an interview with author kristalyn simler (& win a book!)

As you may have come to realize, Tuesdays are days for guest writers on the ol’ blog. And today is no exception. Although it’s not technically about this year’s theme of “holy curiosity,” it’s a holy curiosity in and of itself that my friend and newly minted author Kristalyn Simler has a book to share! So, read this interview with her, then leave a comment below to win a copy of Send me a Postcard. Enjoy! 

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Kristalyn, I’m so glad you’re here today! Tell us a bit about yourself, will you? I’m 5’4″. I’m married to a real cool guy and we’ve got two snazzy kids. My favorite color is brown and dessert is my favorite meal of the day.

And what then is Send Me a Postcard about? Gloriana Lopez and her travails of living in a small town, falling in love, kissing, heartbreak, friendship and redemption.

What was the inspiration behind the book? My half-sisters, Mexican food, and teen angst.
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Kristalyn & her half-sisters.

What do you hope readers will come away after reading your novel? A little more empathy, a lot more hope and perhaps a hankering for tamales.

How is it that you landed in the YA (young adult) genre? I’ve had the crazy honor to work and volunteer with teens and tweens since college. They have a special place in my heart.

What about the writing process gives you life? All of it, except maybe editing the 22nd time around. I get giggly when I get to sit down and write.

Any tips for new writers, or for those who haven’t published before? Be patient, give yourself grace, don’t get your identity from anyone else (especially agents that reject you), ask questions, drink chai or horchata (has just the right amount of sugar to keep you going), write fast and spell check later.

How do you fit writing into your everyday life now? Very creatively. I’m a flight attendant (for my “real” job) so I keep a journal in my luggage – I have a lot of ideas and character inspirations, so I need to write them down so I don’t forget them, and computers aren’t allowed on the jump seat!

Better readers make better writers: what are you reading right now? Everything – just picked up Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave and Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley from the library. I love the library.

And do you have any inklings toward your next book that you can tell us about? I want to flesh out a few other characters in “Send Me a Postcard” – so perhaps a few novellas – Jose, Teresa, Katina, Pili, Luca… There’s also a good chance I’ll be writing about some of my adventures in the air.

Anything else you’d like to say to the studio audience? Thank you for supporting a debut author!

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Here’s a picture of Kristalyn and her darling family …and I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that they’re some of my favorites! So, how did Kristalyn’s words encourage you today? Leave a comment and win a copy of Send me a Postcard. Winner will be picked on Monday, May 30th. 

 

doing the only thing we can do.

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I used to climb mountains in my spare time.

My best friend Lizzy and I would load our dogs, Bruce (hers) and Mr. Darcy (mine), into her Forerunner. Driving into the middle of the forest we’d scour sides of the highway, looking for mile markers, for any indication to confirm we’d finally arrived.

We’d lather ourselves in sunscreen, in case there came a break in between the gargantuan Douglas fir covering, and then we’d set off. At first we kept the dogs on leash—after all it was what we were supposed to do in the middle of the woods—but soon the packs we carried on our backs would begin to wedge into our sides, and between pulling dogs and wedging packs, we’d look at each other and nod. It was time to let the dogs free.

Soon, our canine bosom buddies would be chasing each other up and down trails and ravines and creeks. As for me, I’d be free of one entanglement for a few more minutes—until my skin grew raw and my breathing turned heavy and my legs felt like clod-hopping dead weights somehow still attached to the upper half of my body.

And we weren’t even a quarter of the way into the day’s hike at that point.

That’s when it would happen: I wouldn’t know how I could go on. Letting my imagination wander (as it inevitably always does), I’d wonder how whether or not I’d even get out of the forest alive. I’d thank the Good Lord Above for this time I did have on the earth, for this adventure I did get to journey on in the middle of creation.

“Woe is me!” I’d lament dramatically between labored breaths, to anyone—namely Lizzy, the only one there—who’d listen

She’d laugh, and then she’d do and said what she always did and said:

“Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Just keep moving forward.”

I’d love for you to continue reading the rest of the post, for you KNOW there’s more. Click here and head over to She Loves Magazine for how Lizzy’s advice don’t just apply to the top of a mountain. Otherwise, when have you needed to just keep putting one foot in front of the other? 

holy curiosity: everyday questions (kristen rudd).

Oh friends, today’s post on holy curiosity really gets to the simple heart of it. The educator in me loves Kristen’s words, and the lover of snarky, sassy side comments loves the way her brain thinks. Read, enjoy and show her some love below! 

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“Only the careless and unskilled teacher answers questions before they are asked. The teacher’s chief task is to provoke the question, not to answer it; to cultivate in his students an active curiosity, not to inundate them in factual information.” David V. Hicks, Norms and Nobility

There are not many things that instill terror in me more right now than the thought that I could be a careless or unskilled teacher to my students. Full disclosure: I teach my own kids; I’m a homeschool mom. I know.

We can teach our students three things: truths, skills, and content. It’s easy to get caught up in teaching the content my kids should know, or the skills they need to acquire, and therefore answer questions they aren’t yet asking. This actually misses the most important part of educating them — getting them to perceive truths.

When I start with content or skills, they ask questions, for sure:

Do I have to learn fractions?

Do I have to study Latin?

Do I have to read about Napoleon?

Do I have to memorize Shakespeare?

Are you sensing a pattern here? Because I am. The answer to all of these questions is, obviously, “yes.”

But.

These are the kinds of questions they ask when I have started by inundating them with facts without showing them the point — to perceive the truths those facts point to. How do I know if I’m provoking questions — and more importantly, provoking the right ones? Pass me a paper bag to breathe into, please.

These are the questions I am learning to ask them every day:

You tell me, why do we learn fractions/study Latin/read about Napoleon/memorize Shakespeare?

What do you think?

What should we study; what should we place in front of ourselves to ponder?

Is there something more important about these things than the use we will get out of them?

Is there something good, beautiful, and true about those things?

Do they show us something about the world? About God?

How can we allow these things to transform us?

Do they discipline our minds?

Do they order our souls?

How do you know?

Should Helena have run after Demetrius (who was running after Hermia) when he didn’t love her and was so cruel to her? Should Oberon have tricked Titania, his wife, and caused her to fall in love with another? Was that a wise thing to do? Yes, OK, it was funny — Bottom’s an ass. Yes, I get the joke. Yes, you can say “ass.” But was it wise? Do you agree with Shakespeare that love is a fickle thing? Should it be?

I cannot teach my children to be curious and have a yearning to know truth if I do not have those attributes myself, and more so, if I do not model it for them. They will only learn when the way is shown to them, imitated for them, a path laid out for them to follow. They need to be shown the way.

If we are made in the image of God, if we are the very reflection of the Creator of the Universe, then we, too, should put ourselves forth as something to imitate.

Terrifying prospect, I know. Daily, I model — both the good and the bad — of what it means to be a human and to live into my full humanity, my Imago Dei. I strive, I struggle, I ask forgiveness, I reroute myself.

It is my job to cultivate a holy curiosity in my children, to get them not to just ask questions, but to ask the right ones, the normative ones, the ones that will mold their hearts and shape their souls. If I’m doing my job well, I will guide my children to a desire for truth, knowledge, wisdom, and virtue because I will be doing it first. If I can do that, bumbling my way through as it may be, then they will be truly educated, and truly human. Fully in the image of God.

Really, they already are.

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Kristen Rudd lives in Cary, NC and is a homeschool mom by day. By night, she’s exhausted. She gets up at ridiculous hours of the morning to plug away at a novel that will, one day, be finished. Kyrie Eleison. You can follow her on Twitter at @kristenrudd, where she is absolutely hysterical. And friends, it’s true: Kristen IS hilarious on Twitter. Do follow her if you haven’t already! Otherwise, how did this wise and sassy mama’s words touch you today? Leave her some love! 

 

 

6 reasons why you need to just say no to social media, once a week.

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As you may recall, I ditched social media for Lent.

It was a powerful experience, mostly because I learned (again) that I don’t need to be as tied to social media as I think I ought to be. After the experience was over, I refrained, for awhile. But then, life happened. Excuses happened. I reinstalled Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest on my phone, and even though I turned off the notifications button (much to the dismay of Facebook Messenger which annoyingly reminds me every single time I get into the application that I MIGHT MISS OUT ON VERY IMPORTANT MESSAGES FROM MY FRIENDS), social media was still an ever-present reality in my life.

I blame it on my work: I write a piece and I need to promote it (or so the gods of today’s writing world tell me I should do). I need to make sure I follow up with comments, and like all the shares, and do all the things I think I’m supposed to be doing.

But it makes me dizzy, man.

And it’s no way to live. 

So, there’s a new way of doing things in the Meredith household that seems to be working for this season: I’ve ditched social media (and technology all together) on Sundays.

As I should. As I should have been doing all along.

Sabbath is necessary for all of us, whether or not we find ourselves adhering to a Christian or Jewish faith (where the term originated in Genesis 2). God rested from all that he had created. And then he instructed us to do the same, even when the buts come.

So, here follows Cara’s handy list of six buts you might encounter were you to do the same. Enjoy! (Then do it, please).

1. But I only get so many hours in the week to write/work/play/do whatever it is we think we need to do on the internet! And that is exactly why you need to take a break. A professor of mine once said that in the midst of his dissertation, even though he was reading thousands of pages (and writing hundreds more), he always – always – refrained from writing for one day a week. He knew his writing would be better if he rested, instead of trying to get it all out, day after day after day.

2. But it’s impossible to avoid social media for 36 whole hours. Actually, it isn’t. And actually, this is exactly what Facebook would like you to believe. Did you know you can turn off notifications on your phone? Did you know you can leave your phone in the other room? Did you know that you don’t even have to open your laptop if you don’t want to? I know. Crazy.

3. But what if I miss out? See again, other lies social media wants you to believe. So, you’re scared you’ll miss out on what other people are doing by not scrolling through your newsfeed? Now here’s an idea, and it might sound a little scary to you, but what if YOU did something that’s worthy of not missing out on? And, better yet, what if you participated in said life-giving activity and then DIDN’T EVEN POST A PICTURE ABOUT IT ON INSTAGRAM? (Would it have even happened?)

4. But what if inspiration comes, and I’ve no way to type out my thoughts?  I’ma tell you a story: once upon a time, in the olden days, there existed something called PEN and PAPER. A pen was something with ink in its tip that you held in your hand, and a paper, was a very, very thin piece of TREE that you used to write with the pen on. I know, it’s all very complicated to take in. But when said inspiration comes, scavenge your house for these two items, and then use them for good. (I still tend to have a million thoughts running through my head of Everything I Need To Do come Sundays, so I write it down on Monday’s to-do list. Hence this post. And you’re welcome).

5. But what am I going to do with myself? See also “But what if I miss out?” There are actually infinite possibilities to this question. Yesterday, I went to church and to the zoo with my boys. I read Esperanza Rising, our book club podcast pick for the month of May. I seared shishito peppers in sesame oil and I roasted a pan full of vegetables. I made a bowl full of guacamole and I lamented not being able to dip my corn chips into it. I talked with the HBH (Hot Black Husband). I cleaned house, a little. I supervised our master gardener, Cancan, as he watered the vegetable garden. I did not even run out of things to do, not once.

6. But what if people need to get ahold of me? I have one more story for you: back in the day we had these things called land lines and answering machines. (I know, along with the above thoughts on “pen” and “paper,” this is a lot of new information for you to take in). If you weren’t home when people called your house, they left a message. [“Leaving a message” is when you talk into a tiny little box and hope that your voice doesn’t sound too high to the person listening.] Then, when said friend you called got home, they’d listen to your message. And they’d call you back, if they felt like it. But sometimes you’d have to wait days or weeks even, if they went on vacation or something. So, wait. If you establish a routine of not being available one day a week, people will eventually learn that they too can wait (and that they don’t have to try and reach you through 12 different modes of communication to do so).

That’s it. Ditch technology for one day a week. It just might do your body good.

Good luck, superheroes-

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So, what do you think? Yea, nay? Do you participate in a weekly Sabbath, and if so, what does it look like for you? 

*Amazon affiliate links, yo.

#whole30, the HBH & one hell of an interview.

We’ve been eating a whole lot of vegetables lately.

The HBH (Hot Black Husband) and I, along with a handful of friends from up and down the west coast, are trying our hand at Whole 30 this month. Which, in layman’s terms means…

No sugar. 

No alcohol. 

No grains.

No dairy.

No legumes.

Let all these no’s sink in for a minute.

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It’s pretty much a no-nothing kind of detox diet, if you ask me.

But it’s actually feels pretty good when the food you put into your body is whole and healthy and unprocessed.  The point is then not to eat this way forever, but in the midst of retraining your body, learn what food triggers might be present to your system, that you should ultimately be avoiding. (And I, for one, am hoping to see if part of what I put into my body causes this chronic back pain in the middle of the night). Most people also lose a bit of weight, which is a bonus to everything else gained along the way.

But why hear it from me? Why not hear what the HBH (Hot Black Husband) has thought about the past 12 days…

Hey Love, what do you think about Whole 30, almost two weeks in? It would probably be beneficial if I was coming from a poor diet regime or was allergic or otherwise adversely affected by certain food items. Maybe it would have helped if I’d gone from regular milk to almond or something …but it is, uh, nice to be able to think about foods, I guess. It’s a nice way to be reminded that there can be alternative ways to snack. Apple a day, more fruit.

(Author thinks to herself: Hmm, this may not have been the best plan I’ve ever had for a blog post…)

So, you’re saying you’re not the biggest fan. What do you miss the most? A little bit of cream with my coffee. I was already down to half a bun on my burger, so I’d like to have that at least and not lettuce from the ground. I’d like to have a quarter of a donut at church. They’re already cut to sample-size. Two year olds eat more than me.

What are you most surprised about? There can be a whole lot of careful planning which takes me back to when you’re in high school and college. I want to be faster! I want to be stronger! So I’m going to eat raw eggs like Rocky! I’m gonna eat all that’s good! I’m going to become this pure operating machine.

That’s a lot of exclamation points you’re using in the above sentence, Honey. So do you feel like a pure operating machine right now? Uh, not really. Incrementally perhaps.

Is there anything you’ve noticed about your eating habits along the way? If so, what? I’ve noticed that I’ve been eating Whole 30 meals.

What do you hope to get out of it? I hope to desire to make smoothies and other nutritious whole foods more often instead of processed balanced bars.

Good answer! What do you think about the food we’ve been eating? Good and healthy, as prepared by your hands, but could be a lot better.

WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?! I mean, ketch-up. I want ketch-up. Coffee without cream and sugar doesn’t taste as good as coffee with cream and sugar. No, the food’s been good …you just don’t have nurturing condiments, as I’m used to, to go with it. Why can’t my (almond) milk have a hint of honey?

The man likes his Heinz 57, y’all. K. We’re almost done. So, what’s your favorite meal we’ve eaten so far? The turkey burgers with guacamole were good. And the sausage-sweet potato soup was good. And the banana pudding the other morning was even good!

The chef says, “You’re welcome!” How would you feel about eating like this for the rest of your life? Uh, I would not feel it. I won’t do it, but I would aspire to pursue eating healthily.

Well, there you go, folks. HE’S NOT THE BIGGEST FAN IN THE WORLD. But as for me, ever the optimist, I kind of like it.

So, if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to continue to survive on our vegetables and our meat, our fruit and our sparkle water.

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xo, c.

Whole 30: would you do it? Have you done it? Or are you a wee bit like the HBH and COMPLETELY TURNED OFF after reading his words? Also, if you have any PHENOMENAL Whole 30/Paleo recipes, please pass them along!

 

holy curiosity: the way in is the way out (mary loebig giles).

Oh friends, today’s words will be a GIFT to you, I guarantee. They’ll also make you want to take up residence at your local labyrinth so you too can taste the magic and the holy and the beauty found in this ancient tradition. Mary (who wrote here for us last year) doesn’t need much of an introduction but for the fact she has a way with words, and this way will pull you in and under and leave you breathless with awe. Enjoy. 

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The only way I can speak of holy curiosity is to speak of a time when curiosity seemed dead to me. Until it wasnt. Curiosity acted as a goad to face my questions, my deepest sorrows, and walk the labyrinth. 

An indoor labyrinth was offered as part of a retreat I attended this past year, and although I had actually helped to construct the thing and was intrigued, I had immediate misgivings about walking it myself.

I was deep in a season thick with loss–the death of a mother, a dear friend, the cancer news of other beloveds. The labyrinth struck me as a symbol for the maze of my grief and bewilderment. For the first time in my life my own faith made no sense. I felt that all the furniture had been rearranged. Things I had taken for granted or believed to be true simply no longer held up beneath the weight of my loss.

God would only give me what I could bear. He would be with me always. He would make my burden light and yoke easy. I had only to ask and he would provide.

Not so much.

I can’t help but think of an expression my mother once shared with a smile, “With friends like you, Lord, who needs enemies?” Her way of saying following Jesus wasn’t easy. I was clinging to God by a thread. And not because I believed he could or would help me, but simply because, as the disciples themselves confessed, “To whom shall we go but you, Lord?” There seemed no other better alternative.

But I couldn’t get the labyrinth out of my head. And at some point during the retreat, despite my reluctance I began to grow curious.

Why couldn’t I dislodge the notion that my life was somehow like the labyrinth? Was it truly a meaningless maze of twists and turns to which there was no end? An unfathomable riddle I would never plumb? Was God even in there with me? And if he was, where the hell had he been while my Mom had lain dying, fighting for breath? When my friend could only suck ice chips because food was impossible? When the cancer diagnoses of other beloveds began trickling in: breast, ovarian, non-Hodgkins lymphoma?

And because I couldn’t muster the will to walk the labyrinth, I picked up a book on the retreat resource table. As one does. Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth by Dr. Lauren Artress. “To walk a sacred path is to discover our inner sacred space.” And learned a maze is not a labyrinth. A maze has different entry(ies) and exit point(s), sometimes has dead ends, is often complex and designed to confuse. They’ve only been around 600 years.

Labyrinths, on the other hand, are over 4,000 years old, involve sacred geometry and have only one path that leads in a circuitous way to the center. The way in is the way out.

Was it possible that I was misreading my life as maze when in truth it might be more labyrinth? This wasn’t a game of semantics. A maze affirmed my current experience with suffering and loss: confusion and what appeared to be dead ends. But it left me nowhere and just as bewildered as the day I received the text, “I’m dying.”

A labyrinth is a totally different paradigm. It might be just as frustrating but by design there was a simple way out: go to the center and then keep on going. And there was only one way to find out which was true.

I had to walk the labyrinth.

I did not have a lot of faith as I entered the labyrinth that afternoon. I shucked my shoes and went barefoot–an acknowledgment to myself and God that this place was sacred ground: I was open and wanted the naked truth about my life.

I had read in Walking a Sacred Path that some people entered the labyrinth holding a question. Or murmuring a mantra. But my losses had left me speechless and numb. I had no tidy questions or mantras. Just two fistfuls of grief. So I entered slowly, focusing on my breath, letting myself be.

At the first turn I felt a loss bubbling up. It hurt to even think of her–Mom. The tears began and I moved on. At the second turning another came to my mind. My beautiful friend and the children and husband she left behind. I paused and moved on. At each turn a loss came to mind. The name of a friend diagnosed with cancer. And another. And another. And other losses I hadn’t known were there. Twelve in all.

And I found myself at the center of the labyrinth. At the center of all the pain and loss. And there were questions there waiting for me. Do you love me? Can I trust you? Why should I continue to put my faith in you if it doesn’t change a damn thing? I knelt, folded in on myself, pulled my shawl over my head and wept.

I don’t know how long I was there, but at some point I realized I was not alone. I peeked out from under my shawl. No one else was in the room.

Oh.

I breathed and listened to my heartbeat and felt held. A burden had been lifted.

Slowly I made my way out of the labyrinth. Breathing slowly. Putting one foot in front of the other. I wondered what thoughts would rise at each turn, but only one came to me again and again. I am here. I am with you. And somewhere along the way I realized that I would not truly leave the labyrinth until I left this life.

I have to confess this was not entirely comforting. I had hoped for more. Some wisdom that would make sense of it all.

Instead I received a truth that honored my reality: the way is sometimes confusing. Long. Tiring. Filled with longing and sadness. But this is true too: I am here. I am with you. And that means I have nothing to fear, doesn’t it?

It means love and trust and faith are possible.

The way in is the way out.

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Mary is an urban mama, writer and editor, and avid distance cyclist. She loves God, endorses whole grains and kale, and enjoys the Iron & Wine Pandora station. She and her family will be moving to San Francisco this summer after two years in NYC. It’s Cara again, and today’s follow-up question is simple: how did Mary’s words touch you? 

 

home is where the heart is, among other things.

I’ve been out of town for 19 of the last 35 days.

And as you might guess, I’m itching for home.

I don’t travel regularly for work, not in the least. Mostly, I take care of my babies, and I speak and write on the side. But occasionally – as happened in the past 35 days – all travel and activity fell at once. Between two out of state speaking engagements, one trip to visit family across country, one weekend visit to the mountains with friends, and another trip across country for a writing conference, I’m wiped.

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Really, this isn’t anything new. Think about the common cold: when one person in a family gets sick, every person in a family gets sick.

Or, when said sickness decides to pay an individual a visit, it’s always at the most inopportune of times – when we’re in the middle of a busy season or immediately afterwards when we’ve finally taken a moment to stop and pause and catch our breath.

It’s an all-at-once mentality, and be it sickness or travel or life in general, it gets pretty exhausting after awhile.

And personally, it makes me yearn for home.

Don’t you worry: the article has just begun! Click here and head on over to Living in Graceland, so you can read the rest of the post. Otherwise, what makes YOU yearn for home? When do you find yourself desirous of someone (or the One) who can bring you comfort? Enter the conversation, and leave a comment below!