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.

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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.

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.")

3 spheres of influence and calling

3 spheres of influence and calling Sometimes it's hard to try to summarize and recap a powerful experience. I want to try to give you a succinct summary of my trip to Portland last weekend, but I'm struggling to put my finger on the right words. Which is ironic, considering the main purpose for our trip was a writing conference.

It was a weekend of beauty and friendship and encouragement and kick-in-the-pants inspiration. Of good coffee and the best donut I've ever had. Of virtual friends made real and reconnecting with dear old friends as if no time had gone by at all, that is to say, of oh-so-kindred spirits.

Jumping back into regular life has honestly made it hard to try to process all that I learned, both in conference sessions, and also in heart-to-heart conversations.

I have twenty pages of notes in my Moleskine journal and a million thoughts swirling in my head, but this is what I'm most concretely able to pin down right now. As I process this, it feels a little like a manifesto, and maybe it is.

As a believer, my main goal in life is to glorify God and live out the gospel. But as an individual, I believe I have a few specific spheres of influence, areas of calling and responsibility.  I can't deny any of these or I will not be living fully as the person God created me to be. The more I invest in these areas, the more fully I will become myself (which, it turns out, is a pretty darn good definition of success, according to Emily).

1. My family. I have been gifted with the wonderful responsibility of being a wife, and a mom of three. It is my job to, in the grace of God, put forth my best effort in these relationships. A weekend away with my husband was a darn good way to invest in my marriage (but so is making his favorite dinner and sacrificing a Saturday so he can play golf).

Discipling my kids and training them in education and gospel living is my primary quotidian job. Parenting is really the hardest job I've ever had, and it refines me more than I ever wanted to be refined. It also teaches me more about my relationship with God than any other experience has.

2. My community. I believe that the sovereign hand of the Lord has put me exactly where I am for a reason, and that my family is right where he wants us to minister at this time. I love opening my heart and my home to others and I take the hard with the good because I wasn't created for isolation but for community.

My church family (and our community group and the music ministry), our extended family, friends, neighbors, school, sports teams, my local Community Bible Study group, even my long-distance friends and our farther- away extended family-- God has me right where I am to live out the gospel and connected to the very people to whom I am meant to be connected. I'm thankful for these people and for the privilege of doing life with them.

3. My words.

Two weeks after I graduated college I married David. This stage of life of marriage and raising a family and being a veritable grown-up seemed to start that day in June. Since then, those first two spheres have become such an integral part of my daily life and who I am.

The third one I have wavered in. I always felt called to words. A voracious reader, one who loved to write stories and poems and essays, a student of language and languages. I have bounced around in figuring what I felt like I was supposed to do in addition to those first two areas, but I've always known it had to do with words.

Sometimes I feel like it would be easier to not have a third sphere of life-- no calling beyond family and community-- but then I feel that I would not be living out true to who God made me to be. And I don't want to miss out on any of His plan for me.

I don't have this one nailed down yet--I don't know when it will fully emerge or what it looks like-- but I'm getting more and more inklings and feeling more of that heart-thumping pull to releasing the art I was meant to create.

In the pre-conference retreat day, we were asked in one of workshops, "How will this realization/lesson/experience change what you do on Monday after the conference?"

And so that's where I've started. I've started with words, with continuing to read, and with just plain ol' writing. I'm craving more consistentency in exercising this craft that I feel called and pulled towards. Because I've been waiting for inspiration and time, but time is just an excuse and "inspiration follows work" (Madeleine L'Engle).

There is beauty and glory in the world that needs to be translated into words, and our goal as writers is to show that the beauty of the kingdom is breaking through here on earth, and to show that to others. (Thank you, Seth and Nish, for articulating that for me).

So that's my calling, my third responsibility in life. I don't want to shy away from it even though there are a million fears that want to drag me down and away from it.

I have so many more thoughts from my experience at the conference that I'm sure will come out in one way or another as I process them. But for now, I leave you with this little manifesto, and I guess, I'd love to know if you've nailed down your own spheres of influence and calling. I know this life isn't the be all end all by any means. But I still want to make it count, and I want to be all who I was created to be.

The day I let my kids in on my dream

ready to fly Today I sat down with my kids to have a little chat with them over a cherry smoothie and those veggie snacks that taste like greasy air (oh, is it just me? my kids love them, but ew.)

I don't always sit down with them to eat during the day because I'm usually doing like five other things while eating or drinking. But today, I sat. I think they all knew we were going to talk about something because they looked at me expectantly.

"What do you think I wanted to be when I grew up when I was a little girl?" I asked them. They were a bit dumbfounded by this question actually and I had to help them out a bit.

"Do you think I wanted to be a mommy?" They nodded enthusiastically. "Yep, I did. Do you think I wanted to be anything else along with that?"

They  mumbled a few answers (I think Gigi mentioned teacher, which was a pretty good guess, and I think Brody mentioned cowgirl. Okay then.) and then Hallee, 3.5, said, "Work? Like on your computer?"

I smiled. "Do you know what I do on my computer?"

Gigi knew this answer. "Blogging?"

"And what is blogging?" I asked her.

"Talking to people? And writing stuff?" I think she gets the basic gist. ;) But I tried explaining it a bit more, and then I went on to tell them that, guess what! Mommy actually always had a dream of writing something else... books! So when I blog, I do it both to encourage people (hopefully) and also to practice writing so that I can someday (hopefully) achieve that dream of writing books.

letting the kids in on my dreaming

And then I went on to share a little more of my heart with them. It went something like this.

I'm trying to work on being more present with you during our days together. To really focus on you guys and be there when you need me or when you want to show me something or talk about something. I want to do my best to really be with you when I'm with you, ya know? {Nods around the table.}

We do lots of fun things together, right? The beach, the park, school, playing outside, reading books, having playdates etc, etc, etc. But sometimes I need you to occupy yourselves, right? Be creative, read a book, play with toy, stuff like that.

And since I'm trying to be more intentional about this, I'm also going to ask that you give me some time to work on my writing dreams too. When do you think I do this? Yep, early in the morning, during quiet play time, and sometimes (when I'm not too tired) after you're in bed. So when I ask you to occupy yourselves for some afternoon play time after we've done lots of fun things together all morning, does that seem fair?

They nodded again and answered affirmatively. It was a good conversation.

I'm hoping that laying this foundation will help them see that as a mom it's okay to have dreams still and to work towards those. I'm also hoping that during this season of Lent I can die to myself a little more in my parenting.

I didn't give something up for Lent, but instead I'm digging in here, trying to be more intentional and more available in my mothering. Be all there, and then not feel guilty when I take some time for myself as well.

During the season of Lent, we try to give things up to train our raw fingers to let go of old ways. But to reconcile with God and to breathe in the springtime, we have to do more than just let go. We have to replace our icy vices with the good, warm things of God...

This lenten season, let’s do more than suspend our vices—let’s run to Christ. Let’s be brave, come out of hiding, and be reconciled to Him. ~SheReadsTruth's Lent study, Day 3

The day I let my kids in on my dream

I scratched out this post on February 19th and since then I've gotten into a good groove of intentionally leaning in with my kids while also carving out time to work on my own writing. I don't feel like I've "arrived," but I do feel like the days go smoother when I intentionally decide whether I'm focusing on the kids or my own work (whether that's writing, housework, communication with other adults, or whatever) for the time being, rather than always trying to multitask.

Last week I submitted my first short story for a writing contest, and it was really cool to be able to share with my kids this little milestone and know that they are along for the ride on this dream journey of mine. 

A fresh start for 2015: from Gidget Goes Home to Nicole V. Bennett

Welcome to my new online home! Same me, same content; new, fresh, exciting look (and name). going boldly into 2015, one blog post at a time

It's a bit hard to believe I've been blogging for six and half years (that's gotta be like 20 in interweb years). A few months ago, I was starting to feel the spark of change barely starting to smolder.

It's like that itch I feel when I really really want to move the furniture around right now. Maybe this was inevitable since my house is too small for changing the configuration. It had to bleed over somewhere...

This time, I didn't scratch that itch right away though. I pondered a bit, prayed about my calling and direction, talked to friends and mentors, did some research, and looked for inspiration.

(Leaving my old online moniker behind is a bit scary. That name and identity were comfortable. Change is exciting, but it's also intimidating.)

It didn't take too much deliberating, because this new direction was pulling me strongly. And I already owned the domain. So I did it. What the heck! Here goes nothing! I took the plunge.

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I hired a very talented and sweet artist, who hand-lettered/painted my pretty logo. Don't you love it?

I'm been feverishly working to get this new blog up and running and I'll be honest, it's given me a renewed passion for blogging, taking me back to the hours I spent getting Gidget Goes Home up and running in my early online days. I've been fiddling with widgets and code and let's just say it's a bit out of my comfort zone and every time I click "save" I cross my fingers that I don't break the blog. :)

The biggest message that this re-branding says to me, to my own heart, is that I'm stepping out, making a bold statement, that I am actually pursuing this writing thing in a more intentional way.

I'm looking at myself as a writer who blogs, rather than a blogger who writes (which for me, is scarier, because the word writer feels so much more official, like it has to be earned or something).

So here I am. I'm a writer. Always have been.

A bit about the blog

I hope you like the new design-- my goal was that it was really user-friendly and that you'd be able to find your way around easier here.

You can see all my categories laid out up top in drop-down menus, and a highlighted post in each main category over on the sidebar. Down at the bottom of the page, you'll excerpts from me around social media. I even started a new Facebook page.

Maybe most exciting of all, is my updated newsletter. I've renamed it The Scoop and hope to use it a bit more this year to connect with my subscribers with special content and notes. If you haven't already, I hope you'll subscribe.

A little look back

As I say goodbye to Gidget Goes Home, I thought it'd be fun to take one last look back at some of the different styles she's worn over the years.

2008 (um, yes, that's Gigi, my seven-and-a-half-year old)

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2009

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2010

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2011

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2012

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2013

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Thanks for being here, reading along, whether it's since the beginning, or just recently. I'm grateful for each one of you, for the ministry God's given me here, and for His calling on my life to use this blog for fun and for His glory.

xoxo,

nicole :)

P.S. I appreciate your patience as I iron out the kinks. Please feel free to email me if you see any broken links or anything looking wonky.

This is how I know I'm a writer

I love to read, and I have a real love for books. The earliest memory I have of loving a book is first grade, when I fell in love with Harriet the Spy. I loved how she kept a journal and took notes as she observed the world and the people around her.

And I remember how proud I felt when I wrote my first book that year in school-- it was "bound" and covered in rose-colored contact paper and told a story of a panda who was happily surprised to have a baby (seriously).

In junior high, my dad and little brother played hockey and we were obsessed with The Mighty Ducks. I wrote my first (unfinished) novel about a girl who played hockey. I think I sensed, even at a young age, that I was designed for this, created to string words together in one way or another -- be it a novel, a thank you note, a research paper, or a poem for my kids. Like others, I'm realizing, that it has always helped me process my thoughts and feelings to write them out.

The more I read books, watch movies, and observe stories unfolding around me in real life, the more I feel the tug to write. To write blog posts, articles, stories, memoirs, even just to narrate my own life in my head (I really do that, but only after I read a novel whose voice I really connect with or like).

I can't read, watch, or observe without thinking about writing. That's how I know I'm a writer..jpg

That's how I know I'm a writer; because I can't read or watch or observe without thinking about writing. I think about all those who have gone before me as writers and what that looked like for them, whether it was ink on parchment or fingers on keys, I wonder how they constructed such a plot (and thought of such a twist!), or whether they took lots of notes while they traveled, or what inspired their story.

I read a lot in the cracks of the day, early in the morning, and late at night. And I can't read without longing to write.

Of course, I'm a mom in the trenches, too. I've got mouths to feed, lessons to teach, playdates, and activities to drive to, but underneath it all, I think I really am a writer.

I feel a little brave and audacious saying that out loud here on the internet: {I'm a writer.} I feel like I'm daring myself to believe it and to walk forward in that truth.

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Have you heard of MOOCs? MOOC stands for massive open online course and the classes are taught by real professors through real universities. My husband has been taking free classes on line for "fun" for a couple of years now. His usually have to do with programming or statistics or something nerdy like that. :)

I'm starting one this weekend called How Writers Write Fiction through the Writing University, which is part of The University of Iowa.

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Books to inspire me to be more brave that I'm reading (or will be soon):

A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live by Emily P. Freeman

The War of Art: Break Through Your Blocks and Win Your Creative Battles by Steven Pressman

Glitter in the Blood: A Poet's Manifesto for Better, Braver Writing by Mindy Nettifee

You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) by Jeff Goins

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Tomorrow starts October, and I'm hoping to join in with the other 31 dayers to (casually) process this a bit more. Not writing itself per se, but well, you'll see... :)

Affiliate links included. Thanks for your support!

On defining myself as a writer {and am I ever going to write that ebook?}

one day

When I think about writing, I vacillate a lot about what kind of writing I want to do, and what I actually do as well. I've always wanted to be a writer, from as long as I can remember.

In college, I started out as a journalism major, and that writing style was ruined for me by one bad class and a professor I didn't like. But I also realized I didn't just want to report the facts. I like adjectives and creative syntax and exclamation points too much.

I never even considered English Lit even though my high school English classes were among my favorite. I think my adolescent rebellion kept me from pursuing English (because that was my mom's major in college and heaven forbid I follow in her footsteps), although in retrospect that may have been the best path for me.

In the end I went with another favorite subject, and it turned out to be a great fit for me. I studied Modern Languages & Literature and developed a real passion for language and linguistics and wrote a ton about Spanish, Latin American and even French literature.

But now that my passion for those subjects has waned a bit, I find myself going back to my roots of just wanting to write. My background and experience would make nonfiction a good fit for me, although I don't feel called to write about a certain topic, and writing a novel has always been a dream. Lately I'm most intrigued by memoirs although I don't feel like I have something particularly memorable to write about right now.

Reading Shauna Niequist is inspiring me that I don't need one Big Thing to make my life book-worthy, but maybe just a lifetime of ordinary bits of beauty is enough. Reading Cold Tangerines feels like the word version of 10 on 10 and I'm loving it.

Right now, I'm in the trenches of motherhood, and while some women successfully juggle that career along with a writing one, I don't see myself as being that disciplined or motivated. So I'm taking my time right now. Over the next few years my goals are to hone my craft a bit, maybe narrow down what my actual writing goals really look like, and seek out what God would have me do with my words. And just write.

Oh, and that ebook I've mentioned. I really do want to get going on that and actually release it later this year. Finding the time when I actually feel motivated and my kids are occupied or taken care of is challenging though. Writing the Sewing School eBook is not going to fulfill my writing dream per se, but I do feel like it's a great first step.

 I've been reading through Self-Publish by Erin Ulrich and Teri Lynne Underwood and it's been a really practical and inspiring guide. I feel like I really don't know what I'm doing in the self-publishing realm so it's nice to feel like I have a couple of coaches walking me through the process.

This resources of course provide babysitting, but I figure if I can find myself more equipped and motivated then maybe I can steal time here and there to get the project done. I'll keep you updated as I go, and maybe a little accountability (i.e. writing about my goals here) will also serve to inspire.

 I know some of you are writers or have writing aspirations. I'd love to hear what some of your goals are and how you're working toward them. Maybe that will inspire me or help me define myself as a writer a bit more.