Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Choosing to Remember

Sometimes I wonder why I keep a journal.  I honestly don’t remember why I started one - it probably had something to do with the notion that keeping a journal was somehow an old-fashioned, romantic concept - but eventually I realized a journal was very therapeutic.  It was a safe way to vent the frustrations and joys of life while I tried to figure out who God wanted me to be.  Time passed and I eventually kept writing in the hope that my volumes might be a way for my husband to share my history . . . maybe a way to understand my heart better. 
 More than once I’ve wondered about the wisdom of that.  The longer I write the more material I compile for future self condemnation.  And yet, still, I write.  Sometimes not because I want to, but because I cannot escape the need to write. 

My friend Danielle once referred to her own journaling habits as her “omer of manna”.

And Moses said, this is the thing with the Lord commandeth, Fill an omer of it to be kept for your generations; that they may see the bread wherewith I have fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you forth form the land of Egypt.                          Exodus 16:32

It changed the way I view my own journal.  Suddenly it wasn’t about just me venting and processing the events that make up life: it was about keeping a record of what God was doing in my life - how He was growing, changing and feeding me. 
I’m not perfect.  (Ask either of my sisters – their confirmation will be prompt and detailed.)  And not everything I’ve recorded over the years has value.  There have been occasions when I’ve thought about culling old volumes that demonstrate a discouraging lack of higher vision and paint me in all my self-centered ugliness.  I’ve considered burning offending bits of my history in an attempt to expunge the shame and regret.  But in the end I’ve always chosen to keep them because someday they may provide the opportunity to show my children what path not to choose; what choice not to make; where that attitude will land her. 

More than once I’ve been encouraged by the opportunity to look back and see how God worked.  I can look back and see how a lot of the moments I thought were unfairly difficult were actually not as dire as I thought they were; I can see how God provided for me in many situations; how, oh look at that, my parents were right after all.  (Go figure :)
I do not, as a general rule, spend a lot of time re-reading through my own history.  But recently I have dug a few volumes out and traced back to see where I was at this time last year.  What was God teaching me?  What was I learning at this time two, or even three years ago?  More often than not when I've taken trips down memory lane, I’ve discovered that there are common threads being carefully woven by God’s hand.  More often than not they have been preparation for the path I am currently walking in the present.  Being reminded, by events from my own history that God hasn’t left me yet, that He won’t leave the work He started in my heart half done is encouraging.  And it gives me hope for the shadowed moments that I walk now – hope that this, today, is preparing me for whatever He has coming next.

So I wanted to take a moment to encourage you: whether you choose to keep a journal, a diary, a prayer list, a scrap book, a photo album . . . find a way to keep hold of the lessons God is working in your heart.  Deliberately record the ways He blesses you.  Fill your ‘omer of manna’, not just for the generation to come – but for yourself as well.  We forget so soon.
                                                                                                     Irish Rose

Monday, January 21, 2013

Belated End of NaNo Report

Hi All,
 I just realized the other day that, amazingly enough, it was nearing the end of December - is almost a week into January. - Is January. (How in the world did that happen?!) Not only did Christmas and the New Year creep up on us, but November is long gone and we never let you know how our latest Nano projects went!
It was a rather . . . . interesting month, that is to be sure.
There was a lot of frustration, lots of stress, lots of exclamations that used a whole lot of exclamation points, and gummy words worms (There, you see how it affected me? I can't even use basic words even now! Of course . . . the idea of gummy words is quite appealing . . .it could be inspiration and a reward all at once!) as a reward when word goals were reached. (Or dark chocolate, for those who turn their noses up at the yummy gummies.)


      NaNo . . . Yes . . . well . . . . it was quite an interesting little study.
To begin with, I seem to lack some kind of vital brain function, because not only did I decide to write a thriller for NaNo (something I am entirely unfamiliar with writing), but I also decided to make it even harder and throw the plot smack dab in the middle of a steampunk era . . . . which I also know absolutely zilch about.
Despite the fact that I don't know how to write thriller . . .or Steampunk, my novel took off quite nicely, managing to jot off a respectable word count during the first couple of days that set my finishing goal way earlier than I had expected. Knowing the penchant of Writers Block to pop up regularly, as well as the fact that we decided to schedule our writing so we wouldn't be writing anything on Sunday's, I was happy with my daily word count. I figured that with the days I wouldn't be able to write I would still be able to comfortably finish before the end of the month. (Unlike Camp NaNo where I was writing feverishly at 11:30 the last night to get to the finish line.)

    You learn things about yourself when you are knee deep in spelling and grammar errors, grappling with a deadly case of Writers Block. For one thing, spelling isn't all that important *nods* really, I'm serious, if we writers can come up with stories why can't we just come up with new words? *hopeful look* Okay, so, spelling is important, but you don't have to worry about it until you go back to clean up your first draft, until then? Completely ignore it, if you can. (Which is actually harder than it sounds.)
You also learn more about the little tricks you employ when you have absolutely no idea what to do and need to write something . . . . anything to get going again.
For instance?  This particular NaNo was somewhat easy to go off onto tangents about, well, anything. Why you ask? Because when I hit a block I simply turned around and made my character have a deep, philosophical discussion/argument with themselves as they wandered the shadowy corridors of the place they were trapped in. Or came up with intriguing little plot twists . . . .that never actually came to a conclusion because, well, I forgot where I was going with them . . . or couldn't remember if I had explained said plot twist or not. . . .
   Once the manuscript was finished I sat back, heaved a sigh, and told my sisters that I didn't think there had been one conclusion in the entire book! But hey, why quibble with minor details like that? It was FINISHED! That's what counted.  I could wave goodbye to Writers Block, soothe my inner editor that I had been ignoring, and once again enjoy it whenever my muse decided to flit by and drop a new idea into my lap.

Image used from: http://www.mamiverse.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Editorial-Introduction-To-Book-Section-MainPhoto.jpg

   Another thing you learn about yourself?
You have compulsive problems when you finish your 50k novel in two weeks and find yourself actually picking up and beginning another one. . . . .
Or, perhaps, when the second novel of the month reaches about 25K that you no longer like it, drop it and. . . turn around to start ANOTHER ONE! . . . . . .
It is right about that point when you realize that, perhaps, just maybe, you are certifiably crazy.
(You also begin to talk about yourself in third person, as though no one will figure out who you mean:)

Irish Rose:
      Needless to say, Sharpi's was by far the most interesting NaNo experience of the year.  I deveated from my comfort zone and attempted my hand at mild fantasy - which I figured shouldn't have been all that hard.  It's fantasy for crying out loud - what I don't know about a basic fairy tale I was at liberty to make up, right?  :)  Turns out, making stuff up isn't as easy as it sounds.

       I finished my word count on time . . . but that is about as far as my bragging rights go.  I'd had what I considered to be a really great story idea about a year ago, so I saved it for NaNo . . . yeah, see if I do that again.  I spent time world building, fleshing out characters to the point where some of them had their own sound-tracks.  Last year I had very little in the way of preparation; I figured this year I'd try something different and plan ahead.  Mmmmm . . . . probably not going to do that again, either.

      In my opinion, 2012's NaNo attempt was 50,000 words of pure rubbish.  I hated the fact that I knew exactly what was coming next in the plot and all the characters were behaving just as I had intended them too.  (Writers *shaking head* . . . they complain that when characters aren't behaving, they complain when they do behave . . . they're just never happy!  Unless we're being handed chocolate and/or are mulling over an amazing new plot line that has yet to see the light of ink.)  In short: I overplanned to the point of sucking all life and enjoyablilty out of my plot-line and characters.

      Moral of the story: idealing, in the crazy world of writing, it is important to strike the perfect balance between "planned" and "unplanned".  Planning isn't a bad thing - as long as it doesn't completely take the place of the story that you are trying to tell in the first place. 

      Was last year's NaNo experiment a failure?  Not if I learned a little more about striking the proper balance between life and story, planned and unplanned.  Will I ever do anything with it?  Who knows . . . there might still be redemable bits, but it is going to take a lot of distance before I can see them clearly.  (I am, after all, my own worst critic.  Always have been.)  Will I do NaNo again this year?  Maybe . . . at this point I promise nothing.  It might come too close to making "plans".  :)

*clears throat* My nano was fine, thank you.................................................Alright fine, I know I won't be able to get away with saying just that.

Normally I never plan; I get an idea but after that I just wait until I look for....say, names.

This time, however, all three of us did a "writing lesson" thingy online.  And doggone'it ALL, I WASN'T GOING TO DO NANO THIS YEAR!  But with that writing thing came a little idea..........Thanks a lot Sharpi.
So this time I had names, families names, places they lived, places they worked, etc, etc.
It went pretty well until about half way. Then I got to thinking about my story line, and started thinking of a different way I wanted it to go.  But with this new way I would have had to delete HALF of what I had already written.

Then one of my loving sisters told me about a little thing called, 'Slash-through'......it's my new best writing buddy:)
At first it felt like kind of cheating in a way, but then I went with my newer way of going with the story and liked it way better.

I finished about halfway through the month and another idea had been forming in my mind.  So when I was a few days of finishing my first one I started my second.
"Why not" I thought and it started good..............................and then it slid down the cliff.
Halfway through my 50k I was going slower and slower.  I did flashbacks, I did a new twist on the story, I KILLED ONE OF MY GOOD GUYS, which I just don't do!
*whispers* but it's okay, he's still alive.
See how desperate I was, I brought people back from the dead!.................correction: person.

It was like molasses trying to write the night before last of writing.  But I finally finished the morning of the last day and I don't think I'll be doing that again thank you very much.
Notice, I didn't say never:)

All in all it was a fun November, complete with an all night pajama party on the 29th to help give our novels that last big boost before the last day. (Complete with chocolate inspiration and prompt slips to help with those moments you just needed a little bit of prodding.)
Will our novels ever see the light of day again? . . . . My guess would be probably not, but you never know!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Two Days Left! (Winner Announced)

Update 1/21:
Here you go guys, I promised a picture to show what we gave away.
A pretty set of albums with a couple pages of adhesive quotes to hold all those special pictures and postcards.
What I really liked about this set is that the second album is small enough it could easily be tucked in a large purse or backpack for when you are traveling and want to take blank postcards and stamps; as well pictures; and maybe even tuck a few colorful leaves from your travels into the sleeves.

UPDATE: With the use of a Random generator, the winner of our Christmas giveaway is . . . . Miriam K!  Congrats Miriam! We will get it to you as soon as possible, and once she gets it we'll post a picture here so you all can see what it is. :)

There are two days left to enter our giveaway, so if you were planning on entering and did not get around to it you have a little time left.
We would love to hear from you!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Those Pesky Things . . . .

    Leftovers - In many cases the epitome of frustration when you are trying to figure out what to make for supper and find that, not only does your pantry seem unnaturally bare, but the only thing you have in the fridge are random containers that hold tiny little blobs of this and that, barely large enough for a snack, let alone an entire meal!
We all have them . . .or, I suppose I'm assuming we all have them. If you don't I would love to hear your secret!

For those of us who suffer from Leftover-ism:
Have no fear! Most of those leftovers (barring soup, that is) can be made into one incredibly yummy baked goodness. This particular form of food seems to be very forgiving; accepting anything from leftover stir-fry to thick beef stew, or simply a bit of cheese topped with that leftover salad that wouldn’t stretch far enough to feed your entire family.
What is this wonderful food?

We eat quite a lot of pizza in our house, as it is a favorite of everyone. We each have our favorite kinds and usually stick to just a couple different variations.
However, on those nights when we really want pizza, or supper time has rolled around with nothing planned on, we will often turn to the fridge, rooting around in the various containers to see what sort of leftovers we have. Depending on what they are they will either be turned into a) An Everything-but-the-Kitchen-Sink Casserole, or b) An Everything-but-the-Kitchen-Sink Pizza!

Last night happened to be the latter.
We wanted pizza, but didn't particularly feel like making one of our standby recipes. Besides, our fridge was currently holding some leftover beef roast and roasted potatoes. Sounded like a pretty good start to a yummy pizza, and everything was already cooked so, other than the crust, it wouldn't take as long to prepare as it would have if I wanted Steak Pizza and had to start with raw beef.

First things first, pizza dough needed to be mixed up and set to rising. Over the past couple of years we have gathered a couple pizza dough recipes that we like. I have begun to realize that pizza dough is just one of those recipes that takes a long, long time to find the Perfect one. We've gotten close, and enjoy the ones we have, but so far I don't know that we've found the absolute perfect pizza dough recipe.
However, turning to my lovely, shiny new cookbook that I received for Christmas, I mixed up the dough that we had tried once before and enjoyed.
The thing I particularly like about this recipe is that the author of the book provided two; the Quicky Method, and the Leisurely Method. While the Leisurely is one of those In-the-fridge-overnight type of recipes, the Quicky takes about 45 minutes to go from mixing to raised and ready to use.
I love quick dough recipes.

    While the dough was rising I asked Chickadee to mix up a batch of barbecue sauce. . . . which I might have shared with you, if it weren't for the fact that my life would be in extreme peril if I dared such a thing.
She started mixing up her Special Recipe of sauce while I began shredding the beef (which is just a fancier term for what was basically tearing it up because that was easier than trying to use a knife and fork), cubing the potatoes, and slicing up onions.

The attempt of caramelized onions didn’t work very well. . . . probably because I don’t know how to do them and was already halfway through and couldn't look it up. So what I ended up with would most likely be described as, for lack of a better description, toasted onions.

    Once everything was chopped, sliced, torn, and mixed up it was all dumped together and mixed up to create the topping for our pizza.

Topping ready it was now time to fetch the pizza dough.
 The dough for this recipe is really nice and soft. 
 I don't think I added enough water to this particular batch, because it was a bit stiff and didn't create as puffy a crust as it did last time. So I guess if you want a thin, crunchy crust, you can get that really easily by using dough that is just a tad drier than it normally should be.
We're almost done!
Because I wasn't sure the meat mixture had gotten enough sauce I spread out a thin layer of barbecue over the crust, then dumped the topping on and spread it out. 
After a generous sprinkling of cheese it was all ready for the oven!
It took longer to cook than anticipated, so next time I think I will up the oven temperature and see what that does to it.
   And there you have it! A Barbecued Beef pizza made of leftovers! Or, you know, almost entirely leftovers. It tastes yummy, stretches food you already have in your fridge, and frees up space all at the same time!

We would love to hear how you all like to use or 'reconstitute' your leftovers!

P.S. I didn't even include the other pizza we made because . . . well, it was somewhat of a flop.
We have discovered that when you mix powdered ranch dressing with some mayonnaise it makes really, really yummy base when spread over your pizza crust before the toppings get put on.
Normally it turns out great. Last night, however, we somehow didn't manage to put enough Ranch in the mayonnaise . . . which meant it ended up tasting like a whole lot of hot mayo . . .