Underlying Principle

I once explained the reason why my novels aren’t traditionally published was two-fold: trad publishers didn’t like it because it was Christian and Christian publishers didn’t like it because it was science fiction.  That’s a bit of an oversimplification, I admit, but there is still plenty of truth in it. It may also explain why the books themselves aren’t popular. There’s not enough sizzle for the secular audience and not enough “Christianity” for the religious side.

Let me explain: If I merely follow the social media crowd, the “popular” books have a few characteristics you’ll not find in my novels. You won’t find things like sex scenes, profanity, or a glorification of evil. There’s no disrespect of authority figures (whether law or parental) and you won’t find irreverent language or behaviour, nor will you find things that violate traditional family values. All those things seem to be required to “sell” novels in large quantities.  At least, if you believe twitter posts and Amazon book reviews. Of course, the reviewers don’t tell you the books contain any of the aforementioned characteristics; however, if you start reading those books, that seems to be the main selling point. I guess what really turns me off is reading halfway through a good book which suddenly and without warning starts dropping F-bombs and sex scenes. If it wasn’t necessary in the first half of the book, what makes the writer think it’s necessary in the last half of the book? I guess I struggle to wrap my brain around why anyone would need to include it in the first place. One should be able to tell a good story without those elements and adding those elements doesn’t improve the story as I find myself asking “how does this further the plot or develop the characters?”  Most of the time it seems those elements are added just to ramp up sales.

On the other hand, the religious readers seem to think unless there is an explicit  plan of salvation where a main character gets saved, the book isn’t “Christian.” Of course, those same folks manage to include some of the aforementioned issues before the main character gets “saved.” Again, I question the reason so-called Christian books feel the need to include those elements. I once asked a publisher why he thought Christian books even needed a lost MC. I never got a satisfactory answer, but I suspect it’s because most  Christians think a godly MC is boring and if they don’t “spice up” the books, no one will read them. That may be true, but I keep thinking of the popularity of the Narnia Chronicles and the Lord of the Rings trilogy and I can’t see the lack of those elements hurting sales.

While my novels normally don’t include overt Christian telltales, all of them are based in a Christian worldview. My faith is the underlying principle behind the characters themselves, the story’s plot and resolution, and permeates the world building. It doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen or my characters don’t struggle to do what is right, but it does mean the characters proceed from a foundation of integrity, honest, compassion, and a sense of right and wrong.

Eh, that’s not realistic some might say. Maybe in your world you have little experience with real Christianity. However, my life has been spent with godly people living out their faith in quiet and unassuming ways in their daily life. And no, I haven’t spent my entire life in a small rural town, isolated from mainstream America. I’ve lived in large and small towns, lived overseas in different places and I know people who live and act like the people in my stories.  While you might not find a direct reference to Christ in my stories, His principles permeate each page.  When I’m writing, I’m considering how best to represent Christ in everything, how to make sure the story is uplifting and beneficial and include principles that can be applied to anyone’s life. Each one is written from a Christian worldview, which gives me a unique perspective on how the characters could and should act, as well as a limitless scope for complicating their lives. After all, it’s harder to stay pure when life is attacking you from all directions. It does not mean that everyone abandons their principles because life is hard and cruel and that people of integrity and sterling reputations don’t exist in real life. Personally, I think it’s much harder to write an interesting good person than to write an interesting bad person and perhaps that’s why we see so many stories focused on depraved and evil characters. It’s too much work otherwise.

I make no apologies for the wholesomeness of my novels. If I wanted to be a wealthy writer, I could easily do so; however, I have standards based on my faith and I refuse to lower those standards just to make a sale.  You could say, I’m a lot like my characters. Principle matters more than fame and fortune.

So the next time you pick up one of my stories, don’t hastily dismiss the characters and their actions thinking no one in the real world is like that. There are plenty of real people who make the same kind of decisions on a daily basis. They just never make the spotlight. And yes, sometimes in real life, the cavalry does come riding over the hill to rescue the beleaguered heroes.

To Review or Not to Review

Writers love hearing from readers and the best or at least most common way we have to hear from readers is the written review on Amazon. This is where we can connect with readers to tell if they liked our story, where we might need to improve the next time, or just to gain a sense that yes, we are not alone in this world and someone else did hear what we were saying.

Unfortunately, not every reader leaves a review.

Some just aren’t reviewers. They don’t know what to say or how to say it or are just too shy to put their thoughts on public display. That’s okay. They’ll move on to another story (maybe one of ours) and that’s really what keeps writers going. Knowing that readers are picking and choosing and bringing our worlds to life.

Some didn’t like the book but realize others will and don’t want to leave a negative review. Different genres, different readers. Ask me to review a romance and I’m going to give it a pass. Not saying I hate romance, but I don’t generally read them. I have a few (very few!) romance authors I’ll read, but most romance stories are so shallow I get nauseous by the end of the first chapter. It doesn’t mean the story is bad, just that it’s not my cup of tea. A writer should never judge his work based on a review by someone who doesn’t like or understand the genre. Nor should we be discouraged just because someone doesn’t like our work. Pepsi versus Dr. Pepper. I’m a DP fan, not a fan of Pepsi. Doesn’t mean Pepsi isn’t equally as good as Dr. Pepper, but it’s not for me. Really, the only person we need to please with our writing is ourselves. If it measures up to our standards and what we like, that’s sufficient. If it captures the attention of a reader—that’s icing on the cake.

Not everyone knows how to leave a review and even if we do, reviewing standards are widely diverse.  I’ve read a lot of reviews and most never answer some of the questions I need to know before buying the book. I don’t need a rehash of the plot –that should have been covered in the book blurb, although it seems more and more people fill that space with praise quotes rather than tell the reader what the story is about. (I usually skip reading those books). I do want to know if the reader liked the story and why. What was it that appealed? What caught his attention and kept him reading to the end? Sometimes even if the story isn’t written all that well, an intriguing plot or character will keep me reading. Story always trumps form for me. It’s why some of most highly acclaimed stories turn me off—the story just isn’t that appealing even if the writing is top notch. There are some other things I’d like to know in a review which usually don’t get covered, like how much profanity, violence, or sex fills the pages. I don’t want to waste my time (or money) on a book that feels the need to include those, so if you let me know ahead of time I won’t waste my time or yours. Some days I feel books should have a rating like movies, even though those ratings have been so watered down as to be useless.

There are readers who just don’t want to leave a review unless the book is really, really good. I’m one of those readers. A book has to grab me to even want to leave a review. In the past year, I’ve read tons of books I’ve liked, but very few leave me desiring to write a review. If I like the author, I buy the next book.  If the story was okay, but not world changing for me, I’ll move on to another author. I may come back to the first author down the road, but I probably won’t be actively searching for his books. The one exception is a book that has few reviews. If it was a good story, I’ll leave a review.

(Just a side note here: I read both male and female authors. My use of the pronoun “he” is gender inclusive, not exclusive. Most of the world understands that the “he” pronoun includes both sexes, while the “she” only refers to females.)

Reading is a solitary pastime and believe it or not, most readers are a bit shy in expressing their opinions in public (unless they are among a group of readers they feel comfortable with). So expecting a reader to always write a review isn’t realistic. Yes, writers need reviews. It’s how we gauge our effectiveness and popularity. It shouldn’t be how we gauge the quality or value of our work

Biblical Womanhood: What we want vs who we are

Pick up any article, interview, or Christian blog about biblical womanhood and the overwhelming attitude is a call to be like Jael of the Bible. You know her. She’s the tough as nails lady who drove a tent spike through Sisera’s head while he was taking advantage of her husband’s hospitality. In light of today’s culture, women want to be perceived as tough as men, warriors who don’t take guff off of anyone, no nonsense people who stand their ground and can take on armies or demons.

It’s not a bad viewpoint, nor is it an unrealistic one. There are lots of ladies who are warriors and tackle the big issues of our world. Some of them even do it without losing their femininity. But somewhere in the desire to be more than we are, we’ve forgotten who we are as godly women. We base our goals on human perspectives or societal influences instead of biblical ones. Everyone wants to be Jael and no one wants to be Miriam tending the babies. I’m not going to quote tons of scripture because people tend to interpret scripture the way they want or feel instead of what it’s actually saying. Instead, I’d like to offer a more balanced view of biblical womanhood that is supported by scripture (and if you really want to know, you can email me and I’ll be glad to show you the verses, or better yet, do your own research and see where it takes you).

Biblical womanhood isn’t an either-or proposition. The ladies in the Bible knew when and how to be tough if the situation demanded it, but could also be wholly committed to the home without feeling like they gave up any of their personality or individuality. Jael was offering hospitality. She wasn’t out on the battlefield, but when the opportunity within the confines of her housewifely duties came to take out an enemy, she didn’t hesitate.

Moses’ mother gets very little attention, but she had five to six years to train Moses before sending him off to a pagan way of life and education. Her teaching was strong enough to sustain him and led him to feel his people’s plight. Before that she was willing to buck the government laws to protect her son. She fulfilled the letter of the law by placing him in the river, but got creative in how she did it. Often as biblical women today, we take shortcuts and make noise without effect, instead of looking for creative ways to obey the law, while changing it.

Perhaps we aren’t able to balance the demands of being a warrior type with a homebody type because we fear our inadequacies. We spend so much time thinking we can’t measure up to the Proverbs 31 woman, that we abandon our homes altogether in order to make a name for ourselves in careers. Instead of seeing Proverbs as a checklist of to do things, we ought to see it as a list of character qualities. Industrious, business savvy, creative, compassionate. Those are all things every woman can attain, no matter her job description.

A biblical woman isn’t afraid of either the workplace or homemaking. She understands that some days, she may be called upon to offer hospitality, teach or train others, raise up children, support husband or lead others into battle. The work doesn’t define who she is, the work is a result of who she is.

When we begin to see the amazing package God has created women to be, we can avoid the tendency to praise careers and bash homemakers. (I actually heard someone once say that if a woman stayed home, she was valueless. As if raising the next generation wasn’t important. And maybe that’s why we have such turmoil in our country today. We didn’t raise the next generation; we left them to themselves to raise).

God spent so much time and effort in the Bible to show the value of a woman, yet we refuse to accept our value without placing restrictions or obligations on ourselves. I think the most telling example is the story of Martha (who often gets a bad rap in Christian circles). You know the story. Martha is preparing lunch for Jesus and his disciples. Mary isn’t helping. Flustered, Martha complains and we miss what Jesus is really saying to her because we miss what she is really asking. “Lord, is my service worth anything to you? Do I matter?” “Yes, you matter. Yes, your service is valuable—it’s just different than Mary’s service, which is also valuable.”

How do I know this? Because the very next chapter, there is a huge dinner party and the writer of the scriptures makes a point to say, “and Martha was serving.”

She understood her value. Maybe it’s time we understood ours.

The Missing Out Syndrome

This blog is a corollary to last week’s blog on distractions as joy stealers. The Missing Out Syndrome is often a companion to distractions. It’s a common problem for 21st century Americans who have been trained by society to want more than they need or is good for them. It used to be called “keeping up with the Joneses,” but more and more I think it’s simply a way of looking at others’ lives as being more fulfilling than our own. We have a sense of entitlement and it’s easy to get caught up in thinking others have it easier, better, or quicker than we do. We look in from the outside and see only what we want to see—that the grass is greener and we’re missing out.

I remember listening to some missionary children discuss how they were “missing out” on American life because they were overseas. My own children asked about it and I pointed out all the cool things they were getting to do that most kids their age weren’t.  Sure, they didn’t get to go to football games or be cheerleaders, but they had stamps in their passport, got to try new foods, see a volcano up close, explore exotic lands, learn a second language, make new friends, and the list goes on. They decided they weren’t missing out on anything.

This tendency to think we’re missing out of the good things of life just because we don’t have what others have or can’t go and do like others sets us up for failure. Envy and jealousy are green-eyed monsters that eat us up from the inside out. It puts our focus on the pursuit of vain and empty things, that won’t satisfy even if we obtain them because we are always left wanting more. Instead of working on building relationship and good character, we spend all our time trying to accumulate stuff. We want bigger and better cars, houses, lands, bank accounts. While there’s nothing wrong with having plenty, it shouldn’t be our main focus, rather a by-product of being industrious.

The missing out syndrome also warps our priorities.  Instead of focusing on what’s really important, we look at shallow, empty, worthless things that won’t satisfy in the long run. Our focus is on acquiring more and we miss opportunities for building strong families and friendships. Our word is no longer our bond because the end justifies the means and as long as we can fill up the bank account, it doesn’t hurt anyone, right?  All one has to do is look at sports and film stars to see the fallacy of that idea. These folks have more money, fame, and power than anyone, yet are miserable. If I’m looking in from the outside, I see the glitter and glam, but fail to see the rot, the misery, the emptiness, and loneliness that money can’t fix. Money is nice to have, but it doesn’t determine whether I’ll have a happy life.

The missing out syndrome creates a deep well of dissatisfaction with what we already have. If I’m always wanting what you have, I will never be content with the things I already have. Seriously, how many houses can a person live in at once? I look at some of these mansions and all I can think about is the heating/cooling bill and having to clean it. My house isn’t big, but it fits us and we are happy here. I don’t need a mansion to be happy.  We have been amazed in the past at colleagues who were always going on vacations, and we could never figure out how. I realized that we put all our time, effort, and money into our children instead of vacations. I’d rather have the kids and the memories of playing 13-hour board games than an exotic trip to some place overseas.

When you judge your life by others, you end up creating impossible standards to meet. We don’t really know what goes on inside someone else’s life, what they are struggling with, what fears or doubts they combat or even what circumstances cause them grief. We only see the window dressing and think their lives are easy. Then we feel guilty because our lives don’t look as carefree or fulfilled. Go back to the sports and stars example. Looking in, they seem to have it all, but if that was true why are so many of them in rehab?  We need to cut ourselves a break and not worry about whether our lives look like someone else’s, whether we can measure up to someone else’s measure of success, or whether we have everything we think we’re entitled to right now.

Happiness and contentment are choices. We choose to see a wildflower instead of a weed. We choose to bloom where we are planted; we choose to look for the abiding strangeness in our backyards as C. S. Lewis said, and see ourselves, our works, our abilities, as unique and valuable regardless of what society dictates.

Don’t let the missing out syndrome rob you of your joy or the fullness you can experience in life.

Distractions–Stealers of Joy

One of the phone games I like to play a lot is a puzzle game. There are plenty of ways to gain extra lives and bonus points to help with puzzle solving. But each level is also filled with distractions—things geared to slow down play or even bonuses that take your eye off the prize. Sometimes I’ve played a level three or four times before I realize that I’ve been distracted. Once I ignore those distractions, the puzzle is quickly solved.

Life has its own subset of distractions. Some are obvious, others more subtle. The pursuit of goals, careers, money, power or even education can sometimes blind us to the more important aspects of life. We get caught up in the ‘once I’ve done this, or if I can just reach this,” and before we know it, the kids are grown and life has passed us by and we missed so many wonderful opportunities. On occasion, we get a piece of good advice (“Enjoy your children at every stage of their lives”) and we slow down a bit and realize that opting to play a game instead of cleaning house or taking time off just to be with the family is more important than any promotion or extra thousand dollars in the bank. 

Writers deal with this too. The distraction of making a living sometimes means we never write that book that’s been haunting our dreams or simmering on the back burner. Juggling work and family with writing is never easy. Finding a balance often leaves us frustrated or guilty. Societal and family obligations or expectations add to the mix and trying to please everyone often means we end up pleasing no one, especially ourselves.

But there is a side to distraction that is overlooked—that of being a joy stealer and this is the more subtle side of distraction, one we don’t understand, so it’s easily missed. Distractions steal our joy in our home, work, and life. Distractions derail what’s important and keep us focused on the trivial. Distractions are the “glass is half empty” and the other guy’s pastures are greener. These types of distractions are the flies in the ointment, the garter snakes in the grass, the pebbles in the shoe or the paper cuts of life. Things that in themselves don’t matter, but can  pile up and rob us of our contentment and satisfaction, becoming mountains out of molehills.

These are the little irritations that get under our skin, the things we have no control over or power to change, the perceived “rights” that make us disgruntled when we have to yield them, the expectations we demand of others that bother us when others don’t conform. Sometimes it’s as simple as someone at working getting a pat on the back while we’re ignored. It rankles and burrows under our skin and we begin to have an inflated idea of our own importance. Sometimes it’s the daily demands of life that leave us feeling like we never have any fun while others get to play all day, even though we have the same 24 hours and we choose what to do with it. (We could take time to play, but we’ve decided it’s more important to sweep the floors or make the beds, as if someone is judging us for how clean things are).

Maybe we get easily distracted with the urgent rather than the important because we drift through life letting others set our goals for us. We never take the time to decide what is important to us and what we truly want to accomplish. We use a sliding scale of value based on social media rather than genuine importance. I’ll give a quick example. As a teacher I often challenged my students to think outside the box using quotes such as Jefferson’s “determine never to be idle.”  The majority of students (and adults) look at idleness as the devil’s workshop or being lazy. I challenged them to think of benefits in “being idle” and seeing different priorities as not being lazy, just different. Such thinking messes with our brains and the way we’ve been conditioned by the Type A personalities in charge. Those who value money, power, and fame over the joy in watching a sunset, smelling a rose, or cuddling with a child. Those who decide one’s value is determined by the number of sales rather than the story told.

Distractions have robbed us of daily joy, heightened the number of stress related illnesses and psychoses, and increased the number of divorce and broken families as we lose the ability to relate to each other.

I don’t think we need things or activities as much as we think we do. Forcing kids into constant sports activities year-round robs them of the chance to just be kids. The constant need to fill every moment with something “worthwhile” in order not to be considered lazy or worthless has pushed us into filling our lives with meaningless distractions. Perhaps the best way to achieve true joy and happiness today is to simply be. To sit a spell. Breathe deep. Find pleasure in the small things. Enjoy a cup of coffee or tea. Listen to a friend. Read a book with a child. Look at the world through fresh eyes and find the beauty in a wildflower, a drop of dew on a leaf, the contrast of green trees against a blue sky, the feel of grass between your toes. Being busy every single moment of every single day is detrimental to our physical and mental health. It’s time to eliminate the distractions.

Value at a Bargain

When Bruce and I first got married, we were given the following advice: pick a cheap restaurant and an expensive restaurant on your honeymoon. We did and over the years, while the cheap one has modified from McDonald’s to Whataburger, Denny’s has always been our favorite “expensive” place to eat. Back when we were young and couldn’t eat out much, Denny’s had this wonderful special where you could add $2 to any entrée and get salad and dessert.  Now, they often do the 2 for $19 with appetizer and dessert, but not all entrees are included. Still, the offered entrees are great and it’s a good value for couples on a budget.

One of the nice things I like about Denny’s is the coffee and the witty sayings on the coffee mugs. It always brings a smile to my face and I’ve put pics of the mugs up on Twitter on occasion.  It’s also nice to go to a restaurant that isn’t blaring awful or loud music. You can actually converse with your dinner companion without shouting or worrying about your kids listening to inappropriate lyrics.  I can’t ever recall a rude or inattentive waitress or waiter at a Denny’s. There may have been one, but it didn’t stick in my memory. The portions are always generous—enough so we nearly always get to-go boxes and have leftovers for lunch a couple of days later. Now, that’s a bargain!

But the best part of Denny’s is something most people overlook. Denny’s has great sirloin steaks. I mean, mouthwatering, melt in your mouth, delicious without adding A-1 and it’s just as delicious the second time around for lunch.  We’ve eaten at lots of big-name restaurants that serve steak, but Denny’s hands down has the best steak for the best price.  A steak dinner at Denny’s is $12.99 for an 8-ounce sirloin with sides and garlic bread.  We were in San Antonio and everyone was talking about Ruth’s Chris steaks at $50 plus a pop. We walked the block from the hotel to a local Denny’s, grabbed a steak dinner for less than $15 bucks and enjoyed every bite. No waiting, cooked the way we liked, with a pleasant atmosphere, great staff, and the ability to eat steak every night! It’s the same at every Denny’s we’ve ever eaten at. The steaks are always great. We’ve never had a tough or disappointing steak. There’s none of the regret like when we go to a fancy steakhouse and end up with a second-rate steak.

I guess I’ve never understood this preoccupation with name brands and thinking the bigger the name the better the product. In my experience, it’s often the other way around: small, hole-in-the-wall places, out of the way places, usually have the best food at the best prices.

You know, sometimes you can find value at a bargain. You just have to know where to look.

Biblical Womanhood: What We Want vs Who We Are

Pick up any article, interview or Christian blog about biblical womanhood and the overwhelming attitude is a call to be like Jael of the Bible. You know her. She’s the tough as nails lady who drove a tent spike through Sisera’s head while he was taking advantage of her husband’s hospitality. In light of today’s culture, women want to be perceived as tough as men, warriors, who don’t take guff off of anyone, no nonsense people who stand their ground and can take on armies or demons.

It’s not a bad viewpoint, nor is it an unrealistic one. There are lots of ladies who are warriors and tackle the big issues of our world. Some of them even do it without losing their femininity. But somewhere in the desire to be more than we are, we’ve forgotten who we are as godly women. We base our goals on human perspectives or societal influences instead of biblical ones. Everyone wants to be Jael and no one wants to be Miriam tending the babies. I’m not going to quote tons of scripture because people tend to interpret scripture the way they want or feel instead of what it’s actually saying. Instead, I’d like to offer a more balanced view of biblical womanhood that is supported by scripture (and if you really want to know, you can email me and I’ll be glad to show you the verses, or better yet, do your own research and see where it takes you).

Biblical womanhood isn’t an either-or proposition. The ladies in the Bible knew when and how to be tough if the situation demanded it, but could also be wholly committed to the home without feeling like they gave up any of their personality or individuality. Jael was offering hospitality. She wasn’t out on the battlefield, but when the opportunity within the confines of her housewifely duties came to take out an enemy, she didn’t hesitate.

Moses’ mother gets very little attention, but she had five to six years to train Moses before sending him off to a pagan way of life and education. Her teaching was strong enough to sustain him and led him to feel his people’s plight. Before that she was willing to buck the government laws to protect her son. She fulfilled the letter of the law by placing him in the river, but got creative in how she did it. Often as biblical women today, we take shortcuts and make noise without effect, instead of looking for creative ways to obey the law, while changing it.

Perhaps we aren’t able to balance the demands of being a warrior type with a homebody type because we fear our inadequacies. We spend so much time thinking we can’t measure up to the Proverbs 31 woman, that we abandon our homes altogether in order to make a name for ourselves in careers. Instead of seeing Proverbs as a checklist of things to do, we ought to see it as a list of character qualities. Industrious, business savvy, creative, compassionate. Those are all things every woman can attain, no matter her job description.

A biblical woman isn’t afraid of either the workplace or homemaking. She understands that some days, she may be called upon to offer hospitality, teach or train others, raise up children, support husband or lead others into battle. The work doesn’t define who she is, the work is a result of who she is.

When we begin to see the amazing package, God has created women to be, we can avoid the tendency to praise careers and bash homemakers. (I actually heard someone once say that if a woman stayed home, she was valueless. As if raising the next generation wasn’t important. And maybe that’s why we have such turmoil in our country today. We didn’t raise the next generation; we left them to themselves to raise).

God spent so much time and effort in the Bible to show the value of a woman, yet we refuse to accept our value without placing restrictions or obligations on ourselves. I think the most telling example is the story of Martha (who often gets a bad rap in Christian circles). You know the story. Martha is preparing lunch for Jesus and his disciples. Mary isn’t helping. Flustered, Martha complains and we miss what Jesus is really saying to her because we miss what she is really asking. “Lord, is my service worth anything to you? Do I matter?” “Yes, you matter. Yes, your service is valuable—it’s just different than Mary’s service, which is also valuable.”

How do I know this? Because the very next chapter, there is a huge dinner party and the writer of the scriptures makes a point to say, “and Martha was serving.”

She understood her value. Maybe it’s time we understood ours.

One More Night With the Frogs

It didn’t start with frogs and it certainly didn’t end with them. You’re probably familiar with the biblical account of the Egyptian plagues, but are you aware that Pharaoh had a choice with the second one?

It wasn’t a deadly plague or even a bad plague, just an annoying one. Frogs, peeping, cheeping, blinking, croaking frogs covering the land. Imagine the cacophony. Annoying enough Pharaoh sent for Moses and asked him to deal with the issue.  Then Moses says a curious thing, “I give you the honor of choosing when.” And Pharaoh says, “tomorrow.”

Tomorrow? Really? You’re being driven bonkers by these frogs and you want one more night with them? Incredible. Yet very human because humans don’t want solutions to their problems. They want to gripe, complain, blame others; in other words, do anything and everything short of fixing the problems.  It’s the reason why we don’t go directly to the source when we have an issue with someone. We talk to everyone else, blow it out of proportion, get people to take sides, stir the pot, add fuel, and then whine when it gets resolved. People like living with their problems. Complaining is the number one pastime in America.

I’m a fix-it gal. Give me a problem, I’m going to find a solution. It may not be the best solution, you might not like it, but I will solve the problem. Unfortunately, I have discovered in 60 plus years of living that folks don’t really want a solution. It’s why stuff stays broken around a home long after it should have been fixed. There’s always a reason: wrong tools, wrong time, need a part, too much trouble, too expensive, not in the mood to start repairs and the list goes on. Science calls it inertia, a body at rest stays at rest and requires a tremendous amount of force to move.  We’re comfortable in our rut and we really don’t want to get out because it requires a change and change needs energy.

We may not like our circumstances, but we would rather stay here than expend energy trying something different, especially if we aren’t 100 percent certain of the outcome. Even if we are, using that amount of energy to change isn’t something most folks are willing to do. It’s why so many people who need to lose weight never start a diet. It’s why people stay in dead end jobs rather than risk launching out into the deep to try something different. I might fail. I might lose. It might not work. Half a loaf is better than none. I don’t like the frogs, but I’ve gotten used to the sound and the sudden silence might mean I never get another good night’s sleep.

There’s also the possibility that the solution is worse (or we think it’s worse) than the problem. Dead frogs equaled one gigantic stink for a few days. The inconvenience of the frogs was replaced with a temporary inconvenience of smell. The frog problem wasn’t going away. It would continue and increase exponentially. The smell would dissipate in time, but people never forgot the inconvenience of the smell. It didn’t hurt them, it wasn’t permanent, but it seems that must have been hardwired into humanity’s DNA because we don’t like change. We’d rather stay in a bad situation than make the effort to fix it and be inconvenienced.

One of my favorite lines from the original Tron movie is, “There are no problems. Only solutions.” There’s always a solution to every problem, even if we don’t like the answer. Whether we choose to accept a solution or not is up to us. I guess the bottom line is, once you know a solution is possible, if you choose to spend one more night with the frogs, you really don’t have a right to complain.

Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too

Several years ago when my husband was going through chemo, I tried searching for healthy recipes. What I found was either too complicated to make, too expensive, used weird ingredients I’d never heard of, or just didn’t taste good. I ended up learning to cook healthy and have been working on a cook book off and on over the years with healthy, delicious, and practical recipes. One of these days, I may even publish it. Fast forward ten years and an insurance company that required me to lose weight or pay extra.  The result was several different diets, lots of research, weight lost, gained and lost again, and more conflicting information that didn’t always stick.  The bottom line is I like to eat, I like sweets, and the idea that certain foods are “bad” just doesn’t appeal.

I consider myself an intelligent person, who understands nutrition and health and what my own body needs. I also think the current weight charts are a bit unrealistic, especially as we age. What might be appropriate for a 20-year-old is ridiculous on a 60-year-old. We should all know that healthy eating involves fruits, vegetables, whole grains, limited meat or fish and dairy. It shouldn’t eliminate any of those, but how to balance those amounts and the servings and still allow for sweets has baffled people for generations.  Or at least the generations after WWII. Our grandparents (or great grandparents depending on how old you are), ate all the things we’re told not to, including sweets and will probably outlive us, in spite of our diets, exercise mania and list of things we can’t eat. So what’s a girl (or guy) supposed to do? Here’s my take on how to eat your cake and have it, too.

In the land of supersize, big is not always better. Choose smaller portions over normal size for individual foods. I didn’t figure this out until I did Noom for four months, and it’s a life changer.  Go for the smaller loaf of bread. One of the things I found recently were small size loaves of bread. These slices are about half of a ‘normal’ slice and about half the calories, so a sandwich made of this bread is equal to one regular slice. Eat half of the mini bagel. I love bagels and every diet says this is a no-no. But half of a mini bagel is only about 60 calories. Add it to one scrambled egg and a half banana and you’ve got a nice breakfast without breaking your diet. Seems like this would be common sense, but apparently not as most diet programs have to tell us to eat smaller portions over and over and it doesn’t seem to be a popular idea.  The day I realized I didn’t have to eat the entire entrée was liberating. Take half home and enjoy it later in the week as a lunch.

Think about why and how you eat. Two of the worst enemies of healthy eating are the Clean Plate Club and Waste Not Want Not Club. Both of these ideas came out of the Great Depression and have been almost hardwired into American life. You don’t need to clean your plate before you eat dessert. If you want dessert, either eat it first, so you don’t have as much room to overeat or choose to eat a smaller portion of the main course, so you’ll have room for dessert.  You aren’t sinning if you don’t eat everything you pay for. It’s not a waste to leave food on your plate once you’re full or you’ve reached a healthy limit. You’re an adult; think about why you eat and make changes based on logic not guilt.

Eat slowly. Americans are geared to inhale our food as quickly as we can. This starts in school with 20 minutes lunches and only gets worse as we become workaholics. Just slowing down to enjoy the food helps you eat less, gives your stomach time to realize it’s full, and makes you aware of just how much you are eating.  Some days I need to eat a little more and I go back for seconds. But starting with a smaller portion and taking my time seem to help curb the eating frenzy. We can learn something from other cultures that take a couple hours for mealtime.  Even fast food isn’t all that bad if we learn to eat smaller portions and eat it slowly. I found the Jr. Whataburger meal once a week doesn’t really change my weight at all and satisfies my junk food craving.

Substitute healthy solutions when you can, but don’t obsess over it. For instance, chose the carb balance tortilla instead of the regular kind. Use avocado butter and Greek yogurt instead of dairy. There are even some dishes where riced cauliflower works instead of rice.  Use Truvia or raw sugar instead of refined. Use Simply Fruit jellies instead of those loaded with refined sugar.

Plan ahead for sweets and snacks.  This is really a self-control issue. Put a box of Cheez its in the house and I’ll eat the whole box in two days; however, if I buy a box of the snack size packages, I can limit myself to one package. The same thing applies to smaller size portions of desserts (slice that pie into 16 small servings and freeze each separately in ziplocks. Not only do you have to take it out and thaw it before eating, but the smaller size means you take your time to savour each bite. I’ve been known to put a box of chocolate covered cherries in the deep freeze and get one piece out. Waiting for it to thaw means I don’t eat the whole box at once.

Find the right kinds of crunch, savoury, and sweet that satisfy.  Give yourself permission to include sweets in your life. Lose the “bad” label, as Noom would say. For me that means caramel popcorn when I want sweet and salty. One cup has 100 calories and I can munch during movies. Getting Hershey’s dark chocolate in the fun size means I get my sweet and limit it simultaneously. Candy Corn? No problem as a few of those are plenty sweet without going overboard.  I still struggle with licorice jellybeans, but I think that’s because the cheap kind are only sold once a year and are hard to find.

Get active for the right reasons. I’m not a fan of exercise. I lead a sedentary life as a writer and I’m not going to change no matter all the health info out there. Having my life crash to a halt due to rheumatoid arthritis and the fight to climb out of the hole, however, has me walking farther each day to build back my strength. Sticking to it was an issue until I discovered a better reason for walking. Now I participate in the Conqueror Challenge (https://www.theconqueror.events/) and by tracking my steps, I can virtually summit mountains, walk exotic trails, learn about new cultures, plant trees and earn medals, all by doing my daily life. By NOT tying my activity to weight loss or healthy eating, I’m guaranteed to stick to it. For the more social butterflies, there is an entire community you can visit with. Don’t think you can do it on your own? Create a team and share the distance.

Will this help you lose weight? Who knows? Weight depends on a lot of factors, genetics, environment, and your own self-control. If nothing else, these ideas might help you lose most of the “guilt” associated with eating, encourage you to be kind to yourself, and realize there isn’t a one-size-fits all diet. Above all realize it took a while to put on the weight; it’s going to take a while to take it off. Weight loss shouldn’t be rapid and it won’t come without a lot of work. If you don’t love yourself the way you are now, you still won’t love yourself after losing the weight. So be kind to yourself, figure out what you need to eat and how much, then take baby steps. You’re worth it.

Lessons Learned from Cleaning House

When I lived overseas, I could have spent 24/7 cleaning and the house still wouldn’t have looked clean. I had to decide what was more important: a spotless house or a happy family and a happy me. It always astonished me that women spent so much time fighting against the idea of being a housewife and yet we are even more trapped in that mindset today than in the 50s, with much less to show for it. We have beautifully decorated and clean homes and shattered families, broken self-esteem, and miserable marriages. Yes, there are those blessed ladies who manage to have both a beautiful home and happy life, but let’s face it, most of us aren’t cut out to be a Better Homes and Garden lady. We struggle to juggle taking care of the home with child rearing and careers.

This side of Heaven nothing is perfect. No matter how thoroughly you clean, you’ll always miss a spot. Seems I’ve always lived in houses where no matter how much you clean the floor always looks dirty, cobwebs festoon the popcorn ceilings, and the bathroom could be declared a hazardous environment. Part of the problem is our upbringing where the idea of cleanliness being next to godliness was drilled into us, part is either not knowing or not having the proper tools for cleaning (and yes, it does matter what kind of broom or vacuum you have or what kind of cleaning solution you use), part is the sheer mindlessness of housecleaning. Not to mention backbreaking. With the women’s lib movement in full swing, you’d think someone would invent easier ways to clean house. Still, I’ve picked up a few things over the years that I think are important for young people just starting out.

When you unpack the last box, it’s time to move. I remember clearly having settled into a new home in a place we didn’t expect to be. We’d been there a while, nothing new in the way of jobs were appearing and we decided to put down roots.  I had just unpacked the last box and put it in the trash when Bruce called to say we’d been called to a new church. I jokingly told him I wasn’t moving. Life isn’t static. It is constantly changing. If you get in a rut, circumstances will occur to move you out. Keep yourself open to new possibilities, new opportunities because just when you think your life is settled, it won’t be. It’s not a bad thing. Change can be exciting. Remember ponds stagnate, rivers keep growing.

Where no oxen are, the manger is clean. I know modern thought touts the ideas of holding off on having kids so couples can enjoy their time together or get their careers off the ground, keeping a rigid lifestyle that demands children are quiet and neat (sounds like Victorian England where children were seen not heard), or avoiding kids altogether as too expensive or inconvenient. Any student of history will quickly realize those ideas never worked. Life is messy. Perfect houses belong to people with no lives, no family, or no children. All things that make life exciting, marvelous, and worth living. If there’s life in the house, it’s not going to be spotless.  Stepping around Legos on the floor is a sign of creativity. Jumbled clothes in the clothes hamper shows growth. Dishes in the sink means you have enough to eat. All those little inconveniences that make a messy house are indications of a rich and full life. Those tedious housecleaning chores can wait until after you’ve read a story to the kids or sat down and played a game or watched a bit of television. Your children aren’t going to remember how clean the house was growing up, but they will remember those times you spent doing something fun with them.

Standards differ. Our lives shouldn’t revolve around other people’s expectations, but they do. We spend so much time trying to live up to other people’s expectations, we miss the things that matter most. I’ve lived a lot of different places in a lot of different cultures (even in the States). What is messy to one person is tidy to another. A quarter may not be able to bounce on my beds, but it sure is fun watching the grandsons bounce on them. People have differing tastes, just as they do in decoration and style. One isn’t better than another—it’s just different. Setting ourselves free from society, cultural or even familial expectations about how our homes should look is the first step in really enjoying life. You don’t have to be Superwoman (or Superman). Life won’t grind to a halt if the house isn’t spotless. The choice to take time for yourself and your family over making sure the bathroom is clean or the floors vacuumed gets easier with practice. And at the end of your life, wouldn’t you rather your family say “She was a lot of fun to be around” rather than “she was a great housekeeper?”

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