Friday, August 29, 2014

Milking Stool Ministry: John 21

The time has come: the last chapter and closing bit of the book of John.

As noted in the video, next week there'll be a break. With Jason's birthday and our anniversary coming I've decided to give myself a week off to get Romans in order. 

We will begin to conquer Romans on Friday, September 12th with a little intro and a dive into the first bit of the book. I'm hoping that week will come with an overview and reading log for ya'll. (We're getting more official around here friends!) I'm also doing lots of research about different note-taking/journaling methods to spice up our trek through Romans. 

There's no notes to see a picture of this week because, honestly, it was such a round-up of all that John held for us over the last few months. 

Verse(s) of the week: 
"Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." -John 20:30-31

This week's encouraging links are all meant to inspire you to live that life that He's claimed for us. A like uninhibited by the confines and burdens of our sin. We're His beloved and that's powerful. 

Did you wake up this morning? Then you've got something to do. LOVE THIS. (The Lily Field)

We're all busy trying to define ourselves in the context of, well, everyone. But how? (East & Blog)

This letter to a younger self makes me wonder what I'll say to me ten years from now. (Scathingly Brilliant)

Honestly, I'm going to miss this next week, I think, except I might be having a cocktail at the swim up bar and so I might not be remembering to be missing this... Well, I'll miss you, just maybe not on Friday at 5:00 PM.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

49 skills for a richer life: man, woman, young & old.

Over the weekend I was cruising social media, as I tend to do when Jason's watching pre-season football, and ran into a Huffington Post articles that made me say yes and be annoyed with so much no. This 49 Life Skills Every Modern Woman Should Have made me feel (1) accomplished because I could say "Done That!" to so many, (2) like there's so much more to being an independent, feminine woman, and (3) wish that I could write a list of my own for people: man and woman, young and old. 
Then I remembered, I have a blog, and so I can do as I wish. 
I know, lists. Eck. We all complain about them and think they're against the "blogging rules" but let's take a moment of very sincere transparency: next week is Jason's birthday and the following our anniversary which means lots of emotional feels coming up. That said, a list will balance all the emotional things right out. Also, I read lists and count how many apply to me because I enjoy keeping score (imagine how much marriage has humbled me and my scoreboard -another post for another day). 
So, without further babble or boredom, my list of 49 skills to enrich one's life. Not to make you the big bucks sort of rich (though maybe that'll happen for you), but to make you well-rounded... Or at least a bit more so. 
1. Establish and maintain a budget. In college I used an Excel spreadsheet. Once Jason and I wed and the finances were much more complicated we started using and are happy with most of it's features.
2. Manage a schedule. In a planner, on your phone, however you do it. Manage.
3. Throw an awesome bash. This doesn't mean at a venue or with a Pinterest theme -nope. A bash that's got memories teeming out the windows and some tasty (no one said healthy or gourmet) food and drink -if even just Domino's and beer. 
4. Discover your drink of choice. It'll make dates and dinners way less stressful. In the morning, I'm always apt to order a Bloody Mary. In the evening, a glass of Chardonnay or vodka-tonic. 
5. How to turn a house (or apartment or studio) into your home. This doesn't mean decorating (though brownie points there), but how to negotiate a lease or sale contract to make it yours -legally. 
6. Graciously accept a compliment. Being grateful instead of self-deprecating.  
7. Use tools -hand, power or otherwise- unsupervised. Screwdriver, hammer, drill, wrench: they're tools meant to make things easier and they do. Hang those pictures, plates, and shelves all by yourself babe. 
8. Learn to drive a stickshift. I know, who has one these days? A lot of people. If someone's drunk or hurt or in any other position where driving is dangerous, you can step up to the plate. (Plus you'll feel like a race car driver.) 
9. Sew on a button or close a split seemBecause the last thing you need is to be helpless before a big event: like a gala or a job interview. (FYI: Most hotels have sewing kits in the lobby.) 
10. Use a lawnmower. Sure, you might not have a lawn, but the mower is easy to use and might come in handy later -like when a friend has a baby and you want to help out more than making dinner or your parents fall ill and need some help keeping up the house. 
11. Learn to cook. Because I've never met anyone who isn't happy to enjoy a good homemade meal. (Also, helps with above-mentioned budget.) Women, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Men, the way to woo a woman is through her stomach. The Way to Cook by Julia Childs will help in every single way. Otherwise, Pinterest
12. Navigate using a map. Old-fashioned, Google Maps free style. (Props for navigation in the subway and bus systems -still working on this one myself.) You never know when you won't have cell phone service or 
13. Develop your knife-skills
14. Start a fire without gas or lighter fluid. 
15. Remove a stain from your favorite shirt or pants or dress. 99% of stains come out of our clothes when sprinkled with baking soda then drizzled with dish soap and massaged into fabric. I got hydraulic oil out of a silky-type material once using this method and wasn't disappointed. 
16. Hold your own in the face of a boisterous person. Be them a doctor, a coworker, a friend, or boss. When you're trying to make a point, you deserve to be heard.
17. Check a car's oil and fill it as needed. 
18. Diffuse a tense situation. Even if your not one of the contentious parties. 
19. Operate a barbecue. Such a wonderful summer skill that adds so much dimension to every dish, salad, burger. How to Grill by Steven Raichlen covers the basics of all kinds of grill skills, plus digs in deeper to the fancy stuff. 
20. Play a hand of gin. Usually served with alcohol and some interesting conversation. 
21. Ask for help. 
22. Learn to bait a hook, cast a line, and let off a fish. Worms, water, and wiggles all withstanding, there's a reward in there that looks like insane pride in one's self. 
23. Address an issue with a coworker, family member, friend, honestly and humbly. Because when we're right, it's easy to be high and mighty, but let's take a deep breath and be kind, yet firm. 
25. Open a bottle of wine (with class). I look like I'm prepared for a wrestling match with our bottles. Needless to say, still working at it.  Here's four different approaches for you. 
26. Make a good first impression. 
27. Negotiate a better price. For a car, a home, repair services. 
28. Define what success is for you
29. Shop entirely from the golden horseshoe at the grocery store. Just once. Not every time because ketch-up, Cheeze-its, and chocolate-dipped ice cream bars. 
30. Learn how to use a fire extinguisher. Yes, you might not have the chance to practice this before you need to use it, but be in the know. 
31. Knowledge of basic first aid
32. How to look natural in a picture. Kick that pained smile, that awkward arm, and that dog-esque head tilt. 
33. Enjoy reading and talking about (at least) a handful of novels. I'm biased, but there's no better way to be easily connected with another person at a party like talk about books.  
34. Throw a football, a baseball, and a basketball in a formidable way. That means my granny-shots are null and void. 
35. Know your limits. At the bar, with family and friends, at work. 
36. Confidently parallel park a car. Practice, practice, practice. 
37. Draft a formal letter, cover letter, and resume. Representing yourself well is vital in all aspects of life, especially the professional one. 
38. Apologize genuinely. And dole out forgiveness as well. 
39. Have a general knowledge of US geography. Like where the states are in relation to one another. 
40. Understand the world of finance in general, know your finances specifically. Know how a mortgage works, the workings of investment accounts, 401(k)s, taxes and withholding and deductions, the stock market. 
41. Find an exercise routine that is enjoyable and sustainable. There's more options than I can begin to count, but find what you love and do it. Nothing's better for the mind but working out the body -or so I believe. 
42. How to iron a shirt. Or skirt. Or coat. Or dress. Or slacks. Because almost as distracting as a missing button or split seam is wrinkles. 
43. Say no without guilt or anger. 
44. Hold a baby. Even if you don't want kids yourself, there's always that one family member who wants you to hold it because that'll make you want one... That said, do it right because those little nuggets of baby are pretty fragile. 
45. Negotiate a salary, a raise, or a promotion. 
46. Speak comfortably (or at least appear to be comfortable) in front of a group. 
47. Find a charity/church/organization who's cause you support financially or with time or both. Because life's not all about you, you know? 
48. Discover the best way for you to get a good night's sleep. Melatonin, soft music, sound machines, quilts, blankets, sheets. There's all kinds of advice, but your routine should be discovered and maintained. 
49. Form educated opinions and respectfully share them. Online, offline, and otherwise. Disagreeing is good as long as it's done with respect.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Just Over Here Beating A Dead Horse, AKA: #ALSIceBucketChallenge

The phenomenon seems to dominate my Facebook news feed and Instagram daily. Bucket after bucket, nomination after nomination, all with the hashtag #ALSIceBucketChallenge. At first, it was funny, sort of inspiring, and yet, I wasn't enthralled to learn more, donate, or participate.

I had heard of ALS, I knew it was fatal, scary, and incurable. One of my closest college friends (and my sorority Big) lost her father to the disease. We've talked about how hard that was for her family and the challenge it was watching the effects of the disease on her dad. I knew that ALS was synonymous with Lou Gehrig's disease and that, ultimately, it shut your body down while your brain stayed in tact.

Cockily, I felt like I knew enough. That I'd participated in the casual fundraiser within our chapter in memory of my Big's dad. That I'd read facts about ALS during awareness weeks. But, like many things in life, I didn't take that step further to learn more and educated myself.

My opinions about the #ALSIceBucketChallenge looked much like those you see floating around the internet in educated -errr, opinionated- articles. Over the course of two weeks, they've varied and changed from the idea of "slactivism" to celerity namedropping to selfish attempts to go viral. WE'RE IN A DROUGHT they say, loud and boisterously, that we're not really doing anything simply wasting water, that it's just a glorified wet t-shirt contest that isn't educating or bringing awareness to anyone. I heard those arguments. And I've ranged from agreement to outrage.

But, like any good ol' wanting to be smart girl, I decided I wanted to figure out how this #ALSIceBucketChallenge started, where it's roots are, and maybe, there, I'd see the value.

It went viral with this man. 
Pete Frates.

If you don't have time to watch the seven minute segment ESPN did on him, here's the short story:
Pete is 29 years old and was diagnosed two years ago. He can no longer walk or talk and requires 24-hour care staff to assist in getting through his day. He's married, expecting his first child, and dying all at one time. That's heavy, heart-pulling stuff when he was just two years older than me when he was diagnosed. Four years older as he looks at fatherhood and fatal effects of his disease.

He's been a face of the challenge -speaking honestly about his experience with the disease, bringing awareness to it's difficulties, and making it relatable to us: a young, athletic, excited generation. The disease is rare, but can happen to any one of us, even a promising baseball player with a bright bat-yielding future.

Originally, the #ALSIceBucketChallenge was both a charge to dump ice water over one's head AND donate to the cause. Like a good old game of telephone, the dares have changed, claiming water or money. The challenge was an attempt to raise funds for research and assistance in medical costs for families suffering through the disease as well as awareness. And, I believe, it's done both as well as coincidentally provide encouragement for the patients and their families suffering from this disease. With a total of $15.6 million dollars raised in just a few months and conversations about ALS surfacing on major news outlets as well as all forms of social media, the challenge seems to be a wondrous success.

Sure, it's not educating everyone, it's not bringing awareness to the masses per say, but it brought both education and awareness to me. And my guess is Pete Frates would be happy that just one person -me- be a bit more educated about an otherwise mysterious disease. And, with that, I'm stepping off my soapbox and back onto level ground; but not without a little encouragement for you to go and google the hell out of whatever might be tugging at that curious bit that lives inside of you.

Oh, also, if you didn't make it through the film: Pete Frates took the #ALSIceBucketChallenge himself. And that's his adorable pregnant wife lifting the bucket for him since he can't do it himself.
Interested in donating to the ALS Foundation, find your opportunity here

And finally, for the sake of a good laugh after a hard conversation, this is my favorite compilation of #ALSIceBucketChallenge fails, much thanks to BuzzFeed.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Milking Stool Ministry: John 20

Pardon me and all my excitement but we're going to hang out in the book of John for one more week. Mostly this is because these final two chapters are just so rich and I couldn't get myself to talk less about all the goodness. So, without further ado, here's my little talk on John 20:

And, here's the notes for John 20. They're crazy because they're all about a SINGLE verse. But, you guys, I just couldn't stop thinking about it, writing on it, being equal parts challenged and encouraged by it. Yes, loved it.

I encourage you to allow yourself to be challenged too. The bible can be hard to read because there's just so much. You're allowed to pare it down, to pick out one verse or truth or paragraph and just not stop with it for a week or so. That's usually where I find myself most in love with God and my faith.

Verse of the week:
After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. 
The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
-John 20:20

And last, but certainly not least, encouraging links for you:

On judgment. Prepare to be humbled. I was because, well, it described me. (Meet With a Smile)

Release the evil and let the love seep in. Whoa. Did you read that? Whoa. (A Mama Collective)

I read this early this week and can't stop thinking about it. It's, well, awesome. (Girl Brooks)

Also, I'm over at Always Ashten today talking about how I came to be the queen of me
If you'd like a little extra credit post from me for the week, might as well take a gander! 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

to love and to cherish [a marriage letter]


You got mad at me the other morning. I went running late on a Sunday -too late to be home before you awoke, too early to say bye before I left. I scared you with my absence, without a note for you, without my phone on me. You didn't know where I was, how long I'd been gone, when I'd be back. You were irked and I was wrong. We didn't talk it out, just let it go, but I think about how you were upset and take comfort in the fact that you were scared. Fear means you care, means you cherish me. 

Most mornings I run or hit the gym while you slumber a little longer -being as beautiful as you are doesn't happen without some good sleep. Most mornings I'm up and at 'em, full of caffeine and rushing in to shower while you soak in just a few more moments wrapped in our striped sheets. Your eyes closed, your breathing steady, your mind on that tipping point of sleep begs me to soak you in. Sometimes I stare at you for a moment or two, you unaware the way I'm selfishly trying to remember you knowing one day, hopefully far, far away, we won't be together. Cherishing you, that's what I'm trying to do. 

Then there's those special mornings, the ones where we take it slow, we sit at the table and sip frothy cups of coffee, inhale chocolate-peanut butter chip pancakes doused in maple syrup, talking about our dreams and the little bits of book we consumed before bed last night. Those mornings won't last forever, I know that deep within my soul, so I'm pausing to cherish them. And to cherish you as you are right now. You are mine without the demands or distraction of kids, or insane schedules, or busy-ness. 

I cherish you more than any boot or shoe in our closet, more than that fluffy wedding dress I wore that one time, more than every hair on Hazel's little head and body and tail. 

Knowing this won't last forever, reminds me how much I adore you right in this moment

Yours truly and wholly,
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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.

Monday, August 18, 2014

this time it's not just coffee, it's bagels too.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd insist we go to Bruegger's Bagels because they have coconut iced coffee and I want it all the time right now but can't have it because the only shop we have is 20 minutes from our house. I'd order a cinnamon-sugar bagel with strawberry cream cheese on one half and honey walnut on the other. Yes, I'd be treating myself and I'd hope you did too.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd ask about your skin care routine. I have an intense battle with acne going on. I have for a decade now and just haven't found a routine that's working perfect for me. I'm hoping the new product I got in the mail over the weekend is going to rock my skin's world. One can hope right?

If we were on a coffee date, I'd rave about my favorite mascara: Fairy Drops. I randomly got it for the gold bottle and I love it... Especially since I tried a few different tubes for about six months and nothing can compare. I love a good old fashion beauty-off, but I'm thankful this is one that's come to an end. I'd tell you that I use primer, specifically this one, and that you should too.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd want to talk about hope. Lately, I can't help but think all about it. Where it comes from? How people maintain it? In what ways it anchors our souls? Hope, I'm fixated. I'd ask you if you're fixated on patterns and ideas that seem to be popping up consistently in your life. I'd want to know how you digest them, maintain them, think on them.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd share that I'm frustrated with how much baby talk happens at this stage in marriage and life. I realize people are excited for us to have babies -in fact, I want them so desperately some days- but it seems just as exciting to be taking time to travel and be married sans children. I know there's only so many times you can talk about work and the house, but let's skip the part where we're talking about the population (or prospective population) of my vagina please.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd tell you that running has become an addiction of sorts lately. That yes, I could sleep in, but that asphalt under my shoes, the sound of pounding along the dirt, the huffing and puffing that can be hillsides, are alluring and tempting and lovely. Maybe part of it is because of Born to Run?

If we were on a coffee date, I'd acknowledge out loud how life is so much a journey of learning. Learning how to balance, to communicate, to respond, to respect, to love, to enjoy, to all the things. It's such a journey and it's beautiful and I've always said I'm a forever student. BUT, right now, I want a little break from the learning, is that too much to ask?

If we were on a coffee date, I'd ask for a bit of encouragement. I'd be thankful, so thankful, for the way you're His mouthpiece for a girl that's not really that good at hearing Him speak. 

- - - - - - - - - - -
If we were on a coffee date, I'd mention this posted last week (in time with the Robin Williams' post) for just about an hour before I woke to realize two posts went live at the same time. You'd give me grace, because you're awesome, and I'd tell you my ability to keep organized is so messy as of late.

Friday, August 15, 2014

milking stool ministry: john 18&19

This week's stuff was powerful. Can you tell? I realized that I was near speechless in trying to talk to ya'll about His goodness and Christ's gift to us and all the things contained in just these two chapters. We're paused in the sadness. He's buried, gone, the people unsure what happens next. And, I think, right now, life's like that for me and you and us and the world.

Looking at the news (online, on TV, in the papers) you can find bad and good and then try and apply God and it just feels so heavy and scary and like WHAT COMES NEXT GOD? But, that's this week. This week in our readings focus on what's next. On what you received the moment Christ was alive. Focus on how that changes your approach to life, how you interact with and love on the world because Christ.

And, for old time's sake, here are the notes I came up with:

You'll notice they're spastic. That's because just SO MUCH information coming in and going out and flowing through all of me. It's okay to be overwhelmed and to write all kinds of word vomit-y madness because that's what's happening in your brain and heart and soul. He wired us to get jumbled in excitement and to write it out for organization's sake.

One more week together in John. One more. I'm thrilled we've done it. And I'm sad it's ending. But, let's just focus on the promise that's established because of the events in the final two chapters of John.

The verse of the week for you: 
"Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out 
and asked them, "Who is it you want?"
-John 18:4

Encouraging links for your week: 

I have been obsessing over ALL of these computer (and now iPhone) backgrounds. (Design Love Fest)

This is making its rounds around the internet, but think about how easily it could apply to our faith. (Momastery)

Disappointment abounds in life. This is so beautiful about how to handle it with grace and goodness. (Happy is a Choice)

This. Oh, and this. And this one too. And also this. And don't forget this. (Lauren Daigle Music)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

robin. popsicle. both begging us to be changed.

I remember the first time I watched a movie starring Robin Williams: Flubber

He was a zany scientist with crazy hair and this insane experiment that changed simple materials into a magic, bouncy rubber. He was the second funniest man I'd ever seen -only superseded by my dad. 

Patch Adams. Good Will Hunting. Bicentennial ManMrs. Doubtfire. So much skill, so many laughs, such an amazing ability to act. 

Bicentennial Man was the first movie that I remember crying over -never did I know I could be so attached to a robot. Patch Adams made me aware that kids get sick and unafraid because there is such a thing as nice doctors. But, Mrs. Doubtfire. It came out before I knew divorce was a thing. My dad's own divorce had the movie hitting too close to home: the fear of missing his kids, the do-or-die-sort of love, the emotions and logistics of it all. He said he sobbed, he couldn't stand it, the way it was just there at the time that was just right and just wrong for him.

Then Robin Williams' death. 

On the outside he was successful, humorous, a gleaming life marked by laughter and that smile that seemed to crack his face in two. But inside, a little demon whispered, then talked, then screamed. It's words emboldened, emblazoned in Robin Williams' mind. Words so loud, so dominant, that he died. And it weighs on me heavy, so heavy. It weighs in a way that famous deaths don't do. Then I realize it's just here at a time that is just right and just wrong for me.

So close it hurts. At that time that is just right and just wrong. 

Because, like Robin, we're tan and smiling and living the never ending summer dream. We're soaking up sun, sipping sangria, riding tractors at dusk. The outside looks just right: shiny, happy, a whole lot of fun. But inside, doors closed, windows tight, we huddle in sadness, remembering he should be there, hearing his absence whisper, then talk, never loud enough to scream over us.

It's close, yes. And in the closeness, we are changed. 

Because, like Robin, there's something going on in Popsicle's brain. Something that stands outside of modern medicine or an easy diagnosis. Something that isn't simply fixed or patched or mended. It's a something that wreaks havoc -some obvious, some hidden. It's something that remains an utter mystery birthing deep tragedy, immense fear, and suffering.

Then death brings freedom. 

Death is marked by finality: one experienced in no other way. And, with it's end, comes relief. Robin Williams no longer suffers, though we mourn in his absence. He's granted freedom from the demons, the terror, the drudgery that can be life. And we know that freedom faces Popsicle too, though we mourn. He will be free from the disease, the suffering, the betraying body.

We miss Robin. We'll miss Pop. But we're changed. 

Like Flubber, we're affected by those crazy-haired funnymen who are more than the sum of their jokes. We're changed from simple lovers of laughter to deeply appreciative friends. That change reminds us: we're all fighting demons -some just more secret than others, some more latent, less obvious, less simple.  That change inspires us to live wholly, honestly, adventurously. That change begs us to forge relationships, to hold tight while we can, to embrace the joys and the sorrows.

Be changed in memory of Robert and in the legacy of Popsicle. 

And for the road. This.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Five Tips for Growing Your Blog Without Sponsorships

A few weeks ago I talked about how offering sponsorships didn't bode well for my writing and creativity. There was an immense amount of respect and support from y'all, like always, followed by emails with questions about how I grow my blog sans sponsorship. And, well, I was flattered to be asked for more information while I was stumped by the answer. 

So today, I provide you with a list of what's been successful for my sponsorship-free blog growing experience. The list isn't foolproof or full of epiphanies, instead, it's commonsense combined with some hard work. These are ideas that won't provide you fast growth or big numbers, but I have complete confidence you'll find your readers to be engaged and more tailored to your content. 

Without further ado, five tips on growing your blog without sponsorships

Because your money isn't going to begin conversations for you, you're going to have to start them yourself. Sometimes this means some increased interaction on Twitter or Instagram, other times it means sending an email telling another blogger what you love about their latest or asking them for advice.

It's always a huge compliment to get an email saying how much a reader loved something or wanted to know more about that one post. Sometimes it spurs greater conversations that turn into relationships. I have several blogging friends who started with a simple email or tweet, so throw that little shy voice to the wind for a minute or twenty.

Commenting is important. Oh how it is. But so is reading the comments other people have left on posts before you. This isn't a measure to ensure you don't make the offhand opinion or say the same as someone else, but because people say interesting things in response to posts. People who are interested in the same post as you are people you want reading your blog. So, go to your favorite blogs and find a post that you love, scroll through comments, click links of the responses you love, look at their blogs, and comment there too.

Who doesn't love a good surprise? Even if in the form of a simple email. Sneaking up on another blogger who isn't expecting to hear from a new reader is always fun (you know you love those comments in your inbox). Go, provide that surprise elsewhere and realize that they're more than likely to come and check out your spot. I know that's how I respond. 

Just as it goes with workouts or bible reading or healthy eating habits, consistency makes a world of difference. I know we're all hearing this all over the inter-webs, but it's something we could all bear to hear just a few more times. So, be consistent in a lot of aspects of your blog: in content and in scheduling. In responding to comments and emails. In tweeting and posting to Instagram. In establishing consistency for your readers, you are also helping yourself set up a bit of a schedule to follow for the week, like when to write, to schedule tweets, to post pictures and edit drafts.

The more devoted to a schedule of posting I am, the better things go. I post three times a week right now: two miscellaneous (usually feeling-life-faith related posts) and one bible study vlog. Every single week my readers know when to expect to swing by. That means they aren't having to worry about me EVERY day, but it's not far enough apart to fall off the radar.

My coffee date posts, marriage letters and book reviews are always favorites. They track the differences in our lives from month to month, while allowing for enough time between posts to create new, interesting content. Knowing I have these "template" available to me each month makes it easier on me when the time comes for brainstorming content.

Readers get the chance to come and relate to new information and tales in old ways. In psychology this would be called integration of new stimulation into existing schema. Mostly I know that because of a single class I took in college, it's not like some undercover brainwashing gig over here. Your ability to make new things look familiar is comforting and interesting. Watch for what posts get lots of feedback and attention that are also sustainable over time (sometimes they're too much work or too little in expanse).

On Twitter, on Instagram, on your blog, in real life. Try things that are a little bit different and crazy. Sometimes they're awesome, others will flop. But pushing yourself into new places and situations -be it online or off- will create a larger space for readers to relate within. Maybe it's taking one #OOTD or #selfie shot a week, or deciding to conquer a CouchTo5K program complete with a race, or planting an herb planter on your window sill. Maybe you want to write about your faith, or how you're interested in going on some blind dates because dating is hard, or the recipes that you've really been trying to make on your own.

People will respond to some with vigor and others will go down in flames: that's experimentation. I've learned as much about content from my failures as I have successes. That's all part of this blogging game. So, reach out to a blogging friend and toss some ideas around, ask for some encouragement when you're really nervous, and remind each other that flops happen.

Y'all can do this. Oh yes, you can. How do you grow your community with or without sponsorship offerings? 

Friday, August 8, 2014

milking stool ministry: john 16 & 17

I couldn't decide how to set up notes for the next few weeks because I'm sort of in a funk of my own. Then I thought, when I'm in a funk I usually want a cup of coffee and a pair of sweats... And, what's the journaling equivalent? Well, you've got to answer that for yourself. So, do what you love for the next few weeks.

I decided not to post my notes. There's probably a picture on my Instagram for you to check out, but since we're "wearing our bible study sweats" you don't need mine for reference.

My challenge for you: slow your roll and reflect on the truth and beauty that was and is John. This book is coming to a close, you deserve to reflect on what this all means for your life and faith and goodness. The next few chapters are going to illustrate where life changes from lonely and self-serving, but instead is full and joyous and glorifying.

Verse of the week for ya'll: 
"Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth." 
-John 17:17

Next week we're going to be reading 18 and 19. Then the following we're going to be finishing out the book of John with the last two chapters: 20 and 21.

I'm going to be taking a little break before starting up another study, but I want to encourage ya'll to keep on keeping on in your reading and journaling.

Finally, encouraging links for your week: 

I think we all need moments like this with feelings like this to have realizations like this. (The Tattooed Missionary)

While this video's got nothing to do with the bible or faith, it's adorable. (Share a Coke)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

three books. four gifs.

This month's reading went a little slower. I don't know if it's the sunshine or the cornhole set, but reading has sort of slipped to the back burner... I'm almost done with Born to Run and also well over halfway through Wild so those'll be up next month for certain. Regardless, another month gone means another three books loved and learned and ready for review.

But first, Hazel. 

That girl's made it clear that she's felt left out around these parts lately. She feels like all the attention she deserves has slipped through her little paws and landed in the hands of all the other members of Team Thomas. So, today her and some friends decided to provide us with the GIFs that'll illustrate the goodness of all the words consumed in July. 
|| via ||

by Anne Lamott

“Jealousy always has been my cross, the weakness and woundedness in me that has most often caused me to feel ugly and unlovable, like the Bad Seed. I’ve had many years of recovery and therapy, years filled with intimate and devoted friendships, yet I still struggle. I know that when someone gets a big slice of pie, it doesn’t mean there’s less for me. In fact, I know that there isn’t even a pie, that there’s plenty to go around, enough food and love and air. But I don’t believe it for a second.

I secretly believe there’s a pie. I will go to my grave brandishing my fork.” 

No book has made me laugh so hard as this one. No book inspilanred me in the way this one did. Every flip of the page had me ready to write my own novel all the while praying it could be half the light Lamott shines in the world through her words. A recovering alcoholic, drug user, and bulimic, she uses her brokenness and fear to beautify the world around her. You're sure to feel exhilarated to live, to make mistakes, and then make the most of the mess that comes in their wake. 

Lamott manages to talk about grace (and faith and hope) without explicitly mentioning it's many manifestations in her life. Her ability to balance all the moving parts so beautifully is mind-blowing and inspirational. Be warned: her words will snowball into an impetus to look for grace in your life, in little details and big stories and wild moments. Realize grace is here, now, constantly pursuing you -the difference is, do you notice it?

A little note for you:
The last fifty pages of Grace Eventually take a political turn. As a reader (and as an overall person) I'm not engaged in those debates or conversations so I struggled through them. When I passed my copy on to my mom (who reads much like I do), I mentioned how disinterested I was in that part of the book's content and that I wish I'd simply set the book down when they started as they didn't add anything for me. So, she did. And, well, I'm sort of jealous about that.  
by Norton Juster 

"Don't be too sure," said the child patiently, "for one of the nicest things about mathematics, or anything else you might care to learn, is that many of the things which can never be, often are. You see," he went on; "it's very much like your trying to reach Infinity. You know that it's there, but you just don't know where-but just because you can never reach it doesn't mean that it's not worth looking for." 

One of my favorite childhood reads is Where the Wild Things Are. Still to this day I love every bit of the dreamy adventure Max bravely faces. You can imagine my delight when I found The Phantom Tollbooth to be reminiscent of Where the Wild Things Are. It felt as though Milo was the older brother of Max taking on a larger, more extensive adventure in an imaginary land of irony and double entendre. While Milo began the novel as an indifferent little dude, I quickly fell in love with his honest approach to the many misfortunes and escapades as well as his intense curiosity -something I wish for myself.

The Phantom Toolbooth took me back to the phenomenon that was Shrek: appropriate for and geared toward children, but completely entertaining for adults. The many "morals" of the silly stories throughout the novel had me giggling because how much I have to learn! Milo felt like a mirror: bored by the monotony that is his life, unaware of the lovely adventures contained within his imagination. I won't wait for a toolbooth to appear on my step, or a Tock to remind me of how I'm using my time, but instead, I will lean into the fun cast of characters that share life with me today.
|| via ||
by Mindy Kaling

"I am the only person besides your mom who has the right (and responsibility) to tell you that. I should never be overly harsh when something doesn't look good on you, because I know you are fragile about this, and so am I. I will employ the gentle, vague expression "I'm not crazy about that on you," which should mean to you "Holy shit, take that off, that looks terrible!" I owe it to you to give feedback like a cattle prod: painful but quick." 

I must begin with the fact that I'm not an Office fan, or Saturday Night Live fan, or really any TV show diehard fan outside of the Real Housewives of all the cities. It's not for lack of enjoyment or humor in those shows, but for lack of time. And, well, #RHWivesFoLyfe. That said, I don't care much about what it looks like to grow and succeed in the Comedy TV industry. I struggled through the longest section of the book that covered all the beauties and uglies of establishing one's self as a successful writer and comedian. 

However, I adore Mindy's take on all things life. The sections dedicated to romance (what is so cool about a one-night stand anyway?) and to what it means to be a real friend (you best be telling me when I look fat in my outfit) and her childhood (hi adorable parents and hilariously troublesome sister role) had me laughing out loud and dog-earing pages. I guess Kaling's book is like most things in life: love some of it, don't love others, it all depends what you take away. My takeaway: Mindy is adorable and hilarious and humble, so in my book, she wins at life. 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
As ya'll might have noticed on Instagram, we have a new Thomas in the house, errr rather the yard. We (mostly me though) are thrilled to have Guillermo -yes after Jimmy Kimmel's right hand man- Thomas adding some spunk in our backyard (while keeping the lawn mowed nice and tight). Mo, as I so affectionately call him, seems to be settling in relatively well, though we call him Grumpy Mo (after the cat) because he's grumpy when he's being watched, touched, moved, or even breathed near. We're hoping he'll warm up to all the attention eventually, but for now: grumpy. 

That said, here's a bonus GIF courtesy of the Thomas pets. 
Please note: These aren't Hazel and Mo. 
Also note: the tortoise is trying to establish it's domain, it won't injure or bite the boxer even though the dog is sure it's being chased by a threatening over-sized rock. 
Also, now that the reading challenge is coming to an end(ish), who's got amazing reads going on in their lives?? 

Monday, August 4, 2014

let's engage in august

We went on a fishing trip last month. I actually enjoyed myself out there in the mountains, sitting on rocks, drinking mimosas, dropping lines in the gushing streams. Don't worry about my self esteem after catching the single, tiniest fish in all the land because, HI, I auto-timed that picture up there. We look like a damn postcard, but we aren't, we're just, well, two stinky Thomases, hungry and about to ride giant horses to an abandoned gold mine. 

And how did July go? you ask. 

Driving less distractedly went, for the most part, well, I was more intentional in staying away from the phone and enjoying the music or quiet going on in my car while getting from here to there. It was good for me, however, I spent the month noticing a few things: 
  • We're all self important when we're on the road. I can't believe how crazy we all drive (well, at least here in southern CA). I so often wanted to roll down my window and holler for people to breath deep and slow down. A mild case of traffic made people crazy and had drivers swerving all over the place. So, I'm trying to slow my roll and remember I'm not a firetruck so I can slow, slow, slow. As important as I think I am, I'm not
  • Phones really do make us oblivious. Not being on my phone had me more aware of the drivers around me who were scrolling and swiping on theirs. Lights missed and horns honked happened at the hands of an iPhone. I do wonder how many accidents and tickets are a result of being in the tech bubble in our car. 
  • The car can be a relaxing place. In the last few months, I found myself feeling like the drive to and from work was my time to get things done, to make lists and prepare myself to be productive. This month that time became a space for my mind to do creative things, to mull over what's going on in my life, to pray and think on the goodness that is Him. 
I encourage y'all to take this challenge upon yourself. I really, really do. 

A new month and a new August. 

August I'm setting my mind on being engaged. 

Engaged at home, at work, in life. I want to be more involved in what's going on here and now instead of what's happening online or on TV. I want to host dinners, to spend time with friends, to bond with our neighbors a little bit more. I want to master corn hole and to kick the ass of my FitBit's 10,000 steps a day. 

I find myself scrolling through Instagram and Twitter more than I'd like. It seems to snowball, more, more, more. I realize that I'd rather sit and watch TV with Jason than get competitive over cards. It's easy and okay on occasion, but we can lean into one another more, more, more. 

So, August is about engagement. 

I want to spend more time playing cornhole, walking through the meadow, cannonballing into Mama Bird's pool. The evenings are so beautiful with the cooler temperature and light breeze and I want to enjoy those moments on our patio around our dinner table. 

And my third month check-in for the Summer Reading Challenge
Holy heavens, the final month and I've got some reading to do! 
  • 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(DONE)
    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. (DONE)
    Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling (222 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. (almost DONE)
    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) (almost DONE with Born to Run, currently reading the other)
    Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (282 pages) & End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwable (352 pages)
Now that this challenge is drawing to an end, I have remembered how much I love to read. There's something about a book that can take you away from here and inspire you to go here, there, and everywhere. This month, I've been feeling like moving and living a lot -I'm blaming the books. 

Of course, a GIF-filled review of all the books is to follow! 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Milking Stool Ministry: John 14 & 15

I'm hoping that wasn't too overwhelming. I realized post record that there was a lot of material sort of shoved in there to be consumed.

As always, here are my notes for you. We're going to stick with the same pattern of splitting out two verses from the text and focusing on the keywords and ideas that convict us. 
In approaching this week's notes, I'd encourage you to notice words or phrases that happen over and over again in the text similar to the way " I am..", "I will..." "If you...", and "I have..." appeared in th two chapters from last week.
Sometimes those little phrases can go seemingly undetected, but they are important to underlining who Christ has been saying he is throughout the book of John. It's amazing to see the way repetition of just a few words can leave such an amazing impression not only on our hearts, but on the hearts of the disciples as well.
I've been spending a lot of time thinking about what it would have been like to be one of Christ's disciples in those last few bits of time with him. As he's speaking cryptically about where he's going, the way what he's started will continue through them, how he's leaving but they won't be left. I wonder how confused I'd be, how nervous all the messages would leave me, what the others would be doing in reaction. And, I'm in awe that we get to share in those moments because of the bible. 

The verse of the week for you: 
"I have told you this so that my joy may be in you,
and that your joy may be complete."
- John 15:11

My prayer is that we all feel complete in Him this week regardless of what feels lacking or lesser or missing. May we rest in the knowledge that He completes us fully and whole-y. 

Encouragement by the links for you: 

Yes, this is a Christmas carol. But, it's so powerful right now and always. (Sarah Reeves & Pentatonix)

Grace on grace on grace. This book changed my heart. (Anne Lamott

We're daughters. Of His. And He'd want us to know these things too. (A Mama Collective

Also, where to go from here? Are ya'll loving this? If so, now what? 
What are you interested in for the future of the milking stool? 

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