Monday, November 5, 2018

Pennies From Heaven -- Part Two

I'm not sure if you remember, but a little over a year ago, I wrote a post about Pennies.

(not just) Penny Jar 
Namely, finding the small -- very inconsequential -- things of life and not only making them an intentional part of your life, but making them a gift.

To yourself.

These gifts are everywhere -- if we're willing to look past our own negative expectations.

Here's the jar today.

After a year of doing this, of not passing up a penny when I just happened to walked by one, or picked one up at my feet as I got out of the car, I've changed. Here's how:

1. Expansion: It didn't just stop with pennies, it became dimes and nickels and quarters. And then it became dollars. And then jewelry and keys! There were more gifts around than I thought. I began to find dollars and five dollar bills in the vintage clothing I sold at my Etsy shop. It became comical. My oldest would walk to his car after school and pick up dollars on the ground in front of his car, as if they were left there for him.

2. Everyone: This became more than just about me. I incited my two boys to jump  in on this little "game." I explained why I was doing this, that these little gifts from God were reminders that he cares, and reminders to trust Him (In God we Trust). And that we should watch for them. Fast forward to today, they're in on this more than me! My oldest comes home and tells me the change he found, my youngest throws in metal buttons and keys and quarters (He's really a crow. No. I'm serious. He loves shiny objects and keeps them. All. ) They are just as excited when they find a simple penny as I am. It's amazing in the day and age of video games and early maturing, that this little game has become a fun and memorable daily highlight of my boys'.

3. (Great) Expectations: When you want more, learn to expect more. This is how faith works. There are some days I don't find a penny and I'm actually sad, as if I missed out on something great. These simple pennies almost become like gold on the ground. A found penny can sometimes be the single greatest thing that happens on a day of missed appointments, or bad grades from the kids, or disappointment in relationships. It's that constant reminder that God is still there. And that he's still giving me good things when the world is crashing down around me.

Try it. I dare you. You make think I'm crazy now. But once you're looking and finding them, you'll see what I'm talking about. You'll see the gift in the simple that no one else even cares to look at. It's like complimenting someone when you don't feel like it. Or picking up that extra gift of favorite dessert for someone you love.

It all counts. Every gift, every word, every small gesture. And every penny counts, too. As a gift to yourself.

How can you possibly say no to that?

-HJS

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Make a List │ Getting Things Done

Like many of you, I am a list-maker. I find them to be one of the most rewarding things I can do in my little life. Well, that and drinking coffee and wearing vintage. But, I digress.

List-making really only consists of three things: paper, a pen, and your brain.

While there are myriad articles and books on tidying up and minimal living (both of which I fully embrace), living a simple and minimal life can also start just by making a list.

So, why should you write a list?

Three reasons: it's simple, it's in front of you, and anyone can be master of their world with one.

Yes, dare I say master of your universe. Pretty amazing, right?

That little list holds your sanity, order and clarity. And those are all we really need.

Check out this list I wrote the other day: I listed the errands I had to run (go to post office, then to Salvation Army and Goodwill to find my vintage to sell).

I listed the work I had to do (list two items items for sale on my vintage Etsy site, and find an outlet -- meaning a writing outlet, as in a journal or magazine I want to submit to).

And of course, read. I have to read. I get to read!

I've made other lists before with laundry or cleaning the kitchen as part of it. This may seem silly. But when they're on that list, I do them. And getting them done means scratching them off the list.

And if I don't do anything else other than the to-do items on the list, I feel accomplished. I feel like I got somewhere, like things are under control.

See that "write something" circled? Yeah, it was the last thing I had to do. (Some days, it's first, but that day, it was last.)

Writing is a big one I try to do every day. If I'm not being creative, I don't feel like I'm doing what I was created to do. Even if it's small, like a journal entry, or blog post, or a poem, that counts! That makes me a writer.

Side note: I'd like to say to putting the list on your phone is not helpful.

I've done this before and it may work for some folks, but it doesn't work for me. I need the list visible; I need it on a sticky-note so I can take it with me wherever I want. And I need to literally cross it off that list to be master of my universe.

Make that list. Get stuff done, people. If it's cleaning out the fridge, or teaching your class you teach every day, or picking up the dry cleaning, put it on the list, do it, and check it off.

Honestly, some of that list will make you feel accomplished just for being alive and other things on that list will get done because you'll feel accountable to it.

This is a major victory. This is organization.

So, three things: paper, pen, and your brain. Get that party going, write a list every day (or every night for the next day -- which I prefer to do) and watch your little world be all that it can be.

-HJS

Monday, July 23, 2018

Overused Words │ Part Deux

Gahhhhh!

That's me yelling at my Kindle because I'm re-reading an overused word in a New York Times best-selling book by a best-selling author.

Gahhhhh!

That's me yelling again because said writer should know better ... even if the rules don't apply to him because he's uber famous and can do what he wants.

But, I -- the reader -- noticed! I saw the repeated words. And I'm annoyed.

Readers read to get away; to dive into the book and enjoy; to escape-- not to question the author's choice of words.

Okay, let me open up here. The book is John Grisham's latest thriller, The Rooster Bar. 

Per usual, it's a great read, is super easy to get into, and has awesome, three-dimensional characters (even though you could swap characters from book to book and it would work seamlessly). But, the word he over used is: evidently.

This word can be perfect  to use. Say, once every other chapter, if  needed. But it's one of those adverbs that shouldn't be overused because it's more unusual. Wait, adverbs should be avoided anyway! It's a rule in writing because as we know, adverbs weaken the text.

It's one of those rules in place for a big reason: the text sounds fake and forced when this rule is repeatedly (adverb) broken. I began to notice it when it showed up practically (adverb) every third page. And I really (adverb) noticed when he placed it twice within three sentences.

I know. Editors and writers are human. They miss words, miss spelling, miss punctuation. But, when is this many adverbs ever a good idea?  Adverbs for authors = bad. Two adverbs within a stone's throw of each other = extra bad.

I love Grisham's writing. He is a phenomenal story teller.

I just wanted to read this work without noting, "Oh, he used that same word again." He and his editors are far better than what they're showing us.

So, writers out there, use your thesauruses, use your dictionaries: find alternative words. 

Now, go read the book! You'll love it.

-HJS

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Monday, April 23, 2018

Increasing Your Vocabulary │ Overused Words

My husband and I have this running joke that if we played a drinking game for the first -- and only the first-- five minutes of any news segment, anywhere in America, we'd be under the table in two.

Why? Because this drinking game is based on the repeated use of the word "impact."

It's okay if you can hate me now. Because after this post, you will notice this word EVERYWHERE and how overused it is.

I get it. The word is impactful. It makes a point. Pulls a punch. But ... it's beyond this, my friends. It's overwhelmingly beyond this now. I also understand that each decade has it's colloquial and trendy words. Totally understand that.

I can dig that, yo.

But, there's an all-out assault on this word. And most of the time, it's used incorrectly. Do you know what the word impact means? Per Merriam-Webster, it means
1.
  a.: to fix firmly by or as if my packing or wedging
  b.: to press together

2.
  a.: to have a direct effect or impact on : impinge on
  b.: to strike forcefully

So, an asteroid impacts the earth, or the train impacted the car on the tracks. These both fill the "fix firmly" portion and the "pressed together" portion. 

It's the second meaning, to "have a direct effect " (isn't it hilarious that they use the work impact to describe impact. I'm confused. Could a dictionary not come up with a better definition?) that we're hearing used most. But, it's the first meaning we should be using the word for. That's the point of the word.

It's a buzz word of today, that is highly overused. Highly. We've got other synonyms like affect, impress, influence, result, outcome ... and most of these are not used. 

It also got me wondering, Was this word used regularly, say fifty years ago? I thought not. I thought that it had to be something from today. But just yesterday, I picked up C.S. Lewis' book A Grief Observed  and began reading it again. (This book is phenomenal.)



I came to the 12th page and saw the word. Wow. There it was! But surely, this was an anomaly. It probably wouldn't be used again.

But, he did use it again on page 18.


There it was. What?  Okay. I think I can figure this out.

C.S. Lewis was a scholar. He used this word where appropriate, and these two spots were appropriate. He does, however, use myriad of other words. And that is the key to this over-using word mess. Look at page 19, he uses the word effect. Hello. He didn't use the word impact! And he could have. It would have fit just fine.


So, what am I saying? I'm saying a scholar can get away with using this word twice in six pages. And I'm okay with it. I'm not okay with the media, Facebook posts galore, and everyone I know or meet, use this word and not think it's overused.

I'm sure there are other overused words. Literally, obsessed, and legit come to mind. But again, these are trendy. 

What words are you over-hearing? As a writer, if you don't want to hear them, don't write them. If it annoys you, odds are high it will annoy someone else. It's important to watch what you're writing since people are reading what you are writing. 

I'm totally grammar-policing this but in a vocabulary-policing sort of way.

Now, about that drinking game...

-HJS

Monday, March 12, 2018

Seasonal Seasons

Life is full of seasons, even in sunny northern California.

Which is remarkable.

Maybe we don't get all that cold here in Sacramento, but some mornings are below freezing and I know for a fact we'll have days this summer hovering close to 110 degrees.

But, life is full of emotional and spiritual seasons, too. Change, growth, loss, newfound passions, love, or jobs.  All of this is -- and will be -- a part of our lives, whether we like it or not and whether we admit it or not.

The latest season of mine has felt difficult, for lack of better wording. Maybe the hardest it's been since I had a my first born, over seventeen years ago.  Back then, I felt alone and was dealing with a huge responsibility that I knew nothing about -- raising a child!

Today, there's me pursuing writing, which is always a constant struggle (Am I good enough?)

There's me wondering how I let go of my son who will be graduating high school next year. (I don't want to let go.)

There's me dealing with things all women go through, like comparison or "not being enough," in any and all categories. (I'm getting old!)

There's marriage. There's kids. There's work. There's life. There's emotions. There's heartbreak. There's loneliness. There's so many things we deal with. And there's many things people think I don't have to deal with because I don't talk about them.

But, they're there. They're always there.

And I deal with things some women don't have to deal with. Thin-shaming, being one of them. I've never talked about this, and I may never again, but ladies ... this is a real thing. Stop putting down thin women just because you don't look like them.

Appearance is another issue. Women assume I have a perfect life solely based on the way I look.

I'm not kidding.

I was literally told the other day by a woman, "You are pretty. You must have a perfect life."

I wanted to laugh. Then cry. Are you kidding me? So, because you think I look perfect, I have a perfect life? Oh, the irony. And hilarity. And bewilderment.

Do you know how many people women -- or men -- won't talk to me because of the way I look? Most days, I feel alone more than anything. But I know most people feel this way. We all have things we deal with that creates an illusion of isolation from the rest of everyone.

But, it's an illusion. Because we're never really alone.

This morning's walk with the pup put me right back in the perfect frame-of-mind. When I'm in nature, I feel one with God. I see him everywhere, full and in color, from the tips of the trees, to the herons flying, to the neighbors I say hi to. He's everywhere.

And I know I'm not alone, by any means. He's walking right next to me. He'll never leave or forsake me, and now more than ever, I'm leaning in to that. And there's my puppy. My furry best friend who's a constant, loving companion. What more do I need?

Seasons are seasonal. Some start out amazing and end in turmoil. Some begin with sorrow and end joy-filled. The real trick is to look for hope, stay grateful, and watch things change for our good despite our circumstances.

And remember, anything is possible for us who believe it is. (Mark 9:23).

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Neighbors and Short Stories

My neighbors, whom I've not met, just moved in across the street. I've no idea where they're from and was out of town when the moving trucks unloaded their things, and I don't even know if I've seen their cars. I don't know if anyone is there, actually.

But yesterday, they (I still didn't see them) set out some things for donation (they just appeared). The kind that is to be picked up by a truck, free of charge, to be resold for "reasonable" prices at a thrift store. So, someone must live there.

My new neighbors missed the truck by a half hour. I saw it winding down our street as I left at 7:49 to take my sons to school. And when I got back, a baby walker and a few bags sat by the curb. It was a little sad to see the forlorn baby walker without a baby in it, as though the baby just upped and walked away on his own.

It made me want to walk over to my new neighbors and meet them and tell them, "Hey, you're too late! You have to haul your stuff in until next time." But again, I didn't know them yet. And I suppose that wasn't the nicest way to welcome them to the neighborhood.

I definitely didn't know if they had a toddler (I assumed it was a toddler, hence the baby walker donation). But then I wondered if there was a baby. Or maybe it no longer lived there. Or maybe it was like Hemingway's short (short) story "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn."

And so I went inside, hiding my eyes from the walker not wanting to know the truth and also wondering if I'd ever meet my neighbors, now that I've ruined my whole thought process over them.

I failed as a kind, neighborly neighbor.

But, I did get a good story out of it. Which I guess is a nice by product of my laziness. And being a writer.

**That whole short story of Hemingway's is an urban legend. There is no substantive evidence to prove he ever wrote it. That aside, and giving him the benefit of the doubt, have you ever tried writing a short story like Hemingway's? Like ten words or less? It's the whole idea behind flash fiction, which I adore because I think with words, especially in writing good words, less is more.**

Here's my attempt: "New neighbors. Say Hello. You'll feel better." What do you think?

Unlike Hemingway's, this story is all true.

-HJS