Tuesday, December 1, 2015

I Quit NaNoWriMo

November is finally over. It's a little bittersweet for me this year. I'm happy for each NaNoWriMo participant that meets their goal. It just wasn't for me this year.

I still stand by what I said when I finally decided to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. I knew I was not likely to finish. I tried anyways. Two weeks in, I made the decision to quit.


This past month has been a real crunch to get the upstairs apartment ready for my Mom to move in. Sweetie took off almost three weeks of work, people have been in and out constantly, and I'd been on toddler-watch without much of a break to write. Most of my writing got done late at night after everyone else had gone to bed. My sleep was suffering, and when my sleep suffers, so does my mood.

The first week was still awesome. I was meeting my daily word counts like it was nothing. Everything was going smoothly when we left on our trip to go visit my sister. I had compensated with my daily goals to account for taking a few days off for our trip and again for Thanksgiving, so I wasn't worried about that.

The thing you have to watch out for when you take a complete break like I did is the lost momentum. I tried writing on the trip back home, and only managed half the daily word count. I wasn't too worried, as I knew I could catch up easily still as long as I would sit down and do the work.

Then I got home and went through my mail. I had jury duty scheduled for the next week. That was the proverbial nail in the coffin for me. I decided to quit NaNoWriMo for this year before I became too stressed out. Sometimes when things spin out of control, it's kinder to let go of the things you can control. I've done it before, and that's what I did this time, too.

I still have all the benefits I've talked about that came with participating in NaNoWriMo. Meal planning is something I plan to continue. I got enough of the story figured out and out of my head that it's not plaguing me in quite the same way that it was. I don't regret my decision to write, and I don't regret my decision to stop.

Except I haven't really quit writing. It seems I can't. Sure, I stopped writing my fiction, but that just means I start writing in my journal more. And poems. And songs. I guess I'll just have to keep writing as long as my finger keeps itching.

***

Previous Post

More about NaNoWriMo?
My Characters Won't Behave
NaNoWriMo 2014 vs 2015
My NaNoWriMo Essentials

Saturday, November 7, 2015

My Characters Won't Behave

I know I'm not the only person that deals with this. I just feel like complaining... I started having trouble with a character being overly hostile. When I complained about it to my family, I was told to just make the character behave. I wish.



Non-writers seem to be under the impression that writers control their characters. For me, it's more like I rent head-space to my characters. Except I don't actually get the benefit of collecting rent.

When I was dealing with this particular character, I had intended for her to be rude, but the intensity of her behavior was unexpected, and told me there was more to it. So I took a day and explored why she was behaving this way. What I got at the end of the day was her character arc. It was important for me to know, even if what I actually wrote gets scrapped.

This is why I don't bother getting too detailed with my outlining. Things go off on tangents too often and I would have to scrap half of my outline. It's what works for me.

Before that I had a side character decide to tag along for the whole adventure...and become the love interest. I was not planning on including any romance in this story, but he's not going away. I'm trying telling myself that it helps add to the conflict.

So...only a week into NaNoWriMo and things are spinning out of control nicely. I've come to the conclusion is that if the characters are behaving perfectly, something is wrong.

***
Next Post
Previous Post

More about NaNoWriMo?
Four Benefits of NaNoWriMo
NaNoWriMo Prep Time
What I Did To Silence My Inner Editor

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

NaNoWriMo 2014 vs 2015

Differences seem to be a running theme with me lately. Especially when it comes to NaNoWriMo. For that matter, the working title of my NaNo novel is "Osiyana". Which…according to Google translate…is "different" in Nyanja. (I'll have to share more about how I picked that title later.)

Differences are a running theme in my plot. Differences and changes. The first plot point that crops up for my MC is changes occurring all around her, and she's the only one that knows something has changed. Then, because simple isn't something that my brain does well, there are multiple versions of the same character in the story. The differences are what set them apart.

But it makes me think of the differences between my NaNo experience last year and this year. They're already drastically different, even though we are only a few days in.

Last year, I was a pantser. I had no plot. I had a few characters and a setting, and some stories that I knew occurred after what I was writing, but I was a week or so into November before I actually thought of a plot. My writing wandered and reading over it now is particularly painful.

This year I knew I was wanting to participate, so I started planning. I worked up a few character sheets, and did some basic outlining. I actually developed a decent plot and themes. I even went so far as to create a Pinterest board for inspiration and a music playlist.

Funnily enough, I haven't been using my music playlist much. Last year, I relied heavily on music to help set the mood for my writing. This year, I either hum to myself or type in silence. It's a weird experience for someone that almost constantly has music of some kind around them.

The stories themselves are different as well. I swapped genres. Last year it was fantasy. This year, I'm dabbling in science fiction. I've read a good bit of fantasy, but not a lot of sci-fi, so I'm approaching it differently. I don't know much of what is expected of the genre, so I feel less confined in my writing. It's a good thing.

Lastly, the writing this year seems easier. I set my personal daily goal at 2200 words instead of 1667. And I'm hitting it consistently so far without problem. I believe it is partly due to my preparation, but I'm also more in a habit of writing. (I knew having this blog would come in handy.) My "sit down and just write" muscle is stronger this year.

What's the same? I'm still writing, still learning, and definitely still enjoying the process of both.

***
Next Post
Previous Post

More about NaNoWriMo?
Four Benefits of NaNoWriMo
NaNoWriMo Prep Time
What I Did To Silence My Inner Editor

Saturday, October 31, 2015

My NaNoWriMo Essentials

NaNoWriMo has already started in some locations, but I sit at my laptop waiting for the hours to tick by until my time zone can begin.My fingers are itching. I've been imagining my first chapter rather vividly in my head all afternoon. I can't wait.

But until then, I thought I'd share some things that I've decided are rather necessary to keep nearby while trying to type out 1,667 words per day.

Snacks
If you get hungry or thirsty, going to the kitchen is just a distraction. Don't tell me you'll brainstorm while you pop popcorn, or while you wait for tea to steep. You'll get busy washing dishes or texting a friend and the next thing you know, your popcorn is stale, your tea is cold, and your word count is still sitting at only 300 something and it's almost midnight...for the third night in a row. Get these things taken care of before you sit down to write. An emergency chocolate bar is also a good idea.

Notebook & Pen
Sometimes you just need to scribble out an idea. Sometimes you get stuck while typing. I've heard a change in medium can help with that, so I'm putting a notebook and pen on my list of essentials. I do most of my writing on the computer, but I tend to brainstorm with pen and paper better.

Evernote
On the technology side, you need something that keeps all your ideas in one place that is accessible from anywhere. If you can manage to keep actual paper and pen with you all the time, use that. For the rest of us, we need something that can be accesses on our little smartphones--those are always in our pockets. Personally, I use Evernote, but you could use Google Docs, or anything else that lets you access from phone and computer both.

Tissues
This was something I didn't think about last year: tissues. Writing can be very personal, and if you suddenly realize that your plot or character speak to you, tears may ensue. Toward the end of last year's novel I hit some emotional scenes that had me in tears as I was writing them. You don't want to be scrambling for something to wipe nose and eyes if you're writing an emotionally charged scene.  Keep a box of tissues handy.

So there's four things that I consider essential to have near my while writing for this month. What is on your list?

***
Next Post
Previous Post

More about NaNoWriMo?
Four Benefits of NaNoWriMo
This Year's NaNo Prep
What I Did Last Year To Silence My Inner Editor

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Four Benefits of NaNoWriMo

I posted a few days ago about my NaNoWriMo prep time. The anticipation for November first grows daily. Personally, I'm anticipating a lot of fun.

But if you've checked NaNoWriMo out, you know that I'm attempting to write fifty thousand words in a single month. That's a little over sixteen hundred per day. That's more than quadruple one of my normal blog posts. What on earth am I thinking?!

Well...I'm thinking that I've done it before. But for you, who might be trying to decide if you want to join in the craziness for the first time, let me attempt to convince you. These are four benefits I have from participating in NaNoWriMo:


Community

NaNoWriMo provides a community of writers--each attempting the same insane goal. There's a huge community online on the NaNoWriMo boards as well as on Twitter. Personally, I use Twitter the most because it's what I use year-round. (Find me here.) If you're feeling discouraged, you have people readily available to cheer you on. If you're stuck for ideas, there's people that will help with that, too.

The writing itself, however...that's your responsibility.

Motivation

We all have our quotas to fill. That's another benefit of NaNoWriMo. You're staring a deadline in the face and the only thing you can do about it is write.

You quit thinking about writing. You quit talking about writing.

You write.

Your excuses get pushed to the side and you do what you have always wanted to do. It's liberating.


Organization

The knowledge that I have this crazy goal for November, and that it will take work and time to achieve that goal, has made me get organized around the house. I made out menu plans for the whole month...and a master grocery list...and printed recipe cards. I got it together for the first time in I don't want to admit how long. Plus I got a head start on cleaning chores. NaNoWriMo has already benefited these aspects of my life by giving me the motivation to take care of them now instead of procrastinating. It can do the same for you.

Relief

One last benefit I would like to mention is getting head space cleared out. I always have multiple stories simmering away in my head. It gets a bit crowded. NaNoWriMo makes me write out one of my stories,get it out of my head, and put it on paper. It was a relief last year to finish a story and know it was out. Not perfect, but out. It doesn't bother me like it did before because I still have it, it's just not taking up space in my brain. It's a wonderful feeling.

So have I convinced you yet? If so, join me! You can find my profile here.

***
Next Post
Previous Post

Monday, October 26, 2015

NaNoWriMo Prep Time

October is fast coming to a close. Some folks are busy with last minute Halloween preparations, and others are already turning their attention to Thanksgiving--or even Christmas.

Still others are listening to a siren call with equal measures of anticipation and dread--the siren call of NaNoWriMo.

I tried to resist that call this year. I really did. I have two weeks that my schedule is going to be so messed up, I'm not sure I will be able to make time to write. Yet, every time someone on Twitter would mention NaNoWriMo, I would go back to second-guessing my decision to not participate.

I kept second-guessing until I changed my mind, and plunged into a short prep time before the month kicks off. I had so much fun last year, I just couldn't contemplate the thought of missing out. I decided that trying and failing was more important to me than not trying at all.

That meant a change of story. I was originally going to work on a complete re-write of last year's story. Over the last year, it morphed so much in my head that it's hardly recognizable. However, I would care too much about not finishing that story, so I had to pick a different one.

Do you remember The Phone Call and it's continuation? That became the inspiration for this year's NaNoWriMo project. I just can't leave the idea of tangent universes alone. There's so much to explore!

While I had no preparation done last year (I decided to participate sometime around 10 o'clock at night on Halloween last year.) I've done a bit this year. I've written about four different outlines and the plot has changed on me at least six times. Characters morphed and combined. I am loving this process.

This week I'm turning my attention to the house and food plans. Meal plans, grocery lists, and giving the house a good cleaning are what's on my list. I feel rather productive. It's a benefit of participating in NaNoWriMo that I'm already reaping benefits.

So how crazy are you feeling? Have you ever wanted to try writing a novel? It's an exilerating feeling to hit that 50k word count for the first time. NaNoWriMo could be the thing you need to get you started. Join me here!

For a few tips I learned from last year, check out what I did to silence my inner editor.

***
Next Post
Previous Post

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Knowing Yourself

I've mentioned before that I used to think that I was a detail-oriented person. But I was almost literally nicknamed Miss Oblivious in the office. While I can handle detailed tasks, I'm actually much more focused on the big picture. I don't notice details. So how did I come to think I was detail-oriented?

I was raised to value the quality and so naturally desired to possess it. I thought I did. My family was detail-oriented, therefore I must be as well. I did not want to be different from my family in this regard.

I had a bit of trouble being honest with myself regarding this aspect of my personality. Not being detail-oriented isn't bad or good, but my perception made me cling to my skewed view of myself.

I have since accepted this. The main goal now is not to use it as an excuse when I know I could do better. Like leaving salt out of a recipe completely because I didn't read the instructions well enough...

Mentioning food--I recently discovered that I am a foodie. I basically love everything about food. I got excited the other day just because I found polenta at the grocery store... But I haven't wanted to label myself as a "foodie" because I associated it with the word "snobby." Perceptions again. Yet, "foodie" just means that a person is enthusiastic about food...and I definitely am that!

It's making me more aware of the fact that sometimes I really don't know myself as well as I think I do. Perhaps even those around me see me more accurately at times than I do myself. Yet I don't think that it's good to remain completely oblivious to who you really are.

How do you get to know yourself?

You could take all kinds of personality tests, but they only paint an incomplete picture. They're also only as accurate as your answers, and if you are either unaware or in denial about who you really are, the personality tests are going to give skewed results. They can be a fun game, but I don't put a great deal of stock in them.

The one person that knows us for who we really are...and loves us anyways...is God. Through His Word and His Spirit, He can reveal to us ourselves. The wonderful thing about asking God to show us who we really are is that He doesn't do it all at once. He does it kindly and slowly, leading us to better understanding and helping us to correct faults we didn't even know we had.

My prayer is that I will never shy away from the reflections in His Word.

***
Next Post
Previous Post

Friday, October 16, 2015

Even My Desires


Sometimes God uses little moments to teach us big lessons. I had one of those moments three years ago. It feels like a good time to share it now.

I was on a trip with my parents. As we returned to our hotel one day, I suddenly got a craving for peanut butter M&Ms. I assumed that the vending machines wouldn't have them, but decided to look anyways. To my surprise, they had exactly what I wanted. As I was reaching into my purse for the money to buy my desired treat, Daddy handed me some money.


The amount was more than I needed for my candy. I didn't really need the sugary treat. I did have the money on hand to buy it, but here was my daddy wanting me to let him be the one to supply even this small desire.

Later that evening I started crying as God started showing me how He wants to be the one to supply even the little things for me. He considers even our desires. He wants to give us good things.

Whatever faults my earthly father may have had, I never doubted that he wanted the best for me. And God is saying that He--as a Heavenly Father--possesses this quality even more. Remember that Daddy gave me more than enough for my candy. God wants to give us more than enough.

I'm not saying that we always get what we want. Sometimes God says "no" because He sees that our desire is harmful to us or because He has something better to give us if we will let Him. But He does know and care about our desires.

"If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" (Matthew 7:11)




I remember this lesson every time I look at a package of peanut butter M&Ms now. I hope it will be an encouragement.

***
Notice: I am not paid to rave about peanut butter M&Ms. I am receiving no reimbursement for professing my love for this specific candy. I just wanted to tell a story.

***
Next Post
Previous Post

Want to read more of my little lesson moments?
Being Still 
Looking Up

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Nadia Elizabeth

I've told the story about my son's name before. Before I miscarried, I had--only somewhat jokingly--asked the Lord what he was going to name this baby. When I miscarried, I developed a fixation on one of the names we had discussed: Nadia. It's a Russian name that means hope.


The morning after we agreed on the name, as I was reading my Bible I came across Proverbs 13:12. "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life."

What is a miscarriage if not "hope deferred"? And Nadia means hope. I took it as confirmation that the baby was a girl. We never got the opportunity to confirm the gender medically.

More important, though, is the promise that the verse gives. The desire...more children...is not cut off, only delayed, and when it does come, it will be a blessing.

The promise sent me searching for an appropriate middle name. I searched no further than Elizabeth. It was a name Sweetie had mentioned previously. The name means "my God is an oath" or more simply "oath of God." God gave His Word and He is His Word. What greater promise do I need?

While my heart will continue to ache for the child I lost, her name is now another little reminder of how God works in my life. The last time this promise was inspired to me, it was two years before I saw any fulfillment, but it was fulfilled. God may make us wait for a promise, but He never reneges on His Word.

It was a precious comfort to me. Personalized and perfect. I'm not surprised; God has a tendency to do that for His children. Man's ideas and platitudes may fall short, but God has a perfect balm for the wounded. May those impacted by my experience, or those with the same experience, look to the Lord for His perfect comfort.

***
Next Post
Previous Post

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Celebrating Life

Sometimes the best of intentions get lost. Like when I went from updating my blog daily to every other day. Then once a week. Then twice a month. And finally not at all.

I won't offer excuses. Life happens to everyone. So does death.

I have come to the conclusion that life should be celebrated even if it's only for a short period of time. That was why when I found out I was expecting our second child, I didn't wait very long to tell people. I was excited, and I wanted to share our wonderful news.

(As a side note, I am a huge procrastinator when it comes to online announcements and it didn't get announce online until I was around 12 weeks.)

I miscarried at 13 weeks.

That was one of the hardest weeks of my life.

I will never get to hold that baby. I never quite understood missing someone you never knew until now. It had never happened to me before. I knew both of my parents, all of my grandparents, and most of my great-grandparents.

I've experienced loss before, but I've never known what it was to grieve a loss that is just potential.

We named the baby Nadia. Personally, I would encourage anyone that has a miscarriage to name the baby. It's hard enough not having the usual funeral and grave.

I'm learning all over again how sweet the people in my life can be. Each offers comfort in their own way, and somehow it translates in a way that my heart understands--from the friend praying earnestly for me because she's been there, to the one that bluntly stated that she did not understand because she's never been there. They both care, and it shows.

I said that life should be celebrated, and for a few short weeks, Nadia's life was celebrated before it was cut off. Before any of us got the chance to meet her. I'm glad that I didn't wait to tell about her. We got that much longer to celebrate a little life.

I appreciate every one that has prayed, called, texted, messaged... God has worked even through this heartbreaking time, and I believe that He is not through using this to work His purpose.

***
Next Post
Previous Post

Monday, May 4, 2015

Being Still

A pair of killdeer made a nest in my parents' driveway this spring. After they hatched, I paused  to take a picture from my car, and I noticed something about the baby birds.




















They were perfectly still.

So still, if I hadn't already known how many babies there were, I might have missed one. Maybe it's an odd thing to notice, but I'd been thinking about being still for a while already...

Time for some more honesty. My health has not been good for years., and that's putting it mildly. The last year has been especially rough. Lately I've felt a strong desire to know what is wrong, but that desire seems to be countered by multiple songs and scriptures constantly coming to mind that mention being still.

It got me thinking. Does my worry count as being still? No, it really doesn't.

Does God know what is wrong? Yes.

Is He still in control? Yes

So why should I worry?

Those baby birds were not looking around trying to see what was wrong. They had to have known that something wasn't right, yet they held completely still. That was how they were safe. Had I been a predator, keeping still and letting their parents handle the situation was their best assurance of safety.

If only it were easy for me to keep still and trust my Heavenly Father to handle my situation. It's not easy, but I have felt inspired to let my worry go. I'm not actively seeking diagnosis; I'm simply trying to rest in the promise that God knows, God cares, and He is taking care of everything. (See Psalm 46:10)

Monday, April 27, 2015

What's in a name?

I've hesitated to write about this because I try not to use the names of my family members online. Partially to preserve privacy, and partially because it can be easier for people to know who I'm talking about. But some things I just feel are too special not to share.

I recently came to the conclusion that Sweetie and I did not actually name our son. We just thought we did. Turns out God is the one that named him.

Up until the point that we knew for sure we were having a boy, I had a name picked and Sweetie had been fine with it. Walking away from the ultra-sound, Sweetie's tune completely changed and we were back to square one. Eventually, Sweetie picked the first name. It was not for any particular reason, just a name that he liked. I decided on a middle name after my grandfather that passed about five months before little Boll-weevil was born.

Now I don't even remember why, but I was recently looking up baby name meanings. I knew that Boll-weevil's middle name meant "king." I had thought that his first name meant "healing," but as it turns out, it means "joined." If you take "king" to represent "King of kings," you suddenly have a name that literally means "Joined of God." See Mark 10:9.

This is a baby that I have come to consider to be a miracle child. We did not plan to have a child as soon as we did. Because of my health, I wondered if it were possible for me to even have a child, yet he was born ten months after we married. Our baby's impact on the lives of those around him was another indicator that he was sent from God because he was needed. God sent Dad a grandson that he got to see almost daily for nine months before he died. If we had had a child when we had been planning to, Dad would never have seen his first grandchild.

Children can be like glue in a marriage, and everyone goes through their rough spots. Little Boll-weevil has certainly brought Sweetie and I closer together than almost anything else could have done. Somehow being responsible for this little soul gives us extra incentive to take care of our marriage and each other.

But what makes me start to tear up over the name meaning "Joined of God" is the confirmation that God was the One that put Sweetie and I together. That's another story completely, but it was no less miraculous. Our first-born son that is half of each of us has a name that is a constant reminder that we were put together for a reason. We may not know what we will face in the future, but we have the assurance that we are meant to face it together. We were and still are "Joined of God."

Now let me just find my tissues...

***
Next Post
Previous Post

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Monica's Mini Meatloaves

Monica's Mini Meatloaves Recipe
(Makes about 2 dozen)

Ingredients:
5 lbs hamburger
2 cups oatmeal
2 cups chopped onion
4 eggs
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 TBS soy sauce
1/2 TBS Moore's
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients. Measure 1/2 cup servings and shape into balls. Bake 350F for 30 minutes. Drain well. Cover in Special Sauce.

Sauce Ingredients:
2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup BBQ sauce
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 cups brown sugar

Combine ingredients. Mix well. Spoon over mini meatloaves.

***
Originally this was a recipe to make 1" meatballs. My cousin Monica made this one time and brought to a pot luck...or something like that. The details are fuzzy. What I distinctly remember is that everyone loved these little suckers, and the recipe was dubbed "Monica's Meatballs."

Mom and I were recently making these and I decided to try adapting the recipe a bit to make it easier to make. I do not enjoy hand-rolling 1" meatballs. So we changed it to mini meatloaves and doubled the recipe while we were at it.

The original recipe calls for Worcestershire sauce in the meatballs, but I couldn't find it when I was mixing it up. Hence the soy sauce and Moore's. Yay for recipe adaption!

It should be noted that the sauce recipe listed above makes about 4 cups of sauce. Sweetie is a sauce-aholic, so that was just fine for us.

Now go forth and try this recipe out. Seriously. They're almost addicting.



















***
Next Post
Previous Post

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

My Socks Don't Match!

How much time do you spend on laundry? Probably more than you would like. How much time do you spend matching socks? If all of your socks are the same, maybe not much. But if you have many different patterned socks the task can become time consuming.

I've recently decided to stop wasting so much time worrying about things like matching socks. Sure, it may be a little awkward, but life is too short to waste time worrying about something making you feel uncomfortable.



Sometimes three little words can make you uncomfortable: "I love you."

Do you remember the first time you said it to a boyfriend or girlfriend? Do you remember how terrified you were? It's because the words hold a lot more meaning than their mere eight letters would suggest.

Some families say it more often than others. Just like some families are more touchy-feely, or "huggy" than others. The thing is, life is too short to pass up the opportunity to say "I love you," to someone you really care about, whether by word or deed. Even if it's awkward.

Several years ago I felt impressed to go and visit my Aunt Wanda in the hospital. I was living in Little Rock at the time, and Oklahoma City was a simple weekend trip. While I did stay with my grandparents, the purpose of the visit really was my aunt. I enjoyed spending that time with her, even though it was a bit odd to go for the express purpose of seeing her. I was so glad later that I did it. It was the last time I saw her before she died.

The last time I saw my grandfather he was outside talking with some of the family. I felt too awkward to interrupt and say goodbye, so I just waved. We left on our trip back home, and I never saw him again. I wish now that I had overridden my feelings of discomfort and given him one last hug and said "I love you." But I can't change it now.

It makes me so glad that the night that Daddy passed that I got to say "I love you," one last time. I'm glad for the opportunities that I had and didn't pass up during his illness--to sing for him, sit with him, pray for him. I don't have regrets for anything I did, even if it made me uncomfortable at the time.

I try to be more mindful now to say "I love you." I never know when my last opportunity will be, and I don't want to neglect it. Feeling awkward over it is such a waste, and the regret really isn't worth it.

So if you catch me wearing mismatching socks, no, I haven't reached a new level of harried housewife. I'm just choosing to focus my energies on things of slightly more significance in the big scheme of things. Which would you regret more? Missing your last opportunity to say "I love you," or wearing mismatching socks?

***
Next Post
Previous Post

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Phone Call Continued...

Almost a month has gone by since I got that strange phone call from myself. Maybe you remember the one? Some prankster was texting me from my own phone number. It was very disconcerting.

The holidays came and went and I had all but put the incident out of my mind. Until today. Today I woke up with no less than 34 text messages from myself. They all said very similar things.

"Wake up."

"We need to talk."

"Take your phone off silent!"

"You still use Do Not Disturb, don't you?"

"Just how long do you sleep?"

"Never mind."

You get the picture. I didn't register at first who blew up my phone's messages. Then I nearly dropped the phone when I noticed my own number at the top of the screen. It seemed my tormenter was back. Figuratively speaking, of course.

I sat up and rubbed my eyes. Whatever it was could not be too urgent. Responding to my little personal troll could wait until I had my first cup of tea...and maybe some breakfast. I left my phone on the bedside table and stretched before padding out of the bedroom.

Stepping into the kitchen, I was surprised when a mug of tea was shoved into my hand. I squinted at the person before me. I started to scream at the evident intruder, but was distracted by a pair of glasses being shoved into my hands. I put them on, still blinking at the light.

When I finally registered that there were in fact three strange people in my kitchen I threw the steaming hot tea onto the nearest one. The blonde-headed boy looked down at his shirt, then back at me with his mouth gaping. I stared back until the sound of laughter arrested my attention.

Another boy, slightly taller than the blonde and sporting a startling shock of red hair, was doubled over in a debilitating fit of giggles. Blondie and I looked at him with shared incredulity. I glanced at the only other occupant of my tiny kitchen and took a step back.

Apparently I had an evil twin.

I'm assuming evil, anyways. Breaking and entering is against the law, after all. She was also laughing, but was at least managing to hand a towel to Blondie in an attempt to clean up the mess. I started backing out of the room, intending to get my phone and call the police when she lunged forward and grabbed my wrist.

"We need to talk," she said staring at me with such intensity that I found myself nodding dumbly. She dragged me into the living room with Blondie and Red trailing behind us.

There were three suitcases on the floor, and Blondie started rooting through one of them. He pulled out a clean shirt. He started to change when Evil Twin stopped him.

"She's going to have enough shocks for today without you adding nudity to it," she said dryly.

He had the decency to blush before he left the room with his clean shirt. Red meanwhile had plopped himself down on the sofa and was watching us with undisguised amusement. Evil Twin sat down in my favorite chair and gestured for me to sit as well.

I sighed and resigned myself to the strangest day I had ever experienced.

"So what was so important that you had to contact me from the future?"

"..."

"In person, no less," I continued.

Blondie walked back in with his tea-stained shirt in hand. I gestured wildly at him and Red.

"And why did you have to bring these two?" I demanded as the three began exchanging significant looks.

"We're not from the future," Red smirked at me. I looked sceptical.

"Then what are you? This is really extreme for a practical joke," I was skeptical.

Evil Twin held up her hand. "We're not from the future," she stated. "We're from a tangent universe."

"Come again?" My jaw hit the floor.

***

That seems like a good place to stop. This little story seemed to want to continue, but I don't know where it's going or when I might add to it. Until then, I'm just glad to have gotten some writing done instead of just a half-finished post and vague outlines.

You can find the beginning of the story here.

Next Post
Previous Post

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What Is Normal?

Occasionally life is really topsy-turvy and I find myself wanting it to get back to normal. Then I have to stop and think, "What is normal?"

Daddy died about two weeks ago. People ask me how I'm doing, and I can honestly say I'm OK right now. I cry sometimes, and that's normal. I'm still able to take care of my daily duties. That's normal, too. Grief is a weird thing even when it's being completely normal.

Life for me has had so many drastic changes that I've almost given up trying to have a "normal" life because apparently it's just not going to happen. But I don't know everyone else's circumstances. Maybe "normal"  lives don't exist at all except in the confines of our most idealistic daydreams.

It's normal for normal to not be normal. At least that's how I've come to see it.

So now I have to learn to deal with a new normal. My parents have been such a big part of my life that I can hardly imagine what life will be like without Daddy. Because he always traveled for work, half the time it just seems like he's gone on a trip. Then I remember that he isn't coming back...

I tear up a bit when I remember that. That's OK. It's normal.

I'm still Looking Up. God has always been and always will be a constant. Maybe that is the true definition of normal.

***

I have wanted to continue blogging for the past two weeks, but have not known what on earth to write since Daddy died. There has been such an outpouring of love from everyone around me that I don't even know quite how to take it in. I appreciate each one that has been there for us and prayed for us.

Next Post
Previous Post

Saturday, January 31, 2015

How I Save Money...on Groceries

Something that crops up in my Facebook feed every now and then is one of my friends asking for ideas on how to save money...usually specifically on groceries. While I don't claim to know everything, I do have some experience, so I decided to share what has worked for me.

Set a Goal

Last year I challenged myself to start keeping my grocery budget at $50 per week. I had read all kinds of blogs that were doing $300, $250, and $200 per month, and I was thinking that there was no way I would be able to come close. Our food budget at the time for two people was $400 per month. I was aiming to slash it in half.

Now I'm sure some of you are wondering why I would try this goal when I was almost certain that I would fail. The reason is that I felt that I needed to try. Even if I failed at $50 per week, I was sure I would save some money simply by trying. I chose a specific goal to give me something concrete to aim for rather than the ambiguous "Save Money."

I got a few negative reactions when I mentioned this goal to people. They were concerned that I was not eating healthy, or enough. Granted, I was pregnant at the time, and that was a concern. The thing is, I was eating really well, possibly even better than I had been on the larger budget.

Cook From Scratch

One of the biggest things, and this could help anyone, is that I started cooking mostly from scratch. Pinterest was a wonderful resource for recipes to make homemade versions of my favorite convenience foods. I've made Hamburger Helper, Rice-a-Roni, Pasta-Roni, macaroni and cheese, even my own "cream of" soups all from scratch. It's not much more trouble than from the box, and it's so much healthier for you. And cheaper. Always remember that. It's cheaper.

You can check out my personal board for this below. I've indicated which recipes I've already tried.

Follow Ashley's board DIY Mixes on Pinterest.

Take Advantage of Sales

So I was buying mostly staples, meat, and produce. I shop predominately at Aldi and Sprout's. Aldi has wonderful prices on almost everything--although I keep a running list of what is cheaper at Walmart. Sprout's sales on meat and produce are wonderful, and the quality is outstanding. Even if you don't have those stores in your area, most grocery stores have weekly sales ads. You can check your newspaper, but most stores are now putting their ads on their websites for even easier access

If you don't have a great deal of freezer storage, meal planning is probably a really good idea. Fortunately I have a deep freezer that allows me to stockpile, so I don't have to be quite so rigid in my meal plans. I slowly built up my freezer and now it's pretty full of meats and vegetables that I can pull out to make a quick meal.

So there you have it. My best advice based on my experience saving money on groceries. Set a goal, take advantage of sales, and cook more from scratch. Doing this, I did manage to hit my goal of $50 per week on groceries. I actually kept it closer to $40 per week on average. Sweetie was pleasantly surprised with my success. I hope this has given you some ideas to save money yourself, or even just encourage you in your quest to pinch those pennies just a little tighter.

***
Previous Post

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Looking Up

"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help." Psalm 121:1

My dad took sick 6-7 weeks ago. He would start to recover, then relapse. Lather, rinse, repeat. Then his health really went downhill. 

Some of you already knew of this. Calls for prayer went out, and I know that God's people have been praying and fasting on our behalf. I think I speak for the whole family that we deeply appreciate each one that has prayed for us. 

I won't go into any details. I will only say that Daddy is very weak, and there have been times that we thought we were losing him.

One of my good friends came down last night to stay with me, and before she left this morning she reminded me, "by faith, and not by sight." It was something I needed, because when I got to my parent's house this morning, Daddy looked worse.

While different songs and scriptures have come to mind over the past few days, the one that I was inspired with this morning was Psalm 121:1. "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help." My human eyes see what is before me, the reality of our situation. My faith looks up to God, the One in control of our situation.

Looking up is what inspires my faith. It is when I fail to look up that I become discouraged. It was when Peter looked around at the waves--at the reality of what he was going through--that he began to sink. But when he looked back up at the Master he was drawn back up. When my faith starts to waver, all I have to do is look back up. 

We are still in the midst of the battle. We still crave your prayers. Pray that we will continue to look up. 

And if you are going through a trial of your own, I encourage you to look up. God cares, and His people care about you. There has been such an outpouring of love in this battle. Look up. 

Next Post 
 Previous Post

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Miss Oblivious

I have always thought of myself as a detail-oriented person. I come from a family of detail-oriented people, so I just assumed I was the same way. This probably comes as a surprise to most people who know me, because I have a reputation for being a bit spacey. It all hit me about a week ago, and I saw myself a little more accurately.

You know how they say that you can miss the forest for all the trees? I miss the trees for the forest.

I was almost literally nicknamed "Miss Oblivious" at the office I worked at a few years ago. They had very good reason for this name. I can't tell you how many times I would be talking to a co-worker in the break room, and they would ask me why I didn't wave back when they passed me on our way to or from work on the interstate. I simply did not see them. I pay attention to the road when I'm driving, and very little else...like other drivers' maniacal attempts to get my attention.

Probably the funniest example, and a story that my friends will not let me live down, happened one time in late spring. In Alabama, spring starts early in the year, and things become green fast. I did not have a window in my office, but the front doors in the lobby were all glass. One day in May, or maybe early June, I walked up to the front doors, looked outside, turned to the receptionist--who happened to be an old friend of mine--and exclaimed, "There's leaves on the trees!" Considering the fact that there had been leaves on the trees for a couple of months, it's understandable that my friend laughed herself silly before spreading the story throughout the office.

I also recently discovered that my mother does have a trash can in her laundry room. I've been carrying the lint from the dryer all the way to the kitchen trash because I couldn't find the can by the washer and dryer. Was it hidden? No. My brain simply failed to register what my eyes were seeing.

This isn't to say that I'm completely capable of detailed work. I'm actually pretty good with data entry, mathematics, and fine stitching like crochet and cross-stitch. but I think my mind wanders whenever I'm doing something repetitive. I suppose I am more of a big picture person. Details escape me for whatever reason, and I really don't know how to change that.

Does anyone else find themselves missing the trees for the forest? Any suggestions on how to train my mind to notice the details that it really needs to? I'd love to hear about it!

***
Next Post
Previous Post

Friday, January 9, 2015

Where's My Hamster?

I have a problem that most people, particularly mothers of young children, seem to suffer from. It's usually not too debilitating, but occasionally it makes every day activities next to impossible to perform.

Brain Fog.

It's not that it feels like my brain shuts down, it's more that it keeps moving, but it's not doing anything. "The wheel is spinning, but the hamster is clearly missing," or something to that effect. It really does feel like a fog, and I wander around the house aimlessly trying to figure out what I am supposed to be doing.

When it gets really bad, I can't even read. That's hard for a bookworm like myself to deal with. If you can't read, what can you do?

The other night it was even so bad I could barely do laundry. Almost like I was forgetting how to  fold clothes. This is not normal. At least, this extreme case is not normal.

What is normal is for me to lose my train of thought half-way through what I was saying. This is why I really try to rely on outlining when I write. Otherwise I just ramble and make very little sense. (I did outline this post; I hope it actually helps.)

It's very common for me, and has been for years, to forget a point I wanted to make in an online post after clicking the send button. I apologize to anyone if I miss a question when responding to comments. I promise I'm not doing it on purpose.

So, does anyone else find themselves suffering from this mental wandering? If so, what do you do to cope with it? I've figured out outlining for my writing, but what about other instances, like answering a list of questions, or attempting to do household chores?

***
Next Post
Previous Post

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Five Nights of "Go Away!"

Apparently a new horror game came out in August, and references to it have been appearing in my social media feeds ever since. Perhaps you've heard of Five Nights at Freddy's? I wish I hadn't.

I actually have watched someone play the game, and frankly, it shouldn't be as scary as it is. But it plays on a particular fear of mine that I cannot seem to shake even though I know it is completely irrational.

I cannot stand animatronics. They absolutely terrify me.

My first personal memory was of my grandmother's crawling baby doll. That thing was just plain creepy. Inanimate objects are not supposed to move like that.

Then there were the characters at Chuck E. Cheese's. Yeah...the very chain that apparently inspired the nightmare that has been intruding on my normally horror-free media feeds. What made Chuck E. Cheese's worse for me as a child was the fact that occasionally someone would dress up as the giant mouse himself and greet the children. You think I had issues with him just up on the stage? One time my sister and I hid under the table when we saw him approaching, and had to be coaxed back out after he was gone.

This has presented some opportunities for my peers to mock me at theme parks. "It's a Small World" is still horrifying to me, even after the update. But back when it was looking a bit shabby...that was worse. If you've ever been to Six Flags Over Georgia, you'll find "Monster Mansion," a delightful little ride full of brightly colored animatronics that hopefully stay where they belong while you go past in your little boat. Then it takes a scary turn. You know, you go into the dark, and the music goes into a minor key and things are lit spookily? At least, I assume that's what it looks like. My fear of the animatronics means I've never actually seen that part of the ride.

My method of coping with rides involving animatronics has been to close my eyes tight, plug my ears with my fingers, and hum "Kumbaya." It works for me.

I honestly do not know where I got this fear from. Other fears, I can think of instances in my life that spawned the irrational behavior, but not this one. I've had it for as long as I can remember, and it is not doing away.

I usually avoid the horror genre as a whole. I have an over-active imagination that doesn't need help in producing nightmares for me. I could do a whole lot better without Five Nights at Freddy's in my life, though. Seriously, it needs to die.

***
Next Post
Previous Post

Monday, January 5, 2015

My Missing Filter

A question had been plaguing me. It's something I've noticed about myself, and something that is mentioned a lot when talking about introverts in general. Why do introverts need down-time?

Or maybe my question is why do extroverts not need down-time. 

I was thinking about it a lot the other day and came up with an hypothesis that I would love to run by some real-life extroverts. An extrovert should not be that hard to come by. Unfortunately, I come from a family of introverts, so it's more difficult than you would think.

I noticed that, personally, how soon I need my down-time correlates to how much is going on around me. In quieter settings, I can go all day, and be fine with a little down-time in the evening. In louder settings, I find myself escaping to a bathroom or outdoors throughout the day.

So it got me thinking. What if extroverts and introverts both have a "sensory data tank" that fills up with stuff they both have to process, but extroverts have a special filter that keeps irrelevant data from filling up the tank. Like background music. It distracts me horribly, but it seems not to bother the extroverts I'm around at all. What if they have a filter in their brain that tells them that it's not necessary to process that information? It would mean that their "sensory data tank" would fill up much slower, apparently to the extent that they can keep up with the input in real time.

It could explain why introverts--well, me specifically--will reach a point where they shut down. When the "sensory data tank" is full, escape becomes necessary so the data can be processed, or at least drained from the tank so it can receive more data. If escape is impossible, then I shut down emotionally and give monosyllabic responses to anyone attempting to draw me out of my shell of self-preservation.

If this filter does exist, I really wish I could develop one. It would be so handy. Three conversations going on at once? Just ignore all but the one you are actually participating in! Background music in a store? Don't have to pay attention to the lyrics, just enjoy the mood of the melody. My life needs this. Badly.

Do you think there's something here? I would really like to hear from extroverts as well as my fellow introverts on this. Do you think that it's a skill that can be developed? Let me know!


Want to read more about my introverted misadventures?
Check out these posts:

I Hugged a Stranger
Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
Talking To Myself

***
Next Post
Previous Post 

Friday, January 2, 2015

NaNoWriMo Editing Plans

Yesterday began the new year. January. I have had in my mind that I would begin revisions of my NaNoWriMo project in January. I've never done revisions like this, but then, I'd never written a novel, either. I think I can learn as I go.

I had very little idea for my plot when I started writing in November. I had a couple of character names, and I knew something about my ending. I did not even know where to start. Now that I've written most of it, I think I know where my story needs to start, and it's not where I started it to begin with.

See, I have a tendency with fiction to simply drop my reader into the middle of the action and explain things as they come along later. My mother was always frustrated with this tendency when I was required to write paragraphs for school, because I never finished those stories that I had started. While I've only written short stories up until this point, I think using the same method will be best with a longer piece of fiction as well. And now that I know my actual story I know exactly which action scene to drop you into. Bwahahaha!

Also, I desperately need names. I have characters, places, and a few animals that I used descriptive titles rather than names the entire month because I could not think of their names. I finally did manage to name one of my places. I've gotten my last two name ideas from street signs. Any suggestions would be welcomed. I am at a loss.

To top it all off, as I skimmed through my rough draft, I came to the conclusion that I'm basically going to have to re-write this whole thing. There is so much that needs to change. That's OK, though. I had fun doing it in November, and I have a better idea of what the story is now, so I'm going to start working on outlining based on my rough draft, work up some character sheets, and probably add some more world building. I'm actually looking forward to this process.


Want to read more about my 2014 NaNoWriMo project?
Did I Write Feminist Literature?
What I Did To Silence My Inner Editor
NaNo Is Over. Now What?

**
Next Post
Previous Post

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Chocolate Mess

When I made my post about my family Christmas traditions I made the statement that we did not have a traditional dessert. One of my cousins took offense at the statement and reminded me of a dessert that my mom makes almost every year in December: Chocolate Torte.

I'm re-naming it Chocolate Mess. It looks prettier sliced up and arranged on a serving platter. And let me tell you, they are tiny slices. They have to be. The whole cake has a grand total of five cups of sugar. That's right: five. But because of the small slices, this cake would appear at three or four different Christmas parties throughout December.

I'll post the recipe below for those that want to try it once I regain access to it. I would warn you, though, this recipe is for either the incredibly brave, or the incredibly stupid. Personally, I think I fell into the latter category considering the fact that I had a seven-month-old baby to take care of as well as make a time-consuming cake.

I could not find my cake pans when I began this venture. I decided that my loaf pans would do in a pinch. That was my first mistake. You cannot get a spatula down into a loaf pan well enough to loosen the cake layers, so all of those fell apart. I tried pan-frying the batter like a crepe, but couldn't get it quite thin enough, even when I managed not to scorch them.

Fortunately, my mother offered to help me with the cake, so the next day I brought my batter and icing over to her house and she began showing me how she makes this look so easy. It should be noted that my mother made this cake almost every year with no assistance. After my experience, I would recommend that you have two people working on it. It speeds this up and just makes everything go smoother.

There were so many things that she does that are not in the recipe. Like greasing the pans with butter. Granted, I assumed you needed to grease the pans, but Mom has a particular preference for using butter because of the taste. And spreading it with your fingers if you want to be sure that you really got the pan covered. We just used a paper towel with a dab of butter most of the time, though.

The recipe says that it is a twenty-two layer cake. Mine turned out with sixteen layers...I think. If it weren't for the layers that I ruined while attempting to make the cake on my own, I probably would have had twenty or more. Oh well. It still tasted good.


Make the icing in advance. It thickens as you cook it. This is another thing not mentioned in the actual recipe. Also, you will have to wash the pans in between uses. Every. Single. Time. I was actually hoping I could skip that step. No such luck.

But the number one recommendation I would have for anyone that wants to try making this cake for the first time? Find someone that has done it before. Mom finally told me that it took years of making this cake before she had it down to her smooth process. It's worth it, though.

***
Next Post
Previous Post