Give a gift

Earlier this week, I went to a funeral. During the service, the younger brother of the man we were there to honor stood up to speak. As he stood behind the podium, his voice shaking a little as he spoke about his brother, he looked out at the crowd and locked eyes with a group of men who had been his brother’s college teammates.

“You were his friends and his brothers,” he said. “But really, you were his heroes. And because you were his heroes, you were mine, too.”

There it was: a gift.

On this day of all days, he could have stood behind the podium and let his words focus on himself, the depth of his own loss and grief. But in a moment, he gave a gift to men his brother had loved.

A gift of graciousness. Of kindness.

In our world, it’s so easy to become focused on ourselves, our needs, our issues, our problems, joys and concerns that we don’t see the needs of others. To become so focused on what we want to say next in the conversation that we don’t even listen to what the other person has to say. To be so intent on what we’re doing or what we’re interested in, that we roll right past the friend who is hurting, who simply needs someone to notice.

So this week, rather than to focus solely on ourselves, let’s seek to give gifts. Gifts of graciousness and kindness.

The gift of listening before we speak.

The gift of inclusion.

The gift of patience, respect and honor.

When we find ourselves turning inward and our own needs and concerns become our only focus, let’s ask God to open our eyes to the needs and concerns of those around us so we can give gifts.

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Plain and Simple French Toast

It wasn’t until I was a grown-up, living on my own in my first apartment, when it occurred to me that people actually use a recipe to make French toast. My mom never used one, and I followed suit, using as many eggs as necessary for the amount of bread I intended to use and whisking in some milk until it looked right. A touch of vanilla, sometimes some cinnamon, and the mixture was ready to go.

The real key to delicious French toast is the bread. You want a delicious French toast? Use some of my mom’s homemade sourdough bread. Can’t get that? Try Trader Joe’s sliced brioche bread. It is fantastic!

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So here’s how I make French toast, perfect for a weekend morning or to liven up a regular ol’ weekday!

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs, cracked and beaten well
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 or 5 slices of bread
  • Butter, 2 tbsp for skillet and plenty for French toast
  • Maple syrup, powdered sugar or other toppings

Directions

  1. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in skillet or griddle over medium heat.
  2. Whisk together eggs and milk in a shallow bowl. Stir in vanilla. You can also add in a little cinnamon if you’re so inclined. Sometimes I am!
  3. Dip the bread into the egg mixture, taking care to carefully coat each side of the bread. Allow the excess to drip off before placing each piece on the griddle. Continue with each piece of toast.
  4. Cook in skillet or griddle for about two minutes, then flip. You usually don’t have to cook that side as long.
  5. Serve! I like my French toast plain and simple, with melting butter and warm syrup. But if you want to get fancy with powdered sugar, fruit or however you like it!
  6. Enjoy!

 

If you try this recipe, simple as it is, share about it on social using #UnfinBus!

Good Things // 7.22.17

No, your eyes do not deceive you. It is indeed Saturday, and “Good Things” usually posts on Friday. Let’s just say yesterday was a day full of technical difficulties. But, yesterday’s over and there are still plenty of great things to celebrate from this week.

So here we go!

  • 1fb0d4da2a264b384f0165980fc87d18Last week, I bought a Cusinart silicone microwave popcorn maker at Bed, Bath and Beyond. I’d glimpsed it a few weeks earlier and decided I didn’t need it, but I really, really like popcorn . . . and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. For me, buying popcorn kernels that can be popped rather than prepackaged microwave popcorn bags tends to be a little more cost effective. I had my reservations, but guys, this things works! Granted, I burned my first batch, but the second was delightful!
  • I’ve been trying to reign in eating lunch out a little, just to help my budget a little. This week included two $3 meals in the Caf at work and 3 meals of Baja Burrito catering leftovers. It’s still good on the second. . . and third day!
  • The last few days have been miserably hot in Nashville. I’m not going to lie: I’m super thankful for working A/C!
  • Yesterday, I went to used book sale at a local library. I came home with quite a few treasures I couldn’t pass up, including Lion, Peace Like a River, The Light Between Oceans, A Thousand Acres, While I Was Gone and an 1947 copy of Irma Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking. As soon as I finish Stephen King’s On Writing, I’ll have a wide selection to choose from!
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  • While many things didn’t go quite as planned this week, I can say that I did an interview and turned around a story in two days time, which can be a little hard to do in my line of work. So despite all the setbacks, I’m counting this week as a success!

Editor’s Column: 3 Books Every Writer Should Read

As someone who loves words and can bore others to death talking about the cadence of a well-crafted sentence, I enjoy reading and learning more about writing. On those days when I want to bemoan that in a world full of self-proclaimed best-sellers, self-published novels and books that could have used the careful eye of an editor, these books remind me that I’m not alone or weird for caring.

Whether you want to be a better journalist, blogger or novelist, these three books are sure to help you improve.

1. The Elements of Style

Written by William Strunk Jr., an English professor at Cornell, and E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web, this brief book is a quick read with a lot to say. When I was working as an editor , I tried to read it once a year. It’s not a prescriptive style manual, per se, like the Associated Press Stylebook, but it offers plenty of style of advice. What The Elements of Style does best though, is to challenge the writer to seek a clear, concise writing style that packs the most punch. Get rid of useless words or phrases that just add fluff to the story. Use active voice. And most of all, The Elements of Style is the genesis of the phrase I often find myself repeating to the students who work for me, “You have to first know the rules in order to break them.”

2. On Writing Well

Like The Elements of Style, I used to read William Zinsser’s classic was a book I tried to read or at least skim on a regular basis. It’s an easy read and offers plenty of straightforward advice and tangible tips for becoming a better writer. If you want to write nonfiction of any kind, this is a book you need to read. Learn to sharpen your sentences and edit yourself. Writing like any other craft is a process. It’s about getting the story out, then getting rid of all the extra you added in that wasn’t actually part of the story. On Writing Well will help you to realized that writing effortless, flowing prose often isn’t an effortless, flowing process. Take the time to learn more about the craft so you can tell your stories better.

3. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Some writerly types I greatly admire first recommended this book to me at a conference several years ago. When I ran across a copy in a used bookstore a few years ago, I picked it up. I added it to my reading list and soon found myself at a time in my professional life when I had little time or energy for reading anything that was not work-related. So, On Writing sat on my shelf, languishing away until I picked it up a couple of weeks ago and dug in. First of all, Stephen King is funny. Second of all, he has a ton of good things to offer about writing. Part memoir, part handbook, On Writing is all about the experiences that shaped King as a writer, as well as the habits and practices he has found to be beneficial. He’s full of good advice (turn off the TV and avoid adverbs), but maybe my favorite piece of advice is that good writers have to read a lot and write a lot. Yep, and amen. I’m in the middle of the book now and expect to offer a full review here in a few weeks, but I can already tell it’s one I’ll be recommending for years to come.

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100 words on home

I want to go home. I say those words often. In quiet moments when I’m tired or feel forgotten or alone. When parts of life seem hard or stressful. When there’s a longing in my heart, a feeling that all the joys and beauty of this world can’t seem to fulfill. Sometimes, it’s a desire to go home to visit my family, to go to a place that feels comfortable, where I feel cared for. Sometimes, it’s a longing for my own house. But more often than not, it’s a longing for my true home, where all will be made right. Eternity is written on my heart, and the longing gives me hope.

Good Things // 7.14.17

It’s Friday, so that means one thing, right? Another installment of “Good Things” here on Unfinished Business.

OK, so maybe you thought that meant something else, but you’re already here, so why don’t you just peruse a few of the good things from my life this week and try to think of a few in your own?

With no further ado . . .

  • Blueberry muffins from Dozen. I tweeted awhile back that they were my love language, and I really wasn’t joking.
  • A/C. Have you guys been outside at all this week? Here in Nashville, it’s been pretty miserable. I’m thankful for working A/C this week. Because let’s be honest, I’d pretty much be dead without it.
  • Hope. I started this week a little down. I’ve had a cold all week and am now on the upswing, but I also just felt emotionally exhausted and bogged down, really convinced of my “not-good-enough-ness.” But the other night, I was reading Scripture and Romans 15:13 shone like a beacon on the page of my Bible: “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” I felt hope flood me. Because my “good-enough-ness” isn’t what He’s looking for. It’s for my trust, and in trusting Him, I find hope.
  • This guy. When you’re not feeling well, he’s your best friend.586E590D-40E9-4F95-AEF3-D046F6A02FE1
  • When persistence on a project pays off. I am hopefully reaping the harvest of some of that persistence this afternoon.
  • Things to look forward to, from dinner with friends to seeing my brother and his family to a night of good music on a so-called “school night” with a good friend.
  • Opportunities that come from nowhere. I’ve been trying to increase my freelance opportunities and this week an unexpected offer came out of the blue.
  • Movies that make you feel something. I watched the movie Before We Go about a year or more ago on Netflix. A few months later, I saw it on Netflix again and rewatched it. Last weekend, I bought it on Amazon Video. While the Chris Evans-directed film didn’t get a lot of attention and actually seems to be disliked by almost everyone, I like it. And I don’t mind that the ending leaves things a little up in the air—because I have an imagination!

Fe Fi Fo Fana: Banana Pudding

I know it’s a widely considered a Southern dish, and I consider myself a Midwesterner at heart, but banana pudding has always been one of my favorite desserts. I like it in all of its forms: homemade custards topped with meringue and toasted in the oven. The recipe on the back of the Nilla Wafers box. Or the recipe I’m sharing with you today—which I have no memory of how it came into my arsenal of banana pudding recipes—which involves instant pudding, whipped topping and sweetened condensed milk.

Sounds a little weird and maybe gross? Wait until you try a bite!

And with the hottest part of summer preparing to bear down on us, you’re going to need some easy, delicious cool desserts for backyard barbecues and picnics, right?

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Ingredients

  • 1 large package instant vanilla pudding (I always used the Jell-O brand)
  • 2 1/2 cups of cold milk
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 ounces)
  • 1 container Cool Whip or whipped topping (the large one)
  • Sliced bananas (to taste, but usually 2-3)
  • Vanilla wafers (I use Nilla Wafers because they are the most delicious!)

Directions

  • In a large bowl, mix together the pudding and milk. You can stir or whisk, but your goal is to make sure there aren’t big lumps of pudding mix.
  • Fold sweetened condensed milk into the pudding mixture. Blend well.
  • Fold in half of the container of Cool Whip. Trust me; this is genius. And delicious. But I also must admit that for a big part of my childhood, I ate Cool Whip by itself because I think it’s delicious. Mock and yell IMG_0061at me if you must, but I still like it!
  • In a large, pretty bowl, line the bottom and maybe a little of the side with vanilla wafers. Top with sliced bananas, as many as you like.
  • Layer on banana pudding.
  • Top with vanilla wafers and sliced bananas, then pudding. Continue to layer until all of the pudding is used up. Your final layer should bea layer of pudding.
  • Top the final layer with the remaining half of whipped topping. You can decorate that with crushed vanilla wafers.
  • Then, refrigerate for at least a few hours before serving. I prefer overnight, but 2-4 hours is probably sufficient. This allows all the flavors to meld.

It’s an easy dessert, but a delicious one that’s sure to please a crowd. And who wants to spend a long time slaving over a stove in a hot kitchen in the summer? Not me!

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Book Review: The Life We Bury

So, maybe I wanted to read this book all in one sitting.

51a4kko7qzl-_sx330_bo1204203200_.jpgWhile I may have wanted to, I don’t have that kind of free time. I had added Allen Eskens’ debut novel to my book list at the beginning of the year, but truth be told, I kept putting off reading it. I was convinced that it would be depressing and scared that it would be a disappointing read.

I’m a huge fan of mysteries and thrillers, but have grown a little tired of the genre. Crime procedurals hold little appeal for me these days, and many mysteries are full of violence, language and crimes that are presented luridly. I was afraid The Life We Bury would fall into these traps.

I was wrong on all accounts.

The Life We Bury is the story of Joe Talbert, a college freshmen from a tough family situation who has worked to pay his own way to college. In his first semester, he tackles an assignment to write a biography of someone. After procrastinating for awhile, Joe finally settles on Carl Iverson, a convicted rapist and murderer now released to a nearby nursing home where he is dying of cancer.

As Joe begins to work on the assignment, his discussions with Carl and his friends begins to reveal someone different from the cold killer Joe had imagined. A Vietnam veteran honored for his heroism, the Carl Joe comes to know doesn’t seem to match up with the villain Carl had been described as during his trial. Joe, with the help of his new girlfriend, begins to unravel the mystery and uncover the truth, resulting in an exciting few chapters toward the end of the book—which I won’t spoil here.

But The Life We Bury isn’t just a whodunit. Instead, it’s just a good story with well-rounded characters with back stories and deep emotions and intricate personalities. In a word, the characters are just real. These are not cardboard characters who are only devices to move the plot along, but complex creatures with their own flaws and foibles. Joe’s relationship with his autistic brother, woven through with deep love and devotion, guilt and frustration, is particularly striking. As the aunt of an autistic child, I often found myself drawn into their interactions.

I’d recommend the book to anyone looking for a good mystery that isn’t full of foul language, sex scenes and lurid crimes. There are some undoubtedly tough topics in the book, but they aren’t the centerpiece, nor are they dwelled upon. All details are used to add to and move the story forward.

While I do think that at times, Eskens was a little enamored with his own prose, resulting in descriptive paragraphs with a touch too much description, that’s really one of the only negatives I can point to. Eskens is incredibly talented at dialogue, which generally felt very genuine and realistic.

All in all, The Life We Bury was a great read to start off the summer. I hope the rest of the books on my list will be as good!

Good Things // 7.7.17

While it’s going to take a few more cups of coffee to wake me up on an overcast drizzly morning in Nashville, I have quite a few things to be thankful for this week. With no further ado, here they are, in no particular order.

  • A short trip to Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg with my parents. We packed a lot into a few days, squeezing in Dollywood (and fireworks), exploring Elkmont in the Smoky Mountain National Park, shopping, shows and eating at a number of delicious restaurants. It was good to take a break, go somewhere I enjoy and get to hang out with my family for a bit.
  • A dog who misses me when I’m gone. Mac the Magnificent was boarded at the vet while I was gone. When I came home, he had a hoarse bark but was ecstatic to see me and return to his house. I was happy to see him, too!
  • Coffee. I actually used up all the remaining beans in my house yesterday morning, but detoured by the grocery store on my way home from work last night and got some more. Because coffee is life, you guys!
  • Setting goals. There are some things I want to achieve this year, from writing more consistently on this blog to picking up some freelance writing, editing and proofing assignments. With the help of a planner I wasn’t using, I’m working to find a way to set goals and track my progress. The accountability will help, I think!

Good Things

As the week winds down and we head to the July 4 holiday, it just seems like a good time to reflect on the good things in life. So here’s a few of the recent “good things” that have made my life a little richer!

  • A morning walk (in the light misty rain) with Mac. We stayed out a little longer this morning, trying to work some actual cardio into the stroll. I’m not sure51A4KkO7qzL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_ we were actually successful on that front, but we both had a good time.
  • A good book. Because I do so much reading and writing for my job, I sometimes come home at night and want to push anything word-related away.  But I decided to pick up a book on my reading list for the year and spend a little time reading each night as a way to unwind. While I haven’t been super successful at the “each night” part of that, the book is really good. If you like mysteries, check out The Life We Bury.
  • A crockpot meal. There are some nights when it’s a struggle for me to get home from work, care for my house and dog, exercise and get to the next place I’m supposed to be. This week, a simple chicken and potato meal in the crockpot saved me from both an unhealthy fast food dinner and not eating until after 8 p.m. Crockpot meals are becoming a favorite of mine. I even made a board on Pinterest!
  • Opportunities. I recently decided to try to pursue some freelance options more aggressively. A big dream of mine is to have an article published in a major magazine or website. While I’m not there yet, I’m actively trying to find ways to do some freelance writing and/or editing/proofreading. If you know of opportunities, let me know!
  • The promise of the holiday! My work graciously gave us July 3 off, too, so I now have a long weekend. I’m planning a short trip to the Smokies to celebrate!

“A finished person is a boring person.” Anna Quindlen