Friday, September 30, 2011

Don't Dally

It's the time of year when I watch for the last hummingbird to come through. Each day is a little shorter and often each night is a little cooler, until, one morning I shiver as I stand at the kitchen window, hoping the last of the hummers flew south yesterday so they aren't out in the cold. If I see one at the feeder, tanking up on the sweet feed, I want to tap on the window and say "Don't dally, little one. Fly! Fly fast. You've waited so long that you're in great danger here now."


Even as I look for them, God whispers in my heart. “Don't dally, little one. Fly!”

Being the procrastinator I am, and one who is overly attached to my comfort, I know there are things I dally over, thinking, “Just one more.” I want to draw out the moment, savor it, choosing to forget that sometimes my “savoring” is simply ugly disobedience fancied up to make it more acceptable in my mind.

Other times, I choose to simply not listen for His voice because I'm busy doing my own thing.

In all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:6

God gave the hummingbirds instincts so they would know when to move on, and they do. Usually. What about me? Am I tuned in and sensitive to God so I can feel the change and know when to move on? I want to be. I don't want to stubbornly linger and end up shivering and shaking through a cold night I was never meant to be in, yet many times I think I do just that.

I will lead the blind by a way they do not know,
in paths they do not know I will guide them.
I will make darkness into light before them
and rugged places into plains.
These are the things I will do,
and I will not leave them undone.
Isaiah 42:16 

The key is to stay close to God. To stay in close communion so when He says “Fly!” we hear Him, recognize His voice, and fly.

He's promised to guide us In the way He wants us to go. Just like He's given hummingbirds instincts to know when to fly south for the winter, He's given us a heart to hear Him.

Your ears will hear a word behind you,
“This is the way, walk in it,”
whenever you turn to the right or to the left.
Isaiah 30:21

Lord, help me know when to spread my wings and fly, and lead me in the path You have for me. Please, give me courage and help me to follow Your prompting and trust in You. Thank You for being my guide.

I love You, Lord...in Your Son's name, amen.




Won't you come by Living by Grace so we can chat about what we can learn from hummingbirds at this time of year?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Captured by Conflict

Reading to Write Right at Ordinary Lives

Here's my Facebook post about From This Day Forward:
"The book reached out, grabbed me and CHAINED ITSELF to my hands until I read the whooooole thing. Really and truly. What book? Margaret Daley's new historical: From This Day Forward. But it wasn't a good book. nuh uh. It was GREAT! Filled with conflict and growth and chuckles and danger and romance and ALLIGATORS! Loved this book!!! (and now I'm at least six hours behind in my day. Yikes!!)"

So what was it that drew me in and held me captive?
The conflict.

Shirley Jump, in her Seekerville post, Conflict, What it is and what it isn't said:
It’s About Character: If you remember that conflict comes FROM your character, is what DRIVES and/or PARALYZES your character, then you create a book that stems from character, not from plot. Plot-driven books are mostly about external forces on a character, whereas character-driven books are mostly based on the internal workings of your character. In turn, that creates a more emotional read, which draws the reader in and makes your book not only more compelling but more memorable.

Every scene of From This Day Forward has threads of conflict. Some of it internal and some of it external as a gentle English woman learns to live in South Carolina--and not on a plantation. (Hint: that's where the alligators come in.)

Rachel's marriage left her determined to never marry again (he died on board ship--not a nice man), yet she's attracted to Nathan, adding conflict to their encounters and within her heart.

Nathan knew it would be difficult for a man to attempt what she was planning, moving to an abandoned farm--let alone a woman, with a newborn daughter. After his time as a doctor in the War of 1812, against the English, he's chosen to live in his cottage and not practice medicine but emergencies arise that need his skill.

The over-arching conflict is if they can overcome their pasts enough to move into the future together. It would mean facing their greatest fears, which involves great internal conflict as their hearts whisper one thing and their minds another. Each thread of conflict deepens the story and ups the ante.

The conflict, both internal and external, is solidly anchored to the characters. Daley shows us why Nathan doesn't want to doctor and the emotions it evokes in him. They are very real reasons, ones we can relate to. Rachel's determination makes perfect sense. She's just come from a loveless marriage where her fear was capitalized on and with a daughter depending on her, she must do these things or be right back in a similar situation. Thank goodness, she's not a wimp and didn't take the easy way out.

The internal conflict is what drives this book. It's masterfully done and drew me in from the very beginning.

Here's an excerpt of From This Day Forward:

Chapter One

March 1816

“We are going to die,” Rachel Gordon’s young maid cried out.

Rachel looked up at the clouds rolling in. Dark, ominous ones. She shivered and pulled her shawl tighter about her as the breeze picked up. A storm brewed, and she still had several miles to go until she reached her new home in South Carolina. “God willing, we will make it, Maddy.”

Fear deepened the lines on Maddy’s plain face. “’Tis like the squall on the boat.”

Lightning flashed, momentarily brightening the shadows of the forest. A clap of thunder rumbled the ground. Maddy screamed. The old gelding that pulled the cart—all Rachel’s meager coins could afford—increased its speed, weaving from side to side. Out of control.

Determined to be there before nightfall and in one piece, Rachel gripped the reins and fought to slow the maddening pace of the horse. Finally it resumed its plodding step. The weather-beaten cart she had bought near the dock in Charleston hit a bump in the road, jostling her into Maddy. Her maid clutched the seat with one hand and held onto Rachel with the other.

Steadying herself, Rachel rested her wrists on her rounded stomach. She had more than herself and Maddy to worry about now. Her life had changed so much since she left her ancestral home in England. She had married, conceived a child, and was now a widow, all in the space of a year. And worse, she was going to a place she had never seen because she had nowhere else to go. Her husband had used most of their money to purchase this plantation she was traveling to. It was her future, whether she wanted it to be or not.

The warmth of a spring day quickly faded as the sky grew blacker. Rachel stared at the menacing clouds through the treetops and realized she would not make it to her new home before the storm broke. She scanned the area for a place to seek shelter.

Sinister shadows lurked just beyond the road. Again she shivered, her imagination conjuring images of wild animals staring at her from the depths of the forest. She’d heard stories about the bears. Huge. Fierce. Sharp teeth and claws. Shifting on the seat, she darted a glance from side to side, feeling as though she were some beast’s next meal. She could not stop, even if it poured down rain.

Oh, how she missed England, with its gently rolling hills and refined beauty—not this raw wilderness. Like a fish floundering on land, she did not belong here. Nothing in her life had prepared her for this strange environment.

Drops of water spattered her. The wind picked up.

“That man on the boat told me about a big cat. They are out there.” Maddy whimpered, draping her shawl over her head and hunching her shoulders. “Lord, have mercy on us.”

Rachel forced herself to keep her gaze fixed on the road ahead. Once they were at the plantation Maddy would settle down. The squall two days out of Charleston had nearly sunk the ship they had traveled in. Surely this storm would not be as bad.

Taking deep breaths, Rachel calmed her racing thoughts and heartbeat. Pain spread through her lower back. She gripped the reins, the leather digging into her palms. The pain dulled to an ache. Another deep inhalation and the panic nibbling at her composure abated. Soon she would be at her new home and could sit in front of a warm fire, put her legs up, and rest. Hopefully the letter her husband had sent ahead would alert any staff to her arrival. Her glance strayed to the tall pine trees, swaying in the gust. Everything would be all right when she arrived at Dalton Plantation.

But even with Maddy next to her on the seat, the feeling she was the only person in the world overwhelmed her.

The wind picked up, whipping strands of her long brown hair that had escaped its coiffure about her face and threatening to whisk away her bonnet. Lightning zigzagged across the sky, followed by thunder. Maddy jumped in her seat. The gelding’s ears flattened.

A chill embedded itself deep in Rachel. She arched her back to ease the pang still plaguing her. Suddenly lightning struck a tree nearby, its flash a beacon in the growing darkness. A crack as the pine split into two pieces echoed through the forest. Immediately afterward, a boom of thunder cleaved the air. Maddy shrieked. The horse increased its pace while a few more splotches of water splashed Rachel. Then all at once rain fell in gray sheets.

The gelding lurched forward even faster. Rachel grasped the reins, trying to maintain control. She pulled on the leather straps to slow the horse. Nothing. He kept galloping down the road, oblivious to his surroundings, as though the hounds of hell were nipping at his hooves.

Rachel glanced from one side to the other but saw little except a wall of gray and green. Another peal of thunder spurred her horse into a dead run. The jostling motion bounced her around, nearly throwing her off the seat. A scream from Maddy competed with the din of the storm.

The cart hit another rut in the road. Rachel flew from the seat, the reins wrenched from her hands. The impact with the ground jarred her, knocking the breath from her lungs. Rain pelted her face as she sucked in oxygen-rich air. Stunned, Rachel closed her eyes against the continual downpour. Everything seemed to come to a standstill, as though her body went numb.

Then pain, as she had never felt before, ripped through her lower torso. She clutched her stomach, gritting her teeth to hold back the scream. She rolled to the side.



From This Day Forward

Rachel Gordon is stranded in South Carolina, pregnant, a recent widow when her husband fell overboard on the voyage to America. Nathan Stuart, a physician who came home from serving in the American army during the War of 1812, disenchanted with his life and the Lord, rescues Rachel and saves her life. Feeling responsible for her, Nathan tries to discourage her from living at a rundown farm her husband bought to start a new future in America. He wants her to return to England.

Rachel refuses to go back to England where her father disowned her for marrying against his wishes. The farm is all she has, and she is determined to make it on her own. But Nathan has other ideas and becomes her farmhand to discourage her from staying in America. Instead he ends up protecting her and being challenged by her. Can two wounded people heal each other?
~*~*~*~

As a reader, I was a captive audience, not able to turn the pages fast enough.
As a writer, I learned how to better use conflict and how to make conflict work for me. From This Day Forward is one of those books I'll go back to and study often, savoring each visit with Nathan and Rachel even as I dissect the conflict.

Want some more posts on conflict? Be sure to check out Seekerville's conflict collection.

So tell me, what is it about conflict that draws us in to a book so quickly?
What book have you read where you've been captured by the conflict?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

He Quiets Me

Each week at Living by Grace, a devotional discussion Facebook group, we post a memory verse and this week's is one that I recently refound.


The LORD your God is with you,
He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)

Each line is filled with promise and comfort and as I memorized it the other day, it was truly wonderful to meditate on each line.

When I got to "He will quiet you with His love," I thought of my husband. Some days have been enough to set my teeth on edge and many other nasty things, but the moment I just hear my husband's van pull into the driveway, I feel myself settling. Other days, I feel like my frantic button is jammed and those days my husband's love truly quiets me. All my fuming and fretting and fury, his loves soothes and quiets. This is what I picture when I quote that line--God's love quieting me. No matter how extreme the situation.


So tell me, which line comforts you the most right now? Which promise encourages you on?
Be sure to check the Cafe for more links to WFW



Won't you join me memorizing Zephaniah 3:17 this week at Living by Grace?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Still September

Ordinary Lives. From a 2 z 4 u & me

Now, for this week's installment of our a 2 z 4 u & me meme,
the letter S.
S is for

Still September.

One of my favorite things about September is the hummingbird feeding frenzy we usually have as the hummers head south for the winter. One year the hummers were so thick around the feeders on the front porch that we switched to using the back door.


We've spent hours watching these amazing little birds.


One of the highlights of September for us is the State fair... which means stopping at the All Tyed Up tent to visit our friends, Tim and Chris. Let's just say that my tye-dye shirt collection continues to grow. ;-)


Another favorite of the fair is the horse barns. This year the girls were able to pet a foal its owner saw them admiring. Such a treat!


September also ushers in the season of hot dog roasts and bonfires--another family favorite. Once the rain stops we'll be out there. =)


So tell me, what are some of your favorite things of September?

If you're joining us for the a 2 z 4 u & me meme by posting on your blog this week about the letter S, be sure to add your name and the link to that particular post in the linky gadget here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

How to Increase an Article's Mileage, Pt 1

Blogging Tips and Tricks at Ordinary Lives

Today's tip is all about recycling your posts and increasing their mileage.

Faithwriters is where I got my writing start. When I joined the group I was scared, no that's not true. I was terrified. They welcomed me, encouraged me, nourished me and taught me oh-so many things. They also were part of what gave me the courage to step out of their safety zone and start blogging, which led to everything else I now do.

One of the cool services Faithwriters provides is the Free Articles for reprint section. It's a place where people who need articles for newsletters--online or in print--can go for a selection on many topics. The articles are free to use, they must simply credit the writer and and link to them, as well as to Faithwriters. It's a great service.

As a member of Faithwriters, I put a few articles into the Free Reprints. Okay, 48 to be exact but 2 of them are in twice, in different categories, so they're listed and counted twice. Those 48 articles have been "reprinted" over 4600 times and "printed" over 3500 times. True, they've been there, available for 3 1/2 years, but still, if I hadn't posted free article there those are hits I would've entirely missed. Even if they were only actually used a quarter of those times, it's still more than I would've had.

And you know what? Those 46 articles were things I wrote for either the Faithwriters Weekly Challenge (but that was only a few) and for my blog. That's great mileage!

Granted, I don't know who used them. I don't know where they were used. But over time my Google Alert has kicked back to me several links where one of these articles were used. They've shown up many times in online magazines, ezines, church websites and newsletters, Christian radio newsletter, and it's always a little thrill to find them.

On the business side of writing, these things help build my platform--and once I posted them in Faithwriters Free Reprints, I haven't touched them. LoL. I usually forget all about them until an alert comes in. Articles that are racking up great mileage AND that work for me. Can't argue about that!

Posting articles in the Free Reprints is as easy as entering the Faithwriters Weekly Challenge. Login and click on the link to Post your articles and manage writing.


So tell me, have you posted articles in the Faithwriters Free Articles or a different article service?

I'm celebrating, the blogging class I teach, Clearing the Blog Fog, is 25% off for October's class and there's a bonus tutorial I'm throwing in: How to Use Paint.net, which is the free photo manipulation tool I use to make headers, buttons and banners. Class is October 1 - 31 and it walks your through, step-by-step, setting up, maintaining and customizing your blog.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mighty to Save

This week's verse at Living by Grace is one that I recently refound.


The LORD your God is with you,
He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)

Each line is filled with promise and comfort.
Won't you join me memorizing it this week?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Time to Defrost?

There have been times at our house when the freezer door didn’t get closed properly and stood open long enough that everything was spoiled. It was really discouraging to unload and throw away shelves of fish and fruit. Other times food hasn't spoiled, but the freezer frosted up bad enough to need defrosting.

I have a tendency to put off defrosting the freeze because it's one of my least favorite jobs. One time I’d been putting it off for over a year, so it was really bad. Many things were frosted to the shelves and had to be pried or chipped loose. Other things were completely buried in frost and needed to be dug out. I was appalled. When I finally confronted the true condition of the freezer I felt chastened.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I’m working on a cleaning job I start praying. Not the usual list of “gimmee’s” but more along the lines of “What am I missing, Lord? What’s the next step?” That time, because I was feeling so chastened it was, “What can I learn from this, Lord?” I was aggravated with myself because it seemed my mind was wandering instead of praying and seeking God, but I suddenly realized it wasn’t aimless wandering, it was God-directed wandering. I saw my life as my freezer, in the same condition, too and that was an awful sight.

Just as I have stocked my freezer, God has stocked me. He’s given me gifts, talents and resources to be used in my life for Him. But, because I hadn’t decluttered and defrosted my life recently, many of those things He’s given me were buried under layers of frost and ice. Sure, in a freezer you want frost and ice—but it has to be in the right place or it makes the freezer labor harder to do what it was meant to, and it makes it harder to get to or even find what’s hiding within.

That day as I unloaded the freezer so I could defrost it, I found all sorts of things I’d forgotten I had available to me, as well as things I hadn’t been able to find in a long time. I kept thinking, “Rats! I just bought some more because I couldn’t find this.” And, “Where was this when I needed it the other day?”

The same thing goes on in my life. God has equipped me to do the things He’s called me to do. If I take care of things well, I can easily put my hands on everything I need. I’m efficient and I run smoothly. If I do not take care of things, then I spend all my time trying to find things, then the time is gone and I wasn’t able to do what God called me to do.

Many times I've said to God, “Lord, I can’t do that! I don’t have what I need to do that.” I’ve said it hundreds of times--and I was wrong. If God wants me to do something, He’s given me all I need to do that task for Him. The real question is, where did I put it?

My freezer had lost all its previous organization. Everything was simply crammed into any spot that would work and nothing could be found. It was a constant source of irritation to every family member who went to find something in there, and my life had deteriorated to the same point.

So, do I throw up my hands and walk away? Do I scrap the old one and buy a new one? Or do I get down to work, freeze my hands off, and get it cleaned out? Lives need cleaning out occasionally, too—especially mine.

Paul told Timothy...
Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you... ~1 Timothy 4:14

For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. ~2 Timothy 1:6-7 NAS

God has given us gifts to use for Him, not to set on a shelf and forget about. Not to be lost amongst everything else. Not to be wasted and thrown out.

I don’t want to reach the end of my life and be like a freezer stuffed full of freezer burned, bad food—food that is no longer usable because it wasn't used when it was meant to be. I don’t want God to have to go through my life and throw everything out because it’s no longer valuable.

The things He’s given me—the gifts, the talents and skills, even the interests—are given to me for a reason. I’m to use them for God, for furthering His kingdom, not just to let them sit on the shelf and go bad.


So tell me, does your freezer need defrosting?

And more importantly, does you life need defrosting?

p.s. These pictures are not my freezer. ;-)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Flying whats?

Today is elephant appreciation day.
Uh huh. I heard you say “So what?!”

Since you asked (hehe - see the line above, it has a question mark), I'll tell you.

An elephant has helped me on this writing journey I'm on.
Really.

Almost three years ago, still in my first year of blogging, I participated in WordFilled Wednesdays several times, and it's still one of my favorite memes. The very first time I joined in, Ellie the Elephant came to be in If an Elephant can fly. Lemme tell ya, I loved Ellie—she inspired me, but I was a little embarrassed by her. See, all the WFW I visited were very dignified pictures, and then there was mine. Whimsical. eh. Once I got over feeling like the oddball, I didn't worry about it. She was exactly what I needed. So much so that she became the theme for my year (2009) and lived at the top of my sidebar.

"Un Petit Voyage I" by S├ęgo

Many, many times I've thought of Ellie and her verse and it's helped me keep going.

If an elephant can fly, then I can do what God's called me to. I can write for Him. Can an elephant fly on its own? No! All the more reason for me to hold fast to God because it's by HIS strength and power that an elephant can fly and I can follow Him. Which ties in with this year's theme verse Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6) That one's in the sidebar now and it's been crucial this year.

So tell me, what is it God's called you to do that you need His help to fly?

Oh yeah, and since it's Elephant Appreciation Day I'm guest posting at the Faithwriters blog. Why? Because when I told Joanne I really thought she should post on elephant appreciation day (since she's the one who learned about that juicy tidbit) she challenged me to come up with a tie-in to writing, and when I did, she invited me to post, instead of doing it herself. *eye roll* Somehow that's not what I had in mind. LoL. So, come join me there and see how else elephants tie in with writing. ;-)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Group and Capture

Blogging Tips and Tricks at Ordinary Lives

Something that I've found that helps increase my productivity is grouping my work. I do my best to not write just one post. Instead, I write at least two, preferably three, while my mind is in that gear. For more about grouping, check out Time Managemet Ala Patty.

The next natural step in that equation for me is to capture my post ideas when they spring up--that means while I'm working on the first post, often another idea comes to mind. Rather than trust my memory (which never works any more!!) and rather than reach for a note card or post-it, now I immediately open a new post window and capture that idea before it flies the coop. Then, as I work, I can seamlessly flow between the posts, adding things as I think about them. Rather than go to CBD or Amazon three separate times, I'll go once and get the info I need for all three posts in one stop. Rather than look for pictures for one post, I'm looking for two or three.

It may take a few minutes longer to get one post done, but when it's done, I usually have another post well on the way, if not two additional posts under way. The extra 10 or 15 minutes I spend capturing ideas and jotting things in the post text box and pasting things in, save me an hour.

I like those margins!

The side benefit of capturing the idea on my dashboard is that I have fewer abandoned ideas floating around in my files. How many times have I started posts, worked on them but then when I had to restart my computer, neglected to bring them back up? Many, many times. And if they're out of sight, they're out of mind. On my dashboard, they're easy to spot and with the 'clippings' I drop in the post, as I think of them, it makes it that much easier to pick it up and finish the article so I can use it. It makes for much less wasted time and effort!

Tip: When I do this, one of the very first things I do is change the posting date! If I know when I want the article to post, I'll plug in that date, otherwise I set the date a month away or whatever the date is where I have other posts in a holding pattern.

I think of my dashboard as a staging area. It's not uncommon to have several projects in the works at any given time, and that gives me room to work on each, without crowding my desk or my brain. It frees me to forget things once they're captured.

Don't tell my friends--but some posts I'm writing directly in the post text box. Something I'm known for warning people away from because Blogger... burps ...every now and then and eats posts. But, if I "write in the box", I have a document open that I can paste my post copy into, for filing and safe keeping.

BUT, not all my post get written directly in the post text box. *shiver* The thought gives me the heebie-jeebies!! Blogger is a wonderful tool, but you need to keep your posts on file as Word documents. Too many things can go wrong online and things can be vaporized instantly. Keep your posts in your own files and keep them indexed.

So tell me, does working on a post spark ideas for other posts for you?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Really

Before jumping to this week's edition of our a2z meme, I want to invite you over to Seekerville, my favorite writing blog, where I'm guest posting today. I sure could use your moral support. Really. The rattling you're hearing is my knees knocking together. Really.

Ordinary Lives. From a 2 z 4 u & me

Now, for this week's installment of our a 2 z 4 u & me meme,



the letter R.


Okay, I have another confession to make. (Why do I feel like this a2z meme wrings these confessions from me at least once a month? sigh.)

I'm envious of my animals.
Really.
I am.

Here's why...




See what Tippy's doing? Lazing on the bench on the deck.
Guess what I've not done?





And just look at FlufferNut and Gracie.
Sleeping in the sunshine.
sigh.





Gracie. Gracie. Gracie.
I may never be as...graceful as Gracie
(at least I sure hope I'm not!)
but I'm so envious.





Even Puppers takes time from her playing to roam and smell the flowers...





and my fish have it good.


You guys all know how it goes:
Run. RUn. RUN.
There's no let up from it.
There's very little rest in our lives.
But I know where to find that elusive, much sought after desire.
"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you REST." ~Matthew 11:28

Rest is found in Christ alone.
And He tells us how... "Come to Me"
It's that simple sometimes.
I don't know about you, but I need simple.

Really.


If you're joining us for the a 2 z 4 u & me meme by posting on your blog this week about the letter R, be sure to add your name and the link to that particular post in the linky gadget here.



And don't forget to come visit me at Seekerville! =)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Kindle Afresh

One of the reasons I was so excited about Living by Grace is that we'll be posting weekly memory verses. I don't know about you, but having the group accountability will help me get back into Bible memory.

This week's verse is 2 Timothy 1:6 (NAS)
For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.


I was excited when Jen told me this was our first verse because this last week I worked with this verse. Isn't that like God? (There's another verse I've run into almost every day this week and I'll tell you about that one on Tuesday.)

So tell me, what gift has God given you that needs rekindling?
Won't you join me memorizing this week?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Blinders, Please!

I love going to the fair! It's something my mother taught me to love when I was a little girl and is still one of the highlights of my year. Unfortunately, I don't get to see one of the best parts very often. The heavy horse pull is my absolute favorite and it never ceases to amaze me. The horses are massive and beautiful and they're so well trained.

Draft horses are used for the horse pull and the winner of the competition is the team that can pull the most weight, which is often concrete weights on a sled. Horse pulling goes back to the teamster days when neighbors would challenge each other to see who had the strongest team. Even though we don't rely on draft horses to do the heavy work any more, horse pulls are still popular and still draw big crowds. As a little girl, when we went to the fair, we made sure it was a night with horse pulling. The magic is still there for me, even after all these years.

I used to feel bad for some of the teams because they wore blinders. I thought it was mean of the pullers because I didn't understand the need for them, nor the benefits. I don't know about you, but I'm easily distracted. All it takes is something along the sidelines and my concentration is broken and my focus is shifted. Suddenly I realize that I'm moving toward something different than what I originally started for. In a horse pull, that will cause a team to lose, and it only takes one distracted horse to throw off the whole team. So what do pullers do? They put blinders on the horses, drastically reducing the possible distractions and helping them focus straight ahead, which in turns helps the horses pull straight and true. In the days when draft horses were essential to heavy work, you didn't want a team that was constantly side tracked and that veered from side-to-side as their attention wandered. If they were to do that, they would wear themselves out unnecessarily and accomplish only a fraction of what they could have. The blinders are a tool used for the team's overall good.

...let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. ~Hebrews 12:1-3 NAS

Not only that, but have you ever noticed that when someone has restricted vision they are more sensitive to the sounds going on around them? I've often seen the horses' muscles quivering in readiness and their ears twitch as they listen closely for their puller's voice. They respond to his directions—both verbal and physical. When they have blinders on, they're forced to pay attention to his directions through the reins and they must listen closer to his voice.

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;
~John 10:27 NAS

When we wear the blinders of focusing solely on Jesus, we can hear His voice better, even if there's a crowded, noisy grandstand around us. We're more tuned in to His hands on the reins of our life when our eyes are fixed on Christ.

Blinders aren't punishment.
Blinders are beneficial for believers. It's so easy to became sidetracked by the world around us. We need to borrow blinders off a horse to help keep our eyes fixed straight in front of us, on our Lord and Savior. On what He wants us to do.

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. ~1 Peter 1:13 NAS

I've seen horses that end up at the fences because they are focused on the wrong things. I've also seen them weave back and forth because they lacked the focus of a defined goal. The winners are those that stay the course until the end.

So tell me, 
how can we put blinders on?
Won't you join us at Living by Grace as we chat about this throughout the day?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How and Why to Use Google Reader

Blogging Tips and Tricks at Ordinary Lives


Another handy tool that Google offers is Google Reader. (Last month I posted on Google Alerts.) It simplifies keeping track of all the blogs you follow, or want to follow. Google Reader offers you a place you can go to see all your favorite blogs in one place. Kind of like a one-stop shop. No, that's not it. More like a mall. All those stores (blogs) under one roof, letting you browse from one to another. No muss, no fuss. And they keep it up to date for you! In the large picture below, find the "All items (9)" on the left side of the picture. That tells me I have 9 new, unread blog posts in my reader.

This is one of those tools that I love to use, but I don't use as much as I should. On the other hand, Joanne uses it faithfully, and if you know Joanne, you know how faithful she is when it comes to visiting blogs.

Since it's such a useful time saver, let's work through how to use it.
How to access Google Reader:
  • Login to your Google account.
  • On the main Google page, click the drop down arrow for more.
  • From the drop down list, select Reader.

That will take you directly to your Google Reader. It's simply one of the services Google provides in the background, whether you use it or not. You'll see there are already blogs in there--Google put them there each time you clicked the Google Friend connect on a blog.

Adding blogs to your reader:
Following blogs adds them automatically to your Google Reader.
Another way to add a blog to your feed reader is to subscribe to the blog. Many people have a Subscribe option somewhere. Click that and select the "Add to Google" option.

If it makes a difference to you, this will allow you to follow a blog without joining the Friends of that site. Also, sometimes there isn't a Google friend widget, this gives you a way to add their feed to your reader, allowing you to keep up with their blog. 

Now, let's do something with your Google Reader (also known as a feed reader).


The really good news is that there's a way to organize the blogs in your reader.
Here's how to organize your Google reader:
  • First, under "Subscriptions" there on the left side, click the plus or minus nubbin to the left of "Blogs I'm following". You want to see the list of blogs in your reader. 
  • Once that list is showing, click the arrow to the right of one of the blog names. 
  • A drop down list will appear.
  • Click the "New folder" option and type in the name for a folder.
  • Click Okay and that blog will be put into that new folder.
  • Make as many new folders as you'd like.
  • If you change your mind about which folder you'd like a blog in, click the arrow for the drop down menu and check or uncheck the folders of your choice.
And there you have it.
Google Reader can streamline your blog reading and save you time.

And because I'm celebrating, the blogging class I teach, Clearing the Blog Fog, is 25% off for October's class and there's a bonus tutorial I'm throwing in: How to Use Paint.net, which is the free photo manipulation tool I use to make headers, buttons and banners. Class is October 1 - 31 and it walks your through, step-by-step, setting up, maintaining and customizing your blog.

So tell me, is it easier for you to follow blogs on Facebook than it is off of Facebook? 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cued for Q

Ordinary Lives. From a 2 z 4 u & me

Now, for this week's installment of our a 2 z 4 u & me meme,
the (formidable) letter Q.








Okay, so the letter Q is one of those letters that I've been anxiously waiting for since we began this meme. See, in my family, there is NO competition over Q. No dithering, no pondering, no head banging. If asked, our Q would be unanimous.

Quilts
But not just any Quilt. Grammy Quilts.
Not feeling well? Get his Grammy Quilt for him.
Over tired? Go get my Grammy Quilt, please?
Camping out, hospital stays, military life, moving out of a bedroom for a visitor... each thing requires grabbing the Quilt then going.

Camping with all 3 of his quilts!

My mom began Quilting in '87, right after I graduated from high school. She made me a Quilt for my college dorm room. Guess what colors she chose? Pink and purple. (Mom loves purple, too.) *grin* I still have that Quilt and don't plan on ever letting go of it. (Forget it, Abby and Esther, it's MINE!! hehe)

Over the years, Gram has made a Quilt for each baby as they've been added to the family (that's a lot of baby Quilts because now she's working on the great grands!) and for each one of us, and at last count that's 29. Not only that, but we all have more than one of her Quilts, and each one is treasured.


Thank you, Mom. 
YOU are the real treasure behind each of your Quilts.


If you're joining us for the a 2 z 4 u & me meme by posting on your blog this week about the letter Q, be sure to add your name and the link to that particular post in the linky gadget here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Unanswered Questions Keep Readers Reading

Reading to Write Right at Ordinary Lives


Not too long ago I was able to read A Most Unsuitable Match by Stephanie Grace Whitson and I really enjoyed it. Right away I was snagged by a question the heroine, Fannie Rousseau, wondered about.

When you pose a question and neglect to answer it right away, your brain will be on the alert for the answer until the question is resolved. Using this in a book is way to keep readers turning the pages, looking for the answer. Even better than simply stating the question, though, is to invest lots of emotion in it.

The opening scene in A Most Unsuitable Match is in a graveyard. Here's the first sentence:

Kneeling before the tombstone, eighteen-year-old Fannie Rousseau retrieved the scrub brush from the water bucket she'd just settled in the grass.

This sets the stage for an emotion-packed opening where she ups the ante with Fannie's inner turmoil, making us anxious to discover (with Fannie) what's the at the root of it.

Here's how Whitson did it...

There it was again, the increasingly frequent tinge of annoyance that always mingled with Fannie's grief. What good did a stone angel do? It was too late for Papa to know how Mother felt about him. And now it was too late for Fannie, too. Any chance she might had had to understand Mother was forever lost.

Lately, all Fannie's doubts and questions over the years seemed to have rolled themselves into a fast-growing, ever-darkening cloud of emotions she didn't quite know how to handle. This morning that cloud had been especially dense. And so, feeling confused and guilty about every negative thing she'd ever felt against Mother and not wanting to face the people at church, she'd come here. Tending a grave was something a good daughter would do, wasn't it? Something a daughter
should do. She glanced up at the stone angel. Was Mother feeling just this way after Papa died? Did she have regrets? Had ordering the angel made her feel better?

“I want to plant rosebushes on either side of the tombstone,” she said abruptly. “Yellow ones.”

“That'll be nice,” Hannah said, “but Mr. McWilliams will be happy to do that. You don't want him thinking you're displeased with his caretaking.”

Fannie swiped at fresh tears. “I want to plant them myself. I need to do something.” She gestured toward the new grave. “Something for her. Yellow roses were her favorites, and Papa never seemed to remember. He always gave her red ones.”


More than just a simple question, I was caught by Fannie's inner turmoil and feelings. I sensed that there were missing pieces inside her—pieces that were just vague shapes to her—and I wanted to know what they were, just like Fannie did. I wanted to know why she felt that way and I wanted resolution. I needed resolution and that need kept me turning the pages.

Sprinkled throughout the book were slivers of this puzzle, a hint here and a glimpse there, each bit adding to what I already knew. It drove me onward.

Woven in with the inner turmoil and questions, was a lovely thread of friendship—old and new friends, and we see Fannie growing and maturing and reaching out and contributing to others' lives in meaningful ways, and being blessed through it. It was both heartwarming and convicting. Am I reaching beyond my personal life and contributing to others or am I so caught up in myself I don't even see them?

A Most Unsuitable Match is full of twists and turns for both Fannie and Sam which kept me interested and wondering just how all the pieces would come together, but come together they did, with smiles and tears as I read.

Looking for a good read? Don't miss A Most Unsuitable Match by Stephanie Grace Whitson. It's a book you can read for pleasure and learn about the craft of writing while you read. You can't beat that! =)

A Most Unsuitable Match

An unlikely attraction occurs between two passengers on a steamboat journey up the Missouri River to Montana...

She is a self-centered young woman from a privileged family who fears the outdoors and avoids anything rustic. He is a preacher living under a sense of duty and obligation to love the unlovable people in the world. She isn't letting anything deter her from solving a family mystery that surfaced after her mother's death. He is on a mission to reach the rejects of society in the remote wilderness regions of Montana. Miss Fannie Rousseau and Reverend Samuel Beck are opposites in every way . . . except in how they both keep wondering if their paths will ever cross again.

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