The Very Best Bean

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My dear reader,
Steve and I often refer to our home as the “Holtz House Bed & Breakfast,” because of the steady stream of friends, family, former neighbors/co-workers/classmates/ teammates and travelers who stop and stay awhile. But “bed and breakfast” is a misnomer since I rarely make breakfast. (If you’re lucky, I might throw a box of granola and some Greek yogurt on the table for you.)
What you will get here is strong, fresh coffee, a little half-and-half (or almond milk), and some raw sugar, if you please. Whenever you decide to rise and shine, I will promptly brew a pot of my signature blend – a precise ratio of name-brand blonde roast and a specialty Italian coffee that I order on Amazon – and hand you a mug.
(Just had an epiphany… Perhaps we should call this the “Holtz House Bed & Breakfast-Blend.”)
Coffee is one of my favorite things. Can’t you almost hear Julie Andrews’ lilting voice: “Dark roast and light roast from arabica beans. Mocha and Kona and Ethiopian. Blue Mountain beans from West Indies trees… These are a few of my favorite things.”
My dad likes to tease me about my order at Starbucks. He thinks it’s ridiculous: “I’d like a grande iced coconut-milk caramel macchiato, no vanilla syrup, in a venti cup with extra ice, please.” (My beverage of choice on days when the temperature is above 70-degrees Farenheit.)
Or…
“I’ll have a venti Americano with room, please.” (My cooler-weather coffee drink. Easy peasy.)
Or… my caffeinated-cocoa kryptonite…
“Venti coconut-milk peppermint mocha with three pumps of peppermint and two pumps of mocha, no whip, extra chocolate curls, please.” This is my personalized version of the finest and most festive holiday espresso drink ever crafted. It’s like Christmas in a cup! My friend Julianne vehemently disagrees. She calls it “the toothpaste mocha.” (Says it evokes a distinctive just-brushed-then-gobbled-a-Hershey-bar pairing.) She much prefers her venti three-pump gingerbread latte, light whip. To each her own when it comes to festive holiday espresso drinks, I guess.
For the record, I’m not trying to torment busy baristas with my rambling order; I just know what I like. And I always say “please” and “thank you” and sometimes I tip too. (When I don’t need that extra single for the automated vacuum at the car wash.) But my father thinks it’s absurd. This is his order: “Small coffee, please.” He won’t say “tall.” I think it’s a personal protest against all those uppity, jittery, persnicketty coffee snobs. Like his daughter.  I’ll bet Dad doesn’t even know it’s National Coffee Day today. He’ll just drink his one cup of black coffee and rinse the cup and go on about his day like it’s just a regular Thursday. For shame.
I think the reason I like coffee so much isn’t simply the elixir itself, although I could sing the praises of its aroma, its uplift (never underestimate the perks of a good caffeine buzz), its myriad of flavors and brews and blends and bliss for at least three paragraphs. It’s what coffee has come to represent: long talks, dear friends, good cries. Comfort, warmth, togetherness. Sipping and savoring some Sumatra and each other.
And yes, I do think Folgers was right. Sometimes, on dreary/rainy/cold/hard days, it’s the best part of waking up.
This morning, I thank God for my bright, beautiful Aunt Peggy and my fun, funny Uncle Rich who are arriving today at our “Bed & Breakfast-Blend.” I thank Him for bone marrow donors and healthcare professionals and healing and hope (without which my aunt wouldn’t be here). I thank Him for hugs and stories and giggles… and the gift of time.
And I thank God for coffee.  I think it’s His very best bean.
 Wishing you a perfectly blended, freshly brewed, bold, bright day!
Wendy
P.S. Speaking of coffee, the winner of the Happy Fall/New Follower/Starbucks coffee contest is Nancy Hall of Naperville, Illinois. I will be sending her a complimentary copy of Treasure Hunter and a gift card for a pumpkin spice latte (extra whip!) or another festive fall beverage of her choice. Blessings and congrats to you, dear Nancy!

 

 

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In Celebration of Punctuation and Continuation

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It’s a banner day! The very last Saturday in September… and National Punctuation Day. Described as “a celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the ever-mysterious ellipsis,” this national punctuation celebration falls on the same day each year. (And it just so happens to coincide with the time period when teachers have been back in school long enough to feel utterly exasperated by the lack and/or grievous misuse of punctuation. So there’s that.)

Based on the text messages I receive daily from my teen and young adult children, I’m quite certain none of them observe this holiday. I, however, will celebrate National Punctuation Day with wild abandon and extra exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Because punctuation is important; that’s why. (Naysayers, be forewarned that you will be serving a life sentence inside some maximum security parentheses.)

If, like me, you occasionally find yourself scrolling your social media feed while waiting at the dentist’s office or the DMV, you’ve probably seen memes that convey the necessity of properly placed punctuation. Like this one, which reads:

“I like cooking my family and my dog.”  Use commas. Don’t be a psycho.

(Good advice, I think.)

During my four years in journalism school at Northwestern, I spent countless hours poring over Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, studying the minutiae of tricky punctuation usage so as not to flunk Professor Hainey’s editing course and thereby derail my entire education and career. One stray comma or misplaced colon (insert pun here), and you were toast. Professor Hainey was a big fan of the dreaded-and-dastardly pop quiz. So you had to be prepared to remedy poor grammar and unruly punctuation at any moment. (Proper application of that divisive “dash” still perplexes – and pains – me.)

But long after gaining relative mastery over my commas and quotation marks, I discovered that I still had a lot to learn about one particular punctuation mark: the semicolon.

It was a tattoo that originally caught my eye. A wrist tattoo. Of a punctuation mark. That’s it. No anchor/arrow/angel/Angelina Jolie-inspired dragon (which was apparently regrettable since she later removed it.)  No paw prints or pink ribbon or rosebud or barbed wire. Just one simple, solitary semicolon. When I saw it, I knew it must mean something significant. So I did what I always do when I need wisdom and insight. I googled it. And this is what I found:

(Content below from Upworthy.com)

 

Have you seen anyone with a tattoo like this?

If not, you may not be looking close enough. They’re popping up…

…everywhere.

Photos by The Semicolon Tattoo Project.

That’s right: the semicolon. It’s a tattoo that has gained popularity in recent years, but unlike other random or mystifying trends, this one has a serious meaning behind it. (And no, it’s not just the mark of a really committed grammar nerd.)

My co-worker Parker’s photo of her own semicolon tattoo.

This mark represents mental health struggles and the importance of suicide prevention.

Project Semicolon was born from a social media movement in 2013.

They describe themselves as a “movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction, and self-injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love, and inspire.”

But why a semicolon?

“A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”

*******************************************************************

Project Semicolon was founded by a young woman named Amy Bleuel who had lost her father to suicide. Her memorial tribute to her dad soon became a social media movement, and she was struck by the way a simple puntuation mark resonated with people across the country and around the world. The semicolon became a means to acknowledge the struggles of depression, addiction, self-harm and suicide, and, more importantly, it brought a measure of healing and hope to suicide survivors. The semicolon became a powerful reminder:

Your story isn’t over yet…

It became a “note to self” to just keep on… To just; not; end;

So as I mentioned earlier, I will celebrate today. The last Saturday in September and National Punctutation Day. I will celebrate it and savor every single minute of it. The rising and shining and showering, the eating and drinking and dog-walking, the thinking and talking (hopefully in that order), the smiles and sandwiches and college football. The friends and family coming and going. The leaf-raking and laundry (and the incredibly helpful, handsome man who folds it. He’s all mine.) The laughter and love… the life-living. And I will do it all today in memory of Eric Brown, Madison Holleran, Austin Hills, Will Trautwein and so many precious others who would still be with us, if only their young lives had been punctuated with a semicolon rather than a period.

Keep living your story,

Wendy

P.S. If you or someone you know is in suicidal crisis and needs help (or if you are at risk for any type of self-harm), please call 911 emergency services, contact a mental health professional immediately, go to the nearest hospital emergency room, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center near you.

 

Fall Color Commentary

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My dear reader,
I have good news and bad news today.
The bad news? Well, I’m sure you’ve heard. There’s plenty. Enough to batter and break-in-half even the bravest of hearts. And it just keeps coming. The bad news hits full force, like a Category-5 hurricane, pounding our shores and pummeling our spirits, day and night. It’s splashed all over the internet and scrolling across every newsfeed in the world right now. And today, I’m going to leave it there. (Besides, I’m pretty sure the blow-by-blow coverage and commentary is part of the problem.  We fan the flames of fear and fury… and then wonder why we’re trapped in a firestorm.)
Let’s get to the good news.
My favorite season is upon us. No, not season 11 of “The Voice,” though I won’t deny it. I’m hooked. I used to make fun of those people. The umpteen viewers who had time for bake-offs and dance-offs and crime shows and the Kardashians. (I know: Pride comes before the fall. I’m flat-on-my-couch every Monday and Tuesday night, 8 pm EST.) Anyway, blind auditions are underway. Adam and Blake are bickering. Miley is behaving (though I’m pretty sure the Fashion Police will be issuing multiple citations). But the real star this season is undeniably… Alicia. Alicia Keys is on “The Voice,” people! IMHO, that woman is a natural wonder. Bold spirit, brilliant talent, radiant beauty. Simply flawless, even with a completely bare (we’re talking buck-naked) face. It’s criminal. I plan to make a citizens’ arrest, along with her former makeup artist.
But that’s not the point. The point is this: today marks the Autumnal Equinox. The first full day of fall. Autumn has finally, officially arrived. (Oh how I’ve missed her harvest moon and Honeycrisp apples and crunchy leaves and candy corn and pumpkin-spiced everything.)  One day soon, after the temperatures dip low, she will leave me beaming and breathless, beholding all of her blazing glory.  I will step out into the crisp morning air and practically inhale the colors. The greens and golds, the ambers and auburns, the corals and crimsons.  The vivid pops of canary yellow and burnt orange and fire-engine red.  They leave me wonderstruck, every time.
If you haven’t yet, I urge you to schedule a date with the great outdoors. Circle a day (or two or three) and devote an entire afternoon or weekend morning or midday lunch break or whatever you can snatch… and just bask in the ravishing glow of this golden season. Pack a picnic or take a hike. Find a forest preserve or pick out a park bench. Follow a nature trail or sprawl out on a blanket. And welcome Autumn.
Isn’t she lovely?
~ Wendy
P.S.  I’d be delighted if you would invite me (well, my book, actually) on your date with the outdoors! Treasure Hunter: A Field Guide for 12 Spiritual Expeditions is part scriptural guide and part journal/sketchbook: a tool for inviting God’s presence and peace through a series of mini-retreats. (And who isn’t longing for peace right about now?) The field guide features 12 distinctive “expeditions,” each of which takes place in a different nature setting. It’s perfect for your autumn outing!

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For a chance to win a free copy (and a Pumpkin Spice Latte!), click “follow” and sign up to receive my blog posts via email. One new follower will receive a complimentary copy of the field guide and a $5 Starbucks gift card! Deadline is Sunday, September 25 at 11:59 pm. (Winner will be notified by email on or before October 1.) Or, you can order a copy today by sending a check for $15 to: His Heartwork, 9874 Highland Springs Dr N, McCordsville IN 46055. Include your shipping address (if different than the one printed on your check.) HAPPY FALL!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Big Batch of Gratitude

My Dear Reader,

Everyone in this nation knows the significance of September 11th, 2001. It’s a defining moment, if not the defining moment of 21st century America. A day marred by horror and marked by heroism. Synonymous with both brazen evil and profound good. Eerie images of jumpers and smoke plumes and fireballs and falling ashes were seared into our consciousness and splashed across our newsfeeds that day. If you ask, everyone old enough to remember will tell you where they were, how they heard, what they were thinking as the events of that fateful morning unfolded. We held our collective breath and stared transfixed at our television screens, shocked and shaken. Our hearts pounded as people plummeted. Our hearts fell as the towers fell. Our hearts broke as broken bodies were pulled from the rubble. We called friends in New York, collected children from school, clung to loved ones longer and tighter than we had in many moons.

Fifteen years on, the themes of that day still resound: great courage in the face of grave danger, selfless acts in moments of sheer terror, sacrifical death to prevent certain catastrophe… or save countless lives. On September 11, we honor those who died and those who dared to rescue.  We remember the bereaved and the brave. We somberly observe this anniversary with tributes and tears and moments of silence. And we pray that God will somehow, someday, bring beauty from ashes.

In the meantime, we do what we can to “remember 9/11.”  We pause and reflect; we stand and salute; we esteem and honor. Every year in our Midwestern town, a small crowd gathers on the overpass to pay tribute to the fallen. They stand on the bridge and wave American flags and clutch signs that say, “Never Forget.” And we wave and honk and our hearts swell, and yes, we remember.

A few years ago, Chloe and I started a new thing. On September 11, we bake.  (This little tradition is also a nod to my dear grandmother, Wacky Cake baker and maker of the finest fudge in the land, who was born on… you guessed it… September 11.)  We deliver these homemade goodies to our local police and fire stations with big smiles and sincere thanks. It’s the least we can do.  But it’s something.

Mother Theresa reportedly once said, “Do small things with great love.” This year, it’s four batches of M&M chocolate chip cookies mixed with gratitude and baked with love at 350F for 25 minutes.

~ Wendy
P.S.  The cookies are cooled and covered and loaded in the car.  Time to deliver a big batch of gratitude to our first responders.
“C’mon Chloe. . . let’s roll!”

Birthday Backstory

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My dear reader,
Today is my birthday. Just a regular one, really. The big ones (the good ones, some might say) are in the rear view mirror at this point: 13, 16, 21, 25, 30, 40, 50. Flew through them all. Honestly, how did I get here? To fiftysomething? I just graduated and got married and grew a family. . . and suddenly, here I am. Over the hill. Over a lot of things, honestly. But that’s another story. The story I want to tell today is the backstory. My birthday backstory. So I decided to interview the person who’s been there since the beginning: my dear ol’ dad.
(Excerpts from our daddy-daughter interview below.)
Wendy:  I know you and Mom eloped, and I was rather… well… unexpected. Tell me about your whirlwind romance and fast-forward to fatherhood.
Dad:  Mom and I met at a fraternity party, a mixer. That’s what we called it when we invited a group of girls from another school to come “mix and mingle” with the guys at our house. Mom was a student at Hartford College, and she was supposed to attend a party at a different fraternity house, but she got into the wrong car. . .
W:  And the rest is history.
D:  Yep, we were married the following year.
W:  Did your parents know you were going to elope?
D:  Nope.
W:  So you snuck out? Mom was only 19, right? What did they say?
D:  I think they knew we would get married at some point. In fact, when I introduced your mom to my folks, Papi (his dad) told Nonnie, “I think we just met Freddie’s future wife.” They really liked her, right from the start.
W:  What did Gram and Gramps (my mom’s parents) think?
D:   They seemed OK with it. In fact, I think Gramps may have been a bit relieved. Weddings are expensive. Take it from me, I know.
W:  Thanks for that, by the way.
D:  You’re welcome.
W: Tell me about my Birth Day.
D:  I took your mom to Hartford Hospital early in the morning. She was having contractions, but your uncle figured it would probably be a while before the baby – you – arrived. So we went golfing.
W:  You went golfing while Mom was in labor?! (I’ve heard this story before, but I gave him my “incredulous” tone, for the sake of the interview.)
D:   Just nine holes.
W:  Was Mom upset?
D:  She didn’t know. Back then, they whisked the mom away for labor and delivery, and the dad was left back in the waiting room.
W:  So you snuck out? (I think I’m seeing a pattern here.)
D:  Sort of. But I didn’t think I’d miss anything. We really thought it would be several hours before you were born.
W:  Wow. Ok, so when did you come to meet me?
D:  Somebody must have called your grandmother right after you were born, and she sent word to the golf course. So we left mid-round and headed back to the hospital.
W:   And that’s when Mom found out that you had left?
D:  Yep.
W:  Was she upset then?
D:  No, not at all. She really wasn’t.
(That woman was a saint, I tell you.)
W:  Incredible.
D:  She was. (He sighs. And that says everything. I miss her too, Dad.)
W:  Back to me, your baby girl. What did you think?
D:  Just. . . wow. I held you and looked at you. You were a beautiful baby.  And you grew into such a great little girl. Sweet, bright, fun. No trouble whatsoever. Until you were a teenager.
W:  Yeah. Sorry about that.
(He chuckles.)
W:  Let’s change the subject.
D:  I wouldn’t say you were rebellious. You were just intent on exerting your independence.
W:  That’s a nice way of putting it. What advice would you give me, now that my own daughter is a teenager?
D:  Just keep everything in perspective. Don’t let the little frustrations cloud the big picture. Or damage the relationship.
W:  What’s your favorite thing about our relationship now?
D:  Your kids.
W:  You’re welcome.
D:  Happy Birthday!
So that, my dear reader, is how my story began: A frat party, a secret wedding, a tee time, and a Birth Day. (Or, perhaps more pointedly: a mixer, a mix-up, a love match, a golf match. . . and a GIRL!)
Cheers!
The Birthday Girl
P.S.  I’d love to hear your birthday backstory.  Or any silly/sweet/surprising/special birthday stories you’d like to share.  Click on “comments” to the left (and near the top) of the page.  I look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter Writing Day

My dear reader,
Apparently, today is World Letter Writing Day. As you can see, I am a full-fledged participant. Otherwise, I would not have addressed you as “dear” and my fingers would not be flying across the keyboard write now. I mean, right now. I am clearly ALL IN. No two-sentence, unsigned email or 140-character tweet or abbreviated txt msg from me. You are getting a real, bonafide (not to be mistaken for cowhide or tree bark or parchment) letter, my friend.
I’m big on letters. Handwritten, typewritten, scribbled or scrawled. Pen or pencil or printer ink. Tucked in plain white envelopes or fancy greeting cards. I don’t discriminate. My day is undoubtedly made when I receive one. And, honestly, not a week goes by that I don’t send one. (Scout’s honor.)  I especially like writing a letter inside the flap of a greeting card for a special occasion. . . or no occasion at all.  Just to say I’m thinking of you. And I miss/love/celebrate/adore/admire/appreciate you. Or I hope you feel better/do great/chin up, Buttercup.
I’m a regular at Hallmark. It’s one of my happy places. (Not even kidding.) Know why? Because it’s quiet and it smells like paper and everything is arranged in nice, neat rows. And also because every time I send a card and whisper a prayer and write “God bless you!” at the bottom, He does. Heaven-sent, postage-paid, mailbox blessings. And here’s the best part: with or without a return address, the blessings bounce back.  Every time I tuck a letter into an envelope and pop it in the mail, posthaste. . . boom. Double blessing. One for the letter-reader: the person facing the challenge or battling an illness or mourning a loved one. The birthday boy/beautiful bride/funny valentine/new mom/dear dad/recent grad/insert recipient’s demographic here. And one for me. The sender. The letter-writer. The Hallmark addict.
In a world of junk mail and Evites and memes, letters mean something. They take time to read and to write. They signal a pause. They convey a message. They make an imprint on a given day. Or sometimes an impact on a given life.
Think about the most significant letter you’ve ever received. A letter from your tough-as-nails-but-tenderhearted grandfather or a long-awaited acceptance letter to grad school or a letter of heartfelt sympathy that convinced you that you were not alone in a sea of sadness. Maybe it was a letter of commendation or hard-earned recognition. . . or painful rejection. Maybe it was a letter from an old flame or a big star or a long-lost friend. Perhaps it marked the highest of highs. . . or delivered the lowest of blows. You held it in your shaking hands, gulping the sentences, feeling its message plunge like an arrow into your heart, for better or worse. Whether you saved it or tore it to pieces, you remember it. And the emotions it evoked.
I have handfuls of letters stashed in an antique writing desk (how fitting, I know) that belonged to my grandmother. Letters from friends, family, far-flung former classmates. They are precious to me. Especially the ones written by my mama. Her untimely death (is there ever a timely one, I wonder?) at just 52 was a complete shock. It left me devastated. . . disoriented. . . distraught. I was utterly undone. But grief and God’s grace and the gift of time have slowly but surely eased, nearly erased, that searing pain and mended the gaping hole in my heart. And now, just a glimpse of her handwriting makes me smile. Her personality glistens on the pages of each letter, and I can almost hear her soft voice, one sentence after another. There is a little bit of wonder in each word. A whole lot of love in each letter. I know I will save them and savor them, always.
And that is why I am writing to you. To deliver an urgent, cogent message. To tell you that you, my friend, are a natural wonder. And you are loved. More than you could possibly know. Don’t believe me? Then there’s another letter you need to open. It’s a letter I know you’ll cherish, if you take the time to read it. It was written by your Father a long time ago. It will surprise you, soothe you, strengthen you. It will convince you, console you, comfort you and compel you. It will resonate and resound, again and again. You can find that letter in nearly every library and every bookstore around. The letter contains 66 “books” of history and mystery, 1189 chapters of poetry and prose, thousands of pages of romance and adventure, countless words of wisdom and wonder. It has been my constant companion through all the seasons of my life: lifting me to breathtaking heights and carrying me through my darkest days. In it, I’ve mined strength, found joy, gained clarity, received comfort and garnered grace. It’s bread. It’s balm. It’s fuel. It’s firepower. It’s a love letter like no other. Written especially to you, dear. There’s a reason it’s called the Good Book. It truly is. Crack it open and see.
Happy reading. . . on Letter Writing Day!
Wendy
P.S.  Would love to hear about a remarkable letter you’ve sent or received. Post your story in the comments section. (I promise to read every last word.)