Monday, June 30, 2014

Overwhelmed on Monday

Things have been piling up at my house. Magazines. Bills. Dishes. Outgrown clothes. Beach towels. You name it, we have a pile for it!

Then there are the to-do's. The laundry. Groceries. Returning the library books. Sports' practices. Dog vaccinations. You know what I'm talking about!



I let a lot of things simmer on the back burner last month, and this morning they all glared at me. Accusations whispered, "How could you let so much dust settle? The ridiculous pile of junk mail and bills must be conquered immediately. And don't even think about relaxing until you get groceries. You need to get everything done. Today!"

But...but I can't get all that done! Not without my coffee!!

My day planner and a mini-yellow legal pad sits next to me. I'm not wasting another minute beating myself up about all of the waiting chores and tasks. And I'm not trying to get it all done in one day, either. No, I'm scheduling it all. And I'm delegating anything I can!

See? Now I can lounge on the couch for an hour with my dog and my coffee, guilt free! Ahh...

Do you get overwhelmed on Monday? How do you get through it?

Thanks so much for stopping by!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My Inspiration Pinterest Board

We're taking a few weeks off from the Writer's Life series. Since the middle of 2014 is almost here (how is this possible??), I'm using the remaining days to stay inspired.

I'm a big fan of Pinterest. I don't use it for any purpose other than to relax. All the pretty pins, the motivational quotes, the house ideas, the yummy food photos, and funny fails ease my tension. Last night I clicked on my inspiration board--surprise, surprise, it inspired me!



Many of the pins on this board are quotes. Others are art, or cardinals, or even my own photos. The picture above is one I took in Saugatuck, MI last summer. We ate outside at a little seafood joint, and it was wonderful!

Another of my favorite pins? The one below because it led me to Rachel Wojo's fabulous site! She is your go-to gal for Christian inspiration, let me tell you. :)

h


I often go back to her "30 Inspirational Bible Verses" post. It's just what I need when I'm discouraged or worried.

One of my goals this summer is to spend a few lazy hours on my porch each week. Sipping tea, flipping through a magazine, reading a great book, or just watching the birds. All are good for my soul!

Do you have any inspiration triggers? I'd love to hear them!

Have a terrific day!!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Karaoke with High School Friends

After getting cozy on our deck chair Saturday evening, I checked my cell phone. A friend from high school I'd recently reconnected with asked if I wanted to sing karaoke.

Did I?

I think we all know the answer to that. Yes!!



Now, I know many of you enjoy rich relationships with high school, or even grade school, friends. You've kept in touch, held each other's hands through tough times, stood up in each other's weddings, planned weekends together, and generally grown closer through the years.

Not me. My circumstances were a little different. I have very few friends from way back when. But my life experience has allowed me to befriend just about anyone, which is always a good thing! Let me explain.

I switched schools almost every year through eighth grade. Our family moved from the country to a city when I was twelve, but the high school I attended consisted mostly of out-of-town students who dormed. My best friend and I had different interests after high school, and we grew apart. In college I was the only girl in most of my classes due to my major. There wasn't much opportunity to find new girlfriends. Within a few years, my husband and I were relocating often for his job.

A part of me has always yearned for the group of long-term girlfriends so many women have.

Fast forward to Saturday. Meeting up with five high school friends was a real treat for me. This is a group who has stayed in touch with each other. Supported each other. Made time to be together. And I admire them for it.

The Karaoke joint was really loud, making it difficult to catch up. It's funny, though. I haven't seen a few of the girls in fifteen years, and it didn't matter. I knew them. Could see they've become exactly who they're supposed to be. Business owners, moms, teachers, wives, spiritual leaders. Did I mention we attended a Christian high school? One where learning about the Bible took top priority? Many of my old classmates have embraced their roles to be God's light in the world. It's impressive.

You're wondering if I actually sang a song. Yes, I got up on the stage and sang. My nerves were jangly. This voice has scared small animals before. But who cares? It was fun!

For one night, I got to see how it feels to have that group of high school friends. Got to spend time with people who knew me way back when my maiden name was my last name. And I'm thankful for the opportunity. It's funny how God blesses us in the most unexpected ways.

Do you have friends from way back? If not, do you sometimes yearn for them the way I do?

Have a terrific day!






Friday, June 20, 2014

Our Week in Cooperstown, NY!

Last weekend we returned home from our baseball tournament at the Dreamspark in Cooperstown, NY. What a trip! We had a blast!!

My son pitching!


For the very first time, my son pitched an entire game--all six innings! We were proud. :) Also, one of his teammates tied for third place in the King of Swat (home run) competition! Only one kid from each team could compete and there were 104 teams!

As mentioned in a previous post, we opted to tent camp to save money. With most of our team's parents staying in cabins at the campground, it was a wise decision!

Positives of camping:
- A two-mile drive to the baseball diamonds.
- Plenty of room for the boys to hang out when not practicing or playing.
- Outdoor pool, laundry room, and small store.
- Bonfires, cookouts, and relaxation with our baseball family.

Negatives of camping:
- We were overly optimistic about the weather. It rained four days. Every night the temps dropped to the fifties, and we were very cold at night.
- Every bird in North America sang a serenade over our tent each morning at sunrise. I did not sleep much that week.
- Did I mention the weather?
- Packing up a tent in a downpour is not fun.

Verdict on camping:

If you're headed to the Dreamspark for a baseball tournament in June, definitely camp, but get a cabin! It's too cold for tenting. We recommend camping because you're not stuck in a teeny hotel room, and it's so close to the baseball diamonds. It was simple to bring the boys back whenever they had downtime. They were able to play wiffle ball, run around, and have a few cookouts with us, and it was fun!

Large area for boys to run around and have fun at the campground!

On to the actual baseball tournament...

Opening ceremony--every team comes in with their banner!

The Dreamspark is AMAZING! We had a wonderful time! It's an incredible experience for any twelve-year-old baseball player. Now that we've been there, I have some recommendations.

Parents: What to Expect

- Free parking and everything is very organized. The staff is helpful.

- Inexpensive concessions--a plus! Definitely buy the souvenir cup as refills are only $1.50.

- Small seating areas to watch games, but they're partially covered.

- The short fields make the game quite different from what you're used to at home. It doesn't matter how good your defense is, if you're not hitting at least one home run per game, you probably won't win. Home runs win these games. Also, many of the teams are put together specifically for Cooperstown. Don't be surprised if you're playing against BIG players who are closer to thirteen. There are plenty of community teams too, but your pool play might not reflect that.

- Not much time for sightseeing. The week is packed with baseball, so expect to spend a lot of time at the park.

- Souvenirs are pricey, but some are unique and worth it. The souvenir bat is very cool. All of the boys on our team purchased a bat with their name and the team roster engraved on it. Also, if your son hits a home run, you can have the game ball engraved. Cool! The photos are very overpriced. Cheapest is $8.00 for one 4x6. I recommend taking plenty of your own pictures and skipping theirs.

- If you want a bat, order it early in the week. It takes up to 48 hours to process.

- If you opt to buy pictures, select and pick them up before the last day. The lines were obnoxious the final day of the tournament.

- Some of the fields are quite a hike from the parking lot. If your team is playing on one of the back fields, leave an extra fifteen minutes for parking/walking.

- If your team opts to tour the Baseball Hall of Fame, they might get there on an empty stomach. No food is sold on site. There are several diners in town, but you have to leave the Hall of Fame to get to them. Also, the train ride is very slow and not worth it.

- Parking downtown Cooperstown can be tricky. Digital parking meters are interspersed, but it's easy not to realize you have to pay for parking. Officials were handing out tickets constantly. If you don't want to deal with the two-hour limit and high fees, park in one of the city lots and take the trolley into town ($2/person all day ride). Or park near Doubleday Field and pay roughly $10 for the day.

- Cooperstown boasts a few breweries, but our favorite was Ommegang. You can tour the brewery, eat gourmet food for lunch, and stroll around the pretty grounds.

Birthplace of baseball! A must see!

We'll always remember the great time we had, and we left Cooperstown with a renewed team spirit, unique souvenirs to display in our son's room, and hundreds of snapshots.

 Have you camped in a tent when it was raining or cold? Any questions about Cooperstown? 

Have a fun weekend!


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Writer's Life: Karen Witemeyer

Welcome to another edition of Writer's Life! Every Wednesday features a writer of inspirational or sweet romance novels. I'm excited to share some of my favorite authors and hope you'll find new books for your to-be-read pile!

I'm SO excited to host Karen Witemeyer today! Now, let me tell you, my friends have long raved about Karen's books. I've mentally added her books to my to-be-read pile for a few years. Ms. Jessica Patch urged me--really urged me--to pick up a KW book already. Then I met Karen at ACFW's annual conference last year and thought she was really cool. I read Stealing the Preacher and I wondered what had taken me so long to read her books! Karen quickly became one of my favorite authors, and I'm enjoying working through her back-list. Her latest, Full Steam Ahead, is so amazing, so unique--you have to read it! My review is below. 

Let's get to it!

1. What about writing makes your heart sing?

When the words flow together in such a way that they affect me as if I were a reader and not a writer, that makes my heart sing. I love trying to craft original analogies to describe things through my characters' eyes, yet these are some of the hardest pieces I write. Cliches come far too readily to mind. After working for hours to find just the right descriptor, when I get it crafted so that it flows as if directly from the character's mind, I feel like shouting in triumph.

2. What is the biggest hurdle you're facing right now as a writer?

Time is definitely the biggest hurdle. I usually write one full-length novel a year, but this year, I added a novella into the mix. Add that to the demands of marketing a new release, still holding down a full-time day job, and having three kids at home as well as a husband who needs attention, and you'll find a writer trying hard not to pull her hair out as her August 15 deadline approaches with more speed than she would like.

3. What do you do to fill your creative well?

Read. Reading has always been my favorite escape. As a writer, it not only allows me to escape, but on a subconscious level, it also inspires me and sparks new ideas that I can twist and turn in my mind until they become something fresh and new that I can bring to life in my own characters. Movies and television can have a similar impact, but since my imagination is more fully engaged while reading, the effects tend to be great with a book in hand.

4. What are you working on now?

I'm currently working on a full-length novel that pits a hardened bounty hunter against a woman who kidnaps three child prodigies from the academy where she teaches in order to keep them safe. My teacher has a touch of OCD and my bounty hunter falls prey to a little girl's hero worship, so there are plenty of fun moments to go along with the adventure of the chase. The next project to release, however, is the novella I alluded to earlier. One of the secondary characters in Full Steam Ahead is a young runaway named Jacob who is taken in by Darius and Nicole. In early 2015, Jacob's story will continue in an e-novella entitled Love on the Mend. Jacob is all grown up, and after serving as a Civil War doctor, where more soldiers leave his surgeon's table dead or missing a limb than mended, Jacob wants nothing more than to establish a quiet country practice somewhere and find peace. But peace will never be his until he buries the pain of his past. So he returns to Cold Spring, Texas for the first time in seventeen years . . . and discovers that his past is still alive and kicking.


***
Karen, your writing definitely doesn't have cliches! It really does feel like the descriptors come straight from the characters. I'm in awe! You sound really busy. Those kids and husbands--always needing attention. What's a writer to do? Maybe throw candy in the middle of the room when desperate. I might try it. Your next book sounds terrific! You had me at "a touch of OCD." 

Thanks so much for being my guest today! 


***

FULL STEAM AHEAD ~

When Nicole Renard returns home to Galveston from an eastern finishing school, she's stunned to find her father in ill health. Though she loves him, he's only ever focused on what she's not. Not male. Not married. Not able to run their family business, Renard Shipping.

Vowing to secure a suitable marriage partner, Nicole sets out with the Renard family's greatest treasure: a dagger personally gifted to Nicole's father by the pirate Jean Lafitte. Many believe the legend that the dagger is the source of all Renard Shipping's good fortune, though Nicole is sure her father's work ethic and honorable business practices are the keys to their success. Before she can board the steamer to New Orleans, Nicole finds her father's rivals--the Jenkins brothers--on either side of the gangplank, ready to grab her and steal the dagger. Quickly, she decides to instead travel north, to Liberty, Texas, where she can decide what to do next.

Darius Thornton needs a secretary--someone to help him get his notes in order. Ever since the boiler explosion aboard the Louisiana, Darius has been a man obsessed. He will do anything to stop even one more steamship disaster. The pretty young socialite who applies for the job baffles him with her knowledge of mathematics and steamships. He decides to take a risk and hire her, but he's determined her attractive face and fancy clothes won't distract him from his important research.

The job offer comes at exactly the right time for Nicole. With what Darius is paying her, she'll be able to afford passage to New Orleans in mere weeks. But Mr. Thornton is so reclusive, so distant, so unusual. He can create complex scientific equations but can't remember to comb his hair. And his experiments are growing more and more dangerous. Still, there are undeniable sparks of attraction between them. But Nicole is leaving soon, and if she marries, it must be to a man who can manage a shipping empire. Darius certainly doesn't fit that description. And the Jenkins brothers have not given up on kidnapping Nicole and seizing the Lafitte dagger for themselves.


***


About Karen ~

Christy Award finalist and winner of both the ACFW Carol Award and HOLT Medallion, CBA bestselling author, Karen Witemeyer, writes Christian historical romance for Bethany House, believing the world needs more happily-ever-afters. She is an avid cross-stitcher, andmakes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at: www.karenwitemeyer.com.    


***

My Review—5 Stars!!

Every time I open a Karen Witemeyer book, I smile. Then I relax and drift into a fictional world full of complex characters, spiritual insight, and fast-paced hijinks. I don’t know how Ms. Witemeyer does it, but this is the third book of hers I’ve read, and each one amazes me!

What I love about Full Steam Ahead? The spunky, get-it-done attitude of the heroine, Nicole. And I totally understood Darius’s obsessive need to prevent boiler explosions. He's a unique hero—very masculine, reserved, and so easy to fall in love with. The book oozed adventure, and I laughed throughout, even though it’s by no means a comedy. Another thing that stands out is the attention to detail and historical research. It’s like taking a crash course in riverboat history—and I’m all in!

I loved this book and can't recommend it highly enough!

**I received an advanced reader copy of this book with no obligation to review it. All opinions are my own.**

What is keeping YOU busy this summer?

Have a terrific day!


Friday, June 6, 2014

Playing Baseball in Cooperstown!

The kids and I are heading out to Cooperstown, NY for my son's baseball tournament! This is the tourney we spent months fundraising to cover the costs. It's finally here! We're pretty excited. 


My teenage daughter is not excited about the prospect of camping and non-stop baseball for a week, but I'll sweeten the deal with plenty of short trips to the adorable downtown, and we'll take swim breaks. And do some fun girl stuff. 

One thing I'm extremely grateful for? All the terrific parents. My son has played for two competitive baseball teams, and both had wonderful parents. Spending a week with people we like makes the experience that much nicer!

If you're looking for ways to raise money for a youth team or organization, check out my article on how we raised over $20,000 for this tournament, "Fundraising Methods for Youth Sports Teams." (Huge shout-out to our generous community!!)

I'll share plenty of pictures when I get back. See you on Wednesday, June 18 with a very special guest for Writer's Life!!

Baseball screams "summer" to me. What screams "summer" to you?

Have an amazing week!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Writer's Life: Wendy Paine Miller

Welcome to another edition of Writer's Life! Every Wednesday features a romance writer of inspirational or sweet romance novels. I'm excited to share some of my favorite authors and hope you'll find new books for your to-be-read pile!

This week we have someone very special. Wendy Paine Miller and I met online through blogging, then we became critique partners, and through it all a friendship grew. I consider her one of my best friends. Not only is she an amazing writer (buy The Flower Girls HERE!!), she's also supportive and very, very real. I can't tell you how many times I called her when my dad was in the hospital earlier this year (and every other day too--keeping it real!). We all need a Wendy in our life!!

Anyway, I'm so excited about her new book, The Flower Girls. My review is below!!

Let's get to it!!

1. What about writing makes your heart sing?

I love this question, Jill. Going with how alive I feel when my fingers are pecking at the keyboard and my mind is strumming. I’m also enraptured when hints of myself and those I’ve known and loved show up on the page. My stories end up being a culmination of my life and experiences. Writing is also a form of worship for me.

2. What is the biggest hurdle you're facing right now as a writer?

Focus. I have three different plots spinning like plates in my brain. I’ve written half of one story, and at least a third of the other two. I’m trying to pinpoint which one needs to be told most. Problem is I’ve fallen in love with the characters from all of them.

3. What do you do to fill your creative well?

Lately I’ve had to be harder on myself about getting rest. A few nights I’ve awakened at 4am and headed straight for my computer and I’ve had to force myself to go back to bed. What I really love to do is paint. Between painting, running, reading, and getting immersed in deep conversations my well pretty much runneth over. There are days when I feel like I do more mopping up of all the water that’s sloshed over my creative well than actually drinking from that well.

4. What are you working on now?

Pick a novel. Any novel. No, seriously, please pick one of the three aforementioned novels. I’m breathing life into those characters and stories. I’m also spending a good deal of time interacting with readers, celebrating the release of my first full-length novel, THE FLOWER GIRLS. I’ll never say it enough…I love my readers!

***
Wendy, anyone reading your books can feel the passion you have for writing! Sounds like the characters are clamoring for attention. 4am wake-up calls aren't good! But I understand. :) What have you painted lately? The kitchen cupboards, if I'm remembering correctly? I'll pick a novel. I'll make it easy on you!!

***



The Flower Girls ~

Imagine staring into the face of a loved one with no recollection of who they are. Every person a stranger. Daisy O’Reilly's inability to recognize faces, a cognitive disorder resulting from a childhood accident, causes her to rely heavily upon her twin sister, Poppy. Perhaps too much so. 

Overwhelmed by Daisy’s needs, Poppy anticipates the freedom her upcoming wedding will bring—a chance to relinquish her obsessive worries about Daisy and escape the clutches of guilt from one hazy day when the girls were seven. When they were still invincible. 

With a thriving floral photography career but a floundering love life, Daisy questions how strong she will be on her own. And who she might become without Poppy living down the hall or offering a deluge of reminders during each social interaction. 

But for the O’Reilly sisters to properly let go, they must first understand what they’re holding on to.

***



About Wendy ~

Wendy is a native New Englander who feels most alive when she's laughing, reading, writing or taking risks. She's authored nine novels and is currently writing what she hopes will be your future book club pick. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies and online sites. Wendy lives with her husband and their three girls in a home bursting with imagination and hilarity.

She's represented by Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary Agency. 

***

My Review ~ 5 STARS!!


The Flower Girls is the story of twins whose lives are intertwined due to genetics and past tragedies. The book alternates between Daisy, a flower photographer with face blindness, and Poppy, a midwife with a major guilt complex. The sisters grapple with how close is too close, how much do they owe each other, and how will their futures develop when Poppy gets married?

The New England setting wrapped me up, and the tone reminded me of a gentle but persistent rain--relentless, yet nourishing. Wendy Miller is a master of subtle revelations. At first Poppy seems the stronger of the two twins, but as the story develops, you see the core strength of Daisy, and how courageous she is in light of her disability. Also, anyone with siblings will relate to the intricacies of their relationship!

I highly recommend this book! It's a perfect summer read, and the characters will stay with you long after The End!

***

Are you fascinated by sibling interaction? Do you have brothers and sisters?

Have a fantastic day!!

Monday, June 2, 2014

June Plans

It's June! Sunny, warm, colorful, and busy! We're enjoying gorgeous weather so far, and I hope it stays.



We have so many exciting things going on this month. I'm having a hard time sitting still!

a. I'm revising a book and plan to finish by June 30. Hooray!
b. My hubby and I are celebrating twenty years of marriage this month!! Woo-hoo!!
c. We're heading to Cooperstown, NY for my son's baseball tournament! Can't wait!
d. School lets out this week. Goodbye, 6am wake-up alarm!
e. My daughter signed up to volunteer at the library. Be still my writer's heart!!
f. Sophie, our mini-dachshund, can start taking short walks again.

Those are my plans for June--what do you have coming up? I love hearing about your life!!

Have a wonderful day!!