Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sharing the bliss: a giveaway

Like hundreds of other bloggers, I spent last week at the Blissdom conference in Nashville. Last year, like thousands of other bloggers, I spent the week of Blissdom wishing I could be at Blissdom and wondering what it was really like. Frankly, I wondered if it could really be worth the hype, not to mention the expense.

So now I've been, and I'm here to tell you: it IS worth the hype and the expense.

Why?

Because it's an amazing experience. The conference speakers are experts, and they share their expertise freely. More than that, the attendees are nearly all there to do just what you'd want to do, so they're an incredibly cooperative group of women. Most everyone wants to deepen connections with other bloggers and to build new relationships. So people are friendly and open and helpful to one another. Alliances are formed. Cooperative projects are planned. You can see light bulb moments happening right and left. It really is amazing and inspiring to be in the middle of all that.

1.27.2011 066 1
(Thanks for the photo, Melissa!)

Besides that, it's just plain fun. You learn that people are just the way you imagine them to be when you read their blogs. I'm sure there's an occasional exception, but the vast majority of bloggers are genuine and honest. So Blissdom provides a remarkable opportunity to turn URL friends into IRL friends.

And there's one more thing. The Blissdom organizers are brilliant. These women have done a phenomenal job of forming alliances with some of the most generous sponsors I've ever seen. Blissdom sponsors are awesome. They love on Blissdom attendees like you wouldn't believe. But I want you to believe it. Just look at some of the wonderful things I received at Blissdom, all compliments of the generous sponsors:



The Blissdom jewelry:





It's not junk. It's not dumpster fodder. It's cool stuff. It makes quite a swag bag. And I want one of you to have it. So I'm giving mine away.

That's right: everything you see pictured here was given to me by a wonderful Blissdom sponsor. And I'm going to put it all into a package and mail it to one of you. I want you to see it and be convinced that there's a whole lot of love at BlissDom.

Want to win? Here's how to enter the giveaway:

  • For one entry: leave a comment on this post.
  • For a second entry: tweet, retweet, Facebook, or post about it, then leave me a second comment.

You don't have to be a follower to enter the giveaway. If you'd like to follow me, I'd LOVE to have you. But I know you can't follow everyone, so you should only follow me if you want to. I write about my home and my heart. Click here to see some of my favorite projects of 2010, or here to read one of my favorite posts of 2010. That'll give you an idea of what I'm about, and you can choose to follow me if you'd like.

I'll choose a winner randomly on Monday, February 7.

Good luck!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Answered prayer

Last fall, I wrote about a young friend of mine, a member of a Special Operations unit of the U.S. Army who was about to be deployed to Afghanistan.

I was chatting with him a few days before he was shipped out. He asked me to pray for the other members of his unit, none of whom is a Christian. Then he said, "I want to get my mom one of those knee pads they make for gardeners. She's on her knees praying so much, I'm afraid she's going to hurt herself."

When I chuckled at this comment, my friend looked me straight in the eyes and said, "I'm serious."



As we talked, I imagined his mother, her knees sore, her carpet indented, her heart full, and I realized:

I want to be like that.

To think that someday, when my boys are faced with difficulty, they could rest secure in the knowledge that I would be praying for them so diligently that I might hurt my knees?!

And so I prayed: Dear Lord, let it be so. Please. Let it be so.

This week I learned that this godly mother's prayers have been answered. My soldier friend is home again, safe and sound.

And I'm thinking that his mother's knees are still sore. I'm betting her arms are sore, too . . . but who would ever tire of lifting grateful arms in praise?

Thank you, Lord. Thank you.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Just wondering about Blissdom

I was going to write about Blissdom today. I got my Blissdom welcome package on Friday, and suddenly it was real: I--little ol' small potatoes, nobody-in-particular me--going to Blissdom.


Blissdom Conference ~ Nashville ~ January 26-28, 2010



It's true. Come this Wednesday, I'll be boarding a Southwest flight bound for Nashville, and I'll be among the 500 or so bloggers gathered at the Opryland Hotel for three days of learning and fellowship and fun.

To be honest, I'm a little scared. I was going to write about that today.

I'm not scared of going to conferences. Shoot, I used to work as a conference planner. I like conferences. I'm not scared of not knowing anyone. I've met several bloggers in real life, and there are a number of others with whom I have a long-standing online relationship. It's not that.

I'm kind of scared of being there with all those women.

I live with men, you know. I'm the only girl in this house. I'm used to living and working with people who don't care much about hairstyles, or make-up, or footwear. And now I'm going to be spending the week with a bunch of women who know all about fashion. Who are experts at accessorizing. Who own multiple pairs of boots, for crying out loud. I'm intimidated at the thought of being among all these beautiful people.

I was going to write about all of that. But then yesterday, something happened that shifted my focus: my dear friend Bill died.

His death was not unexpected. He'd been in poor health for some time. His darling wife died several years ago, and he was quite ready to join her in heaven. But still. His death has jolted me.

I'm really happy for him, for I know that the death of his physical body was just the next step in an eternal life for him. Thinking about him, though, has changed the way I'm thinking about this week.

Don't get me wrong: I'm really glad and thankful to be going to Blissdom. I'm very excited about it. In terms of blogging, it's an important event.

But that's just it: even for this week, I don't want my life to be all about anything that's important in terms of blogging. I want it to be about something that's important in terms of eternity.

Can a blog be important in the eternal scheme of things? I think so. Some bloggers have struck chords deep within my soul. Some bloggers challenge me to live into a God-vision of me. Some bloggers encourage me to be more than I could ever be all by myself. I'm very thankful for blogging.

But, even at a conference all about blogging, I don't want my eyes to be focused on just on blogging. I want them to be focused on the One who's giving me the opportunity to attend this conference, the One who called me to begin blogging in the first place. The One with whom Bill is now talking face-to-face.

That'll be me someday. I'll have the chance to talk with Him face-to-face. And I'm wondering what He'll want to hear about Blissdom '11.




Be generous with me and I'll live a full life;
not for a minute will I take my eyes off your road.
Open my eyes so I can see
what you show me of your miracle-wonders.
I'm a stranger in these parts;
give me clear directions.
My soul is starved and hungry, ravenous!—
insatiable for your nourishing commands.

Psalm 119:17-19, The Message



Friday, January 21, 2011

A decorating dilemma

My living room is a big, sunny space, with lots of nice features: French doors and windows, a fireplace, a built-in entertainment center, and built-in bookcases. There's just one problem with it: all those nice features, plus doorways into the foyer, the dining room, and the kitchen make it a really hard room in which to arrange furniture.

The room has only one solid wall, and that wall is at the far end of the room, too far away from the fireplace and entertainment center to serve as a place for furniture. So I have a rug defining a seating area, anchored by a sofa with a console table behind it. Click here if you'd like to see photos of the whole room.


The seating area works well. It's cozy and comfortable, and I'm happy with the way it looks. And the back wall works for me; I love having my collection of crosses displayed there. My problem is what to put in the back corner of the room.

At Christmastime, I'm all set. That corner seems tailor-made to hold a Christmas tree. Love it.


The other 11 months of the year, though, that space has taunted me. I've always had a silk tree in that corner, along with some live plants and a few other things. Ho-hum. About the only good thing provided by the silk tree was height, and I knew I needed some height.


Then one day it occurred to me that a floor lamp could provide height, and perhaps that little corner would be a good space for a quiet reading corner. I had a lamp, plus a chair that was stashed in the dining room but not being used. I pulled those into the living room, added a little table and a couple of accessories from other spots in the house, and now that corner is:

a Thoughtful Spot!


Like Winnie the Pooh, I need a Thoughtful Spot. Sometimes I think I'm also a bear of very little brain.

From across the room:




Up close:



The simple tabletop:


I found the little table at HomeGoods; otherwise, everything in this corner I already owned. So this is a very frugal solution for what to put in the corner.

Now I need your help. What do you think? Do you like my Thoughtful Spot? Do you think it works in that corner? Or should I pull my pitiful silk tree back out? I'd really appreciate your honest opinions!


Thursday, January 20, 2011

English teacher: how NOT to use apostrophes


It's Thursday! Time for English class!



Today I'd like to answer a question posed by a reader:

Q: When should you use an apostrophe to form a plural?

That's an excellent question. And there's an excellent answer for it. This is one rule I really like, because it's easy to remember.

The answer is never. Never. NEVER. You should never use an apostrophe to form the plural of any word.

Examples:

The little boy has lots of toy trucks (NOT truck's).
The children are all taking naps (NOT nap's).
The Smiths (NOT Smith's) are coming to dinner.
Lots (NOT lot's) of kids (NOT kids) are out sick today.

Isn't that nice and easy? You NEVER need an apostrophe to form the plural of a word. Apostrophes are used only to form possessives and contractions--never plurals.

Now, you can use an apostrophe to write the plural of symbols or dates.

Example: Back in the 1970's, we were taught to dot our i's and cross our t's.

If you're writing something in longhand, this is a very good rule to follow. But with the use of computers, we can easily just place a very small "s" after dates and symbols, so this rule is not nearly so important as it used to be.

So that's it! A nice, easy rule to remember.


Please let me know if you have any grammar questions or if there's a subject you'd like for me cover in one of these posts. Leave me a comment or email me (RichellaP [at] gmail [dot] com). I'd love to help you if I can!


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Organization .101

Organization 101? Nope. I'm not ready for that yet. This is Organization .101. Remedial Organization. The pre-requisite for getting into Organization School.

Several people have mentioned that it seems that I can't possibly have enough trash in my house to warrant the use of a dumpster. But I've finally learned an important lesson:

You can't organize clutter.

"What IS clutter?" you may ask. Finally, I've learned what it is.

It's stuff like this:




Or this:




This stuff is of no value whatsoever. But it's been occupying valuable space in my home and in my brain.

No longer. This stuff is in the dumpster now. Once Deborah the Dumpster is full, THEN I'll be ready for Organization 101.


I'm joining the CSI girls for the Organization Challenge!


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Reluctant Entertainer

I wish you could see my face right now. If you could, you'd see that I'm grinning from ear to ear.

Why? Because I'm so happy to be Sandy's guest today at Reluctant Entertainer!

photo credit: Reluctant Entertainer


You probably already know Sandy Coughlin, hostess extraordinaire and author of
The Reluctant Entertainer: Every Woman's Guide to Simple and Gracious Hospitality (Bethany House, 2010). If you've never read her blog, you're in for a huge treat!

I'm so excited a the prospect of meeting Sandy at BlissDom next week. That's another reason I'm smiling!

Please visit Sandy and tell her I sent you!

Monday, January 17, 2011

A dream come true

Ever since we said "I do" 25 years ago, I've been my husband's dream. At least that's what I like to tell myself.
As of today, though, another woman has come to live with us, and I think she may actually be his dream come true. Like me, she's a carrot-top. Her name is Deborah, like the wise woman who was an Israelite judge. For years my husband pleaded with me to allow her to come to our house. Finally, I consented, knowing how much it meant to him.

Meet Deborah, who just arrived:


Actually, she'll only be with us for two weeks. Then I'm kicking her out. And it'll be up to me to fulfill my husband's dreams again.


But for now, Deborah is living with us. She looks right at home, don't you think?

(In case you're wondering, Deborah's here to collect all the non-recyclable JUNK that has piled up in our closets, our attics, our cupboards, our garage. She's going to gain a lot of weight while she's here!)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Dear Lord, forgive me

You know what it's like to make friends with the people around you, the people you see frequently when you're out and about. You know, the people who know that your family drinks a lot of milk and that your kid likes Legos and that your husband likes light starch in his shirts. You know what I mean, don't you?

For me, those people include Vicki at the dry cleaner's, Peter at the bank, Sly at the grocery store. . . and Charlene at Target.



It was Charlene who greeted me at the cash register yesterday. I was there to buy more plastic bins to organize all the holiday decorations in my attic. I was a little grumpy at having to do the organizational work (not my strong suit) and at how much the plastic bins cost. Still, I smiled at Charlene and asked how she was.

"I'm so happy today," she answered. "I know I only paid one dollar on the bus, but I got TWO passes. I don't know how it happened, but that'll save me a dollar on the way home. It's my lucky day!"

Dear God. There I was, grouchy at the prospect of needing to buy more plastic bins to hold my stuff. And there she was, cheerful at the prospect of getting a ride without having to pay another fare.

Forgive me, dear Lord. Forgive me.

". . . do not think of yourself more highly than you ought. . . ." (Romans 12:3)

**Joining Amanda at Serenity Now for Weekend Bloggy Reading**

Thursday, January 13, 2011

English teacher: how to use to and too


It's Thursday, and time for another lesson from the English teacher!



Today I'll explain the proper usage of two tiny but important words: to and too. Lately I've noticed that many people--even really smart people who are good writers--have trouble with these little words. Like many words in the English language that present problems, these two words are homonyms. Of course, homonyms give us no trouble when we're speaking. Since they all sound alike, someone listening to us just hears the word and decides on the right meaning in the context of the sentence. When we're writing, though, it's up to us to choose which word is correct.


To is a preposition that indicates direction, such as in these sentences:

I'm leaving now to pick up Mary from her piano lesson.
Lee, give this to your brother.
Can you teach me how to use this word correctly?

Too is an adverb that means also, extra, or very.

I want to go, too!
There's too much ice on the tree branches.
I'm afraid we'll have a power outage before too long.
He's not too happy with his new job.
That is too funny for words.

There's a simple way to remember which to/too word to use: To is your go-to word; you'll use it a lot. Too is the word to use if you mean also or extra; that's easy to remember because it has an extra o.

One of the reasons that writers sometimes have problems with these words is that spell checkers won't catch them. To and too are both legitimate words, so they won't register as misspelled words. It's up to the writer to choose the right word.

Remember this rule:

If you mean to say "also," "extra," or "very much," use the word with the extra "o"!

**Note: There is a third homonym of to and too: the number two. This one doesn't usually cause too much confusion, though.**

Please let me know if you have any specific grammar questions! I'll be very happy to help you if I can.



Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Easy winter decor

Some after-Christmas shopping yielded this silver "HOPE" sign


and some "icy" branches


all for less than $10. Put 'em together, and you've got a winter vignette:



"Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light." (Theodore Roethke)

**Linking to the Winter Challenge at The CSI Project**

Visit thecsiproject.com

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hot chocolate by the cup


I don't know what it's like in your neck of the woods, but around here, it's COLD! Even though we're in the South, it feels as if God said, "Let there be winter!" and Wow! It's winter!

Of course, life goes on, even in the cold temperatures and snow and sleet and freezing rain. But sometimes you need a little treat to help you thaw out. What could be better than hot chocolate? And by hot chocolate, I do not mean that powdered stuff they sell in little packets, or even the stuff you make yourself with powdered milk. Nope, I mean the real stuff.




It's a pain to make, though, right?  Wrong. Did you know you can make it one cup at a time, right in your microwave? Oh, yes, you can--no muss, no fuss, just steamy chocolate goodness. Here's how:

For one serving, you'll need

1 cup milk
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 to 1 Tablespoon cocoa
a pinch of salt

Combine these in a glass measuring cup (this is what I like to do) or right in your mug. For easy microwaving, stick something such as a wooden chopstick or skewer into your milk--breaking the liquid's surface will allow it to bubble if it gets to the boiling stage rather than boiling over. Microwave, stopping to stir once or twice, until it's as hot as you like. Remove from microwave, stir really well, and add a splash or vanilla extract and/or marshmallows if you like.

The whole process takes less than three minutes. And you've got yourself or your kids a cup of the finest cocoa you've ever drunk. Guaranteed to warm your fingers and toes AND your heart.

Note: If you're trying to cut back on sugar, microwave just the milk and the cocoa. After it's hot, add artificial sweetener to taste. Most packets contain sweetener equal to to teaspoons of sugar, so three packets of artificial sweetener should be about right. Skip the marshmallows. It's not quite as cute, but it tastes good!

I'm joining the The CSI Project for today's Winter challenge.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

English teacher

Last spring I wrote a weekly series of posts called "English teacher." Each post contained a small grammar lesson. Then school let out for the summer, and the English teacher put away her books. Several people have asked me about the series, and school's back in session for my kids, so I decided to put on my English teacher hat again.

Each week I'll write about a point of English grammar--something I've noticed troubles many writers, or something about which I've been asked a question. I'd love to make this series a blessing to you, so please let me know if you have any questions!

Today let's look at one of the most useful--but also one of the most troublesome--words in our language: the tiny little pronoun "it." Actually, "it" isn't troubling by itself--but when writers need to add "s" or " 's" to this little word, it becomes a heap of trouble for even some very smart people. Let's see if we can clear this up.

Here's the source of the trouble: our brains automatically associate apostrophes with possessives. And it is true that we form possessives of nouns by using apostrophes. Examples:

Jack's car
the woman's sweater
the writer's blog

See all those nouns followed by " 's"? All possessive, right?

But, friends, pronouns are different. You never use an apostrophe to form the possessive of a personal pronoun. Examples:

his car; the car is his
her sweater; the sweater is hers
your blog; the blog is yours

See? Not an apostrophe in sight.

"It" is a personal pronoun. And just like with the other personal pronouns, you never use an apostrophe to form the possessive of "it." Never, never, never. The possessive of "it" is "its." No apostrophe.

We need to remember that apostrophes are also used to form contractions, those handy little words that are formed when two words are fused together but in which a letter is missing. We use them all the time: "Can not" becomes "can't"; "I am" becomes "I'm"; "do not" becomes "don't." And we need to retrain our brains to realize that, in every circumstance, "it is" becomes "it's." It's a simple rule, really: every time you see "it's," read "it is."

Got that?

it's = it is


Before you use the word "it's" in a sentence, make sure that what you mean is "it is." If you simply mean to say "belonging to it," then use the word "its."

Examples:

It's a beautiful ring! (Right! It IS a beautiful ring.)
Do you know what it's worth? (Right! Do you know what it IS worth?)
You should have someone appraise it's value. (WRONG! You don't mean to say "appraise it is value." You need the possessive "its" here, not the contraction "it's.")

Now, your turn:
  1. I think _______ (its or it's) going to be a great conference.
  2. The cat licked ______ (its or it's) paws.
  3. _______ (Its or It's) sad that so many people are confused by this little word.
  4. Perhaps they don't understand _______ (its or it's) worth.

If you answered
  1. it's
  2. its
  3. It's
  4. its
you've got it! Remember, when in doubt, always ask yourself if you mean to say "it is" before using "it's."

**Note: I'm a certified English teacher of English grammar. I firmly believe that the rules of English grammar are important not because I'm interested in the rules--who really cares about rules??--but because they help us communicate with each other. After all, the purpose of language is communication, and knowing some rules of grammar can help us communicate effectively. Read more here if you're interested. And please let me know if you have any questions! If you have a particular grammar question, feel free to e-mail me at RichellaP (at) gmail (dot) com. I'd be so happy to help you if I can!

**I'm joining Amanda (who has awesome communication skills, by the way) at Serenity Now for her Weekend Blogging Reading party. Thanks for being such a great hostess, Amanda!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

For Edie

Life in Grace is a wonderful blog. Actually, Life in Grace is more than a wonderful blog. It's the journal of a woman who is living just exactly the kind of life you'd expect for someone whose blog has a name like that.

Edie is full of grace. She knows the One who gives her grace; she takes no credit for the life she's been given. In fact, her blog tagline is "living a dream we don't deserve."


But Edie is a woman who isn't content simply to be full of grace herself. She could be, you know--with a husband and six kids and a busy life homeschooling the younger group of those, no one would begrudge her just living in grace, using all that grace to minister to her family.

But Edie is more than full of grace. She's full to overflowing. She overflows with joy and exuberance, with more than enough love and care to go around.

I first met Edie through her blog, of course. Back in the fall of 2009, I was already a reader and fan of hers. She decided to put together a series of posts called "12 Days of Handmade Christmas," and she put forth a call to crafters, asking for submissions of crafts that would make good gifts. Hesitantly, I contacted her, suggesting that I could write a post about the homemade fudge I make every year. Edie didn't know me, so I wasn't sure if my little idea would be good enough to include in her series.

Since no description I could write would do justice to Edie's spirit, here's the email she sent to me:

Richella,

Oh I'm a huge fan of homemade fudge and make it every year myself!!! I'd love to have you participate. If you don't mind to show it packaged up somehow in a festive Christmas-y way---that way it's easy to imagine giving it as a gift. I would need you to email me the post in 2-3 weeks. Let me know if you need help doing that----I just recently learned how to do it! I've been snoopin' around on your blog and I love it. Very nice to meet you.

Hugs and blessings,
edie

Can't you just feel the welcoming spirit oozing out of that little email? "Very nice to meet you," she says. And just after that, "Hugs and blessings." Not "sincerely," or "Have a nice day." No, "Hugs and blessings" are what Edie offers, even to someone she's just met.

Grace is, I'm convinced, the single greatest need of our hearts. Without God's grace we would be lost. Edie can tell you that with God's grace, we're not lost, even when all seems lost. And she'll do more than that. She'll let God's grace spill out of her, and it'll splash onto you. She'll hug you and bless you.

And you'll thank God that, 41 years ago today, He brought such a beautiful life in grace to this world.

Happy birthday, Edie.

**Joining lots of friends for Edie Day at Life in Grace**

Back to regular life

Bring back those lazy, hazy, crazy days of Christmas. . .


Those days of egg nog, and candy, and cheer.



Bring back those lazy, hazy, crazy days of Christmas--
You'll wish that Christmas could always be here!

Anyone else having trouble adjusting to being back to "normal"?