To Remember

We got a new puppy last week.

His name is Dexter, he likes to chew on the leaves of our fig tree and our carpet is a new level of dirty because of him. But he’s an excellent snuggler.

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In part because of him, and in part because of Thomas’ new shift at work that has severely thrown off sleep schedules, I’m coming out of a place of mental exhaustion. Last week, I was especially tired, anxious and homesick. Weary of demands and lacking creative motivation. Craving more.

I’m emerging, slowly, surely. One thing that’s helped has been the act of remembrance – reflecting on what was and noticing what is. Emily Freeman recently wrote in this post, The practice of paying attention serves as an anchor for the soul in a fast-moving world.”

If you’re in a phase of just trying to keep afloat, maybe these practices will help you like they help me. Partnered with some crying, good reading, and a group yoga class to reinforce you’re not alone, they’re pretty much infallible (disclaimer: I’m not a therapist).

1. Remember your “first things.”

A recent sermon at church outlined how Jesus frequently directed people to the one thing that they needed (see Mary and Martha). Instead of being burdened with the distractions of wealth, tasks, popularity or worry, he encouraged people to simply seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. As a follower of Christ, this one thing should be my first thing. Under the realization that Jesus is all I need to thrive, my anxieties can be rightly minimized. Not saying this is easy, but it’s the hierarchy I’m seeking after.

2. Remember to be grateful.

I may not get eight hours of continuous sleep each night. I may be cooking dinner for one most evenings. I may feel confused about what’s next, or nervous to ask myself how our marriage is adjusting to a new season, but at least I feel safe where I live. At least I can eat until I’m full and have socks to cover my cold feet. Life is undeniably kind to me once I get out of the way to notice it.

3. Remember (and trust) your path.

I choose to believe, through any doubt, that God paved the way for where we are right now, in this city, with these jobs and friends and dogs. To back down in fear of what’s foreign would be to deny how He’s worked in us the last two years, and beyond. We’re on a path we like. It’s scary sometimes, but we trust it.

4. Remember your vision.

When we moved to this new-ish place, I had very specific daydreams about cooking in a bigger kitchen, taking walks in the park and hosting friends often. I imagined volunteering and writing and abiding in things I really cared about. When I start thinking negatively and my mood swings low, it’s helped much to remember what I originally desired of this season. Although some of these may take stronger shape than others, it keeps me focused on using time intentionally…not letting days slip by unannounced.

5. Remember weakness is not an enemy.

In fact, weakness is the very thing that keeps us able to relate to other people. I guess two twenty-somethings could bond over their impeccable decorating taste (with what budget?) or how preparing and slicing a perfectly crisp roasted chicken is soooooo simple. But the riskier conversation – the one about loneliness or big choices – will surely lead to a deeper relationship. And that’s the one I want. Expressing even small pieces of what I’m feeling helps. It’s like passing a little palmful of vulnerability to someone and praying they won’t drop it. I’ve found that most of the time, they don’t.

So there you have it. What would you add?

I’ll Leave the Porch Light On

To the person who enters our home:

I’ll leave the porch light on, so you can be sure you’re at the right place. Feel free to knock and come right in, or maybe don’t worry about knocking at all. But if you don’t, announce yourself so we don’t get spooked. Preferably in a funny accent.

You can leave your shoes at the door, or keep them on. Nothing here is too pristine for dirt, but some people have a thing about others seeing their socks. Hopefully you don’t mind our dog shoving her face in between your legs. We think it’s darn adorable and never discouraged it, so that’s our fault, I suppose.

I’ll try to have some music on and drink options ready. And we’d truly be happy to give you something other than water. We may or may not have time to lint roll the couch, so do expect a trace (or so) of dog hair…part of the glories of pet ownership. Push aside the pillows or prop one behind your back. Put your feet on the coffee table or tuck them under you. You are welcome here.

Our dining chairs are super creaky, so you may immediately feel the need to sit very still; this is unnecessary. We’ll all be there together, creating a big creak-fest, so don’t let that bother you.

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Let us tell you that we love hosting stuff. Football games and weeknight dinners and weekend breakfasts. We think these things keep families together and friendships constant. So in this, we have a few goals.

1. We’ll try to be as accessible as possible. We’ll try to remain open enough to not have to schedule out dinner two weeks in advance. We’ll agree to be spontaneous with evening plans to make this relationship thrive, even if it means running to the grocery store for more chicken at the last minute. If it’s 8pm and you need dessert and company, say so. If you need a change of scenery on a Thursday and our house is your only hope without going to Target and spending money (been there), tell us. We can’t guarantee that our floors will be glossy, the counters cleared off and laundry won’t be in progress, but we’ll try our hardest to be available.

This is a good practice for me, too, you know. I’m working on being less rigid and more flexible, so you nearly surprising me will be an exercise in rejecting balled up fists for a more serene, joyful and open frame of mind. It’s a win-win.

2. We’ll ease into the mess. We’ll chat you up about all the snow we’ve had, new babies in the family and how work is going. But then we’ll tell you how it’s challenging for us to be on opposite schedules, or no schedule at all. We’ll bring up homesickness and hope and church, and that’s our invitation to you to let us in on your life. We’ll feed you and laugh with you, but we really want to know you. So we’ll ask you questions and sometimes backtrack to rephrase our words and ask a better one. We’ll hope you’re not too uncomfortable and wishing you picked up a pizza for dinner by yourself instead.

We won’t be the perfect hosts. I may be distracted trying to time the meal so the potatoes come out of the oven as the meat’s resting. Thomas might talk your ear off about dog training or the code book of Indiana law. We might have an ant problem. But we hope you can look past these things and come over anyway.

We want you in our home. We love each other, sure, but we also love having different voices in the conversation; different stories and quirks and laughs. Taking into consideration humans’ innate desire to connect, we need you in our home.

I’ll burn the candles, then make make sure the porch light’s still on when you leave.

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What I’m Reading

I won’t lie. I often struggle to finish things I start.

Just last week, I got around to completing a scrapbook of our South Africa trip from 2+ years ago. I’m still dragging my feet to put a wedding album together. That dining set makeover from last fall was my game-changer in the world of Get Your Projects Done Already.

But so far, 2015 has graced me with this ability in the much more relaxed world of reading. And because I’ve directed all my free time to these books, I thought I’d share what I’m loving right now. Maybe you’ll love them, too?

delicious1. Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

Recommended to me by Mom, this was a foodie book – lots of talk of cheese and spices and lengthy meal descriptions (not complaining). The language is elegant and rich, yet playful, and the book blends stories from present day New York City with Midwestern tales of World War II. A thoughtful and charming read.

2. Date Night In by Ashley Rodriguez

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Thomas gave me this cookbook for Christmas, and I proceeded to read it for a week straight, much like a novel. Ashley writes at Not Without Salt, and the woman has so much skill in pairing flavors, not to mention her stunning photography. The recipes are slightly more adventurous than what I’m used to cooking, which I believe is a good thing. I’ve already tried a handful and may have found a second love in the tarragon aioli.

The recipes are divided first into four seasons, then broken down into date night menus that include a cocktail or drink, appetizer or side, main dish and dessert. Ashley also gives an introduction to the menu based on her own date nights in.

“Together we are eclectic, introspective, creative, and funny – basically one hell of a person. A decade into this thing called marriage, I no longer wish for Gabe to be different, or more like me. Instead, I’m able to see the very reason why we are a team. Our differences attracted me to Gabe, drove me absolutely crazy, and made us strong. Gabe and I are soul mates, but we worked damn hard to get here” (p. 37).

This book is special, and I’m marking it up with joy.

3. The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smithnesting

My sister gave me this one, also for Christmas. The Nester is not a DIY blog, but Myquillyn instead focuses on loving your home in its imperfections – not waiting for the next house to be the dream house. It’s filled with practical tips (like where to save and where to splurge), but the greatest value of this book is its reminder of why we create inviting spaces and rooms in the first place.

In one section, she writes about the apology trap:

“I always apologized for my home to protect myself so people wouldn’t think I was a slob, or at least so they would know that I acknowledge I can be a slob and that I’m not okay with it and that really I have much higher standards than this and my house does not meet my requirements. But that day, I realized that when I apologize for my home, I’m declaring to all within earshot that I’m not content. That I’m silently keeping score. That I put great importance on the appearance of my home and maybe, just maybe, I’m doing that when I visit your home, too.

“Don’t apologize for what you have. It makes guests feel uncomfortable, it encourages discontentment, and if you’re married and your husband hears you apologizing for what he’s provided, it could be hurtful” (p. 61).

Other tidbits:

  • Buy a plant. If it dies, that’s okay. Buy another kind of plant until you find one that lives (p. 193).
  • For the love of all that is lovely, don’t be afraid to make a nail hole (p. 82).
  • Live in and enjoy your space. Don’t fret when something breaks or gets scratched, because that is a sign of a life well lived. Yippie, you are doing it right! (p. 194).

4. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

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This book. I heard about this bestseller probably a year ago, picked it up for cheap at the bookstore and flew through it. The story is pieced together by emails and letters interwoven with narrative and dialogue. It centers on a mother-daughter relationship (that, of course, has its dysfunctions) and had me laughing out loud at 7:00 in the morning and 10:00 at night. It has a ton of wit and soul, even in the serious parts. Loved.sweet paul

5. Eat & Make by Paul Lowe (in progress)

Again, another Christmas cookbook. It’s written by Norwegian Sweet Paul, namesake of the quarterly print magazine. Flipping through, the book is filled with recipes, many of which will push my tastes (again), and kitchen crafts, like jam jar salt and pepper shakers and coffee filter paper flowers. I’m excited to really dig into this one.

6. Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider (in progress)

blue bikeI can’t get away from non-fiction for long, can I? I discovered Tsh through her podcast, found here. The tagline of the book is “The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World,” and it centers on living consciously by way of small choices that make up a life. I’m like a sponge with these kind of books; should be a good one with many wise words.

Side Note: A few weeks back, I wrote about our transition to a new city, a new home with new coffee shops and schedules and one-way streets to memorize. This season, despite its tough moments, is doing a lot in my soul. These books have undoubtedly helped me make space in my brain and heart for both wisdom and whimsy. Words change us, you know?

How We Talk About Our Bodies

This is the time of year when everyone and their uncle talks about kale chips, pilates class, “easy” ways to lose 10 pounds and keeping health resolutions going – at least through January.

I get it. And I’m with them (except for my research yesterday on homemade puff pastry. The butter, Lord help us all).

Last week, I saw that some bloggers were gearing up for a prayer event that happens once each month called 12 Prayers. Each month focuses on a designated issue or topic. The goal is to read truth and attack the issue with prayer throughout the day, in 12 prayers.

This month’s focus was, rightfully, body image. Here are a few prayers from the day:

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“We pray that we would stop trying to grasp perfection for a vessel that is weak and dying.” 2 Corinthians 5:2-4

“Help us see where YOU find beauty.” Proverbs 31:30

“We pray that our souls would know the dignity we possess because we are made in your image.” Matthew 22:37-40

“We live our lives convinced these bodies are about us and our identity but we ask that you would take them back for your glory. When we forget their true purpose, remind us that these bags of flesh are tools for advancing your Kingdom, nothing more and nothing less.Romans 12:1

I loved this mini-study for a few very different reasons.

It went straight to the heart of what our bodies are made for. We like to like our bodies. This study did not claim that liking our bodies is bad. But it can be futile. We’re so critical of ourselves, scrutinizing dimples and shapes and the hair on our arms.

And our culture has competing ideals – we’re expected to strive for the (albeit often unattainable) flawlessness we see on magazine covers, yet raise the white flag and sign body peace treaties, accepting ourselves for who we are now. What? As long as perfection is the metric of success that society pushes, real body peace is hardly an option – by earthly standards.

What if we bypassed this confusion and celebrated our bodies for what they were made for? Not just high cheekbones and tiny ankles. What if we didn’t “settle” for what we have, didnt’t over-eat or under-eat to meet the expectations in our heads, didn’t say we’ll be happy when we have visible abs or triceps?

I’m under the impression we have every right to celebrate our bodies because – for heaven’s sake – we were given bodies with breath! To worship, and to fulfill God’s purpose of advancing the Kingdom while we can.

What this tells me is that my vision and purpose for my body is not about working out. But it’s not about not working out, either. What I’m saying is that I should eat the kale chips AND the puff pastry. We can’t abandon caring for our bodies (we were entrusted with them, after all). But the obsessions and critiques and wars with food and super close-up mirrors don’t rule us. They can’t, because we’ve already established a higher calling for our bodies.

The study also opened my eyes to the encouraging power of Instagram. No, really. A while back, one of my favorite authors wrote an article about Instagram’s Envy Effect, or how it’s tempting to project our lives in idealistic and inauthentic ways. While I know plenty of that goes on, I love seeing examples of how media can be used for encouraging and building. The idea of 12 Prayers relies on scripture, a group of writers’ honesty, and a dedication to spiritual movement. Now it has me wondering how I can implement something similar in my circle.

On a related note, I came back around to this blog post that advises how to talk to daughters about their bodies. Should I have a daughter one day, I hope I communicate some of these things to her.

And thanks, Mom, for frequently singing the ‘Miss America’ song when you heard me walking down the stairs in the morning, before you even saw what I was wearing.

The Best We Have

“Start where you’re at, be all the way where you are. Sink into where God has you…accept the lessons and the gifts.”

These warm words came from a blogger in my Instagram feed yesterday morning. And on that particular Monday – with a negative wind chill and a dog as my all-day company – those words felt important.

We’re in the throes of a fresh start. The year, naturally, but also the beginning of a new job for Thomas and a new, though undetermined, course for me. We’re one week moved into a rental house a few hours from home. The adjustment’s been slightly achey, but our eyes are wide open to how God’s provision spans wider than our apprehensions.

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Back in July, Thomas started a 5-month police academy that required us to spend weekdays apart. We’re still celebrating with the wine friends keep bringing over and repeat trips to Target – a small luxury, much like the half tiramisu/half biscotti gelato we split the other night.

We talked a lot about how we changed in 2014. How he learned resiliency and grew to lead others. He’s paying attention to his purpose (even if that purpose puts me on edge when I watch the news). And I’m different, too.

A few years ago when we traveled to Cape Town, a staff worker gave me a compliment I didn’t even know I craved when she said, “I think you’re brave.” I like to think that 2014 forced me to lean into courage. In the big things, but also in the small things. You know, like waking up on a Tuesday. The truth that God is the source of hope – I believe that’s the truth that enables our bravery.

One of the most daunting parts of this new start is that I’m not sure what’s next in our story. Sustaining our marriage on 15-minute phone calls and recounting the training to our family and friends gave us something to say. We had a goal to work toward, a barrier to overcome, and it molded, strengthened, sensitized and built us up.

Now that things are “normal,” what is our story? What are we working toward that will keep us from apathy and stagnation? Not just in our marriage, but in our lives as a whole?

My first step is admitting that I don’t know, but I want to find out. And today I have a little peace that even the smallest movement despite fear, on any level, is one of the best gifts we can offer God, and ourselves.

For My Family

Today I’m reminded of gratitude. Particularly for my family.

My little family – just my husband and my dog – and our favorite moments together on the couch or taking walks. It’s simple, and it’s sweet.

But I’m also so grateful for my big family.

The last year has been one of dramatic learning. Both closeness and distance. Dependence and trailblazing and so many dinners around those tables. Some for which we were invited. And some we invited ourselves.

I’m thankful that I actually want to be around them.

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I am filled with their jokes and laughter and their problem-solving of everyone’s issues, whether it’s welcomed or not. I’m thankful for a 6-year-old who sometimes calls me “Honey” and a 3-year-old that still lays his head on my shoulder, if he’s tired enough.

Siblings both 15 minutes and 5 states away. Parents who never let me pay for a meal, but instead say “Next time.” In-laws who don’t fit the stereotypes of in-laws.

In this life, it’s easy to point out dysfunction and what is not working. It takes a little more consciousness to notice the things that seem to be just as God intended.

That doesn’t mean it’s free of mess. We’re a bit untidy. Sometimes untactful. Sometimes irritated. But I think that’s how I like it – because we let our walls down enough to let everyone experience our true selves. For better, and for worse.

So today, for my family near and far, for those I’ll see today and others I won’t, thank you. Thank you for loving me and pushing me and seeing me.

And to my niece literally due any day now, feel free to arrive today. We won’t mind the inconvenience.

November Goals

The months are flying.

I remember celebrating the start of 2014, and now we’re deep into fall, complete with a 5-inch thick layer of leaves, frosty grass in the mornings and the consuming desire to eat chicken and noodles three times a week.

I remember the first week of January making a list of things I wanted to accomplish this year. I know I haven’t touched everything on the list, but in this season, specifically, being intentional about my time has been immensely helpful. I’ve felt more focused, ambitious and thankful. Centered on things that matter and more relaxed about things that are better rolling off my back than lingering on my mind.

But intentionality doesn’t come easy, so I’m modeling after some other bloggers and saying my goals out loud this month. Small things, for sure, but with only two months left in this year, I want to squeeze in what I can.

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1. Give the mirror a facelift.

It’s large and currently leaning against a wall of our bedroom, so you have to back up until you’re nearly out of the room to see your whole self. All it needs is a little paint on the frame, and we’ll be ready to hang.

2. Finish the book Delicious!

My mom said she laughed her way through this book. I’ve been out of the fiction world for more than a year, so this one holds promise to rope me back in.

3. Find the jeans.

Kind of at a loss here. But I’m hopeful.

4. Clean out the closet.

Technically, I already have. I’ve unearthed the criminology textbooks and old fish tank, the candles and extra pillow cases and Christmas decorations. But there is so much I’ve realized we don’t need. Time to do something with it.

5. Complete the Hospitality study on She Reads Truth.

She Reads Truth is a bible study app for women that provides different themed studies. Some look at individual books of the bible, and others cover a topic, like hospitality. The daily devotions are simple and meaningful, but I’ve never completed a whole study. Maybe this is my month.

Any goals for you this November?

With Unclenched Fists

I’ve been a conscientious person for as long as I can remember.

From matching outfits since age 2 to feeling sickeningly anxious about going into school without my homework finished, that sort of became my reputation. I liked order, sensibility, and using time – as I saw it – well.

I always had expectations of myself. And that often transferred to me having expectations of (and desiring some control over) how I spent my time – and, specifically, what results I gained from it.

That creates some problems.

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When Thomas and I went to separate colleges, we talked for days about how our weekends together would be. If I made the trip north, I imagined dinner together, splitting a gelato at our favorite coffee house, then waking up early to make breakfast and go to Target and imaginatively pick out what doormat or desk our first house would have.

But I’d get up there, and we’d be indecisive on a restaurant. Then the gelato place would be too crowded with chai latte sippers for us to sit and actually enjoy said gelato. We’d stay up until 2 a.m. watching a movie with a terrible plot and wake up at 10 the next morning – my favorite time of the day sacrificed to sleep. And pretty soon it would be time to leave and I would think, “What happened to our weekend?”

My expectation wasn’t met. The result wasn’t enough.

I was so fixated on the “perfect” plan, making me unavailable to letting the weekend unfold for what it was. An informal dinner, yes. A late night, yes. But still a precious weekend. Not wasted time.

For many of us, the natural reaction is to face new (or even routine) situations with clenched fists, demanding a certain result. Not a loud, openly assertive kind of demanding, but the quieter, passive-aggressive kind.

Maybe you expect vacation to restore you back to zero stress. Maybe you have high hopes for that new job with a vague title. Maybe you’re putting in a whole bunch of time to a project that doesn’t seem to be giving you the results you want.

When we throw weight behind these expectations, consciously or not, our exterior toughens.

Our fists close tighter. We become less open-minded, more resentful, and more tired.

Not that planning is a bad thing, or working hard is useless. I don’t believe that. But my expectations have frequently caused me to be closed off to opportunities that offer inherent beauty – the kind of beauty I don’t see because my hands aren’t open to it.

My goal is unclenched fists.

I still want to be a conscious person; that hasn’t changed. But instead of trying to force the outcomes in a certain direction – my direction – I want to loosen my grip. Accept what happens with grace and humility, rather than stubbornness and irritability.

If we do that, if we can risk not knowing and keeping an open mind and appreciating things for what they are, I think we’ll find beauty.

Lessons of a Dining Room

If you’ve been around me at all in the past two months, then you’ve probably heard me talk about my new dining set.

A few friends graciously gave us their old dining table and chairs. Previously, we only had two patio chairs that were too low for the table and made us more inclined to eat on the couch (read more of that post here).

They unloaded the set on a sunny Thursday in late August. The wooden table and chair frames were burnt orange, and the cushions – with hardly any cushion at all – were wrapped in floral fabric, circa 1976. They needed a little love, and it was going to be my project.

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Now I love the idea of DIY. But sometimes I’d rather buy stuff than get grumpy over shoddy end products that make me want to pout.

In this case, though, I was determined to revamp this set and finally give ourselves a dining room. Too many times, I had wanted to cook for people but always talked myself out of it over lack of seating and a table to gather around. So we picked up two cans of paint, and I waited until JoAnn’s had a nice sale to get the fabric I’d been eyeing. I did a little Googling, a little sanding, painting, cutting and stapling.

I made progress because I was desperate to finish something and be proud of it.

I was tired of screwing up another loaf of bread, I still hadn’t put together a wedding album from last year, and the stalks of my basil plant were becoming twig-like, a sure sign of horticulture failure. This dining set was my hope of homemaking redemption.

But I like to think the upgrade wasn’t entirely in vain.

It felt so slow. I’d work on a couple cushions one night. Sand, then paint a coat, wait. Paint another coat, wait.

I saw the potential, the movement, but I yearned for the satisfaction of completion. And that’s not dissimilar from how I approach the learning process in other scenarios, too. Whether I want to be more diligent in prayer or be a better cook or curate an inviting home, I thirst for results, for the finished product.

I want to be inspired every time I speak to God. I want those pancakes to be as tall as Joy the Baker’s. I just want to find an area rug that doesn’t cost me a month’s rent and have a steady supply of fall-scented candles and patterned dish towels.

What I forget is that – like those chairs – progress and what we perceive as improvements are not always immediate, tactile, buy-them-at-TJ Maxx things.

They could be. For example, I could make a day trip and load up a cart with throw pillows, placemats, glass vases and bowls. New, little sentiment. My home might be pretty, but it may feel forced by perfection’s pressure. And my heart just might take on that same shape, as well.

My parents’ home intrigues me because it features new paintings next to old clocks. A modern red couch, lit by the same lamp that was there when I was ten. It is warm, decorated for the seasons and a complete evolution from their 35+ years of marriage.

I believe making a home or uncovering what we’re good at, what we’re crazy for – is all about developing our character.

It’s about a life of curation, not instant gratification. A collection of lessons and learnings in process, not necessarily end products.

Because a dining room is not about the furniture; it’s about giving people a place. Time in prayer is not about getting all the answers; it’s about being re-connected to the source of who we are. Baking awesome bread is not about having luck once; it’s about knowing the dough from kneading it again and again.

I have to think that magic happens when we give ourselves permission to be imperfect, in progress. 

And I’m not very good at this, but you know, I’m working on it.

So go ahead. Curate your home, make your art, bake your cake, and enjoy the results. But don’t neglect to see value in the slow. To notice the points along the way that ground you, teach you, and bring you joy.

Writing Update + Reader Survey

Last week, I started an online course called “Find Your Writing Voice.”

The goal is to have a bit more clarity in terms of who I am as writer, what I bring with me to the page, and what I most want to say.

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Lately, I’ve been pulling inward with my writing, penning weekly letters, journaling daily. And now, I’m completing assignments for this course.

It was important for me to sign up for a couple reasons. I want to improve my writing – for me, and for you. And I don’t want my love of writing to go stale. I want to invite you in without giving you fluff, or redundancy, or a shallow, filtered version of what I really want to say.

So, I’m pulling inward. Not indefinitely, but just for right now.

But in the mean time, can you help me? I put together a quick reader survey and would be so appreciative if you took a few minutes to fill it out. I just want to know a bit more about who is reading and how I can try to serve you better.

If you know of anyone else who might enjoy taking a look, feel free to pass it on. And truly, thanks for reading.