Adventures In Sewing A Prom Dress

Lil' Stinker 'helping' me sew

Lil’ Stinker ‘helping’ me sew

Back in January, my daughter messaged me with a link to a most incredible dress–and said that was the dress she wanted for prom!

We both knew that there wasn’t any way that we’d be able to afford the dress in the store, and there were issues with the design that we agreed needed to be addressed if she was going to wear it. She wanted a different styling to the back and neckline, and she didn’t want quite so very many rhinestones!

AND…we decided to make this dress! Oh, what an adventure we have embarked on!

Four layers of the skirt so far

Four layers of the skirt so far

First, we had difficulty acquiring the fabric we wanted in the width and color we needed. We finally settled on a pale lavender organza and matching satin. We may add in a layer of pink organza too, but only if it looks good when we start assembling the layers…

There are a LOT of layers! At least six or seven just for the skirt, and at least three, possibly four for the bodice! (crazy, right?)

See that panel of styrofoam on the wall behind me in the picture below?

I had to find a space large enough to lay out the pieces, and a way to cut them out without dislocating my S/I joint. So–we secured two panels of styrofoam insulation on the wall using Command Strips.

Me, happy to be sewing

Me, happy to be sewing

And THEN came the real kicker: how to keep Lil’ Stinker from using the styrofoam to sharpen his claws and from chomping on it! (he likes the sound it makes)

We’ve pinned large fabric pieces to it, and piled heavy stuff along the bottom to keep him from pulling them off. We aren’t sure that we’re done cutting fabric…yet, or we’d just throw the styrofoam panels away.

Oh, and see that toilet paper? Organza is impossible to sew without some kind of stabilizer. And with so very much organza to sew, I would have broken my piggy bank on just the stabilizer! On the advice of a good friend who’s great at sewing, I bought a small package of cheap toilet paper instead. It’s working very well!

Organza hem stabilized with toilet paper

Organza hem stabilized with toilet paper

Maria has been very involved with this project too! She’s spent hours ironing the fabric pieces and helping me pin.

Steps left to complete:

  • Sewing the last couple of individual layers for the skirt, plus the layers of the bodice
  • Soaking the layers to remove what’s left of our cheap version of stabilizer (and drying)
  • Adding the rhinestones to the top layer of the bodice
  • Assembling the dress
  • Adding the zipper
  • Soaking one more time to remove any last bits of stabilizer
  • A final pressing

We’ve still got a lot to do, but it sounds like more than it really is at this point. We’ve got a little over a month until she needs to wear it. We’ll get ‘er done!

I had to buy at least twice as much lavender organza (I was bargain shopping) to acquire enough to make the dress. If you’re in the market for fifteen yards, let me know! (We’ve got a lot to spare now)

Our World’s Climate Is Not Under Our Control

An average of sixty volcanic eruptions occur every year around the globe

An average of sixty volcanic eruptions occur every year around the globe

The mainstream media has been going nuts this week because the new head of the EPA doesn’t believe that free carbon has any effect on climate change!

There are a lot of different factors that come into play to create the climate we enjoy on our world.

Volcanism and plate tectonics have a very powerful influence on our world’s climate!

Plate tectonics map showing Mid Atlantic Ridge

Click to see larger view

Every so often, the seam running through the Atlantic (the Mid Atlantic Ridge) from the North Pole down almost to Antarctica oozes lava.

Then there’s the Ring of Fire in the Pacific (I was raised on the Ring of Fire: the ground there is NEVER still).

There are volcanic hot spots all over our world! Hot spots contribute a lot of warmth to our world, and they have other interesting effects:

A strong volcanic eruption is capable of putting out many times the amount of smoke and ash, and poisonous fumes–in an incredibly short time–as the total pollution load generated by all of mankind in a year.

In any given year, there is an average of sixty volcanic eruptions! That is a whale of a lot of ash, smoke, and toxic fumes added to the air we breathe every year!

While I personally would prefer to do without all the smoke and toxic fumes, particulates from volcanic activity contribute to cloud formation and provide a catalyst for moisture droplet formation (without which, there would be no rain or other precipitation).

Solar mechanics also has a very powerful influence on our climate.

Take for instance the wobble in the earth’s orbit caused by opposing forces of gravity exerted by the sun and other planets.

When we wobble a little closer to the sun than usual, our planet grows warmer. Wobble a little further away, and temps cool…

The interaction of solar magnetism with the earth’s magnetic field. Magnets generate electricity and heat. Really large magnets can create a lot of heat! The sun and the earth both have strong magnetic fields, as do other planets in our solar system.

There’s a possibility, given the statistical rise of temps observed on planets throughout the solar system in recent history, that there are forces at work involving solar magnetism that scientists haven’t accounted for and don’t understand.

And what about the effect of sun spots and solar flares? The more sun spots, the hotter the fusion going on in the sun’s core. The fewer there are, the cooler it is. Sometimes the fusion stops altogether for a while, then starts again.

We’ve had cooler periods in history since the invention of the telescope that correlate to an observed lack of sun spots. Right now there are some sun spots, but not as many as in some previous eras.

AND…average temps for the past twenty years have been stable!

I mention all this to point out that there are huge natural forces driving the cycle of heating and cooling that our world is subject to. Most of them aren’t under anyone’s control, nor will they ever be!

Nor have they been properly accounted for when considering factors that play into any kind of climate change, including global warming.

We need to be realists about all of this, and not place unreasonable expectations on people to control the uncontrollable.

Aren’t you glad that God has our climate under His control? I sure am!

In my Legends of Astarkand series, there are volcanoes. The book I’m working on right now takes Bjorn past a volcanic hot spot, the Windmere. The Windmere fills a volcanic crater. Slippe Island is what is left of an ash cone from a long ago eruption.

Click here to purchase Bjorn’s previous adventures.

Deep Government And The Thousand Year Bloodbath

Fresco of St. Constantine and St. Helena

Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.

What do you remember from your school history classes about the Byzantine Empire? Anything?

If you’re of Greek extraction, you’re probably proud that the empire lasted for over a thousand years.

If you aren’t Greek, it’s possible that you might vaguely recall that the Byzantine Empire came into being when the Roman Emperor Constantine established a second capitol in Constantinople (which is Istanbul, Turkey today). Eventually the cultural and political divides became large enough that the empire split in two.

You may even say, “Byzantine–what? And why is this important?”

Oh, good question!

The Byzantine Empire adopted the Roman legal structure and system of government  because they considered themselves (at least at the outset) to be a continuation of the Roman empire, albeit no longer worshiping the pagan Roman/Greek pantheon of gods, or emperor-gods (like mad Nero), but instead the state religion became Christianity.

The ruins of Yedikule Hisarları (Seven Towers Fortress) in Istanbul, Turkey with modern high rises in the background

Unfortunately, because of political infighting, the vast majority of the Byzantine emperors after Constantine the Great were murdered or died in prison after being overthrown. Few of them died in their beds. In many cases, their entire families were murdered along with them!

The office of Emperor went from being a post awarded by merit or heredity (or both), to being a bloody political prize awarded to the most violent of men! The empire succumbed to rot from within and eventually became too weak to protect its borders from invaders.

Fast-forward from the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 A.D., to the founding of the United States of America:

Our country’s founders looked back across history, and–being well-read, they understood all too well the rise and fall of the great civilizations that had gone before them. They wanted our government to be secure and stable. They understood that they needed to make the office of president strong enough to allow a president to fulfill his duties, but also balance it out with limitations on his power, and with powers granted to the other two branches and also to the states, to limit the ability of a president to become a tyrant or dictator, or even worse, an emperor.

This wasn’t just because it’s healthier for us as citizens to have our rights safeguarded from tyranny, but because it is also far, far safer for our nation’s presidents if they aren’t perceived as occupying a plum position of strength that can be taken and held by a bloody show of force!

Fast-forward to recent events:

President Barack Obama

Obama was elected and served for two terms. In our nation’s history, no other president has been able to enact or implement social programs on the scale that Obama did. Also our nation’s debt approached $21 Trillion before the end of his presidency. The tax and regulatory burdens left behind, especially in the form of the Affordable Care Act, are also unprecedented in scale and scope.

All of this led to the frustration and anger of voters, who flocked to the polls to elect Donald Trump!

All previous presidents have left Washington, D.C., and found hobbies or other interests to occupy their time outside of the political arena. While they might occasionally appear to fund raise for candidates for office, they have made a deliberate decision not to interfere in their successors’ governing.

But not Obama!

He says he wants to protect his legacy. He’s made it clear he wants to undermine Trump’s ability to govern.

But he doesn’t understand the lessons of history, and why we are all safer and much better off, including him and his family, when FORMER PRESIDENTS DON’T DO THAT.

He’s forgotten the lessons our nation’s founding fathers learned from the history of the Byzantine Empire about how not to create a thousand year bloody free-for-all for positions of power!

And sadly, even if anyone explained it to him, I doubt that he would care.

Author’s Note: Because I write fantasy, the history of the Byzantine era is a treasure trove of really neat stuff for me: like the candidate for empress who nixed her chances by saying the wrong thing and wound up a nun, and the ‘throne of Solomon.’ I also believe in the time-tested maxim that those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more like it, I invite you to support my writing by purchasing my books!

How To Enjoy The Shack And Still Be A Good Christian

Honest Confession here: I read The Shack back in 2009, the year after it came out.

It had just enough time to spread by word of mouth and become such a viral sensation that a copy wound up in my aunt and uncle’s living room.

This is the uncle and aunt who’re active and involved in their local church, with the heart for missions and ministry, and a tremendous generosity and love for other people. This uncle and aunt really love Jesus–they aren’t unique in the family in that way, but their commitment to Christ and the Gospel is unquestioned, which I feel needs to be underscored because of all the negative things being said about The Shack and the people who read and enjoy it.

The book was just lying there on an end table or a hassock, waiting for someone to read it…

So I picked it up and started reading.

The story drew me in. I connected emotionally with this character who is grieving deeply the heartrending loss of his child, and the loss of the joy at the heart of his marriage and his faith.

I was going through a pretty bad time right then as well, so I really connected.

The story spoke to me. I was deeply moved by the characters and their pain and suffering, and I felt encouraged by the ending.

But here’s the deal: I never thought of taking my theology from this book. Why? Because it’s a work of fiction.

Apparently, though, there are a lot of Christians who want to read theological implications into works of fiction instead of understanding a very fundamental truth:

A work of fiction is a story that isn’t true. It’s FICTION.

That means that everything in the story can be made up: the characters, their history, the setting, what happens to them in the story, what they say, what they do, WHAT THEY BELIEVE, everything. Fiction doesn’t accurately reflect real life.

You can’t take your theology from a work of fiction.

You may want the only fiction that you read to reflect and embody your preferred brand of theological purity, but here’s another truth for you:

Not everyone in Christianity shares your exacting theological beliefs!

And that’s okay: they can disagree with you theologically and still be good Christians! They can even be great writers of fiction.

You can enjoy the stories they tell and appreciate how their writing speaks to you and makes you think, and makes you re-examine why you believe what you believe–without them somehow sucking you over to the dark side and mystically morphing you into a radioactive version of the anti-Christ!

It’s the difference between Jesus Christ telling parables and Paul’s discussion of the theological implications of salvation in the Book of Romans.

A parable is a story that uses fiction as a literary device to illustrate a spiritual truth. At some point, the illustration begins to break down–and that’s okay–because it’s a story. You don’t expect more from it than it has to give you.

Paul’s theological discussion of salvation in Romans, however, is very straightforward. Every statement is exacting, the theology is clearly defined. There are no parallels to be drawn, no poetic language that exaggerates. And it’s the gold standard of what we believe about our salvation and how we are to live as Christians.

People have always enjoyed and connected emotionally with stories. That’s why there are so many recorded in the Bible, and why Jesus told parables.

Sound theology is vitally important to our faith, but people who are just learning about Christianity, who are being drawn to the faith, and new Christians are less likely to understand or truly appreciate theological treatises, and they are more likely to lack the patience or the perseverance to study theology and understand or apply it properly. But everyone loves a good story.

And that’s okay.

If you want a work of sound theology that adheres to your specific set of beliefs, then I encourage you to buy books on theology (properly vetted, of course).

But if you want great fiction from a Christian perspective that speaks to your heart, then… The Shack is definitely that.

In my own writing (you may have noticed that I also write fiction), my characters have an ambivalent relationship with an established church that may look an awful lot like the Catholic (or Orthodox) church to you. Not everyone of faith in my stories belongs to that church. Some people are evangelical. Some people are of other religious persuasions altogether, or even agnostic or atheist.

This makes for great conversations about spiritual matters as well as opportunities for internal and external conflict that help drive my stories forward.

Where there is discussion of spiritual matters, I try to reflect biblical precepts. But I probably won’t be able to satisfy anyone’s need for hearing only their narrow point of view on theological and spiritual matters either–because that isn’t what telling a good story is about.

That doesn’t mean that sound theology doesn’t matter to me as a Christian. It very much does!

But as a teller of stories where life gets messy and nobody’s all that perfect, theology becomes secondary to faith lived out through the highs and lows, and the rough spots my characters find themselves in.

I like that it’s so, and I make no apology for it.

And I’m sure that the author of Shack wouldn’t either.

Which Kind Of Reader Are You?

Which reader are you?

Do you enjoy reading books? If so, which kind of reader are you?

On my journey as an author, I have encountered five distinct kinds of readers: devoted friends, book fans, frenemies, critical readers, and encouraging editors.

A Devoted Friend: you might be a devoted friend if you love everything an author friend as written because they’re your friend! That friendship is more important than whether the book is any good, so you may never give any constructive feedback on it, but only enthusiasm and praise.

A Book Fan: You might be a book fan if you love a particular genre of story and any book that scratches your desire for that kind of story. You might latch on to specific authors’ work because you enjoy their writing style and voice. You don’t care about any typos or grammar issues because you’ve connected emotionally with the plot or the characters, and only want to know when your favorite author’s next book might come out!

A Frenemy: You might be a frenemy if you’re jealous of or dislike a certain author’s writing. Maybe that author’s level of accomplishment makes you feel inferior, or maybe your personalities clash. You may even be friendly to an author’s face, but tend to lurk in the shadows and be spiteful behind an author’s back. Or you may disparage their work quite openly.

What you need to know: we authors tend to take it rather hard when we encounter a frenemy. We want to be liked. We want our stories to be liked and enjoyed as well. We want you to realize how hard every author works to establish any amount of success. We’d far rather applaud you for your own successes and hard work too than have you feeling bad about us for any reason.

A Critical Reader: You might be a critical reader if you read a story with your inner editor going full-bore. You have difficulty enjoying certain stories because your inner editor won’t let you ignore all the mistakes, but you enjoy a well-edited book that demonstrates a superior level of writing skills! You also tend to give honest feedback and reviews, but because you’re harder to please, your feedback tends to be more negative.

A Encouraging Editor: You might be an encouraging editor if you see errors and make a note of them so you can let the author know what needs improvement while also praising the passages you thought were particularly enjoyable and/or clever. Authors who receive your feedback and listen to it benefit greatly. You make a great critique partner and might be sought after as a writing mentor.

Most readers fall into one of these categories more than another, although some may fall somewhere in between. Readers sometimes move between categories, or fall into one category in relation to one author and into a different category in relation to other authors.

What kinds of readers do authors appreciate the most?

Oh, that’s a hard question!

As an author, it is important to find ways to attract Book Fans while acknowledging our Devoted Friends and listening to our Encouraging Editors. While we all need our friends, especially when there’s been a rejection letter or a particularly scathing critique of our work, most friends do not make great critique buddies nor are they particularly good at writing reviews, although your author friends may want you to critique their work or write reviews in order to support them.

It’s okay to say no, especially since Amazon’s algorithm filters and deletes reviews by friends and family.

A devoted friend’s contributions of loyalty, moral support, and enthusiasm are far more valuable for an author than any amount of editing or reviews that you might be willing to offer. If this is what you have to offer, then your author friends will be very blessed indeed!

Book Fans buy the most books and write the most reviews, and sometimes reach out and get to know us personally, and move into the category of Devoted Friends. Book fans are very valuable to every author, and we spend a lot of our time trying to figure out how to find you and connect with you! You make this easier when you let us know who you are. You can do this by buying our books and writing reviews! Even if it’s only a few lines to let us know what you appreciated most, your feedback is welcome!

Encouraging Editors make great critique partners and mentors for authors, and they write the most valuable reviews, but here’s a secret: so can Critical Readers! If an author is motivated to raise their quality of writing to meet your high standards and earn your praise, then their work will achieve a whole new level of quality!

Authors really do need your honest feedback, although some of us do better with the blunt truth than others. Please proceed with discretion and tact in determining where your input will be most welcome.

Authors also need to recognize when we encounter Frenemies, that it’s not our problem and we shouldn’t take it to heart. If you’re a frenemy, I hope you’ll forgive us if we walk warily around you until you learn to respect and value us as we’d prefer to respect and value you.

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