Unfinished… And Okay With That

As a reading junkie, I grew up finishing every book I picked up. I might leave chores or projects half-done, but when it came to books, I’d read every word. Even if I lost interest, I wouldn’t admit it. Guilt made me soldier on to “The End.”

Now, I have lots going on: family, travel, writing, household. I still read a lot, but sometimes I’ll start a book and realize it’s not for me. My inner sixth-grade bookworm whispers, “You have to read it to the end.”

But if I don’t enjoy a novel, why force myself to read the whole thing? Or what if I got a book for some purpose, like research, and it doesn’t have what I need?

I’m learning to give myself permission to drop a book I find uninteresting or unhelpful.

For example…

In 2009, I got a copy of Moby Dick because it was a favorite of one of my Lit profs. It started with interminable background information and descriptions, interrupted by 17 pages of scientific information about whales. In all, I read 37 chapters, during which almost nothing happened. Nine years later, I’ve never read another word of it.

Evidently I’m not in the literary elite. I’ll live.

More recently, I snagged a novel by an author someone recommended. A quarter of the way in, I acknowledged none of the characters interested me… and quit reading.

Guilt, schmilt. I felt free, baby!

Right now I’m preparing to work on a biography project that I’m pretty excited about, so I bought a couple of biographies to study as examples.

The author of one biography is a big fan of the subject, and “wrote himself into” the story. While a rather fun read, the book is more about the author’s treks to interview family members and former colleagues than it is about the subject himself. Because my project is historical in nature, it will need a sober, more objective approach. I dropped the book as an example after a few chapters.

Note, there’s nothing wrong with any of these books. With the biography, I even benefited from the parts I read. Seeing what won’t work for my project provided some good insight as to what will work.

As near as I can figure, leaving a book unfinished takes as much resolve as reading it through. But my life is full enough right now. Reading irrelevant books, or those I start and simply don’t like, would be a waste of time.

Your turn: If you’re a book lover, do you easily give up on a disappointing book? Or do you feel obligated to finish it? I welcome your comments in the “Leave a Reply” box below.

Thanks for reading,

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How’re Those Resolutions Working?

I just ran across the following post, which first appeared on this blog January 2, 2017. I thought it was worth sharing again. This year, I’m timing it for three weeks into the almost-new year… that stretch when enthusiasm for January’s resolutions seems to fade. I hope it encourages you!

How to Fix Broken Resolutions

New Year’s Day is a perfectly fine and logical occasion for taking a self-inventory and setting some goals—if you have time between shopping the sales.

But it’s easy to exaggerate the importance of January 1 as The time to make a fresh start. For me, setting New Year’s resolutions led to thinking of the whole year as one single unit of time. When I relapsed on a habit in February or got hopelessly behind in my reading during April, I’d tell myself, “I blew it!”—and give up for the rest of the year.

“There’s always next January,” I’d say.

I thought about this the last week of December, during my Bible reading. I was working through the first half of the Gospel of Luke, and felt a little twinge of regret. Too bad I won’t wrap up Luke on December 31.

Then I listened to myself.

Really? Am I gonna get sidetracked trying to sync my Scripture reading with particular dates on the calendar?

Did anyone who’s actually in the Bible ever limit themselves to specific times for taking important actions?

Mondays may be my usual “laundry day,” but let’s say it’s Thursday and the dog barfs on my favorite jeans. You can bet I’ll have those babies in the washing machine before you can say “Tide with Febreze.”

As near as I can figure, a “Once-yearly Fresh Start” mindset puts too much pressure on us. The fact is, people need fresh starts all the time. So why wait? The time to make a change is whenever you need one.

Did you hurt someone? Apologize now.
Do you need to spend more time working or studying? Set up a schedule now.
Has it come to your attention that you eat too much deep-fried stuff? Break out the grill now.

And if you mess up?

Admit it and start over. Don’t wait for next year, or next month, or National Salad Day. Start over now.

If you follow Jesus, remember He wants our faithfulness. Not just on New Year’s Day, or just on the Sabbath. If He tells you to do something, do it now.

After all, that’s how He worked. When did he feed the five thousand families out on the mountainside? At dinnertime. He taught when it was time to teach, healed whenever sick people came for healing… and sacrificed Himself on the cross when it was time to buy our forgiveness once and for all.

That sacrifice made the priceless gift of God’s grace available to all who believe in Him.

All I have to do is admit I’ve messed up, and He extends a fresh start every time.

That’s what fixes broken resolutions: Grace.

Your Turn:
What about you? Do once-a-year resolutions energize you, discourage you, or something in between? I’d love to hear your thoughts. There’s room for you in the “Leave a Reply” box below.

Happy Almost-New Year!
Thanks for reading,


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Through Hot and Through Cold

Baby (tree), it’s cold outside!

Are we overprotective parents?

I ask because we seem to put a lot of effort into making sure our landscaping doesn’t die.

Not so easy during winter in our part of the country, where heat waves can alternate with hard freezes. This week we’ve been in deep-freeze mode, which is what we call it when the temp stays below freezing for a couple of days.

And so we put puffy winter vests on our little sapling Chinese Tallow tree.

Aren’t they cute?

Thanks for reading,

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59 of My Closest Friends, Many of Whom I Barely Remember

Party Day: Many hands make light work.
Photo courtesy of Gina Barnes

Our high school graduating class hadn’t held a reunion in ages, so a few of us came up with the idea for a classwide birthday party.

If you knew me as a teenager, you realize I’m the very least-likely person to suggest and plan a huge party. We’re talking The Ultimate Wallflower. Aside from an occasional sleepover, I don’t think I even attended any parties while in high school.

That introversion is also why I barely remember many of my classmates. I spent most of those four self-conscious years wondering what everyone else thought of me instead of paying attention to them.

Anyway, back to the party… My friend Gina and I started the ball rolling, asking locals to find a venue and a caterer. We created a Facebook group to get the word out. Friends added friends, people who aren’t on Facebook heard from others who have their contact info, and the guest list began to grow.

We booked the perfect party room, just big enough and plenty warm on a chilly night. Just one little shortcoming: no sound system. Only the four people closest to the cake-table boom box could hear the Doobie Brothers and Lynrd Skynrd tunes. And all those brilliant welcoming remarks I was gonna make?

They went unsaid.

So, yeah, pretty much like my entire time in high school.

Be that as it may, I learned a few things and found some fabulous blessings in the evening…

1) Facebook is a marvelous invention. In fact, we couldn’t have gathered nearly as many classmates without the ripple effect of those connections. But being together in person–seeing and hearing each other, the warm hugs, catching up on each other’s lives–technology offers no substitute. Not even close.

“Reunited and it feels so goooood…..”

2) Don’t wait too long to get together. A shocking number of our class members have died since graduation.

3) A good reunion takes a village: the planners, the local connections, the inviters, the setter-uppers, and the guests who take their weekend to travel for the event.

4) It doesn’t have to run flawlessly to be fun and meaningful to everyone.

5) Some classmates I barely knew in school, or didn’t think I had much in common with, have turned out to be fascinating people.

6) Best of all… None of us are teenagers anymore!

Your turn: Have you ever been to a reunion? Been pleasantly surprised at anything about your now-grown-up classmates? Bonus points if you tell an embarrassing story on yourself.

Thanks for reading,

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Baby Shoes, by Lynne Gentry

From Amazon:

Image credit: Amazon.com

When the life you save is your own…
Madison Harper is an uptight doctor on her way to international recognition. Parker Kemp is no longer the fun-loving cowboy Madison tried to ignore in high school. He’s a humanitarian who came home from a third-world country with a life-threatening illness and an adorable daughter. Maddie and Parker can’t fall in love and continue to save the world…or can they? Opposites attract and bridges are mended in the heartwarming conclusion to the Harper family saga.
Humor. Heart. Hope.
Come home to Mt. Hope and laugh until you cry.

Why I recommend it:

In Mt. Hope, Texas, Lynne Gentry has created a town full of hugely endearing characters. This fourth book in the Mt. Hope series sets its sights on Maddie, the daughter of former pastor and his widow, Leona. The mother-daughter friction makes for an uneasy framework, but also gives the story a lot of heart.

Not to mention her off-again, off-again “relationship” with Parker Kemp, formerly the agriculture agent for Mt. Hope and the county. He’s fled to Guatemala to help provide safe water and try to bury his feelings for Maddie.

I enjoyed watching Maddie’s conflicting priorities careen around, wobble, and finally settle into place. I hope you like this Great Weekend Read as much as I did.

Thanks for reading,

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Things I Learned About Holidays with Grandkids

Having our son and his family visit from halfway across the country made this past Christmas extra special. I need to see our grandchildren more often, though… it seems I’ve forgotten a lot about living with preschoolers. Here for your enlightenment / review are some things I learned–or re-learned–during their visit.

Having a booster seat for the little man is great, but it needs to actually be at the airport when the kids arrive. Fortunately, we thought of this and Brent drove up to meet them, hand over the booster, and ferry their luggage to our house.

The playground is your friend.

Ceramic soap dispensers in the children’s bathroom: no. Go with the plastic bottle.

Sleep is golden, especially when the children are experiencing it.

Sometimes the littlest visitor can be the boldest feeder of goats.

Mommy knows best. Follow her lead.

Tearing the paper off gifts is 90% of the fun.

If a 2- or 4-year-old asks for a particular food, that’s no guarantee he will eat it. As near as I can figure, the likelihood of the food being eaten is inversely proportional to the amount of trouble involved in preparing it.

Model trains are fun for children of all ages.

I hope your Christmas was as fun and wonderful as ours was!
Thanks for reading,

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New Year’s Luck: A Guest Post

I wanted to share this post with you because it gives a northerner’s charming take on our treasured Southern tradition of eating blackeye peas on New Year’s Day. The post first appeared December 31, 2017 on Carolee’s blog “Herbal Blessings.” Carolee is my online gardening friend– At least, I drool over the pictures of her robust kitchen garden, and enjoy her stories. You can visit her here.

Take it away, Carolee!

New Year’s Luck

Posted on December 31, 2017 by carolee
I grew up on a farm, two miles from a town that we rarely visited except to go to school and church, and on Friday nights during basketball season. (This is Indiana, after all, and high school basketball was almost a religious experience.) Holidays were not given a lot of attention, other than Christmas. New Year’s Day was just another day of doing chores, at least until we got a television, and then watching the Rose Parade became a welcome tradition.

So as an adult when I moved to a city and met Cherie, a true southern lady who was aghast that I didn’t eat blackeye peas on New Year’s Day to ensure good luck in the coming year, it was a revelation. She was so adamant that I was instantly converted to believer. Decades and decades later, that tradition is still followed in my home.

Cherie grew up with a traditional blackeye pea dish in which the peas are simmered all day with ham hocks or pork belly until tender. Collard greens were also part of the mix. To me, blackeye peas are confusing, because they actually resemble beans much, much more than they resemble peas. Cherie’s dish was not especially to my northern taste bud’s liking, so early on I developed this blackeye pea salsa that is our New Year’s tradition, and many years later published it in my first book, “Herbal Beginnings.” If you have the book, it’s listed as “New Year’s Day Salsa.”

To Cherie’s horror, I use canned peas.

Here’s the recipe: Drain 1 can blackeye peas and place in a mixing bowl with 4 Roma tomatoes, diced; 1/2 c. chopped red onion; 1/2 a large green pepper, diced; 1/4-1/2 c. chopped fresh cilantro; 1 (or more to your liking) fresh jalapeno pepper, finely diced; juice of a lime, salt and pepper to taste. Allow salsa to rest a few minutes for flavors to develop.

I generally serve it with grilled tilapia, a healthier choice than chips. Nothing flashy, but it seems to work. I feel I’ve had very good luck in the years since I’ve eaten them on New Year’s Day.

As I surveyed the seed catalogs this week, I found that a Hoosier seed store actually carries blackeye peas. The varieties they offer are “California Blackeye #46,” “Pink Eye Purple Hull,” and “Queen Anne Blackeye.” I’ll have to do some research to see which type I’ll grow, because I suspect if an anonymous can of blackeye peas can bring good luck, then blackeye peas that have been lovingly planted, carefully tended in my organic potager, harvested and stored at precisely the right time should be even luckier. Don’t you agree? Besides, it’s always fun to try something new, and I’ve never grown them before. I wonder if the flavor difference between homegrown and canned will be as pronounced as it is for green beans. It will be fun to find out!

On this final post of 2017, I wish you all the best of good luck in the coming New Year, and hope 2018 will be filled with Herbal Blessings and fun galore! Carolee

It’s me, Jan, again. Carolee’s New Year’s Day Salsa, which resembles a dish I’ve heard called “Texas Caviar,” looks pretty yummy, don’t you think? I might just cook that jalapeño first, though. I’m a transplanted northerner, myself…

Your turn:

What New Year traditions do you keep? Tell me about it in the “Leave a Reply” box below the post.

Thanks for reading,

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