Friday, January 31, 2014

Friday Tidbits

I survived another week of winter!

And by survived I mean I spent every day in my cozy house with lots of food, running water, and the Internet. Yeah, it's a rough life. :)

It's rough for Sophie, too. :)

Bad thing:
I skipped exercising every day but once this week.

Good thing:
I still have a quarter bag of my emergency M&Ms.

I'm reading a book called Organizing Your Day by Sandra Felton and Marsha Sims. Thought-provoking questions and exercises. My favorite quote so far is a series of affirmations:

"If I change my thinking, I change my feelings.
If I change my feelings, I change my actions.
If I change my actions, I change my life."

Isn't that the truth? Good stuff! And you know what? I'm feeling happy. Optimistic. Isn't that the best?

Looking forward to the Super Bowl and the Puppy Bowl. And the nachos. The chocolate. Mmm...snacks!

What's going on with you?

Have a terrific weekend!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

5 Signs You Need to Read a Different Genre

Reading is my favorite activity! I read everything--newspapers (mostly online), magazines (mostly print, but a few digital), non-fiction books (always print), and fiction (a mix of print and digital). Once I fall in love with a novel, I devour books by other authors of the genre. But...there is a downside. I've pinpointed five signs I need to switch my reading preferences.

1. In your mind, you've become an expert on all things related to the genre. 

Let's take Regency romance as an example. I've done zero research on this setting, but after reading dozens of books, I confidently mumble to myself "that wouldn't happen," or "he would never consider someone so outside his class," or "did that road even exist?" Yes. I'm a recovering genre-know-it-all, and I've stepped away from Regency romance for a few years.

2. The same character names appear in multiple books by different authors, and you can no longer keep this Kate straight from that Kate. 

It's true. You read one genre, and for whatever reason, the same heroine or hero name comes up again and again. I've read books where both the hero and heroine had the same names as another book I'd just read. Time to read another genre!

3. You not only know what's going to happen, you're "advising" the characters throughout the book. 

"Don't be a dummy, Gretchen. Leo is lying to you about the ex-girlfriend because he's scared that you're the one and he can't handle it. He'll call her in a few chapters. Just wait and see, or, better yet Gretch, don't wait and see. Go on a vacay. You're going to need one."

It's really bad when you've already advised Gretchen by page six. Step away. Open a classic.

4. Every title you've read in the last three months has been a riff on another. 

Broken Memories. Memory Broken. To Break a Memory. Pieces of Memory. Memory in Pieces. Broken Memory Pieces.

5. You've exhausted reading all popular authors in the genre and their back lists.

Guilty! I had a Jodi Thomas infatuation about seven years ago, and trust me, I hunted down her entire back list. Stephanie Laurens? The same. When I find an author I like, I read all their books. When I've read them all, I'm usually burned out. For a year. Then I go back. :)

Do you ever find yourself overly invested in one genre? How do YOU know you need to read something else?

Have a great day!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Adorable Doggy Friends

We're snowed in again. Did I mention our area is heading into the second ice age? I'm pretty sure I live in Antarctica, not Ohio, as originally thought. Anyway, all the freezing temperatures, blowing winds, and endless snowflakes have numbed my brain.

To combat the numbness, I baked double-chocolate peanut butter chip cookies. Played a little candy crush. Read a few magazines. Listened to an old CD. Even colored my hair. But it wasn't until I found these adorable, snuggly doggy friends on BuzzFeed that I really felt better.

Meet Peet and Tally! Sometimes you just need a little "cute" to perk you up!

What perks you up? 

Have a terrific day!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Fundraising Methods for Youth Sports Teams

Our son's baseball team has been raising money to send the boys to Cooperstown, NY for a week long baseball tournament.

It's been a lot of work, but it's been worth it. Since we're raising a substantial amount of money (five figures), we've had to do several different fundraisers.

If you're interested in how to raise money for something like this, here are some of the avenues that worked for us. The best thing you can do is plan ahead and start early.

- 50/50 tickets. We sold these for five weeks this fall. One parent was in charge of this fundraiser and handled all the tickets and money. We made up forms for each parent to write down the names of people who bought tickets, how many they bought, and how much money the parent collected.

The parents then turned in the stubs, money, and their forms to the one in charge, who counted the money and double-checked it against the form. (Trust me you want the form AND the tickets. You'll have no way of knowing if you collected the correct amount if you don't have the form, especially if you have different prices. We sold one ticket for five dollars or three tickets for ten.)

- NFL Squares. You have to sell exactly 100 squares for this to work. Each square costs the same amount (we charged $25). One NFL game each week was selected in advance, and we paid out for halftime and the final score of each game. Again, one parent needs to be in charge of selecting the games, assigning the numbers, scrambling the boards, collecting the money, and paying out the winnings each week.

- Concessions. We contacted a fall sport in our area where we knew the concession stand was idle. We were able to negotiate a deal where we ran the stand for the fall soccer season and we could keep a large percentage of the profits. All of the parents were responsible for selling concessions two shifts (or one full day). Two moms headed this up, and it was a big job. They had to purchase our supplies, get there early to set up the trailer, and come back that night to lock up. We all felt this money raiser was worth it even though it meant a substantial time commitment from each parent. Low pressure, good payout, and finished in six weeks.

- Corporate sponsors. We contacted businesses for cash donations. Again, this was lucrative, especially for parents whose employers generously gave money. We could not meet our goal without corporate sponsors. We made a handout with sponsor levels of $100, $250, $500, and $1000. You'd be surprised at how many businesses helped out.

- College football rivalry game squares. The Ohio State/Michigan game will always be a money maker!

- Our biggest fundraiser is coming up. We're holding a reverse raffle night. People who buy tickets get a steak dinner. We have a deejay, pay-to-play games, and silent auctions. Each parent was responsible for donating one gift basket for the silent auction. Several parents asked for donations from local businesses, and we were blessed with fantastic items. We made a flyer, contacted the newspaper, and badgered co-workers and family members to purchase tickets.

Fundraisers I've done in the past:

- Harvest party for church. For a low ticket price, kids played games run by parents, had a costume contest, and trunk-or-treated. We also asked parents to paint pumpkins which were raffled off. Since the prizes and candy were donated, this was a low-cost, super fun night.

- Auction night. At our old school, we held an auction every other year to raise money for classroom needs, sports uniforms, and such. All of the auction items were donated. Classrooms came up with huge baskets by having parents donate theme items. We also had a potluck lunch. For this to work, hire a professional auctioneer and have a wide array of items to auction off. These events are tons of fun, too!

- Selling magazines/pizza kits/you-fill-in-the-blank. These are my least favorite money makers. It's hard on the parents to try to drum up sales.

Fundraising is a lot of work, but if you have committed parents, a plan, a financial goal, and patience, it pays off. And this summer when I'm watching my son play baseball in Cooperstown, I'll be thrilled we took the time and effort to raise the money for them!

What fundraisers are you familiar with? I'd love to hear how you do it!

Have a terrific weekend!

*Update 03/14/2017: If you'd like to create a corporate fundraising letter but aren't sure where to start, I've created a sample letter you can download and use to type your own. Go to my website,, and scroll down until you see the Free Printables section!

For years I couldn't escape the anxiety that came with my children’s sports. The competitive atmosphere prevalent among parents often left me anxious, upset—even  bitter. But all that changed when I defined why I wanted my kids playing. Instead of fretting about their performance, I saw opportunities for them to grow. Now I enjoy watching them play without letting politics, other parents, or my own unrealistic expectations get in the way.

Join me in exploring the realities of sports, the reasons parents get caught up in unhealthy competition, and strategies to keep the big picture in mind when we're too close to the game. We can be composed and confident while our kids are in sports.
Interested in Game On? Click HERE for purchase links, free printables, and reviews!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Ranting About Winter

In my part of the Midwest, we've only had one or two days above 30 degrees in the last month. Far too many single digit temps for my taste. It's...brrr....cold here!

White, white, and more white. Yeah. Winter.

I miss walking outside. When it's below 30 and there's an additional windchill, the outdoors isn't fun. 

The continuous overcast days further depress my mood. As I write this it's sunny, but we typically have four to five days of cloud cover in a row. Freezing and no sunshine? Yikes. Oh, and let's not forget daylight is on a curfew. It's below the horizon by 5:30pm. Don't expect to see it before 7:00am, either!

What ends up happening is I sit around more. A lot more. And sitting leads to no energy. No energy leads to staring at the white sky, the white ground, and wondering if winter will ever end. Will it? WILL IT??

To add to my desperation, I read an article in the Washington Post, "The Health Hazards of Sitting," by Bonnie Berkowitz and Patterson Clark. (They included a handy-dandy poster about the dangers of sitting if you're interested.) In addition to the frigid temps, the lack of sun, the endless winter, I'm also hurting my body by sitting. Great.

It's enough to send this girl to the mint chocolate chip ice cream, the Doritos, and the 24 pack of Coke. 

The other day I bought a T-shirt and couldn't remember the last time my arms hadn't been covered by long sleeves. It will be months before I'm able to wear the new tee. It might be forever...

Do you live in an area that reminds you of Antarctica this year? Sending you a virtual hug! 

Have a terrific day!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Mom Taxi

Way back a hundred years or so ago when I was in high school, my closest friends and I poked fun of a male friend who drove a car with the license plate, "Mom Taxi." We laughed and laughed. I mean, poor guy, motoring around town with that advertisement?

They say what comes around goes around.

Yep. Here I am...the mom taxi.

Between catechism classes, the array of sports for two kids, and the endless social pick-ups/drop-offs, I'm in my mom-mobile a lot. Yesterday I enjoyed five tween boys who were singing it up--or screaming it up--on the way home from baseball practice. Yeah, we've already started baseball practice. Indoors, thank goodness!

I don't mind being the mom-taxi most days. When there's a wait, I get to read. Or journal. Or stare out of a coffee shop while sipping coffee. Who doesn't like that?

The days I do mind are when I have a headache, when the roads are bad, when I'm missing a good football game on TV, or when we have three things to get to in a row.

A few things I do to keep my sanity intact:

- Pack a bag to take with me. I always include my journal, a book, a magazine, and a bottle of water.

- Do an Internet search of the route first if I'm not familiar with the area.

- Figure out how long between drop-off and pick-up and decide if I'll find a coffee shop to wait it out or go back home.

- Make sure my cell phone is charged.

- Never think about what I could be doing. That kind of thinking leads to resentment. My kids are growing so fast, I'm glad to be able to be the mom taxi!

So what has come around that went around when you were younger?

Have a terrific day!!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Saving Money at the Warehouse Club

As a stay at home mom I'm always looking for easy ways to maintain our lifestyle while saving money. One tool in my frugal kit is the warehouse club. We are members of Sam's Club, but I've been a member of Costco too, and I find them to be similar in price and products.

Sam's Club typically costs $45/year for a basic membership, while Costco is about $50/year.

I don't have a scientific method to my madness, but I do have a head for numbers and a desire to get a good deal. Prices fluctuate around the country. Something that is a bargain for me might not be a bargain for you. The key is to price check at various stores.

An assortment of items at the warehouse club are great values while many others cost more than the grocery store. Yes, you're buying in bulk, so if you don't bake much, the ten pound bag of flour won't make sense for you. Also, you need a place to store your overflow. If storage is tight, a warehouse club is not your friend. (I recommend Aldi's as the best quality and cheapest bare-bones grocery store for non-name brands.)

What I buy at the warehouse club:

1. Spices and baking supplies. Corn starch, bouillon cubes, flour, sugar, vanilla, taco seasoning, chili powder--I buy it all here for about half the price of the local grocery stores.

2. Toilet paper and paper towels. If you have a coupon and hit a sale, you'll find these products cheaper at your local grocery store. But if you're busy and want a high quality product, buy the warehouse brand (Kirkland or Member's Mark). I like their brands better than the store brands!

3. Razor blades and shampoo. Addicted to your Venus razor? The razor cartridges quickly sent me into sticker shock. Buying them in bulk at Sam's costs half of what they run at our local grocery stores. Half!! Razors alone pay the cost of my membership within a few months. Also, shampoo and conditioner is way cheaper if you buy the big bottles.

4. Trash bags, laundry detergent, dishwasher tabs. The savings isn't as great as on the razor blades, but it's still worth it.

5. Butter, cheese, cream. I bought four packages of butter (four sticks per package) for less than $7.49 yesterday. One package is $2.99 around here. That's a savings of $4.47.

6. Ground beef, chicken breasts, other meats. This really depends on the area you live in. Ground beef is a dollar per pound cheaper and chicken breasts are about forty to fifty cents a pound cheaper. The meat is high quality too.

7. Drink boxes. Capri Suns (in a four pack) average $1.65 a box. Our grocery stores sell them for $2.00 and $2.19. It adds up.

8. Name brand coffee. I grind my own when I'm there. A 2.5 pound bag of Bigby coffee costs a mere $12.98. That's a lot of coffee for the price.

9. Frozen snacks. If you have a house full of growing kids and teens, check out the frozen snack section at the warehouse club. Pizza rolls, hot pretzels, Bagel Bites, corn dogs--everything unhealthy and yummy--can be found cheaper here.

10. Magazines. Like to buy individual magazines? They're 30% off. Score!

While there are tons of great deals, there are also plenty of items that cost more.

I don't buy:

a. Soda. Way more expensive to buy name-brand soda at the warehouse club. Hit the sales at your grocery store.
b. Bakery items, except for homemade buns or french bread.
c. Fruit. Fruit looks wonderful at the warehouse club, but it's usually more cost-effective to buy this at your local market.
d. Bread and bagels. Maybe my perception is off, but our grocery store sells these products cheaper even when they aren't on sale.
e. Anything in a large package that I won't use. What good is a vat of salad dressing if I have to throw 3/4 of it away?

When my kids were babies, I bought diapers at Sam's Club. I don't know if they are still less expensive at the warehouse club or not. You'd have to look into it.

I'm sure I've missed things! If you're strategic, compare prices, and buy what you know you'll use, a warehouse club membership can be a terrific addition to your frugal toolbox.

Do you ever shop at Sam's Club or Costco? What are your tips?

Have a great day!!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What Inspires You?

We're midway through January, and I'm glad! Winter already feels long here. The days are so short you blink and you miss them. My translucent skin scares small children. Snow and dirty slush are daily reminders of the season, a season I'm more than ready to leave behind. Even my dog wants spring. She misses our daily walks.

I took this picture on a walk this summer. All that luscious green!

To combat the negative spiral of "winter thinking," I made a list of things that inspire me because I need all the inspiration I can get this time of year.

- My houseplants are the only green around me, and I'm thankful for them.

- New music from the library gets me out of a funk. I'm enjoying a few soundtracks at the moment. (Thanks for Sharing soundtrack and Dan in Real Life soundtrack)

- Healthy black bean dip puts a smile on my face (Tex-Mex Black Bean Dip recipe linked).

- Fruit smoothies in the morning do too!

- I still try to get outside for a quick walk with Sophie if it isn't raining and if the temperatures are above thirty.

- Strong women get me motivated. I cut out a picture of Allison Sweeney (featured in last month's Redbook) and pinned it to my bulletin board. She's healthy and real. I like that.

- Favorite Bible passages lift me up. I write them on index cards and keep them in my office.

- Daydreams help too. It's fun to think of the future, the more outrageous, the better!

- Sports. Practices, games, and all the running in between get me out of the house and talking to other parents.

So many things inspire me! I just have to stop focusing on winter and start focusing on the good stuff!

What inspires you?

Have a terrific day!

Monday, January 13, 2014

First Chapter Woes

I'm revising a full length contemporary romance I wrote in late 2012. While experts advise putting distance between writing and revising, an entire year is a lot of distance. My writing skills have grown since then, so jumping back into the book was like taking the polar plunge. Icy, scary, and exciting!

The good news? The book starts in the correct spot, the characters are fun, and the setting makes me smile.

The bad news? Too much back story and introspection in my heroine's point of view, and the hero bored me.

In ten pages, I left forty-three (yes, forty-three!!) comments and countless more track changes.

I quit my initial read through after chapter three. The first two chapters needed major work, but the comment bubbles trickled through the third chapter. When my comment bubbles trickle, I know the story is on track.

To make life easier, I copied the first two chapters (with the comments and track changes) and pasted them into a new file. Then I started rewriting. Two pages took four hours. It's important for me to get it right.

I'll continue to make changes based on my comments until I'm happy with the first three chapters. Then I'll read the rest of the book, leave comments, and do major revisions.

First chapter woes are not new to me. I'm used to them. Good writers, experienced writers, learn how to spot problem areas, take care of them, and move on. Never let a so-so opening bring you down!

Do you ever rewrite your opening chapter? Or do you tend to get it right the first time around?

Have a wonderful day!

Friday, January 10, 2014

My New Day Planner

One of my favorite things to do in January is to create my day planner. For three years, I've used a mini-binder, decorated it with inspiring pictures, and divided the contents with colored tabs, but this year I decided to try a full-size planner. 

Thick binders don't work well for me. They take up too much room, and you can't stack anything on them due to their slant. So I bought an inexpensive 1/2" binder with clear plastic sleeves on the outside, a package of colored dividers/folders, a pack of clear sheet protectors, several pretty scrapbook papers, and stickers with inspirational phrases and words.

I mapped out how I wanted the planner organized then I set about to decorating it. Instead of my usual picture collage, I decided to focus on my One Word for the year, which is Peace (you can read Monday's post "One Word 2014" here). This is how it turned out.

In December, I typed up my business plan for 2014. I printed it out, slipped it into a clear sheet protector and inserted it front and center so I can see it first thing. 

My business plan always includes:

A. Books I will plot, write, and revise and a tentative schedule for accomplishing this
B. Promotion (In addition to my usual social media interactions, I'm starting a new web series this year and will launch my newsletter later this summer)
C. Speaking (I've put this on the back burner this year, but other years I've been more active)
D. Continuing Education (what craft books I will study, conferences--if any--I'll attend, memberships to organizations I'll renew) 
E. Freelance (I set modest goals for this)
F. Other (Spend one day of the week writing somewhere other than my home)

I used to include Income/Expenses, but I just throw my receipts in a folder now instead.

After the business plan, colored tabs divide the planner into sections. One section is for my monthly tasks. I jot down any upcoming to-do's on the appropriate page. Another section keeps track of books I've read, books I want to read, and music/art/movies I might want to check out. A section contains logs for different things like my weekly exercise plan. Naturally I have a miscellaneous file. Right now it has several Bible passages I read often. 

A planner should make your life easier. It should be a one-stop place for your information. Many of you will be better served using a digital organizer on your phone, tablet, or computer.

If I don't have hard copies, I lose information. For some reason, digital day-planning doesn't work for me. That's okay. I accepted it and reverted right back to my physical planner.

How do you organize your business life? What works? What doesn't? Please share!

Have a terrific weekend!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Creating a Beautiful Life

Sometimes in the middle of life not turning out quite how you expected it, you can get bitter. When you get past bitter, you get sad. Then resigned.

You accept it. You don't like it, but life is what it is and everyone else is destined to have what you want while you sit there--forgotten, unworthy, useless.

Have you been there?

Then something else happens. You poke your head up and see blessings you'd overlooked in your laser-like focus on getting what you want. You see little ways the hard times added to your journey, how they provided opportunities you may have overlooked.

And when you get through bitter, sad, and resigned--you might start to believe the dream isn't dead. There will be no logical explanation for this. Life hasn't changed for the better. In fact, it might be worse.

You read passages like Hebrews 11:6 (NIV) "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him," and you get it. You really get it. You know deep down in your soul that He will come through for you. Maybe not the way you originally thought--but He wants good things for you.

And you look around at the random, odd things that have happened to you on the way to achieving your dream, and you see His hand in it all. And you think, yeah, maybe God is smiling at me. Maybe He's giddy about what He has planned. Maybe this dream of mine will come true.

God has created a beautiful life for me. I'm living it now. It is not perfect, but it's perfect for me. I don't always appreciate it. But every day I come to God in prayer and I trust Him. His Word seems new each time I read it.

I've been a lifelong Christian, but until seven years ago, I didn't pray about my nitty-gritty daily needs and worries. Sure, I prayed general prayers. But my writing journey brought me closer to the Lord, and I started reading wonderful non-fiction books about Christianity. They made me realize how important praying is for ALL aspects of my life.

The more specific I get, the less stressed I feel. Beautiful!

If you're in a bitter, sad, resigned season, I feel for you. Really. I know. I've been there--I still go there sometimes. But I hope you'll look up and see the beauty of God's blessings. Pray. That's the key to creating a beautiful life.

What do you take for granted?

(My list could go on and on--our health, home, clothes, paychecks, food, safety...)

Have a terrific day!

Monday, January 6, 2014

One Word 2014

Why do I love blogging and people who blog? I've gotten so much great information. One of my fave ideas? The One Word of the year.

This is my third year of focusing on one word, and, I'll be honest, this year's took longer to come to me than the previous years', which were Trust and Dream. Maybe it was the house full of family; maybe I wasn't ready for my word. Who knows?

Three weeks ago I prayed for God to lead me to my word. Saturday, I grabbed my journal, my Bible, and my tiny book of passages. After thumbing through keywords, I jotted a handful down and read through the related passages. Then I read a few of my favorite chapters in the Bible. With my trusty purple pen, I wrote several passages in my journal. A theme arose.

I'm serious about my one word, so I bundled up and went to a nearby park. When I'm outside in nature I hear the Spirit without interruption. I crunched through the snow, wrapped my scarf tightly, and paused near a grouping of bird feeders. And I knew without doubt what my word for 2014 would be.


Phillipians 4:6-7 (NIV)

"Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus."

This season of my life has brought a lot of unexpected stress. I bring some of it on myself by worrying about silly things. But the bottom line is that I've had to completely surrender to God the last two years, and it's scary. It's still scary!

I've seen so many of my prayers answered, but the big ones (and we all have big prayers, big dreams) have been on hold. When I've wanted to take matters in my own hands (get a part-time job, change the direction of my writing, fix my kids' problems...), I've deep-down known it was not God's will for me. So I'm sitting. Waiting. Writing. Praying. Trusting. Surrendering.

Sure, I could focus on "Miracles" or something about my personal goals, but God has something better for me. Peace in the midst of chaos. Peace in a long, long season of waiting. Peace in my relationships. Peace in our finances. Peace in my own shortcomings.

Instead of focusing on what I don't have or what I want, I can tell God what I need and thank him for all he has done. The thanking part is so important. It's easy to fixate on what I want or what's going wrong. But isn't it wonderful when we remember all we have? When we add up all the miracles already granted? God is such a good God!

I'm excited for 2014. No matter what happens, I know peace is just a prayer away.

What are you focusing on this year?

Have a peace-filled Monday!