Jessie vs. 960 Pounds of Concrete

20130708-073410.jpgOver the years I have jumped into many a DIY project with little or no experience. I figure that unless it involves plumbing or electricity, there isn’t much that I can permanently damage. Right?

Right. I have a saw, so I cut stuff up. I have a drill, so I put holes in things. Ta-da! Most of the stuff turns out crooked (no measuring skills), wobbly (no construction knowledge), or messy (no patience). This does not stop me.

But over the years, concrete has stopped me. Any project that involved a “dig hole and add cement mix…” step meant that the game was over and I was no longer involved. But a few weekends ago I was hanging out with my sister, who casually mentioned that she had been using concrete to fix a few things in her basement. Then my dad mentioned that he was ripping out concrete with Grandpa’s old maul.

I figured that if my baby sister could handle the stuff and my dad had the tool to remove it in case of disaster, I was ready. Enter the Quikrete Walk Maker, a lovely little tool that makes walk ways and patios and what-not out of many bags of cement.

Many, many bags of cement. And by many, I mean 12. “Bah!” you are thinking. “12 isn’t that many.” Let me assure you that a dozen bags are plenty. It felt like a billion, as heavy as the stinkers are. Plus it’s dirty and ponderous (which is just another way to say heavy, but it bears repeating).

A word of caution, ladies. There is a good reason you don’t see many female masons. The women’s liberation movement is all well and good, but unless that movement gave you some manly muscles, you’re going to want a man involved somewhere to heft that stuff for you. Or, at the very least, find your burliest female friend and have her help you.

(You might want to leave out the use of the word burly when you ask her for help, though. That might not go so well.)

This post should not be taken as a tutorial on how to make your own patio. Merciful heavens, no. There are actual directions and websites out there with better directions, like the one above. Take this post as encouragement if you’re not sure you can do it. You can totally do it.

You’ll need to have a clear spot, and all your bags of cement mix ready. As for tools, I used a Rubbermaid container (as a bowl), a shovel (as a wooden spoon), and a little garden spade (as the butter knife that smooths out the frosting). It all worked just fine, except the spade’s handle kept falling off and it drove me crazy. But other than that, it was cheap and fun.

The Quikrete Walk Maker and I are now good friends. I plan on concreting the entire property by 2093.
The Quikrete Walk Maker and I are now good friends. I plan on concreting the entire property by 2093.

Once you get the cement mix into your mixing container, add some water until it’s a little less runny than pancake batter but not as thick as cookie dough. I found it easier to work with a 1/2 bag at a time, because mixing 80 pounds at once is HARD. Then you scoop it out with the shovel and into the concrete form. Use a trowel or spade to smooth out the top, then lift off the form and presto! You have a smushy patio stone. You’ll want to smooth out the tops again, then move right along to the next stone.

When it dries (the next day or so), add a few bags of paver sand between the cracks. Add patio furniture and enough wood chips to cover all mistakes, and then sit back and admire your hard work.20130708-075927.jpg

Those of you who know me are reading this and shaking your heads. You’re wondering if it will last the summer. You’re wondering if it’s even. You’re wondering if it’s square to the house.

Your concerns are justified, because I really don’t know if it will last, either. And no, it’s not even. The table wobbles like a drunken sailor. And no, it’s not square to the house because I eyeballed it.

But we shall not speak of these things. We shall not speak of them. Just tell me it’s beautiful and get me something to prop up the west leg of the table, please.

How to Pray for a Crazy Person

Before we begin, I need to clarify one important detail. When I refer in the following paragraphs to “crazy people” I do not speak of actual mental illness. Mental illness is a serious and complicated issue, and I would never address it flippantly.

BUT I do I feel confident addressing the other side of crazy. Those people whom we love, but cannot understand what is going through their mind. We don’t understand what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, or why they won’t knock it off. We may putter around our house, full of conversations in our head about how we would address them given the right circumstances. We’d set them straight, and show them the light.

So they are acting crazy, and in turn are making us crazy. The full cycle of craziness, if you will.

We have a few options. We can indeed point out all their problems, but I think we all know how this is going to turn out. Crazy people are often completely blinded by their own perspective, so talking to them is like talking to a cat on methamphetamines. Everyone leaves feeling even more disturbed.

We can ignore the craziness and go on with our lives, but we all know that we wouldn’t be bothered by the bizarro behavior if we could ignore it. Many of us have tried, but the problems start to blow up in our own faces and not just their own crazy face. They start “bumping into our happy,” as Lysa Terkeurst says.

So, if we can’t talk about it without making it worse, and we can’t ignore it, what can we do? We can pray about it. Some of you are now gripping your computer and shouting, “I HAVE been praying about it! For years! And they’re still nuts!”

Well, I can’t argue with you there. Sometimes we pray for years and we don’t see any change. But often this could be because (I hesitate to make you more irritable about the situation, but…) we’ve been praying from our own blinded perspective. God answers prayers that glorify Himself, not prayers that desperate people shout to get their own way. I know this because I’ve shouted many a desperate and selfish prayer, and they always fall flat.

So I present to you a prayer directly from Philippians 1:9-11, because praying directly from Scripture is some of the most powerful praying you can do. This prayer lifts up our screwy friends or relatives and then asks for God to do amazing things in their lives, things beyond just fixing our irritations. We ask God to bring glory to Himself in the situation, and we get ourselves out of the way. (In all fairness I should point out that Paul offered up this prayer for people who weren’t making him crazy. But we can still apply this to the topic at hand.)

how to pray for a crazy person

Every human is blind, but God is all-seeing. I’m going to try to remember that the next time I want to grab someone by the ears and shake them a little bit.

Just a little bit of shaking is okay, right? Not enough for brain damage or anything.


A Video from the Book Signing!

My friend Seth came to the book signing, armed with his camera. And then he interviewed me. Here are the results, after some heavy editing…didn’t he do a great job? Thanks, Seth!

Here’s the video! The link will take you to YouTube.

Thanks again to everyone who made it out to Baker Book House on Saturday. I appreciate you all so much.

Hot Off the Presses–Book Giveaway Contest!

Hello, dear readers! Would you like a chance to win a free copy of There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse?

Of course you would! Who wouldn’t want a free book? Here’s what you do. Click on this link. It will take you to Discovery House Publisher’s Facebook page, which then has a link to the giveaway. It will also fill you with glee, I promise. Clicking links always fills us with glee.

Good luck. May the luck of the giveaway be with you, my friends.

(Please note that this is why I don’t usually post twice in one day. I use up all my normal writing words in the first post, and the second one sounds like I’ve lost my mind.)

((But I haven’t, I swear. My mind is working just fine, thank you.))DHP Giveaway

Shameless Plug for Green Plastic Monkey

Part of being an author is that I need to promote myself and the book. This makes me terribly, terribly uncomfortable. If you could see me right now, my teeth are clenched and my neck is all tight and my shoulders are hunched up around my ears with the strain of it all. No, wait. We can do better than that. Here’s a picture; don’t I look strained?

I will probably regret posting this picture for years and years and years.
I will probably regret posting this picture for years and years and years.

Well, part of being a grown-up is putting on your big girl pantaloons and getting the job done, so here we go. This is one of the first of many shameless plugs for There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse. But here’s the exciting thing–if you go to the publisher’s website to order it, I have a super secret little code that will give you 25% off (assuming you live in the US or Canada). Wow-wee! I do love a bargain.

Here’s what you do: click this link to Discovery House Publishers, and use the promo code AUTH002 when you go to checkout. Click that little arrow next to the promo code box, and 25% comes a’flying off like butter on a hot skillet. Isn’t that easy and wonderful? Voila! A book at a discount! Or 100 books at a discount, if you’d like to get your Christmas shopping done early this year. (I told you this was going to be a shameless plug.)

Wait, wait, wait. I can see that some of you are reluctant to plunk down your hard-earned money to buy a book that might not suit your fancy. Well, we’re in luck. Here’s another link to a sample of the book. There. That should set your mind at ease. This sample even includes the quiz, which is one of my favorite parts of the book. You can take the quiz and determine if the book is for you before you buy it–handy, right?

In all seriousness, I appreciate you all more than I can say. Your comments and encouragement and readership are a blessing to me, and I do not take any of you for granted even one day. Thank you! I hope the book will be a blessing to you, just like you have been to me.

In Christ,


“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)


A Box of Joy

Yesterday I went up to Grand Rapids and spent the morning at Discovery House Publishers, which is publishing There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse. I chatted with a lot of people, I recorded a quick little ad, and I got a tour of the whole joint. It was a lot of fun. But the funnest of all? I came home with a box.20130214-110453.jpg

And in the box was…20130214-110446.jpg

And under the packaging we find…20130214-110439.jpg

Books! I came home with copies of my book! Oh, the joy. Oh, the rapture. It’s almost as exciting as holding a baby for the first time. All that work, all that labor, and then all of a sudden you’re holding something precious in your hands.

As exciting as this is, I know there are times in life when we work really hard for something, and it feels like it will never bear any fruit. It feels like we’re never going to see that box of books. Some of us are parenting children that we fear may never learn to make the right decisions. Some of us are slaving away at careers that don’t seem to be making progress. Some of us are stuck in relationships that never find peace, or we battle financial problems for years.

I’ve been there, too. I’ve faced several situations that felt like they would never, ever come to a happy end. But holding that box of books yesterday, I felt God’s plan and peace over my life. When I was stuck in the never-ending exhaustion of early motherhood, I certainly didn’t think to myself, “Hey, I bet God is going to use this very difficult time so that I can write a book to encourage other mothers! I bet I can fill 200 pages with my wacky stories to make them feel better!”

But God knew. And He walked with me through the difficult years and now I can see some of the fruit that He wanted those challenges to bear. And whatever your situation is right now, please be encouraged that He can bring the same blessing out of your life. He is working, bringing everything together for your good, for His glory. He asks only that we seek Him, we trust Him, and we obey Him. He can handle the rest.

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:26-28, NLT)


Green Plastic Monkeys Are Everywhere

This weekend our family went on a little vacation with some good friends. We packed up our cars and all five of our accumulated children and headed to a hotel with a water park. The children were delighted to have hours and hours together in the water. We adults were delighted to have other adults for company while we spent hours and hours in the water.

Nothing will get a child focused and moving like the promise of a water park after a two-hour drive, so our kids were in their suits and on a water slide within minutes of arrival. We adults, needing to warm up slowly, found a table and sat for a few minutes. If we’re going to be honest, one of the chief grown-up entertainments at such an establishment is people watching. And this is just what we did. We watched babies and children and their parents and ogled tattoos. So many tattoos!

“Psssst. Jess. Jesssss,” our friend Jon hissed at me, in that loud whisper one must use when having a private conversation in a loud place.

“What?” I loud-hissed back at him.

“That table over there–see that stuff? The guy who’s sitting there has a green plastic monkey tattooed on his back,” Jon reply-hissed at me.

I scrunched up my face at him, because surely I had heard wrong. He repeated himself, and then told me to wait. Sure enough, the man came back. And he had a barrel of monkeys tattooed all down his back, green ones included. It was like I had died and gone to heaven. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

And then (this is the part that might shock you slightly) we started to follow him around to get a picture of his tattoo. Yes, it would have been more appropriate to stop the man and say, “Hey, you know, I just wrote a book called There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse, and you have that monkey tattoo. Can I have a picture for the blog?” But it was way more fun to sneak behind him and get a picture.

Here’s my first attempt. Not so hot. But it’s really hard to get a decent picture in a water park when the subject is not aware that he should stop to

Here’s the second attempt. Better, but the inner tube is sort of interrupting a good thing there.monkey-innertube

And finally, here’s the final shot. I don’t know exactly how we got this close for the picture, but there it is. Perfection.tatto-clearSo there we go, folks. Green Plastic Monkeys are the new craze. Get your own tattoo at a parlor near you, and send me a picture. I’ll put it on the blog, assuming that it’s in a place appropriate enough for everyone to see. If you want to make me really happy, get a Bible verse and some parenting advice tattooed right next to it, and it would be a perfect marketing tool for the book.


The Stuff in Our Purses

Dear Fellow Mothers,

Do you remember the days when you had a little tiny purse because you didn’t need that much? My purses used to be about five inches tall and eight inches wide. I had a little wallet, some keys, my trusty hair-pick from the 1980s, and some Chapstick. And somehow, mysteriously, I survived.

20130204-103154.jpgNot any more, baby. I have this big old leather thing that could maim someone if I lobbed it at their skull. I know that I could easily survive with a small purse again, but it turns out that I am now a mother, which means my purse is no longer my own. Now my purse is full of things that help other people survive, and I get to carry it. I’m like a mule for my children’s survival. I’ve got Band-Aids in case they bleed. Tic Tacs in case they get bored in church. Children’s Tylenol in case they spike a sudden fever. And this doesn’t even cover the non-emergency stuff they hand to me to keep, like the green plastic monkey that Caleb got at a restaurant. That poor little thing lived in the bottom of my purse for months until I found it by accident and let it see the light one day.

20130204-103209.jpgAnd then I named a book after it. So I guess being my kids’ mule isn’t the worst surprise about motherhood. There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in my Purse will be coming out in a month, and the book is full of all sorts of surprises that motherhood hands us. Our wee little purses turn into mammoth bags that take up entire portions of the car. Our bodies sag in ways we didn’t realize were possible. We find we have no patience. We are shocked to find out we don’t know how the answers to most of their questions. We are surprised to find we need God’s grace and wisdom from morning till night.

20130204-103202.jpgSo, my friends, what’s in your bag? What surprises has parenthood handed you? I want to know. I want to know if they’re tactile things floating around in your purse, or emotional surprises that have left you feeling vulnerable.

In Matthew a story is recorded where Jesus sent out His disciples on a little ministry trip. He gave them the following directions before they left:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions:…”Do  not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff…” (Matthew 10:5, 9,10)

I would like to note that Jesus was sending twelve men, not twelve mothers. I’d like to see how that would have worked out differently if they had been mothers! But His point is still valid for us today–He provides for our needs. He wants us to be dependent on Him, not on the stuff we carry in our bags. Are we trusting Him, or our own provisions? Now there’s something I’m going to have to think about all day long. Where am I putting my trust? What about you?


P.S. I realize this would be a logical place for a photo of the green plastic monkey in my purse. But once Caleb saw the trinket again, it was gone. The last time I saw it, it was in two pieces under the seat of my car. So my next book might have to be titled There’s a Green Plastic Monkey Broken to Bits in the Buick. Nice alliteration, don’t you think?

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