Tuesday, January 31

The Good School

The American education system is a constant and contentious subject of fierce debate from which no one seems exempt.

Parents agonize over how to obtain the best education for their children. Employers lament the lack of properly prepared and promising graduates they need to fill key positions. Educators walk on egg shells, trying to teach while extensive legislation continues to tie their hands ever more tightly. 

Enter Peg Tyre, a journalist with an entire career's experience researching, understanding and explaining the intracacies of the modern education system. Authoritative on her subject, Ms. Tyre speaks with the empathy of a parent who has known the guilt and struggle of seeking the best education for her own kids, and a deep respect for good educators borne from years of working with some of the very best.

Among the vital topics she covers are:

* The scientific evidence on how children learn math, science and reading that should influence and inform every school curriculum (but often doesn't)
* How standardized tests are developed, what the really tell us (or don't) and how they are actually eroding our public education system
* Where children should be developmentally by age/grade, what information parents actually need to know to assess how their compares to the standard and how to navigate the school system to actually get it
* How to be an active, engaged parent without being a "helicopter" parent or dismissed as an annoying nutcase
* The truth about teacher training, assessment programs, why it can be hard for schools to find and keep the best teachers

Ms. Tyre strikes a careful balance in her approach; while parents are ultimately responsible for their children's education, schools have a vital role to play. Everyone must be equally empowered and held equally accountable.
 Educators,employers, tax payers and parents will all benefit from the vital and startling information in this book - I strongly recommend adding it to your reading list!

Monday, January 30

Menu Idea Monday

Does this look yummy or what?

Sadly, it's not my picture... it's borrowed from Spoon Fork Bacon where the original recipe is posted. I made these Baked Egg Boats over the weekend and they didn't last long enough to get pictures of!

Theoretically a brunch recipe, this was fantastically easy and delicious.

You can check out the full recipe here, but essentially you're going to cut a deep U shape in a demi baguette (homemade or store bought) and fill it with a mixture of eggs, bacon, peppers, onions and cheese. Then you're going to bake it for 20 minutes, slice it into cute little wedges and serve.

Opinion: Definitely a keeper! The egg mixtures soaks into the bread giving it the rich, custard-y texture of french toast under a light, fluffy filling that rivals the best omelets. Active prep time is less than five minutes and clean up is a snap. The recipe scales easily, so you can make it just for yourself or for a crowd with equal ease.

My Modifications: I subbed in peppers and onions for the green onions, and bacon for the pancetta. Both substitutions worked great. I also subbed in goat cheese for the Gruyère because I had some on hand I wanted to use up. This is a forgiving recipe and you can freely adjust the add-ins to your taste.

Dietary Mod Friendly: This is pretty flexible, so as long as you can find a crusty bread you can eat you'll be good to go!

Sunday, January 29

I Am A Follower

The Leadership and Strengths Movements have it all wrong, according to author Leonard Sweet. Life and Biblical Christianity are supposed to be grounded in weaknesses, human folly and complete devotion to following Jesus. Only a community of Christ followers, discipling one another and living in the (often unexpected, almost always uncontrolled) rhythms of the Spirit can truly find and serve as examples of the way we are intended to live.

There are shards of wisdom and sharp insight here; Sweet sheds clear, cold light on legitimate flaws within the leadership movement. He makes startling and thought-provoking observations, many deserving of exploration and reflection. Clarion calls for reevaluation of Church programming and formating in the complete absence of one-on-one discipleship are valid.

Unfortunately, these gems are lost in a morass of tangled tangents, excessive quotes, and disorganization. There is no systematic argument or logical transition between points. No clear suggestions of how a body of believers should function in a leader-avoiding society informs his feel-good generalization of equality and harmony. Barely a quarter of the extensive quotations and anecdotes are appreciable and many are just distracting.

While the topic clearly merits discussion and action, this will not be the manifesto to move it forward.


Really? Who thinks it's a good idea to stab a Marine? But kudos to the cops! Wish more of them were this wise.

Saturday, January 28

Thoughts of Summer

It's been a fairly mild winter here, even by the local standards (which I consider low to begin with compared to the lake-effect snow belt city in which I grew up). But even still, the ground alternates between a patchy snow- and- ice combo and complete submersion under a sloppy lake of slush.

It's not exactly a landscape that inspires anyone to voluntarily be outdoors. (The notable exception being bordie collies, who believe that snow is the best possible environment in which to play. Can there be any better flourish to highlight one's skill in snapping a frisbee from midair than the tidal wave of snowy crystals that erupts during a flawless, four-point slide landing?)

Winter is, however, one of the best times to start planning summer projects. Victorian gardeners spent their long, dark winters mapping out extensive garden plans for the coming summer, charting the blooms to ensure a continuous riot of blossoms from the first tentative days of spring until the last burnished leaves of fall.

While few of us are that detailed, many of us wish we could get more out of our outdoor spaces.  It's become abundantly clear to me, as we immerse ourselves in the process of searching for a house, that whatever we find will almost certainly need extensive landscaping.

Enter Home Outside, a gorgeously photographed landscaping book I stumbled upon at the library. Written in the vein of the Not So Big House books, Home Outside is accessible, practical and inspiring. Appreciating that large swathes of Americans start with unkept, uneven or entirely barren yards - and very tight budgets - the author breaks down the basics into accessible, bite-sized chunks.

Simple, effective diagrams show you how to determine what style of yard works for your personality, family and property. Discussions on how to determine what plants are appropriate for your location and how to connect your outdoor space to your indoor space are easy to understand but avoid becoming insultingly oversimplified.

Most importantly, perhaps, is the budget-friendliness of the book. Glossy photos of intimate, gravel-lined retreats nestle side-by-side with wide flag-stoned patios, providing attractive options for every space and budget. There's also a unique and helpful exploration of how to design a multi-year plan for spaces in need of extensive transformation that will be functional and beautiful at each step. It's rare to see such books deal upfront with limits on time and money, but this book does so adeptly. Tips on up-cycling found pieces and matching your yard to your preferred maintenance level are also featured.

I know that when we eventually have a house (and a yard) to sculpt into our private haven, I'll be coming back to this book to help me design a plan to get the most out of our space. If you're looking to beat the winter blahs or hoping to get more out of your outdoors this coming summer, this is a great place to start!

Friday, January 27

The Art of Language

Have you ever been elbow deep in a book and forced to wonder if publishing companies still employ editors?  Or if perhaps the job description for editors has been revised? I often find my fingers itching for a pen while I read to start circling the blatant gaps that should have held transitions, theses and other distractingly absent fundamental building blocks of  sound writing. Favorite English professors come to mind, and I imagine the outrage and migraines that would envelope them should such lackluster specimens cross their paths.

On the other end of the spectrum, I was reminded recently of how incredibly powerful language can be when wielded by someone who truly understands wordcraft. An attentive wordsmith can frame flagrantly politically incorrect or socially inflammatory ideas in a delicate balance that neutralizes the incendiary response without robbing the point of its impact.

Case in point (paraphrased from something I read and was impacted by recently): If we scientifically examine all the evidence about educating and raising children to flourish, the single most defining factor  -by far - is an intact, stable two-parent family.

Therefore, the most effective thing anyone can do to improve the education system and state of our children (and therefore our nation) is apply pressure (at the individual and collective levels) to reduce the social acceptability of single parenting, divorce and children born out of wedlock. 

Framed that way, the idea forces you to stop and think, doesn't it?

It casts no aspersions to rail against, does not promote a particular form of activism to be disparaged, and preempts arguments on the relative value of other alternatives. It is not a call for anyone to act, simply a statement of empirical fact.

It is sadly ironic that as people of all stripes clutter the airwaves and tv channels with verbal lunges and riposts, so few exhibit even a shred of true craftsmanship with their words. How much more incisive and intelligent would our national debates be if they consisted of carefully constructed and thoroughly informed assertions instead of the standard rhetoric?

And how much more soul searching would we all be forced to do if issues were reduced to such a kernel of clarity that one could no longer pick apart the flaws of an argument's frame and run in a tangential tirade away from the true point? 

I've been blessed to unexpectedly encounter some gifted word crafters this past week, and as I head into the weekend my mind continues to chew on the question of what I am doing with my words. I speak or send off so many in the course of a week; how few do I take the time to sculpt and shape before I loose them? What does my carelessness cost, and how many opportunities sit before me even today to speak with impact or share the precious blossom of a timely, articulate blessing with another?

Have you been blessed by devoted word-crafters? Do you consider yourself one?

Monday, January 23

Menu Idea Monday

Side dishes have never exactly been a strong point of mine. Although my mother is amazing and diligently made balanced meals while I was growing up, I've always leaned towards casseroles or stand-alone entrées (think mac & cheese - complete in and of itself - yum!)

I have been making an effort to branch out, though, and was pleased to find Roasted Potato Stacks

3 tbsp olive oil
1 lb russet potatoes
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350*. Combine oil and garlic in a small saucepan and gently warm over low heat until fragrant but the garlic is not brown. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Peel potatoes and thinly slice with a mandolin. (Note: most cheese graters have a mandolin-style flat slicing option on one of their sides. I used that and it worked perfectly.)

Brush 8 muffin tins with the garlic oil. Layer a potato slice in the bottom of a tin and brush it with a thin layer of the oil. Layer another slice and brush it with the garlic oil. Repeat until it stacks up to the top of the muffin tin. Repeat with remaining tins.

Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with thyme. Bake the stacks for 35 - 45 minutes or until potatoes are golden brown and cooked through. Serve immediately.


These look nice and are great for people trying to watch their portion sizes. (I got six stacks in a jumbo muffin tin out of two large potatoes.) It was also nice that they could be made ahead and stuck in the fridge until time to bake. I was personally not a fan of the oil-and-potato combination. If I do this again, I will use butter.

My Modifications:

I subbed garlic powder for the chopped garlic because the idea of little pieces of garlic in my potato stack did not appeal.

I also skipped the thyme because I do not like thyme in anything. Otherwise this was made to spec.

Dietary Mod Friendly?

There's not much in here to disagree with anybody, so go for it!

** Please note there is no link to the original recipe source because when I wrote this post the link was no longer operational. No stealing of recipes without proper credit is intended!

Thursday, January 19

Love Wins... But Not With This Argument

After reviewing Erasing Hell I decided to read Rob Bell's Love Wins, the book that prompted EH to being with. Yes, I know. Backwards... but having done so in that order I can completely empathize with EH's authors' motivation to write their book: Love Wins is a mess! 

I appreciated Mr. Bell's passion for his subject and his obvious compassionate desire that no one would end up in hell. Unfortunately, that is all I found to appreciate in the book.

There was a lot to take issue with, especially when you consider how relatively short the book was. Here are the most glaring problems that made me (literally) say "yikes!"

* Blatant cherry-picking of verses out of relevant context

* Flagrant bending/ stretching of interpretations and translations

* Shoddy research scholarship (historical, lingual, etc.)

* Mis-representation of sources (Origen may have written some convenient quotes, but he also argued for complete celibacy even within marriage to the point of castrating himself... representing his opinions as sound and a base for modern faith is a bit of a stretch, don't you think?)

* Straw Man arguments

* Unnecessary and inappropriate insults and slams against other believers

* Unrelated and unhelpful tangents that are assumed or implied to support the point of the chapter

* The raising of extensive, poorly structured questions intended to weaken support for those who believe in hell/ judgment that do not align with a Biblical mindset in any way and are completely inappropriate for anyone with a basic knowledge of the gospel

* Select application of theology only where it suits the purpose of the book (Best example - free will. God loves us enough to let us choose what we want, but somehow it will be impossible for people to ultimately choose hell?)

It is clear from his anecdotes that Mr. Bell has dealt with more than his share of wounded Christians - and that he is one himself. I respect his frustrations over the failings of followers of Christ; selfishness, lack of compassion (and apparently basic social graces) can be horribly painful to endure from those we most expect to be loving. They do not, however, provide justification for manipulating or rewriting the Bible to say what you wanted to hear.

As a commenter pointed out after my Erasing Hell review, there is certainly room for debate on this subject. But no honest or substantive debate could possibly be based on the weak, disingenuous and wishful-thinking argument Mr. Bell has chosen to lay out.

Wednesday, January 18

Timely Lessons

Over at the Uncataloged Museum blog yesterday a guest poster shared the lessons she was taking away from the process of leaving her job as a historian and curator. Given a month's notice that her job - along with many others at her financially strapped museum - was being eliminated, she dug in to the challenging but surprisingly rewarding task of wrapping up and handing off her responsibilities.

As she evaluated her time in that position and what she was leaving behind, she made notes to herself on what her team had done well or poorly. What made the top of her list?
  • To set and stick to priorities, ruthlessly 
  • To cultivate better digital housekeeping habits 
  • To always prioritize work on critical documents 
  • The true potential of the work blitz 
  • The hidden costs of feeling overwhelmed
These lessons rang very true for me; I feel like I have been having conversations with people on variations of these themes for a while now. (I've gotten myself locked out of an online account about four times in the last six weeks... clearly my digital housekeeping habits need some work!)

As for those critical documents? Whether it's updating work policies to reflect current challenges or something on the home front like revising your will and insurance policy, most of us have something we're putting off that would bite us if push came to shove tomorrow.

My favorite of her suggestions? The work blitz!

1. Pick one thing that really needs attention - whether it's a long unfinished project, a catastrophically messy office or a the research/prep for something new.

2. Clear your schedule and turn off your phone for a day, maybe even two. Kidnap - I mean invite to join you - anyone you need to help you complete the project.

3. Throw all your energy into blitzing that one thing until it's done and can be wiped off your list with a flourish!

Did any of those lessons strike a chord with you?

Tuesday, January 17

What You Don't See on HGTV

Note: this is a bit of a rant, based on the recent experiences of myself and several of my friends. You're welcome to skip reading it or to leave you opinion in the comments, but this was your fair warning.  :)

We don't watch much tv around here, but occasionally while I'm cleaning or quilting I'll catch an episode of something on HGTV as background noise. One of the shows I tend to enjoy is Unsellables, where a professional home stager goes in and helps people who have been unable to sell their homes figure out why and make changes for no more than a couple thousand dollars that will bring in buyers and get them sold.

Sometimes, changes are laughably simple: the first three steps are always clean, declutter and fix the stupid little things (oil squeaky doors, tighten loose knobs, or cut back the overgrown plants outside). Painting over insanely bright wall colors, getting rid of huge furniture crowding a space and putting up new house numbers so people can find the place to begin with are often sufficient to bring in crowds and rack up offers.

Unfortunately, the hardest part about watching is knowing what they aren't showing: all the houses rejected because they needed far more than a weekend and some elbow grease. It's become appallingly clear that there is a tragic disconnect between people's ideas about their houses and their actions towards them

To hear people talk, home is the precious command center from which we run our lives and the nest in which we nurture families and friendships.

Financial gurus call houses investments. They appreciate in value and can be strategically chosen and improved to bring a great return on investment when you're ready to move on to the next one.

Taking care of a house should, therefore, be a win-win.

The current reality is a far, sad cry from that ideal. Home sellers blithely check "no water damage" on paper when a simple glance at the poor paint-over job proves the lie. They boast of their new roof, unconcerned about the mis-installed insulation causing the base of the roof to rot out underneath. Sellers install shiny synthetic floors expecting a top dollar return, despite structural or functional issues that will take time, energy and big funding to repair.

Is this part of why the housing market continues to slump? Because buying a house right now is a Catch-22?

Buyers are expected to somehow pay good price for a house and either continue ignoring the core issues themselves until they reach a crisis point, or to find the money to fix it on top of the sale price and hefty taxes, closing fees and moving costs.

I completely empathize with people who don't want to dump tons of money into a home they don't intend to stay in or who counted on the money from their house to pay off the mortgage and fund their next place. But with budgets stretched all around, where is the give here?

Do we assume that every person/ family who has been working hard and saving for years to earn the right to own a home will further cut their standard of living, buy a derelict house and slowly restore?

Do we expect sellers to suck it up and lose money in the sale as payment for their ignorance or carelessness?

I don't know how to fix the current mess, but I would like to offer a simple suggestion to everyone intending to buy, sell or build a home in the future: educate yourself about what really matters and make good choices. 

- Make sure all work is up to code and done right every time. Have the dignity to do things right the first time around, even if it means delaying projects or sacrificing luxury extras somewhere.

- Don't assume contractors will do a good job (or that they have done one just because it looks nice). They cut corners like everyone else. We've had real estate agents flat out tell us they see new construction fail code inspections! Be smart, hold your ground and follow up.

- Learn what to look for and bring someone you trust to help assess if you're not sure. A house's suitability for you doesn't really lie in whether or not it has granite counter tops and two sinks in the master bathroom (my pet peeves from other HGTV shows... lol): what matters is whether or not it is safe and structurally sound for the long haul!

- Don't buy someone else's problem. Make people responsible for what they are trying to sell and their headaches will give other sellers serious motivation to make sure their house isn't a problem to sell.

- If at all possible, start planning to sell your house early (like from the day you buy it) so you have time to invest wisely. You're much better off doing the hard, boring stuff while you're still in the house and can benefit from it than doing a spit and polish routine you'll end up paying for later.

- Finally, take advantage of outside funding! There are many local and state grant programs that help homeowners make upgrades/ do repairs that qualify as environmental or safety improvements. Insurance companies may also offer funds for improving your land or property, especially if it not recently built and therefore not up to current code.

If we each pitch in, wherever we are in the cycle, we can slowly fix this mess our national carelessness had made. What do you think?

Monday, January 16

Menu Idea Monday

Today's recipe is perfect for a Monday - quick, cheap, easy and so good! Check it out: Crock Pot Honey Sauced Chicken!


This is a great, fast and flexible recipe. It can be made in the crockpot (it only needs three hours!) or thrown together fast with an easy oven variation. You're likely to have all the ingredients in your kitchen already, which is always a bonus. The house smelled great while it cooked, the food was delicious, and with a little rice and some green beans on the side it was a full, satisfying meal in no time at all.

My Modifications:

I made this one to spec, except that I used (home) canned chicken since that's what I had on hand.

Dietary Mod Friendly?

There's nothing in here that should be a problem for anyone, with the possible exception of soy sauce so this is everybody-friendly!

Sunday, January 15

Cookbook Round-up

I tend to order cookbooks from the library in threes, because experience has proven that so many of them are useless, redundant or full of ridiculously expensive rare ingredients that I usually end up flipping through and immediately sending back 2 out of every 3. 

Sometimes, I'll get a whole string of terrible ones, rant about them on amazon.com and be grateful for the good recipes I have already collected to hold me over. On occasion, however, I get a lucky streak and find several in a row that are great! Having just hit such a streak, I wanted to share my findings with you.

First up: The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever. This is pretty simply put together but it has a bunch of frugal, delicious recipes I haven't seen before - including many dips and spreads that would be perfect for parties any time of year. A lot of these are easily adaptable for a crockpot and most use simple, inexpensive ingredients - something I give high points to! 

Next up: Bubby's Brunch Cookbook. The format on this book makes it easy to read and user-friendly. The author focused on everybody-friendly comfort foods, but avoided being a repeat of other brunch cookbooks. Possibly the best thing about this book is the perfect balance between breakfast, lunch and beverages in here. You'll have no trouble putting together a scrumptious brunch for any occasion with this in hand. 

Surprise Contender: 100 Recipes Every Woman Should Know. I've never been a reader of Glamour magazine, but the editors there did a great job putting together this book! With many recipes simple enough for even the most inexperienced cooks, this book is everybody friendly.

Engaging and cheerful, this book acknowledges the realities and needs of modern women and shows you how to make real, healthy and satisfying food that fits your life. Although it's a little more geared towards working girls living in a city, it avoids the mistake of calling for expensive or hard-to-get ingredients. By centering recipes around events or situations in life (Engagement Chicken, He Stayed Over Omelet) the authors make it easy to find what you're looking for and take the guess work out of deciding what's appropriate for a new situation. (Note: This would make a great graduation or wedding gift.)

 Finally: Too Many Tomatoes, Squash, Beans and Other Good Things. Let's cut to the chase: this modest book has made my must-have list! There are no pictures in this book and the page format is not ideal.

But the recipes are simple, direct, and delicious. There are a ton of them, and they don't call for crazy ingredients, complicated cooking methods or a refined palate. Whether you have a bursting garden, got a deal too good to be passed up at the farmer's market or are trying to make the best of what you've been given this book will be your best resource for cooking veggies of any kind.

What's your favorite cookbook?


Wednesday, January 11

One Down... Three to Go

My husband is very patient, but he's also willing to tell me things I don't necessarily want to hear... like the reality that I need to finish backing and binding the quilt tops I have stacked in the corner of my sewing space before I start any new ones.

I'm not talented enough (or properly equipped with my current sewing machine) to do any fancy quilting designs, so the finishing process is pretty boring and a reminder of all I have yet to learn. Not surprisingly, I tend to avoid it.

He's right of course, however; it must be done. Finishing a quilt so it can go into circulation or be gifted makes me feel accomplished and diminishes the guilt of letting it sit in the corner, so I've started to tackle my stack of UFQ's (un-finished quilts).

The first one is now done and crossed off the list! The Ruby, Pearl and Opal quilt from Moda Bakeshop made using all my pink scrap fabric. It turned out much cuter than I anticipated! (Please ignore the poor photography and the wrinkles. I just washed it and it's hung up to dry at the moment.)

My favorite part of this quilt is the backing fabric. It's a really fun pink plaid remnant someone gave me, and I had just enough to squeak out a backing for this quilt from it! (Not enough for binding though, hence the variegated edging.)

I have three more UFQ's to wrestle into completion before I pick a new project from my Quilts Patterns in Waiting list (currently tacked into a fabulous Pinterest Board here, if you're interested)!

Tuesday, January 10

Erasing Hell

Fire. Brimstone. Sinners in the hands of an angry God.

Such used to be the standard fodder for the passionate sermons that blazed from pulpits across America every week.

But anyone who's been to a church in the last couple decades knows that kind of thinking has all but disappeared in waves of effusive praise for God's love, forgiveness, mercy and *gag* tolerance. (Tolerance, by the way, is not in the Bible at all.)

Confronted by what they felt was shaky theology in Rob Bell's Love Wins, Pastor Francis Chan and Professor Preston Sprinkle decided to investigate everything the Bible actually says about hell and what common assumptions on the subject are the result of myth, legend and the natural human compulsion to overlay our mores. beliefs and preferences on any given subject.

The result? Erasing Hell, a compact and powerful book about what we really know, what is speculation and why it matters. Written with complete honesty and compassion by authors who started out searching for the truth and were willing to write what they found - even when it wasn't what they wanted to find - this will be an eye opener and thought provoker for everyone.

Whether you agree with their findings or not, I encourage you to read it, if only for the perspective and excellent literary professionalism they packed into every page.

Monday, January 9

Menu Idea Monday

I thought it might be fun try doing a regular feature on here with all the recipe ideas I have to share, rather than just throwing them on hit-and-miss as I have been. So here's the debut of Menu Idea Monday - let's see if it works out well! 

One of my favorite new recipes is Cinnamon Bun Popcorn which I found via Pinterest.

I won't copy the recipe here, because you should absolutely hop over to the site that originally posted it and check out their yummy pictures, but here are my recipe notes:


This stuff is AWESOME. Also, since popcorn has practically no calories, it's a guilt free dessert or snack food.

My Modifications: 

I skipped the pecans and almond bark entirely, both because I had none on hand and because they would significantly raise the calorie count.

I reduced the brown sugar to 1/4 cup, subbed 2 tbsp honey in place of the karo syrup, and reduced the butter to 4 tbsp. Using roughly the recommended 12 cups of popcorn, these reduced amounts were still plenty to coat and flavor the popcorn into decadent, crunchy deliciousness! 

Dietary Mod Friendly?

Diabetics who can tolerate corn should do fine with this recipe is they sub splenda brown sugar and reduce the karo to 2 tbsp.

Gluten Freers should be able to rock this one, with the standard caveat that all commercial products like baking soda, karo syrup, etc. should be checked for GF compliance before using.

Sunday, January 8

Real Marriage Book Review

With courage and a delicate touch, Pastor Mark Driscoll and his wife Grace tackle the tough questions, sticky issues and most embarrassing questions Christians have about marriage. The size of this book is deceiving – an incredible amount of seriously life-changing information is crammed into this modest package!

Tackled topics include:
*What marriage is and should look like
*Dealing with the baggage of our pasts
*The effects of abuse on individuals and marriages and how to handle it
*Friendship as spouses
*Sex in marriage
*Reverse engineering your marriage for success

This book was different than any I have ever read on marriage and I strongly encourage everyone to read it, whether you're single, newlywed or have been married for years. There is a tremendous amount within these pages to think about – whether you agree with the authors' conclusions or not. Information is presented in a clear format and grounded in efficiently sited Biblical references. It definitely kept my attention and I was impressed with the authors' rare ability to state their own position firmly without bashing, insulting or dismissing other opinions or ideas.

A brief word of warning: this is not one of those books you probably want to take with you on the bus or to the gym. With provocative or easily misinterpreted section headings, it could lead to some blush-worthy conversations in the wrong company!

Friday, January 6

Tip of the Day

Do you ever realize in the middle of doing something that it's dumb and you totally know better?

That happened to me recently, and I was (unsurprisingly) rather annoyed with myself. So in case you find yourself doing the same thing, here is one of the best organizing/ simplifying your life tips ever - handle everything in your inbox only once.

Obviously this tip originally was designed to address paper clutter, but I'm a paper clutter Nazi so that's not really a problem for me. It's my email that bites me. I'll sit down to skim through it when I don't have the time or energy to really deal with it and then let it pile up in a frightful, towering avalanche... which is entirely unnecessary because I know better!

If you find yourself in the same situation, here are a few things I do on my smarter days that work really well:

1. Grab your planner/ calendar/ sticky notes - whatever you use to keep track of life - before you open your email. As you open messages you can write yourself reminders, check your schedule and respond to inquires right away and jot down event information promptly. Barring the few exceptions where you have to check with a spouse or do research on something, this should allow you to handle most emails only once before deleting or filing them in the correct electronic folder.

2. Don't check your email constantly. Studies have proven we waste obscene amounts of time checking our email, so seriously consider getting in the habit of leaving your computer off or in sleep mode when not actively working on something so you will check your mail less often. As a bonus, when you do check it you'll be more likely to have time to handle it properly.

3. Don't be afraid to print stuff. Sometimes I am very grateful for the paperless world. Other times, a printed email filed in the right place or clipped into my planner for future reference is worth it's weight in gold. It saves time, prevents anything from being lost and shifts one more thing from my piling up inbox to the trash folder.  

Do you ever find yourself forgetting good habits you thought you had down?

Thursday, January 5


This is last in my trio of challenges for this year, and perhaps the simplest: celebrate more.

I am a pretty happy person and quick to toss up prayers of thanks for blessings in my life. I'm always glad to hear good news in the life of a friend, and have never struggled with envy or anything like that.

I am also a type A personality. Success? Awesome! Good job - now let's swinging on that next project! I've always got multiple irons in the fire and my sights set on the next goal. There's nothing wrong with that; in fact, it's a trait God has given me to accomplish the tasks I'm given and to use as a blessing to others.

But did you know that the Bible actually tells us to celebrate? Not just toss up a quick prayer of thanks either - to take time to really share joy and success with one another? (Yeah, I didn't know that either.)

I don't know about you, but I think celebrating good times and happy events more often with the people I love sounds like a great way to Pygmalion the world around me and improve my Losada Line ratios! So this year, I will pause after saying a prayer of thanks and before jumping back into the game just to celebrate.

What are your favorite ways and reasons to celebrate?

Wednesday, January 4

The Pygmalion Effect

There has been a story going around the Internet for years about two new students who approached a janitor to ask what the school was like. When he asked about their previous schools, the first replied that everyone was mean and horrible while the second spoke enthusiastically of good friends and great teachers. To each, the janitor then gave the same reply: "you'll likely find the same here." A third student inquired how his curious answer; the janitor explained that our experiences depend much more on attitude and expectations than the actual situation, so each was likely to find exactly what they expected. 

I usually brush the story off as a trite reminder to be a positive thinker, delete the email and move on. But it came back to me recently as I read about The Pygmalion Effect - the phenomenon by which we shape the world around us through our expectations.

It's more than just the idea of a self-fulfilling prophesy - our unconscious and unspoken actions and attitudes actually shape the behavior of others around us! This is no flimsy New Age nonsense either - it's scientifically proven and explainable. (There's a simple, rather boring, diagram here but the case studies are fascinating!)

Like yesterday's challenge, this one really grabbed me - how many of the things I struggle with from day to day are related to or caused by faulty or poor expectations on my part? How many of the difficult people whose doom I'm plotting are largely the result of my own sublimated attitude or assumptions?

Although the world does not revolve around me and a positive attitude certainly won't fix everything, I feel that it is an appropriate challenge for me this year to be intentional about my attitude and critical of my mind-set or expectations when they are low or negative.

The best part about this challenge? Even if nothing else changes, I'll get the perverse enjoyment every day of knowing my good attitude is annoying some gloomy curmudgeon. :)

Sunday, January 1

Drawing A Losada Line

When I was in high school, I worked at a hotel restaurant. We didn't see the general manager much, but we preferred it that way. If you did fifteen things perfectly and one thing wrong, he'd comment on the one wrong thing. When I went into Hospitality Management myself, I vowed never to be that kind of manager.

In college, my classmates and I learned how to use "praise sandwiches" - one comment about something to improve between two items of praise. In training seminars as full time managers, we learned fun little tricks like keeping five pennies in your pocket to remind you to pay at least five employees a compliment before the end of your shift.

It was only recently, however, that I learned about the Losada Line. I can't help but think how much more I would have gotten out of those classes and trainings if they'd included this one powerful truth.

In order for a team (or relationship) to function well, it must have a minimum of 3 positive interactions for every negative 1. Achieve this ratio, and you are above the Losada Line. Fail to hit the Losada Line and you have a constant struggle.

Ready for the scary part? For a relationship to really flourish, the ratio must be 6 to 1! 

As I read this last month, it struck me as a timely challenge going in to this new year: if it is entirely within my control to cause relationships to flourish, what am I intentionally doing to positively invest in others? 

(Of course, that begs a comment on the reverse side of the equation as well: if one negative interaction is worth six positive ones, how often can I achieve a positive ratio simply by keeping my mouth shut and unhelpful things unsaid!)

This challenge really speaks to my heart and aligns with my other self-challenges for the year (which I'll tell you about later), so I've begun to sketch out some ideas on how I can intentionally bring my relationships consistently above the Losada Line.

What about you? 

Dreams, Wishes & Plans

Happy New Year!

With the dawn a fresh new year many, if not most of us, have big dreams and bold resolutions in hand. (Which radio commentators like to cheerfully remind us we're likely to break within just a few weeks.)

With that in mind, I'd like to share a few simple pieces of encouragement with you (and as a reminder to myself) as we embrace the promise of our clean slates:

1. A dream without a plan is just a wish.
Wanting something to happen is never enough. We have know where we're going and how we intend to get there. If you don't have a clear plan mapped out to help you get where you want to go, consider taking a few minutes to sketch it out somewhere and put it where you'll see it. Ask for help if you need to!

2. Accountability is crucial.
Get a buddy. Share your dreams with people in your life who will support you in trying to reach them. Start or join a support group - even introverts are significantly more likely to reach big goals when they pursue them with others.

3. Use the 20 second rule.
A helpful tip gleaned from several books (most recently The Happiness Advantage). Making an activity more or less accessible by as 20 seconds can be all you need to easily pick up a constructive new habit or to change a bad one. Move the candy dish off your desk to the top of a filing cabinet across the office and watch your snacking habit fall off dramatically. Put your guitar on a stand in the center of your living room instead of in the corner and marvel at how much quicker you are to pick it up. The power of this is amazing - give it a try!

4. Remember that it won't always be a struggle.
I can't remember who originally said this, but the human brain is essentially a collection of habits. When you change habits, you are literally remapping your brain chemistry, which is why it can be so hard! The great news is that once you power through the initial struggle of carving out those new neural pathways, they will become your brain's default mode and what once seemed impossible will be second nature.

5. Be kind to yourself.
Management theory has long proven that working on more than three goals at a time, as an individual or a team, is pointless; there just isn't enough time, attention or energy to go around. Are you trying to do too much? Do you beat yourself up or get depressed when you slip up? You are human, you know! It's bound to happen, and it's okay. Be gentle with yourself and try again. God has given us a new year - don't give up the right to embrace and celebrate it over small mistakes and setbacks!