callen embarks on a quest to find this bridge.  Along the way, he encounters Jadiel, and they find that their quests are connected.  With the help of a strange, scarred man named Ebed, they find the Land of Darkness, through which they must pass before finding what they seek.

While this story was a little difficult for me to "get into," I immensely enjoyed the fairy tale elements found near the beginning.  It was hard to mistake the fun traditional fairy tale aspects, such as the talking hoptoad, Jadiel's magical mirror and flute, and of course, the wicked stepmother (and her "Snow White" style magic mirror) and stepsisters.  I think these simple touches added to the fairy tale feel, although I'm not sure that all these elements were necessary, and I would have preferred for the main action of the story to begin a little sooner.

Scripture and allegory were woven throughout this story as Jadiel and Callen followed the clues to the end of their quests.  While some of the allegory wasn't obvious, most of it was easy to understand.  Obvious allegory isn't what I usually prefer, but Lakin balanced it with enough mystery to keep me reading.  I especially appreciated the use of parable in the story, and how Lakin connected it to other passages of Scripture in ways that I had never thought of before.  I also enjoyed the idea of the healing Terebinth tree, and was pleasantly reminded of the magical healing apple from C. S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew.

The characters, for the most part, were well thought out and believable.  Jadiel's character seemed to represent childlike faith, while Callen was more of a "doubting Thomas."  I didn't catch on to Callen's doubt until I was well into the middle of the book.  I'm not sure if that was intentional or not.  Jadiel's childlike love and faith were evident from the beginning.  I loved the character of Ebed and all that he represented in the story. 

As I said, this book was difficult for me to get into, but the plot was well-thought out, the characters believable, and the allegory unmistakable.  This is a fanciful story which alludes heavily to the greatest story of all--God's redemption of mankind.  I would recommend it to older children, teenagers, and those remarkable adults who, like me, have never outgrown a good fairy tale.

This book was provided by review by AMG Publishers.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Gifts From the Lord

Warning: I get honest in this one.  You've been warned.

It was probably a little over a year ago that I saw several moms from my church post the same thing on their facebook statuses.  "Children are a gift from the Lord."  They were all posting this because that was the topic of the recent MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) meeting.  As a woman without any kids, my knee-jerk reaction was to sarcastically think, "Oh, so God doesn't give gifts to single, childless people?"  This reaction didn't last more than a few seconds, because I realized that children aren't the only gift from the Lord, and that the people at that MOPS meeting were all moms who needed that encouragement.  And I much later realized that they were quoting a specific Scripture passage:

"Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward." -Psalm 127:3

I like that verse.  I think it's true.  And if it is, then I'm a pretty gifted person. 

I'm single and childless, and lately I've been thinking a lot about that, but not in a sad way.  It's just been something I've been thinking about.  For one thing, I'm still working on starting this website/blog on singlehood and Church unity.  I've also been up to my armpits in other people's kids.  Oh, and I had TWO dreams in ONE night that I had gotten married--in each dream it was to a different guy.  One of my "dream husbands" (and I use that phrase loosely, because he was NOT the man of my dreams at all) had a last name that had a lot of syllables and silent letters, like Crickenquallabonutickleishon or something, only it sounded different than it looked.  So the joke in the dream was that I couldn't pronounce my own last name.  I laughed and woke myself up, which happens to me fairly often.  My dreams are hilarious.

Anyway, with all this thinking about kids and singlehood, I guess it's easy to feel depressed.  Only, I'm not depressed.  The way I see it, I have it pretty good.

Without getting into details (I don't mind sharing my stories, but when they involve others, they're also other people's stories), I got my heart broken when I was in my mid-20s.  We're not talking a little crush heartbreak.  We're talking, "So, I was kind of hoping to spend the rest of my life with you, and now I can't because you don't like me anymore" heartbreak.  And that took me several years to get over, at least as much over it as I'm going to get.  I say this because I want people to understand where I'm coming from.  I've had some people assume that after getting hurt once, I'm too angry/hurt/bitter/etc. to consider dating again.  That's not the case.  I have considered dating again, but it's just not a priority.  Bottom line: I haven't been asked out once since that break-up, which was almost seven years ago.  In fact, I haven't even been interested in anyone.  And that doesn't bother me.  I actually kind of prefer it that way, because if it's not something God really wants for me, then I don't want any part of it.  If God wants me in a relationship, He's going to have to clearly be in the midst of it.  If He doesn't want me in a relationship, then there's no reason to strive for one.  I'm not afraid of getting hurt again so much as I'm afraid of hurting someone else by being in a relationship that I'm just not supposed to be in.  So...I'm cool.  More than cool, really.

And God's allowed me to have some conversations with some neighbors and friends recently, people I would never have imagined myself talking to.  I have had conversations with people who have been through difficult divorces, some of them involving kids (which takes divorce to a whole different level--you're not just considering your wants/needs, but the kids' wants/needs as well), and all of them involving deep heartache and pain.  The pain I went through is just not comparable.  I hurt.  I hurt for years.  I still hurt, but it doesn't affect my daily life at all.  Divorce is something that sticks with you.  Aside from the emotional turmoil, there's judgmentalism from others, there's legal stuff, there's probably a lot more hurt feelings, feelings of failure, etc.  I understand some of these things, but only to a point, because really, my heartbreak wasn't as deep.  And I definitely don't understand the wisdom it takes to deal with divorce and kids.  A lot of these single parents I know AMAZE me.  I don't know how they do it, but I guess when you've just got to do something, you somehow find the courage/grace/strength to do it (AKA God enables you).  At least in my own less-difficult experiences, that has been true. 

So basically, the Lord allowed me to love this guy, and having the grace to love someone is always a gift.  I'm extremely grateful to have been granted that beautiful knowledge.  When that relationship ended, it wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been (that would have been hard to believe at the time, but I certainly believe it now).  True, it would have been less painful if it hadn't ended at all--or so I think.  I'm finding out that I don't know as much as I think I do, so now when I pray for things I want, I usually say, "But you know better than I do, Lord.  Give me what I need and what glorifies you best." 

Yeah, when I was eighteen, I prayed for two things: to marry a minister and to have a LOT of kids.  Looking back, I'm glad God didn't say "yes" to that first prayer. Why?  Because I would make a dreadful minister's wife.  It's not that I think minister's wives are extra Spiritual or something, or that I don't make some kind of "holier than thou" cut.  Minster's wives are just women--amazing, lovely women.  It's just that most of them have to have a certain level of tact that I do not even come close to possessing.  I'm honest to a fault.  I say the first thing that comes into my head, and then spend several minutes trying to get my foot out of my mouth.  Being a minister's wife?  Not for me. 

And yeah, being single has it's perks.  I go to sleep at night when I want to.  The only time I'm woken up by snoring is if I'm the one snoring (that happens too sometimes--either because my dreams are so hilarious that I snort-laugh, or because my dreams are so bad that they bore me into snoring.  I like to be entertained when I sleep).  I have my own space, my own stuff to deal with.  I'm not consistently, totally responsible to another person.  Sometimes it might be nice to have the constant companionship, another person to be there to help me feel loved--but I have so many friends that I don't feel slighted.  Don't take this the wrong way, but other than the no sex thing, being single isn't so bad.  And even though I'm pretty sure I have a fairly good idea of what I'm missing (not from experience, but just because I'm human), I'm also pretty sure there are a lot of things that are better than sex.  And here's a plus: ZERO chance of me getting pregnant, unless the angel Gabriel comes to visit me or something....  I've come to the conclusion that I never want to be pregnant.  If I ever get married, I'm ALL about adopting some kids, but there's something about carrying a parasite living thing inside me for 9 months only to have it painfully squeezed and/or cut out of me--not appealing.  (Pregnancy and childbirth are beautiful things--just not for me).

That second prayer request?  The one where I asked for a lot of kids?  For a long time, I figured God had said "No" to that one, too.  But the more I think about it, He said "YES" to that.  I DO have a lot of children.  I work in four childcare jobs.  I see dozens and dozens and dozens (etc.) of kids every week.  I form relationships with them and their parents.  I love these kids.  I miss them when they're not around.  I worry about them and want to know what's going on in their lives.  They're other people's children, but in a way, they're also mine.  And I'm grateful for the wonderful parents who share them with me. 

So children are a gift from the Lord.  A reward.  And though I'd still like kids of my own, and though quality beats quantity ANY day, I've gotta say that I "have" more kids than anyone else I know.  I'm like the little old woman who lives in the shoe...only my life probably doesn't stink (literally and figuratively) as much as hers.

A dad recently asked me how I'm able to watch kids ALL day long, day after day.  I told him, "Oh, it's because I get to go home at night and have all my time to myself.  I go to sleep at night and don't have to worry about one of my kids waking me up."  He looked at me with a hint of jealousy in his eyes, and said, "I see your point."

I've got it pretty good, yo.

The moral to this blog: When you ask God for something, be specific.  He has a sense of humor.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Monday Blahg: Planning

I'm late in getting this out, but not as late as you might think.  I've decided that the Sunday blog I was writing and posting on Sunday will now be the Monday blog that I will probably write on Sunday night and post on Monday.  It's still going to be a bit of a weekly sum up, but hopefully a little more focused on the goals I have for the week.  And since I recently discovered that I kind of like listing things, so I think the Monday Blahg will usually be in list format. 

--Still working on getting my room cleaned.  My roommate's sis is coming on Friday, so that gives me a deadline.  I don't like deadlines, but they help.  I mean, I either have to get my room cleaned by Friday, or shove everything under my bed.  ...or just keep my roommate's sister away from my room for an entire weekend. 

--Worked TWO birthday parties at the drop-in center.  They were fun, but I think I'm too old for that sort of thing.  I was on my feet for more than 6 hours, and I'm FEELING it today. 

--This week, I'm hoping to get finished with all the written plans of stuff I hope to get done this year.  I don't know if it will help me, but I think that getting those things written down WITH workable deadlines will give me something to work towards.  I don't want to spend all my time planning, but taking a good week or so to do it might prove more beneficial than three weeks of just sitting around wondering how I'm going to figure everything out.

--Started my diet today.  I have gained about 20 pounds back instead of the 15 I was thinking.  But I was a little too thin before, perhaps, and so I'm just aiming to lose that 15.  I just want to get back to that comfortable size six.  It's really a financial decision more than anything else.  I can't afford to buy new pants, and the ones I have are really tight now.  So I have to lose weight so I can keep fitting into my pants!  Diet day one wasn't hard, but I have a ways to go.  I'm hoping to start a weekly running/exercise routine that will help me burn off those 15 pounds pretty quickly.

--Monday is down!  Congratulations, and may your Tuesday be awesome.

Friday, January 6, 2012

How to Eat a Whale (AKA This is Jon Acuff's Fault!)

I had decided that I was NOT going to make any goals for this year.  2011 wasn't bad at all, but somewhere near September I got frustrated with myself because I didn't feel like I'd accomplished anything.  I hadn't completed any large writing project (the only one I attempted started out weak and just completely fizzled out near the end).  I think I only sent out ONE query letter for the whole year, and that was to a literary agent who I already knew would probably not be interested.  Last year, I had set goals for sending out a query letter EVERY WEEK.  I had goals of possibly landing an agent, of getting lots of writing projects done, of being a published writer. 

Instead, I fizzled out like that story I tried to write, and I stopped writing almost altogether.  I went to edit some previous work and was so discouraged by the perceived lameness of my work that I abruptly stopped trying.  The task before me just seemed too great, so I gave up.

And when New Year's Eve/Day came around, I said to myself, "Self, you're not going to make any goals for this year.  That doesn't mean you're not going to try to accomplish things, but why set goals if you're not even going to follow through with them?" 

Then, a few days ago, I read Jon Acuff's blog, and well, I was convicted.  In the blog, he challenged his readers to write down their goals for 2012 on a piece of paper, take a picture of that piece of paper, and then post it online.  My first thought was to reject the idea.  I was NOT going to make goals for this year.  I wasn't.  I wasn't going to do it, and no one was going to make me. 

But then I started reading some of the goals for 2012 that other people had posted, and I realized that I really did need to make a tangible list of attainable goals for this year.  What I mean by attainable is, "within my power to complete."  I can't make a goal of getting published this year; that's not entirely in my control (unless I self-publish, and right now I don't want to go that route).  I can't make a goal of finding a literary agent this year; that's not entirely in my control.  I can still work towards these things, but I can't set a time limit on it--but more about that later. 

Here's my list of attainable goals for 2012:

That's my list.  Of course, since one of my New Year's Resolutions (which are different from goals--usually) was to get more sleep, I'm not really sure how all of these goals are going to work out.  But I think that writing them down is the first step to getting them completed, and that first step is pretty important.  The first step leads to other steps, but again, getting ahead of myself.

I've recently begun the arduous process of cleaning my room.  I'm a hopeless slob.  Long have I abandoned any ideas of staying organized.  I'm bad at maintenance, so every few months, I have to do a major clean-up of my bedroom.  Well, due to Christmas and all of that, my room was a bigger disaster than it usually is, and I found myself returning from my brief Christmas vacation to a pig sty.  The floor of my bedroom?  Nowhere in sight.  In fact, there were places in which my clutter rose more than a foot high.  I'm not exaggerating. 

I couldn't figure out how I was going to even begin cleaning the mess in my room, but I came up with an idea.  I realized I was going to have to do one thing at a time.  So I wrote down a list of the things I would clean on different days.  First, I'd pick up my clothes; second, I'd pick up the trash; third, I'd organize the closet; fourth, I'd organize my dresser, etc.

Writing this plan down actually helped me move past the overwhelming feeling that I'd NEVER accomplish the task of cleaning my room.  And I think that writing down my goals are going to help me do the same thing.  Making a list is only the beginning....

I've discovered I do really well if I have a chart to fill out.  If I have a spreadsheet where I can write down how much I've exercised or how many calories I've eaten, I manage to lose weight.  If I have a spreadsheet where I can write down the Scripture passages I've read, I do a good job of keeping up with my Bible reading.  I think that if I have a progress chart for my editing projects, my half-marathon training, etc., then I'll do a better job of completing my goals.  

You see, when I have a goal to accomplish, I sometimes approach it as if I'm trying to eat a whale.  Eating a whale seems absolutely impossible.  But there's this great poem by Shel Silverstein that explains how one should go about the task of eating a whale:

"Have you heard of tiny Melinda Mae,

Who ate a monstrous whale?
She thought she could,
She said she would,
So she started in right at the tail.
And everyone said,"You're much too small,"
But that didn't bother Melinda at all,
She took little bites and she shewed very slow,
Just like a little girl should...
...and eighty-nine years later she ate that whale
Because she said she would!!!"

If you try to eat the whole whale all at once, it's easy to get discouraged.  The best way to eat a whale, and perhaps the only way to eat a whale, is to eat it slowly, one little bite at a time, and at a reasonable pace.  It might take a while, but eventually, the whale will be eaten--and I'll bet that last bite will taste really good...
...unless, of course, the whale has been sitting out in the sun for 89 years, but I digress....

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Shooting Myself in the Foot?

Just to be honest and reveal what a true jerk I am, I have to admit that I get a little irritated when a friend or acquaintance either talks about becoming successful in his/her writing pursuits, or when he/she actually becomes successful in his/her writing pursuits.  I'm not entirely sure why this is, except I realize that a lot of the fault is with me.  In my own mind, I've built myself up to be a pretty awesome writer.  I don't like it when friends try to hone in on something that I've deemed "mine."  Writing is my thing.  I don't want other people to be successful when I haven't managed to be successful. 

...whatever "success" means...

See, success is something that's tied pretty strongly to expectation.  Some of my writer friends have expectations of being published on a lower scale than I've wanted for my own writing.  They've drifted towards self-publishing or working with an independent publisher, and that's okay if that's what they want.  I've always wanted to go big-scale.  I've always wanted the best for my writing, even if I'm starting to think that my writing might not be "the best."  And I'm also starting to wonder if I'm shooting myself in the foot for thinking this way.

I don't think I'm going to be the next J. K. Rowling.  I don't think I'm going to be the next Suzanne Collins.  I certainly hope I don't become the next Stephenie Meyer (and I'm probably shooting myself in the foot for saying that on a blog, too.  I mean, I like her writing style, but her stories and characters lack depth.  She also needs to learn to edit).  When I was a little younger, I thought it would be great to be famous.  While the idea sometimes still appeals to me some, I really don't want that anymore.  I don't want fame for myself.  I want my characters' stories to be known, and I want to glorify God through writing these stories. 

But the thing is, I'm just not one of those people who makes things happen.  I think that's also part of the reason why I get irritated when people succeed in their writing pursuits.  I'm jealous of their abilities to do what it takes to achieve what they want.  I make excuses about not having enough time, but I know I'm not doing all I can to get published.  Some of it is laziness, but most of it is fear--fear of putting myself out there, fear of not knowing how to do things, fear of getting caught up in something that's going to prove more of a challenge than just doing nothing.

But everything requires more of a challenge than just doing nothing.  Just walking out the door every morning means I'm going to be confronted with an unpredictible world.  If I don't walk out the door, I'm much safer, but I'm also not living.  And if I don't take any steps towards getting published, then my writing and I will be safe, but my writing will never get published.

I don't know where I am right now.  I'm not ready to drop everything and just succomb to the self-publishing scene.  I still feel like I haven't given the traditional way a good try, yet.  At the same time, I really don't feel like I need to keep going that route.  Right now, I think the best thing for me to do is to focus on the website that is hopefully coming soon--still waiting on some things that aren't in my control.  I also plan on getting back into a regular writing routine, whatever that is.

I'm still hopeful about this year, but I'm not sure what that hope means for my writing.  I am trying to keep an open mind about many things, including writing.  I've got a feeling that a lot of what I'm aiming for is going to come to me in a way I could never expect or imagine.  I just have to keep waiting for it.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Hopeful New Year

Sometimes, when I start writing a blog, I know exactly what I'm going to write about.  Sometimes I've already written a couple of different versions of the blog in my head, or maybe even written part/all of it down on paper.  Then there's other times that I come to a blog without even knowing what I'm going to say, and sometimes the spontaneous blogs turn out to be better than the ones I'd planned.

I started writing this blog, and the blankness of the "page" caught my attention.  It's a blank page, just waiting for someone to write on it.  Sometimes it seems a shame to write on something so clean, especially when I know my words are often far from perfect.  But there's great power in words, and clean pages are useless.  It's only when we write our words, our meanings on them, that they take meaning. 

Unless this is the first time you've actually read my blog (keep reading--that would be an EXCELLENT New Year's Resolution), then you have probably read that my "Word for the Year" is Hope.  I've been harping on about it for a while, because my calendar is a little different from the real calendar.  My new year starts at the beginning of the Christmas season, which on my calendar, starts somewhere near the middle-to-end of August.  I've known that 2012 was going to be a Hopeful year since mid-to-late August. 

I've already written a lot about Hope, but sometimes even I don't really understand it.  Hope still scares me, because Hope makes one vulnerable.  If you Hope for something, then you haven't received it yet.  True Hope isn't the same as hoping for nice weather or hoping you'll find a good job.  We have no promise of those things.  True Hope is believing that something that God has promised will come. 

The tricky thing is, most of the things that God has promised don't even pertain to this life.  He hasn't promised that I'm going to get a cushy job with health insurance benefits.  He hasn't promised that I'm going to find a literary agent or land a book contract.  He hasn't promised that I'm going to amass a huge, successful following on my blogs, or that I'm going to pay off all my debt this year, or that I'm going to meet some rich guitarist with a Scottish accent to sweep me off my feet.  He hasn't promised me good health or secure finances or a stress-free life.  I can hope for these things and be crushed every time.  That's what makes hope vulnerable. 

True Hope is also vulnerable, because it involves trusting Someone besides self.  It involves trusting God that no matter what happens, even if I lose my health, my job(s), my home, my friends, my family, or even my own life, He has still promised good to me. 

Jesus promised that if we seek God and His Kingdom first, all that we need will be added to us.  My problem is that I think I need a lot more than I actually do need.  Most of the things I need are actually just "in order tos."  I need a job in order to feel successful and financially secure.  I need writing in order to feel purposeful.  I need friends in order to feel loved.  I need a roof over my head in order to feel comfortable.  I need food in order to fill my hunger.  I need water in order to satisfy my thirst.  I need air in order to breathe.

I'm not making light of the fact that we all need some basic stuff in order to live.  It's just that when you strip away all the "in order tos," and get right down to what we need--not "in order to," but just because we need...

We need a Savior.   

One has been provided.  God Himself.

That's where my Hope lies. 

This is my song for 2012.

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace, as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." --Romans 15:13

Hopeful New Year!