The other night I was totally in the mood to bake. I got my youngest in on the endeavor and after a quick scan of the cupboards we confirmed we had all of the ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies. With M&M’s. Because why skimp? Life is short.
I’ve been making chocolate chip cookies since high school. How many hundreds of batches over the years? I have no idea. We creamed the butter and the sugars and added eggs. We made sure to take a good whiff of vanilla, because the sweet, thick vapor honestly soothes me. Next came the dry ingredients, and finally the chocolate. Don’t worry we both sampled the chocolate chips AND the M&M’s. I like the dough better than the cookies and cannot resist a spoonful before I plop sticky mounds onto the pans.
But…hmm. Something tasted off. I took another taste, and it wasn’t like there was anything wrong with the dough—it wasn’t sour or rotten or anything—it just wasn’t right, and as a dough connoisseur I could tell. I had my son try it. He thought it was fine, so we baked the cookies and allowed the house to fill with the warmth and scent of chocolate chippers. Hot out of the oven the cookies tasted fine, more than fine, delicious—rich and gooey. But something still wasn’t right with the dough. I couldn’t pinpoint it, until I was cleaning up and took one last little lick. It tasted like it had a hint of banana in it. And for the record there are zero bananas in my secret recipe.
I thought through this puzzle as I sloshed the sponge along the sides of the bowl. And then it dawned on me. One of the sticks of butter had been resting on a slightly mushy banana on the door of my fridge. And bananas have this mysterious quality that their flavor permeates everything they’re near. Ever notice that? Put a banana in a lunch box and the entire lunch will taste like bananas, even the ham and cheese sandwich. I use bananas in cooking all of the time. I substitute them for cooking oil in baked goods. Mushy bananas make excellent binders in muffin, pancake, and waffle batters. You can read about my banana waffles here if you want. I’ll throw them into any of those concoctions without hesitating. But for some reason, not an actual banana, but just the proximity of one to a single ingredient in my cookie dough infused the entire bowl with the flavor.
Is there anything in your life that’s slightly off? It might not be totally wrong, but it isn’t quite right either. An activity you’re engaged in, someone you’re hanging out with, that habit that is making the whole bowl of batter of your life taste not quite right. I couldn’t extract the flavor of banana from my cookie dough. But we can make an effort to limit and eliminate the things in our lives that are shifting things off balance.
We can say, “no.” We can choose to not answer that person’s text who always makes us feel small or not sit next to the person who brings out our negative side at the game. We can refuse to watch that show even if our whole family is watching it. We can leave the room if it does something strange to us, makes us a little off, nudges us in the wrong direction. We can turn off our phones. Even if we might miss a hilarious text. We can put our phone in another room, so we’re not distracted or consumed by that tiny screen if it’s becoming a problem. We can choose to exercise somehow today—walk or shoot hoops with our kids or even play tag. We can select something good for us on the menu (that might be good for our body, soul, or mood, depending on what’s best for today.) We can speak up someplace where we’ve remained silent, but something tells us we shouldn’t hold our tongues any longer.
Take a look at your life? Is there anything that’s throwing you out of line of the glorious plans Jesus has for you? Of His perfect love for you? Anything that clearly contradicts the Bible, and you’ve kind of been blowing it off or rationalizing, but probably shouldn’t be? Something seemingly as benign as a banana holding hands with a stick of butter? We all have these things, and God wants to help us get back on our feet with each and every one of them. He doesn’t want us to go it alone. He’ll equip us with the opportunities and endurance and patience we need. We just need to ask for help.
I cried out, “I am slipping!” but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer. —Psalm 94:18-19
My cookies ended up being fine, but the dough never even tempted me to a second, or third, or tenth bite. Which is super weird. Whatever tastes a little off today, even if you can’t detect why or how, turn it over to God. Take the time to think talk over with Him what’s wrong and why. He’ll support you. He’ll comfort you. He wants to renew your hope. God wants you to stand strong. He’ll give you the tools to get back on track. Heck He might even give you some M&M’s.
The lazy, hazy days of summer. I love them. I adore rising early and going running with my husband in the morning air, before the heat breaks. I love exploring museums and parks and botanical gardens with my kids. It’s fun making smoothies out of whatever fruit is in the fridge, a glob of yogurt and a ton of ice, then slurping it down with a straw (we take any leftovers, pour them into popsicle molds, and freeze for the next day). I savor getting caught up on my reading pile, well, at least making a dent in it. Splashing in the pool on hot summer afternoons with my kiddos is a blast. Usually my writing goes on a bit of summer vacation too, so I can enjoy a slower pace with my family.
Last week Brenda Yoder tagged me in a game of blog tag, where writers share what they’re currently working on with each other and with their readers. Brenda is working on a book called, Balance, Busyness and Not Doing it All. And since most people I know, self included, are busy, or feel overwhelmed, or wonder how we're going to get it all done, I can't wait for its release.
And although I’m not doing a lot of actual writing, writing this summer, this is an exciting time in my writing journey. I released a new book, It’s Addicting. It’s the third book in the Status Update series revolving around four college roommates.
Obsessing over status, grades, exercise or a boyfriend could never become an addiction...could it? This third installment of the Status Updates series finds four college sophomore roommates finally getting comfy with the routines of dorm life. But Kat, Claire, Palmer, and Hannah soon begin to feel the nagging ache of innocent little addictions pulling them away from their true selves. Hang out with these four roomies to see if they can—or even want to—ditch these sneaky little hang-ups before they take over their lives.
I’m really excited about the response I’ve gotten from readers so far. It’s always a thrill to actually hold a copy of a book I’ve been working on for over a year in my hands.
I’m also gearing up for a tour with Christian recording artist, Holly Starr. We’re traveling through the Midwest in September sharing the message of finding our true identity in Christ. The tour is called Through My Father’s Eyes Tour and is being sponsored by Sisterhood Magazine. If you haven’t checked out Holly’s music yet, it would be a perfect addition to your summer playlist. And Sisterhood is packed with great ideas for summer DIY projects, trips, hairstyles, etc.
Plus, you know, I AM a writer, so I have a new book idea brewing. Notes scratched on napkins and corners of envelopes. More ideas jotted in my Notes App. A character. A setting. A struggle. I love this stage of writing. It holds all of the excitement and uncertainty of infatuation.
This game of tag requires that I answer a couple of more questions, so here goes….
HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE?
I was a marketing major in college. And one of the things they emphasized in my program, was your product had to have a distinguishing feature, and you had to know that niche.
Maybe I took it a little too seriously, but I write contemporary, Christian young adult, issue-driven fiction. That’s a lot of modifiers. And there’s not a lot of it out there. Try finding one whole shelf that carries Christian YA fiction at your local Barnes & Noble. I double dog dare you. If you do find the partial shelf dedicated to this genre, you won’t find many titles that take the current issues teens face every day and hit them square in the nose, challenging them to react, reminding them that Christ is with them in all the hard stuff.
WHY I WRITE WHAT I DO?
Because it’s real. Because it’s relevant. Because high school and college girls will find a boy attractive, will be at a function where there is alcohol, will feel pressures from this world to perform, to fit in, to look a certain way and to wear certain clothes and to succeed. And if we don’t talk about these things, then they get buried. Then there is guilt and shame and uncertainty. Shining light on these subjects allows teens and parents to examine them, allows girls to decide how they’re going to handle them, what their reaction to these situations would, could and should be, gives them a safe place to explore these challenges and talk about them and process them. I write about real life issues. I write what I write to let young women know they are not alone. And that no matter what, no matter what alley of life they’ve gone down, no matter what tragedy or trauma has hit them over their heads, Christ is with them, every step of the way.
HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?
It starts with a flicker in my brain. I get ideas every day, but some of them stick and develop and persist, while others fade away before I’ve finished my Starbucks. The ones that keep coming back to me are the ones I pursue. I gather ideas first, flashes of color, moods. Then I switch gears and go into fact-finding mode. Since all of my novels deal with real life struggles, I interview young women who have faced that specific struggle. It’s Complicated deals with date rape, so I interviewed college girls who had been violated. I asked how it affected them, what emotions they went through, what emotions they’re still going through. I take similar threads or unique details and weave them into a fictional tale, using the research to keep my stories authentic. Using story telling to keep it make-believe. And then I start writing. Just immersing myself in story. I always have an idea of the beginning and end when I start writing the actual book, but the middle; the plot itself propels itself forward as I write.
TAG YOU’RE IT
Since this is a game of virtual writer tag, for next Monday I’m tagging:
Amy Parker, author of more than 20 books. She was my editor on my very first novel, Skinny, and she's become one of my dearest friends. She has an incredible book releasing this fall. I’ll let her tell you all about it next week but to get you thinking, it revolves around the 20th anniversary of the end of the genocide in Rwanda. Powerful stuff!
Betsy St. Amant, who I had the pleasure of endorsing her YA novel, Addison Blakely, Confessions of a PK, a few years back and have continued to get to know via our ministry with Nicole O’Dell’s Choose Now. Betsy writes so many books I can’t keep track of her, so I’m excited to see on August 4th what awesome projects she shares with us.
How about you? How are you spending your summer days? What projects are you working on?
The beautiful Bethany Jett, author of the soon to be released The Cinderella Rule, invited me to join her and other authors as we share what we're writing, and why you'll want to read it.
Bethany and I share loves of writing, fashion, Christ, chocolate, kissing and the shoes on the cover of her new book. Check them out, you’ll see why.
What am I writing? I’m working on a new series revolving around four women rooming together at a fictitious college. Clearly the story lines for a series are endless with the ups and downs, trials and triumphs of living away from home for the first time and navigating around the college scene. But that’s all I can tell you for now. I’ll let your imaginations run wild and share with you soon more information on titles, characters, plots and release dates.
Why am I writing this series? First, I live in a college town, Oxford, Ohio, home of Miami University. College girls surround me. I’m friends with many of them. I hear their stories, their dilemmas, their fears and their hopes. I wanted to capture this time of life full of uncertainty and potential for them and other girls like them. Second, my college years were a critical time of my life. I fell from my faith. I made mistakes, some big and some small. I had a blast in college, made amazing, lasting friendships and met the love of my life, my hubby, in spite of myself. You see, I also doubted myself. I tried too hard to be accepted. I did many things I regret. I lost the essence of who God created me to be during those years. I long to share what I’ve learned about loving myself more and worrying about what others think less with the college girls of today and tomorrow. I want to share with them how beautifully and wonderfully they were created and urge them to not pay attention to what everyone else is trying to achieve, but instead strive to be the best versions of themselves.
What actors would I have play my characters? Well, there are four girls and without revealing too much about their personalities I think Dakota Fanning, Vanessa Hudgens, Anna Popplewell and Ellen Page would make the perfect representations of the room mates.
Who represents me? Amanda Luedeke of MacGregor Literary. She is brilliant and sharp and pushes me to write better and explore new options.
What other books in this genre compare? Girls in Pants by Ann Brashares, Forever in Blue by Ann Brashares, Bloomberg Place Series by Melody Carlson, Mixed Bags by Melody Carlson
Some amazing authors you should check out, if you haven’t already:
Laura Kurk Anderson – YA fiction – Glass Girl
Stephanie Morrill – YA fiction – The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt Series
Jennifer Murgia – YA Fiction – Angel Star, Lemniscate
So, how about you? What are you reading this month? What projects are you working on? I’d love to hear. Leave a comment below.
When was the last time you played tag?
I played today, and I’ve decided it is, perhaps, the all time perfect game.
Tag is exhilarating and makes all of the players laugh out loud. Even more so, I believe tag teaches us a lot about life.
First off, tag is for everyone. You can be five or fifteen or twenty-five or fifty-five or even eighty-five rolling around full speed in a wheelchair and be part of the game. You can have on Coach riding boots or Wal-Mart sneakers to play. You can be an Accounting major or an Asian studies major or be a Major in the Army or have dreams of being in the major leagues or a majorette or in need of a major change in life and be on equal footing with the other players. Life should be like that.
Secondly, the rules are simple:
· One person is IT.
· The person who is IT tries to tag any of the other players.
· When they accomplish this, the person they tag becomes the new IT.
Period. End of story. The rules don’t change for different players. You don’t have to turn to page three of the directions to see what you do when you land on a question mark or how to get unstuck from the Molasses Swamp or when you get to roll again. You are either being chased or chasing. That’s it. In life we should try to keep things simple. Of course, that’s not always possible. Some things in life are so complicated, they make my head spin. But when possible, don’t invent elaborate bases and out of bounds and no tag backs. Instead, run fast. Be sharp. Look out for your opponents and your playmates (it’s critical to know who is IT). Focus on playing your best. Sometimes that means letting someone who’s been IT for too long tag you or focusing on tagging someone who truly wants a turn at being IT. Tag and life are not all about “winning”. And when your role changes -- from chaser to chasee or child to parent or sophomore to senior -- change with it.
Next, tag is exhilarating. There is a thrill to being chased. There is a thrill to chasing. That’s why the dating scene is so intoxicating. It’s a sense of accomplishment when you finally tag someone – instant gratification. It’s a sense of adventure when you get tagged – instant change up in routine. Find the thrill in life from all angles – being chased, chasing, being IT, getting caught, not being IT. They’re all a blast. Savor the spot you’re in. Do your best at it. Enjoy the moment, the sunny day you’re running around the park, without worrying about tomorrow’s stormy forecast, and you’re likely to land on your feet.
Have fun. When I played tag yesterday all of us were laughing. We giggled when we came out of the end of a slide and the IT was waiting for us and the IT was giggling too. We laughed when nobody knew who IT was or where IT was. It made us chuckle when IT reached to tag someone and missed. We chortled at just the sheer glee of the game. We should embrace life with that much enthusiasm and joy.
Lastly, tag can be played anywhere, anytime. You can play tag in a park, in your yard, at the sidelines of your sisters’ soccer game or the hallways of your boyfriend’s hockey practice or in your best friend’s basement. Tag can last for a few minutes or for a few hours or until your playmates have to go home.
Everywhere you go, every day of your life, look for a chance to smile, to laugh, and to run until your heart pounds. Don’t save it for the gym or the movie theatre or when you’re trying to impress someone or for special occasions. Spread your arms out wide, run at full speed ahead and reach out for a friend.
“Tag! You’re IT!”
Laura L. Smith