Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's Christmas Again

Almost exactly a year ago, on Christmas Eve, I wrote these words in another blog post:

In the end, then, Christmas is about making much of small things. Christmas is about remembering that sometimes God's perspective is different than ours. Christmas is about commemorating the tiny, the tangible, and the real. And Christmas is about celebrating one lone event that, in the whole wide expanse of history, really did matter.

Now, twelve months later, these words seem more true than ever. Sometimes I plod along in the dark, only able to see the next task that lies directly in front of me. And even that next task is often too difficult and things don't turn out the way I plan or want or expect.

But sometimes, for a fleeting moment, I'm given a glimpse of the bigger picture, of the tapestry built from these fragmented pieces, those events that I didn't choose and the people that I couldn't control and the timing that I didn't like. Sometimes, and especially at this time of year, I'm reminded how very significant each of those shards really is.

And this season is perhaps the best time to stand back and admire, for just a moment, the bigger picture, as we celebrate the passing of this year and past years and look forward to the coming of the new. So, in the midst of the traveling and shopping and visiting and celebrating, as you sit among your family and friends, take a few minutes to savor the beauty that the last few months and years and decades have built.

Remember all of those pieces that seemed inconvenient or messy or troublesome. Acknowledge the pain and irritation and hurt and frustration. Then savor the abundance that emerged from the scraps. Because ultimately, Christmas is about celebrating the unexpected twist in the tale, about recognizing the beauty that comes from an overlooked corner, and about a miracle that happened in a manger.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Movie Review: Ides of March

Every now and then, I find a movie that eludes the standard categories and predictable plot lines, a movie that sticks with me for months, if not years.

Ides of March was such a movie. The phenomenal acting, intense plot, and captivating lines combined to create a memorable story, brilliantly directed by George Clooney. Stephen Meyers (played by Ryan Gosling) is a young idealist working on a presidential primary campaign for the driven, intelligent Mike Morris (George Clooney). Conflict in the movie arises as the personal, political, and professional ambitions of the characters collide and the Ohio presidential primary draws near.

Although I won't give away the ending, I will warn any potential viewers that the movie was not light-hearted. The themes are heavy and the ending is dark. Some movies allow viewers to walk away with a bright vision of the world. Not so with Ides of March.

In a good story, the characters have choices. In Ides of March, the characters consistently make the wrong ones. Not once, not twice, but every time a character in this movie is faced with the choice between their welfare and the well-being of another, between ambition and compassion, between an easy lie and a hard truth, they take the wrong turn.

And the most terrifying part of this movie is that the bad choices, the wrong choices, even the inhumane choices, are never hard to make. It's easy to relate to the characters and sometimes it's even easy to justify their choices. And then when disaster strikes as the moral fall-out from their decisions ensues, viewers will feel awkwardly surprised because, like the characters, they didn't see the fall-out coming.

I walked away from Ides of March feeling uncomfortable, not because I was shocked by the behavior of the characters, but because I didn't feel shocked enough. In the world of Ides of March, betrayal was all too easy. Audiences will walk away uncomfortably uncertain that, faced with the same choices, we would behave any differently. And this discomfort is possibly the most redeeming feature of Clooney's movie.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Year Ago...

A few evenings ago, as some friends and I sat in my living room talking, each of us reflected on the changes that had occurred over the past 12 months in our individual lives. This was the second time in just a few days that the topic had arisen, so I made a list.

Here are just a few things that have changed in my life in a brief year. One year ago, I:
  • was planning (what I thought would be) my last semester of graduate classes.
  • was expecting to finish my M.A. in English in May 2011.
  • was spending a lot of time wondering what people with two English degrees did to produce income.
  • had no idea that I was about to agree to move 500 miles away for a job entirely unrelated to my degree.
  • was writing a lot of idiotic things in my journal.
  • was writing a lot of true things in my journal.
  • never dreamed I would agree to rappel off of a cliff.
  • had never made bread.
  • was a lot less brave.
  • had never eaten crab-cakes.
  • knew a lot less about grace.
  • had never lived without a mental deadline.
  • didn't know that I could successfully navigate a busy weekend without electricity.
So here's to another year filled with good books, coffee, friends, unplanned adventures, grace, and lots of good stories! What surprising changes has the past year held for you?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Friday Linkage

Enjoy these links while you're keeping warm on this brilliant cool autumn weekend!
  • In a world of narcissism, this woman's tale of her birthday provided a refreshing contrast.
  • One quote from Relevant's recent article on inevitable failure particularly resounded with me: "Because of my failures, I don’t deserve anything good. But good keeps coming my way. That’s not a reflection of my character or timing or anything else. But it is a reflection of the character of God."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Cup of Chesterton

Sometimes rambling and venting and writing are soothing and useful. Words tumble frantically onto a page as I sort out the racing in my mind and the jumbling in my heart. But sometimes an empty cup needs to be filled.

Sometimes, when the words just won't sort themselves into sentences and the thoughts won't arrange themselves into paragraphs, the solution lies not in my pen but in my books.

And so, on this quiet fall evening, I hope these words of G.K. Chesterton, full of far more wisdom than I possess, bring you as much calm and insight as they have bestowed on me.

"You have not wasted your time; you have helped to save the world. We are not buffoons, but very desperate men at war with a vast conspiracy."

"To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless."

“The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen.” 

“Always be comic in a tragedy. What the deuce else can you do?” 

“What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism.” 

“Most modern freedom is at root fear. It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules; it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities.” 

“In the struggle for existence, it is only on those who hang on for ten minutes after all is hopeless, that hope begins to dawn.” 

“The one perfectly divine thing, the one glimpse of God's paradise given on earth, is to fight a losing battle - and not lose it.”

Monday, October 17, 2011

Destination: Unknown

"You don't get to know the ending."

This phrase is one of Mom's most frequent.

But I want to know the ending.

I was the girl who would skip to the end of the book so that I knew what was coming. 

I was the girl who endlessly harassed professors about test material so that I knew exactly what to study.

I was the girl who refused to watch anything labeled "Drama" because that was code for "Potentially Unhappy or Unsatisfying Ending."

No guesswork. No unknowns. No questions.

Clear answers. Clear endings. Clear directions.

But my plans have a way of being foiled.

"You don't get to know the ending."

The more answers I demanded, the fewer I received.

When I planned more, I enjoyed less.

When I insisted more, I appreciated less.

It was exhausting. And frankly, not a lot of fun.

So I gave up. 

I don't want to be the one in the corner, afraid that the story won't end the way she hopes it will. I want to be the one who lives fearlessly.

I don't want to compile a list of all possible pitfalls, dangers, and losses. I want to live without assessing the risk.

I don't want to have safety and comfort and predictability as my highest priorities. I want to live and love and give bravely.

"You don't get to know the ending."

I remind myself of this when I need to commit, when I'm asked to sign up, when I'm called to join. 

I remind myself of this goal when I catch myself compiling a list of "what-ifs?" and "why-nots".

I remind myself to take the scary steps, to agree to the unknown, to avoid the safe corner.

And I don't get to know where this journey will end.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Friday Linkage

Friday nights in October are for bonfires and friends, for hints of cozy winter evenings, and for piles of good books. And October Saturdays are for long hours in the golden sunlight. So this week's blog post wasn't published until Sunday night.

Here is a thought-provoking post on the difference between a hero and a celebrity.Which one are you aspiring to be?

New blog finds of the week include Keitharsis. There were so many wonderful posts that I could barely pick one to share. But this post on last moments is a good place to start.

It's been a while before I've shared an article by Seth Godin.  Read this post. And then decide: what are you going to do next?

Relevant Magazine recently published a thoughtful article on the wanderlust epidemic.

A recent article from Image Journal was a poignant reminder that grace resides in the everyday:

"But inside that little nothing is, of course, everything. Inside that smallness is an immensity beyond our ability to imagine. It is an offer of grace.Grace may be a gift, but the question we always have to ask is whether we are prepared to receive it."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Stories of our Lives

The world is exploding with stories.

There are stories being told all around us, all the time. Stories are everywhere, whirling by in the autumn winds, and yet, so often, we forget to pay attention. We forget that we are always in the middle of a story. 

“I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books..." - C.S. Lewis

We are caught up in the rhythm of the everyday and neglect to notice that the plot is always moving forward, that new beginnings are always happening, that chapters are always closing. 
We forget, too, that we have a part to play in writing these stories...that the words we choose to grant or the thoughts we hold back - un-acted upon, under cover - are pages in the books of our lives. 

“With every step of our lives we enter into the middle of some story which we are certain to misunderstand.” - G.K. Chesterton 

And sometimes we are caught by surprise in the middle of our own tales. We think we are nearing the end of a chapter when we are really just in the beginning. Or we think we are slugging through the middle of a story when, really, the final page is close at hand.

So we push onward, trying always to live better tales, because we never really know when the page will turn or the chapter will close, leaving us only with the fragments of a story that could have been better.

"We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn't it?" - Donald Miller

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunday Inspiration

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart." 
- Steve Jobs, 2005

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Friday Linkage

It's 1:30 a.m. here, which means it's technically no longer Friday. It's been one of those weeks. Productive and challenging, exciting and stressful, I can't say that I'm sad to leave it behind. Now I'm spending the long weekend with my family in the woods, grateful for some time to catch my breath.

While you're enjoying the fall weather that's sweeping the nation, here's some weekend reading to peruse.
  • Some tips for decision making. 
  • A related article by The Happiness Project. Are you a satisficer or a maximizer? 
  • Another article on happiness in the usual irreverent tone of Lifehacker.
  • This article and this article, both published in Relevant Magazine, ask some revealing questions. They are definitely worth a read. And probably a second one.
  • Anne Jackson's writing is provocative and convicting. Take some time to savor this blog post of hers this weekend. Favorite quote from the article: "What I am realizing is the extent I let my expectations control me."
  • Along with the author of this post in the Cardus blog, I am learning what it means to love the revision process in writing and in life.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sunday Inspiration

 "We cannot understand. The best is perhaps what we understand least." - C.S. Lewis

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Time to Ponder

Sometimes life flows along smoothly and one is swept along a bobbing current of daily tasks, duties, and pleasures. Other times life feels a bit more like a whirlpool, a dozen, a hundred, or a thousand different demands all passing by with dizzying swiftness.

Life has been a little crazy lately. First, there was August. In August, I was able to spend substantial time at home, resting and being with those I love. But blogging didn't happen.

Then September came and I spent a few weeks learning how to navigate the balance of grad school, a (sometimes more than) full-time job, sanity, and some remote semblance of a social life.

I spent a lot of time in September thinking, too, about this blog and about how it fits into this ever-turbulent season of my life. I thought about what I wanted to accomplish through Halfway Down the Stairs, about whether I should be blogging at all, about whether I should just throw the towel in and close this chapter.

But I love writing and I love blogging and I don't want to let go of this. On the other hand, I think reassessment is healthy. The questions I asked myself gave me a clearer vision and renewed excitement. Donald Miller's post on writing advice was an invaluable guide as I thought through my goals for this space.

I was trying to achieve a daily blogging regimen, but frankly, this was neither practical nor terribly productive. The result was blog posts that neither I nor anyone else wanted to read and frustration when I failed to meet my own standard. Instead, I'm going to try investing more into a few posts each week. There will be more links to writing by authors far better than I, more quotes, less clutter. Sometimes less is more.

A final note: if you receive my blog updates via Facebook, please take a moment to either subscribe by e-mail (don't forget to confirm the subscription!) or find me on Twitter (@emilyadams829). For a variety of reasons, I will no longer be posting blog updates to my Facebook page.

Thank you to all of you who bother to read these words, who care enough to share your thoughts and advice and criticism, and who encourage me with your presence.

“The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.” - Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Inspiration

"One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place. . . . Give it, give it all, give it now. 

The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. . . . Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes."

- Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Linkage

Today's linkage includes a rather wide-ranging smattering.
Would you rather spend money on tangible items or an experience? This article in Time Magazine weighs in on this dilemma.

How About Orange is a delightful blog. This personality test is especially fun.

William Deresiewicz wrote a sobering post on the concept of love fed to today's young women and the dire consequences of its false idealism. He also wrote a thoughtful post on the consequences of our perceptions of ourselves.

Image Journal published a lovely reflection on unattained plans. 

Christianity Today's article on happiness take a convicting look at our common definitions of happiness.

My favorite quotes from the article were the following:

"True virtue is personal, but it is never merely private. It involves a commitment to civic duty and the common good."

"We must challenge the tyranny of relativism not only in theory but also in our daily lives, families, communities, and businesses. We must show that true happiness comes only from being rightly related to God, the source of truth and virtue."

"The church of Jesus Christ has a special role to play in this moment: to speak the truth in love and to demonstrate our love to the world in acts of service and mercy. This is what Carl F. H. Henry had in mind when he wrote in 1947, 'We must confront the world now with an ethics to make it tremble and with a dynamic to give it hope.'"

The Cardus blog provided a sobering but optimistic perspective on the recent rioting around the world.
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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Two Paths

It's not hard to become jaded. Cynicism is easily achieved. It's more difficult to fight the constant, relentless urge to assume the bad.

Stereotypes are simple. "He always . . ." "She never . . . "

It's easier to criticize than to create. Something can always be done better or faster. Tearing down is fast, easy, and safe. If you never endorse, you'll never be wrong.

Assuming the worst is smart. But it takes courage to insist on seeing (and acknowledging) the good.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the un-jaded. The clear-visioned. The eternal optimists. The ones who refuse to retreat. The idealists. The hopeful. The persistent.

"For they shall see God."

They will see God everywhere. Every day. In every blade of grass. In every failure, every success, every happy ending, every heartache, every wish fulfilled. And having seen God, they will push onward.

There's a catch. Sometimes the fallen world will fail these dreamers and they will land on their face. But what is more tragic: unexpected failure or a loss of hope?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bits and Pieces

I've been a bit absent lately. A nine-day trip home, a newly acquired piano, the beginning of another semester of grad school, and a variety of other factors have pushed blogging to the back-burner. But I am back. 

Although the announcement of the contest's winner is later than I had previously planned, there was indeed a contest and there was indeed a winner. Monica Jacobson, a frequent commenter on this blog and a dear friend, is the winner of Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. She will be receiving a copy in the mail shortly. 

And for the rest of my readers, on this Wednesday evening, I hope you glean as much enjoyment, food for thought, and wisdom as I have from the following passage from William Goldman's The Princess Bride.

"And they lived happily ever after,” my father said. . . . The truth was, my father was fibbing. I spent my whole life thinking it ended that way, up until I did this abridgement. 

Then I glanced at the last page. . . . My father was, I guess I realized too late, a romantic, so he ended it another way. . . .

Yes, they got away. And got their strength back and had lots of adventures and more than their share of laughs

But that doesn’t mean I think they had a happy ending, either. 

Because, in my opinion, anyway, they squabbled a lot, and Buttercup lost her looks eventually, and one day Fezzik lost a fight and some hot-shot kid whipped Inigo with a sword and Westley was never able to really sleep sound because of Humperdinck maybe being on the trail. 

I’m not trying to make this a downer, understand. I mean, I really do think that love is the best thing in the world, next to cough drops. 

But I also have to say, for the umpty-umpth time, that life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Our stories are funny things. They build us, these tales, piece by piece, moment by moment, that trip, that fight, that beach, that walk, that day. But of course, we build our stories too.

And sometimes we begin a story that won't end the way we want no matter how hard we try. So we have to pick up the pen and begin to write another chapter from the broken paragraphs and run-on sentences we are left holding when the page turns against our will.

Our stories pile up inside until they are less like coherent sentences than a foaming seething mass of words and letters and phrases, so many magnets on the fridge. But the stories are still there, emerging at unexpected moments, reminding us when we need it most of who we are and from whence we come.

So we continue to move through our stories, sketched in indelible ink, shaping and being shaped as we slip through the pages.

But sometimes we get lost. G.K. Chesterton said, "Every man has forgotten who he is. . . . We are all under the same mental calamity. we have all forgotten our names. We have all forgotten what we really are."

And we have to remind ourselves of our stories when the paths that we have walked become hazy. It might take a jog around the block or a trip across the country or a journey around the world to remind ourselves who we are.

In a few days, I will drive west towards a part of my story, towards a house whose windows shine late into the night, towards small hands and warm heads and time with those I love, towards piano keys whose silky sheen I miss and towards a driveway never still for long.

In a few days, I will hear the familiar clamor and open the familiar drawers and sit at the familiar table. I will hold the books that I know and sit in the room that I share and then, in a few days, I will remember.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

One Sunday Morning

Repetition was, for better or worse, a large part of my education. It started early as I recited the presidents chronologically in 2nd or 3rd grade.

"George Washington; John Adams; Thomas Jefferson...."

And then there was "The Village Blacksmith" in 4th grade.

"Under a spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands..."

Middle-school ushered in an era of Latin conjugations.

"Amo, amas, amat...."

How my parents and I avoided losing our minds during my finals is beyond me.

Repetition, for better or worse, sticks. Thrown off of a horse in high-school, I remember staring up at a sea of faces, trying to regain a bearing on where I was and when and why. Terrified by my own inability to dig out of the confusion that clouded my mind, I grasped frantically for some piece of reality to hold.

On that hot July day, bruised, sore, reality and dreams blending as I faded in and out of consciousness, the first thing that came to mind was the page of my Latin textbook that I had so carefully committed to memory.

"Amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant..."

I worked my way slowly and painfully through the familiar forms, working myself out of the hazy muddle back into the light of reality.

On Sunday, after a long week of chaos and crisis and busy-ness and work that seemed to have no end, I stood in church and repeated familiar lines.

"I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth..."

Once again out of the murky darkness of the week's labor, repetition provided me with an anchor to reality, a reality bigger than myself or work or politics or world news.

"We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God..."

Slowly my head stopped swirling and my heart stopped racing and my mind stopped rushing as quiet settled over me.

"For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven . . ."

And through the darkness, I grasp for something real and unchanging and solid. In the midst of questions and confusion, the repetition reminds me of the real and the certain and draws me back to what I know.

"He suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again . . ."

Perspective regained. Priorities reordered. The important things, the really important things, sifted to the top above the clamor and demands of the transitory and fleeting.

"And his kingdom will have no end."

And once again, the repetition of the familiar slowly lifted me out of the hazy shade back into the light.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Quiet Gift

I expect grace to be dramatic and surprising and startling. But I live grace every day, really. Grace is the reality that failure isn't final, that setbacks aren't fatal.

Grace is knowing that, at the end of every wearying day, rest awaits. Grace is that relentless quiet force that enables me, after countless frustrations and mistakes and wrong turns, to meet each new day as a chance to try again.

And really, what is more dramatic than that? The force that makes each day a new gift is as ingrained in nature as the sun rising and setting.

The surprise is that it comes from an unexpected and familiar quarter. While I look for something new and startling, grace steadily and patiently stands at every turn. After I have wearied myself by chasing after the glamorous, the grace of the ordinary stands ready when I can't run any more.

And so I slowly learn that every moment, every breath is the gift of grace.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Inspiration

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love. 

 - Sir Francis Drake

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Steps to Simplicity #1: Declutter

During my recent move, I stored a large stack of miscellaneous papers in a big binder, promising myself that I would go through the papers soon. Soon turned into several weeks. Finally, last weekend, I went piece by piece through the binder finding, to my amazement, that almost every single piece of paper was useless.

By the time I actually looked through the papers, the majority of those "just-in-case" and "maybe-I'll-need-that later" scraps had become irrelevant.

We all have those piles of clothes we'll wear someday, events we'd like to go to if we get time, papers we'll sort through one day.

But there is something very freeing about realizing and acknowledging that someday, for most of our clutter, will never come. Give yourself permission to sort through that stack and aggressively prune all of those scraps from your calendar, your closet, and your desk.

If it doesn't contribute to your vision, it might be time to toss it.

Steps to Decluttering

1. Make a pile. This pile might be clothes, miscellaneous possessions, papers, even events on your calendar. But seeing all of the clutter physically in one place will help you force yourself to sort through it.

2. Sort through the entire pile, piece by piece, separating everything into one of three categories (a "keep" pile, an "action" pile, and a "throw" pile).

3.Put everything in the "keep" pile back in its appropriate, permanent place. This might involve filling papers, entering events into your calendar, or refolding your winter clothes.
4. Throw away everything in the "throw" pile.

5. Take action on every single thing in the "action" pile. Mail the cards, take the clothes to the Goodwill, and repair that broken item. If you decide the action required isn't worth the effort, throw the item away.

Decluttering is the first step towards simplicity.

Subscribe by providing your e-mail using the box on the right and receive posts for this series as they are published.

*There is still time to enter the giveaway.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Linkage

It's Friday. For some, the week has been a bright summer week, full of sunshine and activity. For others, it has been a long week, a hard week, a week after which the weekend is not a goal reached as much as a mere extension of labor and emotion and waiting.

For those of us in the second group, Ann Voskamp's post on patience is a gentle reminder to focus on the most important things.
I'll admit that Ann Ryand's Atlas Shrugged is on my book list, although I haven't read it yet. I have heard conflicting reviews of the book and appreciated Marvin Olasky's insight.

I appreciate the thoughtful essay on Image Journal. As someone who has moved frequently and traveled often, I have always thought myself an expert at the art of (and avoidance of) goodbyes. Gregory Wolfe's essay was a convicting reminder that such markers of time should not be taken lightly.

I can't wait to explore this newly discovered blog.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sweet Simplicity

I firmly believe that simplicity is foundational to clear vision. In order to achieve clarity of vision, we must achieve simplicity first.

"Out of clutter, find simplicity." - Albert Einstein

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." - Leonardo da Vinci

"Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify." - Henry Thoreau

"Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance." - Coco Chanel

"Beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity." - Plato 

The Steps to Simplicity Series, published over the next few days, will feature five steps towards creating a simpler life. To simplify, one must:

1. Declutter.
2. Organize.
3. Commit selectively.
4. Spend thoughtfully.
5. Rest deliberately

What are steps you take to simplify your life?

Subscribe by providing your e-mail using the box on the right and receive posts for this series as they are published.

*There is still time to enter the giveaway.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Time to Walk

I walked out of something this week. It wasn't something to which I had committed or something that couldn't continue without my presence. I was just trying it out, just dabbling, just a new-comer.

I showed up alone (always a bad idea) and late (unlike me, but perhaps the first sign of trouble) and then sat there uncomfortably.

As the minutes ticked by, I became more and more irritated at the time wasted, irritated at myself for getting into a situation in which I was distinctly uncomfortable, and even annoyed at the (innocent) people around me who appeared to be enjoying themselves.

Then it dawned on me. I didn't have to stay. Nothing, absolutely nothing, was preventing me from standing up and walking out. And so I stood up, turned around to face a sea of faces (all still clearly enjoying themselves), walked to the door (which happened to be all the way at the other side of the room) and sailed out into the hot afternoon sunshine.

Sometimes one just needs to walk. Not all books, movies, projects, or meetings are worth finishing. Not all goals are worth achieving. Life is too short to finish something simply for the sake of checking a box.

I don't mean that commitments shouldn't be kept. If you've committed to seeing something through to the end, then finish it, by all means. But most of our lives are filled with a little unwanted clutter, a few projects that we can't quite leave behind but that we really don't have the time or desire to finish.

It's hard to have clear vision if you can't see past the boxes in the doorway. What is one project, book, or activity that you can leave behind forever today?

*If you haven't signed up for the giveaway yet, there is still time!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Inspiration

"Everything is connected with everything else: but not all things are connected by the short and straight roads we expected." - C.S. Lewis

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Importance of Vision

I tend to be one of those people who, in the face of a decision, hesitates, waits, observes, weighs all available 
options...and then, confronted with uncertainty and questionable success, I do nothing by default. 

My head knows that any action, even mistaken action, is almost always better than inaction, but my instinctual desire to avoid failure at all costs often wins out over the option of following a trail with an unclear destination.

Thoughtfulness and caution are the building blocks of wise decisions, certainly. But I'm beginning to learn that cautious decision-making can be a pitfall when not done under the umbrella of a clear, overarching vision.

Andy Stanley sums this up by saying, "As a leader, you rarely have certainty, but you should always have clarity."

A clear vision of who we are and where we are going makes decisions easier and failure less fatal. Mistakes are inevitable and uncertainty is a reality, but a clear vision puts mistakes and decisions into perspective for the perfectionist.

A person with a clear vision can confidently forge ahead, secure in her vision of the future. Decisions are simply small pieces of a larger puzzle. 

Without a clear vision, though, suddenly, every decision re-determines one's direction. Each decision has the potential to change the ultimate future, to take one down an entirely different path. Every new choice takes on immense impact and has the potential to utterly alter the future. Thus, of course, every decision is weighty and direction-altering.

Do you have a clear vision?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Linkage

It has been a long week, a busy week, but a good week as well. I hope your weekends are full of rich times and rest. Here are some links to browse as you enjoy the changed pace.

We all know we modify our tones as we switch between, for example, a conversation with a close friend and a conversation with our boss. Michael's Hyatt's thoughtful article inspired me to more closely examine the tone of my thinking, though.
I love the use of color in this post by Eat, Drink, Chic. Who knew red and pink could look so...well, so chic?

On a recent post by Leadership Freak, I learned about Colin Powell's 40/70 rule. The gist of the rule is that one should never take action if there is less than 40% chance of success. On the other hand, if one has 70% chance of success, then one should just go ahead and take action, assuming that the results will outweigh the risk.

I really enjoy the practical and creative tips provided by The Nesting Place. The photos are beautiful and the style is crisp, yet the perspective is practical.
I can't wait to explore this food blog.

Don't forget to sign up for the giveaway before July 30!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

100 Posts

This is my 100th blog post. It all started in a Barnes and Noble on March 20, 2010. I had been toying with the idea of starting a blog for a while and a conversation with Rachel pushed me over the edge.

I sighed with envy at the bloggers-turned-published-authors evidenced on the shelves around us as we sipped our coffee and chatted. "Just do it," she commanded me. So I did. On March 26, 2010, I published the first post.

My blogging project has been more successful than I imagined it would be. 15 months later, it's still alive. It's inspired me to read more, cook more, and write more. It traces my efforts to set more goals, be more organized, and try out new things.

The most popular post of all time is A Question for My Readers, followed closely by Home is Where the Bread Is.

Traditionally, bloggers post 100 things about themselves to celebrate this milestone. This is, I feel, definitely narcissistic and bordering on creepy.

Instead, in celebration of the 100th post of Halfway Down the Stairs, I will be doing a giveaway. One reader will receive a copy of Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story

This book, which I read shortly before launching this blog, radically changed the way I viewed my goals, my relationships, and even my walk with God. I feel like it's an appropriate choice for the giveaway.

So here are the rules.

1.Link to the giveaway via Facebook, Twitter, or a blog post on your own blog by Saturday, July 30th, 11:59 p.m. (Eastern).

2. In the comments below, a)link back to the Facebook/Twitter/blog post where you shared the link and b)share one thing that you love about blogging.

3. The winner (and receiver of the book) will be announced on August 6.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bookish Tuesday: Day 2 of 30 Day Book Challenge

Day 2 of the 30 Day Book Challenge demands that I list my least-favorite book. This is difficult because a) if I suspect that I will abhor a book I simply don't pick it up in the first place and b) if I dislike it intensely halfway through, I normally just leave it unfinished.

The book that stands out vividly to me in answer to this question, though, is Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure.

Jude the Obscure (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

I was required to read it one summer during college as a part of an independent study. I remember being horrified by it. The characters were repulsive and the plot, terrifying. Some of the scenes in the book were far more disturbing to me than any thriller I've seen. Most of the book hovers somewhere between grotesque and absurd.

The book traces the path of the protagonist, Jude, as he slugs through life searching desperately for direction and meaning. It is full of apocalyptic Biblical references that only serve to highlight the emptiness of Jude's life.

Ultimately, after a seemingly endless list of failed relationships, shattered ideals, and tragedies, the book abruptly ends on a hopeless note. Significantly, I don't even remember whether Jude died or not at the end of the book. I won't be going back though to find out anytime soon, though.

However, even the darkest book holds some truth. Jude the Obscure vividly demonstrated how dark and horrifying a life without meaning, purpose or direction can be.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Monday Meal: Veggie Burrito

Sometimes, after a long day, dinner needs to not only be quick but substantial. This can be accomplished easily by modifying a quesadilla.

2 flour tortillas
1/2 a bell pepper
1/2 an onion
1 can of refried beans
1/4 cup of sharp Cheddar cheese, finely grated
1/8 cup of milk
olive oil
Extra sharp Cheddar cheese, finely grated


Pour 3-4 tbls. olive oil into pan. Thinly slice pepper and onion. Saute on medium heat in olive oil until peppers are soft and flexible and onions are transparent.

While the vegetables are sauteing, heat the refried beans, milk, and cheese in a pan over medium heat. Remove vegetables from pan.

Swish tortillas around in the vegetable pan, making sure both sides of each are lightly covered in oil. Let tortillas warm in pan on low heat. Remove tortillas from pan.

Sprinkle cheese lightly in a line down the center of each tortilla, leaving about an inch of space between the top and bottom edges and the cheese.

Add a layer of beans on top of the cheese. Add sauteed vegetables. Tightly wrap tortilla around the cheese, beans, and vegetables.  Repeat for the second tortilla. Place both burritos back in the pan and cook on medium heat until cheese is fully melted and tortilla begins to brown.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Friday Linkage

This weekend holds friends and laughter, cleaning blitzes, clean laundry, coffee slowly sipped on the back deck, reading unrelated to work, and time passing unheeded.
Here are some links....even though today isn't Friday.

John Maxwell's system for filing quotes is fascinating and inspiring. Perhaps this weekend also holds time for tackling my quote collections.

Leadership inspiration often includes a lot of conversation about confidence, knowledge, and integrity. This week, though, Leadership Freak had a post on the importance of vulnerability.

Seth Godin wrote a convicting post about the role of fear in decision-making.

(In)courage has a wonderful post about the lasting impact of hand-written notes. I definitely admit to being a word-hoarder. I even have trouble deleting e-mails.

I also adore these items from Citta Design posted by Eat, Drink, Chic.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Attack of the Refrigerator

Sometimes certain tasks just demand action. Our refrigerator was in desperate need of attention. New arrivals to the house, move-outs, a power outage, and a few barbecues had taken their toll. The refrigerator was too full to clean, but not clean enough to continue filling.

My roommates and I went to work. We followed the steps below and two hours, some water, and a bit of bleach did the trick. Our fridge is sparkling clean. Furthermore, we now have plenty of space for new groceries. When was the last time you cleaned your fridge?

1. Remove everything. Everything. Every bottle, every jar, every bag, every package. It may be easier to do this in sections. We did the freezer, then the door, then the main section. Finally, remove all fridge-components that come out. These will generally include the vegetable and cheese drawers.

2. Throw out food. Be merciless. Check expiration dates. If it's expired, throw it. If it's open and no one has used it in a month, throw it. If no one claims it, throw it. Less food will ultimately be wasted if you de-clutter the fridge now.

3. Scrub. Using a sponge, soap, and water, scrub the fridge clean. Aggressively attack stains, scum, and crumbs. Wash the removable drawers and trays as well.

4. Bleach. Using a spray that includes bleach, spray the inside of the fridge and the removable components. Let the bleach sit for a few minutes and then scrub the surfaces again. Finally, wipe the surfaces dry.. Be sure to clean every surface, including the bottom-side of shelves and the inside of the containers.

5. Replace the pieces, shelves, and food. Logically organize the food so that you can easily find things. Bigger items fit best in the back. Small items should be placed so that they do not disappear into the depths of the back.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bookish Tuesday

I'm inspired by Facebook's 30 Day Book Challenge, from which I plan to draw the Bookish Tuesday prompts for a while. Day #1's question is: What is your favorite book?

In all honesty, I don't have a favorite book. I love many books for different reasons at different times. But the one book that stands out vividly in my mind is George Eliot's Middlemarch. Beautifully written and masterfully crafted, this books stands as the epitome of the British novel.

Middlemarch (Oxford World's Classics) 

Midlemarch does far more than just stand as a literary achievement. Of great literature, C.S. Lewis writes, "My own eyes are not enough for me…. In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself."

Eliot brings her characters alive for her readers. Readers of Middlemarch experience the selfish cruelty of Rosamond, the despair of Dr. Lydgate, the confident conviction of Mary, the youthful folly of Fred, and the well-intentioned naivety of Dorothea.

In Middlemarch, I see the lives, dreams, hopes, and failures of myself, my friends, and my family played out through the lives of Eliot's characters. I relate to, mourn for, and rejoice with the characters as the lives of the Middlemarch neighborhood play out across the 800 + pages.

A professor once told me that Middlemarch was a must for every English major. But I disagree. Middlemarch is a must-read for every serious reader.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday Inspiration

"Don't underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering." 
- A.A. Milne

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday Linkage

The end of a long - but good - week is upon me. I am looking forward to a weekend full of friends, books, coffee, and much-needed rest. Enjoy the following links!
Leadership Freak's "Fighting the Enemy that Blocks Success" was a well-written post about the dangers of trying to stand alone and the importance of strong teams. One notable quote from the post says, "Aloneness is the enemy of long-term success. It takes more than one to get it done. The greater the challenge the more people you need."
These hand-painted water-color cards on Oh So Beautiful Paper are a wonderful idea! 

Incourage had an inspiring list of ways to rest.

Have a restful weekend!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Of Gambling and Risks

There is a difference between a gamble and risk. This hit me today as I read this post on the topic by Zig Ziglar. It was as if a light clicked on in my head.

A risk involves:
  • background research
  • odds that lean in one's favor
  • benefits that outweigh costs
  • statistics that show success is more likely than failure
 A gamble involves:
  • Random guesses and optimistic hopes rather than realistic understanding
  • a thin chance of success
  • odds that lean against one's favor
  • large costs paid up front in hopes of future benefit
  • statistics that show failure is more likely than success
Risk-taking is a necessary step towards success. Gambling is just dumb.

Relationships, finances, and careers always involve risk. But if someone is asking you to play Russian Roulette with your heart, your money, or your job, it's time to run.

Know whether you are taking a risk or making a gamble.