If You’re Struggling With Boredom, Try These Things

Like most folks, I have a lot of acquaintances and friends that I interact with on a semi-regular basis via Facebook. And lately, a number of them have mentioned being bored, needing friends, needing social interactions, and similar issues.

During social isolation times, it makes sense that more and more folks are having issues in this realm – at least if they’re still respecting social distancing guidelines and realize that the virus has not gone away and the numbers are still climbing around the world.

I’ve been passing along tips and trying to engage myself, so I thought I’d pass those ideas along to my readers.

Join Meetup

Seriously, there are so many virtual groups on Meetup anymore that you’re just about guaranteed to find something you want to connect with folks on. Ideally, join some in your area, though, so that when in-person gatherings are safe again, you’ve got some friends waiting to greet you!

It may take a little while to find the right group – but stick with it, and they will show up in your feed.

Check Your Local Library Calendar

Libraries have had events going on for years and now they’re starting to really spread the love via virtual events. In the past month, I’ve joined two different library groups to gather with fellow writers and book lovers via virtual events. Can’t wait to join some more!

Check Facebook Groups

You’ve already joined a million different groups. Check to see which ones are hosting live virtual events. You’ll make some friends from around the world and enjoy the pleasures of planning to someday visit in person!

EventBrite, Groupon, and Goldstar Are a Thing

These ticket-selling platforms are another great place to find some amazing virtual events. Granted, they’re more performances, shows, talks, and what not than interactive events, but they’re still a great way to fill your evenings and weekends with some meaningful events that don’t require you to expose yourself to a deadly virus. So, definitely a winner!

And, yes, many of the events are FREE.

Look Into Your Favorite Fandoms And Theatre Companies

Podcasts that tour, theater companies that tour, television shows that are on hold, and other fandoms are still creating events and options for viewing and participating in things during these times.

My husband and I have recently attended some of these virtual performances and we have LOVED them. He was highly skeptical at first, but once we watched both a Welcome to Night Vale virtual event and a Max McLean & FPA recorded virtual event, he’s been hooked. We’re eagerly looking for more great date night options that we can discuss afterward for a few hours.

Doing Your Own NaNoWriMo In Lock-Down

July is over – and therefore Camp NaNoWriMo is over for the year, at least the official ones. If you’re unfamiliar with this “Camp” aspect of National Novel Writing Month, it is the time when writers can create their own writing, editing, or revising goals instead of the “set” 50,000+ words that the official NaNoWriMo has for November.

If you missed Camp, you can still do your own novel-writing goals.

The first time I ever did a NaNoWriMo unofficially was when I was 18 (yikes – 20 years ago!). I had a novel I’d written one chapter per year on for three years but in January 1999, I decided I wanted to finish that book already! So, I sat down on January 2 or 3, and basically didn’t get up again until the whole 105,000+ words was written, less than a month later.

I have done this again for 10 consecutive years for the official NaNoWriMo, completing drafts on 9 of the 10. I’ve also occasionally done others, drafting my first self-published novel under a pseudonym, Nobody’s Girl, the second in the series, Drop Dead Daisy, and some others I have yet to revise and publish.

If you have a novel you NEED to write, but just don’t make the time for, I’d highly encourage you to participate in your own NaNoWriMo during the lock-downs or at least the official NaNoWriMo come this November.

Select the Book You Want to Write

If you have one idea, you’re all set. If you have multiple ideas for plots, sort through them and see which one stands out to you the most at this particular point in time. Does one topic resonate more than another? Does one character feed your soul? Does one setting feel more comfortable and familiar?

Choose wisely! You’ll be living with this book for a month every day!

Outline and Research As Much As Possible First

If you’re writing a historical novel, be sure to look up books on the era, websites that focus on that era, etc. Writing a sci-fi? Figure out those parameters to make the science work first. Writing a fantasy? Choose your character types ahead of time.

Do as much “advanced work” as possible before you sit down to write to help free up time to focus primarily on the writing itself.

If you’re an outliner, outline the plot points ahead of time so you have something easier to work from along the way.

The key is, though, to do these things before you sit down to write. For my projects, I give myself a month to research and outline, then a month to draft.

Create a Clean Creatively Stimulating Work Space

Ideally, set up a spot in your home where you can write your novel that is separate from your at-home work station or bedroom. You want to separate your creative spot from the realities or work and sleep as much as possible.

If you can’t separate because of space, family, or other reasons, be sure to at least change up the environmental elements when you’re ready to write. When I lived in a studio apartment, I had one desk and no table. To change things up, I cleared away all work related documents, folders, etc., and set myself up with some lovely little bits to make the space feel more comfortable and less work-oriented, like scented candles, tea lights in pretty holders, used a special tea cup instead of every day mugs, and changed up the lighting with Christmas lights instead of bright white lights.

When You Write, Use Place Holders

Don’t get hung up on small details you can’t remember or don’t know. If you can’t remember the difference between the first revolver and a pepper pot, just put a place holder instead for now and come back later during revisions.

For myself, I insert “(look up)” or “(research)” – which is an easy-to-search-for term later on when I go back to revise/edit.

Take a Run or Shower When Your Well Runs Dry

If you’re getting stuck on something while you’re writing, give yourself a break and go get outside and take a run or walk. If it’s too cold walk around the house, use the treadmill or exercise bike (don’t have one? Look on Freecycle, Craigslist, OfferUp, or similar sites to find one cheap or even free).

Or, if activity isn’t doing it for you, get a hot bath or shower and let your mind wander.

I find that I solve almost all of my creative blocks on the running trail or in the shower. Hands down the most effective way to break writer’s block for me.

Unplug While You Write

Finally, unplug from the internet while you write. You’ll easily fall down the rabbit hole of “research” otherwise and look up at the clock two hours later to realize you’ve written 1000 words today instead of the planned 4000.

The Joy of Sun Tea

When I lived in Australia for a few months back in 2008, I had the joy of introducing my friends and church family there to sun tea. I hosted a church-wide “American” dinner that I whipped up for everyone (BBQ pulled pork, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, angel food cake, coriander cookies), and served sun tea as the American beverage.

I grew up in the South, so technically I should have used sugary tea, but knowing that my Aussie friends didn’t have much of a sweet tooth, I opted to do traditional sun tea.

How to Make Sun Tea

If you’re not familiar with making sun tea, it’s really rather simple. And absolutely delicious and delightful. It’s a beverage from my childhood, from my mother’s farmer-family side of the tree.

  1. Find a glass jar with a lid or use cling wrap and a rubber band
  2. Add 2-6 tea bags of choice to the jar (I like strong tea, so a 2-quart jar is usually a full 6 bags)
  3. Fill the glass jar with clean, fresh, cool water
  4. Cover the jar and place in direct sunlight.
  5. Let the tea “brew” for a few hours until it reaches the strength you prefer.

Great Options for Sun Tea

Our family’s personal favorites include any of these teas.

  1. Straight up black tea
  2. A blend of half black tea, half green tea bags
  3. Raspberry Royale Tea from Bigelow
  4. Mango Magic from Ahmad Tea
  5. London Fog from Harney & Sons
  6. Breakfast in Paris from Stash Teas
  7. Blueberry & Honey from Tevive

3 Healthy Substitutes for Junk We Crave

The other night, a friend mentioned her “COVID-15” as she sighed over not giving up sugar this summer as she had planned. With everything changed, less activity available, and almost zero safe socializing, it’s been easy for a lot of folks to put on these extra pounds. Especially since, apparently, everyone’s becoming a baking expert these days.

I work from home all the time and live about 45-minutes from most of the folks I know. We only recently moved to this area, so we never got the chance to make local friends. So, in many ways, the quarantine hasn’t changed our day-to-day life much.

It has, however, helped me become even more conscious of the things I’m eating and doing. I had wanted to focus on my health this year anyway, but after having COVID, I’ve especially felt this need.

One of those ways we’re making changes for health’s sake is substituting healthy items for less healthy.

1. Sparkling Water Instead of Soda

I’ve never been big into soda pop myself, but my husband has always had soda somewhere in his peripheral. I was getting bored with plain old water and felt like my own fruit-infused water was a waste of the fruit, so I decided to give naturally essenced, no sweetener added, sparkling water a try.

I quickly found a few flavors I love and tried introducing them to Matt. It took a while, but he began drinking the water as well and now we no longer keep Sprite for his upset stomach. Lemon or lime flavored carbonated water has all the qualities he was looking for without all the sugar.

2. Fruit Instead of Sweets

We generally only buy candy once a month – when I’m craving chocolate during my period – but otherwise, sweets haven’t been a huge issue for us. Except last year when I was developing a dessert-heavy cookbook for Ulysses Press. All those rich, buttery, British baked goods sucked us in.

Now, when I’m craving baked goods, candy, ice cream (my weakness!), or other sweets, I’m eating a piece of fruit first. Plums, peaches, nectarines, tangerines, apples, berries, etc. all provide that sweetness that I’m looking for without unnatural sugars and empty calories.

There’s some debate in the diet-world on whether or not fruit is good for you. If you have specific medical conditions, like diabetes, these concerns are valid. However, most of us should be eating a variety of fruits for the nutrients they provide. Restrictive diets (elimination of whole food groups) aren’t particularly healthy in the long run.

You can be selective about which fruits you consume, of course, and you should be. Some are much higher in carbohydrates than others, some are higher in fiber than others, and some are much higher in certain nutrients than others. Do a little study to learn which fruits fit best with your lifestyle and focus on those, but even then, don’t exclude the others you love altogether.

3. Hummus and Veggies Instead of Chips and Fries

We are a savories household. We love fries and chips (plantain chips for me!). But we know how unhealthy these can be. So instead of noshing on starchy potatoes, we whip up some hummus and baked or raw veggies wedges. We cut up sweet potatoes, green plantains, and other veggies that will crisp when baked and enjoy these with hummus dip made from dried chickpeas and Tahini. Or we cut up raw carrots and celery and green peppers and dip those in.

This substitute provides us with not only less fat and grease in our diets, but packs a punch of protein and veggies in when we’re craving junk. The trick is limiting the amount we eat.

The Good And The Bad Of Internet Fitness Challenges

I’m a fitness buff. I love running, strength training, doing yoga, taking long walks, trying new sports. But even with my great love of the active life, it can be hard to stay motivated. In fact, this is something I’ve been struggling with for several months now. Not because of the pandemic, but because, well, I’m tired. Or the weather is too hot or too cold or I’m too busy…and…

Fitness challenges are one of the ways I stay accountable to myself in times like these. But there are some dangers to them, too, which is why I’m very selective about the ones I do.

  1. Virtual fitness challenges can be great motivators for social people.
  2. Virtual fitness and dietary challenges, however, are a one-size-fits-all thing, generally, which means they won’t be effective for everyone.
  3. These challenges can be a great way to connect with other like-minded people.
  4. But if you become at all obsessed with them, you may cause physical harm to yourself.
  5. The right challenge will be tailored to your specific needs – whether that’s dietary restrictions, physical limitations, time constraints, or current conditioning. You’ll likely have to create your own or use a flux challenge instead.
  6. It’s vital to find the right challenge and online group that will keep you accountable but won’t demoralize you for missing a day, not being “fit enough” to complete the challenge, body shame you in any way, or anything along those lines.
  7. Many of the challenges are run by people trying to sell specific nutritional supplements. Avoid these at all costs. The programs are not really fitness challenges for the most part but instead are propaganda for the products and often involve stressful selling tactics.
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

If you want to join a challenge, you can look on Facebook for a solid group like this one.

Or look for challenges on trusted health and fitness sites like Shape , SELF, and PopSugar. The reason I recommend this criteria is that they have experts in fitness and health running the sites and generally are not just “throw together” ideas put up to draw in members or run by folks who don’t really know what they’re doing.

It’s a Trite Saying, But Let’s Ask It Anyway

Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash

Right now, it feels shameful to say that I’m a Christian. Not because I am doing something wrong but because the meaning of this word “Christian” has become a negative tag-word for politicians to draw in flocks of followers for their votes.

A Christian is not, however, someone who perpetuates racism, hatred, violence, capitalism, greed, arrogance, or self-worship. A Christian is someone who follows Jesus. The term literally means “little Christ.” And the idea behind that, when the term was first coined, was a bit like a woman saying that her child looks and acts like the kid’s father. “She’s just a little Tom all over again!”

In these tumultuous times, I’ve seen a lot of people angry with so-called Christian politicians (I am, too!). And with the people claiming they are Christians but who are throwing tear gas at peaceful protestors, the people who are refusing to wear masks for “freedom’s sake” without caring about the lives of those around them, the people who are spouting hurtful diatribes against people who don’t look and act like them.

I have to say “so-called” Christian because these behaviors aren’t at all like Jesus. And saying you’re a Christian while putting capitalism, political affiliations, and yourself ahead of the lives of others is not like Jesus at all.

In Philippians 2:6-8, the Apostle Paul writes about the true person of Jesus.

“Who, being in very nature God,
[Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!”

When I look at this true example of love and mercy, I have to ask that trite saying that hung on wrists in the 1990s, “What would Jesus do?”

It’s pretty clear from His example throughout the Scriptures that Jesus wouldn’t harm others. He wouldn’t refuse to wear a mask so that He could “be free” to do as he likes. He wouldn’t use His privilege to make money or save corporations and buildings. He gave Himself, considering Himself nothing compared to the lives that He would save – and He was gentle, kind, and loving about it.

What would Jesus do? He’d fight to save the lives and souls of those who are marginalized – and He’d throw over tables of cheats and thieves who use their religion as a “way in” to get what they want from the people around them. Those actions led up to his sole mission which was to offer reconciliation between man and God.

When You Just Need Some Good News

Image by Gino Crescoli from Pixabay

I don’t have to tell you that the world is in a quagmire of chaos right now. But I might have to remind you that there are still good things going on in the world today in the midst of all this.

I do a weekly post for a platform I contribute to, targeting trending news. After weeks and weeks of having nothing positive to report about based on Twitter, news feeds from CNN and similar networks, etc., I wanted good news for a change. I found some – and actually got to write on positive things for that weekly post.

I’m passing those sites on to you now, too, in case you just need to see the positive in the world today.

8 of the Best Classic Light Reads This Summer

If you love reading, and always have, you probably have a number of favorites from your childhood like I have. This year, I’ve decided that I want to re-read many of them. As an adult, I’ll have a different perspective on many of them, of course, but the joy of my childhood tucked into corners, sitting on my window seat or flopping on the grass with a good book comes flooding back as I read these. If you haven’t read them yet, you really ought to.

  1. The Anne of Green Gables series, by L.M. Montgomery – there are 8 books, equally marvelously flowery, and beautiful, and delightful.
  2. Kilmeny of the Orchard, also by L.M. Montgomery. I’m a big fan of this writer – I have all 32 of her novels and short story collections.
  3. A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter – a delightful read about the turn of the Century Midwest, butterflies, moths, and the wilderness.
  4. A Little Princess by Francis Hodgson Burnett – I’ve fashioned storybook attics after hers
  5. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell – a surprising story of survival based loosely on a true story
  6. An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott – a book that shaped so much of my young life
  7. Heidi by Johanna Spyri – another whimsical tale with deep truths that helped to shape me
  8. The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter – a story of loss, growth, prejudice, and change

Why I Take Both a Morning and an Evening Walk Each Day

Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com

Even though I’m a runner who hits the gym most nights at about 8 or 9pm (or at least I did until lock-downs), I take walks twice daily whenever possible. When I first get up and right before the sun goes down, I’m out there, stalking through the snow or meandering a sun-kissed trail through the neighborhood.

With all the running I do, you might think it’s a little weird that I bother with two walks each day on top of my jogging adventures, but I’ve found that two walks a day does wonders in several areas of my health.

Two Walks Per Day Helps My Mental Health

On my walk a few weeks ago – a lovely Weeping Willow in my neighborhood

In the early morning, a bright (or grey) sky helps to set the mood for the day. I’m out, I’m active, and I’m getting my body in motion. This not only helps me physically, but it helps to set my mind for the day. I tend to think all night long, even in my sleep. Getting out on a trail with the birds and the squirrels is life-giving for a nature nut stuck in the city.

Two Walks Each Day Helps De-clutter My Mind

I work a lot. As a writer, I’m jotting down ideas, sending out pitches, contemplating new stories, scripts, and novels just about every waking hour. But I have a life! I’m married to a wonderful man and have a crazy cat who craves attention.

Taking a couple of walks throughout the day helps to de-junk my brain. I can work through the stuff that’s in my head, rattling around. And working through it clears out my thoughts and frees up space for life apart from work.

Multiple Walks Keeps Me Active Throughout the Day

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I used to work at active jobs, as a nanny, dog walker (biking my route), recess coach, tennis coach, home organizer, etc. Until becoming a full-time writer, I only sat down for a couple of hours a day. Now, I am on my butt for most of the day.

I keep active throughout the day by taking these two walks, getting up every 25-30 minutes and moving for 5-minutes, and doing my running, yoga, and weight training. These two walks help take me past the “basics” of my day and keeps my body more fluid and relaxed.

But the days I don’t take these two walks? I don’t get up as much. I don’t exercise as easily. I don’t get in nearly as much movement and I wind up stiff and achy.

Even Ten Minutes Can Make a Difference

If you’re not able to take long walks but still want to benefit from taking two walks, you can. Even ten minutes per walk can make a huge difference. Try it for a month. Set an alarm each morning and night and get out there. Even if all you can do is pace the hallway in your apartment building or meander throughout the house, you will likely find that your body thanks you.

From Stranger to Running Inspiration

Outside Navy Pier in 2006

In Memoriam of Elizabeth Lynn Glovier, my best friend and “bosom buddy”

Anne of Green Gables was my favorite book series as a child. It might still be, actually. And though I’ve always had deep, beautiful friendships, I didn’t really understand the kind of friendship that Anne and Diana had – though I did long for it. That’s not to say that my best friends growing up weren’t truly dear, intimate friends. I still love each and every one of them – from Jodi Mellema, Rachel Peters, and Ivy VonHeemstraaten to Amber Christine – but it wasn’t until I met Elizabeth Glovier that I understood what a true “bosom buddy” was.

Elizabeth and I were introduced by a mutual friend about two months into our enrollment at Moody Bible Institute. This friend, Greg, knew that both of us had a passion for loving those who have been marginalized by society. “You have to meet this girl,” I remember him saying. “If you aren’t best friends in a second, then, I know nothing.”

San Francisco 2008 – Elizabeth loved Spongbob

He was right. By the end of the morning outing into the notorious Cabrini Green neighborhood where we led Bible study and safe playtime for the kids there, Elizabeth and I were indeed, best friends. We didn’t know how deep the friendship would go, but we knew we were destined to be friends for the rest of our lives.

Together, Elizabeth and I started a street ministry in which we took food, clothing, Bibles, blankets, and even flowers out to give to people living on the streets and to horse-drawn carriage drivers (I used to be a driver, in case you wondered). We met Bonnie, a woman who initially hated us, yelled at us, and told us to go to hell. We met Fred, a manager of the carriage company who basically told us the same thing.

Russia, 2007

The last night of the ministry (i.e. two weeks before I graduated), Bonnie and I had Bible study together, and Fred gave me one last free carriage ride to say thanks for being a friend over the years.

When Elizabeth and I returned to Chicago two years later, Fred greeted us with hugs and kisses and another free carriage ride.

Our first year at Moody, Elizabeth and I had different roommates. Elizabeth’s roommate, Julie, and my roommate, Mary, are wonderful women whom we both adored. But the following year, we had the opportunity to become roommates, and we thought we should.

In our second year of college, Elizabeth got up each morning to go running. She ran for miles each week. I, however, remained mostly inactive. I hated being overweight. I hated being inactive. But I had asthma, and I thought that meant I couldn’t exercise.

With my Christmas gift to her in 2006, inspiration for her vision trip to Russia that we took in 2007

But that summer, I knew I wanted to do something special for Elizabeth. I was in South Africa on a concert tour with my college chorale and heard my friend, Joel, often speak of running marathons, 5ks, and other races. Something clicked inside me.

“Joel, teach me what I need to know so that I can run.”

The man taught me everything he could on that three-week tour, and I took my first run in Africa. I kept running all summer.

One morning, about two weeks into my final year at Moody, I popped up early one morning with Elizabeth and said, “Okay. Let’s go running!”

She didn’t know what to do. “Running? You and me? You?”

We went running. It was beautiful.

In St. Petersburg, Russia 2007

Unfortunately, she had some issues with illness that year, though, so she wound up not being able to run with me much. I got up every morning, though, and went running with my R.A., Jessica, with her, or on my own.

I’ve been running ever since.

And today, Elizabeth, I run for you. I will go out and do a slow 5k (thank you hot weather!) in your honor. I will do my virtual “Run Across Australia” 5k because my heart is there as it always has been. And you always encouraged me to pursue God, pursue His dreams for me, and to pursue the most loving, kind way of living that could be had.

Being utterly ridiculous in a fancy bathroom somewhere in Ayrshire, Scotland, 2007

You’re gone now, Elizabeth. And I miss you greatly. I miss the long talks we had. The all-night prayer meetings we held. The jokes we shared. The backpacking across Europe and Russia where you dreamed of serving in missions. I miss you.

Happy Birthday, bosom buddy. You’d be 36 today. Thank you for giving so much life to me. Thank you for being so much love for so many of us. Thank you for teaching me the love of running, even if you couldn’t go running with me.

My virtual race bib for today

Today, I run in your honor because you can’t go running here on earth yourself. I hope you know it and I hope you know that I will ever be grateful to God for the best friend He gave me in you. I love you. I miss you.