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Don’t Move–Improve!

When we moved into our little brick house in late 2005, we repainted every room and ceiling, brought in our furniture, and generally left well enough alone apart from adding or replacing furniture. Sure, we did some home improvement projects–the ceiling in the basement family room, the main floor bathroom, the roof, and the landscaping being the ones that come to mind. But other than that, for the most part, nothing’s changed really significantly in the last ten years.

Then somehow, we ended up changing five rooms rather dramatically in the course of about a year and a half. Some of those changes have been highlighted in earlier posts on this blog, but I’ve been wanting to get them all up in one, with before and after side by side.

So here goes…

Sun Room to Cigar Room

I’ve a feeling a great many people (especially women perhaps) might be of the opinion that these pictures surely must be backwards. But no, and in fact transforming the very feminine sun room into the very masculine cigar room was my idea, not my husband’s. The result is that we both spend a lot of time in this room now where before he almost never did. Those wicker chairs were not terribly comfortable. And now he has a place to smoke cigars all year long without being exiled to the freezing or mosquito-y outdoors. We spend a good deal of time writing out here, as well as entertaining friends while children roam the rest of the house unsupervised. It’s great. We finished more of the work by the summer of 2016. To see more of this room, click here.

 

Warm Kitchen to Cool Kitchen

So. Much. Painting. This project was six weeks of pretty concentrated work, most of it painting all those cupboards and all that woodwork a bright, washable white (they were just painted with primer before that and got so filthy). This project took up much of October and November 2017. To see more of this room, click here.

 

Office to Master Bedroom

This was part of our big room switcheroo starting in January 2018. With our master bedroom on the first floor, there’s more privacy for everyone and our wandering about well after our son has gone to bed doesn’t disturb his sleep as it once did. I like waking up in a room with an east facing window, even if the blinds are drawn because little fingers of sunlight get through the bamboo blinds and nudge me awake. Well, they do when there are no clouds, which hasn’t been often of late.

 

Master Bedroom to Kid’s Bedroom

Somehow, we got almost all of my son’s possessions into one room rather than having them scattered throughout the house. He has far more room and storage space than he ever did before and the door can just be closed on the mess. It’s a beautiful thing.

 

Kid’s Bedroom to Office

And of course, the reason behind the room switcheroo was to give me an office that was 100% mine, with no one else’s desks or stuff in it. I’ve worked from home for thirteen years, so it was about time. It has really helped my mood and my peace of mind. More pictures of this room can be found here.

All of these improvements have made our house function better and have made it more livable. We have fallen in love with it all over again and have stopped considering a move to someplace bigger. Sometimes you already have what you need–you just haven’t figured out the best way to use it. Now I think we have. And as we were moving all that furniture around in the ice and snow and rain we decided that to move an entire house just seems like too much work anyway.

Now we’re entering the season when most people are thinking of spring cleaning and big home improvement projects and we find that our big projects are mostly done. So what will we do with ourselves if spring ever comes? I suppose we’ll just have to sleep soundly, work without interruption, eat a great dinner, and sit back and enjoy a cigar.

We May Be Done with Winter…but Winter Is Not Done with Us

Yesterday after church, the Rev. and the boy and I watched The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe again.

It seemed somehow appropriate to our current situation.

Stuck in what feels like an unending winter.

Encased in ice.

Under a flat gray sky.

We’re halfway through April, if you can believe it.

These poor quince buds have been waiting and waiting to bloom.

The trees have been waiting to sprout new growth.

Even the evergreens seem tired of it all.

We wait eagerly for the next season.

And comfort ourselves with what we hope is one last fire.

Remembering Courage and Mercy

Fifty years ago today, hate silenced a man known for his loving expressions of the full humanity and peaceful demonstrations of the inalienable rights of people of all colors and nations.

In my monthly email newsletters, I have begun profiling people who have played important roles in the long fight for equality and acceptance. So far I’ve told my email subscribers about Olaudah Equiano and William Wilberforce. Since I’m roughly following a chronological order, it will be a while before I get to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but I hope you’ll take a moment today to remember the courage he had, the forbearance he showed, the fire with which he spoke, the love and forgiveness he extended, and the principles he would not compromise.

I ran into a quote of his today that I had not read before, or if I had, I had forgotten it. And I wanted to share it with you:

“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But…the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

I, along with many others, have too often defaulted to self-interest and self-preservation at the expense of someone else who is hurting, different, marginalized, or forgotten. It’s something I’m ashamed of and something I repent of. It’s so much easier and more comfortable to leave the work to others. Instead, let’s let the good works of others inspire us to our own good works in service of one another and to the glory of the God who made all of mankind in His image.

If once in a while you’d like to read positive, life-affirming profiles of the men and women who have fought the good fight for freedom and racial equality, I invite you to sign up for my monthly newsletter. By doing so you’ll also be the first to see publishing news — including the big reveal of the cover of my debut novel, We Hope for Better Things, which I am hoping to share sometime in the coming months, and the first endorsement I’ve received for the book, which about knocked me over. The newsletter arrives in your mailbox on the 15th of each month and is always exclusive content I’m not sharing anywhere else.

Hope to see you there. 🙂

 

Anticipating the 2018 Festival of Faith & Writing

In just over two weeks, I’ll be leading a workshop at Calvin College’s esteemed Festival of Faith & Writing. I’ll also be attending a number of sessions and panels that promise to be stimulating (and some of them possibly controversial).

If you are attending FFW2018 and want to connect in person, here are some likely places to find me!

 

THURSDAY

9:30 am – Self-Editing to Take Your Writing to the Next Level
I am leading this 2-hour workshop about revision and editing. Participants learn: how to do an effective, targeted revision; how to edit on sentence, paragraph, and chapter level; how rewriting can shape your voice; how planning on rewriting frees you to finish a first draft; and more.

1:45 pm – Navigating Faith and Religion in Writing
Explores how a writer can approach personal religious beliefs or those of others while writing for general audiences. How to show spiritual feeling rather than just telling the reader about it, how to use detail to evoke spiritual spaces, and how to demonstrate what religion means to a character without including the entire history of the religion. Also considers whether faith or lack of faith affects the stories writers choose to tell and how to navigate real or imagined religious restrictions on creative writing.

4:30 pm – The Risks of Writing on Race—and the Obligation to Continue
Do white writers have an obligation to use their influence and privilege to serve as allies to people of color? These writers argue yes, despite the fact that painful mistakes are inevitable. They discuss the personal cost, what it means to serve with an open and humble heart, and how to respond when things get ugly.

 

FRIDAY

8:30 am – On Finding and Growing Ideas for Fiction
Christian publishing needs new and exciting voices who are able to write outside the currently marketed boundaries. But fresh ideas for novels or short stories sometimes seem hard to come by. In this workshop each attendee cultivates their own ideas for fiction writing by beginning with character creation and then working through setting, conflict, and the formation of a plot.

10:00 am – Religious Readers and Sexually Transgressive Fiction: “What Does Your Husband Think?”
“What does your husband think about your work?” What inherently sexist assumptions are buried in this question? Why is art that depicts illicit sexual desire offensive, specifically, to the church? Does Matthew 5’s “thinking = doing” apply to the reading and writing of fiction? Explores these questions in the context of the current socio-political polarization in America, in which secular readers find serious treatment of Christian themes ludicrous, while readers on the “evangelical” right find explicit sexual content related to spirituality obscene, even blasphemous.

11:30 am – Truth Has Stumbled in the Streets: Writing Faithfully about Social Issues 
The prophet Jeremiah said that when truth stumbles in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Writing from Mississippi during the Civil Rights era, Eudora Welty pondered a question, “Must the novelist crusade?” When writers take up social and political issues, how do we aim to create art rather than propaganda? A narrative journalist, a novelist, and a poet grapple with the tension between conviction and proselytizing, frankly discussing times when they felt they succeeded as well as times when fear of stumbling made the work more difficult—and crucial.

2:00 pm – Why Don’t Men Read Women Writers? Closing the Gender Gap in Christian Publishing
Women read relatively equally between male and female authors (54%/46%), whereas men are much more likely to read male authors than female authors (90%/10%). This panel explores reasons for this gender gap as well as practical ways in which women writers might gain a broader readership among men.

3:30 pm – In Others’ Words, 
The co-writer is tasked with a particularly difficult form of writing: that of getting down some other person’s words, some other person’s story. How does one go about doing such a thing, practically speaking? Artistically speaking? This panel explores these questions plus the economics of co-writing and the ethics of ghostwriting.

 

SATURDAY

8:30 am – Do I Have to Be a “Christian Writer?”
If we believe in the exclusive claims of Christianity, are we obligated then to be “Christian writers”? How do we reconcile the command of Jesus to “go and make disciples ” with the aesthetic demands of good Art? Leslie shares her own wobbling path through the limits and the possibilities of writing from faith, offering a third path that honors and embodies both Art and Gospel.

11:30 am – Writing the Wrinkles in Time
Sarah Arthur, author of the forthcoming A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle, explores what Madeleine’s life and books have taught her about writing from the stuff of your life when life doesn’t go as planned—whether it’s surprises about your topic, plot twists in your personal circumstances, or feedback that requires rebuilding a project from the ground up. Special guests include Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughters, Léna Roy and Charlotte Jones Voiklis, coauthors of Becoming Madeleine: A Biography of the Author of A Wrinkle in Time by Her Granddaughters.

2:00 pm – Sentiment without Sentimentality: Women Writers Who Won’t Stay in Their (Inspirational) Lane
For those who don’t fit the standard definition of what it means to be a religious writer in this day and age, this panel explores how to get published when you are religious but not inspirational, how to be sad in a publishing world that rewards tidy solutions, and transcending the traditional boundaries of genre, religion, class, and gender.

My New Office Space

Finally, I had some time to take real pictures with a real camera of my real new office space! If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you may remember when I posted these pictures of my office on the main floor of our house (which I shared with my husband’s desk and my son’s desk, which is not pictured because these are old photos). Anyone who has been to our house can attest to the fact that it was NEVER this clean and orderly.

You may also remember seeing pictures of my son’s room the one day it has ever been clean. (He has been in a twin bed for years now, but since then his room has never been clean enough to photograph.)

After MUCH toil and cleaning and painting and hauling of furniture up and down ladders outside, we emerged triumphant in the bid to move my office into my son’s old bedroom.

One of my bookshelves moved up onto the landing (getting it upright after getting it through the door sideways was a miracle of geometry).

The medium blue walls have been repainted with a cool, calm blue called Tropical Surf. The rug came from Target.

My desk is part of a shelving unit I found at a secondhand furniture store here in town (which we call Bikes! Bikes! Bikes! because of the sign outside the store proclaiming same). Oddly enough, this shelving unit weighs five tons. More oddly enough, it was made in Yugoslavia. It’s the only thing I’ve ever seen that was made in Yugoslavia. And I can’t imagine us importing this kind of basic furniture from Yugoslavia of all places. However, I am glad it ended up here.

Now I have room for more of my books — especially my writing books — to be right at my fingertips rather than in another room or even on another floor.

The printer sits under the desk. In the top drawer are all my desky things — pens, stapler, various cords for various devices, etc. The bottom drawer is completely full of my little notebooks, about half of them full of notes and ideas for various writing projects and the other half full of blank pieces of paper ready to receive my ideas.

One of my shelves is graced with my son’s artwork, my souvenir from our trip to Disneyworld last year, my little Bob Ross mini-figure, and other memorabilia.

In one corner, Alistair the canary has taken up residence next to my sewing box full of notions and, at the moment, the wooden elephant statue from my grandparents’ house, which has been mine since my grandfather died in 1986. He won’t stay right there in the long run, but I haven’t quite decided on the best place for him.

In the other corner is my craft area, currently set up for painting but easily switched over to a sewing space.

By the way, behind that little door is a closet that currently houses my big file drawers, blank canvases, my dress form, my spools of thread, my guitar case, and other random items I need but don’t necessarily need to look at all the time.

You may have noticed that most of the walls are bare and that the wall that does have art on it is rather hodge-podgey and random. That’s because I intend to fill most of the walls up with an eclectic collection of paintings, prints, and posters, and even some needlework done by my sister and the super-’70s framed puzzle I got off the side of the road that everyone in the world loves (except my husband). However, I don’t have enough at the moment to fill all the space.

I’m going antiquing with a friend this Saturday and hope to find one or two things to add to the collection. And I have a great poster of an old map of Detroit that I need to get framed. Basically, I’ll be on the lookout for items with lots of green, teal, blue, and coral.

So that’s the office for now. A room of my own. With a door that shuts all the way. And with nothing in it that anyone else ever needs to access (save the printer, which is rare and generally not when I’m in there).

I’ve been completely happy with it so far.

Stay tuned for what the old office looks like now as the master bedroom. And maybe I’ll even take a picture of my son’s new room in all its messy glory.

Goodbye, February

It’s twelve degrees warmer this morning in mid-Michigan than it is in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In fact, we’ve had a string of unseasonably warm days. Last week we had a rapid melt of over a foot of snow, plus two days of steady rain, causing the Grand and Red Cedar Rivers to flood. There were small-scale evacuations in neighborhoods near the rivers. And then we had three days in a row that felt like early May.

We’ll be back down in the 40s for the first couple weeks of March, which is more appropriate for this time of year, and there are still some snow showers in the forecast, but not much. I understand that groundhog saw his shadow way back at the beginning of the month, but I guess marmots are not the best prognosticators of global weather patterns.

I’m always happy to see February drift away in the rear view mirror. This year I have spent most of the month on moving rooms around in my house. A small, enclosed staircase with a right angle is part of the reason it took so long. The crazy weather is another. The stairs mean large items must go in/out an exterior door on the second floor that leads out to the roof of the smoke room, and up and down a ladder propped against it. Which, of course, you can’t safely do in a foot of snow and ice, nor in a deluge.

Everything big is safe and sound in its new room. Finally. After all, I’ve been planning for this move since July of last year, drawing schematics and making lists of the order in which things would have to be moved.

Now we’re down to the little stuff:

  • our son’s old karate belts, which we’ve been meaning to get into a display case
  • a small file cabinet that is mostly filled with things that could be stored in the attic or tossed
  • the light we removed from the old office/new bedroom that we’re going to put up in the living room
  • a random assortment of items that belong somewhere in my son’s new room, but we’re not just sure where yet

I could probably get it all done in a day, but since every spare moment of February has been spent on this project, I actually need to pause and spend some concentrated time on my other big project: first edits on my debut novel, which are due to my editor in twelve days. (Psst, if you missed it because you’re not on my newsletter mailing list, the new title is We Hope for Better Things.)

Hopefully soon we’ll have the last bits of our lives put back together and I can take some pictures to share with you. I’m happy with how well it’s turning out.

And I’m thrilled that, like February, it’s almost done.

 

It’s Nearly Spring. Shouldn’t You Be Redecorating?

My crafty mother-in-law and her friend have started an Etsy shop called Homespun Favorites. They upcycle vintage items –like biscuit cutters, candy molds, medicine bottles, rulers, sheet music, books, and more — turning them into one-of-a-kind decor.

Just look at these sweet little things!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clicking on any of the images above will take you right to the listing. Then you can explore the other (very-reasonably-priced-especially-for-etsy) offerings.

If you are a fan of the style of Joanna Gaines (Fixer Upper and Magnolia Home) or shabby chic decorating, you’ll want to bookmark this shop.

Radio Silence = Real-Life Insanity

Maybe insanity is a strong word.

Maybe.

But I’ve thrown my entire house into chaos at the same time I am doing my first edit on my debut novel (you know, the one that will take the most concentrated thought).

If you follow me on Instagram you probably know that I am finally working on the #roomswitcheroo, wherein we move the master bedroom downstairs into the current office, my son’s bedroom into our current master bedroom, and my current office into my son’s room.

It’s madness here.

There’s a little bit of my son’s room in my room (and also in the hallway).

There’s a little bit of my husband’s closet in my office.

There’s a little bit of my new office in our living room.

There’s a lot of my office in my son’s closet.

Oh, and I have to paint two rooms (and the woodwork in those two rooms). And a closet.

Oh, and the big furniture can’t be moved up and down the stairs inside because of a tight right turn that probably seemed like a good idea in the 1930s when furniture was smaller.

So we have to move those out onto the roof of the smoke room and up and down a ladder.

And big furniture is really heavy.

And we got a foot of snow over the weekend.

And did I mention the manuscript edits?

Yes. Insanity is the correct word. Low-grade, garden variety Erin insanity.