May 28, 2012

A Splendid Supply of Surprising Sweets

The adventurous and interesting Tami Clayton invited me to play a game of letters (my favorite kind). The rules: reveal 10 of your favorite things that begin with a certain letter of the alphabet.

My letter (in case the post title didn't give it away): S!


Stories: Escape into magical worlds. Power to change the real world. What I want to spend my life writing and reading.

Spices: Cooking has never been so interesting!

Sliding ladders: Ohhh, I want one so much!! Or I could just move into a library that has them.

Shakespeare: The love of my literary life (minus the earring). The genius bard of the Western world. Themes as relevant today as they were in the 16th century. Need I say more?

Sunshine: Just one of the many great reasons to be living in California again!

Scotland: The windswept land of bagpipes and legends, monks and poets, caber tossing and lovely accents--my second-favorite place in the world (after home, of course).

Springtime: My favorite season of the year!

Singing: I like to shatter windows with the high notes. (Actually, I just like imitating Hayley Westenra in the shower, on my church praise team, and when I have the house to myself.)

Sincerity: One of the characteristics I value most in friends (and in literary characters).

Socks: These are not my feet. But I kind of wish they were. My favorite Tinker Bell pair got a hole in them, but I do have a pretty awesome pair of knee-high blue-and-green argyles.

What are your favorite S-things? If you have a blog and want to play the letter game, leave me a comment and I'll send you a starting letter via Facebook or Twitter!

May 21, 2012

Confessions from a Home Office

After almost 9 months of chugging away as a freelance writer, editor, and English tutor, I feel that it's time to share my perspective on working from a home/, home office. It's often glorified as the ultimate work situation, but it's certainly not free from challenges. 

After college, I moved back into the room of my childhood. The challenge was converting it into an office as well. Organizing the same amount of space to serve two purposes was a challenge. At first I just kind of put my work in a blender and watched it explode all over the floor. 

I eventually got a bit more organized, at least space-wise. But organizing time can be harder. I am my own boss, which leaves me accountable only to myself for time management. Sometimes I'm distractable and not productive enough. More often, though, I'm doing five things so efficiently that I multitask myself clean out of productivity. Trying to do too many things can actually keep my thinking so shallow that I'm not productive at anything, especially writing. 

Working from home can be hard to explain to others. Sometimes people think that because I stay at home, I don't actually work. I promise--I do. But getting respect for that isn't always easy. It can also be tough to guard my work time. Because I'm within earshot of the phone, the dishwasher, the oven timer, the front door, it's the easiest thing in the world to get interrupted and distracted. Or to use home chores as procrastination stations. 

My job can be lonely. Sometimes I get to the end of the day overflowing with words because I simply haven't opened my mouth to talk to a human being all day. My brain gets tired from juggling e-mails, flashback scenes, and semicolon placement, but there are no co-workers to socialize with around the water cooler. I'm learning I have to be proactive and intentional about spending time with people.   

But there are also some undeniable perks to the job. I love that my mornings aren't dictated by a rush to beat traffic or catch a train. I really enjoy the quiet and calm of my own home atmosphere. It's pretty nice to be able to grade papers while watching blue jays perch in the backyard birches or redline a manuscript while wearing my fuzzy slippers. And it's been a special blessing to be available to help care for my grandma these past five months. 

A few days ago I wrote an e-mail to a friend who asked me what it was like to be a freelancer. My response was long. It's a lot of work, and trust is a constant challenge as I have to keep surrendering my question-mark future into God's hands. But I also realized that I love my work. I sure don't feel like that every single morning. But overall, I'm so grateful to have this chance to pursue my God-given passions from a base of nurture and support.  I look back over the last nine months and realize that this time has not been wasted. In spite of the logistical snags, the isolation, the multitasking, the procrastination--I'm moving in the direction of what I was made to do. And that is a great feeling.

One of my goals this summer is getting my children's novel ready to start the publication process! In the interest of productivity on that, I'm going to be cutting back to blogging once a week for the summer. Don't let me slack off! The race is on! 

May 14, 2012


OK, it's time for Theology 101--a la YouTube!

I saw this video (below) on Facebook a few months ago. It's humorous, but it also expresses the deep and sometimes mind-boggling concept of grace.

I'm a perfectionist (surprised?) As a teenager, I struggled furiously with the idea of God's grace. Me, a fundamentally flawed person? Good enough only because of Jesus? I wanted to work hard enough, perform well enough, prove to God that I deserved His approval--as if God carried around a cosmic clipboard where I could earn His love if I just got enough check marks. I'd rather not be indebted to that guy Jesus. I'll do it myself, thank you very much. Sometimes I got the puffed-up feeling I was doing pretty well at God's game. Other times I was crushed beneath the weight of total inadequacy, failure, and self-loathing.

Maybe it was life experience, maybe tiredness, maybe the spirit of God catching up with my stubborn soul. But there came a day, my shoulders scrunched tight from trying to stand tall enough, when I realized I could exhale. Because Jesus paid it all. I read in Romans 8 that God has no condemnation for those who are in Jesus--that He keeps no cosmic clipboard, no record of check marks or failures. His son's love is the amazing eraser of "good enough." And that discovery was the relief of my life.

How have you experienced grace? From God? From other people? 

May 11, 2012

Snapshots of Cambridge

Two years ago this week, I was in Cambridge, England. As an American college student, watching my British counterparts study, ride their bicycles to class, and play cricket at the park, I almost felt like I was looking in a distorted mirror. But after 9 days of living, walking, and studying in this medieval college town, it almost began to feel like native habitat. I can't give you a Lonely Planet guidebook description. So I'll just share a series of snapshots that characterize the journey there. 

Two structures characterize Cambridge: the tall, Gothic spires of the colleges and cathedrals...and the spokes of bicycle wheels. The medieval streets make driving a health hazard, not to mention an insurance nightmare. So everyone bikes. Little baskets and all. Even in skirts. Knowing my world-class klutz skills, I decided to forgo this traditional mode of transportation and let my good ol' feet carry me.... every bookstore in sight. The bookstores in Cambridge are absolutely world-class. There are some fine new shops--Heffer's and Waterstone's, not to mention the home office of Cambridge University Press. But better still are the used and antiquarian bookstores. "Old books" in the U.S. reach maybe 50, 60, even 100 years old. But when the Brits say "antiquarian," they mean it. I found a crumbling copy of The Pilgrim's Progress from the early 1800s in a discount bin because the spine cover was falling off. The early 1800s! One of these days I'd like to about bookbinding and fix it up. If you're ever in Cambridge, go check out G. David Booksellers (where I drooled at a two-volume leather-bound set of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary that cost 2500 pounds) and The Haunted Bookshop (absolutely dripping charm, with a head-bumping spiral staircase!) 

The May flowers in Cambridge are also jaw-dropping. Many of them I had no names for, but I did recognize fields of many-colored tulips and walls covered with wisteria, like this one. 

When the Cambridge boys aren't riding their bicycles to class, they make a little extra pocket money by punting: pushing tourists down the shallow river using flat-bottomed boats and ten-foot poles. They expertly steer their passengers down the river, pointing out all the sights along the way. Our group decided to be economical and do the punting ourselves. Our group was also 90% female. I gave tried punting for about 10 minutes before almost falling in and calling it quits. Those poles are a lot heavier than they look!  

Possibly the funniest moment in Cambridge: a mother duck and her brood of ducklings decided to cross the street, plunging headlong into traffic. Shopkeepers and pedestrians from both sides of the road darted after them, stopping traffic to "make way for ducklings." It was rather adorable: a whole street of cars and people frozen in motion as a little family of ducks waddled across the road.

Most fabulous teatime: The Orchard. About three miles (on foot) outside of Cambridge, we sipped Lady Grey tea and nibbled scones and clotted cream at outdoor picnic tables under trees frosted with apple blossoms. The sun even decided to grace us with her presence for part of the afternoon. Sweaters came off; some of our group closed their eyes and tanned; some opened books of poetry; some blew streams of bubbles from plastic wands into the air.  

And last, but not least, the King's College Chapel choir. We attended services at King's one Sunday morning under the grand fan ceiling, sitting on carved wooden benches with a Rubens painting at the far end of the nave. And then the boys' choir began to sing. If I hadn't been looking right at them, I would have sworn it was an adult choir including both men and women. But listen to them! Surrounded by candles in that vast Gothic space, they sound like a choir of angels.

This concludes Episode Three of our Armchair Travel Guide to Britain. Have you been to Cambridge? England? Did you have experiences that you positively have to share? 

May 7, 2012

Dance Like No One's Watching

OK, it's time for a happier post on here.

Start by watching this video. Trust me, the rest of this post won't make sense without it. It's got over 40 million views.

Matt is a guy (from Seattle, actually) who only knows one dance. It's a dorky dance. But, not caring what other people thought, he first did it in front of a camera in Asia. He put it up on YouTube, and before long his video was so popular that Stride Gum sponsored him to do it again--to travel the world and dance. 

What I like about this video is that it's a guy doing his dance--his dorky dance, the only dance he knows--wherever he goes, no matter who's watching, no matter if anybody's doing it with him. He starts out doing it alone. He dances in marketplaces where everyone's looking at him funny and on empty beaches full of crabs. He dances in the rain, on a sand dune, on cliff ledges. But he doesn't stop dancing. 

People are attracted to that courageous spirit--the choice to "dance like no one's watching." In the video, people flock to him. And then they start to imitate him. The single dancer is joined by a handful, then by a crowd, then by an entire flash mob. Every person gives it their own spin--Polish teenagers doing disco, kids from the Solomon Islands jumping around--but the original dancer's dauntless drive, his cheerfulness and confidence, is contagious all around the world. 

I don't know what it is you do to bless the world around you. It might be the thing you do for a living; it might not. It might just be your unique personality, your attitude. Whether you fix computers, write books, balance accounts, listen to hurting friends, jump rope with kids, or just face your day with a smile, keep doing it. God made you as you are, so being yourself is your best gift to share with the world. Dare to do your own dance, no matter how dorky or insignificant it feels, no matter who's watching, no matter if anyone at all is watching. That attitude is brave, and it's contagious. You never know whose life you are touching.