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Kickstands and Nightstands: Wheels of Wisdom

The time between the New Year’s and MLK holidays is sort of a grace period for getting those New Year’s Resolutions right.

It’s time to get serious now.

Many of  you have vowed to read the Bible every day or have a daily quiet time.  If you’re still looking for a devotional book for 2018, I’ll suggest one.

Wheels of Wisdom: Life Lessons for the Restless Spirit by Tim and Debbie Bishop.

I was drawn to this couple’s story for a couple of reasons. They married for the first time when they were both 52. Their honeymoon was a cross-country bicycle tour across the United States.

You don’t have to be a cycling enthusiast to benefit from their 52 lessons. You may, however, question the “wisdom” of a long bicycle tour as a honeymoon, particularly since it was self-supported (just the two of them) and they didn’t really prepare with an organized training regimen.

Not wisdom, but maybe insanity.

Instead, they gained physical strength as they cycled an average of 67-68 miles each day along mountains and flatlands, back roads, trails and sometimes interstates.

Wheels of Wisdom

Tim and Debbie share experiences from their 2010 honeymoon trip and two subsequent cross-country cycling trips and how each relates to a deeper life lesson.  The Bishops are committed Christians and intersperse Scripture, words of encouragement and questions for personal reflection with their lessons.

In one chapter, Debbie recalls how the headwinds of the South Dakota plains slowed them down to 6 mph and forced them to wait in a small town until conditions improved. That teaches me that when I meet resistance in life, sometimes I need to adjust my pace or take a break instead of stubbornly wrestling with uncontrollable circumstances as I sometimes do.

On another day, the Bishops had misinformation about the terrain on a 90-mile leg between two destinations in Wyoming. They ended up climbing 9,600 feet, way above their previous high of 7,000. A 10-hour riding day turned into 13 hours.

Lesson learned: You can do more than you realize. They write, “When you do tackle something big and the results surprise you, let it be a lesson that you can rise to higher heights in the future if you are willing to attempt the climb.”

 

The Bishops honeymoon trip is the subject of another book, Two Are Better. For more information on Wheels of Wisdom, Two Are Better and their other books, visit their website www.openroadpress.com

 

Kickstands and Football Fans-Roll Tide

On the day of college football’s national championship game, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about my recent trip to the Bear Bryant Museum in Tuscaloosa.

I’m somewhat of an Alabama football fan. I default there when things aren’t going well for my Ole Miss Rebels, which was the case this year. Plus, I’m a huge fan of single-topic museums. I can absorb so much more of things like presidential libraries and, oh, places like the Barbed Wire Museum (McLean, TX) or the Museum of Musical Instruments (Phoenix) than the overwhelming Smithsonian, the Met or the Louvre.

And so it goes with the Paul W. “Bear Bryant” Museum on the campus of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

One topic.

It is well worth the $2 admission to spend an hour there learning how Alabama came to be the powerhouse it is today. I only paid $1. Turning 60 has its perks.

Actually, the museum’s focus is broader than the 25 years that Bryant spent at Alabama. It covers Alabama football history dating back to its first football team of 1892 and includes the lean years of Mike Dubose and Mike Shula that ultimately led to the hiring of Nick Saban.

The elephant became associated with Alabama in 1930 when a sports writer described the size of the team members to red elephants. Bama outscored its opponents 217-13 that year and won the Rose Bowl and national championship.

There’s even John David Crow’s 1957 Heisman Trophy, which may be more fitting at Texas A&M where Crow played for Bryant. But he was Bryant’s only player to win the Heisman.

A few things I learned:

1926 Rose Bowl: Alabama’s football dominance didn’t begin with Bear Bryant. In 1926, Alabama won its first bowl game and national championship when it defeated the heavily favored Washington Huskies in the Rose Bowl. Before then, college football powerhouses were teams like Harvard, Notre Dame, even Vanderbilt. This was coined “The Game That Changed the South.”

The SEC’s First Year: The Crimson Tide took another big step in developing its reputation when the Southeastern Conference was formed in 1933. Alabama won the conference that year, finishing the season with 130 points to its opponents’ 17. Bama didn’t win every game that year. In its first SEC game ever, the Crimson Tide tied Ole Miss 0-0. Bama also lost to non-conference Fordham 0-2 in a game played in New York City.

The museum has a Waterford crystal replica of Bryant’s signature houndstooth hat, trophies and tickets from every major bowl, jerseys from iconic players like Stabler and Namath.

Bryant’s 1991 win over Auburn gave him 315 wins, at that time making him the winningest coach in college football ever.

For me, the museum has the added appeal because of the things I remember from my childhood — Golden Flake potato chips and bottled Cokes on the set of the Bear Bryant Show, which was carried by my  East Mississippi TV station. And memories of the 1969 game when Alabama beat Ole Miss in the quarterback duel between Scott Hunter and Archie Manning.

Exhibits include artifacts from the early days in the 19th century to current Nick Saban years.

Enjoy the game tonight whomever you’ll be rooting for tonight. As for me and my house: Roll Tide.

 

 

Christmas Small Things: Cookie Cutters, Gift Tags & Such

As much as I enjoy my monthly Southern Living magazine, I feel woefully inadequate when the December issue arrives.

The covers always have immaculately decorated multi-layered white cakes with elaborate garnishes. This year’s featured edible vintage ornaments.

One of my friends always posts a picture of the cover on Facebook with the caption: “Another cake that I will never make.”

I was thinking about how our over-the-top holiday expectations relate to a book/Bible study I just finished called Church of the Small Things by Melanie Shankle. The message of the book is to focus on the small things rather than waiting for the next “big” thing.

I’m never going to bring home the 12-foot flocked tree from the Christmas tree farm on the top of my van. (Or is it a vintage red truck?). Fresh garland won’t be running down my staircase and my family won’t be wearing matching monogrammed pajamas.

There are galas never attended (or even invited to), gingerbread houses never made, the “perfect” gift never bought.

And, in Louisiana, none of our Christmases will be white, either.

But if Jesus could be born in the simplest of surroundings, do we really need these things to have a Merry Christmas.

As I tossed the Southern Living aside, I looked at my own Christmas small things that still bring great joy– a grainy photo of my then 12-year old daughter when it DID snow in Louisiana a few years ago. Another is  a fragile cinnamon gingerbread ornament made by my other daughter that has miracuously stayed intact from second grade through pharmacy school.

And, then I remembered my box of Christmas cookie cutters — small things but when put to good use can bring a lot of joy .

My favorites are the smallest ones, part of a boxed set.  I remember the little angel tea cakes I made for a children’s Sunday School party and cheese straw “croutons” in the shape of Christmas trees and candy canes that gave a festive touch to tomato basil soup.

So instead of spending time in this final week making the perfect Christmas dessert or buying the perfect Christmas gift, think about the “small things” or “tiny cookie cutters” in your life that you can use to bring joy this Christmas?

Savoring hot chocolate in a Christmas mug with an old friend.

Making personalized gift tags with old photos or craft your own

Or sharing your faith as big as a mustard seed.

Or your widow’s mite.

Or a word aptly spoken.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

Amarillo By Morning, Lunch Time, Any Time

For many people, driving through Amarillo means stopping at a quirky display of spray-painted Cadillacs or the restaurant where you get your 72-ounce steak free if you can eat it in one sitting.

I like to think I drilled a little deeper in this oil boom-shaped town, venturing a bit off of Interstate 40 to discover its beautiful downtown architecture and a less touristyTexas Panhandle Cafe.

I’ll definitely come back.

Our lunch spot, Youngblood’s Cafe, was just a few blocks from downtown, It was so inconspicuous on the outside that we passed it by initially, but boy are we glad we turned around.

I bet I’ve eaten in 200 Texas restaurants during the past 35 years from Daingerfield to Pecos, but this has got to be one of the most authentic Texas cafe experiences that I’ve had. To get to our table, we passed by three massive dining rooms with its walls covered in Texas decor (from a longhorn skull painted like the Texas flag to  a cactus Christmas tree. We were served by a “sweetie-saying” waitress wearing a T-shirt saying: “I’ve got glitter in my veins and Jesus in my heart.”

The chicken-fried steak came topped with green chili sauce. After lunch, I read this cafe was once at the Amarillo Livestock Auction, one of the largest cattle auctions in the world. The owner was trained at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and was once executive sous chef at the Plaza Hotel in New York, but don’t let that deter you. Our two meals were great and totaled only $20.30 tax included. We would have gotten free banana pudding if we had gotten there earlier.

To walk off a little of that hearty lunch, I took in a few blocks downtown to look at the historic buildings. Amarillo had a building boom right before the Great Depression, and many of those buildings have been restored.

Santa Fe Building, Amarillo
Santa Fe Building, Amarillo
Paramount Building
Paramount Building

The most iconic of the buildings is an Art Deco high rise built in 1930  as the regional headquarters for Santa Fe Railroad. It now houses county offices.  Another landmark building is the old Paramount Theatre, which has been restored with its neon shining bright at night. Two classic Five & Dime buildings are well preserved.

Renovated Woolworth Building will house several restaurants.
The old Kress building now houses a furniture store.

Early afternoon on a late autumn day,  the West Texas sky was as blue as I’ve ever seen it. I liked the way this bank sign looked surrounded by it.

The Amarillo National Bank is the largest 100 percent family-owned bank in the United States. It was started by a cattleman and Amarillo early settler.

I only had about 20 minutes, so I didn’t see all of the historic buildings. Just before I left, I found this classic parked outside of a lawyer’s office: A man and his dog and a 1930 Chevrolet pickup.

I’ve heard the food is really good at the bright yellow Big Texan Steak Ranch, the steakhouse with the big steer at front and gaudy billboards and signs pointing the way along the interstate. We may stop some time on our way through.

Who knows maybe I’ll pull over at Cadillac Ranch for a photo op.

But I’m really looking forward to a return trip to see the progress downtown, maybe even checking out Old Route 66 Historic District, a mile-long stretch of art galleries, antique shops and restaurants, along the old Mother Road.

For more information, check out this Amarillo Visitors site.

 

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A Beautiful Day in the “Agri-Hood”

Phoenix suburbs may conjure up images of golf courses and swimming pools. But at Agritopia in Gilbert, southeast of Phoenix, it’s all about gardens and front porches.

Agritopia is a suburban development built around a citrus grove and urban farm. The  neighborhoods foster a strong sense of community. –7,000 square-foot houses next to 1,800-square-foot ones. Most are built in craftsmen style so you barely see the difference in size.

American flags and welcome signs abound.

Plus, there’s a farm-to-table restaurant that’s been featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, family garden plots, a tractor shed turned into a coffee shop, a farm store with payment on the honor system, a Christian school, retirement home, a dog park, a winery.

The aptly-named development is a version of “utopia” created by Joe Johnston, whose family bought the land and began farming cotton and wheat there in 1960. The farm is in Gilbert, a suburb east of Phoenix once known as the “hay capital of the world.”

The restaurant, Joe’s Farm Grill, was originally the Johnston’s family home. Built in 1967, the restaurant serves burgers and other casual fare in a diner-style interior with plenty of shaded picnic-style seating outside. Trees look like they would be great for climbing until you see the “risk of scorpion stings” sign. I got a tasty gouda bacon cheeseburger with a milkshake made with Medjool dates grown in the area. The soft drink options weren’t Coke or Pepsi but drinks from the upstart Tractor Soda from Idaho.

Joe's Farm Grill
Joe’s Farm Grill has been featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives

I’ve read that Joe Johnston is often seen tooling around the 166-acre Agritopia on his Vespa motor scooter.

No Johnston or Vespas were seen on the day I was there. But it was fun strolling across the street from the grill and along the  grapevine-covered Agritopia Community Garden Trail to the community garden area. Families pay $250 a year, which gets you a 20×20 plot, access to water and compost. I saw everything from sugar cane to sugar snap peas with each plot decorated to reflect the personality of the owners. More acreage is devoted to Agritopia’s certified organic garden, which supplies Joe’s Farm Grill.

Grapevines drape the trail to the community garden area.

The Johnston family has an intriguing past. Joe Johnston’s great-grandfather was an engineer with Hobart Manufacturing, which developed the early-stage Kitchen-Aid food processor. The ingenuity continues at Agritopia. A converted Quonset hut houses several crafts including a brewery, letterpress print shop and Johnston’s own company that prototypes new cooking tools.

Agritopia has been listed as one of the top “agrihoods” in the country. It’s also part of Arizona’s Fresh Foodie Trail, a collection of agriculture and food manufacturing ventures in the Phoenix-Mesa-Gilbert area.

 

 

 

An Adult Field Trip to the State Fair of Louisiana

I skipped the rides and the fried Oreos at the State Fair of Louisiana the other day and headed straight to the Louisiana Agriculture Building.

I was like a grade school girl on a field trip, except I made the exhibit rounds with a complimentary cup of Community Coffee instead of begging for cotton candy.

Did you know Louisiana’s land are is 48 percent forest? Facts such as these are scattered through the  building, which house exhibits recognizing everything Louisiana from cotton to coffee.

My family operated a dairy farm in Mississippi with peaches, pecans and other crops, but I grew up in town and wasn’t very observant on trips to the country.

I can’t go back now, but I can be more appreciative of agriculture in the state where I have lived for the past 35 years. The exhibits, Ag Magic, are mostly set up for school children to learn where food comes from, but adults can learn a few things too.

For example,  I picked up a LSU AgCenter magazine called Louisiana Ag, where I discovered Louisiana farmers are experimenting with some new crops such as tea and edible olives.

Vintage 1934 International Harvester inside the Louisiana Ag Building

However, I was disappointed that I couldn’t find the best-tasting pickle in the Ark-La-Tex. My favorite episode of the Andy Griffith Show is where Aunt Bee hopes to unseat perennial pickle blue ribbon winner Clara Edwards. Aunt Bea’s pickles were dreadful, and Clara won for the 11th year straight.

My hopes of finding the local Clara Edwards were dashed when I learned the pickles are judged the week before the fair only on packing and appearance and NOT taste.

Those winners, as well as competition winners from photography and quilting, are showcased under glass lining the building’s walls.

I did write down a few names from the appearance winners, and I’m happy there are cooking contests later this week for beef, chicken and pecan dishes where taste IS considered. See a schedule here.

I did catch some of the livestock competitions, which were fun. And I sampled “fried watermelon.” Not for me.

 

Louisiana’s agriculture display may not compare to the Iowa State Fair (read about that trip here). But it’s our state and our fair, now in its 111th year.

You should go.

 

 

 

 

The Oldest General Store in Texas

If you grew up in the rural South, you probably have at least one of these country stores tucked away in your memory.

For me it was Hughes Grocery near my grandparents house in Clay County, Mississippi. I remember the red Coca Cola chest cooler, the driveway paved with nearly as many bottle caps as gravel.

For many in Harrison County, Texas, that store is T.C. Lindsey & Co. General Store in Jonesville,  a curve in a country road just two miles from busy Interstate 20. The store has been around for 170 years, making it the oldest continuously-operating general store in Texas.

After bicycling the hilly roads of East Texas the other day, I stopped in to see if it looked the same as it did when I first visited 32 years ago.

I didn’t need any overalls, Lodge cast iron skillets or Raggedy Ann dolls (three major categories at the store), but I couldn’t pass up the No. 1 seller—hoop Wisconsin cheddar cheese sliced with a 100-year-old cutter.

Cheese at T.C. Lindsey General Store
Store manager Jon Miller slices hoop cheese.

T.C. Lindsey & Co. General Store is still jam packed with inventory, although the family is keeping it open for the memories rather than for profit.

I also came away with a couple of micro-brewed root beers . There is an extensive selection of vintage soft drinks and as many varieties of Spam as I have seen. Penny (well, nickel) candy. Honey and sorghum molasses from nearby farms. Bulk Spanish peanuts farmed 70 miles up the road in Naples, Texas.

You can get sun bonnets, kerosene lamp supplies and shoes from the 1970s, but many of the items are not for sale such as the rare 1896 wringer washing machine and the last cotton bale ginned in the area in 1973. The store just started taking credit cards a year ago.

It is such an iconic place that movies and TV shows have filmed there, most notably the 1985 TV movie remake of The Long Hot Summer bringing Don Johnson, Cybill Shepherd and Ava Gardner to Jonesville. One day, a limousine rolled up with Lady Bird Johnson, who came in to buy Cracker Jacks of all things. Her father ran a similar store in nearby Karnack.

A favorite tale is when an employee showed up for work drunk one day. At that time, coffins were sold upstairs. There was also a sofa upstairs, where the employee passed out. He was placed inside one of the coffins as a prank.

He never arrived at work drunk again..

Learn more about the store by watching this Texas Bucket List segment.

T.C. Lindsey & Co will be celebrating 170 years of operation with a birthday cake and bluegrass band on Nov. 4 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Can’t make that?.Another good time to stop by is Dec. 9 for its annual Christmas Open House from 11 a.m. to 2 pm.

T.C. Lindsey & Co. is located at 2293 FM Road 134, about 26 miles west of Shreveport. Take exit 633 off of Interstate 20. 

 

 

 

Seize These Fall Opportunities for Bicycle Rides

A few years ago the only cycling I did was the occasional trip down one of the bicycle paths along the Red River in Shreveport-Bossier City.

Until something caught my eye about the Heart of Hope LifeCycle in the countryside around Keithville. Perhaps it was the tug of helping a faith-based maternity home while riding my bike or perhaps it was the challenge of riding 26 miles.

For whatever reason, I forced myself out of my comfort zone and onto that 26-mile ride, one of the milder rides in the tour.

I finished. Surprisingly I was not pooped but invigorated.

So if you have ever considered one of those bicycle tours, but have been afraid to try, there are two good opportunities coming up in Bossier Parish in October. Notice, they are called tours, not races!

– Oct. 7 Seize the Road benefiting the Epilepsy Foundation of Louisiana. The tour starts at the Bossier Parish Courthouse in Benton and goes north along several roads, including Old Plain Dealing Road. You’ll ride along rolling hills, horse farms, rural churches, the town of Plain Dealing (some routes).

A few pictures from last year’s Seize the Road

  • Oct 21 Miracle Tour (formerly Run With the Nuns) benefitting Children’s Miracle Network and Christus Health Shreveport-Bossier. This ride starts in Haughton and follows rural roads of Bossier and Webster parishes, scenic areas near Lake Bistineau.

A couple of things you might see on the Miracle Tour

Barn along Highway 527 near Doyline
A home and a man with an interesting history–Harold Montgomery Road

Before I did my first ride, I drove the route first in my car so I could become a bit familiar with the terrain, especially any hills. I’ve signed up for these events alone and with a group. (I highly recommend a buddy, although both times I’ve started solo, I’ve found someone to ride with along the way).

As for the Heart of Hope, mark your calendar for the first Saturday in June. For even more tours covering a bigger geographic area and time frame, wheelbrothers.com is a great resource for Texas (and beyond) rides. Another October ride nearby: The Tour de Fire Ant Oct. 14 in Marshall.

The nice thing about these rides is that you can ride on some rural highways with a bit more security. Law enforcement is usually monitoring the ride and controls traffic at those first busy intersections. Routes are well-marked, and there are refreshments to pick you up so you can continue the ride. SAG wagons are available to literally pick you up if you can’t finish (which happened to me a few years ago when I was unprepared for the Tour de Fire Ant).

Next month, the air likely will be crisp — ideal cycling weather. And there’s something for everyone – milder routes of 12 and 26 miles for Seize the Road and 27 for Miracle Tour. Miracle Tour even has a five-mile Family Fun Ride. And, you can opt for a longer rides ranging from 41 to 70 miles.

In either case, there’s a post-ride celebration, which means plenty of good food. With all of that exercise you’ll have a good excuse to plop down in front of the TV for an afternoon of college football.

Here are links for each event. You can also access the routes to find the one best for you.

Seize the Road 2017

Miracle Tour 2017

 

 

 

Kickstands and Nightstands: The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

I love self-help books, anything to try to be more productive or happier.

I’ve  read The Happiness Project and other books by lawyer-turned-writer Gretchen Rubin and found some good takeaways.  At least I’m making my bed every day.

Rubin was in Dallas-Fort Worth last week to promote her newest book, The Four Tendencies. I was fortunate enough to meet her at a library book signing.

I became a Gretchen Rubin follower by first listening to the weekly podcasts she does with her sister,  a TV writer. The 35-minute podcasts are just enough to get me through Wednesday’s treadmill session. It’s my own version of “pairing” an unpleasant activity with something pleasant.” That’s a strategy Rubin suggests to build good habits.

Rubin has carved out a niche in the self-help genre by studying the relationship between habit and “tendencies,” or how we respond to expectations. Rubin describes them this way:

Upholder: Meets both outer and inner expectations  “Discipline is my freedom.”

Obliger: Meets outer expectations but resists inner expectations. “You can count on me, and I’m counting on you to count on me.”

Questioner: Resists outer expectations and meets inner expectations. “I’ll comply if you convince me why.”

Rebel: Resists both outer and inner expectations. “You can’t make me, and neither can I.”

A tendency is a narrow part of the complicated personality, but Rubin maintains exploring our tendencies helps us in adopting better habits. If you want to know your own tendency you can take her quiz here.

I am an Obliger, the most common tendency. Rubin is the rarer Upholder,  a bit over the top sometimes. Not only does she uphold the good habit of making her bed every day, she makes it up in hotel rooms — even on the day of checkout!

But lest you think Rubin believes “Upholder” is the the most desirable tendency and “Rebel” the least, not so she says. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Gretchen Rubin at North Richland Hills Library
A moment with Gretchen Rubin at North Richland Hills Library

I find personality profiles such as Myers-Briggs, StrengthFinders and DISC assessments fascinating.  Many years ago, author Florence Littauer spoke at our church on personalities based on Hippocrates’ four temperaments – Sanguine, Melancholy, Choleric and Phlegmatic. I discovered I was melancholy, and it was very helpful in understanding how I do things. Subsequently, author Gary Smalley used animals to characterize personalities –lion, otter, golden retriever or beaver.

Rubin’s The Happiness Project: Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closet, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list. She’s written other volumes on human nature, including Better Than Before and Happier at Home with equally interesting (and lengthy) subtitles.

I “read at” those books before discovering the podcast, which I find more entertaining, mainly because of the repartee with her sister, Liz Craft. The podcast tips can be easier to digest. One I plan to try soon  is a Power Hour, a time set aside each week for those nagging tasks–changing the batteries so my garage remote works, sewing a button on, etc. One of Rubin’s so-called Secrets of Adulthood is nothing is more exhausting than the task that’s never started.

Rubin uses a lot of catchy names  to help us understand ourselves and others. I have discovered I am an “underbuyer,” one who avoids making a purchase until the laundry detergent and gasoline tank are down to their last tablespoons. I think my husband is an “overbuyer” and the reason why we have four jars of bay leaves in the pantry.

On the Wednesday podcasts. there’s a lead topic with a “Try This at Home” takeaway. Last week, the lead  was “Write a ‘Ta-Da’ List” to recognize accomplishments. Another week, it was “September, the Other January.” On another episode, it was the less conventional “Do 10 Jumping Jacks” to boost energy.

I actually tried the latter at home, which I had not done since 1980s aerobics class. I did feel a little pepped up afterwards.

The podcasts end with  “Demerits and Gold Stars” where Rubin and her sister share their own good or bad habits of the week.

As far as making your bed every day.  Rubin says it’s her most-applied resolution.  Completing a task quickly can spark continued productivity throughout the day.

So, go make your bed, and have a great day!

 

Kickstands and Nightstands: Church of the Small Things

I don’t know what first led me to Melanie Shankle’s writing. She blogs at thebigmamablog.com on things such as raising her daughter. I’m an empty nester. Been There Done That.

Her blog features “Fashion Friday” every week, and I have never, ever been there or done that. I’m just not that into fashion. My daughters plopped me in front of the TV for multiple episodes of What Not to Wear, but I was not converted.

Sooooo why do I keep reading thebigmamablog.com, listening to the BigBoo podcast with fellow writer Sophie Hudson and buying Melanie’s books.

I think it’s Melanie’s ability to find the humor in the mundane some days and crazyiness in others and package that in a way that teaches a spiritual truth. She’s sort of an Erma Bombeck in the inspirational genre. Her latest book, In Church of the Small Things, she shares those moments of life in a way that makes you wish she was at your kitchen counter, sharing chips and queso with you.

She’s written books on marriage (The Antelope in the Living Room), child raising (Sparkly Green Earrings) and friendship (Nobody’s Cuter Than You). The latest is Church of the Small Things. I’m thrilled to be on the book launch team. That meant I got an advance copy of her book which releases Oct. 3. But this review is my own. In fact, I wouldn’t agree to be on the launch team if I wasn’t fairly sure I would enjoy the book.

The good news for you is there are some pretty neat incentives to pre-order the book before Oct. 3, including access to the first three chapters now, Church of the Small Things video study session one, family recipes, discounts on Melanie’s favorite things and more. Click on the image to pre-order and learn more about the freebies.

Church of the Small Things
Church of the Small Things

One connection I have with Melanie is that she’s an introvert. In a chapter called “The Glamorous Life of a Writer” she talks about driving to meet some friends for lunch and wishing she would get sick or plans would get cancelled and she could back out. That totally resonated with me, and I so appreciate her honesty.

In the end, she usually goes as I do too, and enjoys the whole experience. But I have to repeatedly battle with the urge to be a recluse and stay in my comfort zone.

In the 19 chapters in Church of the Small Things, Melanie humorously shares the “small things” that have shaped her life – owning dogs, battling exercising, overcoming bad bangs. Many of the chapters end with a combination of silly and serious “Things I Wish I Had Known” at various stages of her life.

Time has a way of collecting those small things and magnifying them into the big things. Each chapter includes some honest snapshots of her inner heart. In a chapter titled, “How Walmart and a Frito Pie Made All of the Difference,” Melanie recounts the days spent at her grandparents lake house in a way that made me want to sit down and write down everything I could remember about my own grandparents house.

And, then in the last chapter when she is sharing her family’s journey in starting a new church, she talks straight from the heart about her initial resistance.

“I am not a church plant kind of person. I am not organized. I am not overly spiritual,” she writes.

All of her inadequacies were racing together in her mind with the companion questions of why me, why not me and why is this so hard?

“At that moment, I felt God speak to my heart,” she writes, “saying ‘You need to quit asking ‘Why?’ and start asking me ‘Where?’ “

Where would you have me go?

Where would you have me serve?

Where are you leading me?

Getting to the where question is a game changer in that it takes the focus off of me and my failures and puts them on God, who has plans and a purpose for us. We just need to take the next step.

That’s where the “where” comes in.

So if you’re like me and keep waiting for big things to happen, this book makes you more aware of how everyday things can fit into God’s big picture.

“If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves,” –Emily Dickinson.

“Enjoy the little things in life, because one day you will look back, and realize they were the big things,” –Kurt Vonnegut

“Is my ordinary life actually significant? is it OK to be fulfilled by the simple acts of raising kids, working in an office and cooking chicken for dinner?”–Melanie Shankle