Fairly Sensible

Once I’d been introduced to Jane Austen, it was all over for me. My Harlequin romances were no match for the build-up of longing and the working out of balance between passion and reasoning that Austen was a master of describing.

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Sense and Sensibility was my favorite Austen novel.

Oh, the drama!

And I loved every word of it. Her books also allowed me to see the seedier side of human nature for what we can so easily be. The nasty words-whispered-in-secret-and-meant-to-hurt, nature. The looking-down-upon-one-another, nature. It stung to read myself in those situations.

In Sense and Sensibility, though, it was Elinor’s plight that touched me most deeply. Not only as the one with the most sense, but also as the one carrying the most responsibility.  She was a whiz at concealing her feelings, too, and I surely know how to do that.

Marianne’s inner warrings, on the other hand, also affected me. She was constantly delighted by the possibilities of life and I can relate. She was also a master of letting it all hang out – every blasted thought and feeling. I do that and I do it well.

Unfortunately.

Progress, not perfection. Amen?

 

It was, though, a line by Mrs. John Dashwood (vile woman) that stuck with me and proved to be a sad truth of human nature. A truth I’ve watched borne out by friends and family alike, not to mention myself.

“…for when people are determined on a mode of conduct which they know to be wrong, they feel injured by the expectation of anything better from them.”

As full of sunshine and unicorns as I can be, at heart, I’m pragmatic. Life has taught me that hope is vital, but realistic expectations help to keep hope from being crushed, altogether.

I picked this book up again, over the summer, in 3 different modern versions: The Three Weissmanns of Westport (by Cathleen Schine), Sense & Sensibility: A Novel (by Joanna Trollope), and Sass and Serendipity (by Jennifer Ziegler).

Here’s what I learned. No one holds a candle to Jane Austen’s ability to use plain language to express elaborate thoughts. Period.

Yes indeedy.

I’m a third of the way through my Write 31 Days challenge. Click here to visit all of the other writers going for it! If you missed any of my previous books in this series, click here. Or, click the little button below.

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Quilting Isn’t My Thing, But…

Longing pops up at the oddest times. And, depending upon the situation I find myself in, or the stage of life I’m maneuvering through, that longing takes different shapes.

In my late twenties, that shape looked a lot like a quilt.

The Nana quilts.

I, do not.

She never even attempted to teach me. I think she just knew it wasn’t for me. Quilting takes patience. I lack that. In spades. Arranging squares together into a recognizable pattern takes a spatial relations gene I just wasn’t given.

But, what I lack in quilting experience, I make up for in appreciation for those who do. And a large part of that is because I read a novel by Whitney Otto, back in the early nineties. How to Make an American Quilt was profoundly affecting. Maybe because Otto wrote of passion and purpose before I knew I was looking for passion and purpose.

More likely, it had to do with the fact that I was floating around this earth, footloose and fancy-free, waiting to make a dent somewhere. I longed to be heard and seen but I wasn’t sure how or why.

Looking inward is something I do anytime I find myself identifying with a character (or characters). Anyone else? 

And with each rite of passage that presented itself in the pages of this novel, I found more than a few personalities that I could relate to. It also provided plenty of soul-searing questions I knew I needed to answer for myself.

By myself.

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At the time that I read How to Make an American Quilt, I began to recognize some of the longings I read about as more common among women than I ever imagined. That felt reassuring as I continued to mature.

It’s for many of those reasons that I found the following quote potent in the shaping of my expectations for future relationships:

“The best men tell you the truth because they think you can take it; the worst men either try to preserve you in some innocent state with their false protection, or are ‘brutally honest.’ When someone lets you think for yourself, experience your own emotions, he is treating you as a true equal, a friend.”

I still long to be told the truth. Don’t we all?

Quilting isn’t my thing, but this book surely did help me see truth and it’s place in my world.

If you’ve missed the previous seven posts on the Best Books Ever, click the little button below. Tomorrow, I’ll highlight a book that moved me more firmly into my identity. I’m taking part in the Write 31 Days challenge. Click here to find out more.

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Oh the Humanity!

Brene` Brown knows a thing or twelve about self-esteem. You can check out her bio here. But, she has also grown a movement of more kind humanity. Kind both to ourselves and one another. And how has she accomplished this? Through research.

Tons and tons of research.

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Daring Greatly is essentially a manifesto for how to be kind. Kindness begins within. And we so need that in our world, don’t we? Both because of our keen interest in penchant for value.

This book will always be among my favorites because it helped me see where I belong as a human, woman, wife, mother, friend, and family member. And, while I began with her book The Gifts of Imperfection, and overcame the shame hurdle, this book pushed me toward vulnerability. In every area of life.

And, it was necessary.  Because, while I’ve never considered myself a perfectionist, it became obvious that I allow what I know to provide a large boost to my confidence levels. This quote below rode high on my heart for a good long while:

“What we know matters, but who we are matters more.”

Who we are matters.

What a powerful message of truth and hope.

If you are drifting through life on autopilot right now…

If you don’t feel all that hopeful lately…

If you let the weight of shame or the fear of vulnerability order your hours and days, this book is for you.

This author is for you.

Have you read any of Brene` Brown’s books? What’s your favorite? What idea changed your mindset?

If you missed any of the previous posts in my Write 31 Days Challenge, click the button below to go to the list. If you want to explore other topics written about during this challenge, click here.

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My Eyes Are Watching

Sophomore year of college was when I finally got serious about learning. For one thing, I wasn’t wearing rose-colored glasses anymore, and for another, my interests were diversifying beyond where to use my fake I.D. next. Also, I got over the hurdle of that pesky .33 GPA that miraculously showed up on my report card at the end of my freshman year. Apparently, studying was a thing.

One of the significant ways I grew was due to my exposure to some incredible literature. Like, truly great books. I read my first Jane Austen (yes, it took me that long to get to her). Soon after, Charlotte Bronte, Henry David Thoreau, and F. Scott Fitzgerald came roaring into my mind. As did Zora Neale Hurston.

Their Eyes Were Watching God sowed seeds in my heart.

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As a Floridian, Hurston tapped into the familiar for this girl. She also introduced me to dialogue. And dialect within dialogue.

Mind. Blown.

The closest I’d come to that was in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. And I didn’t have much use for the whippersnapper that was Huck.

But Janie? Now there was a woman who had thoughts I could identify with. While her beauty, as described by Hurston, was foreign to me, her desires weren’t.

I think I actually identified with a character for the first time while reading Their Eyes Were Watching God.

The following quote? It’s one of those that resonates soul deep.

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.”

Even at the ripe old age of nineteen, I had the awareness that dreams could be elusive.

And this book…well, my eyes are still watching for an author that spins a story using dialect and dialogue as powerfully as she did.

Yes indeedy.

If you missed any of the previous posts in my Best Books Ever series for the Write 31 Days challenge, click on the button below. What the heck is the Write 31 Days challenge? Click here for that.

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In the Pits

Around the time I was eight or nine years old (I’m sure I’ve blocked the exact date out in my memory), I did something incredibly stupid. Wet socks snugly encasing my feet, I shimmied along the edge of the electric stove to get to the cupboard above it that held the Oreos. That same stove top had a pot of The Nana’s homemade spaghetti sauce boiling on it.

Yes.

Exactly what you are imagining could have happened, did.

And, in case you weren’t envisioning anything, I’ll give you the short version.

Girl wants cookies. Mother says she can’t have them before dinner. Girl’s mother goes next door to borrow more oregano. Girl, dripping in still-wet socks from playing out in the rain, lets desire for chocolate override all intelligence. Girl shimmies along, gets a shock and jumps up. On her descent literally and figuratively, girl’s foot catches handle of pot. Girl lands on kitchen floor bum-side-up and boiling sauce lands bum-side-down.

The next days are a blur, in my mind. I do, however, vividly remember ice baths and laying on a bed, bum-side-up, while there were daily “dressing” changes.

There was one silver lining to this incident.

Yes.

I got to sleep in the guest bedroom at the back of our ranch-style house, because it had a bathroom, en suite. This allowed me to shuffle the shortest amount of painful steps to the facilities each time I needed them.

But also? The guest bedroom is where the bookshelves were.

The bookshelves that housed all of my mother’s favorite books, books to be read, and cast-offs.

I got a glimpse into my mama’s mind.

And it started with being in the pits.

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If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries – What Am I Doing in the Pits? by Erma Bombeck was my first taste of humor writing.

And it was delicious.

From there, I picked up anything I could find by this funny female. It wasn’t until college that I learned of her struggle to get published. It wasn’t until I hit the big 4-0 that I became brave enough to enter her writing competitions.

And, while I could choose about 30 quotes from Erma Bombeck, alone, the following is still the one that gets me every time.

“I am not a glutton – I am an explorer of food.”

Clearly, Erma got me.

Yes indeedy.

This post is part of my series, 31 Best Books Ever. I’ve joined in the Write 31 Days challenge. Click here to visit over there and see all of the topics people are writing about. Click the button below, or here, to see my previous posts. Happy reading!

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Day 4 in Which I Learned How to Read a Book

Picking up a heavy book and feeling the heft of it in my hands and thumbing through the pages and smelling slighty musty papery pages is bliss to me. Anyone else? #booknerdsunite

But, before beginning to read through each page, it’s good to have an idea of how to understand an author’s meaning. That is the aim of Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book.

 

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Mr. Adler does for the art of reading what Sun Tzu did for in The Art of War. He breaks reading a book, down to its most simplistic forms. Take understanding an author’s terms, for example. Adler helps create a reader who is able to mine the pages of a book for all they’re worth by first becoming sure of what an author means by using a specific word in a specific context.

Sound a little too detailed?

It is! But, deliciously so for those of us who adore letters strung together to form words, and words sewn together into sentences.

At 389 pages, this might not be the best beach read. But, with a list of “The Great Books” in the final chapter, it is worth every turn of every page.

Learning how to read a book thoroughly allowed me to see the truth of this quote, from Adler:

“…a good book can teach you about the world and about yourself. You learn more than how to read better; you also learn more about life.”

Yes and yes.

And what’s more, my writing journey began as a reader. It’s true! In fact, my favorite quote from How to Read a Book confirms this (although, I would add that this is true for any of us calling ourselves Writer or Author):

“The great authors were great readers, and one way to understand them is to read the books they read.” 

Ask any author how many books they’ve read. Almost all will say a TON! Maybe not in that exact terminology, but pretty close (and there are some authors for whom I would love to know what their favorite books are!).

So, to sum up:

If writer, then How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler.

If reader, then How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler.

Yes indeedy.

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Did you miss the first three books in my Write 31 Days Challenge? Click the button above, or click here and you can catch them all. Tomorrow, I’m in the pits.

Day 3 Is Like a Walk in the…

Travel books don’t thrill me. Any book written about travel by Bill Bryson, however, does. He is able to communicate a feel for local culture (whichever culture that may be) in a way that makes you laugh out loud.

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A Walk in the Woods was my first read by Bryson and in it he shares his attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail (all 2,100 miles of it!) with his friend, a recovering alcoholic. What ensues is hilarity. At the same time, I developed a deeper appreciation for the terrain of the Appalachian Trail while laughing through the various crisis they found themselves in.

From there, I gobbled up as many more of his books as I could, and as quickly as the magic land of Amazon would deliver them. Some of my favorites were: The Mother Tongue (English and How It Got That Way), Neither Here Nor There (Travels in Europe), In a Sunburned Country (Australia), A Short History of Nearly Everything, Made in America, and  I’m a Stranger Here Myself.

♥  A Walk in the Woods, though, delivers comic musings that make me laugh out loud so often that I could get through a chapter and my sides would hurt. One of my favorite lines is and was:

“Daniel Boone, who not only wrestled bears but tried to date their sisters, described corners of the southern Appalachians as “so wild and horrid that it is impossible to behold them without terror.”

If you cringe at a cuss word now and again, prepare yourself. If the crass imagining of happening upon multiple bears in a wooded area seems too much for you, this might not be the book for you. If sentences like the following offend you, pick up a different book:

“What is it with this town? I’ve blown more intelligent life into a handkerchief.”

But… if you would like to be reminded of what humanity shares in common (spoiler alert: the ability to laugh at ourselves) and how that transpires as one man sets out on a grand adventure…pick. this. up.

And if you do and enjoyed it, or if you read any of his other books and enjoyed, feel free to share in the comments. I’m always ready for a discussion of another book by this hilarious observer of people and places.

I Am the Unlovely

In the wake of the horrific tragedy that took place in Orlando, FL last weekend, I instantly noticed a disturbing trend. Maybe you did too? Posts in the blogosphere and Pinterest pins and Instagram photos started flooding my news feed.

And many of them pointed out ways Christians could “love the unlovely”.

It made me ill. And mad.

If you’re still reading, let me tell you why. And if you follow along here regularly, you’re already ahead of me, aren’t you?

I am the unlovely. 

This isn’t a slam against myself. Or self-deprecation. Or a result of low self-esteem.

No, it’s Truth, with a capital T.  And I believe in a God who so loved me, and you, that He was willing to die to show us the extent of that love.

And because I believe that Truth, and am so overwhelmingly thankful for His love, I long to love everyone like me.

Every unlovely.

So, you know, every human being.

Not just now, all of the sudden, since evil attempted to get an upper hand (once again).

Not just in the aftermath of any great “reveal” where we find out someone we know or love is addicted or afflicted.

Humans don’t suddenly become “unlovely” in those instances. And I’m beyond sure about this, friends, because I am now, and always have been, unlovely.

From dust we came and to dust we will return.

Truth.

So the next time we are tempted to look upon another human heart as “unlovely” and worthy of being loved, let’s take a quick look in the mirror.

And remember…

If we call ourselves saved, well…

Jesus didn’t come to save the healthy ones.

And, I’m not good with if/then statements in science, but I get this one. If He came to save the sick, and He surely did save me…

Then that makes me one of the unlovely ones.

Oh, yes indeedy!

 

When Tunnel Vision Becomes Good

I’ve never had tunnel vision, physically. But, whoa Nelly! I’ve had it mentally. And emotionally.

Actually, I take that back. I have experienced tunnel vision! For my beloved devil dogs. And, it gets me into trouble in the pants department.  Every. Single. time.

Otherwise, there aren’t many instances where tunnel vision is all that helpful. Or good.

Well, unless we’re talking about the intense desire to lose the spare tire that All The Devil Doggery has created. Then, I guess tunnel vision can be a positive.

And science. Science definitely benefits from the researcher intently focused on finding a cure for The Disease! Yes, then all of that tunnel vision pays massive dividends to society. And, to the world.

Valuing self over others, though, that is exactly the sort of tunnel vision that my heart has been railing against. Concentrating on whatever, whoever, will promote me over Thee… I notice far too much of that, lately.

In myself.

And, in others.

A wise mentor once told me that what I most dislike about another person is very likely a thing that I strongly dislike about myself.

Touche`.

We want to be liked. We want to be noticed. We want to matter.

So, we set about marketing ourselves. We push this profile picture. Or tweet and Instagram The Thing or The Thought that we hope might catch someone’s eye. We Vine our video vignettes and harbor a desire to go viral. Motivation to stay on top of the Importance Pile gathering with every click, like, follow, and repost.

But, we already are liked. We already have been noticed. We already do matter.

To the God who formed us.

He likes us very much.

He notices our every thought.

He declares that we already matter.

Come what may.

Or not.

I’m thankful for His patience, on the days and in the moments where I forget that.

Do you forget that, too?

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It is no small gift that God’s love endures forever. That He is for me.

For you.

And as He waits patiently for us to behold all that He places in our line of sight meant to bless, we continue to seek and search for significance where there is none to be found. When our search turns up empty, again and again and again, He is there. Our worth is validated and invalidated, in a vicious never-ending cycle. Each time we seek significance that seems hidden from us, He is waiting for us to remember that we already are significant.

To Him.

And in that moment when we finally do remember, and do see what we’ve not been willing or able to, our gaze can again become focused with an intensity that only sole devotion can bring.

Then, that tunnel vision becomes Good. It is a grace.

We are known. And loved. And our importance becomes irrelevant.

Because, we finally seek Thee and find thee.

The Most Significant of all.

Yes indeedy.

Let’s Learn to Zip It, Shall We?

My mouth gets me into trouble. Anyone else?

A lot. Tell me I’m not alone, here!

Really, though, it’s a head problem. Can I get an amen?

And, if I’m being completely honest, it’s a heart problem. Oh, yes indeedy.

I’ve always longed to be one of those wise women who say very little. You know the ones… they don’t often speak their mind, but when they do, WHOA NELLY, it’s important! Alas, God apparently thought better of that idea. In fact, I often wonder why He allows me to speak at all!

But, He does. In His completely unfathomable infinite wisdom, He gives me the freedom to speak the words in my head.

Here’s what I’ve found to be true: if I don’t check those words against His Word, what tumbles from my mouth can be a) too much, b) too loud, c) too soon, or d) all of the above.

So, you can imagine how thrilled I was to find out that the next book that Proverbs 31 Ministries’ Online Bible Studies is going to work through has to do with exactly this issue!

Hallay-glorious-lou-ya!

And, sweet Moses, do I ever need it!

On January 26th, over here, we will begin a study of Keep It Shut by Karen Ehman. The author provides phenomenal insight into “What to say, how to say it, and when to say nothing at all”. (I believe I especially need help with that last one. Also, Sweetman seems a bit too happy that we are studying this particular book.)

I’ve had the privilege of reading Keep It Shut over the last month. There are far too many gems, throughout, to pick just one. (Or, ten!) In fact, there is so much wisdom packed into this book, that I would like to heartily encourage you to pick up a copy and join the study.

You can do that here.

You can buy the book here.

And, if you do decide to join the 20,000 plus people who’ve signed up already, you may just see me hanging around on the Proverbs 31 Ministries Online Bible Studies blog.

Yes, you might just.

And we can learn to zip it together.

What do you say to that?

(Psst… say yes.)

I hope to see you there!

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