This blog post has been pre-empted by…

THE FLU!!!!

Ugh. Miserable, horrid, no good truly bad bug that has kept me up nights for days…well, not technically days because it’s night and I’m normally awake days and sleeping nights except when I have this flu and I can’t sleep because the crackling in my chest keeps waking me up! Gah!

owl

 

So I’m a night owl but not as wise as an owl because clearly I’m not making any sense.

lost girl

I’ve done a lot of reading though. Discovered this awesome author and a new Nancy Drew meets Veronica Mars in 1924 type of story which I absolutely love!!! Hope this is the first of many.

So, anyway, no blog post today (other than these ramblings).

Happy reading!

 

Branson Retreat

Two weeks ago I met up with former Inkspers Brenda Anderson and Stacy Monson in Branson, Missouri for a writing retreat. We stayed at an amazing resort at The Cliffs at Long Creek, a short but curvy drive from downtown Branson.

The first night we were visited by a masked intruder. Lucky for us it was a friendly animal critter, not a criminal critter. This little guy was very dedicated to climbing up the beams that hold the screen for the basement patio, and he almost made it had we not gotten too close and scared the poor guy away.

Racoon at BransonEach of the seasons were represented in the seven days we spent at the resort. There were 70 degree days, a hail storm to rival any we’ve had in Iowa, a windy day that would blow the hair off of your head, and a day of massive snowfall. You just can’t beat the Midwest for changing seasons in short order.

I managed to get two of my floundering manuscripts tore apart and pieced back together to into stronger, more interesting stories. I also started a Middle Grade novel about a Troll Princess who learns that beauty is more than warty skin deep.

After our group, which included Brenda’s daughter Sarah and another friend Mari Keisling, spentMoses musical Moses the majority of our week writing, we ended our retreat on a high note watching Moses, a musical at the Sight and Sound theater. Brenda got us a backstage tour after the show, and we got to meet the actor who played Moses. I can’t say enough about the musical and Sight and Sound theater. Moses was an amazing production, the actors incredibly talented, and they even had live animals that traversed the aisles. It was probably a good thing I didn’t have an aisle seat! I wouldn’t have been able to not reach out and touch the camel as it plodded past.

Alas, the last day came and went and I am back home building on all of the work I managed to get done during our luxurious stay. Next year we plan on having the retreat at a resort in Minnesota, but I will always remember the incredible stay we had at Long Creek.

Below is a video I took when I first entered the resort. Be jealous. Be very, very jealous.

Who’s your Irish Ancestor?

On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone wants to be Irish. It’s not necessary to prove your ancestry to participate in the fun. However, most Americans are descended from a huge melting pot mixture of different cultures, so you just may have some “green” blood in your system after all!

The stern gentleman in this picture may look familiar  if you have studied American (or Texan) history. Yes, this is General Sam Houston, the famous war hero, congressman, governor of two states, and president of the Republic of Texas. He is also my most famous relative. I grew up counting the “greats” when trying to explain how we are related. Though he is not in my direct bloodline, we do share a common ancestor, his grandfather was my sixth great grandfather who came from Ireland before the American Revolution. General Houston’s aunt was my fifth great grandmother.

So other than feeling entitled to wear a green party hat on March 17, why do the faces in our family tree really matter?

For me, it all comes down to the stories. General Sams’s grandfather came to America because he was not the oldest son, and had no inheritance in his home country. With all the wide open spaces here, there was a chance for everyone to be a part of something great. General Sam himself must have felt this sense of opportunity himself, as he traveled from where the family had settled in Virginia to Tennessee, even becoming part of the Cherokee nation along the way. He ended up in the Arkansas Territory, and then famously, in Texas. Meanwhile, he fought, both as a soldier, and as a politician to defend the American ideals of freedom. No more being tied to birth order. Everyone should have the same opportunities.

The aunt who was my ancestor married into another Irish family, the McKees. This family provides a legend for us, as they were involved in a tragic Indian attack in Virginia in 1765. The story goes that the husband and wife sent their six children ahead to safety, and reluctant to separate, they were both killed in the savage attack, first the mother, and several days later, the father.

My mother faithfully documented the names and dates associated with these events. But  it’s the stories that have always mattered the most. They tell us who we really are. They explain the tough, never say die attitude of our forefathers. Freedom was worth fighting for. And, though it isn’t always well documented, I know that their faith in God must have sustained them through these un-believably tough times. That spirit, that faith is what continues, what we pass along to future generations.

Who’s in your family tree, and what stories have sustained you? It’s something to celebrate, as sure as you’re born! Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Birthday!

So, not to brag or anything, but today is my birthday.

Yep, “beware the Ides of March,” because that’s the day that I was born!

Aren’t birthdays interesting? Like any holiday, we celebrate them every year, but each year brings something different, depending on what age we are, what day of the week the birthdate falls on, heck, even what the weather is like that day. Being born in March, the weather could be a balmy 70 degrees, or a freezing 28. This year, March is going to stick to it’s “lion-like” weather on the 15th.

I was thinking back to some of my most memorable birthdays and thought I’d share a few of them.

Age 5- My cousin Jamie and I were born three weeks apart, so the year we turned 5, our parents arranged for us to have a joint birthday party together, complete with clown, cake and lots and lots of kids. Probably the biggest party I’ve ever had to celebrate a birthday, although my parents tell me I was pretty cranky due to getting my kindergarten shots the day before.

Age 16- Other than the fact that I was finally old enough to drive, this birthday is memorable because it was the last birthday I celebrated with my Grandma Queen. She had been in declining health for some time and recently ill, but on my sixteenth birthday, she was feeling good. She spent the evening with my family, having dinner, eating cake, and giving sass back as good as she got. She passed away 11 days later, and I will always treasure the last memories I made with her.

Me and Frodo in my college dorm room.

Age 19- My first birthday in college and away from home was made special by the efforts of my friends. I really into (re: obsessed) with Lord of the Rings at the time, so my group of friends banded together to get me a cardboard cutout of Frodo. Since I had an 8 a.m. class that day, my friends waited until I left, then snuck the cardboard  hobbit into my dorm room. However, they neglected to open my curtains, so upon stepping back into my room later that morning, all I could see was the dim outline of a person! I screamed, causing several people to come running, only to turn on the lights and realize I had been terrified of nothing more than a four-foot tall paper man with a flimsy sword. Yeah, that was humiliating. On the plus side, Frodo accompanied us on lots of adventures throughout the rest of my college career, including a trip to the local drive-in theater to see the next installment of (what else?) Lord of the Rings, and a starring role in one my student films, “When Your Date Falls Flat.” Frodo is now happily living out his golden years in my office at the symphony.

Age 21- Spring Break. Mexico. Not nearly as epic as it sounds. I had accompanied my campus ministry to Mexico for a mission trip that year, and unfortunately, caught a terrible cold the day we left. After doing manual labor all day in the hot sun, wiping my nose until it was raw, all I wanted to do was crawl into my sleeping bag and pass out for a few hours. My group had other plans, however. To celebrate my birthday and another guy’s, they had purchased a piñata, and made he and I take turns trying to break it. Blindfolded, no less. I was less than enthusiastic to make a fool of myself, and after several attempts, finally hit the stupid thing. It didn’t break! After the guy took a turn and it still didn’t crack, we realized the piñata was empty! I could have cried (and I think I did, a little) from exhaustion and disappointment. At least some candy would have helped sooth my weary soul!

There have been a lot of fun birthdays since those formative years, such as the time my coworkers decorated my office with streamers and hid Reese peanut butter cups all over it (truth– I literally found one two years later…and I plead the fifth on whether or not I are it [I did]). I usually have a celebratory dinner with my parents and brother’s family each year, and a bouquet of daffodils, my favorite flower. This year, I’m going to have lunch with one of my best friends, and see the new Beauty and the Beast movie in the theater on Saturday with my love.

What has been a memorable birthday for you?

Why I love Friday the Thirteenth

Happy Friday the Thirteenth!

When did Friday the thirteenth become an “unlucky” day? According to WikiPedia, it didn’t become a widespread superstition until the 19th century, although some trace it back to the Middle Ages, when someone linked it to Jesus’ Last Supper, in which there were 13 attendees on Maundy Thursday before Good Friday.

lastsupper The fear of Friday the thirteenth is called paraskevidekatriaphobia, from the Greek words Paraskeví (meaning “Friday”), and dekatreís (meaning “thirteen”).

I never really thought about being fearful of a particular day or number – I mean, God made each day, and He tells us to “Fear not” more than anything in the Bible!

ellen-gina1995-001There came a day, though, that I learned to love Friday the 13th. It was 1994, and I was expecting my second child, Ellen. They calculated the due date, and guess what? The estimated date of birth was to be Friday, January 13, 1995. We laughed about it the whole time.

But guess what? She was right on time. On Friday, January 13, 1995–exactly 22 years ago, today–Ellen Priscilla Merrick was born.

ellen2-001On that blessed date God blessed us with a healthy, beautiful, compact bundle of energy with a head-full of dark hair and the ability to sleep anywhere but her car seat. Really.

dreamy-ellen

Ellen will be graduating from college this May, with a degree in vocal performance. She’s all grown up, but still my little girl in whom I am exceedingly proud.

2016-11-11-21-09-23-hdrHappy Birthday to my Friday the thirteenth blessing!

3 John 1:4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

To Dream the Impossible Dream

My One Word for 2017 is AISLING. That’s Irish for dream or vision. Pronounced Ash-ling, by the way. It came to me during a really rough patch and I dismissed it as lame because, well, really, how can embracing dreaming be a life-changing One Word? More like a fluffly cop-out. At least, that’s what I thought at first. Until I realized I’d stopped dreaming. And not just new dreams, but I’d given up on the old ones too. And that left me mired in a gnarly reality with no where to go. Sounds depressing, right?

Well it was. Because somehow, I’d allowed my chronic pain condition to take over my whole life. I was micro-focusing on the present — not looking beyond the next hour. I was in survival mode, content to claw my way through the day until I could go to bed and get a few hours of sweet relief while I slept. So, basically, I was living to sleep. Period.  And that scared me.

So when I started praying about my One Word and ‘dream’ kept coming to mind even though I kept dismissing it, I realized that God was telling me something. I needed to take my dreams back. Sure, with my new limitations those dreams need to be modified in order to be realistic, but that doesn’t mean they are impossible. Just different. And that’s okay, because for the first time in quite a while I’m looking up instead of down and enjoying the scenery along the way!

My Word for the New Year: Refocus

As many writers do, I enjoy contemplating a single word as the year on the calendar changes. This year, my mantra has been obvious since our fall writing retreat. Refocus.

I have been writing stories since I could hold a pencil, and as you can tell from my bio pictures, that is now a very long time. I am known for being able to phrase things well in business letters at work. When it comes time to explain a difficult topic in laymen’s terms, I’m your girl. Of course, with the ability to write comes the desire for others to appreciate that work. So, I have been seeking publication, which has resulted in writing monthly columns in a local general interest magazine. With the advent of social media, I have actually developed a following of sorts, with folks looking forward to my comments, and participating when a song breaks out that they know well enough to sing along. But, have I strayed from that path of storytelling? Refocus.

At this stage in my life, my health can easily get out of control. There is a fine balance of the type and amount of food I eat, the time spent exercising, and the amount of water I drink. When I let any of these components go un-noticed, extra pounds pile on. With more weight, it becomes harder to move, harder to exercise. With no reduction in food, or increase in water, more pounds. The pattern is obvious. Refocus.

Every winter, when plunging temperatures cause our joints to ache, my husband and I talk of moving further south. Since our middle son moved to Florida, got married and brought us our fifth grand-child, the discussions have gotten more serious. Now, grand number six is on the way, and we have learned our way around Central Florida quite well thank you. But, do we really want to move permanently, or just arrange for a vacation home there?  So much to consider. Refocus.

Along with a highlighted word, I like to have a scripture in mind for the new year. This year, I keep hearing Psalm 51 – verses 10-12. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free spirit.” Refocus.

This year, I plan to explore a new path for my fiction writing. I plan to focus on my audience, and then find an agent who shares my vision. Health-wise, I know what to do. It’s just a matter of concentrating on doing what works, and feeling better in the process. Financially, we will dedicate ourselves to paying off as many bills as possible to make the dream of living in a warmer climate a much clearer vision. Renew, Restore, Refocus.

 

 

 

The center of the wheel

I decided to take the art class the last semester of my college career. Beginning Ceramics, it was called. With two of my close friends signed up to take it with me, I felt sure this would be an easy A to cap off my four years of college.

Of course, the professor made it look easy. Slap a bit of clay on a wheel and in minutes, you can make anything: a vase, a plate, a bowl, a cup.

However, four weeks into the course, I was still struggling to make something that didn’t bear a passing resemblance to a mudpie. How did he do it?

Everyday, I went to the art lab, determined that today was the day I would finally make something out of that wet lump of earth. I dutifully set out my tools, shaped my clay into a ball and slapped it down on the wheel. But a funny thing seemed to happen: no matter how hard I tried, my clay would end up either flying off the wheel (only funny the first three times it happened!) or would end up looking like a lopsided modern art creation (but worth much, much less).

As the deadline drew near for my first projects, a simple bowl and cylinder, I felt so frustrated that I just couldn’t seem to get it right. My creations were all lop-sided, one side bulging out slightly, formed when I couldn’t find the perfect hub of the pottery wheel.

The Bible often uses the imagery of God as the Potter, crafting his children lovingly with his hands. But after my own feeble attempt at being the potter, I learned that the center of the wheel is the key to creating something beautiful.

shaping-the-clayThink about it: do we really center our lives and souls on Christ’s love? Or are we vainly trying to let God shape us into His creations while we’re lop-sided balls of clay on His wheel, in danger of flying off  because we want to go our own way?

I know I have very rarely been at the middle of the wheel. So many things push me off-center: worries, doubts, the stresses of life. Thinking I can make do it all on my own.  Sometimes I feel like that slippery, muddy mess of clay, inching closer to the edge of the plate with every turn of the wheel, helpless to stop and crying out to the Master Potter.

And God’s gentle, loving Hands are always there, patiently nudging this stubborn ball of clay back to the Heart of His wheel.

I can’t say I’ve mastered the technique of staying centered on God but I do know the secret; it’s spelled out pretty clearly in Galations 2:20.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

Guess what? The wheel of life moves fast. Just like a ship can get dashed against sharp rocks if it is not securely anchored, so can the Christian get splattered against the wall if he or she is not securely centered on God. But the good news is that since God is the Potter, he’s also controlling the wheel and its speed, and He’s not going to let it move any faster than what He knows you can handle.

Here’s to making God the center of our 2017!

Operation Christmas Child

I’m pretty sure that Operation Christmas Child doesn’t require an introduction but I thought the first day of November was a fitting day to highlight this Samaritan Purse endeavor since the packed boxes are due to be collected the week of November 14-20.

In case you haven’t heard of the program, it’s an opportunity to share a bit of Christmas cheer and the gospel with needy children throughout the world. Participants fill a regular size shoe box with hygiene items, school supplies and toys and the boxes are collected locally and then distributed to children (regardless of race, religion or gender) throughout the world. Canadian boxes are heading to Haiti, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Venezula, Chile, Urugay, Guinea, Senegal, Ukraine and Sierre Leone. Which is why the boxes need to be collected my mid November. You can read more about this international program here:

Information on Operation Christmas Child

I’m attending a new church plant this year and I just realized that we haven’t organized an Operation Christmas Child project. Think I’ll volunteer to oversee that next year. Anyway, I was disappointed because I thought I’d missed out on this Christmas tradition but I just discovered that it’s possible to fill a Christmas box online! Perfect for me especially since I have a hard time getting around these days and shopping can be grueling. So this is a win/win for me…and maybe you. Check it out here.

Operation Christmas Child — fill a box online

Five Fall Favorites

Welcome to Fall! I’m not a summer person. At. All. Give me ten below over 90 above any day! So I’m ecstatic that fall is finally here.

Fall is my favorite season, hands down. Here are a five reasons why:

  1. Sweatshirt and shorts weather begins. And bare feet, of course. That’s my wardrobe throughout winter and into spring. In the house anyway. I will dress warmer to go outside the house once the temps drop below 65. Usually.
  2. I love the fall colors. Who doesn’t? This year I’m hoping to drive up along Lake Superior’s north shore to view the leaves. The colors can be spectacular up there!
  3. Windows in the house are open. Since I dislike hot weather, AC is on pretty much all summer. I love being able to open up the house and let cool breezes refresh it. Don’t you love the scent of fall?
  4. Pumpkin pie season. My favorite pie of all. Just add a dollop or two of whipped cream, and I’m set.
  5. Fun bird watching. I love watching the flight of birds heading south, and it amazes me to think of the God-built-in instinct given to His creatures. Hopefully on our trek along the North Shore we’ll make a stop at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory. I’ve heard that’s the best place to take in the migration.

What are your favorite things about fall?