So Much for Which to Be Thankful

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Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the US and therefore we are all beginning to think of the things for which we are most grateful. We’re also beginning to stress about food preparation, where all these guests are going to sit, and whether it’s worth it to go out shopping on Friday amongst the hordes to save a few bucks. But mostly, let’s hope, we are counting our blessings. I thought I’d share a few with you.

I am thankful…

…for a husband who is caring, talented, funny, and supportive

…for a son who is enthusiastic and hilarious and so, so sweet

…for a warm home with a fireplace and a well-stocked pantry

…that we found a new home for our cat and that our son’s allergies have greatly improved

…that last night I reached 50,000 words on my WIP and became a winner of National Novel Writing Month

…that my extended family is intact and that we all enjoy spending time together

…that I have a few days of relaxation coming up during which I can chat with people I don’t get to see often enough and quilt a baby quilt for a friend

…for a good job at a great company where I feel our collective work makes a difference in people’s lives

…for a beautiful, if broken, earth to care for and enjoy

That’s just a short list. I could go on, but you’d probably stop reading because it would get too long.

Most importantly, I’m not thankful for these things in some vague “I’m happy about these things” way. You can’t just be thankful for something. You also have to be thankful to someone for providing those things. So this Thanksgiving, and every day, I am thankful to God for these material blessings. And I’m most thankful to Him for creating everything that is, for creating it “good,” for not abandoning that creation when it turned against Him, and for sending His Son to redeem it. Because Thanksgiving, to me, is the first step into the Advent season, when we wait with joyful anticipation for God’s long-promised and yet still somehow unexpected gift: Jesus.

If you live in America, I hope that no matter what your faith you have time to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends and family. I hope you’ll take time to count your blessings. I hope you’ll meditate on the story of the first Thanksgiving. And I hope especially for those of you who don’t know what you believe about God, that you’ll feel the pull, either a gentle tug or a disorienting jerk, of the One who knew you before you were born and who has lovingly sustained you, even to this very moment.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

The Top Ten Ways to Get through Winter without Entering the Spiraling Vortex of Self-Pity

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It’s no secret that much of the country has recently experienced a preview of winter. As I type this, my yard is covered in a few inches of snow and the sunlight seeping through the thin haze of clouds has everything glowing. My friends and colleagues in West Michigan are under as much as a foot and a half of snow. And, of course, Upstate New Yorkers are trying to dig out of six feet of it!

Snow like this, especially before Thanksgiving can make people super cranky (adults, anyway–children, it seems, are programmed to be ecstatic about snow any time before Spring Fever sets in in February). Granting that there are major problems when you get the kind of snow that Buffalo has in the past few days, the photos we’re seeing on Twitter and Facebook are generally showing people making the best of things–turning their front doors into refrigerators, shoveling in shorts and sandals, hopping into the hot tub between the drifts.

The nice thing about Buffalo being so bad off is that I’m not hearing much complaining from Michiganders at the moment. Which suits me just fine. Because if there is one thing that doesn’t change anything when it comes to weather, it’s complaining.  However, knowing that some people, despite being born and raised in the Midwest, have a hard time with winter, I thought I’d offer the Unofficial Midwesterner’s Guide to Loving Winter (a.k.a., The Top Ten Ways to Get through Winter without Entering the Spiraling Vortex of Self-Pity):

 

10. Open the Blinds and Turn on the Lights

Look, around the 45th parallel, it gets dark in winter. And I’m not just talking about the sun setting at 5 o’clock. Around the Great Lakes, it is cloudy. Like, almost all the time. Sure, you get the occasional blue sky and brilliant sun, but on most days you need to seek out the light, invite it inside, and supplement with electricity. If you don’t seek out the light, you may find yourself suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (symptoms include depression, extreme self-pity, irritability, and bringing everyone around you down). Older houses like mine tend to have lots of big windows. I face an east window most of the day at my desk, which really helps with my moods. But if you find you just aren’t getting enough natural light, get yourself some of those “sunlight” lights or at least up the wattage in the bulbs around your house. Turn on every light in the room. Get outside on sunny days. Schedule a skylight installation.

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9. Get Cozy

My friend Meghan introduced me to the Danish term hygge and I’m so glad she did. It wasn’t really a new concept to me, but I finally had a word to describe how I kind of already felt about winter as a time to enjoy being enclosed–in a house, in a room, in comfy clothes, under a warm blanket, with family and friends, eating lots of comfort food and drinking hot cocoa. Winter’s the time to enjoy being indoors as much as summer’s the time to enjoy being outdoors. It’s a time to layer on body fat and clothing and cuddle together to keep warm. It’s a time for sweet solitude and joyful togetherness.

8. Get Moving

But all this coziness can lead to feeling sluggish. And at some point, you’re going to get Cabin Fever. Not everyone knows this, but I’ve done some firsthand research and found that snow is not toxic. It can be walked upon, trudged through, played with, and even eaten with no ill effects! So get your butt outside and enjoy it! As long as you dress for the cold, endless possibilities are open to you, from walking your dog to making snow angels to skiing to snowshoeing to snowmobiling to surfing for crying out loud! Go places! Just make sure you have a shovel and a warm blanket and a granola bar in the car and that you brake gently, earlier than you would on dry pavement. Winter driving isn’t hard. It’s just different. Load your trunk with sandbags. Get yourself some snow tires and a vehicle with 4-wheel drive. Leave ten minutes earlier.

7. Burn Stuff

Fireplaces, candles, bonfires–winter is the perfect time to burn stuff. It gives off extra light (see #10 above), encourages and adds to hygge (see #9 above), and it gets you moving a little bit (see #8 above) by chopping, stacking, and gathering wood. Also, it smells great and sounds like childhood. Perfect the art of making a great fire, and you’ll be an indispensable part of any gathering in a home built before about 1990, when everyone starting installing gas fireplaces (which, let’s be honest, are a bit like vegan sausage). Fireplace or no, save up your money and go buy yourself a nice Yankee Candle. May I recommend Balsam & Cedar?

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6. Make Stuff

Oh, the things you can create when you have months inside! Mosaics, birdhouses, origami animals, paintings, cookies, quilts, hats, paper chains and paper snowflakes, music, novels, poetry, babies, Lego civilizations…the list is endless! That craft or skill you haven’t used in forever? Dust it off! That thing you’ve been wanting to learn for years? Get some library books and start trolling YouTube for tutorials! You can waste your winter grumpily watching TV and complaining about the cold on social media, or you can actually DO something with your time. Make some Christmas gifts. Make a hot meal for an elderly shut in. Make time for reading and prayer and reflection on the big things in life.

5. Feed the Birds

It’s not just for retirees, honestly. If you have a window at home or work, you can put a birdfeeder out there and I have to tell you, there is something about little birds that gives a watcher nothing but positive feelings. And watching squirrels? Hilarious! And sometimes you even get to witness an altercation like this:

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For a winter-loving double-whammy you can make a birdfeeder and even make homemade treats for the birds from seeds, nuts, dried fruit, bacon fat, peanut butter and more! (see #6 above)

4. Celebrate Small Victories & Don’t Take It Personally

Did you manage to drag your butt out of bed before the sun rose even though it felt like the middle of the night? Good for you! Did you walk the dog without slipping on ice and bruising your tailbone? Congratulations! Did you look out on a snowy night and think about how beautiful it was before you starting cursing about how much you’d have to shovel in the morning? Gold star! Garrison Keillor is fond of pointing out that winter offers us many opportunities to overcome adversity, and that that makes us better people. I agree with him. Even the little things that winter makes more challenging can shape our character. Do we take those challenges as a normal part of the season that everyone around us is also experiencing? Or do we take it personally, like God has it in for us and is up there laughing at us? As Keillor says, “Winter is not a personal experience.”

3. Share Your Most Harrowing Stories

Let’s face it, if the roads weren’t so bad, we’d have a lot less to talk about in the winter. Everyone loves a good “near-miss” story, the kind where everyone else out on the road is an idiot, but through your incredible driving skills you were able to pull out of a heart-stopping, spinning, skidding death trap and save your family’s life while avoiding the deer and the jack-knifed semi truck. Sure, your shoulders and back are aching as you get out of your car after three hours of white-knuckling it on the highway on the way to your extended family’s Christmas party in Traverse City. But when you make it there, you’re the hero! You’ve won the Iditarod! You’re Robert Peary reaching the North Pole!

Robert Peary

2. Seek Out the Beautiful

Every season has its own particular beauty. Spring has colorful bulbs and trees bowed with blossoms. Summer has wildflowers and beaches and amazing sunsets. Autumn dazzles us with red and orange and yellow leaves against a blue sky. In the same way, winter can stop you in your tracks. The sparkling light reflected from each facet of every snowflake. The hypnotic effect of big, lazy clumps of snow falling outside the window. The utter quietness that pervades a snow-filled wood. The shock of a red cardinal against a backdrop of white. The enchantment of your living room decorated for Christmas. When you’ve seen one too many dirty, slushy parking lots, go out and seek the beauty that is out there waiting for you.

And the most surefire way to get through winter with a smile on your face…

1. Choose to Love It

Attitude really is everything. It can mean the difference between success and failure in so many parts of our lives. When we choose to be positive about a situation, we so often find that there was good in it all along but we were blinded to it because we were so busy wishing that things were different. But when you live in the Midwest, winter is reality. It will happen. Sometimes it will happen BIG, like last year’s Polar Vortex and the last few days in New York.

Choosing to love it doesn’t mean we pretend it isn’t a very real trial sometimes. But it does mean that on any given morning, when we have to shovel the driveway and scrape the car windows and leave extra early to get to where we’re going on time, that we can at that moment choose to be miserable or choose to be stalwart, cheerful, and proud that we are a people who drill holes in the frigging ice to go fishing and drive snowmobiles across the Straits of Mackinac to get groceries.

And, most importantly, we laugh at those wimps down south who shut everything down when there’s an inch of snow on the ground.

Your NaNoWriMo Check-Up

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I’m back at the Breathe Christian Writers Conference blog today, guest blogging about the dreaded midway point of National Novel Writing Month.

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Okay, NaNos, we’re just about halfway through the month. If you’ve been keeping up with the average daily word count goals, that means you’re hovering around 25,000 words right now. Good for you! If you’ve been falling behind, don’t fret—all is not lost! It ain’t over ‘til December!

If you’re stuck back at 7,845 words or if you’ve lurched ahead to 36,276 words, you have the same goal in front of you—make it to 50,000. And you have the same erin-b-realitychallenges—keeping up steam, moving your narrative forward, finishing strong. It’s as easy to get stuck at 40,000 as it is at 4,000. So how are you going to win National Novel Writing Month?

Here are a few ideas to keep you going:

Reclaim your time and double down on your efforts. Life just took over. I just don’t have the time. I thought I could fit it into my schedule, but it was just too much. NO! None of us have the time. We must all make the time. Get up earlier. Stop watching so much football. Throw your phone in a lake. Novels don’t get written because there are people out there with nothing to do. They get written because people stop making excuses and start making their dreams a reality. You can do this!

Don’t resolve anything at the end of your chapters. You propel your narrative forward the same way you propel readers forward—with tension…

Click here to read the rest!

Then go write some more!

You can see it all from Mission Hill

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Erin Bartels:

Oh my gosh, my state is achingly beautiful.

Originally posted on Michigan in Pictures:

mission hill overlook, chippewa county, michigan by twurdemann

mission hill overlook, chippewa county, michigan, photo by twurdemann

Regarding his photo from the Superior shore a couple weeks ago, twurdemann writes:

Autumn view from the Mission Hill Overlook / Mission Hill Cemetery, Brimley, Michigan- -32 km / 20 miles west of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. The overlook rises more the 50m / 165 feet above nearby Spectacle Lake. In the distance, Point Iroquois, St. Marys River / Whitefish Bay / Lake Superior, Gros Cap Crib Lightstation in the middle of the river (Ontario, Canada), Gros Cap Bluffs, Prince Township wind farm turbines(my link), and in the far distance the Batchewana Highlands (upper left)- -over 50 km / 30 miles away.

View this bigger and see more in his Autumn slideshow.

View original

Five-Day Check-up

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Well, writers, we’re five days into this NaNoWriMo thing. How are you doing? At the moment I’m sitting on 13,051 words, ahead of where I thought I’d be at this time. The secret? All that pre-writing work I did in September and October!

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If you’re falling behind, don’t give up! Do some extra brainstorming, take an hour or so off of work, and get back up on that horse! Find a big block of time on a Saturday morning or a Sunday afternoon where you can get away from your life and go give life to your characters.

If you’re not part of this wacky writing experiment, how is your November going? Are you enjoying the last vestiges of fall? Are you starting to fret over Christmas? Are you taking the time to eat some s’mores?

November only comes once a year (thankfully <–pun not intended) so milk it for all it’s worth!

Your NaNoWriMo Pep Talk

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I’m guest blogging about National Novel Writing Month over at the Breathe Christian Writers Conference blog today.

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Are you ready? Are you stoked? Have you been brainstorming? Outlining? Researching? Dreaming? Because it is that time of year again, friends—National Novel Writing Month.

Conceived by someone who understood that sometimes the hardest thing to do is to sit that butt down in a chair and pound EBartelsout the words—and not quit when the words that yesterday were gushing forth like water from a fire hose today suddenly slow to a trickle—NaNoWriMo is about prioritizing your writing every day for just one month. The experience can be exhilarating and exhausting, frustrating and freeing, all at the same time. And if you’re thinking about participating in NaNoWriMo this year, I want to offer you a few tips and tricks to make it a success…

Click here to read the rest!

Then go write!

Moving a Novel from Brain to Page

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The last time I was drafting a novel, I used checklists, maps, house plans, foam boards, photos, a loose outline, and a bunch of notes to keep myself on track. It worked beautifully. That manuscript, working title The Bone Garden, is making the rounds among some literary agents I deeply respect. I have high hopes for it to be my debut novel.

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But in the meantime, I’m beginning my work on a new manuscript. This time around I’m doing some of the same preparatory work. I’ve been busy reading background material and making notes.

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I’ve managed to outline the first half of the book and am already adding notes to it.

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I’ve been spending a lot of time simply focusing on who my protagonist is and where she is coming from, work that I’ve not done quite as much of on the front end in the past.

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I’m doing much more of this preparatory backstory work now because I’m hoping to write in a very deep first person point of view, and it’s hard to do that if you don’t know your protagonist intimately from the very start.

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I’ve made a list of big thematic questions that will be considered in the course of the story. I’ve even written the beginnings of a query letter to focus my mind on the core story.

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All of this preparation amounts to me being able to start off the drafting process with a clear idea of where I’m going and how I’m going to get there. Every day new information falls into place. Every day I add to my little notebook. Every day the story takes up more permanent residence in my brain.

And on November 1st, the first day of NaNoWriMo, it will begin to take up residence on the page.

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