books, women, writing

Got build?

“Be patient! The Great Wall didn’t got build in one day.” today’s actual fortune cookie wisdom

God certainly has a sense of humor. If otters weren’t enough to prove that, my odd career trajectory would. There is absolutely no other way to explain why, almost four years ago, a journalist would sit down to write a romance novel, actually do so,debbienora.jpeg and Debbie Macomber would come alongside a few months later to help move things along.

Yeah, that Debbie Macomber. If you are not familiar with the queen of clean romance, or romance in general, this is a lot like a novice horror writer being befriended by Stephen King. Staggering. Gobsmacking. Miraculous enough to make one laugh with joy.

The first time we spoke — an incident prompted by an unlikely series of events that included a TV cop show that turned itself on in the middle of the night — my heart was pounding so hard I could actually hear it in my head. Whoosh, whoosh. Whoosh, whoosh.

As we’ve gotten to know each other over the last three years, however, her real star power has come to the forefront. Beyond the sales (more than 200 million books in print and more than 1,000 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list), beyond the Mark Twain-like humor and the Steve Jobs-like business acumen — there is an exceptionally decent woman. A Christian woman, in fact.

She’s suggested. She’s referred her favorite how-to books on scene pacing — slooooow down, deadline writer. She’s pointed me toward critical contacts inside the daunting labyrinth of the publishing industry. She’s been wise enough to let me fumble through the big decisions and the ever-present doubt and fear, pointing me to God instead of her own considerable industry know-how. In short, she’s stuck around as more than a mentor. She’s a friend.

That truly came home this weekend, when we met in person for the first time. She, one woman from her team of experts and I sat at a lunch table and strategized as to how I can enact a homespun version of social-media platform expansion that reflects her own. That’s pure Debbie. Graciousness and guidance. Not, “Let me do this for you.” Patience and encouragement. Not, “What were you thinking?”

It’s true. That’s what she’s like. That’s what God’s like. I hope that’s where I’m headed, as well, even if I don’t “got build” in a day.

community, family life

The cure for loneliness

“Two kinds of people have many friends, one with bank balance and other with boldness.” Amit Kalantri, author and magician

Martha Stewart has gotten me in trouble more than once. She just has ideas that are so … interesting. Once, I destroyed our ironing board cover mostly following her directions on how to make a “stained glass” ornament out of crayon shavings and waxed paper. (No big loss, ornament wise or ironing wise.) Another time, I made holiday drinking glasses out of hollowed-out cucumbers. Compost pile.

But, domestic goddess that she is, she has really come through at other times. I will probably never get rid of the small chalk board that sits on the front porch with chalk, an eraser and the invitation, “leave a message.” No other welcoming touch I have added to our entry has so sparked our visitors’ imaginations.

And, in such quirky ways. We’ve come home to find everything from a map as to where to meet for a play date when our daughters were young, to directions on how to care for a plant that was left as a gift, to a salesman’s encouragement to buy more insurance. Then, there was my favorite – an anonymous “Santa is watching…”

Sometimes, visitors leave some thing behind, too. When the kids were younger, we might find patent-leather shoes making the neighborhood hand-me-down circuit, the aforementioned jade plant and, once, an anonymously given box of fudge from the Big City. I ate the latter by myself. Sure, it was really well sealed. But, being anonymous and all, you can’t be too careful. Cough.

If the little chalkboard wasn’t there – openly inviting communion with our family – I’m wondering what kind of front-porch fun we might be missing. Sometimes, I guess it really does pay to put out a sign. That’s what God suggests we do, after all. It’s right there in Proverbs: The one who wants friends needs to show herself to be a friendly person first.

Could any message be more timely? Our world has become one in which it is possible to be lonely even in the middle of a tightly packed neighborhood. Yet, isolation doesn’t mean it’s time to move, just that it’s time to make a move. Try it. Put out some kind of a welcome mat. Put down your phone. Take a neighbor some cookies. Greet someone on the sidewalk or in the building elevator with a real smile.

A bit of that kind of boldness really can bring joyful friendship. And, that makes a better community for us all.

 

 

 

community, spiritual life

Finely balanced network

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” A.A. Milne, “Winnie-the-Pooh”

Today’s post was — in my late-night, writerly thoughts — originally titled “Cloud of Witnesses.” Then, a friend introduced me to the above phrase. “Observant Jews give thanks every morning for a finely balanced network,” she wrote in an uplifting e-mail.

The words so perfectly described what was in my heart — an overflowing of thankfulness for the concentric circles of joy bringers, spirit encouragers and life smoothers God has brought into my life. Family, friends, church ladies and gentlemen, neighbors, shopkeepers, writers, musicians, teachers, bus drivers, makers, growers, repairers.

Finely balanced network. Are there any better words to describe the people who make life hum? Better, maybe not, but plenty of people have given it a shot.

The Japanese embrace the concept of moai, a lifelong circle of friends that supports each other into old age. Dan Buettner, author of the Blue Zones books, links that kind of support network to longevity. WordPress, this site’s host, calls its tech-support network “happiness engineers,” an idea anyone should love. The Apostle Paul, a first century Messianic Jew, wrote of a “cloud of witnesses,” ancestors and historic greats that inspire us to live lives full of faith and hope even though they are long dead.

I call elements of this network my “panel of experts.” When I needed to know how to detangle little girls’ hair, for example, my curliest friends and those who simply had stood the test of parenting daughters into adulthood stepped up. (Wet Brush, by the way. Accept no substitutes.) When I wanted to learn how to can, my most kitchen-savvy friend showed up for a hands-on lesson in strawberry jam. One neighbor friend always knows what’s going on at school at a speed faster than Facebook. When I’m whiny, one friend has proven she can handle my worst. Crisis? There are a bevy of people to call and e-mail for prayer.

Most surprisingly perhaps, God sometimes fills in gaps in this network with strangers. When I broke my leg in a fall on the ice, a football-player sized man I never saw before or since carried me up the steps to our house. A car-mechanics instructor I never actually saw, but who was married to a school principal I barely knew, got the water out of my gas tank, thereby preventing young-teacher me from being stranded on the lonely roads of the Navajo Nation.

The list could go on and on — and that’s just the people in my life! What about yours? It’s morning, at least it is here in Appalachia. It’s time. However we think of them, let’s be thankful for the individuals in our finely balanced network and the God who is at the center of all things lovely, true and good.

 

 

 

recipes

Circling the wagons

“There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.” Linda Grayson, author

In just a week, the people within our circle of wagons have experienced everything from a carbon-monoxide poisoning to major surgery. This, of course, has caused women in the group to launch an organizational effort worthy of Gen. Patton. Phone calls and e-mails have flowed. Prayers have been fervently made. Food has been prepared.

“She feels loved,” the husband of one of those who is facing trouble told me yesterday. And, I knew he had hit upon the essence of friendship, particularly friendship among women. It isn’t really the casserole, the delivery-pizza gift card or the picking up of one’s children from a practice of some kind that matters — although each is greatly appreciated. It’s the love.

That is what I remember the most. When it was our family’s turn to experience a tempest of illness and injury a few years ago, we were overwhelmed by how wonderful our circle was. One friend went so far as to simply sit with me. Nearly immobilized by leg breaks caused by a combination of ice and dog walking, my cast and I took up the whole couch. I sewed. She sat on a nearby chair knitting. We didn’t even talk much. We just sat. And, it was wonderful.

In keeping with today’s quote, however, I can’t resist sharing a recipe so delightful it is a tangible expression of love. It’s worth making, even if only to show some toasty-kitchen love for yourself given the cold spring so many of us are facing. Happy baking!

Circle-the-Wagons Bread

In large bowl, mix 1 1/2 cups white flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and 2 packages dry yeast.

On the stove, heat 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup milk slowly, stirring constantly, until smooth and creamy. Add the liquids and 4 eggs to the flour mixture and stir well.

Gradually add another 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 cups white flour and stir until dough becomes too stiff to stir anymore. In the bowl or on a floured board, knead the dough, adding flour as needed to prevent stickiness, for 8-10 minutes. Dough will be golden and springy when it is sufficiently kneaded.

Oil the dough, place in clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel and let rise one hour in a warm place. When dough is doubled, punch it down and split into two pieces. Shape each piece into a rectangle and brush the top with melted butter, dust with cinnamon and sugar, and sprinkle with raisins. Roll the rectangle into a tube and place in a buttered loaf pan. Cover and let rise for another hour, until nearly double in size.

Bake the loaves in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for 40 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on racks. Slices well while warm. Or, wait for loaves to cool and enjoy as toast.