Reading and writing recap: 2017 thus far

We're just over halfway through with the year so I thought I'd do a little recap of how my reading and writing has been going this year. 

Reading

So far, I've read 41 books (or 43 according to GoodReads, not sure what my paper list is missing). I started to keep track of some with the hashtag #nicolelovesbooks on Instagram but since I read so many on Kindle (thru Overdrive/the library), I don't end up getting pics of many of the books I read. But I have done better at recording my books read on paper as well as on GoodReads, and I love having a pretty list to look at and reminisce about all the lovely books I've read. It's been a good reading year so far, with lots more to go. 

My currently reading/TBR includes: Present Over Perfect, Big Magic, The Girl from Everywhere (about a time traveling YA pirate girl), A Snicker of Magic, For Darkness Shows the Stars (a YA dystopian Persuasion re-dux), Ginny Moon, Echo, Some Kind of Happiness, At Home in the World, Much Ado About Anne, Chasing Slow, and Border Odyssey (stories from the US/Mexico border). My upcoming book club selection is an Agatha Christie, which will be my first of hers. And of course, the TBR list grows daily it seems. (So many books, so little time!)

{click to see larger}

Around the fam-- David read and enjoyed Ready Player One (he liked it more than me but I am looking forward to the movie) and just started The Hunger Games (!!). The fact that he's reading more has me all swoony. ;) Gigi is reading lots (recently The Babysitters Club (originals and new graphic versions), The Mother-Daughter Book Club, Little Women (my childhood abridged copy) and lots more, and Brody has been devouring Magic Tree House books in order, along with lots of graphic novels, and most recently some of the easier Matt Christopher (who's actually a lady!) baseball books, like this one

Writing

In addition to my quarterly posts at The Art of Simple and what's become almost that infrequent here on my blog, I've been writing a lot (well, a lot for me). I finished my middle grade novel manuscript and have been editing and revising that and now I'm ready to submit it to Pitch Wars, a really cool contest and community. I've written a query letter and a synopsis and I have a couple more weeks to polish those up before entering in early August. 

My next project is flourishing in my mind but I haven't quite found/made the time to do much in the way of concrete outlining/plotting yet. It's a YA and I am really excited about bringing these characters' stories to life. 

  {sometimes when you have a creepy dream and wake up early, you have to redeem the time and get to work!}

{sometimes when you have a creepy dream and wake up early, you have to redeem the time and get to work!}

Podcasts

If you're a reader, I'm sure you already know and love the What Should I Read Next? podcast, but another fun one I found recently is Overdue. Each episode the two hosts discuss one book, so I've downloaded a bunch about books I've read and they're quite entertaining. As for writing, I have been really loving the diyMFA podcast. Although, now that it's summer I'm pretty behind on my podcast listening-- something to look forward to when I'm driving to school and practices more in the fall. 

One last note...

I think I'll try to send a newsletter in the early fall with more thoughts on this, but after much prayer and consideration we decided to send Gigi to public school for 5th grade. She is thrilled. I'll still be homeschooling (part-time) Brody and Hallee for 1st and 2nd grade, which should be fun.

Hope you're enjoying your summer!

Disclosure: this post has affiliate links in it. Thanks for your support!

Working hard and making room

I made that choice, when the next glass of milk was spilled,
to choose a thriving response, rather than the surviving one.
— Joanna Gaines

We all go through these seasons, right? Thriving and surviving? Or maybe, like that quote I loved in Chip & Joanna's book, The Magnolia Story, there more like moments than seasons. I feel that-- each day, I make both choices to thrive and to survive. 

I've been thinking a lot about hard work lately, partly due to an essay Mindy Kaling wrote in her second book (which I just enjoyed listening to on audio). I have a lot of dreams, but am I willing to actually do the hard work to accomplish any of them? 

It's usually easier for me to either a) just be lazy, or b) let life scatter me, mess up my direction, and throw me into survival mode. Which, let's be honest, is usually just me, once again, being lazy.

We do have a new puppy in the house and a lot of other stuff going on-- both on the schedule and in our hearts-- but all those things become excuses for me. The truth is, if I want to thrive in my quotidian life and in my dreams, I really do have to buck up a bit. 

So this is me calling myself out. To do the hard work, and make the choice which is often the tougher one for me, responding in a thriving way, not a surviving way to the curve balls that come my way.

Surviving is yelling at my kids when they spill milk; thriving is taking a deep breath and dealing with the inconvenience calmly.

Surviving is talking a lot about writing but spending my bits of free time doing who knows what; thriving is using my time wisely and doing the dang thing, as Leslie from Blue Crush would say.

Because here's the thing. Thriving means my life is full of light. It's full of peace that transcends understanding, and a gospel-centered (not self-centered) life. It's full of living life to its fullest instead of mindlessly wading through the muck. 

Have I been reading too many dystopic novels? Maybe. But I really don't want to be a mindless drone. I want to grab my life and make the most of it. I want to tell stories and let stories fill my soul and make my mind think deeper thoughts. 

I'm determined to start making room for light in my life. Making room for thriving. Making room for doing hard work and hopefully accomplishing some things that I feel like God has called me to do. 

In another blogging life, I would have started an upbeat series about all the ways I'm making room in my life. But I know myself better these days; I know that I'm not known for following through on that sort of thing.

And also, I have other things I want to spend my words on (like finishing the last 5 chapters of my novel's first draft. And starting another one. And another one. See? Lots of dreams).

I do want to share the process with you though. I think I'll be more successful that way.

In most contexts, I think I'm what Gretchen Rubin would call an Obliger, which is to say, feel free to hold me accountable to this.

And if you want to join me in trying to thrive and do hard work, even if that means making room for it by saying no to other things, I'd love to walk through this together.

making room for light 400.jpg

You may consider sharing bits and pieces of this on Instagram with the hashtag #makingroomforlight. I'd love to see what this looks like for you. I'll try to do the same thing. 

Let's do the hard work; let's make room for light and see what shines through.

3 Little Things {6.17.16} + a little update

trail to the beach Happy Summer!!

We've gone camping twice in the last month, and just last weekend was spent at the beach in San Clemente where we hiked this steep trail down to a beautiful, peaceful spot. I'm sure there's some spiritual lesson there about doing hard work... ;)

I'm finally popping back into this online space after a few month hiatus. It was a crazy semester of school and life and I'm beyond thankful to be in the quieter space of summer break now.

In April, I participated in Camp Nanowrimo, and while I didn't quite make my goal, I felt like it was a great catalyst to getting going on my writing project, and I'm looking forward to writing more this summer. Brody turned six, and we a had a great get-together with his birth family.

In May, Gigi turned nine, and we camped in the mountains with my parents and some friends, which was awesome. A big highlight of the month was going to the Wild + Free homeschooling conference with some of my best girlfriends. I learned a lot and was greatly inspire, and wrote about my experience there on my homeschool blog.

And now, June. Hallee turned five (!!). Our spring birthday season is complete and I can hardly believe I am now the mama of a 9-, 6-, and 5- year old. We are done with school for the year and ready for lots of summer adventures.

A couple more things I've written lately: 

Adventure packs for my wild explorers, in which I share all about my kids bundle of tools and goodies that they carry when we go hiking, exploring, camping, to the beach, etc.

The truth about hospitality, in which I discuss the idea of making room in our hearts for others over on The Art of Simple blog.

under the tracks

It's the Three Little Things

It's been a while since I've posted one these fun posts (but heck, it's been a while since I've posted anything!), so as a reminder, this is a fun series started by my friend Amy of MomAdvice, where we share just a few little things making us happy at the moment.

best zester

1. ZestNest

I'm not sure where I first saw this zester-- maybe a magazine?-- but I put it on my wish list and my mama bought it for me for my birthday. It's awesome. I was tired of all my zest being embedded into the grater side of my zester and this one catches it all in a tidy little container. Works great!

saltwater sandals

2. Saltwater Sandals

I totally had these as a little girl, so they are a throwback for sure. But as I started seeing more and more mamas rocking them, I fell in love, all over again. They don't have a lot of support but are surprisingly comfortable. Next up will be getting some for my girls.

Tip: I soaked mine in water and then let them air dry as I walked around to break them in, and they fit great. Look for the "big kid" sizes to fit women's feet.

gallon mason jar

3. Aladdin Glass 1-Gallon Mason Jar Dispenser

(I linked to this on Amazon so you can see its details, but quick get yourself to Target to see if there are any left on clearance!) In the last several years it has become hard to find large drink dispensers that aren't plastic. Since I like to sit mine outside to make sun tea, I really want glass, because I don't like to warm food/drink in plastic.

Bonus: I posted this photo on IG and a friend told me that Aladdin is an ethical company, and as I checked out their website I found that they are indeed committed to sustainability and being environmentally responsible.

What's making you happy these days? 

Changing course, and embracing where I'm at

fiction galore For years I have wanted to write fiction.

In 2007, I participated in NaNoWriMo and "won," which means I completed a 50,000-word novel. Of course, it had lots of holes in the middle and not much of a plot, but hey, I "finished" something, which says a lot for me. ;)

Since probably my grad school days I have been interested in writing some kind of chick lit or women's fiction, and writing YA has also always been on my radar, basically since my own days of being a YA.

But recently I had this realization that as much as I love reading those kind of stories and still dream of writing my own, that's really not the world I'm immersed in right now in real life.

In addition, I see authors cranking out a book a year and I think to myself, if I actually somehow was able to write something really good, get an agent and get published, am I even in a place where I'd actually be able to be a working writer?

I don't want to give up homeschooling and as of now, I don't have any days (or even daytime hours) in my week where I am kid-free and could really devote myself to writing. That could change, maybe even next year, but that is all still as of now unknown, and not something I can count on.

All I can do is be right where I am. 

And where am I? I'm smack dab in the life of mainly-elementary-school-age child-rearing. I'm reading kids' chapter books aloud and studying classics and children's literature with my kids.

So my new plan and project?

I'm writing a middle-grade novel, and I'm hoping to have it finished and printed to gift it to my kids for Christmas this year. (People who know my kids: please don't tell them!) :)

outlining my novel

Tools I'm using to whip my lazy self into shape:

  • I'm attempting an outline for the first time ever, in hopes that having the general skeleton of the book laid out for me will help me know where I'm going in the story, and actually finish it. I recently read K.M. Weilands's book, Outlining Your Novel, and I'm following her guidelines for creating a novel.
  • Starting tomorrow, I'll be tackling the month-long project called Camp NaNoWriMo, which is a modified, customized version of the November challenge. My personal goal is an extended outline of my book, with a minimum of 10,000 words written (either in the outline or in the beginnings of the actual novel).
  • I'm starting in a spiral notebook where I've already begun brainstorming, but soon I'll move to Scrivener, the program I like to use for writing projects.

I'll share a more about my book in the future after I develop it a bit more, but I'll tell you now that it's about a set of 10-year old triplets who go to summer camp. :) I'll probably share more detailed updates about my book project in my newsletter, so if you haven't subscribed to The Scoop, you can do that (it's free, and I don't bother your inbox too frequently, and you get a free ebook if you subscribe).

If you're looking for a month-long writing challenge (doesn't have to be a novel in April), come join me at Camp NaNoWriMo-- there's room in our virtual cabin for you! (For reals, let me know if you join and I can see about getting you added to our "cabin.")

How I got out of a funk

girls night out It was late spring, and I'm not sure what did me in but I found myself deep in a funk. It was a parenting funk, a personal funk, a writing funk. I felt unmotivated to do things that I was normally motivated to do, and I felt like I was in a bit of a dark hole with reaching and training my kids. I don't really recall how long it lasted because I didn't realize where I'd been until I was starting to see the light of day.

Everyone's different, but I thought it might be helpful to share a few of the things that helped me get up out of the bit of darkness and rest again in the light, where I thankfully am hanging out for the most part these days. This doesn't mean I still don't have dark days, because even though I haven't really struggled with depression, I do have days and weeks that feel like funk-ish. Now that I've given myself a few months' distance from that time, I can see how I crawled out.

Disclaimer: This isn't a comprehensive checklist or anything (it's meant to be descriptive not prescriptive) but I do want to write it down for posterity so that next time I'm in a similar place I remember that these are some of little gifts of grace that boosted me up when I was down.

How I got out of a funk

Firstly, it was important that I remained in the Word-- reading my Bible and really praying, even praying through the hard stuff, was key. Being alone (even with the Lord and my Bible) wasn't the complete remedy for me though, probably because as an extrovert I do charge up by being around other people (small children don't necessarily count-- they tend to have the opposite effect on me).

Quality fellowship is huge for me. Being around people who will encourage me and speak truth in my life always builds me up. Things like a bonfire in the culdesac, working on three-part harmonies with the girls from my church music team at the beach, having a picnic dinner with our community group, asking friends to pray for me. These things helped.

In late May, I enjoyed a nice girls night out for a friend's birthday -- I don't subscribe to retail therapy as really being a thing for me, but spending time with good girlfriends, talking, eating, trying on expensive lovely things-- there was something very therapeutic about doing all that together.

Creative endeavors also perked me up-- sewing a simple handmade gift, playing my guitar, coloring with Hallee, working on my nature journal, trying new recipes. Writing is my primary way to express myself creatively these days but when I feel like I'm stuck in that arena, being creative in other ways helps a lot.

Good cuddles and family time, listening to Vin's soothing voice, hanging out with David and my parents, the beach. Those are solid helps right there.

And finally, I gave myself space. I wanted to feel motivated to write and blog but instead of forcing it, I waited until I felt ready again, and I didn't give myself a hard time about the silence on the page. I'm my own boss and editor here so why stress myself out? I began journaling in a spiral notebook--just writing whatever came to my mind or following a random prompt-- without the pressure to share, publish, and put it out there. I'm still writing in that notebook, at least a few times a week, and it's a good habit for me.

beach... peace

Sometimes my motivation for things I need to do or even love to do is low even when I'm not technically in a funk. But recently I was reminded of a tool that helps me snap my motivation back: it's starting something new. Sometimes things just feel too mundane. And while there's beauty in the mundane, sometimes an ENFP like me needs to grab onto one of the million ideas circulating in my brain and actually DO something.

So guess what? I did something! If you don't get my newsletter, you won't have heard the news yet... I started a new blog home to record and document our homeschool journey. If you feel so inclined, head on over to The Bennettar Academy and check it out.

So tell me, how do you get yourself out of a funk?