40 Things

40 Things

We’re somehow to the middle of August again … which means at my birthday again. Which, in turn, means time for another post reflecting on the year–on things learned, things discovered, things loved, things hated. And of course, this is a milestone year. Forty! (Cue all the “Really? You don’t look a day over thirty nine and a half!” comments, LOL.) Surely that means I have some brilliance accrued, right? πŸ˜‰ Well, we’ll see, LOL. In no particular order, here are my 40 Things.

1. I Actually Love Keto

Last year in my 39 things, I mentioned that my husband and I were starting the keto diet, in the hopes that it would help some of my energy issues. Well…it did! Not only did I lose the extra 16 pounds I was carrying, my energy levels returned to normal, and I felt like me again! And there were other unexpected benefits too–for the past fifteen years, I’ve had to limit my caffeine intake or get fluttery-heart feelings (this runs in my family). But on keto, no amount of caffeine made me jittery or fluttery. I also no longer got sores in my mouth any time I drank a soda. I’m no doctor or chemist to explain this, but it was a nice side-effect! And when I went off keto and to low-carb over the summer, those jitters and sores returned, grr, as did the sluggishness. Guess who started it again? (Brace yourself for some other related taste discoveries, LOL.) Now, part of the reason I can love it is there are zero consequences for me if I slip up or cheat and fall out of ketosis for a few days. Nothing at stake, which makes it not stressful. The same is certainly not true for those doing it for medical reasons like epilepsy, which is how I was introduced to the diet.

2. A Diaversary

On September 26, 2021, we “celebrated” Rowyn’s first anniversary of his diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes. Many in the community celebrate this day as a birthday–because while it’s not a happy diagnosis, it’s the day they could have died but didn’t. The day they were given their life back to them, just with an insulin pen in hand. When I told Rowyn about the possibility of celebrating, he gave me that “Are you insane?” look that all teen boys surely excel at, LOL, and said, “Um, NO.” So no cake here. Though I did make his favorite meal for dinner. πŸ˜‰

3. A Baptism

On that same day, September 26, 2021, we had another celebration–XoΓ« was baptized! So even though Rowyn didn’t want to celebrate his milestone, LOL, it was a milestone day nonetheless!

4. A Dream of the Beach

Ever since forever, my husband and I have loved the beach and dream of someday owning a house in the Outer Banks. Every year when we vacation there, it hits us anew–our hearts are so happy there! The reasons are many, but the point is this: someday we want to own a house there. We’ll call it The SeaShelves. It will have books and ocean access. Our true dream would be to have a house big enough that we could invite guests to join us regularly, host retreats, and generally just extend that joy to others as a ministry. How will this happen? No clue. But it’s a dream that won’t let us go, so we’re continually offering it to the Lord.

5. We’re Walking…Yes Indeed, We’re Walking

Last September as we vacationed, one of our brainstorming walks included how to bring a bit of the joy home with us, and we realized that those walks on the beach were a key part of what we loved. Starting each day with a walk and a talk was precious! We decided to institute a morning walk in our at-home routine, and we kept it up all through the cold winter and back into the spring. It was amazing! We paused them when my husband started working from the office instead of home, but I know we both miss it and want to figure out a way to both take that walk and get him out in good time. (Photo is of a local tow path on the C&O Canal…not our daily location, but one we used last year.)

6. A Mouse! (The Computer Kind)

This may sound silly to many people, but I’ve been using a laptop for years and just using the touchpad as the mouse. I also have a Wacom tablet/stylus for design work. Well, last September my cat knocked water onto my keyboard and while we got it dried out and mostly fixed, the mouse refused to be revived. Simple solution: a wireless mouse. Obviously. But here’s the thing–my hubby found me a PURPLE one that is small and fits perfectly in my hand! LOVE!

7. Aldi’s

I’m late on this bandwagon, but I finally decided to put Aldi’s into my weekly rotation. Groceries (especially produce) are SO much cheaper there, and they have quite a selection of keto foods, included yummy, zero-net-carb bread for CHEAP! “Cheap” and “keto food” do not usually belong in the same sentence, so this has been big for us!

8. Co-Teaching Is Fun!

I’ve recorded quite a lot of classes at this point for writers, but this summer David and I decided to present a series together, and oh my gracious! Talking through things together (which we do all the time anyway) is so much more fun than just presenting my ideas alone! We recorded 8 classes that will be their own marketing series intensive, and also got to co-present a Major Morning Session at Montrose Christian Writers Conference in July. What a blessing!

9. Coffee Creamer Trial and Error

Okay, so I have always been a flavored-creamer girl. Fat Free French Vanilla was my go-to coffee creamer for years. Like, decade-and-a-half years. Pumpkin Spice was my seasonal delight. Then I decided to do keto, and the biggest hurdle for me was figuring out what to put in my coffee. My old creamers, laden with sugar as they are, were out. I tried the “zero sugar” varieties, but they still have 1 carb per tablespoon, and I use quite a few tablespoons a day, LOL. For a while, I was just using unsweetened almond milk with some sugar free syrup, and that was okay, but not creamy. Then I discovered NutPods. BLISS!! Combined with a little of that sugar free syrup, it’s not only sweet and no-carb, it’s rich and CREAMY!!! I am so happy to have discovered this!

10. The Griddler

I’ve been making a big batch of pancakes for my son every week so I can freeze them (they impact the blood sugar less after they’ve been frozen/reheated) and then making low-carb waffles for me and David. Well, my waffle iron was in need of a replacement, so I went on the hunt, and my husband found The Griddler for me. It not only has a waffle iron that will do 4 waffle squares at once (my old one only did 2), it also lays flat to have two griddle surfaces, which means I can cook 2 pancakes at once too! And a panini press, which I’ve used a couple times as well. =) All in all, I am loving The Griddler, which cuts my weekly breakfast prep time in half. Definitely worth the investment!

11. Happy Campers

My daughter has gone to a Bible camp many times; it was cancelled in 2020 because of Covid (of course) and her week was cancelled last year because of someone the week before testing positive too, but this year she got to return, for the Teen Week that she’s been looking forward to for years! Teen Week is over July 4th week, and they get to do alllll the fun stuff. Her best friend was actually working at the camp this summer, so they got to hang out too. XoΓ« came home with lots of fun stories and a cute pair of VW van earrings she got at Ohiopyle. What really surprised me, though, was that Rowyn wanted to go to camp this year. This boy of mine has refused up until now, but all his friends went this year, so he was like, “Sign me up!” I admit it–I was a bit nervous, what with the diabetes thing. But the wonderful camp personnel worked with me to get him carb counts on his food, and he handled everything like a champ! He did experience quite a roller coaster of blood sugars and was glad to come home and rest from that, but he had a great time too.

12. Omnipod

One of the reasons I was a little nervous about sending Rowyn to camp was because he had just the week before started using an insulin pump. !! We’d been on the list for education for a pump for a year and finally had all our training completed (there was a backup thanks to, you guessed it, pandemic protocols). He had his choice of a couple pumps but chose the only tubeless one, Omnipod. You wear it directly on your skin, and it delivers insulin to you; there’s a steady drip to take the place of the once-daily long acting (think background insulin, like our pancreases do for us), and then you program in your carbs whenever you eat with a handy little device. So much simpler than needles! I nearly teared up the first time Rowyn just grabbed a random snack when he was hungry (he often decided “it’s not worth it” on that sort of thing when it involved an injection), and he has been 100% managing it himself since he got it, thanks to needing to for camp. Loving the Podding life!

13. Same House, Different Room

After The Number of Love came out, I received a lot of emails asking me about what church I belonged to, which spurred me to write an article about it borrowing C. S. Lewis’s “different rooms in the same house” model of Christianity. Well, last autumn, after years of prayer and reading and (in my case) stubborn insistence that we just couldn’t leave our church, our family followed the call of the Spirit from our baptist church to Catholicism. Had you asked me a year or two ago if I’d ever make that move, I’d have said no. But the moment I instead said, “Okay, God, if this is where you want us, I’ll go,” unspeakable, immeasurable joy filled my soul, unlike anything I’ve ever known. The more I’ve learned about this ancient Church, the more I love. Ecumenism between Christian faiths has long been a passion, and I’m excited to be seeking that unity now from this new (or OLD, as the case may be!) room in the house.

This is something I share knowing that some will disapprove. But I have always believed that Catholicism is the foundation of Christianity. This Church is the one who canonized the Bible, who preserved the faith for thousands of years. Were there dark patches in its history? Of course! There are dark patches in all of human history. But praise God, He is bigger than our failings, and His Church, founded on Christ, lives on despite our human mistakes.

I’m continually amazed and blessed by all I’ve been learning and cannot WAIT to be confirmed and take that precious communion at the end of the month!

14. New Glasses

And now a lighter, smaller one, LOL. πŸ˜‰ I finally decided, “Hey, I need new glasses!” and retired my decade-old pair that weren’t cutting it anymore. These are only for computer work, which is currently all I need, and they’ve been a big help!

15. Marco Polo

Last fall, best friend/crit partner Stephanie said, “Hey, you should get this app called Marco Polo so we can video chat with each other. It’s just like The Expanse!” (Sci-fi show we both watch and love, LOL.) Being a dutiful friend, I said, “Yeah, sure, whatever” and downloaded the app. To my complete surprise, I LOVE IT. There’s something about both seeing a hearing someone that really connects you, more than just an email or text or even a phone call. With MP, you record at your leisure, then send the video message, and the other person can watch at their leisure. I loved it so much that I’ve started a group on there for…

16. Patrons and Peers

As I reflected on the end of 2021 and looked ahead to 2022, I realized one of the things I wanted to shift was how much time I was spending on design work versus writing. I wanted to cut back to one design a week, but how? Design work has been helping to pay the bills! My husband suggested I consider starting a supporter system kinda like Patreon, only hosted on my own platform. I noodled that for a while, prayed about it, and finally decided to give it a try. In keeping with my nobility-themed writing, I decided to call it Patrons and Peers. But I didn’t just want supporters–I wanted a true community. So I invited each new member to share about themselves–their goals, their passions, their struggles–as they joined, either in Marco Polo or on an email list. To my complete joy (and a bit of surprise, I admit it), they took me up on my invitation and have opened their hearts to each other.

This amazing group of ladies, now nearly 30 strong, has been SUCH a blessing this year! Not only because they all support me, but because they have truly become a community. Friends and sisters, connecting and supporting and praying for each other, encouraging and sharing. I am humbled and overjoyed at getting to be a part of this truly amazing group!

17. Rare Sugars

Part of my keto education was to learn about rare sugars…knowledge I have since shared with quite a few people individually, so which may be useful to some of you too. πŸ˜‰ I daresay we all know that sugar is bad for you and that artificial sweeteners aren’t always much better. Well there are now quite a few sugar alternatives on the market that are naturally sourced and which have zero impact on the body–no calories, no affect on blood sugar, they aren’t digested or absorbed…but they still taste sweet! These include stevia, monk fruit extract, erythritol, allulose. While on their own some of these have funny (or cooling) aftertaste, those cancel out (happily) when you mix them together, so there are now quite a few blends you can buy that behave and taste like real sugar but are zero carb, zero calorie, zero glycemic index. Yay!! My favorite granular option is All Purpose In The Raw. I love making low carb treats with these options and then eating them guilt free–I’ve found that as long as I have a keto dessert on hand, I’m very rarely tempted to cheat with a sugary version, even at parties.

18. Radiant Me

Round about April, I started looking for a program that would reintroduce some exercising beyond walking and also provide some structure as I transitioned to low carb from keto. I stumbled across Radiant Me thanks to a Facebook ad and bought the 14-Day Reset. I loved it so much I then also grabbed the Body Sculpting program. I was already at my target weight so didn’t see the loss in pounds that many in the community do, but I did see tightening of crucial inches on the waist and tummy! (And I LOVE that there’s a Facebook group to support and encourage!)

19. ADHD

Last fall, my daughter came to me and said she thought she had ADHD and needed help. She was having big problems focusing on school work, to the point that it was really upsetting her. We’d noticed a growing trend with this, and it had gotten to the point that it couldn’t be ignored any longer…made especially obvious, I think, when her little bro started 8th grade and was flying through the material it had taken her all day to do. We tried some supplements, some diet changes, and some focusing techniques but eventually sought medical help and went with a medicine that has done wonders for her. Still not without its challenges, but she no longer feels like any concentration is beyond her.

20. Poshmark

I’ve shopped on Poshmark before, here and there, when I was looking for specific things. Well, around Christmas last year I happened across a dress I adored at a local discount shop and decided to hop onto Poshmark to see what else could be found by the same brand…and I totally caught the bug. Why, I decided, should I pay high prices for new clothes when I could spent a fraction of it on something worn once? I did a full closet clean-out (will be listing things as I find time) and then replaced some things with my Poshmark finds, and it’s been so much fun!

21. A Christy Award!

I told you this was in totally random order, LOL. πŸ˜‰ Last September, when I was flying to my writing retreat with the awesome Stephanie Morrill in Kansas, I turned my cellular back on after getting off the plane and was bombarded with messages congratulating me on my Christy Award nomination. Wha??? I was shocked, because I honestly never expected book 3 in a series to be nominated, but A Portrait of Loyalty had been! Okay, cool. Fast forward to November. I put on a cute little black dress, curled my hair, donned earrings for the first time in years, and kept my feet in their fuzzy socks, thank you, to sit in front of my computer for the Zoom award ceremony. Xoe was right by my side off-camera, the guys in the other room. I knew they read the opening line of the winning book, so Xoe and I refreshed ourselves on the Prologue of Portrait. We waited for my category. And then started laughing when they read the opening of my book…but from Chapter One. After a moment of “Wait–is that mine??” I accepted my first ever award for a published book.

22. The Imposters

Not long after my birthday last year, I signed the contract for my next series from Bethany House, The Imposters. It was kinda funny, because the pitch for this was totally off the cuff. I’d intended to next write a fairy tale retelling series set in Edwardian Ireland, but they’d just acquired a fairy tale retelling series set in Texas by the lovely Karen Witemyer, so literally two days before their next meeting, my editor was like, “Hey, got anything else?” Cue me going, “Uh…sure. Just a second” and scrambling to make sense of a nebulous idea I’d been toying with. They loved it! I just finished writing book one, A Beautiful Disguise, and will turn it in the day after my birthday. =) This series is about an aristocratic brother and sister who, when faced with bankruptcy from their father’s extravagant lifestyle, become private investigators, spying on the elite. But they don’t do it in normal ways, oh no. They utilize the odd skills they learned from the entertainers their father wasted all their money on–circus performers, actors, acrobats. Fun stuff!

23. Earrings

I mentioned above that I wore earrings for the first time in years last fall. Yep. I stopped wearing them in high school, got out of the habit, certainly didn’t reintroduce them with small children, and then just assumed my holes had closed up. Well, in October, XoΓ« decided she’d like her ears pierced for her 16th birthday, so I went through my jewelry box looking for some pairs to give her. I passed along quite a few but also rediscovered a set that matched a necklace I wore regularly and decided, “Hey, let’s try them.” To my utter surprise, they were still open! After 23 years!! How crazy is that? I still forget more often than I remember, but it’s been fun to add that touch of style back into my wardrobe…especially since it means I can wear my dangling book earrings. πŸ˜‰

24. Bookish Things

Which, hey, is a great introduction to another of my big projects for the last year: turning my signed-book-and-tee-shirt shop into Bookish Things, bringing in all sorts of awesome bookish products! I had the idea while we were on vacation last September, and managed to get the new shop up and running in time for Christmas. It’s been so much fun! First, fun picking out products that tie in with my stories specifically, but also fun to discover what book-themed items are out there! (The socks have been my most popular find, hands down! Well, those and the watch pendant that ties in with An Hour Unspent.)

25. 200 Episodes!

This year my podcast reached and surpassed 200 episodes! Have you given it a listen yet? (You can check it out here.)

26. Two Guideposts Series

This year I also signed on with Guideposts to participate in TWO new series. First came the offer to join Secrets from Grandma’s Attic–one of their mystery series set in a modern day small town, where we see bits of the past through the items discovered in the main characters’ grandmother’s attic. I just turned in my first of these last month, tentatively entitled Teacups and Tiaras. It will be #13 in the series, and I’ll be writing #21 as well.

I was also invited to contribute to a new biblical fiction series they’re launching, Extraordinary Women of the Bible. I’ll be starting my first book, about Mary Magdalene, here in a week or so, and it’ll be #4 in the series. I’m excited to dive in! I’ll be writing at least one more in that series too, but I haven’t chosen my character yet. =)

27. The Amazing Pocket Calendar

Of course, balancing THREE series–my Bethany House one and these two for Guideposts–means a LOT of discipline when it comes to scheduling…which in turn required a good old-fashioned paper pocket calendar, which somehow manages to help me keep it all straight better than a digital version was able to do. I think I spent all of $4 on this at Staples, but it’s been a lifesaver!

28. WhiteCrown Publishing

One of our biggest–and most fun!–enterprises of the year was to officially announce, acquire for, and launch a new imprint of WhiteFire Publishing: WhiteCrown! This royal fiction imprint for teens and adults has us SO excited!! Every single thing so far has been just bursting with joy and fun. All the work for it feels like play! We’re launching with Hannah Currie’s new series, but we also have a duology from Melody Carlson in the works, and a timeslip from Tricia Goyer. SO EXCITED!!!!

29. Midnight Mass

Christmas has long been a season of … let’s call it “journeying” … in our house, as we strove to hit the right note between joy and fun and the sacred with our family. Honestly, we’d never quite struck the balance that made us all happy. This year, however, we finally found it! All through advent we were just so excited for this sacred season, and it culminated for us when we went to Midnight Mass. We got to welcome the Christ Child’s birth with beauty and joy, making Him the true focal point of our celebration. (Photo of this year’s mantle area. I don’t think we’ve ever decorated as early as we did this year!)

30. Hilo Chips

One of the things we did miss on keto was CHIPS! There is just something about crunchy, salty snacks that David and I always loved…but finding a low carb chip? Yeah, tricky. No potatoes, no corn, which leaves you with … well … that was the question. We’d tried Quest brand chips before and didn’t love them. Tried some others and they were more like crackers. But I finally stumbled upon Hilo, and it has been our chip salvation! They’re an almond flour chip, but thin and crispy, and the seasoning tastes GREAT! Yay for an alternative to our favorite snack!

31. Bible in a Year

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Bible-in-a-Year read, so I decided to make 2022 the year for it … in part, I admit it, because that above version was SO PRETTY that it inspired me. (The leaves are metallic foil. It’s a stunningly beautiful paperback!) This is also the Catholic version, so includes the Apocrypha. I’ve read some of those books before, but not all of them. It’s fun to explore! (The dueoterocanonical books, aka “the Apocrypha” have been preserved only in the Greek Septuigent; earlier Hebrew manuscripts have been lost. The books were included in the oldest versions of the Christian Bible, but with a note to say they couldn’t be documented quite like other canonical texts. Eventually the Jews of the early centuries AD removed them from their own sacred texts for that reason–they rejected anything not preserved in Hebrew or Aramaic–and the Christians basically put an asterisk on them, LOL. Despite what many of us think, they were not removed from Protestant Bibles until quite late…they’d been preserved with that note, basically as an appendix, for hundreds of years. It was printing costs and politics that eventually led to them being left out, but that didn’t happen until later centuries.) Anyway! I’ve been keeping up (mostly) quite well (and catching up where necessary) and am looking forward to that final quarter of readings!

32. The Entertaining House (AKA the Office)

One of our goals for the year was to be more hospitable and do some entertaining…something that doesn’t come naturally to either me or David. We took some time to pinpoint what kept us from opening our home and realized that part of it was the necessary prep of the home. We all live, school, and work here, so our small house is BURSTING, and very rarely what one would call tidy. Inviting people over doesn’t just require prepping a meal, it requires juggling where things are stored, cleaning, organizing, etc. So we did something pretty radical. We took our office (the house we used to live in) and set it up for entertaining. We bought a table that collapses to a desk but expands to a full table that seats 8, got gorgeous folding chairs that look like real dining room chairs, decorated, cleaned, painted … and the result was not only lovely, but makes us WANT to have people over! We’ve only had a few dinners so far, but they’ve all been fun. I really enjoyed giving some critical thought to what would make the space inviting and welcoming to guests, and I’m looking forward to putting it to use more in this next year too!

33. Farm Girl

This is my last keto food item, I promise, LOL. And a very recent discovery for me! I was lured in by the promise of a noodle mix that actually tasted like pasta but was low-carb … another mythical item in keto-land, like good chips. I’ve tried palm heart pasta and rice (like the rice, but the texture isn’t quite as convincing on pasta), shiratake noodles (gave me the sensation of biting into worms, so NOPE!), homemade almond flour varieties (good but so high calorie and still not like a noodle). So I purchased a noodle flour from Farm Girl with low hopes … but I was SO IMPRESSED! It actually made dough! That I could run through my pasta machine! I was so excited that I promptly ordered their amazing pizza mix too, a vanilla porridge, a couple granolas, pastry mix, and bread crumbs. Yeah, basically all their products. Haven’t tried them all yet, but every one I have tried has been AMAZING! (The noodle mix worked great for dumplings too!!)

(The company is run by a chef, who was spurred to create the products when his wife had to go low carb for medical reasons. The “farm girl” after which it’s named is his Italian immigrant grandmother, who taught him how to cook. Love their story!)

34. Jewelry from MO Judaica

In March, David and I attended the NRB (National Religious Broadcasters) Convention in Nashville. One of the best parts of the event for me was meeting Moshe, an Israel-born-and-raised jeweler currently living and working in California. He creates biblical-inspired jewelry, which is GORGEOUS. He also has the most kind, gentle spirit. The kind of man that you meet and just sense that spirit within him. My eye was caught by his Queen Esther line; I’ve added the Queen Esther necklace and the Queen Esther ring to my shop, all of which come in three colors. I also brought one home for my daughter, which is the photo above. And added another of his designs, an olive leaf and branch necklace, to my shop too. That one is cute just in photos but is GORGEOUS on, hitting just below the clavicle! (You can check out his full site here.)

35. Cats and Books

Last summer I snapped a photo of our youngest kitty, Sammy, happily snoozing on the bookshelf by my desk and posted it to Instagram with the hashtag #cats&books. To my utter surprise, I was shortly thereafter contacted by a calendar company who puts out the Cats & Books annual calendar, asking if they could purchase the rights to include that photo in their 2023 calendar! Um…sure! They’ve since sent me both a 16-month planner, in which my photo appears, and the 12-month wall calendar (no Sammy in that one). So fun!

36. Easter Vigil

Easter has always been my favorite holiday. And I thought nothing could take the place of a sunrise service in my mind as “the best thing.” But man, was I wrong! This spring we attended the Easter Vigil service too, which is held at sundown on Easter Saturday. Oh. My. Word. This is THE most beautiful church service I have ever experienced in my life! Every word is purposeful. Every reading chosen with the utmost care. There is darkness, symbolizing the kind that reigned before Him and after His death. There is candlelight, representing the light He brings with His life and resurrection, the hope of us all. There is chant, there is song, there is Scripture upon Scripture to tell the whole story of salvation. There is incense to remind us that our prayers are a sweet aroma to the Lord. And there is no question at all that this tradition has been hewn and perfected over the course of two thousand years, because it is SO gorgeous, SO moving, SO carefully constructed. I get goosebumps just thinking about it and am already eager for next Easter!

37. 28 Books and Counting

As of next month, I’ll have 28 titles in the world (Worthy of Legend makes 28)! And number 29 (Yesterday’s Tides) will be out in January, with numbers 30 (Teacups and Tiaras) and 31 (A Beautiful Disguise) already written and turned in too, with 32 also due in September.

38. 1920s style

The week that Shadowed Loyalty (my 1920s-set Chicago Mafia story) released, David and I attended “The Gatsby Gala” at a local historical house–a themed party to open this museum-house to the public for the first time. We had so much fun! And of course, it being a dress-up event, I not only got to break out my gown (which I’d gotten for a trip to NYC a few years ago), I also decided to spend a few bucks on a fun headpiece. And a fedora for David. πŸ˜‰ I did my hair too, which turned out to be the crowning glory of it all, LOL, much to my surprise. (Plenty of other ladies at the party had 20s dresses and headpieces, but no one had done a curled or waved bob!) It was such fun that I also got dolled up for my Facebook Live, my Tea Party Book Club, and a signing event at a convention in Chicago that I attended the last week in July! Plenty of time to practice my 1920s style. (I totally think we need to bring it back…)

39. Afremov’s Art

Okay, so I am totally a sucker for Facebook ads. In July, one popped up for the artwork of Leonid Afremov, who had recently passed away; his family is trying to move his warehouse full of paintings and is having mega-sales on his work. I clicked through because the art was just so … joyful. Those colors! The style! I quickly fell in love, and David and I decided we would purchase a couple paintings for our anniversary and my birthday. Aren’t they just gorgeous?? The one of Paris is a textured print, but it fits so well in our “Paris” space. The other one is, well, enormous, LOL, and now in our entertaining space at the office. =)

40. Summer Evenings on the Porch

By some unspoken consent, David and I both decided to really enjoy summer this year. In years past, I admit that I’ve let the heat get the best of me and spent way more time inside than out. This year though, we’ve been making an effort to spend evenings on the porch. (Okay, so the photo is a morning shot, LOL, but it’s what I had a picture of!) We raise our umbrella, bring out cushions and blankets to soften our not-so-comfy wrought iron chairs, light citronella torches, turn on the fountain, I coat myself in bug spray, we grab a glass of something delightful to drink and perhaps a snack, and sit and read together. It’s been truly beautiful to spend that time there, watching the fireflies come out and listening to the birds.

And there’s my list! It’s funny … the previous times I’ve made these birthday lists, it was a real challenge to figure out what things I wanted to highlight. This year, I actually had more on my list than I could include! Even now, I’m thinking of other things that made this year what it was–good things and bad, tears shed and laughter shared. All in all, I’m left praising God for putting me in this family, for giving me these friends and community, for leading me to the path of faith I’m traveling. This year in a lot of ways, I discovered who I really am as I embraced His call more than ever. It hasn’t come without its bumps and tears and stress. But the joy … the joy this year has been more than I knew was possible. I’ll wrap up with one of my favorite quotes from the year:

β€œWhy do I follow you?
Because you are who you are, Lord,
and because I rejoice in having been called by you.
Let the swiftness of my feet in following you be my unceasing thanksgiving.”
~ Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word

Word of the Week – Valentine

Word of the Week – Valentine

Happy St. Valentine’s Day!

But…why? Right? Why is February 14th a day for romance, and what’s the history of the word?

Well, obviously the name of the day is from a saint…two, actually. There are two ancient Roman saints honored with a feast day today…but turns out, the association of St. Valentine’s Day as a romantic holiday didn’t happen for hundreds of years and is someone coincidental.

The tradition began in France, and it’s linked to the natural world. Mid-February is the time when, in certain regions, birds choose their mates. This would have made it the unofficial beginning of spring in that part of the world. It doesn’t require a huge leap, then, to realize that humans watched this interplay, heard the sweet songs, and decided to celebrate the arrival of spring and new life and new love with a celebration of their own. They decided to create their own celebration and tied it to the feast day of the Saints Valentine.

An early English tradition (recorded in 1723 as “traditional”) was for young ladies to write their names upon a small scroll of paper, and the young men would each draw a name. The lucky lady would then receive whatever gifts the man had prepared–a pair of gloves, sweets, something like that. These were totally random and by chance but did in fact often lead to matches being made.

Valentine meaning the card or note sent to a sweetheart wasn’t used until the 1820s though. This custom flourished from around then until the 1870s, declined, and then enjoyed a renewal of interest in the 1920s.

Do you celebrate St. Valentine’s Day with any special tokens of love?

Word of the Year Reflection – Intentional

Word of the Year Reflection – Intentional

My Word of the Year for 2021 was “Intentional.” (You can read my January 1 post about the choice here.) And now, as 2021 draws to a close, it’s time to look back over the last twelve months and reflect on how I lived that out or didn’t.

Unlike most of my previous Words of the Year, which I often totally forgot about for months at a time, LOL, this year–perhaps because I prayerfully chose it rather than waiting for God to just bash me alongside the head with it–it actually provided direction for me.

I wanted to be intentional in my relationships, in my time, in my writing, in my rest, in my health and eating habits, in reconciliation.

I actually began the year by getting intentional with my space. I am not an organizer. And the four of us live in a modestly sized house, where we not only homeschool, but from which my husband and I both work. That means this house is crowded with materials from 12 years of schooling and also the “stuff” for two different offices. I had been, since we moved here in 2013, working at the kitchen table. Which meant clearing my work off the kitchen table every evening. It was getting ridiculous. I had been dreaming of an office, a desk of my own.

Then I looked over last January and realized that there was a desk sitting in front of the window. It was technically Rowyn’s desk, there from our early homeschooling days. It was beside a bookshelf full of schoolbooks. It had been completely taken over by junk and cats, because Rowyn never actually used it. So…why couldn’t I?

The first few weeks of January I spent completely rearranging the kitchen to allow me to take over that space for my work. AND I LOVE IT. I now have a view out the window instead of at the stove. I don’t have to move my computer multiple times a day for school and dinner and other food prep. I actually have a place for my research books and Wacom tablet and notebooks with weekly goals and accomplishments. My beautiful Tiffany lamp (the first and best thing I ever won! LOL) is sitting on the corner. I have a lovely purple-wood bowl that my uncle made holding my lotions and lip balms. The school bookshelf has now become my bookshelf (because Rowyn’s school is independent this year too, so all his books are in his room.) This has been a huge blessing to me, and a decision that has impacted every single day of the year.

I also cleaned out and organized the cabinets, countertops, and pantry, which have continued to be great choices too. πŸ˜‰

I’ve intentionally established routines for a lot of things that otherwise got pushed to the margins–everything from when I make and freeze the week’s supply of pancakes for Rowyn (did you know that grains impact blood sugar less when they’ve been chilled/frozen and are then reheated?? The results are pretty amazing!) to when I check on/purchase/pack up tea party supplies.

The intentionality with relationships was hit or miss with me, I admit. My days are so exhausting and busy that it’s often bedtime before I think, “Oh shoot, I meant to call so-and-so.” Sigh. And some of the progress I did make isn’t to my credit so much as the other person’s. My mom and I now have a standing lunch date for the first Monday of every month. My best friend/critique partner Stephanie and I have been faithful about meeting up either in Zoom or Meet or via Marco Polo every Friday to report on what we’ve done that week in terms of work. And what I love about that is that it also helps us combat discouragement in those weeks when it seems like nothing got done. Inevitably, we did way more than we thought!

I also started last January determined that I would stop borrowing time from my writing and author-career work to do other people’s projects. This is something I’d been doing a TON. The morning hours–which were supposed to be for my work–were constantly becoming time to design or edit or upload for WhiteFire. Things that needed done, but those hours are my best for creativity, and when I gave them to other projects that don’t require as much of it, simply because they felt “pressing” to me…well, my own work kept getting de-valued. I wanted to put a halt to that.

And I’m happy to report that I have. Those morning hours have been spent almost exclusively on my own work this year. I have brainstormed stories and written them, I have written bonus content for book releases and newsletter subscribers, I wrote a 19-page detailed synopsis for the book I’m working on right now, I’ve set up a new store on my website…all sorts of great stuff that happened because I was intentional about it. Makes me so happy!

Rest…this remains crucial to me. I get up at 5:30 every morning, and I’m going at least twelve hours a day, often more. It’s exhausting. Combine that with the physiological effects of stress from my son’s diagnosis, and I was beyond normal levels of exhausted by summer. I was being deliberate about preserving hours of the day and week for resting, yes…but it wasn’t enough. I woke up every morning barely dragging myself out of bed, and I could have fallen asleep again at the drop of a hat at any point in the day. So I made some radical changes to my diet (more on that below), improved my energy, and am feeling SO much better. I still have to be intentional about resting, otherwise I tend to push too hard. But now those evening hours are more a blessing and less a blur. πŸ˜‰

I admit that the first half of the year, I wasn’t intentional at all about food choices or exercise. It was haphazard, based entirely upon what I had the energy for…which wasn’t much. So in August, my husband and I started the Keto diet to see if it would reset my metabolism, and it has been amazing for us. I’ve lost the extra dozen pounds I had put on, I have energy again, and my every food choice has to be deliberate. Because I get so few carbs in a day, I’m making sure they’re good ones–veggies and nuts, mostly. Because my calorie intake has been greatly reduced, I’m making sure there are no empty calories in there, and generally choosing leaner proteins. I expected this diet to be a burden…honestly, I love so much about it. In the new year we’re going to transition from strict Keto to Low-Carb, which will double our carb intake and then lower fats and proteins accordingly, and I’m looking forward to more veggies and fruits and the occasional bite of pasta or rice or potatoes. But I’m so grateful we decided to do this!

David and I also instituted a daily walk. We actually just started doing this in September, upon realizing that one of our favorite things about vacation in the Outer Banks is that we take long walks on the beach every day (usually twice a day). It’s a time when we not only exercise, we talk. We brainstorm. We dream. Well, this year, one subject of that brainstorming was how to bring it home with us. So now, every morning at 7:30, we go out and walk for 45 minutes. Not only is it a time to keep our bodies in shape and get our blood flowing for the day, it’s a time to communicate. To dream, to brainstorm, to talk about ideas, and to plan out our day and week. This has been so amazing! We weren’t sure how long we could keep it up with temps and weather turning wintry, but so far extra layers have served us just fine. =)

And finally…reconciliation. When I used that word in my post on January 1, I intended it in several forms: racial and ecumenical, primarily. It has long grieved me that there is so much division within the body of Christ. We are meant to be one Church. One body. Working in true unity–which means harmony, multiple notes, many differences, but no war among those members. More and more as I watch the world around me, I am so sad to see continued strife, selfishness, and blatant hatred among those professing to be Christians. My brothers and sisters are attacking anyone who doesn’t agree with them–verbally, and even threatening it physically. We are valuing our own wants above others’ needs. And we recognize no authority to tell us we’re wrong.

For years, all the work we’ve been doing in writing and film and conversations, has been aimed at ministering to people with this lens in place. To helping each other see fellow believers as Christ does. To challenge preconceived notions and really think things through. And a long questions for us was not only “How do we do this?” but “Where do we do this?” We’d always just kept doing it wherever we were. But in late October, we made the difficult decision to change churches. Not because we didn’t love the people we served beside for the last sixteen years, but because we could no longer ignore the call to pursue our faith in a place with more structure and which embraced longstanding tradition. And honestly, the moment we made the decision, more joy flooded our souls than we had ever known before. We’re now following God’s path for us in a new location, and we’re loving every moment of it. We’re viewing the subjects we’ve discussed a million times through a new lens. And several times in the last couple months, I’ve sensed spiritual shackles releasing. I know that sounds weird…but it’s true. When I consider certain things that I’ve long had hang-ups or confusion on, it’s like there’s suddenly clarity, or at least peace about it.

So all in all, this has indeed been a year of intentionality, and it has taught me things I intend to carry with me in all the years to come. Though it’s been a year with its challenges, it’s also been a year with so many victories and blessings. When I look back on it, I can now smile at the strides I’ve taken. And I’m so looking forward to where God leads us from here on out!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

We have been counting the days. Lighting the candles. Preparing our hearts.

We have been building the celebration piece by piece, trimming by trimming, branch by branch.

We have been waiting. Awaiting the day on which the most amazing miracle in the history of the world happened. The day God made man left the womb of His mother and let out His first cry into the world so desperate for Him. A world still so desperate for Him.

Ours is a strange waiting, isn’t it? We await what already happened so long ago…but which happens anew each year in our hearts. We await the promise of when it will happen again, but in victory rather than humility. We await the reminder of that most precious gift by giving–to others, of ourselves, from love.

Son of God and yet Son of Mary. Jesus, the most beautiful of conundrums. How could the creator become flesh and blood? The very Word by which the Father created the world, unable to make His tiny human body utter any sound but an infant cry. The divine God who fashioned Man, cradled in a mother’s arms. The God who counted the days, counted the creatures of the earth and called them good, now an infant whose mama was counting His fingers and toes and calling them good.

Christmas is so much more than the things we do to celebrate it. It’s so much more than a time to make merry. Christmas, above any other time of year, is a time to wonder. To wonder at this impossible thing that happened. To stand in amazement and awe of a God who loves us so much that He did this unheard-of thing. To really ponder the mystery that is Christmas. Christ come to earth. God made man yet still fully God.

I pray as you move into the final days before Christmas, your heart swells with the wonder. I pray we dwell on the miracle above the mirth, but yet are also filled with the joy that brings. I pray that the Lord of all makes Himself known anew to your heart as you consider the miracle of His coming, His advent.

Merry Christmas, everyone!


Christmas Roundup!

Christmas Roundup!

I’ve written about Christmas a lot over the years–what it means, how we should keep our hearts aligned, the value (or not) of gifts, who St. Nicholas really was, and even the history of some of our Christmas traditions.

As I was debating what to share today (and having already written a Merry Christmas post that will go live on Monday and be my final greeting to you all until after the holiday), I decided it would be fun to simply do a Christmas post round-up and provide the handy-dandy links to all those previous posts. =)

I’ll even be nice and categorize them for you. πŸ˜‰

Holiday History

Word of the Week – Ghost

Word of the Week – Ghost

It’s October! So I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the words you’re going to be encountering in this season. Whether you celebrate Halloween or just the harvest (or nothing at all), I think you’ll agree that the etymologies this month are interesting!

Ghost…Our modern English word comes from Old English gast, which meant “breath; good or bad spirit, angel, demon; person, man, human being.” Though the origins are a bit murky, it’s thought that gast, along with similar words in other Germanic languages, is from the ancient root gheis, which is used to form all sorts of words that convey excitement, fear, or amazement.

Early English translations of the Bible chose to use the word Ghost to render spiritus, the Latin word used to describe not only the soul but the Holy Spirit. So Holy Ghost is one of the few surviving phrases that use ghost in that particular way. Otherwise, the notion of “the disembodied spirit of a deceased person” is the more original sense of the word and has been its primary meaning since the 14th century. It’s certainly interesting to note in that Old English gast, though, that it could be used to describe so many things that go beyond the corporeal.

It’s also interesting to note that in most Indo-European languages, the same words are used to describe both the human spirit and supernatural elements. So whether or not you believe in ghosts that haunt a place, the word is actually linked firmly to the human soul or spirit…and I daresay you DO believe in that! Which I will be considering more fully the next time someone asks if I believe in ghosts. πŸ˜‰ How about you? Where do you come down on the question?