Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gimme a Break

Today was one of those days where things did not go according to {my} plan. For starters, I've had a clogged kitchen sink the past couple of days. I tried Drano, plunging it, etc. to no avail, and finally called in a professional. Thankfully, the plumber was available to come a little before 9 this morning, so rather than go to work and have to turn right around and come back to meet him, I just stayed and waited for his arrival. He did arrive on time, but the clog took much longer to eliminate than anticipated. {Helpful hint for any house hunters: When you buy a house that's, say, 60-plus years old with cast iron pipes, expect those pipes to build up some corrosion over time. And expect unclogging said pipes to take more time and effort than you think.}

On the plus side, in the process of unclogging the sink, the plumber discovered a small leak and was able to fix it, so at least I didn't have to pay for an additional service fee. I finally made it in to work but pretty much felt like I was running behind all day.

By the end of the day, I was beat, and was debating whether or not to go to my Wednesday night Bible study. We are currently studying Beth Moore's James: Mercy Triumphswhich I am really enjoying, and Wednesday nights have become a highlight of the week for me. However, knowing that tonight we'd be watching Beth's video, I was a little afraid that I'd be on the verge of falling asleep during it. Still, I knew I'd be missing out on a great video and some great fellowship if I didn't go.

I went home after work and got home with time to have eaten a quick bite before driving back across town for church. However, I took a good look at my sweet puppy and ultimately decided to stay in and spend some time with her. Most weekdays I'm able to come home at lunch to let her outside but today (since I'd gone in to work late) I'd brought my lunch and just ate at work. I hate having to leave her home alone all day with no human interaction, so I decided she needed some "mommy time" tonight and that I'd be better off at home with her than rushing around town.

Who can resist this face?

So tonight I'm cutting myself some slack and having a night in. I did spend some time working on some of the homework from this upcoming week's Bible study, and had a couple of "a-ha!" moments during it that I think I needed to discover tonight. And yes, I'm also spending some time playing with my sweet pup. As much as I'd like to be at Bible study tonight, I'm pretty sure right now that I'm exactly where I need to be.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

On My Nightstand/In My Browser

(image via)

In case you hadn't figured out by now, reading is a passion of mine. And I do a lot of it, both online and in book form. Here are a few recent reads that have piqued my curiosity and provided some food for thought and/or entertainment. 

On My Nightstand:
• I'm grateful to have a sister who loves to read as much as I do, because we often swap books (and since she, like me, often reviews books for her blog, we get a lot of free books to share between us). I'm currently working my way through a stack of books that she loaned me a few weeks ago, and have just recently finished One Good Deed (which I loved and wrote about here) and Jesus Feminist (a thought-provoking read that I enjoyed quite a bit). 

• I also recently finished The In-Between, which was one of my Christmas gifts. This book focuses on the often-trying and frustrating business of waiting, and learning to make the most of that waiting time and see it as a gift rather than as torture (which is how I usually view waiting). This was another really good read which challenged me to see waiting in a new light. 

• These days I tend to read more non-fiction than fiction, but I do like having some fiction on hand for "escape" reading. My most recent fiction choice was The Paris Wife, a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway's marriage to his first wife. I'd been wanting to read it for quite some time and finally found it for free on (one of my favorite places to get books). I wasn't at all familiar with Hemingway's family life prior to reading this so I don't know exactly how much liberty the author took with her accounting of his first marriage. I did enjoy the book overall, although it ended quite sadly, so I wouldn't necessarily recommend this as a "light" pick-me-up sort of read if that's what you're wanting.

• I'm now reading French Kids Eat Everything (another loaner from sis). It may seem a bit of an odd choice to read considering that I don't even have kids, but (a) I love reading about France and (b) I love food so I figured I'd give this one a go. It's turned out to be a rather fascinating study on the importance that food plays in French culture and how parents teach their children from a very early age to treat food and mealtimes with great respect. While having babies throw food on the floor or play with their food is de rigueur here in America,  in France it would be unthinkable. Some of the principles discussed in the book are applicable to adults as well as children, and it's causing me to want to try to adopt a more respectful approach to eating, as in actually sitting down and enjoying my food rather than wolfing it down on the run (another no-no in France). 

In My Browser:
• One of the {many} blogs I read on a regular basis is Greater Than Rubies. The author, Caitlin, is a Christian who started her blog after being convicted about her love of shopping and wanted to become a better steward of her clothes and finances. Her blog focuses on curating a simple (yet still incredibly stylish) wardrobe, focusing on quality over quantity. 

I particularly liked her recent guest post on creating a simple, hardworking wardrobe, which addresses not only the practical aspects of creating a wardrobe but also the spiritual aspects. In the post, she asks:
“What is your relationship with your closet and how is it affecting your relationship with Him?” 
Is your wardrobe encouraging and life giving? Or does it leave you with frustration that bleeds into the rest of your life?
Honestly, I'd never thought about my wardrobe from that perspective. I've heard plenty of discussions and sermons on dressing modestly, but never any on how our closet can affect us spiritually. One of her suggestions is to view our closets through a lens of thankfulness. So many great points and food for thought in all of her blog posts, so if, like me, you too struggle with having too many clothes and yet not being satisfied with your wardrobe, check Caitlin out. 
• Another recent read that I enjoyed was this one titled "A Handy Guide to Christian Outrage" by Scott Dannemiller at The Accidental Missionary. I agree with much of what he says in it, especially the point about not being more outraged over issues like gay marriage and the "Noah" movie than world hunger and poverty. Plus, he includes this very handy (tongue-in-cheek) flow chart for knowing whether or not to be outraged:

I do indeed love to read, so if you've got any great book or article/blog recommendations, share away!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Be Kind, Because You Never Know

There is an acquaintance whom I don't know very well, but what I do know of her I like. She is one of the sweetest people I know; her countenance and demeanor (not to mention her words) just ooze kindness. On top of her inward beauty, she is outwardly beautiful and always looks totally put together, despite having two adorable little ones at home who keep her hopping. She could easily be the kind of person that I might resent because she just seems so perfect--but she's so darn sweet and likable that it's impossible to not want to be friends with her. 

A few weeks ago I heard some startling news about this acquaintance, regarding some rather serious marital problems that she and her husband are having. A casual observer such as myself would probably never have guessed that her seemingly idyllic family and life was in such turmoil. My heart aches for the pain that she is going through, and I've found myself praying for her and her family, especially her little ones, several times these past couple of weeks.

Another story: Just the other day I learned that another acquaintance and her family are dealing with some major, life-changing problems with one of her adult children. Again, just by looking at this woman and engaging in our usual small talk, I probably would not have discerned that she was dealing with such a heavy load. 

These two recent stories are serving to remind me that you just never know what kinds of burdens other people are dealing with every day. I'll be the first to admit that I am quick to judge others and (often wrongfully) assume that if they look composed and confident on the outside, then everything's hunky-dory in their world. I'll also admit that I am often so caught up in my own little world that I am probably missing some signs or signals that people may be putting out that they're actually hurting and in need of encouragement. 

So my challenge to myself (and to you, if you choose to accept) is to look beyond my own happenings and try to be more sensitive to those around me who may be fighting some hard battles. And above all, to be kind, because you never know who might need that kind word or action at just that moment. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

One Good Deed

My sister recently loaned me a book that I'm in the middle of reading called One Good Deed by Erin McHugh. The author set about purposing to perform at least one good deed every day for a full year, and this book chronicles her efforts.

Most of her good deeds are fairly simple don't do and don't require a lot of time or money. Some are what she calls "good deeds of omission", such as choosing to bite her tongue instead of telling somebody off (even when they really, really deserve it).

I used to think of myself as a fairly generous person, but this book is opening my eyes to see that I'm a pretty selfish individual. I'm usually willing to give money to a good cause or to help someone in need, but giving my time--now, that's another story. I get pretty possessive with how I spend my time, especially on weeknights after a long, hard day at work when I just want to veg out on the sofa. Several of McHugh's good deeds in the book involve her giving up nights (after long, hard days at her own job) to spend time with a friend who needs some company or support a performance or other event.

So this book is challenging me (in a good way) to be more willing to share my time with others and to just be more generous overall. Perhaps I too need to take on a "one good deed" year-long challenge and see how much I can do to brighten other people's days. Anyone care to join me?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Book Review: Rich in Years

Perhaps you may think it's odd that I, a woman on the cusp of her '40s who still considers herself a young whippersnapper, chose to review a book that is geared toward those in the, shall we say, golden years of their life? Well, I do hope to live long enough to make it to those golden years, and it doesn't hurt to start preparing now to live them successfully.

In Rich in Years: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Long Life, Johann Christoph Arnold shares wit and wisdom from himself as well as from friends about how to grow old gracefully (i.e., without becoming an old grouch). The book emphasizes the joy in realizing that life has meaning and purpose at every age, and that's it never too late to put that purpose to good work.

The book is a quick read, largely consisting of anecdotes of various people who have successfully met the challenges of aging. I wouldn't say that there are any groundbreaking revelations that I discovered while reading it, but rather some good reminders that our purpose in life is not bound by age.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Handlebar Publishing book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255“Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, March 10, 2014

What Whitley Gilbert Taught Me about De-Stressing

One of the television shows that I watched frequently throughout my junior high and high school years was "A Different World", the spin-off of another beloved show, "The Cosby Show." To this day, Dwayne Wayne and Whitley Gilbert remain one of my all-time favorite television couples, with their constant on-again, off-again, will-they-or-won't they? romance, highlighted by one of the greatest television wedding moments ever, in my book.

I was delighted to recently discover "A Different World" airing in syndication and have enjoyed watching it again. And that's what brings me to today's topic, de-stressing the Whitley Gilbert way. In one of the episodes, a stressed-out Whitley goes to see a therapist (played by the brilliant Debbie Allen), who teaches her the mantra "Relax...relate...release." (Skip ahead to the 4:00 mark in the clip below to see its introduction.)

There have been many times, particularly at work, when I've had to coach myself to "Relax...relate...release." Today, for instance, I came to work already feeling a wee bit stressed out about a few deadlines that I'm up against. To add to the stress, right off the bat I got waylaid by an unexpected project that demanded my attention for much of the day. I didn't get as much done on my other projects as I'd planned...but that's okay but I told myself to Relax...relate...release. (And yes, I find that I can't say it even in my head without hearing Whitley's thick Southern drawl.)

Here are a few things that Ms. Gilbert's mantra has taught me regarding dealing with stress.

Relax: When I reach a point of feeling totally overwhelmed by work, or when I'm struggling with a block in my creativity (sadly, creativity does not always come automatically during regular work hours), I find that it helps if I step away from my desk for a little while. Even a quick trip to the break room or to talk with a co-worker can help me relax a bit. Of course, taking a mental health day is the preferred course of treatment, but rarely feasible, so these mini-breaks will have to do.

Relate: I tend to keep things--particularly things that I'm worried about--pretty close to the vest, but I know that I'm much better off if I open up and share my worries and struggles with other people. Sometimes that's in the form of shooting a quick email to a trusted friend asking for prayers, sometimes it's writing in my journal or on this blog, sometimes (and really should be always) it's spending time in prayer to God about whatever's weighing me down. Somehow just talking about what's troubling me makes it seem slightly less burdensome. (Hmmm, maybe Paul was onto something with that whole "Share one another's burdens" instruction...)

Release: Just this morning on my way to work (before I even knew that I'd have this unexpected project come up) I prayed that I would let go of the notion that the work I do is more important than how I treat people involved in the work. It's too easy for me to get stressed out over deadlines and forget that, truly, it's not going to matter in a year or five or a hundred years just what date my quarterly magazine was mailed out. Instead, the way that I treat my co-workers and other people I encounter is the lasting impression that matters.

I've also had to release some opportunities due to timing. Case in point: I was recently asked to help out one of our church's ministries by producing a newsletter. That is right in my wheelhouse, and I was tempted to say yes, but I just couldn't. Since I'm already working on several publications at work, I realized that when I come home from work the last thing I'd want to do would be to work on another newsletter. I could do the work, but I'd probably develop some resentment toward it if I tried to do it right now. And so, after some thought about it, I reluctantly told the person who'd asked me to consider the project that now was not the right time for me to be part of it. I feel a sense of peace about it, and I know that if I'm meant to be involved in that project or another similar project, that the opportunity will come up again at a time that's right for me. Learning to release my own sense of timing and trust God's has been a difficult lesson to learn (and one that I'm still learning), but I'm glad that He helped me recognize the need to let this project go right now.

Have you learned some methods (even from non-sitcom characters) that have helped you when you're feeling particularly stressed out?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Road to Recovery

One week ago at this time I had just flown home from a work trip to Las Vegas. Gambling is, fortunately, not one of my vices; occasionally I'll play about the penny or nickel slots but the only gambling I did this time was buying a new lipstick from Sephora. Eating, however, is one of my vices, and Las Vegas is a great place for foodies such as myself. I had some wonderful meals out there and tried some dishes that were new to me (and which I am eager to eat again on my next trip).

What a difference a day makes: The day after I returned home, I came down with a stomach bug that I no doubt picked up at some point along my trip. I'll spare you the gory details, but it's safe to say that any excess weight I may have gained from overindulging in Las Vegas was quickly lost. I missed a day and a half of work and spent most of the weekend lying on the couch in recovery mode.

Although I felt a little better each day, today is the first day in a week that I've fully had my appetite back. It's amazing how much I missed having an appetite; feeling hunger but not wanting to eat anything is not a good feeling. And while I hated being sick, I'm very thankful that I wasn't sick on my trip or, worse yet, on the plane ride home. I'm also thankful for my sweet dad doing a grocery store run for me to get me stocked up on Jell-O, lemon ice and fruit, the only foods that seemed remotely palatable to my stomach at the time.

Now that my appetite has returned, the challenge will be reining it in so I don't regain the weight I've lost. We have a big conference and expo coming up next week that's causing me to work late most nights this week in preparation, and today I was too busy to take the time for my usual afternoon snack, so that may be a blessing in disguise. I also have a 5K coming up on Saturday; not sure how well I'll do given my lack of running of late, but hopefully I'll do a bit better than I did with the January race. I'm still planning on racing in a half-marathon in March, so I've got plenty of motivation to get me back to some semblance of a normal, healthy, pre-Vegas diet.