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Good Things 2.9.18

Well, guys, we made it through another week! It’s been a busy week full of lots of activities, but it’s still been good. Here are a few of the “good things” I’m celebrating this week:

  • It’s FRIDAY! I firmly believe in making every day special, and I think Fridays are a good enough reason to celebrate. The prospect of sleeping in, even if just a little, is  reason enough for me to smile!nbc-snapchat-winter-olympics-2018-pyeongchang
  • The Olympics kick off tonight. I’m a huge fan of the Olympics (it’s even a category of posts on this blog!), and I’m ready for the next two weeks. While I’d say the Summer Olympics are my favorite, I do enjoy ice skating, skiing and all the other wintertime sports, too. (Except curling, which I don’t get at all.) I’m interested to see how these games play out!
  • I’m a HelloFresh subscriber, and I got my latest delivery this week. I often skip deliveries because of the pace of my life, only getting a both about twice a month. Because of the holidays and getting back into the rhythm of life in January, it had been awhile. This week, my picks included spinach ricotta ravioli with chicken sausage and tomatoes (I already made it, and it’s delicious!); rosemary-crusted chicken thighs with mashed potatoes (YUM!) and Southwestern stuffed peppers, which I am looking forward to. I’ve learned I like some things I’ve always thought I hated (sweet potatoes) and enjoy not having to go to the grocery store as often.
  • One of my responsibilities at work is producing a quarterly magazine for the university. The latest issue, the President’s Report, hThe_Greatest_Showman_posterit mailboxes this week. I couldn’t be happier about the way it turned out!
  • I saw The Greatest Showman last weekend. I’m a sucker for musicals, so I was predisposed to like it, but I loved it. I’m not someone who often feels to compelled to clap for a movie (something that happens in Nashville on the regular. . .) but I did for this one.
  • My friend Mindy gave me some coffee to try last weekend and I’ve brewed a couple pots this week with it. It’s fantastic!

 

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Good Things: 1.19.18

Because of winter weather hitting Middle Tennessee this week, I had an unexpected day at home on Tuesday. Every morning since then, my first coherent thought upon waking up is to ask, “What day is this?”

All that aside, today is Friday, which means it’s time to celebrate all the good things from the week that was!

  • Snow day! Snow days don’t usually mean sleeping in for me, mostly because I’m part of the process of notifying local TV stations when the university won’t be in session because of weather. But Tuesday did mean a day at home in cozy socks, eating yummy soup and trying to write a story while it peacefully snows outside my window. Oh, and chasing my dog, Mac, around in the snow, which he thought was the best fun.
  • A good night. I help with an arts ministry at my church that helps students develop their artistic gifts for the glory of God and edification of the church. We teach them to sing and lead worship as well as other ways they could use artistic interests like graphic design, writing, photography, etc. We kicked off the spring semester last Sunday with a hot chocolate bar with all the fixings and played some fun games. It was good to be back with my students (7-12th grades) and to see some new faces.
  • Blessings. There are moments when I am just thankful to God for the way He provides. During a recent sermon at my church our pastor asked us to consider what it was in our lives we were withholding from God, not letting Him have control of. As I prayed, the answer was clear to me: finances. I acknowledged that truth: I don’t trust that You’ll truly provide for me, God, I prayed silently. I walked out of the service determined to loosen my grip on the financial resources He had given me. But Christmas was expensive. And life is expensive. And I have some medical bills, and Mac needs to get his teeth cleaned. . . the list of things goes on and on. This week, God gifted me with two—count ’em, two!—freelance opportunities.
  • Completing to-dos. Strength Finders ranks my top strength as “achiever,” so it just makes sense that the fact I’ve been able to check a number of items off my to-do list at work and home despite the snow day makes me happy.
  • Warmer weather. I love living in a place where I can experience all the seasons. I don’t mind cold weather, to a point. And apparently that point was a windchill below zero. Warmer temperatures are on just around the corner, though!
  • Book suggestions! We almost have a winner. Help me pick the final book in my 2018 reading list. The finalists are By The Book by Julia Sonneborn, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain; Unseen by Sara Hagerty and So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. Follow me on Twitter (@countessmandy) and vote in my poll to pick the winner!

2017: The year I failed my book list

stack-of-books-vintage-books-book-books.jpgI had lofty goals in January 2017. Those goals included a lengthy list of books I wanted to read (35!) before the year came to a close. . . and I’m here to admit today that I failed.

Massively.

In truth, I only knocked three books off that list last year. Two I remembered to check off online and one—Stephen King’s On Writing, which I highly recommend—I apparently forgot about.

I read a few other books—books that weren’t on the list and I apparently wasn’t thoughtful enough to go add them so that I’d look more accomplished—but nowhere near the 35 I set out to read.

So this year, I’m giving myself a fresh start. I’m reworking that list, removing a few books and adding in some others. You can check out my 2018 reading list here.

When you do, you’ll discover the challenge I’m issuing. I want YOU, the readers, to pick out one book for me to read this year. What novel do you think I just have to read? Is there a biography, leadership or devotional book I should check out? It’s up to you!

Leave your suggestions in the comments.

 

Wedding Week: Day 2

I thought I’d take a look at what I was doing around this time 10 years ago. The answer was simple: getting ready for my brother’s wedding. Happy 10th anniversary, Jason and Amber!

Unfinished Business

Two days until the wedding. Here’s a closer look at my day.

6 a.m.: Wake up because it sounds like my dad is getting ready for work. Am definitely awake when Sophie, my mom and dad’s dog, barges into my room, hops into bed with me, narrowly missing my head, and gives me a sloppy kiss. I laugh, let mom take the dogs away, and go back to sleep.

6:45 a.m.: I get up. Jason’s here. I eat breakfast with him and help him start to hook up Mom’s new printer/copier/scanner. She got if for her birthday. . . in FEBRUARY!

7:30ish: Jason discovers he doesn’t have a USB cord and leaves. I do my Beth Moore Bible study. I’m DAYS behind.

8-ish: Mom comes home from walking in the park with Barb. We talk while she eats oatmeal. She gets ready to go to Curves and pick up food…

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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!

Editor’s Column

In a world where “everybody writes”—shoutout to Ann Handley—a world full of self-publishing, blogging, social media and real-time reporting, it’s pretty clear that communication is important to us. But as someone who reads a lot of the everything that everybody is writing these days and who spends a large portion of each week editing other peoples’ writing, I think there are a few grammar and style refreshers that could help writers.

While I still contend that some have a true giftedness for writing, there’s no reason all of us can’t write clearly and concisely. And that means knowing a few grammar rules.

Grammar sometimes gets a bad rap. Yes, it can be confusing and weird. But most of the time, it’s truly not hard. And most of all, grammar is designed to help us do one thing: communicate clearly. So, here are a few tips—gleaned from my experience and errors I commonly see online—to help us do so a tiny bit better.

  1. Than v. Then
    If you are an avid texter or user of social media, you may run across this one often. I think autocorrect may cause some of these errors as well as talk to text. But some of it is just confusion on which word to use. In grammar-speak, then is generally an adverb and indicates when actions happened in time. Than, on the other hand, is a plain ol’ conjunction, used to join together phrases and thoughts. In general, it’s a comparison word. So, guys, the phrase: I like Americanos more then lattes is wrong. Rule of thumb: If it’s about conveying a sense of time, use then. If it’s comparison, it’s than all the way.
  2. Apart v. A PartI read a story the other day where someone was quoted as saying “I’m just so glad to be apart of this!” Well, yay for her, but no, no, no for grammar and communicating clearly. Words have meaning. Apart is an adverb that means separate or separately. I don’t want to be apart from you! A part is a noun, signifying that someone or something is a piece of or segment of something, that they’re involved. So you can be a part of a team, a band or an idea bigger than yourself, but “be apart of” doesn’t really work grammatically and if it did, you’d simply be saying the opposite of what you’re trying to say.
  3. To v. Too
    I think autocorrect is often to blame for this common mistake, but, guys, I see it all the time, and it makes me crazy. So for the sake of my sanity, please take a moment and refresh yourself on to and too. To can be a lot of things: part of an infinitive, a preposition meaning toward or until. But what it does not mean is also, extremely or abundantly. That’s reserved for too. So when you want to text, “I like that too!” to your friend, please use too. “I like that to” is actually an incomplete thought and makes people who love grammar cry.

Someone else’s kitchen

I think about them sometimes.

Our names, hidden under a layer of paint, marking our heights throughout the years, climbing up the wall next to the door to the cellar in a house that I’m no longer free to visit.

The names of my cousins at the top, Chris always the tallest. My brother’s name, then mine, always the shortest. So often on a Sunday afternoon visit to my grandparents’ house, we’d grab a pen off the old roll-top desk in the hallway, measure our heights and write our names on the paneling, imprinting our mark on the wall in the old house my grandmother bought during World War II when my grandfather was still overseas, and she was a young mother trying to figure out life at home without him.

After my grandmother passed away, we spent months cleaning out the house. There was an auction and eventually the house was sold. Before it went on the market, my mom and my aunt painted the kitchen, covering up the names and heights that we’d etched into that wall over the years.

But I still think about those names sometimes.

About how underneath that layer of paint in someone else’s kitchen, they’re still there. And I wonder, if the new owners ever run their fingers across that wall and feel the writing in relief and wonder what it is. Or maybe they don’t know or care and the secret stays hidden beneath the paint and they are none the wiser.

And maybe, if I’m honest, I prefer it that way. That the names stay hidden beneath that paint, just as they are hidden in my heart and mind. That they’re a sweet secret between my grandparents and the grandkids that no one else can see.

There, in someone else’s kitchen is a silent testimony that we were there, and we were deeply loved.

 

20 years later

Twenty years ago this week—almost to the day—I graduated from high school.

(This is the moment when you should all respond with exclamations and comment on my youthfulness. But I digress.)

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Though the day was two decades ago, I still remember so many moments from it. The graduate breakfast at the Methodist church. My white cap and gown that required you wear white underneath it. The short trip to the Bernie School cafetorium (yep, cafetorium) from my parents’ house with my brother, during which we had a fight, probably because I was nervous and on edge about giving a speech. I still regret that fight even though I can’t remember what it was about. I remember the joy of seeing people I didn’t expect who had come to see me graduate and the reception my parents threw that afternoon and the friends who stayed late into the evening, knowing that our lives were somehow changing.

Twenty years later as I think back on my high school graduation and consider the Class of 2017, a few thoughts come to mind.

  1. Time passes quickly.
    My high school graduation may have been 20 years ago, but I’m finding out that what my parents used to say when I was growing up is true: it doesn’t seem that long ago. While I’m by no means ancient, high school doesn’t seem like it’s two decades in the past. On that Sunday afternoon in 1997, I would have found it hard to imagine myself in 20 years, but I probably would have thought that I would be much wiser at 38, that I’d understand more of life’s twists and turns, perhaps that I would be more “successful” by the world’s standards. Maybe I am a little wiser now, though. At 38, I better understand that being “grown up” doesn’t mean you know all the answers or have it all together; it may very well mean that you’re willing to admit you don’t.
  2. Be open to a change of plans. 
    Class of 2017, you undoubtedly have plans for how your life will go. That is right and good, and I’d be worried if you didn’t. But one thing I’ve learned in the past two decades is that life often doesn’t go as planned. I had an idea of how my life would go when I graduated high school. I would go to college, maybe grad school, I’d live in an apartment in a city on my own for a bit “just to see if I could.” I’d be married, and I’d have kids. Many of those things have come true; others didn’t. But things I didn’t really plan for or imagine happened, too. I never would have dreamed that I would go to grad school and earn a theology degree. I spent a decade of my life using that degree to be an editor of curriculum and devotional material for teenagers, a job I loved. But when God closed that door and opened a new one, He gave me a job I never would have imagined that I find absolutely fulfilling. Have your plans and work hard to achieve them, but don’t hold on to them so tightly that you can’t walk through the doors God will open in your life, opportunities you can’t even fathom right now that lead to fulfillment, joy and hope.
  3. Cherish the moment, but see it as the beginning of a new chapter. 
    Without a doubt, high school graduation is a milestone to be celebrated. But rather than seeing it as the end of something or the highlight of your life, recognize this moment as the start of a new chapter. What is behind is the past and the future lies before you. Don’t hang on to the “glory days,” thinking your high school career was the best days of your life and nothing else can compare. Don’t dwell on the bad choices or circumstances that defined those years either. Graduation is the start of a new chapter, a turning point, a beginning. Embrace it as such and walk forward believing the best really is yet to come.