Monday, August 4, 2014

Blog Hop

I am so glad to have been asked to participate in a Blog Hop. Not familiar with it? My friend Amy Boyd, who lives in Alabama and writes at Living in Harmony invited me to take part in this activity. 
She linked to my blog from hers, making it easy for people to "hop" from her blog to mine. I hope you will continue the hopping when I introduce my friend Kristen to you in a short bit.

As part of this Blog Hop, I've been asked to respond to the following questions. I feel I need to include a small disclaimer at this point: These are great questions to ask people who I would consider to be real writers. I struggle with really calling myself a "real" writer. I'm just posting some thoughts from my little corner of the world. So - that being said - here are the questions and my responses:

1. What am I writing or working on? At this point, I am putting thoughts together to write something later this week about summer coming to an end, the start of the school year, just general ramblings.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? Hmmm, my best response for this is simply -- it's mine! I don't set out to write posts like anyone else, nor do I try to *not* be like anyone else. I just.....write.
3. Why do I write what I do? Sometimes it's just a way to get something off my chest. Sometimes it's to help me sort through something myself. Sometimes it's in response to something I've read or seen. Always - it's just to share what's on my heart.
4. How does my writing process work? OK - seriously - this makes me laugh. A process?? Good one. But, OK. With most of my posts, I've just sat with my laptop, tapping out my ideas, then hit the little orange "publish" button. Once in a while, I will sit with what I've written and go back and amend it as needed.
So that's it. That's how I write.

So now the fun part: I get to introduce you to a good friend of mine who agreed to take part in the Blog Hop.  Her name is Kristen McHargue, and she is one of the real life friends I've had for the longest time in my life.  I met Kristen wayyyy back in the day when her family moved to my hometown.  We became fast friends, and I am so grateful that the Lord has maintained our heart connection throughout the past almost 30 years.  

She is an amazing woman.  I know that word "amazing" is used almost to the point of abuse these days, but truly, that word fits Kristen.  Marrying her high school sweetheart Steve, giving birth to their son Corin, opening their hearts to welcome their daughter Izzy, Kristen and her family had incredible adventures: living in Hawaii, sharing the Gospel literally around the world, pouring their hearts and lives into countless young people to inspire them to live full-out for God.  In the midst of these adventures, they have endured hardships and hurts that would have flattened others of lesser faith: hospital stays, debilitating and life-threatening illness, the sudden death of her beloved Steve.  Yet to talk with Kristen today (something that doesn't happen NEARLY enough for me!), what is evident is her faithful trusting walk with her Lord.  In all her creative, whimsical, thoughtful, beautiful ways, Kristen is a daughter of the King.  You will love her, just as I do.  Do yourself a favor, hop over to Kristen's blog.  She writes at A Divergent Life: Living Out of the Box.   

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Summer baking....just add zucchini!

Normally, in the middle of July, there's not much baking going on at our house.  It's hot. I don't want the oven on. I don't want to be standing guard over the oven. I'd rather be downstairs in my sewing room, away from the heat.
But yesterday and today have been unseasonably cool.  In fact, new record low temperatures of 50 degrees were set last night.  Our high temperature yesterday and today is only in the mid-70's.  So I have taken advantage of this cooler weather, and abundance of garden produce, to get some baking done.
It seems everyone has zucchini from their gardens right now.  Including us.  I keep telling Dave to quit going to the garden, because every time he comes back to the house from being out there, he brings in more zucchini and more cucumbers.  And this is after I've picked things already!  But we love our garden produce.  I chose to plant zucchini this year because of the versatility of it. I love it plain.  Dave likes it breaded and cooked.  I like being able to bake side dishes with it, as well as breads or other treats.
So - due to the high production of my plants in the garden, I'm on a quest for yummy, tasty ways to use zucchini.  This is what I've found so far.
I started last night with Parmesan-encrusted zucchini served with chicken for dinner.  I found the recipe here after a friend posted a link to zucchini recipes on my Facebook page.  The dish ended up similar to lasagna, and was delicious.  Dave said part way through dinner, "You could make this again anytime."  It's a winner.
While I was searching around for dinner ideas, I came across a number of recipes for cookies and brownies and other tasty-sounding treats. I did make two batches of cookies this afternoon: Chocolate fudge zucchini cookies, and Zucchini applesauce oatmeal cookies.
I have to be honest, when I made a chocolate zucchini cake a couple weeks ago, I didn't think the difference in using zucchini would be THAT big of a deal.  Oh.My.Goodness.  I thought wrong!  It made such a rich, moist cake.  So when I saw this recipe for the chocolate fudge cookies, I thought they might end up with a pretty good taste.  Ho.Ly.Cow.  Honestly, I don't know when I've had a cookie this chocolaty, moist, and just doggone GOOD lately.  It has been an exercise in self-control with these bad boys in the kitchen for the past hour or so.
Zucchini Applesauce Oatmeal Cookie Recipe on
The applesauce oatmeal cookies are equally yummy, but in a completely different way.  They are a more coarse textured cookie.  The ingredients include oatmeal, applesauce, and zucchini (obviously!), but also raisins and chocolate chips.  I was telling my mother-in-law about this recipe, and I joked that I think they could almost be considered a health food given what's included.
My 2 suggestions for zucchini:
1.  Blot out excess moisture before cooking/baking.  I've been going through a lot of paper towels, but it definitely makes a difference in how the food turns out.
2. If you live in a small town, lock your car doors when you get out of your car so it won't be as easy for your generous neighbors to dump, er, share their zucchini mother lode with you. :)

Friday, June 27, 2014

FMF and #FMFPartySnailMail: Lost

I'm doing a smashup today of 2 posts, both closely related: Five Minute Friday, and the #FMFPartySnailMail project.  Read on!

Finding community is hard. 
There's no other way to say it.  
Seeking out that comfortable place, settling in on that common ground with others.......seems like it ought to be easy. 
But it isn't.  At least it isn't always easy.  
My husband and I are coming up on our 4-year wedding anniversary in a month.  So it's been almost four years since I've uprooted myself from the community that had been formed, shaped, built up around me -- at my workplace, at home, in the community in which I lived, at church and church events.  
I still miss it. 
Sometimes I have felt somewhat lost. 
But God is blessing me in amazing ways - bringing beautiful women into my life.  Shaping community in ways I never understood before.  
Bringing together seemingly "random" strangers together through (in)RL events. 
Opening opportunities for ministry in my home parish in Omaha.  Bringing together the "Pew Sisters" at my husband's church.  (Who'd'a thought a Catholic could fit in so well with Lutherans?!) ;) 
Slowly, oh so slowly, forming friendships with people where I work.  That has perhaps been the most difficult transition, where I have felt lost the most in the past few years.  
And with every connection, every thread that hems me in a little more, I thank God for His work.  
This #FMFPartySnailMail thing?  One more way our Lord is helping me connect to women in ways I never, ever dreamed I could.  Kaitlyn Bouchillon who blogs at It Just Takes One is the beautiful girl who has so faithfully put this project together.  Starting with just a small group of us, she is now putting together our third round of Snail Mail women...numbering almost 80 ladies now!  Remember way back in the day when we'd have penpals?  This is like that.  These short notes of encouragement, prayer, Scripture, faith-sharing make my day.  Every. Time.  

And as always, God's timing is perfect with the delivery of each note.  If I've had a particularly trying day, there's an encouraging note that appears with the mail.  If I'm praising God on a certain day, another note will come in that day's mail delivery celebrating and rejoicing with me.  
It's exciting to see the Holy Spirit work in the hearts of his daughters from so many places.  Iowa, South Carolina, Florida, Virginia, Canada, Washington, Arizona.....

Wanting to be found, and understood.  Because even though we may feel lost in this world, we know we have been found and loved by a powerful, almighty King who holds us in the palm of His hand.  

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Taking Better Pictures

This morning I happened upon this post by Deidra Riggs, a writer and speaker who lives in Lincoln (!!!) and has wonderful posts on her blog, as well as wonderful guest posts, as was the case today.  Cindee Snider Re blogs at Breathe Deeply, and I am easily her newest big fan.
I was inspired after reading Cindee's post on Deidra's site called "6 Tips for Taking Better Pictures."  I had heard of several of the apps and sites she recommended for editing photos, but had really never spent much time exploring or playing with them.
Another reason this topic intrigued me is that I'm taking part in an online (in)courage group whose focus is all about discovering art in your life. Our challenge this week was to try our hand at another form of art outside our usual area.  For instance, some ladies in the group are paint and paper artists, some are photographers, some are fiber artists, etc.  Since I'd been doing a lot of crocheting lately, I figured it would be good for me to try something else for a bit.
This is a gorgeous Wednesday at the start of summer, and I actually had some free time this afternoon.  So I grabbed my little Sony Cybershot camera and headed outside in the wind and the sun so see what I could see.  As I walked around the front of the house, nothing caught my eye.  I even said out loud, "Everything is so ordinary."  But, I would not be denied finding shots that showed the everyday beauty that surrounds me!!  I first ventured over to the upper pond and took a couple pictures there.  With the wind, it was so pretty to see the grass and the trees moving and blowing.
Then I decided to head out the driveway a little bit and see what I could discover about the corn that's planted.  I had already taken a couple other pictures of the corn this spring, but this was my first attempt at doing any editing with one.
On the other side of the driveway is a field of beans.  I had fun trying to get some different angles of the rows and the field.
As I was coming back in toward the house, I decided to see if I could capture how pretty our spirea and barberry bushes are this year.  Honestly, it was hard to see what (if anything) I was getting a picture of, as it was so bright outside and the screen on the camera was reflecting so much!  But this is one of the pictures I got.

As I finished up, I realized truly, yet again, how incredibly blessed I am to be surrounded with this God-given beauty every day.  Honestly, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.  
All these pictures were done with just the basic editing tools on PicMonkey - very cool site, no registration needed, just upload a picture and go!  
I know there are many other sites that have great features as well that I can't wait to try on another day.  Plus, I want to play with the camera on my phone and some mobile apps to see what other fun things I can discover.  
What are your favorite editing sites and apps? What hints and tips do you have to share?  

Sunday, April 27, 2014

(in)RL 2014: We Need Your Story

Welcome to (in)RL
I have been so excited for April 26 for such a long time!  The dates for this year's (in)RL conference had been posted a few months ago, and as I shared in a previous post, when I saw the dates of April 25-26, my heart sank.  Those were the same dates as our annual music contest for my students at school.  They can be long, stressful days, and scheduling?  We're completely at their mercy.
So I decided to be brave anyway, and sign up to host a Meetup here at my home.  My husband knew how much I enjoyed last year's (in)RL conference, and he understands how I love welcoming people into our home, so he was completely OK with this Meetup happening as well.  I knew, since we live a little way from both Lincoln and Omaha, that I may not have a very large gathering, but I was hoping for at least 2-3 to sign up.  Finally, I knew this was coming at a busy time, so I was going to need to do some unique planning to be sure my guests felt welcome and ready to share their stories, however they felt comfortable.
(in)RL - hosted by (in)courage
I was so excited to see two, then three ladies register for my Meetup!  I met Donna, Debbie, and Bridget at last year's (in)RL, and although we had tried several times, we hadn't seen each other since then.  A few days before our conference, Donna had an unexpected family event come up, so as it turns out, my (in)RL was going to be a mighty trio of friends! They were wonderful as I had to adjust our start time to 3:00, which seemed a little late, and I hoped we would still have enough time for talking and viewing the videos.

After watching the Friday night keynote, I was even more excited for Saturday!  I baked some brownies that evening after getting home from Contest and school, and got a few things ready for the big day.  Saturday was a gorgeous day, and my students performed well at their Contest.  We were even done early!  I was looking forward to getting home in time to get my posters up, food ready, computer connected.......and then, at school, I had students whose parents were not at school to pick them up.  So I waited with them.  And waited.  For over twenty minutes, I waited.  And graciously smiled and waved to their parents as they drove up, then as quickly as my high-heeled feet would shuffle-run, I was in my car and on my way!  Fortunately, Debbie and Bridget were going to be a few minutes late, so, God was already working things out as they needed to be!
When I finally got home, got everything connected and ready, I saw them pull up to the house.  I was literally jumping up and down as I welcomed them to our home!!  (It was a good thing those coconut macaroons from Bridget and those crazy-good croissants from Debbie were tightly wrapped on those plates so they didn't get thrown all over the front porch within those hugs!)  We got our greetings done, did the quick tour of our home, grabbed our drinks, and settled in to watch the keynote video.  Several times, we had to pause and go back in the video as we would be talking or pointing laughing or reaching for a tissue.  Before we knew it, it was time to select their gifts, gather their gift bags, and snap a quick photo before they had to head back to Omaha.  Thankfully, Dave was just getting home, so he was our official photographer as our day wrapped up.
So, that was how the day went.
But, what did the day mean?
How did this one afternoon affect me?  Affect us?  What is my "take away"?
We need YOUR story
I have been trying to figure out how to put it in words.  It was that powerful.
To invite people into our home is nothing new, but this whole conference was about sharing our stories, opening our hearts.  That can be scary.  Yet I knew Debbie and Bridget before this day, and we had already established a basic friendship.  So, this was an opportunity to go deeper, go beyond chatting about the weather, more than chatting about what's on the radio these days.
And we did.
We talked choices.  Decisions.  Parents.  Parenting.  School.  Jobs.  Family.  Moving.  Church.  Community.  And we did talk weather, and we did talk about songs, and we talked about blogs, and we talked about getting together again.
Through viewing the (in)RL Conference Keynote, we cut through a lot of "fluff", and opened our hearts.  We shared how each of us feels that developing new friendships as adults can be challenging.  And we wondered why.
Then in our greatest moment of vulnerability, we asked for each other's friendship.
Flat-out asked.
And, of course, we said "Yes"!
We did admit, though, we felt a little like 3rd graders, asking from the back of the bus, "Will you be my friend?.....Me too?"  And we wondered, why was that?  Why do we feel awkward about asking for something that will benefit each, all of us?
Because it's risky.  It's risky to open our hearts.  We may not always be accepted or respected.
But if we don't take that risk of opening our hearts, of sharing our stories, we will never fully experience Christ's love for us, the love He shares with us through one another, through the friendships He provides for us.
We won't know one another's stories.
And everyone's story deserves to be told.  And heard.
And while that can be done online, it's best when it's done (in)RL!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Newly in Love: TOMS

So I have a new love.  Or at least I am pretty sure it's love.

If you're not familiar with this company and their practices, you can read about One for One here.  For every pair of shoes someone buys, they give a pair to a child in need.  How great is that?!  Help children around the world without leaving your living room, and get some amazing shoes in the meantime!
I have heard about this company Toms for some time, and I knew there was a company that does this buy a pair/give a pair away.  Very recently, I put the two together and realized both are this company called Toms.  But, I had never owned any Toms shoes myself.
Until tonight!
I have two beauties on their way to my house.
I think these will be perfect for when we go to Arizona:

And I think these will be adorable with skirts, slacks, shorts, dresses when it starts to warm up:

Take a moment to find out about Toms One for One then find some cuties for yourself while helping a child in need.  Start shopping!
I have a feeling you may be newly in love too!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Brave

Five Minute Friday: BareLinking up with Lisa-Jo Baker and others for Five-Minute Friday.  A five-minute free write on a given prompt.  This week:  BRAVE.
**UPDATE:  OK, so I realized after I wrote and posted this writing that the prompt was actually WRITE.  There was so much discussion on Twitter last night about being brave, I misunderstood when Lisa-Jo posted the prompt.  Oh well.  Apparently there's something here I needed to share!  :)  Enjoy! 

I know some incredibly brave people.
Some personally, some through online friendships.
A few of my brave friends write books and have them published, and put their ideas out there for everyone in the world to review, and critique.
A few of my brave friends have incredible jobs, where they work to serve and protect others.  Jobs like law enforcement, and serving our country through the military.  We can never thank them enough for their bravery.
A few of my brave friends have other incredible jobs where they serve others in different ways. They teach, or they are nurses, or they are working behind the scenes of million-dollar corporations.  (Yes, believe it or not, there ARE real people back there doing work to help others!)
But my brave friends who touch me most deeply?
They're the ones doing life., dealing with potentially devastating situations.
Yet, they're not being devastated by life.
My close friend who stares down the demon of depression every day.
My loved one whose life was turned upside down and whose marriage is ending.
My friend who survived an abusive marriage and is emerging beautifully from her ordeal.
My friend from high school whose life of faith is an inspiration to many, especially through her illnesses and the sudden loss of her husband over a year ago.
I could go on and on and on.
We all know these people.  We watch them, we cry with them, we pray with them, we pray for them.
For them, and the people who love them.
Because it takes alot to encourage and love on those who are close to us who are hurting.
But it takes even more to be brave.  To do life
In big ways and in small ways.
My brave friends inspire me.
And I thank God for them.