Friday, July 25, 2014

When It's Just Fine to be Finished {five minute friday}

On Fridays the writers gather at Lisa Jo's. We write in five minute increments like ones scared braved. We're not supposed to edit or backtrack or over think, though everyone confesses to that at least once and that's why there's grace for even the most ordinary of writing tasks.

Except on Fridays five minute ordinary becomes extraordinary. Join us? Link up here and give us your five minutes on

Finish

He says it in a sweet little voice that bears no trace of sarcasm or disrespect. In answer to everything I say.

"It's time to take a bath now, Gus."
"We're going outside to pick tomatoes."
"Do you want to go see the goats?"

Fine.


Fine, he says with his two-year old lisp and blond curls bobbing. I know he says it because he hears me sigh it in exasperation and his sisters reply it when they're tired of being asked.

I know it has so many meanings. But sometimes that little four letter word just means what it is:
Fine.

It's fine. It's okay. It's all right. Don't worry about it. Let it go. Pass it on. Breathe deep.

It's fine to be finished.


Lisa-Jo is passing the baton. Four years of wild five minute writing in flash mobs and dark bedrooms and late nights that have gradually gotten earlier because let's face it--all us mamas are tired by 10 p.m. on Thursday, and she knows it's time to pass it on.

She's mentored my writing from afar since the day a friend forwarded me that old Gypsy Mama page and I thought who is this woman who knows the words my heart is whispering and weeping even though we've never met?

She told me in a crowded room at a conference last fall that I would know when the time was right to write that book that God has laid on my heart and I'm laying back down at His feet.

She was right.

And that time came before I was really read to wrap my mind around it and for months I've been trying to do it all.

But I think I'm finished too.


I think it's time I admit that it's fine if the blog doesn't get the best of me and instead that part goes to my children and the legacy of words I truly hope to leave.

It's fine to let what was once the best thing become something I used to do, for the sake of doing what I'm meant to do at this time, this season, this moment.

It's just fine to be finished with one season so another can come.


I'm not shutting this down....just taking a break. I'll be posting sporadically and not worrying about being faithful for numbers or platforms or expectations. I have long believed my best writing comes from when my soul is prompted and I need an alter to remember. This past spring I got caught up in trying to promote and that really didn't work well for me or sit well with my heart for this space. This is the place that has given me the courage to try for new and bigger dreams and I want to honor it with words that are worthy. But mostly, I need to live and focus on those who share my home and life and give breathe to every word I write. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Why I Write (a Blog Hop)


 One of the great things about the internet is how this network of satellites and landlines brings people together. I love finding other women who understand what it means to be a writer, a creative, and a busy mama with way too many projects half-finished on the shelf. But it's a really busy place too, and with so many people making so much noise, I sometimes struggle with wondering what I have to bring to the table. So when Christie asked if she could include me in this blog hop for writers to share their whys and wheres, I was honored that she had found my little space of rambling an encouragement despite all my shortcomings.

Christie and I met in real life, actually, at the incredible Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer's Conference. (A conference I wouldn't have really known about had it not been for my real life friend Amy, who has been my cheerleader in all these endeavors for the past several months.) We were both taking a course in freelancing and discovered we had both been a part of the (in)courage writer's group. She's a beautiful person, inside and out, who uses her blog At the Well to reflect on the intersections of faith and motherhood while reminding us as women what it means to really sit at the well of living water with Jesus.

I love how she answered these questions and admits that the process isn't always easy but when God has given us words, we are powerless to ignore them. Words are a legacy we are leaving to the next generation of the faithful. I'm stealing this reminder from her blog:

You show that you are a letter from Christ…written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.  2 Cor. 3:3 (NIV)

So why do I pack lunches and pay babysitters and hide in corner booths of restaurants with free Wi-fi? Because when I don't, I'm not being His letter. I'm not preaching the gospel I know.

So here are my thoughts on the questions of why I do this writer thing now.


What am I writing or working on now?
So many things....likely too many. But as much as I'd like to dedicate myself to one project whole-heartedly, that just doesn't seem to be my nature. I'm getting better about prioritizing and turning down projects that I don't need, but I'm still not as focused as I should be. The good news is, I believe God is helping me narrow my overflow of ideas into the places He wants me to be. So right now I'm working on three major writing projects but I've managed to narrow each one to suit my style and build off one another.

First, I'm in the editing/finishing stages of my first novel. It's been a work in process for a looooonnnngggg time, but I can see the end and I can see how God has grown me and groomed me to tell this story. It's not the same story I would have told five years ago when I first sketched out some weak pages, but as I've grown as a writer, it's grown to be the story that it's supposed to be. I'm hoping to pitch it officially this fall.

Secondly, I'm freelancing. I've had some success recently with Splickety Magazine, Thriving Family, and Georgia Magazine published one of my favorite stories back in May. For Splickety I'm writing my first short stories and guest blogging about writing. Thriving Family lets me use my parenting "expertise" and I'm working on some articles for Georgia Magazine and similar publications that let me talk about one of my favorite topis: living local. I'm thrilled to finally be seeing my words in tangible print and that others are giving credibility to my work. I know it's not all about that, but honestly, bills have to be paid. Writer's conferences aren't free :)

Finally, I'm blogging. It's not as regular as it once was, but that's okay. Something I learned at Allume was that it's far more important to have quality than quantity. So that's what I'm focusing on now. Blogging is my outlet, it's my publishing without worrying about fitting a genre or a category, and it's my connection to those I love to share my life with.

How does my work differ from others of my genre?

This is a tough one for me. As a "mommy blogger" I don't feel that different from others. But as I'm working to enhance my writer's voice, I think I'm finding what does set me apart. Ann Voskamp posted recently about a quote that inspires her "Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it." I think that's really where my voice is. I didn't realize how much of the slow life I was missing until I quit my full-time outside the home job as a teacher to stay home and just be a wife and a mom. And I love that "just". There's value and admirality in this role and it's taught me to be a better writer because I've become hyper aware of my children and how quickly this stage of life is passing us by. I don't want to miss a thing. I want to revel and delight and enjoy. Then I want to tell you all about how there is grace and amazement and peace in growing gardens and waterfall hikes and popsicles on the porch everyday. I'm seeing this in my fiction writing too. For me, the stories I write aren't about the big changes people make. They're about all the little things we wake up to on a daily basis but are at risk of never appreciating. My stories are all about those moments when we realize what it means to really breathe in grace.

And wow, giving words to this makes me feel like I'm finding my focus all over again.


Why do I write what I do?

Sarah Mae talked about "making alters" at Allume. She was referencing how the Israelites would make actual alters when God had done something incredible they didn't want to have the next generation forget. Then ever since she said that, I've heard that phrase over and over in various capacities. And it's helped me give a name to why I blog--it's how I don't forget what these hardest and most glorious moments of motherhood were like. Fiction writing is like that too--there's a handful of stories in this world and we tell them over and over again and again in new and exciting ways because these themes of overcoming failure and desperation and experiencing grief and love are tales we need to never forget. My freelance work is all about that notion of being astonished when I really pay attention. I am beyond blessed to live where I do and have the opportunity to share it with others. I want families to come away from their screens and their booths at McDonald's and know how easy it is to go on a picnic and shop a farmer's market. This world is not scary. It's beautiful and God gave it to us for our delight and our sustenance. I hope when I share stories of how I camp or hike or cook with my kids, that others don't feel put down. Rather, I want them to feel empowered. I hope other moms say to themselves, "Well, if she did that, then so can I."

How does my writing process work?

Yeah....I don't know. All I know is I look for pockets of time I can steal and then I write. I like to get up early, but I have to be up super early to beat my kids out of bed. So during the school year, I'm aiming for 5 a.m. That's when I do my best writing on the novel because I can almost always get a solid uninterrupted hour. Then I just try to find time for all the rest. Naptime sometimes works. I almost never write at night (except for Five Minute Friday) because I'm usually completely drained by 9 p.m. I make myself prioritize. If there's a deadline for a publication I want to submit to, I work on that first. If I haven't blogged in a few days, and I have a story I want to tell, I get that out of the way and I'm always better for it. I like these short pieces for freelance and blogging because I can almost always finish it and feel a sense of accomplishment. Short stories are good for that feeling too. If I get a story idea, I jot it down and if the muse is really working, I move that to the top of the list. (I wrote this story in two hours. It was just flowing.) I'm trying to build a cache of stories I can submit. This probably sounds a little crazy,  but if I'm working on something I believe the Lord has given me, I can usually work at lightening speed. It's a mom thing too. I know I only have a certain amount of time, so I have to guard it carefully. I'm doing this post today while my kids are at a Mother's Morning Out program and I'm already 8 minutes over the allotted time I gave myself to finish this project!  But that's okay because I'm really learning about myself right now and that's been completely worthwhile.

I'm grateful and blessed to be included in a community of writers who understand all that crazy rambling. The women I'm passing this hop onto are recent discoveries, but I love how I can visit their blogs and feel their heart.

Amy at The Little Farm Diary is a new real life friend. We connected at the community theater and I'm delighted to have the opportunity to get to know her (and her sweet daughter) better over the next few weeks as we perform. You absolutely want to click over to her page and check out her sweet farmhouse style.

Andrea over at 7-7-at-7 is a friend from my (in)courage group and I love her honesty about being a "newbie" to publication. It's hard to into this industry and you need a thick skin. Having friends who have experienced these ups and downs is a blessing. She's a creative writer and a fabulous photographer.

Erin is who I'm sending #fmfpartysnailmail to this week! The coolest thing was when I got my list and her name was right above mine--just like her hometown. We're getting together for lunch someday soon and I can't wait. She has a beautiful blog and I love popping over and reading about her life as a newlywed...ah, those days from twelve years ago that I so didn't appreciate.

So who are some of your favorite writers or bloggers? Why do you carve out time to be creative? I'd love to know and share.

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Why That South Carolina Low Country is Home Too




I like to write about living local. So much so that it was my 31 Days series this past fall. (Anyone already gearing up for that? Yeah, me neither.) I write about places to go and eat and how to support local small businesses because it's a topic my husband and I are passionate about. Also, I just really love to get out of the house and explore. Keeps my kids from fighting over electronic devices.

So I write a lot about living local here in northeast Georgia even though I'm technically a transplant to this place. I've been thinking a lot about that lately. How something about a place will continue to shape our character and decisions long after we've left it. How you can belong to a place in zipcode and phone record but never really belong, never really feel a part of the intricate web of history and geneology that so pervades small southern towns.

I'm glad I live here, belong here, am raising my family here. My blood connection to these woods and blue ridges lies with my grandfather who loved a campfire and hot coffee with almost the same intensity that he loved my grandmother. But even so, sixty-plus years of fall camping trips at the secret Walnut Tree isn't the same as having been born into this place and these people. I get the history but not the lineage.


Then, after a six year hiatus, my family heads back down the coast to sleepy Edisto Island on the edge of the South Carolina low country. I grew up riding the waves and scraping the shells out of my swimsuit on this beach that's like a portal to another time. My mother grew up coming here after the tobacco had been hung to dry in the barns and school was near on the horizon. I'm writing a novel that's set on these shores and dirt roads hung with Spanish moss. So it's more than just a vacation destination. It's as much home as the Granite Capitol that raised me and the mountains that hold me now.




But I didn't realize that until I'd been gone and returned to be saddened by the changes and heartened by all that stayed the same. We rode bikes in the evening twilight and bashed our knees in the high tide waves. We hunted snail shells and sharks' teeth and the elusive sand dollar. We set up canopies and played all day.






We bought a book that could have been written about my family.

The Pink House, by Kate Salley Palmer
We shared this favorite place with friends and popsicles and Independence Day.



One day I rode my bike down Pointe Street in search of two older beach cottages the local historian said would help me visualize the Edisto of my mother's childhood. There was a woman tending tomatoes and flowers in the raised beds of a community garden in someone's front yard, and I stopped to ask her a few questions about living here.

Tivoli Cottage, Edisto Beach
"Where you from, honey?" was her iconic greeting.

I told her where we live and added that I'd grown up coming here and my grandparents had been from nearby Walterboro.

"Oh," she said with an easy wave of her hand. "You're local then."


Local indeed. And grateful for it.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Ten Things To Do With All That Zucchini


We went to the beach last week. It was great but more on that at a later time.


Anyway, due to some miscommunication, I came home to a fridge full of my CSA produce including plenty of this year's bumper crop.

Do you know what all locally home-grown farmers (and gardeners) are picking right now?

Yellow squash and shiny green zucchini.

I love it. But I've heard some folks don't. Or maybe they're just tired of always eating squash covered with cream soup and cheese.

Hopefully, trying one of these new ways to eat your vegetables will turn you on to these humble veggies that can grow as big as a baseball bat if left alone. Those are only good for scooping out the inside and being stuffed with some delicious concoction involving cheese and sausage. This ideas are more on the simple side.

Funny story. Sometimes my kids just eat the zucchini while I'm slicing.  Then they say things like, "Mama, that was a funny tasting cucumber."

Indeed.

1. Shred it and freeze it. Add it to soups, chilis, tacos, spaghetti...all winter long. They'll never notice.

2. Make Blueberry-Zucchini Muffins. (Recipe for 2-4 below.)


3. Make Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread.

4. Make plain zucchini bread. There might be a theme here.

5. Try Squash and Potato Au Gratin. I made this the other night and my picky no-squash eater said, "Hmm...this is actually good!"


6. Make pizza crust. Pinterest has at least a gazillion pins for this.

7. Shred it. Add it to cooked rice with black beans and salsa. Mix well. Stuff tortillas and top with cheese.

8. Roast it with a drizzle of olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper. 425 for about 15 minutes.


9. Roast it with a sprinkle of parmesan, some sliced olives, and maybe some thinly sliced purple onion. Same as #8. Add leftovers to pizza.

10. Shred it (if you're going for disguise) or chunk it (if you're going for hearty). Add it to the Best Tomato Sauce Ever and top your favorite pasta or that spaghetti squash that came with this week's CSA delivery.

Zucchini Bread (or Muffins) Adapted from Thy Hand Hath Provided

3 eggs
1/2 c brown or granulated sugar
1 c honey
2 c grated zucchini
3 tsp vanilla
2 c all-purpose flour
1 c whole-wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
3 tsp cinnamon

In a large bowl, combine all your wet ingredients including zucchini. In another, smaller, bowl combine the dry ingredients. Sift the dry into the wet. (Yes, it's necessary. Yes, it's a pain.) Fold in blueberries (2 c) or chocolate chips (2 c) or some of both. Divide into two greased loaf pans (9x5x3) or into 24 muffin cups. I recommend using liners because I hate to wash muffin tins. Sometimes I get a little more than 24. Sometime I get a little less. It's what happens when you don't measure precisely. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour (bread) or about 35 minutes for muffins. You want a knife inserted in the center to come out clean. I make muffins because I can never get the center of the bread to get done. Also, I think muffins keep better. Or maybe I'm just lazy.

See original recipe here.

What do you do with all your zucchini and squash?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

You'll Always Be Enough {especially for his birthday}




Today is your birthday and we're both 34 years old and feeling it in the arms and legs and hands that tangle together in a second-hand bed you bought to be big enough for us and four dark-eyed babies who, no matter their age, still crawl in to snuggle on early mornings.

Last night the baby fell out of his bed, and I put him in ours, tucked safe between us with his damp curls and belly-splitting laugh that was mercifully quiet at 2 a.m.


You bought that bed even when I figured it wouldn't fit in our room just so there'd be room enough for them all. Even though you don't like to share your sleep with nightmares about crocodiles and a four year old's snores.

Sometimes I feel like we're so far removed from that pair of naively starry eyed twenty-year-olds that I'm not sure we were ever really there. But we have friends who remember us from that time, friends who were there when you first brought me cough drops in that light booth of the old EH Young Theater, people who aren't at all surprised that we've grown up to raise four kids and learn to love each other in new and different ways.


Sometimes I miss being that young with you.

But I never regret that we're slowly, patiently growing older together.

Time thinks it's flying by, and I measure it in moments of childhood that I never want to end. I'd freeze it here, you know, right here, with a terrible two and a baby girl on the verge of double-digits. I'd stop and never let us get a second older, just let us revel in the here and now that is the wonder of parenthood and adulthood and never-ending mortgage payments.

But you wouldn't.

You see the gift in the moving on. In the days that are far, far ahead in our future when we've held them tight and let them go and are settling back into a routine of just us.

I think you wonder if I'll find you enough. If, after the days of mundane mothering are over, and I have hours to fill without the constant company of one who is half-you and half-me, if I'll be satisfied with just the company of you.

When I was only twenty years old, you were plenty company enough. I pretty well imagine that come twenty years from now--

I'll be happy to have you all to myself again.

Happy Birthday with all my love.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Release {Five Minute Friday}

On Fridays the writers gather at Lisa Jo's. We write in five minute increments like ones scared braved. We're not supposed to edit or backtrack or over think, though everyone confesses to that at least once and that's why there's grace for even the most ordinary of writing tasks.

Except on Fridays five minute ordinary becomes extraordinary. Join us? Link up here and give us your five minutes on

Release

Sometimes the build up is more than I can stand. My fingers twitch and my eyes flick and I start to breathe convulsively as I stand surrounded by mounds of laundry and last night's crockpot soaking in the sink.

It's just too much life.

Is there such a thing? The calendar is pretending there's white space but really it's just blank until I get a rehearsal schedule and there's another calendar of deadlines and due dates and color codes for fiction and non-fiction and the pieces that don't actually pay inside a notebook for a writer.

I'm waiting to be struck over the head with great inspiration and it's all around. The steam is rising off the hot pavement after the summer rain and the baby boy is looking for a lawn mower and there's zucchini in my fridge that was on the vine a mere 48 hours ago.

There's just so much life.

My fingers twitch and can't fly fast enough and my mind chugs along not able to keep up with the words, words, words that spill out and over and all around because how do you capture the sound of a morning bird or a summer night?

Deep breathing. Slow. Down. There's a little white space crammed in that afternoon between the church and the dance studio and it's at the babbling brook that winds through the forest that grew me up when I was a college intern.

The release comes sudden. The desire to put it down and just savor the words for myself without care for if anyone else will know.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

In Which We Camp at Don Carter State Park




I am clearly a crazy person. Do not confuse what I am about to tell you with the idea that I'm a great mom or a fun mom or a brave mom.

I am none of those things.

I am a crazy mom who gets wild ideas and then with the same incorrigible stubborness I despise in my 8 year old, I continue to pursue said crazy ideas even when the odds are stacked against me.

Oh, and then I whine about how the odds are stacked against me and I just can't ever seem to catch a break.

Sheesh. I am a crazy person.




I took my kids camping last week. Yes, all of them. Yes, tent camping. Yes, it was raining the day we set out. Yes, we had to hike in to our site.

Yes, crazy person.

But they were so excited. And so helpful. And so thrilled to be camping and swimming in the lake. By the way, it's perfectly acceptable to be wet while swimming, but getting wet because rain is pouring down while your crazy mother tries to set up the broken canopy is not acceptable and results in massive screaming.

Just so you know.




We had decided to check out Georgia's newest state park, Don Carter on the shores of Lake Lanier. It's only about 25 miles from home and has a great beach area the kids are in love with. And the most awesome playground, ever. However, it also has a truly primitive campground. They were in love with that too.

Twelve sites are nestled back in the woods and along the lake shore. They're fairly separated from one another, so you definitely don't feel like you're camping on top of someone else, but the trade off? All sites require a walk in. Some more so than others. Last weekend when we scoped it out, they picked out one of the farthest sites from the parking lot. It was about 100 yards down a paved trail and another hundred or so yards up a trail through the woods.

"But, Mommy, we won't wake up anybody else when we get up early!"

Well, there's that for a positive.

Really, it was a great site. My only complaint is not actually the walk in, but the lack of a picnic table in the primitive sites. I for sure wasn't carrying one of those up that trail. Our two-room twelve-person tent was enough of a load, thank you very much.

So we walked it all in. I had repacked all the gear to make it as easy as possible, planned meals around minimalist needs and cooking (Pop-tarts for the first time in months!), and steeled myself for the potential complaining when they realized just how much work this really is.

But I didn't prepare myself adequately for ME.



You know this happens to us all the time as mothers. We plan and pack and prep for everyone else. We overlook ourselves. We forget to account for our own capacity and abilities and instead fall into the belief our kids have about us: we think we can do it all by ourselves.

Crazy person.

I can't do anything by myself. And the last lesson I want my kids to learn is that I can. Instead, I want them to learn that the only reason mommy can do anything is because the first place I go in the morning is my knees and the second place I go is their daddy.

Problem is, sometimes I skip those two places and go straight to the throne of myself. That's when I fall apart. Because the pressure I put on myself is infinitely greater than the expectations my Father God or my precious husband have for me.

On our first day out, I prayed and had a Bible study with my kids before we left. We talked about the verse I had studied that morning.
12 Clothe yourselves therefore, as God’s own chosen ones (His own picked representatives), [who are] purified and holy and well-beloved [by God Himself, by putting on behavior marked by] tenderhearted pity and mercy, kind feeling, a lowly opinion of yourselves, gentle ways, [and] patience [which is tireless and long-suffering, and has the power to endure whatever comes, with good temper].--Colossians 3:12 (AMP) 
So, Thursday was a good day despite the rain that came down and the canopy that didn't come up and the flood that soaked all our clothes.  Thursday I had called on power outside myself to endure whatever came so that my kids would not have a crazy mama. We had all agreed to work on being patient with one another no matter what.




But apparently, I forgot all that by Friday morning when I was getting all worked up over a visit from my sister and the idea that Joshua would come in that afternoon and what if they thought I'd done everything wrong? There was dirt in the tent, no table, and Gus's kneecaps couldn't be found under all the scrapes and bruises. Not to mention Amelia wore the same clothes for two days because hers were still wet despite a visit to the the dryer in the posh RV campground.

I forgot, again, that not everything is always all about me. And not everything I do has to be filtered through the screen of what everyone else might think.

Expectations are not absolutes. Life is so often a series of expectations that are unrealistic and unachievable, yet we crush ourselves under the weight of failure when nothing seems to go according to plan. All week people have been asking me if our trip was fun, if it was worth it, if we had a good time. I tend to say it would be more worth it had it been longer, had I been more patient, had it not rained.

But my kids? Just like that time we hiked Tallulah Gorge, they figured it was worth it all along. You know why? They're expectations were simple: we camp and we swim. Only mine were outlandish.

We camp. We are happy the whole time. No one fights. We sing in the rain. We do everything right so no one can find fault or say they'd have done it differently.


You know what? I'd be really crazy not to like the expectations they have of me a lot better than the ones I have of myself.

Yes, I'll do it again sometime. But this time? I'll raise my hands in praise and lower my voice of expectation.

Don Carter really is a great place for families to camp, hike, swim, and play. Check it and other wonderful state parks out here.