Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bookish Tuesdays

Since I'm hopelessly addicted to both books and lists, the idea of book lists have always excited me. Inspired by this Wall Street Journal article, I henceforth designate Tuesdays as my excuse to concoct book lists.

Join the fun! Either include your list in the comments or write your own post about your list and include a link back here! Feel free to be brief and concise or to elaborately explain your list.

What five books would you recommend to someone else of similar age/life-stage?

1. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller.

To say that this book changed my life is an understatement. Miller's words provide perspective for goal-setting, context for failures, and direction to what sometimes feels like the aimless churning of the daily grind.

2. The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis

Forget cheesy relationship books and blogs. This book provides a thoughtful foundation from which to examine every relationship in a Christian's life.

3. Father Fiction by Donald Miller

A good follow-up to the aforementioned Donald Miller, I would give a copy of this to every guy I know if I could; much of his advice is equally practical for women. He addresses issues like finances, dating, and careers along with more over-arching issues of character and growth.

4. Flames of Rome by Paul Maier

This historically-grounded account of one centurion's life in Rome around 50 A.D. is a captivating and dramatic tale of one man's redemption during a violent and bloody time. This novel put the problems of our world and times into perspective for me.

5. Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey

Financial Peace is a wonderful tool to help one begin to establish the foundations of financial responsibility. It is an easy read and fairly short. It provides a wealth of practical and helpful information on money management for the everyday person.

Your turn!

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Question for my Readers

I love blogging. Really, I do. I also love to drool over the stunning photos found on truly beautiful blogs like this one and this one.

Oh, I have a camera....not an expensive one, mind you, since my minimal photography skills don't really merit any kind of large investment. It's a little Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W330, which is conveniently small and even more conveniently sturdy enough to withstand its somewhat brutal life at the bottom of my bag.

I even have Adobe Photoshop Elements, so I can do some basic editing.

But I don't even know where to start. So I point and click and and shake my head in resignation and post my mediocre pictures while I continue to be inspired by blogs like this one.

So here is my question for my readers. What is the single best photography tip you could offer an amateur like me? What is one thing I could do to make my pictures better?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Summer Adventure, Part I

Next week I'm setting off on an adventure. My wonderful family is good at many things, but long-term planning is not one of them. We've been batting around the idea of adventuring in Utah for a few months now, but somehow trying to coordinate the schedules of eleven people is a little more difficult than we had anticipated.

Then a few days ago, my mom called me. Could I be in Denver by noon on Wednesday? (Do people normally plan cross-country treks more than a week in advance?)

So next week I'm flying to Denver to meet these guys.

 And these girls.

They will have already traveled 19 hours from Indiana. We'll drive the remaining distance to Moab, Utah, where we plan to do this*:

Yes. Those are people up there, dangling in the air, attached to ropes.

The only kink in the plans? I'm terrified of heights. Not just a little squeamish, mind you. T.E.R.R.I.F.I.E.D. I tend to be fairly rational and level-headed. But something about having nothing solid between me and the ground inspires feelings of panic and desperation in me.

Two quotes are running around and around in my head, though.

"Fear is a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life." - Donald Miller

"Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt" - William Shakespeare 
Next week should be interesting.

Continue to Part II here.

*Picture copyright of David Y Knox Photography and taken from http://www.highpointhummer.com/rafting.html.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Of Goals and Dreams, Part I

I tend to be a very goal-oriented person. I have a list of reading goals pinned to a cork-board in my room. I have cooking goals enumerated on this site. I've set goals for myself involving time, finances, practicing, organizing, and a host of other things.

My goal-oriented readers understand how motivating goals can be. Short-term goals can be a great way to force oneself to be more effective and productive.

But there is a danger inherent in goal-setting, too. Small goals must be a part of a bigger picture to be meaningful. Attainable goals that lead nowhere can be as fruitless as no goals at all.

"Without a vision the people perish." - Proverbs 29:18

No number of accomplished goals will be fulfilling if they don't ultimately lead towards a dream. If one doesn't have a long-term vision, dream, or goal for his or her life, smaller goals becomes simply meaningless steps.

Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years forever changed the way I thought about goals. I started analyzing my short-term goals in terms of the bigger story that I wanted my life to be. Rather than just mindlessly setting reachable goals, I'm trying to spend more time thinking about where those goals ultimately lead.
"If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable." - Seneca

If short-term goals are simply ends within themselves, failing to reach them becomes quickly frustrating. However, seeing my short-term goals as a part of a bigger picture allows me to maintan a healthy long-term perspective, even if I fail to reach the short-term goals in exactly the way I plan.

Goals are what we do during the day. But vision is who we are in the dark of the night. Goals are a natural result of a clear vision. But without a vision, goals can quickly become meaningless trivialities. Goals can provide immediate satisfaction and a sense of direction. But a long-term dream provides a sense of security even when struggles and difficulties arise in the short-term. 

"When obstacles arise, you change your direction to reach your goal; you do not change your decision to get there." - Zig Ziglar

Reassesing the way I think about goals has changed the way I treat my goals. I'm trying to spend less time obsessing over specific goals and more time thinking about where those goals are leading me. Rather than fretting about specific places where I fail to meet my own short-term expectations, I'm trying to focus more on the big picture and on where my short-term goals are ultimately taking me.

Do you have a clear long-term vision for yourself? Are your goals leading you there?

Continue to Part II of this series.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Linkage

I hope your week was splendid! I know mine was. Here's some links to enjoy this weekend.

Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the rush and forget our dreams. It takes courage to stand for the dreams that matter to us. Michael Hyatt's "6 Steps to More Courage" is a helpful reminder.

Along the same lines, Leadership Freak provided some tips on prioritizing in order to make the most of one's time.

Meanwhile, John Maxwell talks about how to examine the driving force behind our actions.

Perhaps my favorite find of the week was"How Jane Austen Taught Me to be a Man" by William Deresiewicz in the Wall Street Journal. If you don't have a subscription, it's worth signing up for the two-week trial subscription just to read it. Deresiewicz perfectly pegs one of Austen's greatest lessons when he writes, "You don't have to be certain, I discovered, to be strong. And you don't have to dominate people to earn their respect."

Although the article is aimed at a male audience, I can fully relate to many of the author's points. My favorite line of the article occurs when Deresiewicz writes, " I wasn't just aggressively sure of myself. I was also oblivious to the feelings of the people around me, a bulldozer stuck in overdrive."

My sister shared Pinecone Camp with me a few days ago...I look forward to browsing through her lovely photos and archived posts!

What did you read this week?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Shannon Miller Photography

I have a lovely friend named Shannon. Shannon, in addition to her other full-time job, takes photos. Not just any photos, mind you.*

Beautiful photos.

Breathtaking photos.

Photos with personality.

And even a bit of quirky charm.

Even Shannon's business cards are beautiful, with a different photo gracing the back of each card. It took me ten minutes just to pick a favorite card!


Shannon has a talent for capturing the joy and beauty of each moment.

I have been trying to convince Shannon (so far with no avail) to begin a photo blog. But for now, I love looking through her new photos as they are uploaded to her Facebook page. And I promise that you will too.

*All photos in today's post are used with the permission of Shannon Miller

Monday, May 16, 2011


I am a huge believer in the theory that food should not only taste good, but be beautiful. I have been pleased with the taste of my recent culinary endeavors, but not as satisfied with the visuals. So I've set off on a mission to produce prettier food.

Cupcakes seemed to provide a dependable canvas from which to start the journey. So, on Saturday, I made lemon cupcakes, modifying this recipe slightly.

Then I made raspberry frosting, using this recipe as a foundation.

Using the basic Wilton frosting set available in the Target baking aisle, I set out to make my cupcakes at least a little prettier than former attempts. The frosting set was actually remarkably easy to use.

I'm not hugely impressed with the results, honestly. While they are a far cry from my original attempts to paste on frosting with a spatula, I still have a long way to go. The frosting looks a bit wet to me and I need to practice a bit with the frosting tips. However, I'm reasonably happy with my results as a beginning.

Lemon Cupcakes

1 box of white cake mix
1/4  up lemon juice
1 cup milk
3 whole eggs
6 tbl melted butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the cake mix, lemon juice, and water. Blend. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add melted butter. Mix on medium speed for two minutes. Line two cupcake pans with cupcake liners and fill liners with batter. Bake for 16-18 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Raspberry Frosting
4 cups of powdered sugar
8 tbls softened butter
1 tbl shortening
1/4 cup milk
1/4 tsp raspberry extract
1/4 tsp almond extract

Blend butter and shortening in a mixer until smooth. Add sugar slowly, blending after each addition. Add milk slowly, blending. Add food coloring. Add additional milk and powdered sugar as needed to get the right consistency. Beware, though, that the frosting should seem too stiff. Don't overdo the milk!

After the cupcakes have cooled completely, frost as desired. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Some Organizing Ideas

I love reading about organizational methods, tricks, tips, and tactics. I aspire to be one of those completely organized people to whose madness there is perfect method. My madness is still, well, just plain madness most of the time. Even my greatest achievements in the field of organization are often short-lived at best.

There are, however, a couple of steps I've taken that have consistently made me more organized, less crazy, and overall more effective.
  • Rising early. During the work-week, I get up between 5:30 and 6:00. On the weekends I'm not quite as ambitious, but I do try to be moving by 8:00 or 8:30 at the latest. Extra time in the morning allows me to enjoy an established, leisurely routine rather than frantically rolling out of bed and dashing out the door. Additionally, quiet time alone in the morning allows me to muster my mental and emotional forces and meet the rest of the day (and all of the people that I encounter) with energy, enthusiasm, and focus rather than with irritation and frustration.
  • Lists. I haven't mastered a perfect method for lists yet, but I do make them. All the time, and everywhere. Post-it notes are probably not the ideal form for effective lists, but my random and colorful post-it notes scattered across desks, walls, and mirrors have consistently kept me on track, both at home and at work.
  •  The ground level. I have an ideal level of cleanliness, the one I achieve once a week for an hour after I have attacked every nook and corner of my house. But then I have the realistic clean. When this slides during the week, so does my sanity. I have discovered that I need to maintain a certain level of tidiness in order to be happy, productive, and un-stressed. Not perfection. Just a reasonable environment. Find out what this level is for you and then maintain it. Knowing the level of tidiness at which you are productive and effective allows you to prioritize better.
  • E-mail drafts. Saving lists, memos, blog drafts, and a host of other random things to my e-mail account has saved me countless hours. I even e-mail myself important documents and files "just in case" I ever need them when away from my computer.
What is your best organizing trick?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Linkage

Happy Friday! This week seemed longer than most to me. Anyone agree? But at the end of a longer-than-normal week, it's good to be reminded, by articles like Jon Acuff's recent guest post on Relevant, of the bigger picture.

At the end of a long week, it helps me to remember the point behind the daily grind, the bigger dreams of which daily jobs are just a small piece.

Speaking of the daily grind, I recently discovered John Maxwell's blog on leadership. His blog covers a wide variety of topics related to leadership, like time management, communication, and organization, and has a wealth of resources.

Another new favorite of mine is Small Notebook. The author writes prolifically about organization and time management in the context of real life. Her blog is also just beautiful!

On another note, I've always heard the mantra "Stupidity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." (A friend pointed out that this is really just a sloppy revision of the original quote by Einstein...details, details).

But Seth Godin offers a new twist on this mantra when he writes " Persistence isn't using the same tactics over and over. That's just annoying. Persistence is having the same goal over and over."

What are your weekend plans?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

Tomorrow is Mother's Day. My present to my overwhelmingly deserving mom will be late, partly because I'm a poor planner and partly because I would rather give it to her in person. Fortunately, Mom gives a lot of grace in the gift department.

I have been blessed with an amazing mother. A blog post isn't really a sufficient medium to express my appreciation to the woman who has daily poured out her life for my dad, my brothers, my sisters, and me.

My mom has shown me what it means to love unconditionally, unquestioningly, and with total abandon. She has easily been the most influential force on my walk with God. She is an unwavering example of patience and grace.

My mom has a gift for instantly connecting with people and for making everyone, even complete strangers, feel loved. Grocery clerks have poured out their hearts to her in the checkout line. Hundreds of people (literally) have eaten at her table. Men and women and girls and guys of all ages come to her for advice.

So in honor of (really) the best mom in the world and the woman who has taught me everything I know about life and love and people and God, here's a list of some of the wisdom she has shared and shown over the years:
  1. Smile, even if you don't feel like it.
  2. The key to a great conversation is letting the other person talk about him/herself.
  3. Good food solves 90% of the world's problems.
  4. Strapless dresses don't actually look good on very many people.
  5. You'll feel better after you clean.
  6. Self-deprecating humor is the best kind of humor.
  7. There isn't enough time to read everything out there. Skip the trash.
  8. Paint it white.
  9. Black looks good on everybody.
  10. Don't borrow money. Ever.
  11. Take a hostess gift. Always.
  12. Add wine to the ingredients.
  13. Better over-dressed than under-dressed.
  14. Never leave your dishes for the morning.
  15. Don't be easily offended.
  16. Put on some mascara.
  17. Throw it away.
  18. Make your bed.
  19. Stop whining, quit thinking about yourself, and serve somebody else. Now.
  20. It's all about the presentation.
  21. Make some bread.
  22. Be careful handling raw chicken.
  23. Get up earlier.
  24. Go to bed and you'll be better in the morning.
  25. Be sincere.
And to all of the mothers that I know, new and experienced, young and old(er), I hope tomorrow that you feel as honored, loved, and blessed as you are. Happy Mother's Day!