Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Fifth Tuesday Frolic ~ The Gee I'd Like To Edition

Photo from FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Every so often a month has five Tuesdays. In the grand scheme of things, this isn't a problem. But when your blog has a 4 week topic rotation for your Tuesday posts.... That fifth Tuesday is left hanging without a topic.

So, instead, we shall party!

I'm doing what I have decided to call a Fifth Tuesday Frolic. We're going to share links and comments and basically tour around the internet together having a lot of fun.

This month, we're going to share things we'd like to do.... we plan on doing them... but in reality they may be little more than a pipe dream. I'll be putting mine in the comments a bit later this morning. So start sharing! Post a link to a picture or article of something you see and say "Gee, I wish I could..."

Friday, May 25, 2012

When Life Defrosts ~ Life Lessons from The Freezer

These are SO yummy!
Today's post is really long, but I know so many people that could use it right now, that I felt it was the right time to put it up.

I have a big upright freezer in my garage. It's great. I can stock up on big party size lasagnas (because whoever made the so-called family size didn't eat lasagna with my family) and Hot Pockets when they're on sale. I can make my own freezer meals. I can buy Costco-size boxes of ice cream sandwiches.

Which is actually where my problem began.

We made a trip to Costco for essentials. No ice cream sandwiches are not essentials, but the freezer section is right next to the diaper section, so they were easy enough to grab. I got home, threw the box of ice cream sandwiches in my big freezer and the diapers in my son's room. Then I went about life.

The next day I went to get dinner out of the freezer (freezer meals are AWESOME!) and found something very disturbing. On top of the freezer was an electrical tool of some sort. I didn't look to see what it was, and frankly I don't care. What mattered was that it had a cord, which fell when I threw the ice cream sandwiches into the freezer, and prevented the door from sealing right, which meant big problems in the freezer 24 hours later.

Now, I know it's just a freezer and there are much greater crisis moments in life, but I think the same steps can be applied to any unexpected change in plans that crops up. Sometimes each step might just take a little longer.

So how do you handle the crisis?

1. Accept and Regroup

The first thing I did was throw the cord up over the top of the freezer and slam the door.

The second thing I did was bawl my eyes out. I'd been strung so tight by this point in the afternoon (it was not the best day of my life) that I just broke after the freezer thing happened. I went back in the house, crying so hard that hubby-dearest couldn't understand a thing. Finally he made out the word freezer and I think he thought the freezer had exploded. I give him credit for holding me until I calmed down instead of running outside to figure out what on earth I was talking about.

Before you can handle a situation, you need to accept it. I was not ready to accept that I had to throw away a lot of food. I could not yet come to terms with the fact that my evening was suddenly going to be spent in front of very cold appliances.

Whenever possible, step away from the immediate reminder. Have an emotional moment if need be. Come to grips with reality and then pull yourself together. I don't think there's anything wrong with an emotional gut response as long as you don't let it drive your actions and you move past it.

2. Realistically Assess the Problem

When I first realized that there were soggy things in the freezer, I imagined everything was ruined. Had I not taken a moment to calm down, I would have just started chucking hundreds of dollars of food in the trash can while sobbing and hiccuping.

Not good and not helpful.

Once I calmed down, we went out and looked through the freezer together. Yes, much of it was lost, especially stuff in the door. But there were sections that were still really cold - at least refrigerator cold. We were going to have to check things and a lot wouldn't be salvageable, but it was better than if the freezer had completely died. Then we would've been out all the food AND the freezer.

The reason you make no decisions in your emotional acceptance stage is that you don't really know what you have yet. Even if something truly horrible happens and the doctor comes in with the words "You have cancer" that doesn't give you the whole picture.

My dad had a section of skin removed off of his hand years ago. It was the beginning stages of skin cancer, but it was easily removed and there was no sign of it anywhere else. For him, that dreaded word didn't have a lot of power in the true situation. But if he had just called me and said, "I have cancer" my world would have crumbled because in my head I would immediately put him at stage 5 with only months to live.

It's very important to know what you are actually dealing with.

3. Recover and Move Forward

I cleaned out the freezer portion of our side by side unit in the house, so that what was still frozen could be put in there. My husband starting checking the contents of the outside freezer. We took what needed to be cooked right away and had us a crazy dinner. There was some pizza, a chicken pot pie, a couple of breakfast sandwiches, and some chimichangas.

Some other items that had thawed got put in the fridge so I could cook them for dinner the next day. Just as if I'd taken them out of the freezer a couple of days before to thaw in the fridge, like I normally do.

Yes, we still had to throw out a lot of food, but we managed to save a lot more than I thought we would. The stuff at the very back of the freezer was still solid. The worst part was that the boxes were soggy from the melting ice. (It's an old freezer, ice crusts on the walls and shelves.) We recovered what we could and then moved on, doing the best we could with what was left.

Life is like that. If you live in the what ifs and the shoulda woulda couldas, you'll never move forward. We don't have time machines, and I don't think we'd like the results if we did, so we have to play the hand we're dealt. For me, it was a half-defrosted freezer. This time, anyway. I had to deal with it. Because if I'd ignored it, the consequences would have been disastrous.

4. Take Advantage of Your New Position

The freezer (did I mention it's old?) was in desperate need of defrosting. Ice was caked on the ceiling in chunks about three inches thick. The top shelf was nearly unusable. I just hadn't wanted to take the time to pull everything out and let it go through it's defrost cycle. If you are familiar with those old freezers, you know it's something you have to do every couple of years.

This isn't mine. Mine was worse.
I wish I'd thought to take a picture of mine. 
Well, everything was out of the freezer, so now was a great time to do it. Well, maybe not a great time, because we had to keep going outside through the night to empty the drip pan, but it was a time that worked.

I now also have both of my freezers cleaned out and organized. That's a bonus, too.

Many times you end up where you had no intention of going, but you find things you can do there that you couldn't do before. If you've lived through the frightening horror of being laid off and not being able to find more work, you can take advantage of the extra time. When you aren't job hunting, take nature walks with your kids. My kids normally don't see my husband until dinner time. If he gets off in time to pick them up at school, they act like Christmas came early.

Take advantage of these surprise moments. Try to find something good to come out of your moment of tragedy.

5. Learn So That You Can Handle It Better Next Time

In the end, you'll have to deal with much worse things than a defrosted freezer. I know there are worse things in my past and, unfortunately, worse things in my future.

It's all about scale though. The freezer was a crisis that took about three hours to go through all the steps above. Small scale, small time. When something bigger comes along, it may takes days or even weeks to get through everything. But the process remains the same.

And you know what ended up being the worst thing about it all? I never got to eat an ice cream sandwich.
By HTO via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, May 24, 2012

New Question Of The Week Feature!

Are you on Facebook? If so, I'd love for you to come and join my page where I will be doing a Question Of The Week Feature on Thursdays.

Today I'm asking about music. What's your favorite song about forgiveness? Christian, secular, country, pop, rap - it's all up for discussion!

Hit the Facebook Page and put in your vote or we can discuss it over on Twitter.

Google+ people, I'll have the question of the week over there as well as soon as I get my page up and running. About all I've done thus far is create it.

Aren't on any of those sites? Toss your answer in the comments below.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Value of the Five Star Review ~ A Peek at a Writer's Life

You see them almost everywhere these days. Five little stars, some of them colored yellow or red, indicating what other people think of the particular item. How much weight do you give them? Do you even consider them?

I haven't thought much about them until recently. The only place I ever filled them in was Netflix and that was so I could get better suggestions from them. Generally speaking, I don't do Amazon reviews or go around to other sites and tell people what I think.

A few weeks ago I signed up for GoodReads. If you've never heard of this site, it's where you can keep track of books you've read, books you want to read, and interact with other fans of said books and their authors. It's really a neat site, though I'm still learning it.

If you're on there and want to connect with me, you can find my profile here.

The first thing you do when you sign up for GoodReads is rate a bunch of books so that it can offer you suggestions and hook you up with similar readers. I started using their scale, happily rating more than fifty books before stumbling to a halt.

They were asking me to rate a book I didn't like. A book I really didn't like. One I didn't like so much that I didn't finish reading it - I just skimmed through to the end to see if it got any better. Instead of giving it the one star rating I felt it deserved, I skipped it. I just clicked "not interested" and moved on. I've felt like a chicken ever since.

Do you review and rate books? Do those little colored stars factor into your buying decision?

Authors talk a lot about ratings and book reviews. It's rather important to us that people like our book, after all.  Ratings and reviews give us a glimpse into what people think about books... sometimes. I tried to be honest in rating my books. The scale according to GoodReads is this:

    - 1 star - I didn't like it
    - 2 stars - it was ok
    - 3 stars - I liked it
    - 4 stars - I really like it
    - 5 stars - it was amazing

I followed it. Which means I ended up with several books at two and three stars. I started to feel bad. How would I feel seeing a fellow author give my book two stars? Should I even rate books? Only rate them if I was going to give them a high rating? I refuse to inflate my ratings just because I happen to like the author as a person or because I want people to think Christian fiction is so stellar it's above putting out a mediocre book.

But I know this happens. I know people who've done this. They read a fellow author's new book and want to help them sell their book, so they give it a glowing five star review, when all it really deserved was a respectable four stars, or maybe it was just okay and should have a three.

The converse also happens. I've seen MANY one star reviews, particularly after a book has been on free promotion, that trash a book just because it's Christian. The story may be excellent, the writing superb, but the content is Christian and they were trying to fool everybody into reading it by making their book free for a couple of days. At least according to the reviewer.

I removed the identifying information on this review, because I'm not trying to bash someone for leaving their opinion. I just wanted to give an example. 
All of this means that ratings and reviews have gotten to the point of being nearly worthless, or worse, detrimental.

What do you think about those little colored stars? Do they factor in to your purchasing decisions? Do you rate books?

If you're an author, what do you think when you see a fellow author give you something besides a five star rating? Does it hurt your relationship with them?

Monday, May 21, 2012

How to Have an American Duke ~ Posting at Regency Reflections Today!

I'm posting over at Regency Reflections today.

If you've ever wondered how those aristocratic titles could jump to fourth or fifth cousins or even to someone in another country, check out the post! I even make up my own dukedom: The Duke of Handsomeshire.

How To Have An American Duke ~ Regency Reflections Post

Friday, May 18, 2012

Handling the Ups and Downs ~ Life Lessons from Rain

I was driving down the street the other day and a few drops of rain hit my windshield. Not a problem. The place I was heading to had an overhang and I didn't even have to get out of my car. I could handle some rain.

Five minutes later I was completely frustrated.

The little sprinkle here and there turned into a full-out, blinding deluge. I cranked my wipers up to high, slowed down my speed, and kept trudging down the road. Thirty seconds later it had slacked back to a steady drizzle and my wipers were going too fast, causing them to squeak. I adjusted my wipers and kept going.

When I pulled into the parking lot, I was squinting because the rain stopped and the sun was coming directly through the windshield. I didn't have a hand free to grab my sunglasses, so I just squinted until I was parked. While I handled my business the heavens opened up again and water poured from the sky. It wasn't just raining cats and dogs, it was more like lions and wolves or something like that. Even the overhang I was parked beneath wasn't enough to keep the water from splashing in my open window.

I finished my business and pulled out, bracing for the storm once more. In the five minute drive back to my house we went through the entire array of weather again.

Life is like that sometimes. Things keep changing on us so fast we don't know whether to be happy or sad or mad or frustrated or something else entirely. We get a phone call that we got passed over for that promotion. While we steam over the news, we open our email to find that our child just won the prestigious Principal's Honor award at school. On our way home we get a flat tire, but when we walk in the door we find that our husband got home early and cooked dinner. Up, down, up, down. It can drive you crazy trying to keep up with it.

This is where joy comes in, I think. Joy, unlike happiness and sadness, is not dependent upon our circumstances. Joy is a state of being. When we rest in the Lord, confident that He is taking care of us, knowing that in the end things will work for His glory, we find contentment and peace that are the hallmarks of joy.

Consider it great joy, my brother, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. James 1:2,3

How do you hold on to joy when the weather of life can't decide what to be?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Do You Believe in Miracles? ~ A Peek At My Readers

No, we're not talking about ice hockey or the Olympics (though the Summer Games are only 73 days away!!!).

I'm talking about real miracles.

Today, I want to hear from you. I've participated in several conversations lately about whether God is still in the miracle business, and if He is, why aren't we seeing it.

I've heard a few different theories lately:

1. He doesn't do the major miracles like raising the dead or such anymore because then there would be no denying His existence. Faced with that kind of proof we would be forced to believe and the elements of faith and free will would be removed from the decision.

2. He saves his miraculous power for less developed countries that are more dependent on Him than developed countries.

3. We don't acknowledge His miracles because He utilizes technology such as defibrillators and computer glitches to deliver His power.

There are so many others, but most of what I've seen falls into one of these camps.

So you tell me... Does God still work miracles? Where? Why don't we see them or talk about them?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Doing Things the Right Way ~ Life Lessons from Hand Weights

Part of my exercise routine involves hand weights. When I started I didn't own any, so I grabbed a couple of cans of pinto beans. Weak as I was, the one pound cans were about all I could handle. They were cumbersome, though. My hands are fairly small and they only wrap about two thirds of the way around the can.

Changing The Equipment

It was working, but I knew it was only a matter of time before it slipped out of my hand, crashed against the stone fireplace, and busted. The mental image of pinto beans splattered all over my living room sent me to the store for proper hand weights this week.

Have you ever shopped for hand weights? If you are really weak like me, you may have noticed something. One pound hand weights are rare and difficult to find. Eventually I gave in and bought two pound weights, dreading the next morning's workout before I even made it to the checkout line.

The next morning I wrapped my hands around the handles - my fingers touched! Amazing! I was able to grip the weights more securely which let me focus on the moves and correct positioning. When it got tough to keep going through the repetitions, I could squeeze the handles, feeling that much more determination to finish.

Noticing the Difference

After that first twenty minute workout a stunning thought occurred to me. It had actually been fairly easy to move up to two pound weights. Part of it was that I'm a lot stronger, but I was still struggling to lift the one pound cans through the entire motion, so it wasn't just that. I realized that having the right equipment let me execute the exercises more precisely, making it easier to lift the heavier weights.

Are we using the right equipment in our lives? What weighs you down? Some things weigh heavier on our spirit than other things and the biggest loads are different for every person. But the question remains the same - what are you using to lift it?

Thinking Bigger

By Rami Tarawneh via Wikimedia Commons
My husband uses a forklift occasionally at work. If he were to try to lift some of those barrels without the aid of machinery, well, he'd be unable to because they're bulky and weigh a couple hundred pounds. But if he tried, he'd likely hurt himself. (Since I know he's reading this, I'll tell him now - don't go move it without a forklift just to prove you can! I like your back in one piece, thanks.)

The right equipment makes such a difference in how much weight we can handle. When things weigh on our heart, are we handling them ourselves? Trying to fix them with advice from friends and family (or worse, Dr. Phil and Opera)? Or are we turning to the mega-forklift that can handle any weight at any time?

Turning It Over

When we use God to carry our burdens, He does all the heavy lifting. He teaches us how to drive the forklift, the right positions to use to avoid hurting ourselves, and spots us to hold the weight when we can't.

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, because He cares about you. 1 Peter 5:6,7

What about you? Can you think of a time when God carried your burden? Maybe there's a time when you tried to carry it yourself and ended up hurt. I'd love to hear your stories. Share them in the comments below.

As a side note, I am also blogging over at Regency Reflections today. It is a devotion about motherhood. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Screwtape Letters ~ A Peek Into My Bookshelf

Well, we missed it in April, but May is here and it's to travel again to the wonderful place that is my re-read bookshelf. This is where I store my absolute favorite books ever. The ones that I pick up every now and then to read again because they are just that good.

Normally, I pull out a romance book because, well, that's what I usually read. Today, however, I have a special treat for you. The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.

No, C. S. Lewis won't be stopping by the blog today. That would be a bit difficult seeing as he's dead and all. His books, however, are far from dead. I haven't picked up anything he's ever written that I didn't enjoy and learn from. Narnia, Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain. All of them fabulous books.

None have made me think and rethink as much as The Screwtape Letters.

It takes a while to immerse yourself in the story because you have to flip your terminology completely around. The book is written from the perspective of a high-powered demon. Therefore "The Enemy" is God. Takes a bit to get used to it. This adjusted terminology is part of what makes this book so amazing and powerful. Because things are phrased differently than you've ever heard them before, you see them in ways you never thought to before.

Our copy is looking a little worse for wear. My husband and I have both read it multiple times. It's one of the few books we have with notes written in it. We've done Bible studies based off of it as well.

If you have ever wanted the way you think about Christianity challenged, this is a great book to accomplish that. Foibles, patterns, and shortcuts that we all accept and even take for granted are brought to light in a way that makes you feel very vulnerable. Because the book is written as a demon looking for chinks in a particular Christian's armor, you can begin to see just how open we are to attack from the true Enemy.

Book blurb:
A masterpiece of satire, this classic has entertained and enlightened readers the world over with its sly and ironic portrayal of human life and foibles from the vantage point of Screwtape, a highly placed assistant to "Our Father Below." At once wildly comic, deadly serious, and strikingly original, C. S. Lewis gives us the correspondence of the worldly-wise old devil to his nephew Wormwood, a novice demon in charge of securing the damnation of an ordinary young man. The Screwtape Letters is the most engaging account of temptation - and the triumph over it - ever written.

While C.S. Lewis is not able to be with us, several people interviewed him while he was alive. (He talked more then...)

One interview indicated that Lewis felt The Screwtape Letters  was the only book he didn't actually enjoy writing.  "They were dry and gritty going. At the time, I was thinking of objections to the Christian life, and decided to put them into the form, 'That's what the devil would say.' But making goods 'bad' and bads 'good' gets to be fatiguing."

Read the whole article as well as some other bits of C. S. Lewis' life story here. It's a pretty interesting interview.

The Screwtape Letters is readily available in most bookstores - being one of Lewis' more popular titles. It is also included in many C.S. Lewis box sets. A radio/audio recorded version is also available. I found rumors of a pending movie, but can't find anything definitive on that.

Have you read The Screwtape Letters? What did you think of it?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Great Responsibility ~ Life Lessons from Jewelry

For those of you who joined the blog during April, Friday is when I post Life Lessons such as the ones I blogged on every day for the A to Z Challenge. Only I use the whole alphabet. 

While they are normally longer than the A to Z posts, they aren't always quite this long. I had a lot to say today. ;) Keep reading. It's worth it. 

Special Things

I like jewelry. I like it a lot. I have a lot of it.

Most of it stays in heaping piles on my dresser and I have to dig my way through it to find the matching earring. Every couple of months I take an hour and sort it all back into my various jewelry boxes, but it gets jumbled up again a couple weeks later.

My shell heart necklace.
First jewelry my hubby ever gave me.
But there are a few pieces that always get put back where they belong. Special pieces. A necklace and earring set of Mother-of-pearl and aquamarine flowers from my husband. An emerald ring from my parents. A watch and pair of gold earrings from my grandparents. A heart-shaped pendant made from shells that my now-husband gave me while we were dating. 

Because these were given with special care, with particular reasoning and motivations behind them, I take better care of them. I feel a greater responsibility with them. Not because they are monetarily valuable - I doubt the shell pendant is actually worth all that much - but because I would be devastated if something happened to them. They've been entrusted to my care and I take that seriously.  

Sometimes God gives us gifts like that. Gifts that He expects us to take extraordinary care of. Things we can't risk taking for granted because we'd be crushed if He took them away. 

Special Blessings

Over the past month I've been awestruck by the realization or how many of these gifts God has blessed me with recently. 
- Advancing to the Semi-Final round in the Genesis competition. (I mentioned that in Tuesday's Post)
- Tripling my blog subscribers over the course of the A to Z Challenge (Unbelievable! I'm so glad that all of you are here!)
- An exercise accountability partner and a plan that is making a huge difference for me. (Also details in Tuesday's Post)
- An amazing start to the group blog that I co-founded, Regency Reflections.

The list goes on and on, including several more personal blessings that deal with my family and the youth we work with at church.

I am truly awed by how much He's given me. And I'm also terrified.

Special Responsibilities

No, these are not my eyes. They're kinda creepy though.
"To whom much is given, much will be required."

No, I'm not quoting Spiderman or President Obama or anyone else you've heard say that phrase. I'm quoting Jesus. The whole verse, Luke 12:48, reads thus:

"But the one who did now know and did things deserving of blows will be beaten lightly. Much will be required of everyone who has been given much. And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more." 

And this is why I'm terrified. 
Yeah... I want to go hide, too. 

This isn't like jewelry where all I have to do is make sure it doesn't fall off somewhere and that it gets back to its correct home in the jewelry box. 

This is God showing up and saying, "I have given you much because I have shown you my incredible power. I have displayed my presence in your life. Now you have the responsibility to do something with that."

I feel more compelled to raise the quality of my blog. (No more tossing out my draft the night before and saying "That'll work.") I have been charged to push forward with my writing. (No more saying, "It's not good enough yet to show to anyone who can actually do something with it.")

When God displays His glory in such magnificent ways, our excuses can't stand up to the evidence of his presence. 

Special You

When has someone given you something you felt a special burden to treat well?

Has God blessed you with an overwhelming gift that you are terrified you won't be worthy of?

Eyes and raccoon photo from MorgueFile.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Update ~ A Peek At My Life

A to Z is over... and yet, I didn't get a day off because it's Tuesday. Sigh. Oh well, at least I have the entire alphabet back at my disposal.

For those readers we picked up over the challenge, my normal posting schedule is Tuesdays (variety of things such as book reviews, discussion questions, etc.) and Fridays (my life lessons series like I did during the challenge).

It's been a long time since I updated you on my "Word of the Year" progress. (You can read about my decision to focus on the word "Healthy" this year here.)

Physical Health

I started (finally!) Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred. A. Ma. Zing. I'm stunned at the progress I made strength-wise in just two weeks. (I can do an actual push-up! Just one, but still! When I started I couldn't even do a full one with my knees on the floor. Yes, my upper body is that weak.) I dropped a whole jean size as well. My recent ailment kinda knocked me off track, but I'm getting back on today. 

I also managed to make and stick to a menu for one... whole... week... Hey, it's progress! :)

Spiritual Health

Dear Hubby's work hours have changed and that means we actually get to see each other in the morning. (Praise God!) and we've been reading the Bible together before we get up. It's been a great way to start the day. It has helped me remember to do my personal quiet time as well. Bonus! 

Unfortunately those are the only two of my goal areas that I made any serious progress in over the last couple of months. In May I hope to focus on getting us on a balanced budget and more prepared for coming events so I'm not rushing around the night before, or worse the morning of, getting everything together. 

Other Updates

In other news, I have an exciting update as far as my writing goes! The American Christian Fiction Writers have an unpublished authors competition. During the month of April I learned that my manuscript made it to the semi-finals. Woohoo! 

Your Turn

Did you make a Word-Of-The-Year resolution? How's it going? It's not too late to choose a word if you have never heard of the concept before. Making necessary adjustments to our mindsets is a year-long process! 

What kind of progress are you making?