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.

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*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.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My Facebook Adventure, Part II

As I mentioned yesterday, I deactivated my Facebook for a few days last week as a sort of experiment. The experiment taught me a great deal about the way I manage time (and the way my use of time occasionally manages me!).

1. I log-in to FB without thinking far too often. I deactivated my Facebook account Monday night. Before 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, I had started to log in more times than I care to admit. There was never a particular reason. It was just an automatic reflex.

2. My creative energy started to become massively productive by mid-Tuesday morning. Bits and pieces that would have turned into meaningless status updates instead developed as I went about my day, turning into blog posts and brainstormed bits for my thesis, among other things.

3. I had more time in the morning. I slept in later than usual throughout last week, but even with less time, I managed to accomplish far more before leaving for work than I normally do.

4. I didn't miss Facebook as much as I thought I would. I was surprised by how little pressure I suddenly felt to check my feed or my messages. I felt relieved as if I had suddenly turned down an enormous obligation. I didn't miss out anything important. People who needed to contact me simply e-mailed or called me instead.

5. Facebook expands to fill the time allotted. Towards the middle of the week, I did began to feel a little as if I was missing out on my friend's activities and lives. So I reactivated my account a couple of times during the week-day evenings to briefly see what I had missed by *not* checking my Facebook. (As accounts can only be reactivated every 24 hours, this was fairly self-limiting.)
In under ten minutes, I was able to quickly skim my news feed and my friends' walls, catch up on the week's events, and glance at a few new picture of my brother's overseas adventures. Instead of wasting large amounts of time during the day by constantly logging in, I was able to catch up on everything Facebook-related in only a few minutes.

6. I didn't suddenly lose contact with all of my friends, close or far. If anything, I had more time to spend with them.

7. I enjoy Facebook and won't permanently deactive my account.....yet. Ultimately, this week's experiment taught me that I can use my Facebook account more efficiently. I appreciate the chance to reassess the way I use my time. But I'm not ready to turn it off for good quite yet.
How does Facebook impact your life, postively and negatively?

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Facebook Adventure, Part I

Last week I did the unthinkable. I deactivated my Facebook account. It wasn't a permanent step. It was a personal experiment. I turned off my Facebook for a few days for several reasons:
  • I was finding myself more and more pressed for time.
  • I suspected I was probably spending more time on Facebook than I wanted to admit, even to myself.
  • I wanted to see how much I "missed" by being absent from Facebook.
  • I wanted to find out if Facebook was making my life richer or if it was simply a drain.
  • I needed to know whether my writing was better without Facebook.
This blog is about pursuing rich living in the midst of the everyday clamor. Living well requires constant reassessment of one's goals, priorities, and use of time. Turning off my Facebook account for a few days was a step in that direction. 
I learned some unexpected lessons from my brief Facebook reprieve. I'm excited to share them with you tomorrow!*

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Monday Meal: Quesdilla

This recipe is quick, flexible, and satisfying.

2 flour tortillas
1/2 a bell pepper
1/2 an onion
olive oil
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. Remove vegetables from pan.

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

Cover half of each tortilla with a thin layer of cheese. Add a layer of vegetables. Fold uncovered layer of tortilla over covered half so that each tortilla resembles a half-moon.

Place both quesadillas in pan. Cook on medium heat and flip occasionally until each side is satisfactorily browned. Enjoy! And Happy Fourth of July!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sunday Inspiration

We hold these truths to be self-evidence, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    - The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776