Friday, August 30, 2013

What Are You Putting Off?

"Delay is the deadliest form of denial." ~ C. NORTHCOTE PARKINSON

I came across the above quote recently and it jabbed me. Turning it over, I admitted its truth--not in all circumstances--but in many. Delay really does equal denial.

Delaying something, for me, means one of two things. Either:
a. I am uncertain if it's the right path to take or
b. I'm procrastinating.

All week I've been on a mission to catch up with life. The endless school forms have been signed and turned in. Meals are planned. Closets organized. Bills paid. Volunteer tasks up-to-date. Yes, I still have a huge pile of clothes ready to be folded and dropped at Goodwill. My writing progress has been slow. Steady, but slow.

I'm working hard not to delay. To get in motion. To make progress, even a little, each day.

If I don't, my brain hurts and my gaze skims over the things needing to be done. I slip into denial. The task doesn't disappear. It looms in the back of my mind until I dread it.

It's much easier to do it now than to wait until later.

What are you putting off? Can you take one step forward today?

Have a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Consignment Shop: Fail!

Yesterday, I lugged a few bags of outgrown clothes to two consignment shops. Both are in a plaza about twenty minutes from my house, so instead of going home, I decided to wait out the hour and a half, browsing the other stores.

The first shop accepted none of the clothes. Surprising, since at least two items had been worn between zero and one time. Demoralized, I popped into Little Caesars to grab a $5 pizza (hello, lunch!), and texted my woes to a friend until the other store was ready for me. This time I earned $16.50 for around seven items. One of these was a brand new shirt for which I paid $14.95 pre-tax.

Yes, this was neglect on my part. Let's just say a certain child of mine clipped the tags, decided the sleeves were too short (he has long arms), and rather than promptly return the item, I let the tag-less shirt and receipt languish in my closet until the grace period ended.

As organized as I am, I've had many, many clothing fails for my family. Sometimes I buy the wrong size or style. Instead of taking an hour and returning the item, I get lazy and pretend it will magically skip back on its own. Hasn't happened yet, but I'm still hoping. Recovering some of the money back through consignment seemed like a good idea. It wasn't.

Between the lost time, the cost of the pizza, and the miniscule cash back, I consider the venture a failure.

From now on, I'm donating everything to charity. :)

Have you ever tried to consign items? Do you cringe at the "fails" you part ways with?

Have a terrific Wednesday!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Get Back in the Groove After a Writing Break

I took a month off this summer to recharge my batteries (which really meant running my kids to the million-and-one activities and practices they had). Honestly, my batteries felt more drained when the "break" was over, but that's not necessarily a bad thing because it solidified how much writing means to me. I'm not truly happy unless I'm writing, revising, or plotting at least part of the day.

Hey, look! A squirrel!

So anyway, last week the kids went back to school. I dove back into a manuscript. The first day of writing--well, actually revising--was pretty rough.

First of all, it took me a good two hours of Facebook, e-mails, and text messages to get the courage to open the manuscript. Then, I spent a whopping forty-five minutes revising before my head threatened to explode. I realized I needed to dust off my "get back in the writing groove" methods.

1. Start with a short session.

I identified my project goals: revise the first three chapters in two weeks. Naturally, I thought hey, I'll spend all day--six hours--cutting and rearranging. Not a good idea. I ended up fixing the first scene and calling it quits.

2. Write notes.

Remind yourself of the baby steps the project requires rather than the big picture. In my case, I needed to cut one chapter, decide on a new chapter, and not lose the important stuff along the way. A fresh cheap notebook works wonders! Just jot away. I wrote story questions, reminders, and anything else I could think of.

3. Take frequent breaks.

Sure, it's best if we hunker down and focus, but the first couple days back are excruciating. Why add guilt and stress to the mix? Go ahead and check your e-mail every fifteen minutes. Scroll through your Twitter feed. Grab a snack. Sit on your porch. Be good to yourself. But get something done, no matter how trivial.

Remind yourself this is a transition. It's like anything else--the more we do it, the easier it gets. Starting is the hard part!

How do you get back in the groove after taking a break from a project?

Have a terrific Monday!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Are You a Morning Person?

I'm starting to think there is a time limit on how long you can try to turn into a morning person. Well, technically I haven't "tried" to become one, but since school forces me out of bed at six am (has for years), I figured my body would naturally switch to liking mornings. Guess I thought wrong!

The sound of the alarm forces me out of blissful slumber and one of two things happen: my eyes dart open in fear or I can't force those babies open for the life of me. What gets me out of bed? The promise of coffee. Lots of coffee.

I enjoy waking up to sunlight. Feeling rested instead of groggy. Not having to immediately hit-the-ground-running. Sitting in my pajamas. Nursing that pot of coffee.

School started yesterday for my kids. Mornings are now a workout in themselves. Get up. Get dressed. Make sure the kids are moving. Do something with my hair. Take the dog out. Start the coffee. Make lunches. Clean any remaining dishes and sweep the floor. Maybe make some breakfast. Maybe not. Remind kids about afternoon events. Wave goodbye to them. Grab my first cup of coffee. Sink into the couch with a smile on my face.

The house is mine again! Silence. Love it!

Maybe mornings aren't so bad after all. :)

Are you a morning person?

Have a fab weekend!!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Conferences: Lonely and Overwhelmed?

You walk into the lobby and already see groups of writers hugging and laughing. A part of you thinks, Great, everyone is friendly! but the other part worries, I'm not part of the group. Will I be alone the entire conference?

On Monday I shared my best conference tip for those going to ACFW, and the comments hit close to my heart. Conferences can seem like the first day of high school. It's easy to feel lonely and overwhelmed.

Let me assure you: You Are Not Alone!! Trust me on this! Not everyone has friends at the conference. Not everyone is having the time of her life.

Conferences can bring out the insecure in anybody. You see the laughter. The hugging. The "You have to meet so-and-so." And if you aren't the one laughing, being hugged and introduced to others, you can feel very alone.

Just when you're starting to feel comfortable, you'll realize it's time to pitch. Many writers get enthusiastic, "send me the full" requests, but other writers get gentle criticism instead. Guess what? It then gets worse! You hear all the excited writers gush over how so-and-so wants to see their full or how this author introduced them to that editor. Your heart shrivels inside. It's at this point, the whole conference becomes overwhelming.

You may wish you were home. You may wonder why you even try. Did you waste your money? Why do you spend so much of your energy doing something everyone seems destined to succeed at but you? There will be tears. You'll wish there was booze. But...

You Are Not Alone.

You're not. And I'm going to tell you something else--God has this. He has it.

You may think you went to conference to land that agent, but God really led you there to smile at the person in line behind you, to get over your fear of flying, to build inner strength about rejection, to break you down so you will lean on Him, to you-fill-in-the-blank.

Yeah, you feel lousy. You're not seeing anything but FAILURE in flashing lights. There's a prayer room for a reason. Go in there. Pray. Chances are, some kind writer will be in there with a shoulder to lean on.

Last year--and I'm talking all of 2012 from beginning to end--was difficult for me. On every level. I desperately wanted to go to ACFW's annual conference to meet all of the friends I'd made over the years and to pitch in person. My expectations were high. While I loved meeting friends (and met many new ones!), the conference itself challenged me, the same way life in general challenged me.

At one point I skipped a workshop, bought a coffee, sat alone in the lobby, called my husband and, with tears in my eyes, said, "I just wish I was home."

Me!! The girl who loves being around writers, who adores conferences, who has been blessed with a supportive agent and caring friends.

Yes, anyone can feel lonely and overwhelmed at a conference.

So how can we deal with this?

1. Lean on God. Pray. Know you're entering a potentially overwhelming situation and ask for His strength to get you through.

2. Be friendly, especially to those who seem new, confused, shy, or upset. God may not be calling you to meet your dream agent--He may be calling you to put your arm around someone who is struggling.

3. If you have a roomie or a trusted friend, meet up with her and discuss your feelings. Just having someone who will hug you or listen to you is a huge blessing. Jessica Patch and Cynthia Herron helped me get through a difficult hour last year. I'll always be grateful. (If you don't know anyone at conference, please contact me! I'd love to meet you! And if you get to conference and are struggling, I would love to be that ear for you.)

4. Get out of your room. Yes, it's tempting to hide away in the room when you're feeling overwhelmed, but get out. Get a coffee or a soda and get your buns to a workshop or a common space. Chances are you'll run into someone friendly who will lift your spirits. You'll just feel worse in your room!

5. Stay connected with your loved ones. You might feel isolated at conference, but a text message or phone call to your mom, spouse, child, or best friend will ground you.

Conferences can be exciting, but they can also be overwhelming. Please e-mail me at jill(at) if you're going to ACFW! I'd love to meet you!

Have you ever had a less-than-wonderful conference experience? Are you nervous about going to a big writer's conference?

Have a fabulous Wednesday!

Monday, August 19, 2013

My Best ACFW Conference Tip

Every September hundreds of Christian fiction writers gather together to bond, learn, pitch projects, and worship together at ACFW's annual conference.

R-L: Cynthia Herron, Jessica Patch, Me, Ruth Douthitt, Lindsay Harrel, Michelle Masarro, Gabrielle Meyer, Keli Gwyn, and April Gardner

Attending a conference is a big decision. Many writers are introverts, and the thought of conversing with so many people stresses them out. Others wonder if their manuscripts are ready for agents or editors. Some face travel concerns or family issues that make going to conference daunting. For everyone, the cost is a factor. Going to a conference isn't cheap!

R-L: Julie Jarnigin, Susan Crawford, and guest

But if you've made the decision to go, I have a tip for you. It's not just any tip. It's my best tip.

Before I share it with you, I'm going to be very honest. This tip does not come naturally to me, and I have to remind myself of it often. I've been to various conferences, and sometimes I've left this tip at home and later wished I hadn't.

R-L: Melissa Jaegers, Gina Conroy, and me

Here it is, my best ACFW Conference tip.

Pray for God's will to be done, not yours.

See, I had the wrong idea when I started writing. I thought if I worked hard enough, studied enough, built my platform, continued to write daily, got an agent, went to a conference and pitched my story, and you-fill-in-the-blank--I would, of course, be published!

R-L: Amy Leigh Simpson, Katie Ganshert, Gabrielle Meyer, Cynthia Herron, and Sarah Forgrave

My mind-set would naturally focus on "doing things right" at conference. Practicing my pitch. Being engaging. Having a fabulous one-sheet. Not making a fool of myself.

Me and Jessica Patch--prepare yourself, lady! (You, too, Cindy H.!!)

But God doesn't need my help. I'm not saying working hard and preparing and persevering aren't important--they are!! It's just, too often I've put my fate in MY hands. Then I would be miserable when my perfect pitch fell flat, an editor barely glanced at the one-sheet, or I talked too much and made a fool of myself.

Two of my favorite ladies! Lindsay Harrel (top) and Melissa Tagg (bottom)!

We all have different writing journeys, and when I first started writing I was under the delusion whoever was published first was best. It's not true.

God has it worked out. My job is to show up, do the work, and leave it in His hands.

Still wish I could convince this lady, Wendy P. Miller, to come!

This year at ACFW, I plan on looking for God-opportunities that in the past I may have overlooked by being too focused on my own agenda. I will still talk too much. I will still be nervous pitching. And editors will barely glance at my one-sheet (I'm convinced they could care less about these papers!). But I'll pray each day for the good Lord to show me where to go, what to do, who to speak with, and when to rest.

God, Your will be done. Not mine.

Are you going to ACFW this year? Is there anything I can pray about on your behalf?

Have a wonderful day!

Friday, August 16, 2013

The End of Summer Tipping Point

All week I've ignored my office. I've also gulped my way through back-to-school shopping. I've tried to soothe my kids' anxieties about a new school year, new sports teams, and various other uncertainties. I've eaten more candy than I should have. Drank a few Cokes too many.

This morning I woke and knew I'd hit the tipping point, the place in my inner-being that yells, "Get it together, woman!"

The dishwasher never fits all the dishes during the summer and a zucchini waits on the sill.
No more fretting!
The piles and dirt in my office can be tamed.
The kids will be back in school late next week and they will be fine.
It may take me twenty-five years to pay off school supplies and I don't care.

The counters always contain bits of cheese, random utensils, and empty containers in the summer. I have no explanation.

Shaking my fist in the air and declaring, "I will prevail," sounds kind of dumb and over dramatic, but I am doing it anyway. The little stresses in life can really add up to a knot in my gut if I don't take action.

God has a better plan! Sheesh!

I get like this every year before school starts. After a summer with dirty counter-tops, piles here, piles there, a constant cycle of dishes and laundry, and a house shared with kids, I'm ready for my quiet routine.

This pile is mine. My standards slip during the summer. The dinosaur is not mine. It is Sophie's.
Fear not, anyone mired in the end-of-summer chaos. With a few hours of deep cleaning, peace can be reclaimed! Onward!
Do your standards slip in the summer?
Have a fabulous weekend!!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

In Golden Splendor by Michael K. Reynolds

Last year I had the joy of reading a wonderful historical novel by Michael K. Reynolds--Flight of the Earls. Michael is one of those people you meet and you know you were blessed by the encounter. He's genuine, easy to talk to, and he typically has chocolate on hand. Anyone with chocolate rates highly in my life!

I couldn't wait to read book #2 in his Heirs of Ireland series. In Golden Splendor continues the saga of the Irish immigrants set in pre-Civil War America. It's available now! Head to Michael's Book page for links to purchase it!

In Golden Splendor

Irish immigrant Seamus Hanley is a lost soul, haunted by his past as a U.S. Army deserter and living alone in the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains in 1849. But after witnessing a deadly stage coach crash, he finds purpose in the scattered wreckage -- a letter with a picture of a beautiful and captivating woman named Ashlyn living in San Francisco at the height of the Gold Rush.
Moved by her written plea for help, he abandons all and sets out on an epic journey across the wild and picturesque American frontier. While being pursued by those who want to hang him, Seamus encounters fascinating characters including a young Pauite Indian who makes the ultimate sacrifice in helping Seamus to cross the snowy Yosemite Valley.

Battered but changed for the better, Seamus reaches San Francisco on Christmas Eve as the city burns in the tragic fire of 1849. But there is little time for rest, as an even greater, more harrowing adventure involving Ashlyn is about to begin.

My Review (4 Stars!!) ~

I loved Flight of the Earls, book one in the Heirs of Ireland series, so I couldn't wait to read the next installment. In Golden Splendor follows Seamus Hanley (Clare's troubled brother from book one) after his poor decisions in book one have landed him in a remote mountain area. Soon Seamus embarks on a journey of redemption where a beautiful stranger unlocks his future.

I loved the setting of this book. Pre-Civil War western America never felt so alive! Michael K. Reynolds does a tremendous job with the details. I could see the trails, feel Seamus's hunger, picture a booming gold rush town. Seamus's spiritual journey was fulfilling to read. I wanted him to succeed.

At times the plot became overwhelming--Seamus dealt with many near-death experiences which I'm sure was realistic for the time period--but I had to catch my breath as one crisis led to another with little time to process them. Other than that, this book was terrific!

I'm looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Caitlin Hanley!


Michael K. Reynolds is a writer with more than two decades of experience in crafting fiction, non-fiction, journalism, copywriting and documentary production. He is represented by Janet Kobobel Grant of Books & Such Literary Agency. He is the author of a series of Irish historical novels, The Heirs of Ireland, being published by B&H Publishing Group. 

Do you read historical fiction? What setting do you enjoy best?

Have a fantastic Wednesday!

Monday, August 12, 2013

My Top Tips for Tent Camping

Every year my husband and I load up the kids and drive hours away to spend a week camping. We don't always go to the same place twice, but we do end up on Lake Michigan. Last week we enjoyed a week in Holland, Michigan. Gorgeous!

Not having a camper (or a truck to haul one!), we get close to nature and sleep in a tent. Don't gasp! It's okay, really. We've made tent camping as comfy and convenient as possible, and here's how:

1. Go to a campground with running water, electricity, and showers.

Taking a shower each day makes all the difference. Electricity is a must for us to save money. I can brew our coffee, make meals using an electric skillet, and charge our phones :)

2. Get off the ground. Invest in cots or blow-up mattresses.

Sleeping on the hard ground gets old after about one hour. Cots and blow-up mattresses make tent camping bearable. We found less expensive cots at Kmart one year for less than thirty dollars each. Or you can use coupons at sporting goods stores. We've been camping for almost ten years, so those initial costs were worth it.


3. Buy a screened-in tent to create a make-shift kitchen.

We found one at a garage sale for twenty bucks, and it's a life-saver. Ours isn't the easiest to put up, but it keeps critters out of the food and provides a little shelter from rain. There are newer models that go up with ease if you don't mind spending a little more.

4. Two coolers. One plastic bin. Electric skillet. Coffee maker. These are essential.

One cooler holds drinks. The other cooler holds food. The plastic bin is for your dry foods (prevents moisture, bugs, and other creatures). We cook most of our meals in the skillet or on a portable grill. A coffee maker is a must--even if you don't drink coffee. You can heat water to wash your dishes. :)

5. Tarps.

We've learned the hard way that you want a cheap blue tarp under your tent (keeps the bottom clean and the ground moisture out). You also want a tarp tied over your tent. Yes, your tent will say it's rain proof, but trust me, it isn't. Tarps keep you and your belongings dry. Use them!

6. Keep camping necessities in a bin to bring every time you camp.

Ours holds a knife, dish soap, matches, garbage bags, rope, a hatchet, a hammer, tarps, lanterns, a spatula, a small tub to wash dishes, and a dust pan. We also keep an extension cord and a power strip in there.

We bought a smaller vehicle last year, so we had to purchase a cargo topper for this camping trip. We also didn't have room for one of our coolers. We improvised by purchasing all of our drinks and a throw-away foam cooler when we got to the campsite. The plastic bin with all our little things? When we set up camp, we move all the contents into the trunk and stored our food in this bin.

Tent camping allows us to enjoy a week away for little cost. We make most of our meals, spend time exploring the cute little towns nearby and hanging out on the beach. We hike a lot, sit by a campfire every night, and we unplug. There's nothing better than complaining about my creaky body while sipping a hot cup of coffee with my husband each morning. The air, trees, and birds seep into my soul. It's the best!

Do you ever go camping? What do you love about it? Or if you don't, why not?

Have a fabulous Monday!

Monday, August 5, 2013

See You All In a Week!

I'm taking a break from blogging this week. Hope you all have a lovely week, and I'll be back on Monday, August 12th!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Answering God's Call and Imperfection

All week I spent my mornings with twelve to sixteen preschoolers at our church. You know how sometimes your soul just smiles? That's how mine felt--all lit up! But yesterday afternoon I spent some time in prayer because even though I answered the call to teach this year, I was painfully aware of my shortcomings.

Reminders of my imperfection:

Monday ~ Scrambled to keep twelve different personalities occupied and in the right place all day. This led to "thinking on my feet." Did I handle each situation correctly? Uh, no!

Tuesday ~ Woke up with a killer migraine and had to ask another volunteer to cover the class for me. There are few things in my life as humbling as a migraine. I felt terrible for not being able to teach the little ones, but God's grace is sufficient, and our pastor's wife took over--a blessing in disguise!

Wednesday ~  With two more children in the class, I struggled to contain the handful of high-energy kids and ended up not being able to give our precious low-maintenance ones the attention they deserved. My daughter helped with this, reminding me how blessed I am to have her.

Thursday ~ Oh boy. All the kids were more rambunctious and tired than usual. I put out a lot of "fires" so to speak and by the time our coloring contest winner was announced, I had four bawling little girls. I felt bad about having to discipline two of our other girls that day (those babies melt me!!), and, to top it off, I was pretty short with a few older kids who seemed to think I'd taken their suckers when I only wanted to put the final polish of cleaning on my room so we could leave.

Basically, answering God's call opens my eyes to how imperfect I really am. Sure, I can hide behind my daily routine and think I'm a pretty good Christian, but at the end of the day, even my best intentions and efforts fall far short of God's will.

It's funny, though, last night, my soul was still smiling--still all lit up. Do you know why? Because God's grace IS sufficient. God doesn't expect us to be perfect. He knows every obstacle we will face, and He's there, holding our hands, whispering suggestions, applauding us in our efforts. He wants us to show up, to answer His call. He took care of the "perfect" part with Jesus.

Did the children in my class have a good time this week? Yes. Did they come away with a good memory of VBS? I hope so! But it was by God's mercy, not my works. I pray each of their little lights shines brighter, and I'm so thankful to parents who send their kids to learn of God's goodness.

Does answering God's call ever reveal your imperfections?

Have a fabulous weekend!