Thursday, November 29, 2012

Friday Fun: Minnesota Style, The First Snowfall of the Year

Winter has arrived in Minnesota! We had our first snowfall on Thanksgiving day and it left the world under a pristine blanket of white. I love the first snowfall. No matter how old I get, there will always be something magical about it. We watched the snow come down as we sat at the table enjoying our Thanksgiving feast.

This past week has been cold, in the teens and twenties, but I hear it's supposed to get warm again this weekend. On Sunday and Monday the forecast is predicting mid to upper forties, so the snow will disappear and there are no significant snowfalls in the near future. Here's hoping for a big dumping before Christmas and New Years!

I only took a few pictures, but I thought I'd share. I also included a couple of us picking out our Christmas Tree the next day, but it was so chilly, I didn't take many and I jumped back into the van as soon as we picked it out.

I hope the world is beautiful where you live!

Our backyard while it was snowing - we couldn't see
across the river

The next morning

What about you? Has it snowed where you live? Do you put up a Christmas Tree? Is it fresh or artificial?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Stinkin' Cat Story!

What I forgot to add is that when the vet assistant asked about the cat's medical history and I told her she had six week old kittens at home, the vet almost didn't do the surgery! At that point, after all the drama, I wasn't going to take this cat home without having her spayed. Needless to say, the cat is spayed, all the kittens have been given away, and my wounds are healed!

Here's the blog post I mentioned by Jessica Patch (as a guest on Lisa Jordan's blog in July). Her story left me with a smile on my face. :)

What about you? Any traumatic animal experiences to share?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Power of a Decision

"I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live..." Deuteronomy 30:19

From the moment I get out of bed, to the moment I get back in, I'm faced with hundreds, some days thousands, of decisions.

Some are as simple as what necklace should I wear today? What clothes should I pull out for the boys? Should I organize that closet today, or wait until tomorrow? What should we have for dinner?

We're all faced with those decisions and we usually make them without even really thinking too hard.

But everyday we're also confronted with bigger decisions that have much more impact on our lives. Am I going to choose to be in a good mood today, or let my emotions run amok and make everyone suffer? Am I going to listen to my children when they come to me with their troubles, or am I going to keep working on the computer and put them off until later? What television shows will I invite into my house? What conversations will I have with my husband and children? Will I respond to that friend who called for help, or will I pretend I didn't get the message?

Every day we're making decisions that impact our lives and either produce life or death in our relationships, in our careers, in our homes and in our faith. Some decisions don't appear to be a big deal, but they're bigger than we give them credit for. The words that come out of our mouths, the actions we take, the things we spend our time and money on, the activities we commit to - all of the decisions we make add up and define who we are - and, more importantly, they strengthen and encourage, or weaken and tear down parts of our lives.

I think so often people walk through life and never really ask themselves these questions: Who do I want to be today, tomorrow or in ten years? Am I making life-filled decisions, or death-filled ones? Am I investing life into my relationships, my career, my home and my faith?

I can make any decision I want - it's the gift of freewill - so I must choose wisely. Each decision is packed with purpose and carries in it the power of life and death.

One way I've discovered to make life giving decisions is by bearing the Fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23), because the Fruit of the Spirit represents life. Fruit is produced by a living plant and has in it seed to produce more plants. When we bear fruit (by the choices that we make) we are planting seeds into our relationships and life. If we're bearing love, then we are planting love. If we are bearing kindness, then we are planting kindness. The reverse is also true. If we're bearing anger, bitterness, resentment or fear, that's what we're planting.

Because God asks us to bear the Fruit of the Spirit, we know that through the strength of the Holy Spirit we can do it and do it well. It's a decision we make every day. It's not always easy to be kind or loving, but it's possible and it produces life. So choose life, that you and your decedents may live.

What about you? Do you think about the power you have in making every day decisions?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Easiest Soup You'll Ever Make!

I love a good recipe, especially one that I can keep all the ingredients on hand and whip together in less than five minutes! When it's delicious, I feel like I've scored big time. :)

Here's the easiest soup you'll ever make (I doubled the recipe and we had a bit left over for lunch the next day):

6 Can Chicken Tortilla Soup
1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
2 (14.5 ounce) cans chicken broth
1 (10 ounce) can chunk chicken
1 (15 ounce) can black beans
1 (10 ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chili peppers, drained
Tortilla Chips
Sour Cream
Shredded Cheese

Pour contents of cans into a large saucepan or stock pot. Simmer over medium heat until chicken is heated through. Serve with tortilla chips, sour cream and shredded cheese.

~ ~ ~ ~

I will be taking Wednesday and Friday off from my blog in honor of Thanksgiving! I'm hosting both sides of our families this year, so I'll be busy cooking and cleaning.

What about you? What are your Thanksgiving plans? Are you hosting this year? Or are you traveling?

I hope you have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Interviewing Characters for My Next Novel

I'm currently in the process of interviewing characters for my next novel, Redemption Falls.

It's been a lot of fun looking for candidates, and I'm still keeping my eyes open for a couple more, but I think I've found my heroine, my hero and two of the subplot characters.

My story begins on the cusp of the Civil War and is set in Minnesota, because, well, where else would it be set?

Here's my heroine (otherwise known as Grace Kelly):
My hero (also known as Jeff Richards from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers):

And a subplot character, the hero's younger sister, Rebecca:

A second subplot character, the hero's friend and a fellow soldier (also known as Jonas Davis, a real soldier with the heroic First Minnesota Regiment):

The characters are coming to life and the plot is taking twists and turns I never even imagined. I can't wait to begin writing this book - but I still need to do some deeper interviewing with my characters and really get under their skin. I'll share more about that in a later post.

For now, what do you think about my character choices? Isn't Grace Kelly stunning? 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Two Sides to a Coin

I have four very different children. Each child comes with a set of strengths and weaknesses, and I've found that those things can be one in the same.

My oldest is very creative and intelligent, but those gifts tend to make her self focused and a bit proud.

My second child is very caring and thoughtful, but her servant's heart leads her to being a martyr and she often feels sorry for herself.

My oldest twin is very gentle and kind, but he gets walked all over by his siblings.

My youngest is very independent and focused, but that gets him into trouble - a lot - and usually makes more work for me.

As parents, my husband and I face a challenge. We must discover the gifts in our children and then show them how to use their gifts to help them and not hurt them.

For me, I have a great imagination and sometimes it can get me into trouble. I tend to worry about all the "what-ifs" in life. I've always loved telling a good story and as a young woman I worked at a historic site where I told stories all day long and I loved it. Then, I began to stay home full time with my children, and without a creative outlet for my imagination, it went wild with all the "what-ifs" of parenting. I knew I needed to figure out how to use my gift to benefit myself, and those around me, because if I didn't, it would work against me.

That's when I decided to get busy with my writing. Instead of sitting around and letting all the "what-ifs" get me down, I switch those thoughts toward crafting my stories. It's been a breath of fresh air into my life.

As my husband and I parent our children, we've decided to become very purposeful about identifying their gifts and then guiding them down a road to using them. Of course, as they grow, we'll watch to see their interests and desires, but, for now, it's fun to imagine what they could do with their gifts.

For our oldest, I could easily see her writing, or event planning, or even teaching - but we have to constantly remind her that her intelligence comes from God and He deserves the glory and honor for it. My second child could be a nurse, or a day care provider, or a mother of MANY children. :) But we have to remind her that God asks her to give without receiving and to thank Him for her servant's heart. It's a little too soon for us to see what the boys could do, but, for now, we're showing our oldest twin how to stand up for himself and we're diligently teaching our younger twin how to listen and obey - for his safety and others.

Each coin has two sides and so does each gift. Have you discovered some of your gifts and the strengths and weaknesses they entail?
~ ~ ~ ~

* * * * Today I'm a guest on Lindsay Harrel's Blog! I'd love if you stopped by to say hello! * * * *

Sunday, November 11, 2012

It Takes a Whole Village

My parents with my kiddos (and niece) at Mt. Rushmore

I love having a good support system. Actually, I need one.

As a wife and a mother, I need mentors and friends to model what a good marriage and good parenting looks like, so I know what I'm aiming for. I also need these people so I can discuss ideas, cry on their shoulders, celebrate little (and big) victories and just enjoy life. Some of my greatest support systems come from my extended family, my church, my MOPS (Mother of Preschoolers) group, my ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) class and my close friends.

When it comes to writing, I've also gathered together a support group (I'll talk more about this on Wednesday on Lindsay Harrel's blog!), because I know that there is strength in numbers and I'm an extrovert who gets recharged when I interact with other people.

But, there's an even more important support system for me, and that's my immediate family. It's made up of my husband, my children, my parents, my in-laws, my siblings & spouses and my nieces & nephews. I know I can reach for my dreams because I have this group of people committed to helping me achieve them.

Sometimes it's as simple as giving me encouragement, or as intense as babysitting my children! Whatever need I have, I almost always start with this first circle of support and I know I can find it.

Last week I had a big need. I spent so much time working on my manuscript this summer that our clothing seemed to take over our house. The kids had grown out of a lot of it and the summer clothes needed to be put away and the winter clothes needed to come out. It was a big, daunting job and I just didn't have the time to put into it.

In comes my mom.

She volunteered to organize all my children's clothing! It took her three days! If you have four or more children (heck, if you have one child!) you know how much work this takes. The last two days of intensive work on my manuscript, I was in one room editing away while my mom was in the girls' and boys' bedrooms organizing clothes and entertaining my boys. The third day I helped finish up the job.

I couldn't be more thankful for this gift from my mom. Not only the gift of organizing my children's clothing, but the gift of support so I could pursue my dream. It is a priceless gift, indeed.


What about you? If you could have someone do one job in your house, what would it be?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Rewards for Meeting Deadlines

A very wise woman (Susan May Warren) once told me that we should give ourselves, and our families, rewards for meeting deadlines and goals.

Susie and I spoke at the Storycrafter's Retreat in Otsego, MN a few weeks ago about pursuing the writing career when we have young children. It's not an easy task to undertake, but I believe it's possible and there are many benefits, not only for me, but also for my children. One of those benefits is having my children "watch" me reach for a dream and teaching them that they can reach for whatever dream God places on their hearts, too.

Susie gave me some great advice. She told me that as I reach a new deadline or milestone, which means that I've worked hard and my family has had to make some sacrifices, we all need to take some time and celebrate with a reward. It might be as small as telling my children: "Let Mommy write for one more hour, uninterrupted, then we'll go outside and play in the leaves," or it might be as big as: "Mommy just signed her first contract, let's go to Disney World!" (which Susie did when she signed her first book deal!) or, it could be somewhere in between. :)

Last Thursday I hit a big milestone in my pursuit of publication and it was time to celebrate! I gave myself one month to make changes and polish up my manuscript before I submitted it to the two publishing houses that requested it at ACFW, so I spent a lot of time writing, which meant my hubby made quite a few meals and my children were constantly reminded to bring their problems to Daddy. But, I told them that if they cooperated we would do something fun after I hit my deadline.

What did they want to do? Go to the new Chuck E. Cheese's in the next town over! So on Monday that's exactly what we did. It was so much fun celebrating this milestone with my children - and even more fun knowing my dream has become a family pursuit.

I took back up! My niece and my cousin came to help

What about you? Have you celebrated the deadlines and milestones you've achieved? If you're published, what did you do to celebrate when you signed the contract? And, if you're not published, what would you like to do?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Super Easy Meat Loaf Recipe

Every once in a while I love to share a super easy recipe (I'm all about easy meals!) - and I'm especially crazy about this one because everyone in the house likes it! It came to me from my local MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) Cookbook from my friend Cassie.

Cheaters Meat Loaf
2 lbs. ground beef
2 T. Worcestershire Sauce
1 T. seasoned salt
1 egg
1/3 c. ketchup
1 box Stove Top Stuffing (and flavor)

Mix together and put in a loaf pan and bake at 375 for 45 minutes or until fully baked (I often split this in half and cook two loafs side by side in a 9x13 pan so it cooks faster).

This is a super simple recipe with ingredients I like to keep on hand. Serve it up with mashed potatoes and a veggie and suppers on the table!

What's for dinner at your house?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Freedom to Cast a Vote

The original star spangled banner - on display at the
Smithsonian’s National Museum of American
History in Washington, D.C.

On Tuesday we exercise one of the greatest freedoms known to mankind - the freedom to cast a vote.

Countless men and women have died to ensure this basic freedom, knowing the great importance of being a democracy.

With the tip of a pencil, we possess the ability to rise to power men and women who will make decisions that not only affect us, but future generations to come. Don't, for one moment, take that responsibility lightly.

Cast an educated vote and cast it not with the end goal of seeing a person in the Oval Office who will "change" our lives - cast it with the knowledge that it is but one step toward making America the kind of home we want a generation not yet created to inherit. 

As you vote, think of the America our Founding Fathers envisioned for us. Many of them didn't simply cast a ballot, they cast their lives for a dream - a dream of one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

"Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature.... If the next centennial does not find us a great nation ... it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces."
James Garfield, the twentieth president of the United States, 1877

"Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature."
Benjamin Franklin

"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."
Abraham Lincoln

"We have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us."
Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation

"The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. Where, some say, is the king of America? I'll tell you, friend, He reigns above."
Thomas Paine

"Those people who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants."
William Penn

"If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering and to prosper; but if we and our posterity neglect its instruction and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity."
Daniel Webster

"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here."
Patrick Henry

What about you? Do you exercise your freedom to vote?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Friday Fun: Minnesota Style, Taylors Falls, MN

I'm finally sharing my long-promised pictures of the beautiful Taylors Falls, Minnesota! I apologize, but life just kind of took over for a couple of weeks as I was on a deadline. This writing journey is definitely a learning experience and next time I have a deadline I'll be a little more prepared for it (I hope!).

A few weeks ago my husband and I took our daughters to Taylors Falls, Minnesota, which is in the southeastern portion of our state on the Minnesota/Wisconsin border on the St. Croix River. We went to see one of the oldest homes there, the Folsom House, built in the early 1850's when Minnesota was still a territory.

Here are the pictures we took of Taylors Falls. It is such an incredibly beautiful town and one we want to go back to over and over again.

The oldest standing public school house in Minnesota

The original jail

The Taylors Falls Queen Paddle Boat

My girls in Wisconsin :)

Looking at Wisconsin from Minnesota

The town is built into the river vally

The St. Croix River

The houses are so quaint

A lot of the original homes were built in the Greek Revival
style so popular in Minnesota in the 1850's & 1860's

A church built in 1861 and still being used
What about you? What town would you go back to over and over again?