3 things you should read, plus a book giveaway!

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Here’s a quick look at three posts my friends have shared in our creative-writing group, plus the announcement about a new book I’ve been waiting for:

Kristi Stone of Stone Family Farmstead shares How to Handle Anxiety Naturally. You don’t necessarily have to take pharmaceuticals to overcome anxiety and depression (some people do, and that’s OK). If you want to get off medications, see some of Kristi’s recommendations, and experiment with what works for you. Be sure to do this in tandem with your doctor. If she balks at the idea of going off meds, ask her to keep an open mind and work with you to find a natural solution.

Don’t give up.


Katie Andraski’s post hits on the main theme of the nonfiction book I’m writing. I couldn’t have said it better than Katie did in Machetes, Mean Speech and Genocide.

And if you haven’t seen Hotel Rwanda, rent it now. It’s worth your time.


In observance of Suicide Prevention Day earlier this week (September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month), Jen Rose Yokel writes a letter To the Ones Who Kept Living. Even if you don’t know anyone who has carried out or contemplated suicide (that you’re aware of), please read the letter. Then be sure to reach out to someone you think may be struggling. They don’t have to be on the brink of suicide for you to lend an empathetic ear. Just listen. Or just be there.


And … drum roll, please

I recently mentioned to my email subscribers that my precious friend Patty Scott was about to debut her second book, Slow Down Mama: Intentional Living in a Hurried World.

IT’S FINALLY HERE!

This book is soooo good, my friend, and Patty’s generous little heart has prompted her to give away a copy a week through October. She’ll draw a winner’s name every Friday, so hurry on over and get your name in the hat.

Just like Patty’s previous book, Parenting Your Teen through Chaos and Crisis, this book will soothe you, encourage you and give you practical answers and action steps. She’s there for you, friend. And you couldn’t have a better friend than Patty; I can guarantee you that.

SuzyO

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Well Well Well – help for your savings, your sanity and your soul

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As we continue on our journey to well-being, I have three more resources that I find helpful, challenging (we need challenges, y’all) and – perhaps best of all – encouraging.

Well Well Well - tips & tools

The first is another encouragement about your personal finances.

I need to pause here and let you know that the Lord has really been putting it on my heart lately that I need to get back into budget coaching and ministering through some sort of financial stewardship training. We can talk about that more in depth later (oops, I actually typed “debt” instead of depth!), but here’s the short(ish) version:

I’m a certified budget coach and small-group leader with Compass – finances God’s way. In fact, I used to be administrative assistant to the Mid-South director when he was with Crown Financial Ministries (the founder of Crown later created Compass). James is now over eight states with Compass, and I truly miss working with him. In 2007, when Bruce had so much sickness (and three hospitalizations, including surgery) from the Crohn’s disease, he lost his job. At the time, I was working with Crown and doing freelance editing, so all my work was home-based. When Bruce lost his job, I had to find a full-time gig with health insurance. (The Lord blessed me with the Worst Job I’ve Ever Had at a newspaper chain – I say “blessed” because it has made me grateful for all the jobs I’ve had since!)

Compass and Crown’s field-based employees are considered missionaries and raise their own funding. I hadn’t quite got there yet, so I actually worked 17 months without a paycheck from Crown. That tells you how much I love those ministries, how much I loved working with James and how much passion and commitment I have for helping people get their finances on track.

But for years Bruce and I have had an albatross around our necks. We’ve blamed our debt on medical expenses, but I can’t blame ALL of it on that.

Unwise spending doesn’t have to be in the form of extravagant purchases. Sometimes it’s those nickel and dime things that, over time, add up to an amount that you can’t pay off at the end of the month. Before you know it, you’re in over your head. You with me?

And here’s another thing I’ve learned (I’ll talk about it in a future post): Applying for a credit card to get the points (the more you use the card, the more points you earn) really doesn’t pay off, literally. Ask me how I know.

So, at this point, I’m starting to get preachy (and long-winded), but I wanted to give you a glimpse of what’s been on my heart lately AND tell you to stay tuned: I’m going to be writing a lot more on debt-free living and personal finance. If that’s for you, awesome – I’ve served you. If you’re perfectly happy with your personal financial picture and don’t need advice on how to live debt-free, then maybe you can skip these money posts. We can still be friends. 🙂

(I’m also going to be leading an online Bible study with Compass – dates to be determined – and probably get back into active budget coaching.)

OK, this is officially the longest Well Well Well I’ve ever written before getting to the actual resources. Here they are:

Bible App reading plan Dave Ramsey’s Financial Wisdom from Proverbs (you knew there would be a Bible App mention, didn’t you???)

One of the keys to being financially free (or as Dave Ramsey calls it, having financial peace) is accountability. In a nutshell, this means we can’t always trust our own judgment when it comes to spending money. And when it comes to those big purchases? Look out: Our emotions sometimes take over, and our wants become “needs.”

For me, it’s usually a tech toy (laptop, tablet, software I “can’t live without”). Granted, I need some of these to run my online business, but some of it is stuff I can manage without. Until recently, I always said Bruce and I had already cut our extras to bare bones necessities. But with the purchase of our second car (see my previous post for that story) and my sticky note on the wall that says “DEBT FREE BY 12/31/2019” (yes, after we added the second car), I knew we needed to dig deeper. (I’m also reviving my languishing freelance editing side-gig and taken on a new business as an Origami Owl designer – the goal is to generate an extra $500 a month. Sometimes decreasing expenses is not enough and you have to bring in extra income.)

When Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University went on sale a few weeks ago, I jumped at the chance to take this Bible-based study. The Compass and Ramsey teams have partnered in the past, so I’m not cheating on Compass to take the FPU study – I promise!

One thing that any good financial study teaches is the need for accountability. There are so many Bible verses on the need for partnership, community and wise counsel.

If you’re married, your spouse is likely the best person for that. If you’re single, someone like a roommate, best friend, church member or … a budget coach … can be valuable to you.

At the moment I’m not officially doing budget coaching, but if you need advice or help sorting things out or setting up a budget – or someone to convince you that you should! – reach out to me. Feel free to leave a comment, visit the contact me page, text me if you have my phone number or private message me through my Facebook page. No charge for that assistance, my friend. 🙂

I really and truly believe that we can’t get our emotional, mental and spiritual houses in order without financial peace.

Funny you should mention peace. That leads me to …

Book recommendation: ‘Parenting Your Teen Through Chaos & Crisis’ by Patty Scott

Whether you have a teenager, a toddler, a self-sufficient adult child or no kids at all, this book by Patty Scott will sooth your soul.

I met Patty in a private Facebook group for creative writers. It’s not a Christian group, per se, but through it I’ve met many like-minded members, including Patty.

In just a few months, Patty has become a dear, dear friend, even though we live 2,000 miles apart. I treasure this precious soul as I would someone I had grown up with face to face. We’ve resorted to texting, private messaging (especially when she took a few weeks off social media to focus on her family and finish her next book), chatting via video calls and praying for each other and each other’s families.

In this book, Patty lets parents off the hook for their children’s failures and shortcomings. We raise them the best we can – even though we sometimes make mistakes – and we leave the outcome in the Lord’s hands. Our kids play a role, too. They can choose to make good choices or bad. Even when we teach them well, they are still free and sentient beings who make their own choices.

And I know Patty’s heart; she is a gentle, wise teacher who loves to minister to parents – especially those who are still in the trenches.

If you have “mom guilt” or know someone going through challenging times with their kids, buy this book. I plan to buy a copy for my church library and an extra to keep on hand as a loaner; when I meet a mom in need, I can place it in her hands and say, “You’re not alone.” (It’s for dads, too, though.)

“You’re not alone.” That’s the crux of Patty’s message.

Visit Patty’s website to find out how to buy the book or to glean more wisdom from her weekly blog posts.

I’m also on the launch team for her second book, “Slow Down, Mama! Intentional Living in a Hurried World,” which will be out Sept. 10. (Stay tuned. It’s gonna be another good one.)

Bible verse to encourage your soul Matthew 27:51

Matthew 27 gives the account of Christ’s sentencing by the Roman governor and his crucifixion (death on the cross). The moment Jesus died, the huge curtain (sometimes referred to as a veil) separating the parts of the holy Temple was torn in two, top to bottom, and all kinds of heck broke loose (but in a good way).

The Temple curtain symbolized the separation between a holy God and sinful man. Because Jesus took our sins upon himself when he died, He eliminated that separation. Whereas the curtain marked the dividing line between the Holy Place (where only priests were allowed) and the Most Holy Place (reserved for the high priest once a year, to atone for the sins of the nation of Israel) – areas where regular folks like you and me were not allowed at all – Jesus’ death removed the barrier between us and God. “The veil of the temple was rent in twain,” some translations read.

This means regular peeps (that’s you and me) can come to God as individuals – no need for a priest to act as intermediary. Jesus took care of that with his death, burial and resurrection.

That is GOOD NEWS, my friend!

If you’d like to know more, reach out to me, a pastor friend or someone else you know who studies the Scriptures. If you’re a reader, look at the gospels in the Bible. They tell the fascinating true story of Jesus and his sacrifice for us. And speaking of fascinating, here’s a movie recommendation, if you like a good detective story told from a unique angle: Risen, starring Joseph Fiennes as a Roman tribune tasked with finding Jesus’ corpse. (Spoiler alert: He doesn’t!)


My, my, my, this Well Well Well post has gotten out of control. These are supposed to be short and sweet. #WellnessFail. I try to make them easy to read, so I hope you’ve been able to navigate all the goodies I’ve provided today and that they’ve left you encouraged and inspired.

Do you have a tip or inspiring book, quote or other resource to share? If so, spill the beans! Leave a comment so that the rest of us can enjoy it, too.

To Well With You,
SuzyO

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Well, Well, Well — 3 apps to help you with budgeting, Bullet Journaling and being a better person

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I’ve been letting some health problems and fatigue get in the way of blogging this year. In an effort to get back in the saddle, I thought I’d keep it simple by reviving my Well, Well, Well feature, which is something I started about three years ago to share apps and resources I’ve been loving lately. Today’s goodies include apps for budgeting, Bullet Journaling and being a better person. 🙂 

Here are three apps to make your life better!

EveryDollar budgeting appEveryDollar

(EveryDollar has free web-based and mobile versions, plus a paid upgrade with monthly and annual payment options.)

I downloaded EveryDollar in late 2016 in the hopes of getting back to monthly budgeting. Alas, it was hit and miss until we bought a second car a few months ago. Bruce and I went more than 10 years with only one car! (a 2002 Honda Accord) … until the final straw, when I said, “I don’t know how we’re going to pay for it, but I want to get a second car.”

That is absolutely not the responsible approach, but it’s the one I took because I was tired and frustrated. The next day, we bought a 4-year-old vehicle, and now we’re making monthly payments. Hence my renewed vigor in learning the things about EveryDollar that I had been stuck on.

I got hung up on a couple of things in the app that I have since figured out how to handle because I watched some videos, but if you’ve been using the app and are a “ninja” (expert), I have some questions for you, so let me know!

If you need to organize your financial life, EveryDollar is a great budgeting app to get you there. (And, no, “budgeting” is not a dirty word. 🙂 )

Rest assured that I’ll be writing more about EveryDollar in future posts. It’s extremely awesome.


Trello boards
Suzy’s Trello boards.

A Trello workflow specifically for Bullet Journaling

(See pricing discussion below.)

Trello is another app that I had downloaded probably over a year ago but didn’t start using to its fullest potential until this year. Who am I kidding — I’ve barely scratched the surface of its “fullest potential.”

One of my blogger friends recently shared this link to a Trello post about using the app to Bullet Journal, and I jumped on it. (I suck at Bullet Journaling on paper, but in an app? OK!)

If you don’t know what a Bullet Journal is, go to YouTube and search for “bullet journal.” You’ll be watching videos for weeks. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

As for the Trello app, it’s a productivity/organizing app that is good for those who like a visual approach, drag-and-drop capabilities and color coding (me!). You can name your projects and workflows whatever you want, creating a list for each stage of your project, such as Ideas, To Do, Doing, and Done (totally your choice what you name them).

Random ideas for using Trello:

  • Organize a kitchen remodel (that’s the example used in the Trello demo).
  • List your books To Be Read, Reading, and Finished Reading.
  • Plan a vacation with Possible Destinations, Flights and Accommodations, Packing List, Hire Pet Sitter (or House Sitter) and more.
  • Design a succulent garden (shoutout to my Trello-using blogger friend, succulent-grower-extraordinaire and virtual assistant Gina K; hey, Gina, have you used Trello for this?).
  • Set up your Bullet Journal. This is the one I’m excited to share today. If you need to get organized and can’t decide whether to do it on paper or by using an app, look into Bullet Journaling and Trello.

While I could go on and on trying to explain Trello, just take the tour and get inspired. (Plus, if you like dogs, say hello to Taco, the Trello spokes-husky. 🙂 )

The free version of Trello is more than enough unless you have a team (then a paid upgrade might make more sense), BUT you can share your boards with other Trello users, even if you don’t have a team; that’s totally free. (My “team” consists of my hubby and my cousin Pam. We collaborate and try to help each other stay organized. I’ve also received shared boards from other bloggers and organized people I follow online. I’ve never paid a dime for Trello.)

As for physical Bullet Journal pricing, you can spend anywhere from zero dollars (a notebook you already have) to a bunch, depending on how fancy you want to get with notebooks or journals. But if you do it in Trello: free!


Lysa TerKeurst reading plan Unglued

Bible App reading plan, ‘Unglued’ by Lysa TerKeurst

(The Bible App is free.)

Everyone knows I love the Bible App by YouVersion. I talk about it all the time on To Well With You because it has so many great features.

And I love Lysa TerKeurst. She’s real, authentic and vulnerable. She has struggled with some of the same things I’ve struggled with (if you battle weight problems, check out her book Made to Crave and the Bible App reading plan based on the book), and she has lots of wise and practical things to say that help me soldier on. And Lysa has struggled with some things I haven’t struggled with — things I hope I never have to experience.

The latest Lisa TerKeurst reading plan that I discovered in the Bible App is a 5-day devotional called Unglued.

Oh, my goodness, y’all. Just read it, OK? There are only five days in the plan, and if you want to read all five days in one sitting, it won’t take you very long. It’s just good.

Here’s an excerpt from Day 2 that spoke to me:

“I decided God was trying to get my attention to be more aware of my reactions. More aware of handling daily frustrations in a way that reflects a heart that loves the Lord. In today’s key verse, Luke 8:15, Jesus reminds us, ‘But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.’ (NIV 1984)”


Do you have an app, a productivity tip or a resource you’d like to share? Leave a comment or visit the To Well With You Facebook page and post there.

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How keyboard shortcuts can save you loads of time

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I’m not sure when I discovered the beauty of a computer shortcut or exactly when I dubbed myself the Queen of Keyboard Shortcuts. 🙂

But I LOVE them.

#lifedeclutter
Beginning of a new quarter, fresh start. Let’s make some #lifedeclutter happen.

I had used PC systems at all four of my summer newspaper internships, but it wasn’t until my senior year of college, when the school paper replaced its clunky old computer system with Macs (cue celestial music), that I realized just how technology can make our lives easier.

I bought my first computer in November 1996 (I remember because it was Election Day and also because I just remember stuff like that), and I’ve spent the past two decades learning how to make computers work faster and more efficiently for me. I love passing along my little tips to anyone who’ll listen. (You’re welcome.)

While PCs and Macs use different operating systems, the platforms accommodate many of the same keyboard shortcuts. Also, different software programs (“apps,” for you young whippersnappers) use different shortcuts, meaning that not everything is universal, but many things are.

Why am I so in love with keyboard shortcuts? Let me count the ways:
  • They save a lot of time. (Duh.) I’m serious. Little detours away from the keyboard add up. Having to take your hands away from the keys to grab the mouse is time consuming. If you type fast and know the shortcuts, you can zing through those paragraphs like nobody’s business. I cannot tell you how much time I save by favoring the keyboard over the mouse.
  • No need for a mouse. What if you’re in a mouseless situation (or maybe the little critter’s battery is dead) but still need to perform a function in your document? Two strokes (or a combination of keys) and you’re all set.
  • They’re more precise. Have you ever tried to close a window on your screen where the little exit x or red dot was small, and maybe your mouse was a little uncooperative – maybe it wandered around the screen when you didn’t tell it to? Keyboard shortcut.
  • They cut down on “mouse hand.” (I’m not sure that’s a real term, but I know it’s a thing.) Haven’t you experienced cramps in your mouse-wielding hand that could be eased with a little break from the normal position? I sure have.
  • It’s cool. No, really. It just is.

I’m going start you with five of my favorite shortcuts for each of the two major operating systems; if you’d like to learn more, I’ll add to the collection in a later post. And feel free to suggest other tech lessons you’d like to explore.

FUNCTION MAC PC
SAVE Command + S Control + S
UNDO Command + Z Control + Z
COPY Command + C Control + C
CUT Command + X Control + X
PASTE Command + V Control + V

If you’re reading this post on a computer, take a few moments to try these keyboard shortcuts. Open a document, type a few words and try the commands. Don’t worry: If you make a booboo, there’s always Command Z!

Do you already use keyboard shortcuts? What’s your fave? (Mine is Command + Z – undo!)

Next tech lesson: text-replacement apps (also a terrific timesaver).

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#lifedeclutter: Let’s get our stuff together – together

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Several months ago, I started working on getting my little world in order, as in:

  • Decluttering my workspace (home office).
  • Getting more sleep.
  • Taming my inbox (I will NOT let it defeat me – not there yet, though).
  • Organizing my closet, dresser and bathroom.
  • Offloading a bunch of deadweight on my computer (really old files that just take up space, physically and mentally).
  • Changing web hosts (don’t get me started on that).

#lifedeclutter

I named this (not so) little project #lifedeclutter, and for a while I posted about it here, on social media and on my whiteboard at home.

I probably don’t have to tell you how easy it is to let things slide once you’ve started making improvements, especially if you never quite achieved the results you were looking for in the first place.

Yes, I’ve made a lot of progress. But I’ve also backslidden in some areas.

My main email account (I have three going into the same inbox) contains – as I write this paragraph – 8,111 emails, 5,707 of which are marked Unread. (Sad but true.)

A few months ago, I had it under 2,000.

I won’t go into all the things I’ve been busy with, but those things have led me to neglect the daily maintenance I was pursuing in my digital space.

In other words, I never got to Inbox Zero (does that even exist?), and I slid back into old habits.

Well, my friends, that is going to change.

In less than two weeks, a new month starts, and so begins a new quarter of 2018.

The return to #lifedeclutter.

I’m giving myself the rest of March to gear up for the change, because I’m working on my taxes, trying to reconcile all my bank accounts and hoping to get things in good order to start fresh come April 1.

(Major shift: I’m bound and determined to switch back to Apple Mail and start using the filters and tagging plug-ins I added over a year ago. I’m going to schedule it and make it happen.)

But most of all, I’m bouncing a lot of ideas around in my head.

I want to figure out how to get you involved.

So … in the next three days, think about this:

What is the main thing in your world that’s driving you crazy right now?

Do you need to:

  • Declutter your closet?
  • Organize your kitchen?
  • Create a bedtime routine that helps you end the day relaxed and ready to sleep?
  • Shape up your family budget?
  • Shape up your butt? (Guilty.)
  • Prioritize some neglected relationships?
  • Make amends?
  • Clean out your inbox? (Ahem.)

Getting your physical, mental and spiritual world in order opens the door to infinite possibilities. I’m looking at you, entrepreneur-in-the-making.

Write down (yes, write it on paper, in ink) one to three dreams you have. If ANYTHING were possible, what would you want your life to look like in 12 months, 5 years, 10 years … at the end of your life?

Would you start a business? Apply for a job in a different field? Go back to school? Start volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about? Move to the mission field? Write a book? Sail around the world? Build a house? Run for office?

DREAM BIG, MY FRIEND.

One thing you’re not allowed to do: Limit yourself or edit your list. Write anything you’ve ever dreamed about doing, no matter how crazy it sounds. (You don’t have to show it to anyone if you don’t want to.)

This is your life we’re talking about.

If you’re brave enough, post a comment here letting the world know what you’re dreaming. If you’re not ready for that, contact me privately here and share it with me only. (I promise I won’t tell.)

Then we’ll come back next week and start working on some things together.

If you don’t already get my email updates, be sure to subscribe (see the box or click here) so you’ll be able to keep up with our #lifedeclutter and other goodies. (Kinda ironic that I mention subscribing when I haven’t tamed my own inbox, huh? I promise I won’t inundate you with daily annoyances. I email when I publish a blog post, and sometimes I send stuff exclusively for my subscribers, but that averages to about once a week.) At the moment, the free resource for subscribing is “8 Tips for Saying No Graciously” – a two-page PDF that will help you get started on what you want to do, not what you think you have to do.

Now, let’s get busy dreaming.

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Spicy Turkey Chili

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Third place in my church’s chili cook-off five years ago cemented my belief that the Spicy Turkey Chili that I had been making every Saturday during football season for the past few years was not only a family favorite but a crowd pleaser. (Or at least the judges were fans – especially one who said mine was the best.)

I try not to brag too much, but (in my humble opinion 🙂 ) my chili is the best. I took someone else’s recipe and tweaked it until it became mine.

Spicy Turkey Chili
Until I make my Spicy Turkey Chili again, this 2009 photo is the best pic I have!

I make fun of my pastor, who took second place that year, because I think his chili isn’t really chili – it’s goulash. He puts weird stuff in his – vegetables that don’t belong in chili. (Also, it makes me laugh because it reminds me of Uncle Felix and the Irish cook Norah in my favorite Christmas movie, Christmas in Connecticut.)

But someone must think it’s chili, because he won the cook-off a year or two ago. That first one was the only one I entered. Just having my friend (the judge) tell me he liked mine and ask me for the recipe … well, that’s all the validation I needed.

I have to be honest: This isn’t dump-a-bunch-of-cans-into-a-pot, bam-you’re-done chili. It takes a bit of time and effort, but my version has also gotten raves at a local half-marathon held in December that Bruce and I used to direct. I’ve had runners tell me it’s better than the canned-and-packaged everything version by another cook.

So go to some trouble for your family. They’re worth it, and you’ll appreciate the difference.

Here’s the version from my other blog, in case you’re interested. That was a modification of a chef’s recipe, and I thought my version was tastier. But since then I’ve tweaked it even more. For instance, I started leaving out the teaspoon of sugar, and it’s none-the-worse, tastewise, and actually better for you (who needs added sugar?). Also, sometimes I mash half of the black beans – sometimes all of them – because Bruce (having Crohn’s disease) doesn’t always digest things the way the rest of us do. (I’m not even sure the original version includes beans.)

 

 

 

Print Recipe
Spicy Turkey Chili
I used to make this every Saturday during football season. If you need a cold-weather bowl of yumminess, this fits the bill. Serve with or without crackers or cornbread, shredded cheese, Greek yogurt (a substitute for sour cream) and chopped scallions.
Course Main Dish, Soups
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
a bunch
Ingredients
Course Main Dish, Soups
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
a bunch
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in medium pot with heavy bottom over medium-high heat. Add meat and stir with wooden spoon to break up. Cook, stirring, until meat is browned and cooked through, 8-10 minutes.
  2. Transfer meat to strainer to drain.
  3. Set pot over medium-high heat. Add remaining 2 Tbsp. oil, onions, bell peppers and garlic. Cook 6-8 minutes. Return turkey to pot and mix well.
  4. Add chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper and cook, stirring about 2 minutes.
  5. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, beans and broth. Stir well and bring to a boil.
  6. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, about 30 minutes. Taste for flavor and add salt and pepper if needed. Keep warm on stove until ready to serve.
  7. OPTIONAL TOPPINGS: Chopped scallions, cheddar cheese, a dollop of Greek yogurt (instead of sour cream), oyster crackers.
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2018 To Well With You Reader Survey

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Hey, y’all. Can you believe it’s already 2018? The older I get, the faster those seconds tick off the clock!

I’m writing a post that I think will hit home with a lot of people. (I want to start you thinking about your future.) For now I’m going to leave you to wonder what it is until you fill out my second-annual To Well With You Reader Survey.

I just want to get a feel for what you want. I want to be sure we’re tracking with each other.

This is the time of year that many people — including me — reflect on the past 12 months (maybe more), think about what went well and what could be improved upon, and decide what we want to see happen in the coming year.

For you, is it some area of personal improvement … finances, weight loss/gain, better relationships, getting organized?

How about career-wise? Do you have a dream that you’ve been shoving aside to do something you think you’re supposed to do but don’t really love, or that you had to do for a season for a specific purpose, but now that reason no longer applies?

Do you want to go back to school, finish a degree, get a master’s, take singing lessons?

DREAM BIG!

I want you to start looking at what’s possible in your life.

Not what your parents told you to do. Not what your friends think you should do. Not even what you think you’re supposed to do because of some misguided sense of obligation.

Sure, we all have things we HAVE to do. But are there things you’re putting in that category that don’t really belong there?

Start dreaming, stop letting outdated or misguided beliefs limit what you can do, and BE BRAVE.

We’ll talk more about that later.

For now, take the survey, and while you’re clicking the boxes, ask yourself where you’d like to go from here. And if one (or more) of the topics lights you up inside, let me know. (Also tell me if there’s something missing from the list that you’d like to explore.)

I want this to spark a fire in you and spur you to action.

Let’s get going.

Create your own user feedback survey

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Help me write a movie and be entered to win!

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My mother and I are in the throes of our annual Hallmark Christmas movie obsession, fueled by visions of Christmas cookies (that we can’t have), beautiful decorations and lots of actors with white teeth and perfect hair.

This starts around Thanksgiving and ends around New Year’s Day. On Saturday afternoons, no matter what I still need to get done around the house, I head to Mom’s, sometimes with Bruce, sometimes without. Husband, being the good sport he is, will watch with us (I think he secretly enjoys some of them).

At the moment, there are no football games to interrupt our viewing, so we veg out for hours. (We may need an intervention!)

Part of the fun of a formulaic movie is saying the lines right along with the characters.

You know, the phrases that are oh-so-predictable and you could write them in your sleep 🙂 — generic phrases in response to predictable plot developments, such as:

There are rules about this kind of thing.

“Rules are made to be broken.”

You know what I mean.

And after a random phrase like that, I’ve been known to exclaim proudly, “I could write these!”

Bruce used to roll his eyes (or ignore me), but lately he has joined in the fun. He could write these movies, too!

We say that with confidence, but it’s only because we’ve never tried. I realize that much more goes on before a movie is ever made, much more behind the scenes than we will ever know. But, still, many of them seem to be manufactured with fill-in-the-blank templates, and I thought I’d give it a try.

So, in the spirit of holiday cookies, movies and ho-ho-ho, I want to know how much Christmas spirit you have.

You’re going to write a Christmas romance with me!

You’ll get two benefits: You’ll be entered to win a $50 gift card (two winners; details in the survey) and Santa will put you on his Nice List. OK, I just thought of a third (and maybe the best) benefit: You’ll have fun!

HERE’S HOW IT WORKS:

  • Fill out the multiple-choice survey below to help me with the details of the script. (Title will be chosen after we decide on the basic elements, but feel free to offer suggestions!)
  • We’ll choose a winner at random at 9 p.m. Central on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017.
  • The winner will be contacted by email and will choose from five gift cards (list is in the survey below).
  • Please share this so that your friends can join in the fun! (Not a requirement for participation.)

I can’t end this without a word about the reason we have Christmas in the first place. If you don’t know Jesus as Lord and Savior, seek out someone in your community who can help you know Him, or reach out to me here for a conversation. No obligation, just a simple conversation about the hope that I have within me.

Be sure to share!

Create your own user feedback survey

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Compassion and justice aren’t optional

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Many times in my life, several things I’m working on or doing converge into one lesson. The things I’m reading, thinking about and doing seem to fit nicely together so that I can “kill two (or three) birds with one stone,” so to speak.

Today I was determined to make my Bible and devotion time a priority:

Get the dogs fed (sweet mercy, most days that’s gotta be No. 1 in my household), microwave my refrigerated coffee (No. 2? Most definitely!), then the Bible App.

I hate to admit it, but I’m STILL a work in progress. (Note to self: You always will be.)

I still haven’t disciplined myself to do Bible first, email and social media notifications second. Still working on that.

But I’m going to put that discussion aside for now, because today at least two of the things merged.

The things?

Day 6 of the 30-day Practice in Public Challenge. that I’ve been participating in.

Day 1 of a devotional reading plan in the Bible App. I did this same 40-day plan four years ago, but as I finished my latest plan, rather than search for a completely new one I decided to take a look back at the 68 plans I had already completed.

The plan “Restart: Compassion and Justice” caught my eye because: 1) It touches on issues that I think are extremely important in our society, especially lately. 2) My pastor started a new sermon series last Sunday called “The Invisibles: Seeing the People that God Sees.”

The scripture for Day 1 is Genesis 1:26-27 (I read it in the New Living Translation):

“Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.’

“So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

And from the commentary:

“As we understand and live this out, our lives reflect the One who created us. Instead of oppressing others, we empower them; instead of building fences, we get involved in the lives of others and work toward their good. We stand up for justice, speak out for the powerless, and love the unloved.”

My question (primarily to myself, but to all of us):

What I am doing, other than believing (and occasionally stating in public) that racism, bigotry and favoritism are wrong? That looking down on someone who’s homeless, mentally ill, in prison — or maybe just “different” from us — is NOT okay.

What am I doing to show “the least of these” that I care, that God cares? That no matter what society says they are — broken beyond repair, unworthy, unlovable — God says they are created in His image and, therefore, are of INFINITE value. No one can put a price tag on that which God has determined is invaluable.

His redemption covers all of our brokenness. It covers our sin, our struggles … our bigotry, arrogance and apathy.

But the sacrifice God made for our sin (Jesus’ death and resurrection) doesn’t give us license to spend our days living for ourselves, as if being redeemed means freedom from responsibility.

So, what am I going to do this weekend to “stand up for justice, speak out for the powerless, and love the unloved”?

For starters, I’ve just taken 30 seconds to add a reminder to my Google calendar. Monday I’m going to contact a local agency where I’ve been wanting to volunteer. This agency helps the unwanted have life. I need to be a part of that again, as I was 30 years ago when I had more energy and optimism. It’s time to hit refresh.

And I’m going to spend some extra time thinking through this question with more intention: What else can I do?

So that’s me.

What are YOU going to do?

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Book review: Back to Bremen by Cecelia Wilson

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The following week our orders arrived at the house. Our family had been directed to leave Bremen for reassignment to Saxony in eastern Germany, which had been spared the bombing the majority of the country had sustained. The larger the family, the more likely permission was given to evacuate, so we would be one of the first families leaving our neighborhood. … I remember being sad and excited at the same time. None of us wanted to leave, but we were also more than eager to escape bombs, death, and fear.

– Excerpt from Back to Bremen

By the time Edith Ropke was 3 years old, she was well acquainted with the horrors of war.

In 1939, Edith, seven of her eight siblings and their mother, Marta, could not have foreseen the devastation they would experience as they endured evacuation, separation, hunger, illness and loss before making the weeks-long journey back to their hometown of Bremen, Germany.

With Father conscripted to service — whisked off in the middle of a family meal — the rest of the Ropke family had to carry on with Mutti (Mother) and eldest brother Gunter, not yet 10 years old, in charge.

(That is, until just before Gunter turned 14 and was, himself, ordered to report for duty.)

Throughout the six-year journey that unfolds for us in Cecelia Wilson’s Back to Bremen, Marta Ropke’s mission was to keep her remaining family together, and safe.

Each child knew by heart Mutti’s mantra: Always stay together.

That mindset, Marta’s humor amid challenging situations, and her fierce love and determination to see every family member safe, is at the heart of Back to Bremen, the true story told with heart and skill by Cecelia Wilson.

Most of the World War II books I’ve read are told from the perspective of the soldiers or the Jews or — in my favorite book of all time, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom — the families trying to save Jews from Hitler’s brutal Nazis.

In the case of Back to Bremen, the story is told from the perspective of a German girl whose family was thrust into the thick of it and remained …

Well, if I went any further I’d be giving away too much. (I hate spoilers. Don’t you?)

You’ll have to buy the book, read Edith and Marta’s story, then come back here (or, even better, visit the author’s website) and tell us what you thought of it.

I’m serious. Buy it. Read it. Share it.

OLD MEMORIES

My family and Cecelia’s family have been friends for 45 years — since the Taylors moved to Batesville, Ark., in 1972. We met at church, and church (a different one in a different town) is exactly where Cecelia met Edith Ropke Harris, whose story is told in Back to Bremen.

Edith and Cecelia sat for many hours over servings of popcorn and Dr Pepper, Cecelia marveling at Edith’s stories and taking copious notes, grateful that she and her friend had finally found the time and the circumstances to make good on Cecelia’s promise to tell the tale of Marta Ropke and the journey back to Bremen with her children.

I had the privilege of meeting Edith and one of her daughters, Barbara, at a book signing a few months ago. That’s how long ago I promised Cecelia I’d read and review her book.

SIGH OF RELIEF!

You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when a friend says, “Do you like my new haircut” (and you don’t) or, “Do these pants make my butt look big” (and they do)?

I had a twinge of that feeling when I found out that Cecelia had published Back to Bremen.

I knew she was a part-time writer — I’d read one or two of her pieces in Searcy Living magazine — but when I heard that she had published her first major book, I was a bit nervous to read it.

I was afraid it wouldn’t be good.

And because I have an extreme aversion to false flattery, I would have to find some way of being a good friend without lying. Or I’d have to avoid Cecelia and her family for the rest of my life.

To join the Witness Protection Program or something.

Imagine my relief when I turned the last page and knew beyond a doubt that I could give the book a good review.

In the span of 36 hours (interrupted by church, sleep and feeding the dogs and people in mein Haus), I read the book, phoned Mom and gushed about it (she then read it and phoned Cecelia’s mom to gush about it), and fell asleep. The next morning at work, I gushed about it to my co-worker, who was also at the book signing, but I didn’t know this because I was too busy listening to Cecelia’s fascinating stories of the book, her writing career and the publishing process. (I’m a geek that way.)

LIVING HISTORY

It was such a joy to meet Edith and Barbara at the book signing. I asked Edith a couple of questions, had her and Cecelia sign my copy of Back to Bremen, introduced myself to Barbara, and marveled that I had the privilege of meeting someone who lived through such a time in our history.

If you’re on Facebook, take a look at Cecelia’s video of Edith talking to Fred Hilsenrath, a fellow survivor of WWII, as they converse for a few minutes in their native German.

And here’s where you can buy the book.

Go on. Buy a copy now! Then let us know how you like it. Comment here or on Cecelia’s page, wherever you’re the most comfortable. Be sure to like her Facebook page while you’re there.

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