Wednesday, July 30, 2014

how I blog. or write. or let creativity and community define content.

When I started blogging I thought it was about living a BIG, bold life that's staged and perfect for the space I create. I read blogs of women who were traveling the world in designer clothes with adorable husbands. Sometimes they got pregnant and had perfect babies that never drooled or ugly cried. I thought, I'm in college, but I can do this with my cute boyfriend and beautiful city. I tried. Oh how I tried. But it was exhausting, unimpressive, and uncomfortable for me (and my college budget). 

I doubted my joy in approaching this space. I took some time off, I married that boyfriend, I settled into my role as a wife while thinking about what a blog would mean to me now. 

I changed my approach. I simplified (sort of) and reminded myself there's beauty in the every day details. Beauty that translates into larger lessons -my favorites being analogy and metaphor. This wasn't easy and usually frustrating and discouraging. So I did the one thing I'm always good at: read a good book or twelve. And that inspired me. 

It reminded me of how good writing heals, relates, builds richness into our lives. I took note of what made my heart hum, how words can soften my soul, and the inspiration that a beautiful quote, or paragraph, or book can provide for me. In that, I realized that writing process was something I longed to do. Enters: Mr. Thomas & Me.

A few weeks ago Erika prompted me to think on how I write, what I write, and, of course, why. I was flattered because, well, I adore her and her blog, while simultaneously awed at how unaware of my process I am (or at the least, was). So, here's your little peek into what it looks like before that orange Publish button makes my words available for your consumption:


I'm working on my summer tan, accepting that my body looks beautiful in a bikini regardless of what Victoria's Secret would say, enjoying this time in our marriage as no longer newlyweds but not yet parents. I'm trying to figure out what contentment and relaxation looks like in the context of my life -a task that's proving to be more of a lifelong journey than a destination. 

All those things have nothing to do explicitly with content. Because I don't blog in that way. No editorial calendar, no intense structure, none of that. It stresses me out to have too many rules or confines, so I write about what presses on my heart. Usually that means there's something I just can't shake, I simply can't forget, I think about in the dark of the night. Sometimes it's a pattern where that thing just appears over and over nagging me to address it until I finally listen and it's on the blog. 

Usually that renders peace. At least peace in the way that a community gathers and engages with me and I'm glad I wrote what I did then I wait. I wait for the next nagging idea. 


Am I a Christian blogger? A lifestyle blogger? A combination of both? I guess I don't put myself in a genre, not because I'm bigger or better than classification, but because I'm all over the board.

I'm a married woman who loves God, deeply enjoys life, and wants to make a difference in the world, even if only online. I don't spend a lot of time worrying about what I'm supposed to write because that hedges me in and stresses me out (hi writer's block). So, how am I different? I guess it's because I'm not.

Different makes people feel important, special. But that's not the only way to be such things. 

I'm important and special because:
  • I'm a wife, daughter, sister, cousin, aunt, and friend. 
  • I've decided it's important to be B.R.A.V.E.
  • I'm mourning the slow dying of my dad and loving the lessons it's taught me about living.
  • I rise early to run and stay up late-ish reading books. 
  • I eat popcorn and wine for dinner when Jason goes out with the guys from work. 
  • I love clothes -particularly from Target and American Eagle.
  • I'm happy mowing my lawn, pruning my roses, picking veggies from my garden. 
  • I can't get enough of Instagram and I struggle with Twitter. 
You're important and special in so many of the same ways, yes?

My work is important and special because WE are in it. It's important because it's not about me, as much as it's about us. The way that we say yes I hear you. Or I hurt in the face of loss too. Or that's what I love about life/God/faith/marriage too. It's about the WE, not about me.

I write so we're here understanding, reading, engaging with one another. It's the WE of community that reminds me that I'm important and special, but that I'm not different. Because we share, in loves and hates, in joys and sorrows, in community, we are the same (at least in one or two ways). 


My writing is an emotional exodus. I have all the feelings in rich, deep ways -like a strong cup of Arabica sans sugar and cream. Mostly, I write in a selfish way pouring out all the little pieces in an attempt for the letters to come together to make words that become larger sentences and hopefully create meaning.

Usually all those emotions run through the many filters that make me function: faith, marriage, love, joy. That means that they come out looking like small details crafted into large metaphors because that's how I process, those are my schema (yes, I just went all psychological on you).

However, my goal in writing here is community. A community wrought with sharing and caring.

I believe that the human experience is best when shared, sort of like big Italian family dinners. I believe we love to pass the heaping plates of life around the table, dipping eagerly into steaming dishes of emotion, shouting over one another because there's SO. MUCH. NOISE. when we gather around, complimenting the chef over and over for her hard work and tasty combinations all the while letting our senses soak in the goodness of what's happening right in front of our eyes.

Yes, metaphors, carbohydrates, deliciousness.


It's sticky and tricky and sometimes almost painful. Most of my posts come from real life, from what's happening offline, and are then translated here. That means I'm constantly seeking to transform something mundane into a much more beautiful work of words. It's something I'm still working through, hardly successful at, but attempting to be always enjoying.

Enjoyment: that's my process. Be it at the beginning, the middle or the end, I'm trying to find joy in it all. Even the dementia posts, so hard and ugly, leak out some sort of joy -even if just having someone comment to say, this is scary to me too.

Really logistically writing looks like me latching onto some moment (right now it's the produce coming from our garden) and another moment (an article I read on how Americans don't like flawed fruits) then trying to weave them together into a philosophical lesson (flaws make us beautiful). Once those thoughts sit and marinate for a while, Blogger enters, I type, type, type until there's some tangle of words. I visit it four or five times and revise. Then schedule. Publish. Post goes live.

It seems sort of, well, easy when I put it that way.

Writing isn't always easy nor is it always hard. It is always challenging, encouraging, and creative -three things I wish my life (and blog) always to be. Sometimes things -like life or emotions or writer's block- get in the way, and that's where I'm learning what it means to work hard and to give grace. Both of which are valuable and life-giving. 

And now, to pass this little torch of self-awareness (because whoa, I've learned so much about myself) to a few writer-bloggers whose writing process and content creation I'm hankering to know more about:
Kelly at Six One Six
Annie at What She Saw 
Ashley at Brooks Editorial
Brooks at Girl Brooks

If you haven't stopped to think on your writing process, I dare you. I didn't realize how unaware I was of my desire for this space or my process of gleaning content previous to this (not-so) little post. Of course, if you decide to write about it like I did, share it with me! 

Monday, July 28, 2014

let's get naked.

Colbie Calliat released that one song. That song that said, you're beautiful (like James Blunt said) even without your make-up (James didn't say that part). The music video is filled with footage of women removing their beauty products and celebrating their natural beauty. I wanted to feel incredibly moved by it all, everyone else seems to be. But I wasn't.

I appreciate it -the message, the video, the beauty -natural or made up.  I love the way it begs us to rethink those habits and routines, to reflect on the underlying reasons for our beauty choices, to understand how we view ourselves in the context of everyone else.

Yes, I appreciated it. However, I wasn't convicted by it.

I didn't feel moved to skip out on make-up or hair doing or jewelry wearing or dressing myself up each day. I felt bad being so ambivalent as women posted images of themselves sans make-up, hairspray, all things beautification online. They really are naturally beautiful, I thought. And it ended there.

Then the Florkens, Treasure Tromp, and Jade & Oak pulled together a sweet message about the video and encouraged us to link-up.Three blogs I love, four writers I adore, I decided to join and to think deeply about my lack of emotions about naked skin.

I love make-up: the process of application, the way mascara opens up my eyes, the rosy blush on the apples of my cheeks. More than make-up I adore doing my hair: braids, curls, waves. Each morning I take twenty minutes to do two things I love, two things that make me feel strong, confident, and beautiful. Without them, I am not less confident, strong, beautiful, I'm all of those things just in a different way.

That's me up there. Sans make-up, hairspray, all things beautification. That's me. Naked skinned.

I do make-up and hairspray and curling irons and straighteners to accentuate the beauty that is naturally there in my skin, my bone structure, my hair. I do it to bring out my blue -some days green- eyes, to accentuate my thick brows, to give some wild life to my heavy, voluminous locks. I do it to bring out my pride in my hard (and early in the morning) work at exercise, to embolden my otherwise quiet confidence, to bring out me.

So, that's me naked skinned up there in the picture. This is me honest about beauty treatments down here in the word.

Both ways, I'm beautiful. Both ways you are too.
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And, while Colbie Calliat is adorable and inspirational and rocking a head of beautiful hair, the sass this video's got is more my style.

Friday, July 25, 2014

milking stool: john 12&13

And, like always, your turn:

Next week's notes are inspired by Melissa from Two Miracles. She did a wonderful job highlighting words that stick out then elaborating on how they could be incorporated into her faith and life... THIS IS APPLICATION!
So this week, we do the same. Write down a verse (or part of a verse) directly from the text. Highlight that one word, THAT ONE WORD, that really sticks out to you.
Focus on it, think on it, pray over it. Jot down some context of it in the verse pulling the truth out of the bible but in your words. Then apply it. Apply it to your life, your friendships, your love, your faith, your worries, your goals. Apply it to everything.

And (another) verse of the week for you babes:

"Whoever serves me must follow me; 
and where I am, my servant also will be.
My Father will honor the one who serves me."
-John 12:26

I was talking to a pastor when I was in high school and trying to decide where to go to college. I was stressed about the choice. He said one thing that changed my life and my heart. He told me, "Amber, wherever you go, go, and remember to take Him with you." Move, pursue, go with Him at your side.

This week think on how He is applicable in all aspects of your life. You know that right? He fits in all the things you've got going on. He wants you to move, go, chase, and He wants to go with you. So, let's make this week one of action, movement, productivity with Him, for Him, through Him.

And, encouragement my girls: 

This is Amazing Grace. (Phil Wickham)

Spread love like glitter. It's all sticky and hard to ignore like glitter too. (Simply Beloved)

Sometimes we feel better on the fray. And, maybe, that's where we belong. (A Deeper Story)

This iPhone background (or lock screen)... Gorgeous. (Sew My Soul)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

This is one of my favorite pictures.

Welcome to the Body Talk Link-up with The Other Juliette & me! 

Mr. Thomas & Me

We're spending the day talking about our bodies (not in the TMI sort of way) and health and the way we feel about ourselves because, well, we all have the feels when it comes to weight and curves and all that jazz. 

Go ahead and steal that button up there for your post. Then share your links at the bottom so we can enjoy all the conversation about our hot bods. 
This is one of my favorite pictures with Jason. Dear to me because we're happy, sun-kissed, healthy.

We just left Macy's where we bought Jason some new digs for his cousin's wedding that match the form-fitting dress I can't believe I'm going to rock simply because he says I look sexy in it. We're at a local bar, enjoying drinks, watching college baseball (which neither of us care even remotely about), sharing a trio of tasty, mini desserts. We're sitting side by side laughing about only God knows what while business men talk business next to us. We're probably a little bit annoying -or at least, I'd find us annoying if I was being businessy and these two kids next to me were being flirty.

I've posted this picture on Instagram and Facebook, made it the background on my computer at work and home, set it as the lock screen on my phone. It's a favorite.

The morning after this picture I ran with my mom, like usual. I came home and stripped out of my sweaty clothes and hopped on the scale in front of our closet mirror and I sighed. That number, again, that number. I sighed and pinched those little handles of love on my hips, turned to the side and took in my "pooch" as I so sweetly call it, and sighed again. I sigh when I see that dress -form-fitting and sexy- hanging behind me in the reflection because it's tight, it's sure to hug all the curves, it's intimidating.

I pout silently, internally. I pout because I want to eat like him, drink like him, not worry about my body like him.

I shower, dress, make myself up. I go to work, I do my professional thing. I get an email. An email with a list about hard bodies and such. An email that I'm sure I haven't signed up to receive. But I read it. And it says one mistake women make in dieting is tying emotion to eating. And I remember me, frowning into the mirror, upset because I'm bloated, in love with the picture from those blissful bites and moments in the bar.

Emotions -hot and cold, up and down, happy and sad. I resolve like Alicia. I tell myself no more.

I recognize that there's purpose. Purpose in my running, in my eating, in clothing, in confidence. That being purposeful is more important than being perfect. That I'm proud of my purpose in my marriage being more important, most important than being perfect. Purposeful in my choice to be his, to date over desserts and drinks, to wear the tight dress because it's sexy.

This is one of my favorite pictures with Jason. Dear to me because we're happy, sun-kissed, healthy. Healthy that's more than just clean eats, protein, vitamins. Healthy that's full of joy, spontaneity, life being lived and loved.

And finally, your turn.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

no more ads: how sponsorships made me hate blogging.

I was thrilled when I realized Mr. Thomas and Me had an audience and, in having one, we could begin offering sponsorships. In doing so, I would be taking a step to being bigger, better, more blogger-ful. Everyone's doing it, I told myself. So, I started. I created spaces, fees, perks and the like. Everyone's enjoying themselves, I noticed, surely I will too.

Except I didn't.

Offering sponsorship meant seeing the sweet souls who'd invested their money in our space, my dedication to grow them, my promise to provide exposure. I wanted to do everything better than good, the best. I wanted to know I was pushing readers in their direction, creating new conversations and audiences in their inbox. But I couldn't measure it all. I couldn't hack being more dedicated to my advertisers than to my writing wants, whims, and needs.

Be it me, the readers, or them: I felt bad.

Over the last year, I've bought twenty different ads on twenty different blogs with twenty different promises. Throughout that time I've found what I love, what works for my space, what success looks like and what feels like a failed partnership. Feeling success and failure as a sponsor, I grew a sponsee (is that what it's called?) complex. A complex that said better, faster, stronger. Offer more, more, most. And, so began the process of never enough.

More, more, most. Further, farther, farthest.  

I dreaded the organization of it all -tracking who got their welcome email, who needed a thank you for purchasing email, what this month's grateful for you buying, come back soon code would be. I was exhausted trying to track who was in line for social media mentions, when I was going to get the interview questions back, how often was too often to share a new sponsor. I worried about my output -how many posts per week, what if my content takes a summer-time dive, can I just take a week off for goodness sake?!?

The light flickers on: it is me, I hate it.

But everyone else is having fun, so what's wrong with me? I felt weird like I couldn't, shouldn't say no more. I felt guilty stepping out of the game when it felt like I had just stepped in. I didn't want to spend my hard-earned sponsor money on ad space, I wanted to spend it on me. I felt forced to write, to keep in my niche, to shy away from this or that in the name of brand and continuity. I found myself more concerned about the advertisers than my readers.

Turns out I'm a writer (sort of a blogger), not an investment. 

And the fun returned. Late May I said goodbye to my last sponsor spot and hello to freedom here. And for June, I didn't worry once about who I needed to plug, where I needed to shout out, how my writing would lead to other's spaces. The removal of pressure reminded me that I blog for my love of words and inspiration and people, not for love of money or numbers or the masses.

Moral of the story: do you. 

Whatever that means for ads, for sponsoring, for your space. Anything otherwise isn't fair to you, to your readers, to your inspiration. Growing up my Mama said, "If everyone else ran around the block naked, would you?" The answer: no.
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ALSO, tomorrow, Thursday, July 24, Juliette and I are going to be hosting a little link-up.
Mr. Thomas & Me

We're talking bodies and confidence and self-esteem. We're talking weight and frustration and exercise routine. Basically, we're talking anything that's got to do with your hot bod. So, steal that button and join us because it's Humpday and you know you're short on post ideas and all those things.

Monday, July 21, 2014

you surprise me [a marriage letter]

Dear Jason,

I was struggling this month. Struggling with how to come here and speak love to you, how to commemorate this time. Five and a half years from our first date, years filled with the greatest of joys, the deepest of darkness, tears and laughter in overwhelming amounts.

Our second date was a surprise. A surprise meeting with your family -the genetic and those of your heart. I spent the night shell-shocked and yet undeniably attracted to you. My thoughts ran wild, like a toddler with Twizzlers, pondering what this all meant -the family, the friends, me, you. Though it seems obvious now, you surprised me then with your love for family.

I hadn't a clue about the depth of your heart.

Five years ago, I sent you the text: The Dr. said it's Alzheimer's. I'm headed home. Talk later. I don't remember your reply, only tears, tissues, an afternoon of pretending the water on our face was from the pool and not our sorrows. I spent the day at home with my family soaking in the diagnosis, then I left. I needed you, to see you, to speak to you, to breath you in. You said for me to stay, to support, to soak some more. You surprised me then: your unwavering support of us -my family and me.

Five years ago, I sat on the edge of your bed, tearful, fearful, vulnerable in ways I'd never imagined being with you -or anyone, for that matter. I said no. I demanded two promises from you: 1. To marry me and 2. To help me care for my family. There was no shake in your voice, no question in your eyes, no worry in your heart as you said yes. You rubbed my back as it shuddered under the weight of sobs. You surprised me then: you repeated, yes Amber, yes I will.

Last week I told you I was scared. His dementia paired with your family's Alzheimer's and talks of genetic links and being predisposed and shit; it scares me half to death. We were laying in the dark, fingers twisted in a knot, me nervously shaking my feet when you surprised me again. You said what I know in the depths of my soul, but you said it nonetheless. You said, Knowing all that mess, I'd still marry you, love you, create a family with you, and endure losing you. I echo those sentiments sir.

Your love surprises me daily Jason.

Not simply because you love me, but in the way you love the web that surrounds me: the Mama Bird, the Popsicle, the brothers, the sisters, the nephews, the animals, the lifelong friends. Someone told me that you look at me in love and my heart longs that I can't see it for myself, then I realized I get a glimpse of that look as you interact with my family. As you hold hands on walks with Popsicle, shoot hoops with Miah, bromance with Bub, chase chickens with Mama Bird, your soul seems to whisper I love you. And still, it surprises me.

Always yours,
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
These letters are the brainchild of Amber C. Haines and her husband, Seth. While they take a break from writing for the summer, I'm choosing to continue on my own. I write to remember mundane moments that would otherwise slip away, to hold tight to him, and to remember how life looks right now at this very moment, plus the chance for these letters to shed light on our marriage before children for our children because they won't know us as newlyweds otherwise.

Friday, July 18, 2014

milking stool ministry: john 10 & 11

I loved the SOAP notes. Again. I love the structure while the rest of my life is so random and fun and spontaneous under the beauty of the summer sun. I'm hoping you loved the depth that comes with it too... We'll stick with those for the next week for John 12 & 13.

The verse of the week: 
"The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. 
He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out." 
-John 10:3

I pray this week that you can feel Him calling you by name while you're in the midst of life. Notice the way in which He calls out to you in dearness, out of love, with caring. Be encouraged in that the God who created the universe, who knit together every single once of us specifically and carefully, knows you by your very name. 

Encouragement by the cup for ya'll: 

The lyric: He is jealous for me. Our God, jealous for us. (David Crowder Band)

Joy as a strength. Not only a fruit of the Spirit, but as a muscle, a stronghold. (The Quiet Place)

Spoken word melts my heart. Especially when it talks about sheep. (Nick Vitellaro)

Ya'll know my love for a drink while you study. This lemon basil tea is just that. (Naptime Diaries)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Seven Answers After Five Years

Five years ago we got the daunting news: Popsicle has early onset Alzheimer's.

The news was devastating. Not entirely unexpected, but devastating nonetheless. The road's been long and difficult to navigate. At times narrow and daunting, other times wide and open to all threats. It's been times of fighting the tide, pretending it's all good in the hood, despairing over the ugliness of this process.

We tried treatments. All kinds of them. Experimental, holistic, commonplace. Oh how we tried. But the brain is a mystery, his disease more so, and us, helpless.

People don't know much about memory disease -Alzheimer's, dementia, and all the other names it goes by. They think it only happens to old people, that it means forgetting names or phone numbers, that it isn't terminal. So today is a day of education for ya'll, a day that'll keep you in the know and save you face one day when someone you know is diagnosed.

The answer always is: we don't know. Always. Some doctors try and give timelines, some professionals say there's a specific pattern the disease follows, some people want to say it'll be forever. None of this matters. The disease happens by it's own volition every. single. time.

Usually it's 5-10 (possibly even 15) years from the date of diagnosis. Factors like age, health (aside from the brain), level of activity also come into play. So far, we've been at this for five years. That five years has looked like early signs of confused memories that, after a few years, turned into rapid decline then plateau, rapid decline then plateau (sort of like what happens during weight loss).

Right now we are in the later stages of the disease so changes aren't as obvious or marked to us, though there are moments of identifiable decline. Maybe this is because his language is so muddled and his personality so absent that loss feels and looks altogether different.

Modern medicine knows a lot. One thing it knows very little about is the way the brain works, heals, degenerates. That said, there are medications to attempt at slowing the process, brain games that keep connections between neurons strong, diets that supposedly assist in brain health, but there's so much conflicting research and opinion. It boils down to the fact that once brain matter degenerates, recreating it is a million shades of challenging.

No, at this time there is no cure.

No. And yes.

No, dementia itself isn't fatal or listed as a cause of death. Yes, the brain forgets life sustaining functions that lead to heath crises that are fatal. Sometimes that's swallowing, other times it's coughing or breathing or eating or maintaining body weight.

No, dementia won't kill you directly, but it'll open the door BIG AND WIDE for another issue that will.

The hardest part of this journey for our family was the decision and process of moving my dad out of the home. However, safety for all involved is key. Dementia steals the sound mind taking with it reasoning, understanding, critical thinking. Trying to explain to a dementia patient that they need to stay inside because it's cold, or eat to sustain themselves, or go to the soccer game because we all are is hard, tedious, and frustrating for everyone.

From personal experience, Popsicle would grow anxious and relieve his fears by walking, walking, walking, walking. Sometimes for hours on end, sometimes in the dark of night, sometimes in the pouring rain. He wouldn't know to tell us he was leaving, or that he'd come home. We knew he couldn't continue to walk in our neighborhood with no streetlights or sidewalks. We feared he wouldn't be able to find home again, to communicate who he was to a stranger if lost, or remember who is safe to follow.

No. Yes. But mostly no.

No he doesn't remember our names. (He hardly remembers his own anymore.) Sometimes I don't think he remembers our faces. But I do believe that deep inside of him there's a piece of remembering there. Like his spirit that lies deep under the foggy blanket of dementia can sense us, but naming us, placing us, acknowledging us doesn't happen anymore.

This is a part of the memory loss process -forgetting those who are dearest to you. There are stages to this loss (well, to all of it really) that start with confusing identities (like my mom and I), then forgetting names, then associations (like that I'm his daughter), then it's simply just the process of recognizing someone whose face is familiar.

He did for the first while. He'd become frustrated when words just weren't there anymore. He'd lose track of what he was doing and you could see the pain that caused. He would put the wrong fuel in his truck or get lost in familiar places and have to call for directions. I can't imagine the terror that would cause in his heart and mind.

Then he didn't. After he surrendered his license he forgot about the truck and motorcycles he used to drive. Then he didn't remember that my mom and I were two different people and he'd get uncomfortable with the two of us in the same room. We moved him and he didn't ask to come home or say that he missed us, because he didn't remember before. He didn't know what he'd lost or understand the loss to come.

He isn't. At least not in a painful or emotional way. Mostly because he's unaware.

Are we his family? Yes. Not because we're losing our memories and minds, but because it's so damn hard to watch him be stripped of every last bit of Popsicle-ness. His dry wit, love for life, and strength were all what made him so lovable, now he has none of it and we grieve the way he disappears a little bit more each time we visit.

Dementia is ugly. There's nothing beautiful or wonderful about it. The redemption in all the mess is the community that's gathered around to love on our family.

So, love on yours please. 

And, when someone you know is diagnosed, remember that there is beauty in all the tangled ugh of it all; you simply need to look up and around and away from the disease.

Monday, July 14, 2014

let's sit and sip and share.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd order double (shot of espresso) tall, vanilla, nonfat latte. I'd tell you I stole my order from my mom and how much I love the kick in my pants that coffee gives to me. I'd say we could meet at a local shop, though we both know we'd end up in Starbucks because atmosphere and familiarity are something sweet. You'd offer to pay and I'd let you because, well, that's what friends do sometimes.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd bring scones -homemade, cinnamon-sugar, creamy and rich. I mastered them FINALLY with much thanks to Alicia who encouraged me to try, try again. Also with thanks to the diagram in this post because I had NO CLUE I needed to knead the dough so heartily (or how therapeutic kneading happens to be).

If we were on a coffee date, I'd gush about how Jason's been holding my hand daily. Usually in the early morning just before my alarm goes off or in the late of night after he puts down his book while I'm fast asleep, sometimes when we're walking down the street. I adore the knot of our fingers -a sentiment I don't usually have when it comes to PDA.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd share about our Fourth of July. I'd talk your ear off about all the ways I love that day. How I adore the parade and our place in it, how the red, white, and blue goes right to my head, how I wear patriotic duds all week because I JUST CAN'T HELP MYSELF. I'd ask about your day, I'd hope you did all the fun, all-American things, that you saw fireworks and drank sangria and swam in the pool.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd tell you I'm reading Roald Dahl like mad and laughing at Beetlejuice with Jason. My dad loved Beetlejuice and it's like spending time with him. I loved Roald as a girl as I was learning to read and it's like I'm right back there pretending Matilda is my best friend performing magic tricks while Miss Honey makes us sandwiches.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd ask you about selfies. What you think of them, how you do them, when you feel most beautiful. I'd tell you how I believe they're good for me and for my confidence and for cherishing myself. I'd say I believe all women should practice taking them -even if just once a week. I'd acknowledge they're awkward, but so is getting fitted for a bra and getting a bikini wax. In the end, all worth the weirdness involved.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd share about baking powder. That stuff expires and when it does it stops working, stops fluffing and lifting your baked goods. Have you checked yours lately? Mine was two years past the date and I hadn't a clue... The problem of the flat cookies I mentioned in my last post have magically been solved.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd pray over you on my way home. I'd thank God for His goodness in giving you me. I'd ask Him to be present, to be felt, to shower you with some love and encouragement because it feels so damn good to me.

Friday, July 11, 2014

milking stool ministry: john 8 & 9

Next week's notes are a little bit different, more structured, and were really encouraging for me this week. I spent more time in the bible (something I've really struggled with now that the sun is so warm and the days so much more fun) this week, focusing on Him and on the gold nuggets of wisdom in the words that the book of John has for us. 

The S.O.A.P. method. You can find lots of different examples and takes on how to do this in a Google search. Some helpful (here), others overwhelming (here). But as always, my notes for your eye candy:

The verse of the week for you:
"Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. 
The reasons you do not hear is that you do not belong to God." 
-John 8:47

I pray that this week the verse encourages you to be especially dedicated to the act of listening, to remember that you belong to Him and in belonging, He is speaking, singing, humming over you. Maybe for the week think on, pray about, hope in what song it is that He's singing like an encouraging soundtrack to you life. 

Links in the name of encouragement (and furthering this week's readings): 

This song makes the drive to work in the morning a little more jolly. (Sarah Reeves)

I believe bible study happens best in beautiful places. Here's to beautification. (Oak & Oats)

Summer can be a time where your body goes under fire. Don't let it be. (Naptime Diaries)

A week that talked so much about judgment is enriched by this take on removing the black and white. (Storyline Blog)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Turtle, Turtle, Awkward Turtle.

I was going to write some symbolic, pretty word-filled post about the tortoises today. Maybe something about slowing down and loving life. Maybe about how we all have a shell in which we hide. Maybe how we should all eat our greens. 

But then, I realized the tortoises would steal the show. And I thought, that's what I want for them. Because they're so cute and cool and cuddly. I lied, they're not cuddly. 

Where did these sweet shelled creatures suddenly arrive from on Mr. Thomas and Me? The truth: they've been around Mr. T longer than me. However, Charlie, the Instagram Tortoise, arrived Monday in a box on our #ThomasHouse porch. Seriously. Usually, there's shoes or a book from Amazon, instead, on Monday, a tortoise.

I decided ya'll deserved some fun facts about Charlie and his relatives for your next cocktail hour or stint on Jeopardy, because tortoises are often hot topics of conversation and quiz shoes. 
He's a Sulcata or African Spur Tortoise and he'll get to be pretty damn big (like 150 pounds or so). How'd we end up with Charlie in a box on our porch? I blame the man that I married and his dad. You see, my father-in-law has a whole backyard of turtles (the water ones) and tortoises (the land ones). He's got big ones and little ones. Social ones and shy ones. He rescues them, takes them in, makes them another piece of the family. And, Charlie was no exception. Charlie was surrendered, of sorts, on our door step to find a yard big enough to hold his big personality (<--- that's me exaggerating). 
Turns out Mr. T and me come from random animal loving people. His dad with the turtles, my mom with the chickens and pig. And, while I'm not allowed to have any chickens or a pig of my own, we are contemplating if we could make it work with a tortoise. I wanted Charlie -actually he's most likely a her or so Jason thinks she is- but she's a bit too small for our liking with Hazel's wild ass. So, Charlie will live with my mom and, with luck, we'll get a bigger one from his dad.
That boy that I'm petting there (I think his name is Alex, though it might be Gus) is a solid 50 pounds larger now than he was in 2009 when that picture was snapped. Yes, you can pet tortoises -specifically Galapagos and Aldobra (that's their species not their name). Both species have little to no natural predators, thus, they aren't afraid of you. Tick birds also keep their skin -what little of it shows- clean from bugs and such. Little tortoise brains think you're keeping them squeaky clean. Who doesn't love that so fresh, so clean feeling? 
Yes, tortoises live forever. Well, not forever, but at least 50 years if not closer to 150. Talk about a family heirloom. Mostly, this happens because they're DNA doesn't degenerate like ours. Nope, they aren't worried about wrinkles or sagging or loss of libido. They're just worried about finding their next bit of greens. Speaking of greens, they eat lots. Mostly the grass, but spinach, bananas, carrots, apples, strawberries, cactus and tomatoes too. Their water comes from their food, so there isn't a tortoise stampede at the watering hole. 

Your last fact for the road: they don't get hot and exit their shell, despite what cartoons told you as a kid. In fact, their shell is attached to their skeleton. 
Now that I've got you all hot on wanting one of your own, take a cool bath and give yourself a break... Just like this red-earred sliding guy. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Temporary, not permanent.

There's this thing about caller ID that's terrifying: recognition. It's terrifying when it recognizes the names you don't want to call you -police departments, hospitals, Popsicle's care facility. Lately, there's more of those ID-ed calls. Nothing emergent, but still scary in those moments of unknown between the first lyric of Girl on Fire and the news -whatever it is. Scary in a way that acknowledges: this isn't forever. Temporary, not permanent. 

In the midst of those calls, his waning presence and thinning physique, I realize this isn't forever despite what it feels like some days, despite what some people say, despite our weary souls. There's this thing about feelings: they're tricky. Sad, angry, hopeless, scared: so many emotions. Sometimes in solidarity, other times in contrast -we're balancing, trying to be me while belonging to us. The only continuity in it all: we all feel. But like feelings, this isn't forever. Temporary, not permanent. 

There's a thing about arriving that's nerve-racking: surprise. Not in the Happy Birthday, here's a party for you way. Arriving is always a rush of adrenaline and a pattering heart. Will he be walking like normal? Will he be sleeping so soundly he resembles death? Will he look scared or happy or confused or indifferent? Will I burst into tears -crying ugly and silent while he walks hand in hand with Jason? A rush that reminds me, this isn't forever -this loss, this fear, this missing-ness. Temporary, not permanent. 

Visits are full of stories, updates, questions despite his inability to comprehend. Dad, we bought a house and we know you'd like the mature trees in the backyard. Dad, work is so busy, you wouldn't believe how well the company is doing. Dad, we're going to be traveling a lot soon, you promise not to make any trouble while we're gone? Dad, are you listening? Sometimes we laugh. Sometimes we don't. Always the conversations are a reminder we won't have to fill him in forever. Temporary, not permanent. 

Leaving him is hard because it's a sad goodbye every time. It's holding his hand and wondering when it felt so small in yours. It's taking in those moments, trying to make them heavy and weighty so not to be blown away in the winds of a busy life. It's looking him in the eyes that no longer focus and saying, "Dad, I love you. I will miss you. But I will remain, live well, love God, do life proud." It's reminding him without his prompting, asking, wondering. It's a solemn walk to the car as we reflect on what was gone this time, as we replay all the words we said, as we remember this isn't forever. Temporary, not permanent. 

The drive home is a Morse code of intense conversation, interspersed with quiet. The little current, the silent message flowing through it all: while we're living, he's dying. Dying, a transition that is temporary, not permanent. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

reviewing the reads of june days.

Well, well, well, you're a bunch of book worms aren't you? I'm so glad to know there's such a community of us!

June was a month of much readingness. Five books down and so many that I'm itching to read. Jason's been teasing me about how often he finds my nose in the binding of another book. And, well, he's got a point. After a month of being responsible and skipping on the TV, I find myself disinterested in what's on screen because I'm attached to what's happening in the pages of my novels. And I believe this is good.

I've also been pushing myself to read two books at a time. Two books from two genres usually that are opposite of one another. This makes me more interested in both books -one that's fun, easy, the other more serious, emotional. I'd encourage you to try it -an encouragement coming from a girl who spent decades being completely convinced only a single book should be on one's nightstand at a time.

The reviews with GIFS courtesy of The Hills. (Throwing it back to high school here)
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by Mitch Albom

“The story of my recent life.' I like that phrase. It makes more sense than 'the story of my life', because we get so many lives between birth and death. A life to be a child. A life to come of age. A life to wander, to settle, to fall in love, to parent, to test our promise, to realize our mortality- and in some lucky cases, to do something after that realization."

Oh my soul. The characters in this book were so rich with personality, life, and wisdom it touched my soul. In looking for a quote to share, I realized I just wanted the whole damn book to be right here, right now. I dog-eared more pages than not, read many lines out loud to Jason just so we could talk on the truth contained within them, and I was deeply saddened when the 272 pages came to an end. 

The novel, written by a God-seeking, Jewish man, explores the faiths of two religious leaders -a rabbi and a pastor- exposing how sweetly intertwined we all happen to be. Every page begged me to love a little harder, listen a little longer, seek peace and tolerance for everyone else trying to find their way in this world. 

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by Rainbow Rowell

“I think I missed my window."
"What window?"
"My get-a-life window. I think I was supposed to figure all this stuff out somewhere between twenty-two and twenty-six, and now it's too late.”

I decided I needed to get on the Rainbow Rowell train after seeing her name around enough times to be more than a coincidence. Then Nadine (one of my favorite daily blog reads) wrote something about her and I decided to pipe up and ask how much she loved Rowell's stuff. She, of course, said love it, you need to read it. So I ordered all three of her books that are out plus the one to be released July 7th. And Attachments had me madly in love. 

The book comes with two types of chapters -regular plot line, story telling sorts interspersed with email form, back and forth text. It made reading fast paced and interesting -something the characters only added to in a dozen different ways. Rowell mixes together several plot lines moving in all kinds of directions while maintaining the overall story line in a way many authors can't do. As the novel closes and resolution comes about, you'll find yourself cheering on each of the characters in their quest to find some semblance of happily ever after. 
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by Claire Cook

“Once you got started, all you had to do was keep placing one foot in front of the other, no matter how happy or sad you were. I'd taken that first step because I'd wanted to look better. I'd wanted my clothes to fit. But it hadn't taken me long to figure out that the biggest benefit was less about vanity than it was about sanity. Walking always helped.” 

This is where my Fitbit obsession started. Find a space in your budget for one in your own life as well as a new pair of running shoes because you'll finish this discovering-oneself-in-the-midst-of-crazy-circumstance tale with a burning desire to walk, walk, walk. You'll also want to put out fliers in your neighborhood and find a few friends to get your walk on with (something I'm still itching to do, but don't because Jason would flip if he found a flier with my face on it that said SEEKING FRIENDS. WALK WITH ME.

Reading through the blooming friendship of neighbors turned walking buddies then life pals is soul-feeding. Cook provides a sweet, truthful reminder that adult women can make friends -in new and unexpected places. All the walking while, you'll feel free to reinvent yourself, to take closed doors and make them into new, passion-filled opportunities. Plus, there's some love, sweet love in the mix too. 

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by Tina Fey

"Yes, you're going to write some sketches that you love and are proud of forever -your golden nuggets. But you're also going to write some real shit nuggets." 

I've been a fan of Tina Fey for some time -initially introduced by my brother who has a raging comedian crush on her (seriously). At the start of the book I was nervous I was going to get over the humor because it lacked any pearls of wisdom for me to extract, but that was not so. In fact, I found Tina's approach to life so similar to my own: life's hard, learn things, but mostly, laugh. She approached hard topics, climbing the career ladder as a woman, and such with honesty and humor -two things you might notice I'm happen to be quite the fan of.

This one could easily happen cocktail in hand, poolside, during a tan-session, but it doesn't feel out of place in bed cozy with husband and pup, or in the waiting room of the doctor's office, or the pergatory of DMV-ville. It's versatile and fun and lends to many a conversation because everyone has read, wants to read, or is reading it. I guess I finally felt like I'd joined to cool club of funny women and for the course of 272 pages I reveled in its awesomeness.

What literary wonder did you love this month?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

milking stool ministry: john 7

This week's video hits on some of the hot button topics that are rolling around in our country today. I'm hoping it will tie together the lessons from John 7 very practically with our lives and take and impact in those larger cultural conversations. With that, the video: 

I'm a ramblebus in my video. But after recording and getting it all settled I found this from by Sarah from The Fullest Joy and she says what I was trying to say perfectly. It can be summed up in this little quote from her post:
"I’m not so sure. The only thing that ever matters is Jesus.
Let the theological debates go and turn back to your first love."

And my notes from last week are more simple, back to the basic style... Something I'm going to encourage you to try out over the next week.

I challenge you to tie larger cultural conversations (i.e. Hobby Lobby ruling, mental illness treatment, etc.) with lessons, Christ's conversations, and the truth found in John 8 and 9. There aren't necessarily going to be black and white answers -I don't think that's how life and faith works-, but there are going to be lenses through which we can look at our world that center on Him.

Also, I don't think Christ sweated the small stuff. Nor do I think we're called to do that. So, don't suck yourself into tedium, into seeking precise answers, but instead push yourself to bring an educated Christian perspective into your process. It is that inclusion of Him that brings glory and goodness into our lives.

The week's verse for you:
On the last and greatest day of the festival, 
Jesus stood and said in a loud voice,
"Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink."
-John 7:37

And links for the week because encouragement:

Brokenness surrounds us, but in that, there's beauty. This song's such a reminder. (Ellie Holcomb)

July is summer. How has your summer been? And how should it be from here? (Alesha Blessed)

Church has been hard for us. Hard. But there's a heart in it's flawed nature. (Carly Skinner)

Smile file: an encouragement for your weary soul. (Erika Brechtel)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Six months into being B.R.A.V.E.

Whoa, the year is half gone. Six months disappeared beneath our belts. I've hit all five of the elements a month at a time. Focused on how each aspect looks, feels, happens for 30 day segments -thankful as each period comes to an end.

So now, here we are, half way through the year. And what now?

Last month was full of adventure. Not particularly in the ways I planned, but better than that. Adventure that looked like nightly walks hand in hand, exploring little towns and cities on a weekend away, ordering different dishes at restaurants instead of what's tried and true. It included a night at the theater with Jason that will quickly become a tradition.

Over the first half of the year, I took on hard tasks. I exhausted myself a little bit with delving deep in things like feelings and emotions. Oh. My. Soul. Turns out I have a whole lot of those. So, I promised myself to take it a little bit easier, a little more practical for the remaining six. This looks like July being a month of responsibility. But how?

This month I will not be a distracted driver.

I change my Spotify music on my phone, check Twitter, scroll through Instagram, read texts... I'm distracted -and breaking laws. So, for the month of July I'm going to quit it. To quit being engaged in technology and, instead, drive safely and smartly.

If we're being really honest, I'm totally looking forward to this because it's so measurable, so easy to feel successful at, so obvious when I'm messing it up.

And finally, how is my summer reading project going? Good. I love the way this challenge has me falling in love with all kinds of reads. I've pushed myself to read two books (that are vastly different) at a time and, well, I love it -balancing the hard read with the fun, rewarding myself for progress in one with time in the other, contrasting the stories back and forth. All this coming from the girl who spent decades reading ONLY ONE BOOK at a time.

Also, I'll note: lots of changes have been made from the preliminary list. 

  • Read any book that is at least 200 pages long. (DONE)Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (336 pages)          
  • That was written before you were born. (DONE)
    Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (224 pages) 
  • Finish reading a book you couldn't finish the first time around. (DONE)
    Have  a Little Faith by Mitch Albom (272 pages)
  • Read a book from the children’s section of the library or bookstore. (currently reading)
    The Phantom Toolbooth by Norton Juster (272 pages) -the sole reread.
  • On The NYT's Best Sellers List when you begin reading it. (DONE)
    The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (352 pages) 
  • Read a historical fiction book that does not take place in Europe. (15 points)
    The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (336 pages) 
  • Read a book another blogger has already read for the challenge. (15 points)
    Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (336 pages)
  • With “son(s),” “daughter(s)” or “child(ren)” in the title. (DONE)
    The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards (401 pages) 
  • Read a book that was/will be adapted to film in 2014. (currently reading)
    Wild by Cheryl Strayed (315 pages) 
  • Written by a blogger. (DONE)
    When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman (256 pages) 
  • Read a biography, autobiography or memoir. (DONE)
    Bossypants by Tina Fey (272 pages) 
  • Read a pair of books with antonyms in the titles. (30 points)
    Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (282 pages) & End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwable (352 pages)
*Only one of my books is a reread. Mostly because there's so many on our shelves I haven't yet read.*

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