Friday, July 29, 2016

Friday Feature: What Did You Just Say?

As a writer, I believe that words matter and I've long prided myself on choosing "just right" words in my writing. But that's a lot harder to do when I'm speaking, and, while I try to consider the impact of my words on others, rarely do I bother to stop and think about the impact my own words might have on me. Silly, really, since I know what a powerful tool self-talk can be.

And that's just what Michael Hyatt is getting at in this blog post. What we say and how we say it impacts not just those around us, but our closest audience -- us -- as well.

Have a great weekend. Be kind to yourself and those around you.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

6 Questions from the Porch Swing for Lukas Stone

Dean Geyer definitely has the right coloring
and look for Lukas.
Photo: InStyle
Where will we find you when you’re not on the page of the book we’re reading?
LS: In my office at church, running youth group or trying to do something healthy. I'm more of a reader than a gym rat, though.

What’s something we’d be surprised to know about you?
LS: That I hated church when I was a kid.

What are your thoughts on children?
LS: I'm not so good with really little ones, but I love working with teenagers, especially young teens. They're enthusiastic and energetic, and their offbeat sense of humor keeps things interesting.

What regrets do you have?
LS: None, really. I think God has a plan for all of us, so he uses everything we do for his purposes.

Whom do you admire? 
LS: The kids at youth group. They're choosing to participate in something that's not always going to be popular with their peers. It'd be much easier to go to the movies or to a basketball game, but instead, they come to the church and talk about God.

Do you think Marita's a good mother? 
LS: Yeah. She's amazing. I can't believe she stepped up at such a young age and raised Charli the way she did. When I was sixteen, the only thing I wanted to take care of was a car. I certainly wasn't making major life decisions.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Need to Think Cool Thoughts?

Christmas in July sale runs until 11AM EST July 26.

Laundry Lessons

My daughter and I began our day with a discussion about laundry.

"Mom, you didn't wash my shirt for work."

No. No I didn't.

She's not a brat, mind you -- just an only child who grew up with a mom who hates washing half-full loads of clothes. As a result, although she knows how to do laundry and routinely does some of her own, she's become used to not having to depend upon her own resources to get clean clothes.

But this summer, things are changing. In exactly a month, she'll be moved into a dorm. There will be no Mom backup for laundry or dishes or any of the myriad things Mom does.

And so I've stepped back. The usual rules still apply -- if the dirty clothes are in the basement, I'll throw them in when I do a load.

When I do a load. 

In the summer, loads take longer to fill. Clothes are lighter, thinner, smaller. Fewer loads are washed, and the one you want isn't always full.

Did I mention that I hate washing half-full loads of laundry?

And this summer, she's working full time, which means figuring out how to squeeze laundry (among other things) into the nooks and crannies of her time when she's home (which is not often). You know. Kind of like how it's going to be when she's at school.

And so this morning, when she told me I hadn't washed her shirt, I had one of those wonderful, rare Mom moments where you say exactly the right thing in exactly the right tone without being snarky or sarcastic or launching into a lecture.

"Honey, it's your responsibility to make sure your shirts are clean for work."

Aaahhh. A parenting victory.

And a tiny little check mark in the otherwise very empty "pro" side of sending her off to school.

Gotta take 'em where you can find 'em.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday Feature: Belonging
Twice in the past week, I got into the car and heard stories on NPR about why teens become terrorists. Twice in the past week, I heard one factor that made perfect sense.

If kids don't feel they belong, they'll look for belongingness somewhere else. It's not charismatic leaders. It's not mental illness. These factors may play a role in some cases, but if you're looking for an underlying cause that's a frequent common denominator, look no further than basic human needs.

We all want to belong, and we don't grow out of it. How many of us have ever left a job -- or wanted to -- because the people we worked with created a toxic environment? Conversely, how many of us have stayed at a job we didn't love because we loved the people?

Belonging. Being a part of something. Something that matters. Something important. Something that makes us feel less alone. A sense of belonging keeps loneliness at bay and prolongs life.

I teach my students that the parent-child relationship is a child's first social relationship. For better or for worse, it models what human interaction is supposed to look like, and teaches kids what being a part of something bigger is supposed to feel like (much to their dismay when they're teenagers). I'm not saying that kids who join terrorist cells were parented badly -- some were, some weren't. But, somewhere along the way, in a variety of places and for a variety of reasons, many of those kids lost their sense of belonging.

Our country is filled with people who feel outside the circle. And it's really not that hard to bring them in. Dr. Michele Borba created a list of 100 Ways to Let Kids Know You Care, but what struck me in reading this list -- in addition to how easy some of the things are to do -- was how much they mean to big kids and old kids, too. A smile. A compliment. Eye contact. An offer to help.

This weekend, go forth and be kind. Help someone feel that they matter, that they belong somewhere. That they're less outside the circle than they feel as though they are.

It only takes a moment, but the impact may be bigger than you think.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

6 Questions from the Porch Swing for Jim Alessio

I love Matt Czuchry, so I have mixed feelings
about "casting" him as Jim, but except
for the eye color, he's got the look.
Poor Jim. Readers consistently tell me how much they dislike him, and nearly everyone (including characters in the books!) wonders how a nice girl like Angel ended up with a guy like him.

Jim's not all bad, though, and while Marita may have good reason to resent him, Angel clearly loves him and Charli seems to be developing a meaningful relationship with him.

Since Jim never gets to share his thoughts in Casting the First Stone or Chasing a Second Chance, I thought he'd be a great choice for this week's porch swing interview.

Where will we find you when you’re not on the page of the book we’re reading?
JA: At work.

What’s something we’d be surprised to know about you?
JA: That I see the best of Marita in Charli. God knows she looks just like her, which is a bitter pill for me to swallow, but the stubbornness and intelligence and certainty that are so annoying in Marita seem somehow tempered in Charli. It's a tough world, and I'm glad she's no shrinking violet.

What are your thoughts on children?
JA: Obviously, those thoughts have changed in the past thirteen years. Now that I'm in a loving, committed marriage, I'm anxious to build a family with Angel.

What regrets do you have?
JA: That I let my parents convince me that my future was more important than acknowledging Charli. It's clearly evident that Marita and I would not have ended up together, as they predicted, but now that I'm a father, I realize the depth of my betrayal to my daughter. Marita and I will never see eye to eye, and I don't think I owe her anything, but I owe Charli a great deal. 

Whom do you admire? My mother. Right or wrong, she is steadfast in her opinion and her determination. She never wavers.

Do you think Marita's a good mother? So far. But little kids are easy. Teenagers are more challenging. Given the way Marita managed her own teen years, I stand by my concern that Charli needs a stabilizing influence as she navigates that same time frame, and I think Angel and I can provide that.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Chasing a Second Chance Celebrates Christmas in July

A few of the things that will be hiding
behind Doors #1, #2 and #3 at
my Christmas in July Facebook party
this Sunday, 7/24 from 3-5 pm EST.
This morning, I finally stopped procrastinating and pulled out all the goodies I've been gathering as prizes for my Christmas in July Facebook party this Sunday afternoon from 3 to 5pm EST. Because of my I need to see it style, I never truly realize what I have until I have it all laid out in front of me. I had a lot of fun putting together doors 1-3 (see below) and my grand, end-of-event prize.

If you've never been to a Facebook party, I invite you to try this one. You can drop in any time between 3 and 5pm and stay as long as you'd like. You can dress however you please (we won't see you) -- I considered wearing Christmas pjs or a Christmas sweater, but it's currently much too hot in Central PA for either of those wardrobe choices.

Paige Boggs of Electively Paige, who created the banner at the bottom of this post, will be assisting me so that no guests feel neglected. She's also the game girl and, unlike real world parties, you won't have to run to the bathroom to hide if you don't like playing games. Besides, Paige's games are very non-threatening, and there are Christmas-themed prizes involved.

Photo: Michelle Dean
The theme is Christmas in July (to celebrate my book, Chasing a Second Chance, which is set at Christmastime), but the format is Let's Make a Deal. The winner of each game will choose what's behind "Door #1," "Door #2" or "Door #3" and will win whatever is behind the door he or she selects. There are no gag gifts, and all prizes must go; anything that doesn't get given away during the party will be added to the grand prize at the end.

It's a little ironic that Facebook is making this party possible, but also making it difficult for me to reach the people I want to invite (which is why I'm posting this blog). Because there are no space limitations, this is truly an event where "the more, the merrier!" applies. If you can drop by for even just a few minutes, I'd love to "see" you. Just click on the the words "Christmas in July" anywhere in this post, or click on the date and time under the banner below.

And just think -- unlike the real Christmas in December, you have no last-minute holiday shopping to do this week!

Hope to see you Sunday.

July 24, 3-5pm EST