Thursday, December 22, 2016

Crafting for a higher purpose

When the holiday season drifts on in, I start to panic about Christmas gifts just like your average mom. I open up Evernote and dig out that trusty gift list that my husband and I have shared for several years because it helps us stay organized sane. First I have to delete all the gift ideas that have been purchased, outgrown, or are no longer relevant. Some of them are timeless, like Legos.

Ooooh, my love-hate relationship with Legos. But that's for another post.

Seeing that list full of dreams and desires - especially those of my boys - opens up a pit in my stomach that is roughly the size of healthy bank account. I mean, we all say that presents are not the point or the meaning of Christmas, but they sure do make it more magical. I think most of us can harken back to starry childhood moments around the tree, surrounded by mountains of torn wrapping paper, with our hands full of cherished surprises and our hearts full of glee. Now fast-forward to adulthood: YOU have to buy all the presents. And it SUCKS. Because money has been SCARCE. And without presents, suddenly Christmas is no longer magical, not quite as festive, and a lot less glittery.

By the way, if you can't relate to this post, you're following the wrong blog, deary.

So what does this boymom do to quell her gift guilt?

Find ways to earn money!

(Don't worry, I'm not hookin'.)

I've never thought of myself as having a limited skill set, but the options can certainly look bleak when it comes to selling one's productive output. Luckily, I have a long and diverse-ish background in sewing, so I quickly drafted an email and sent it out to all 30 or so of my boys' classroom parents offering a special holiday rate on hemming.

If you're at all familiar with clothing alterations, you may know that pants or skirt hems will cost you from $10-25 at your local tailor. So you can understand how I would anticipate that just a few takers would result in a decent-sized gift or two - by my standards, anyway.

Well, wouldn't you know it? I didn't get one single reply to my offer. Maybe all those parents are very loyal to their tailors. Or maybe they all fit their clothes perfectly off the rack. Or, most likely, my email landed in their junk mailboxes and was never even read. Regardless, hope for profitable work waned grimly.

Now we come to the turning point in my pathetic tale, because a beautiful friend of mine came by with a little craft project for me to do which brought joy and merriment to my heart and a little cash to my wallet. Let me tell you what she asked me to do.

She said to me, "I would like you to sew ribbon loops onto these bath towels for my kids. I also want you to sew on these monogram buttons. And, that way, I will know who left their towel on the bathroom floor and I can punish them."

Like my classy tree in the background?

Imagine my delight at this both creative and diabolical assignment!

This mom of four had purchased luxurious new bath towels at Costco (is that a Midwest thing?) and supplied me with the most adorable embellished grosgrain ribbon and one-inch monogram buttons featuring the first initials of each of her bathroom offenders.

It took me a little under an hour to complete the project. Besides the customary battle with my rarely-used sewing machine, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I giggled to myself as I imagined my friend snatching a wet towel off the floor and triumphantly reading the attached initial.

"Oh, Abby!" she might call, although her daughter's name isn't actually Abby. "You owe me a dollar for having to pick up your towel off the floor!"

What a fantastic plan. I'm still just giddy about it. If I had towel hooks instead of towel bars, I would totally consider doing this for my boys. Like me, you may never have considered that kids are extremely unlikely to ever hang a towel properly over a towel bar. But if they have a nice big loop, they can easily hang the towel on a reachable hook, making them more responsible and preserving your sanity ALL AT THE SAME TIME!!!

Kudos to my lovely friend for coming up with this idea. Your fellow mothers salute you!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Think before you rant

In the wake of last week's presidential election, social media sites are ablaze with emotional outbursts from the millions of Americans who ache to put in their two cents. Everyone is in reactionary mode, their keyboards spewing superlatives over circumstances that have been deemed either unacceptable, unexpected, or undeniable. Those who resisted commenting on the election are now finding themselves provoked to defend their beliefs against the "ranters."

You know the ranters. You know if you are one of them. Ranters are those people who find it necessary to convert the majority of their private thoughts into social media posts. There are many excuses reasons for public ranting: hope of persuasion, freedom of expression, show of superiority, loneliness, outlet for anger, and the list goes on and on. I think we can all admit that we've fallen victim to ranting at one time or another, even if we managed to abstain from recent political arguments.

One thing I noticed today about ranting: it alienates people.

Have you ever ranted about something that was important to you on Facebook, subconsciously hoping to win over some "lost souls" to your cause? Maybe, if just one or two people thought you made a really awesome point, the seed might be planted in their minds toward change. Every "like" or "love" that flowed in really bolstered your self-esteem, didn't it?

Now think about this.

How many people did you alienate with your words?

When you commented on something to the tune of, "People who think or do or say such-and-such are not okay in my book" (and you definitely had a few specific names in mind when you wrote it), did you stop to think that you were pushing those people further away from you?

Lately I've been very hurt and very alienated by the words of loved and respected ones that were not necessarily meant for me. While dear ones yearned for the online world to know their thoughts, I was struck by how much they valued their "freedom of speech" over their personal relationships with me.

The truly ironic part of it is how strong the outcry has been recently for equality of every kind; for inclusion; for tolerance; for hospitality; for kindness; for generosity. But the same people who rally for peace also make it very clear that my opinions and feelings are not valid. We must accept the outliers and anomalies of society, but because I align with the majority of Americans, I must be a narrow-minded bigot by default. As a believer in Christ, I have to accept that this will always be the case and that it will only grow worse over time. But that doesn't really make it hurt any less.

I'm encouraging you today to consider your tweets and your Facebook posts and do a little introspective work. Who have you alienated today with your words? Strive to be the voice of real peace, who seeks to include rather than to divide. Strive to serve others by showing that you care for your relationships more than the opportunity to speak your mind. At the end of the day, people's opinions are what they are, but relationships can be torn apart by a few hurtful phrases. Are you willing to put your most valued relationships at risk?

There is one whose rash words are like a sword thrust, 
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Proverbs 12:18

Monday, November 7, 2016

One way or another, God

I sit on my couch this morning after Mookie goes down for his nap, and I say to myself, "Yes. Now. I will get something done!" I say this almost every morning during nap time. I open up my laptop, check my email (all junk), and quickly rule out the tantalizing option of catching up on the TV show I missed last night. I need to work. There are a myriad of tasks on which to spread my focus:
                                                                   work on my novel
            design a marketing product for my employer
                                                                            hammer away at low-paying transcription jobs
                     brainstorm Christmas gift ideas
                                                                    write a blog post
                               earn some points on Swagbucks
                                                                                                        browse eBay for shoes
                                                write a letter to my credit card company
                    check my bank account balance
                                                                                             look for recipes for supper

Nothing sounds tempting. My mind is a screen full of dozens of open tabs, each begging to be addressed. One keeps blinking: Small paycheck this week. I haven't had much work lately and I feel preoccupied with finding ways to earn more money. I say a quick prayer, asking God for the 849th time to PLEASE send some design jobs my way. "I promise, Lord, I'm ready to work hard. I just need something to work ON." Another tab flashes: Out of diapers. Toddler has diarrhea. Only $1 in my wallet. I start to worry about where I will come up with five bucks in the next few hours to buy a pack of diapers at the grocery store. Maybe I have enough change?

"God, I'm ready for that job now. Here I am. Just send it on over. See how obedient I am, sitting here with my game face on and ready to give it 110%?"

An overwhelming part of me believes that my financial problems stem from a lack of obedience to God, or a spirit of laziness on my part. My brain tells me that He is punishing me over and over for not being a better steward of His resources. I am suffering the consequences one hundred fold, regardless of how frequently or fervently I repent. The bible says that God's forgiveness of my sin utterly blots it out, but because I know that He is omniscient, can He truly forget that I have done wrong?

Uh oh. That's dangerous ground - accusing God of holding a grudge.

My brain is paralyzed under the strain of a mental stalemate: I want to work hard, but maybe God doesn't want my effort.

You see, I'm a fixer. A problem-solver. A troubleshooter. Every particle of my being cries out to repair any flaw it finds within or outside of itself. Are you poor? Work harder. Are you lonely? Reach out to some friends. Are you depressed? Seek medication and counseling. Are you fat? Get your butt of the couch and do some Zumba! My human nature is to DO. Especially in our American culture, it's a real shame and a travesty to be caught looking lazy or unmotivated. We've been taught that we can achieve anything we put our minds to, so we don't leave room for God to work in us and for us.

One of my favorite bible verses comes from the Psalms, and it is very short and sweet: "Be still and know that I am God." Be still?!? God wants me to stop DOING. I need to stop trying so hard to prove myself to Him, as if I could possibly earn even a speck of grace. That is a hard lesson for an American: you cannot earn God's grace. 

The best I can do is prepare myself to do the Lord's work when He gives it to me, and to recognize it when it comes. Other than that, all He asks is that I trust Him. One way or another, we will survive the diaper shortage. One way or another, we will have enough to pay our bills. One way or another, Christmas will be a joyous occasion.

One way or another, God has provided and will always provide for my needs.

Ebenezer and Jehovah Jireh.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Introducing your daughter to cosmetics

Uh oh, Mom. Your daughter came home from school with the magic words, "Everybody else is wearing makeup." She's ready to jump face first into the wide and ostentatious world of cosmetics whether you are ready for it or not.

Or you might have an almost-grown daughter who could benefit from a little primping and polishing but has never tried makeup and doesn't know where to safely begin. This post is for you, too.

If you've read my blog profile, you may be asking what business I have offering advice about raising your daughter. Ha. None. But here's a little caveat for you skeptics out there: I've been wearing makeup and researching my love-hate relationship with it since I was about 10 years old so, barring a cosmetology degree which I wish I had, my experience with the beauty industry is fully at your disposal.

Before we go any further, let me just say this: Everyone at your daughter's school is NOT wearing makeup. In fact, the public junior and senior high schools I attended were populated by a majority of girls who felt that makeup was trashy and overrated. So, whether or not you're eager to jump on the bandwagon, don't take Janie's word for it that she's the ONLY ONE with a clean face. You've probably seen enough of her friends to assess reality.

My relationship with makeup began at the onset of pre-adolescent acne. In 4th and 5th grades I had enough zits to necessitate my very own tube of concealer. Enter CoverGirl.
Concealer 155 Ic .32FLOZ Medium
My old friend, Fair 115.
Yep, I was the little girl with the orange-rimmed pimples from applying too much concealer. In fact, 20 years later I'm still that girl some days (hello, adult acne). If you and/or your daughter has acne, then you just come here and let me give you a big hug cuz that makes us soul sisters. Acne may drag you kicking and screaming to the cosmetics aisle at Target where you will spend half an hour agonizing between the foundation color choices "Shell" and "Sand" while a flock of porcelain-skinned youngsters giggle over the cream eyeshadows display. Please try not to hate them; they know not what they do.

It's time to introduce the old adage LESS IS MORE. We've all seen the tween girls with their heavy black eyeliner, purple shadow, and glitter lip gloss. They think that their sophistication increases with the volume of product applied. They think it makes them look older, cooler, and more attractive. And let's face it, ladies, makeup isn't just for impressing cute boys; we're putting on our "thang" to establish our rank among other females. Makeup has allowed women to move their way up the pecking order for almost a century. I'm all for maximizing the assets, but most tweens and teens are not familiar with the best "maximization" methods. With that in mind, let's check out my list of makeup BFFs that will help Janie feel beautiful and mature without all that ice capades drama.


"So where do we start?" you may ask. First of all, if Janie is struggling with blemishes - whether it's acne, rosacea, psoriasis, or another skin condition - DO start with a concealer or foundation. Especially during those tween years you don't want her looking made-up yet, but you do want to give her the confidence to get through her day. Look for oil-free, full-coverage products in the lightest shades possible. When in doubt, choose the lighter shade. I've been a proponent of Mary Kay liquid concealer for many years. The coverage is excellent and a little goes a long way. They used to sell it in little squeeze tubes; now it comes in cylindrical tubes with an applicator wand. Hopefully the product itself is the same.
The current packaging for Mary Kay concealer.
Please, for the love of Mary Kay, PLEASE apply concealer with a brush!!! I applied with my fingertip for probably 15 years or more, and when I was finally introduced to the concealer brush I just felt dirty and ashamed of all those wasted years. It takes a little practice, but the coverage is much much better...and cleaner. The less your hands touch your face the better!


Mom, if you could talk Janie into choosing just one product, lip gloss would be your easiest sell. She gets the shine and color drama she's looking for, and you get a fairly tame result without much fuss. Lip gloss is easy to apply, comes in a billion colors, and is kind to your wallet. Maybe you're feeling more conservative and want to start small. That's great! Look for tinted lip balms, like the stuff by Burt's Bees. Lots of moisture, a hint of color, warm fuzzies for all.
Tinted Lip Balm
Coral hues, like this Zinnia balm, look the most natural. Many people make the mistake of thinking that light pinks are least noticeable, but they often give a candied appearance to the lips, whereas coral is closer to natural skin tone.


Thaaat's right, my friends: mascara does not have to be black and clumpy and make your daughter's eyelashes look like spiders. Clear gel mascara was created to add definition to lashes (also for taming squirrelly eyebrows!) and that is EXACTLY what is called for here. Janie will get loads of practice applying and handling the mascara brush without the unfortunate arachnidan side effects.
Maybelline Great Lash, the rock of mascaras. Always a good option.


Whatever you decide to call it, a little pop of color on the apples of the cheeks would not go amiss. Carmindy, makeup artist on TLC's What Not To Wear, says a healthy layer of blush makes you look healthy and youthful. Start with a pressed powder product (say that five times fast!), not too dark, and apply sparingly with a big fluffy brush. DON'T use those puny brushes that come with the blush - they're too small and square to work properly. If you don't know where to put the color, make a fake, tight-lipped smile so that the round muscles in your cheeks stand out; those are the "apples." Now, here's my method for application:
  1. Swirl your brush in small circles across the surface of the blush.
  2. Tap the brush very lightly against the back of your hand to get rid of any excess powder.
  3. Lightly dust the blush on the apples of your cheeks in a side-to-side or circular motion, starting in the center and blending slightly outwards.
  4. Repeat as needed to achieve desired amount of color. Remember, you can always add color, but it's hard to remove it once it's there.
I think a future post may be in order to discuss the psychological complications that come with adolescence and makeup wearing. For many, many parents this is an uphill battle that they feel they may have lost before it even started. Don't be too discouraged if this is you. Your daughter's cosmetic obsession is pretty trivial compared to all the other things she (and you) will be up against. 

Good luck with that, Mom. While you're shopping for lip gloss and menstrual pads, I'll be lying under my toilet scrubbing four dudes' worth of pee off the bottom of the tank.

Friday, December 11, 2015

One of these Thomases is not like the other: A lesson in toy investment

When my brother was a little boy - a couple decades ago - the TV show "Shining Time Station" was the only pacifier that could shut him up when Mom was out of the house. We kept a VHS tape with a few hours' worth of episodes for those babysitting occasions, and of course it wasn't just my brother that was captivated by the stories of Thomas the Tank Engine and his Sodor cohorts.

Imagine our excitement when Ertl started to produce Thomas toys!

In the beginning, the die-cast model trains were compatible with both Ertl and Brio track sets. The engines cost $5-10 each and were built to last. It was a happy time...


If you're a boymom (or girlmom; girls like Thomas too!) who's new to the train buying experience, make sure you do your homework before investing in Thomas products for your kiddo. If you aren't decisive at the beginning, you'll end up with half a dozen sets or more that can't be used together and will wreak havoc on your sanity.

There are now four major lines of Thomas products that you need to be aware of:

1. Trackmaster by Fisher-Price

Trackmaster sets are characterized by plastic motorized engines with hook-and-clip connectors, and gray or beige plastic track pieces with two-pronged connections on each end.
Trackmaster track close-up
Trackmaster is the newest and largest-scale collection and offers a broad range of sets and pieces. They are definitely designed for preschool age kids as they have a lot of moving parts and take fine motor skills to put together.

Your youngsters will probably gravitate towards these boxes in the toy aisle more often than the other Thomas lines because they are heavily interactive and colorful. And to Fisher-Price's credit, they now offer track adapter pieces so that their sets can be integrated with any of the other lines. But take note that, due to their thin plastic construction, they are the most breakable option.
Trackmaster Sort & Switch Delivery Set (we have this one)
Remember, moms, because Trackmaster sets usually employ motorized engines, be sure to stock up on batteries for when Thomas and his friends run out of steam again and again.

2. Take-n-Play by Fisher-Price

For families on the go, Fisher-Price offers this travel-friendly line with sets that fold up for easy transport and die-cast engines that are roughly half the size of their Trackmaster counterparts. Their tracks are gray molded plastic with single tab connections. The Take-n-Play engines have magnetic connections that make play for younger kiddos a lot less stressful. And don't worry - they have a healthy selection of talking engines too!
Trackmaster Percy vs. Take-n-Play Percy
You can see from my home photo of the Percys that the paint will start to rub off of Take-n-Play toys. It's a hazard of the design. But overall they are very durable, made with metal and plastic components.

Maybe you aren't much of a traveler, but you want to save space in the complicated realm of toy storage. Or maybe you're like me and your loftiest goal is for the tracks to take up just a little less square footage on your living room floor. Either way, when size matters, Take-n-Play is going to be your best friend.
See how nicely Roaring Dino Run folds up?

3. Motor Road and Rail/Plarail/Tomica World by Tomy

To be honest, I'm still researching whether or not these sets are still being manufactured. Whether or not you can buy them new at the store, you will still see plenty of them floating around the secondhand and thrift toy markets. They are easily identified by their trademark bright blue plastic tracks with triangle-shaped connector tabs.
It's easy to confuse the Tomy engines with the newer Trackmaster models as they're both large, plastic, and motorized with white switches on their cab roofs. They're basically the same and you don't really need to worry about using them together. But my advice is to steer clear of the blue (and sometimes green) track sets that will not work with any other collection - unless you get yourself some of those handy track adapters from Trackmaster. This line is quickly phasing out!

4. Wooden Railway by Mattel

This line is sort of the piece de resistance of Thomas collections and the one that I personally wish I would have committed to from the very beginning. Engines, tracks, and accessories are built of durable wood that can be passed down through the generations and lend a nostalgic/timeless charm to your child's play. The size of the pieces fall right in between Trackmaster and Take-n-Play with no small parts or flimsy components that can snap off (read: "choking hazard" or "toddler meltdowns"). Tracks are simple to hook together; engines have big round magnet connections.

Because Wooden Railway is so doggone charming, you're going to pay handsomely to collect their pieces and sets. Now, I don't mean to say that they're unreasonably priced. I'm a big cheapskate, especially when it comes to buying toys, so while I'm curled up in the fetal position on the floor of the toy aisle and/or foaming at the mouth over a price point, you may empty your wallet with glee. And, hey, if you're going to shell out for a toy, you might as well choose one that's going to last!

What did we learn, moms?

Whatever train collection you choose, my six years of buying experience leads me to strongly advise that you set your sights on one of them and commit to it for the long haul. Tell the grandparents, the aunts and uncles, the gift-buying friends who will be eagerly browsing the stores for Thomas paraphernalia - especially if you have a little mister who is coming of age. Train sets are one of those rare toys that will stick with your family for a long time, so you want to make the very most of your investment. Take it from a mom who has some of every kind - variety is the spice of life...when spice equals storage mayhem and incompatibility frustration. Don't be like me! Save yourself!

By the way, Thomas and Friends turned 70 this year! I'm sending a big, grateful shout-out to Rev. W. Awdry and his son Christopher who created the Sodor stories and brought these wonderful engines to life. They have brought countless hours of enjoyment to so many families. :-)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Knock, Knock! It's Me - God!

I always say that I never asked for much. I don't have any really major ambitions in my life. Growing up, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to be a wife and a mom. I wanted to live in a pretty house in a quiet neighborhood, hosting play dates and leading bible studies. Someday I'd like to write a novel - that's my "biggest" goal. I'll leave the high-rise executive jobs to the career women, the mansions to the doctor's wives, the silver screen to the waitress-slash-actresses. All I want is to be "normal."

Recently it struck me how I measure the loftiness of my dreams. It's pretty common to want things that come naturally and are social norms in our culture, like marriage and kids. I think we come to expect that those goals are merely milestones in life, inevitable, coming naturally in time to follow losing baby teeth and growing body hair. But talk to a single person in their 30s or 40s and you realize very quickly how love and marriage do not automatically come to everyone who wishes it. Visit with a couple who has been struggling to conceive for five years and you will see the agony of unattained parenthood.

Now how do my dreams measure up?

I married my high school sweetheart. I hit that one out of the park in terms of life achievement! We have been married for ten years and are better friends and partners with every day that passes. Yes, I know God gave me my greatest blessing - second to salvation - when he brought the two of us together. One very ordinary goal was made an extraordinary success for me.

Three little boys were graciously gifted to hubby and me. They are healthy, they are handsome, they are a handful with a capital H. I hug them closely every time my mind wanders to the five boys in heaven that the Lord called home as babes. To my hubby they are uncles, brother, and nephews. Priceless. To me they are my welcoming committee when I go Home (O Lord, haste the day!) and a constant reminder of the earthly blessing I have in my children. Was my average desire to be a mother very average in light of those five precious souls? Oh my...NO.

You know how I said I wanted a pretty house in a quiet neighborhood? Yeah, I didn't get that one. And for nearly a decade, that one (what I call) failure has driven me to misery and distraction. Since our wedding, hubby and I have bounced from one mediocre rental home to another - seven in total so far - longing for the day that we would have the means to buy our first house. Now, as we wait for God to show us rental number eight, I meditate on this bible verse:

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, 
and do not lean on your own understanding." 
Proverbs 3:5 (ESV)

My own understanding, up till now, has been that I was entitled to a comfortable house. My own understanding was that a house was what I needed to be idyllically content. My own understanding was that God was punishing us for not using our money wisely by forcing us to slog through life in debt and theoretical homelessness.

My own understanding is faithless garbage.

What I realized about this widely-known verse from Proverbs is that, if I lean on my own understanding, I am not trusting the Lord with all my heart. Maybe I was trusting Him with part of my heart, but that's not what He calls for, is it? Furthermore, if God granted me my few measly requests, I wouldn't really need Him for anything anymore, would I?

Bingo. In my life plan I forgot to leave room for God. So He made room for Himself.

With every move, God is knocking on my door. He's saying, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock (Rev. 3:20)!" He's asking me to let Him into my life, to leave room for His plans. And I'm finally opening that door so that I can enjoy what He wants to give me. Sure, I still feel tense about our housing situation. It's difficult to move on an almost-annual basis with three kids and not always knowing when or how it will work out. But because I am submitting to the Lord's will, my faith is being strengthened and my life made more whole.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Writer's Block

I stare at the computer screen. Blank. My mind is blank. Around me are the familiar and monotonous sounds of home: the hum of the dishwasher, the voices of little boys negotiating the arrangement of Legos on our coffee table, toys rattling, limbs clunking against furniture. I block it out most of the time, but when I really want to focus on something like writing, that’s when I most notice them. My brain and my fingers and my easily-manipulated emotions ache to spin words into a brilliant work that will cause others’ emotions to ache the same way, but all I can do is sit here and stare at the screen. Blank.
            When I read, my mind comes alive with excitement to produce, but never with anything specific. Most times I want to extend the lives of the characters I am reading. I want to create the moments I have longed for them to experience but never get to read. I yearn for happy endings that didn’t materialize on the page. I feel as though there are deep, insightful, thriving characters that lie, unhatched, in the recesses of my imagination. They peek into my dreams at night and dabble in ribald adventures of my subconscious. If I could somehow hook up a recording system to my brain when I sleep, Hollywood would sit back in awe at its contents. I wish that I could get some of this out when I’m awake.
            I mull over characters I’ve tried to develop in previous stories. They are mediocre, one-dimensional beings that never seem to have any goals beyond simple romance. Recently I read that the best and most memorable characters are the ones who portray quintessential traits. They embody the extremes of humanity – anger, beauty, long-suffering, selflessness, bravery, skill, brutality, charm, etc. I would like to create a person who is equally extreme, but I feel like all of the possibilities have already been covered. Do I want to introduce the world to another beautiful but slight heroine who rises from poverty to material or emotional riches through her resolve and mental fortitude? How will she be different from Anne Shirley, Katniss Everdeen, Tris Pryor, Elizabeth Bennett, Elisa Lindheim, Laura Ingalls, Jane Stewart, and all the other women of fiction? What trials will she have to endure to make her lovable and believable? How will I bring about those trials organically without making them seem too convenient?
            Another challenge: do I want to include spirituality? I so admire the way that Brock and Bodie Thoene incorporate the Bible and God and the Holy Spirit into their stories quite seamlessly, enriching the reader’s faith without sacrificing the quality of the plot. I would LOVE to write that way. Usually it seems easier to leave out that aspect completely, because it’s so hard not to be cheesy or superficial. But if I’m not focused on the Kingdom, then what really is my purpose in writing? To impress myself? To impress others? Entertainment? Simply to check a goal off my personal bucket list? For that matter, does fiction have any eternal value? If it doesn’t, why do I feel so passionate about it?