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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Do You Know Your LIfe Purpose? Here's How to Discover It.

This past year has been a year of discovery and assessment. I stepped out of a highly stressful job at a non-profit the end of June in 2011 and have been figuring myself out since.  Being married to a pastor who currently isn't being paid a salary from our start up coffee shop ministry, means I need to help bring in income as he works sports officiating jobs for pay. I've been collecting unemployment and piecing together freelance jobs including writing, art, and managing a pet silhouette business for a friend. It's been a rocky ride.

I've spend lots of time figuring myself out. Who am I really? Where should I be working? What's my heartbeat?  What I have discovered is  that God has made me a creative individual who thrives on variety and innovation--not status quo. I usually become miserable in jobs that become routine. More than anything, (and this has been going on for years) I  love of turning trash into treasure.

How do these all connect? This theme of broken but beautiful comes through in my art (you can see on my Serendipitini art website and Serendipitini blog  and is present in my most recent book, The Treasure Seeker, though I wasn't fully aware it was in the book at the time. The theme of the Treasure Seeker is of being lost and found and being refined into something valuable. Sound familiar?

This same life theme has been slowly forming over the past several years. It even manifested itself through Java Journey, our Christian coffee shop ministry. First, through the physical look of the place with its golden hues and funky decor. I had no choice, because of our limited budget, but to implement creative reuse. And that has really connected with people's hearts. Something about it draws them in and second with our ministry purpose itself.

Java Journey, a non-profit coffee shop community in Hickory, North Carolina, provides hope and restoration to the hurting and broken by sharing Christ's story, showing His love and by empowering the restored to serve others. We also serve up a great cup of coffee and other palate delights. 

Interesting. Trash to Treasure again. This period of reassessment has made me realize that every individual has certain values and passions and over time they can become our life theme. They are something we cannot turn off. Mine continually rises to the surface. If I try to ignore or squelch it by focusing in the wrong area, writing on the wrong topic, or applying for the wrong job position, it's a recipe for misery and disaster.

So here's a suggestion for my readers. Take a good look at what makes you tick. What you are passionate about?  Does this theme keep replaying?  Is it your heartbeat?  You may have discovered your life theme and mission statement. Embrace it and then hone it and try to make it more of your focus. Use it for your benefit and the benefit of others. You will waste less time, be more fulfilled, and will impact more lives in a positive way.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Interview with Lisa Lickel, Author of the Map Quilt

Today's interview is with Lisa Lickel, a multi-published author and novelist. Lisa likes writing and performing radio theater, short story-writing, is an avid book reviewer and blogger. She enjoys teaching writing workshops and working with new writers and freelance editing. She is the editor of Wisconsin Writers Association’s Creative Wisconsin magazine. She lives in a hundred and sixty-year-old house in Wisconsin filled with books and dragons. Married to a high school biology teacher, she enjoys travel and quilting.

Her most recent book, The Map Quilt, is the second mystery in a series.  Lisa's first book was The Gold Standard. In The Map Quilt, her main characters Judy and Hart and their sidekick Poncho Villa (their pet cat) work to unravel the murder of Hart's boss and how Judy's ancestors were once part of the Underground Railroad.

Lisa, how did you come up with the story for the second book in The Buried Treasure mystery series?

 The journey of The Map Quilt started when I was in fifth grade, learning about the Underground Railroad, watching my grandmother sew quilts, and discovering the astonishing fact that not all black people in the United States came here on slave ships. As we gradually discovered more about the community we plan to retire to, I was taken with the real Cheyenne Valley, and the round barns that Alga Shivers built.

Tell us about the setting for The Map Quilt.

The Map Quilt setting is a kind of a time travel. Wisconsin history is lengthy and varied, from the glacial age to aboriginal people of 10,000 years ago, to the Voyageurs who explored and colonized, to the shipping and mining and logging industries which make a triangle of the state. The Map Quilt is set on the western side of the state, in rich farming country. Time has sort of taken a break there; you can still see original brick homes, the HoChunk Nation farms and has tobacco fields. There are many Amish settlements, so it’s not hard to see horses working the fields. The opening and closing of this story speaks to life in 1860.

How difficult was it to publish The Map Quilt?

This is one of those lessons I’d love every new and want-to-be author to learn: Even after you sign a contract publication isn’t guaranteed. I hope it’s more rare than not, but things change constantly. Publication is “hurry up and wait.” Things happen in the company over which you have no control: your publisher or acquiring agent leaves; the genre line changes, staff comes and goes; somebody changes his or her mind. After I signed with the publisher for The Gold Standard, the whole book club was put on hold; then my book was taken out of the lineup and I had to rewrite it according to a new protocol for the club, then the word count changed twice. I was offered a second contract for The Map Quilt which became moot when the book club was shut down. It was my first book. I wasn’t smart enough to run screaming, even though I had an agent at a time, nothing helped. I think a nervous twitter ran through the CBC community after that and I couldn’t sell The Map Quilt anywhere, nor could my second agent. I kept pursuing publication and finally found a lovely company, MuseItUp Publications, who delighted to take the book. The editors were fantastic and so far it’s been a good experience. The print version is coming out separately. And Muse is re-releasing The Gold Standard in December.

Introduce us to the main characters.

Judy and Hart Wingate are back, of course. They’re married now. Judy teaches school at Robertsville Elementary and is expecting their first baby any minute. Hart finished graduate school and is a full-fledged engineer working with Bryce, his friend and mentor, at Inventiv-Ag, a company that makes agricultural equipment. They live in Judy’s family home, an old farmhouse with a great history, rumored to be involved with the Underground Railroad. One of Judy’s last class projects for the schoolyear is having a guest speaker, Julietta, who portrays Harriet Tubman, but who also has mysterious ties to Robertsville. Bryce’s wife, Ardyth, hasn’t changed much; she still wears plaid and enjoys taking care of everyone whether they want it or not. A new character is Hart’s mom, Ellen, widowed, and having an entirely inappropriate (to Hart) relationship with the Robertsville Police Chief, Barry Hutchinson. We’re also meeting the character of who solves the murder of poor Esme Espe in the next book, The Newspaper Code. And finally, since Carranza, the extremely opinionated cat, disappeared at the end of The Gold Standard, his son, Pancho Villa, helps out.

What can you share about the faith elements of the story?

Judy and Hart have a deep faith, which they explored and helped each other resume after they met and got to know each other better. Bryce has always been a man of faith, as Ardyth, and the chief, Barry. They don’t necessarily take that for granted, but it’s Hart’s mom who has only had a peripheral kind of faith. She took her kids to church, but let other things get in the way so she and Hart’s dad never took the time to practice much of a faith. Barry helps Ellen come to know Christ in that special response to His call, along with encouragement from Judy and Hart. It’s a gentle and loving automatic part of their lives. Ellen learns that prayer has real purpose and God doesn’t just listen and judge from afar.

How can we buy the book?

You can read the first chapter on Lisa's web site at 
Through MuseItUp. Here is the direct link to the book.

And through 

For more information visit

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Author Interview with Lisa Mills

Today I'm privileged to have author Lisa Mill as a guest on Nearly Brilliant. Lisa and I couldn't help but notice that her most recent book Pearls and mine The Treasure Seeker: Finding Love and Value in the Arms of Your Loving Heavenly Father both have Treasure and Gemstone Themes. 

Hope you enjoy the interview. 

Q:  What motivated you to write this book?
An editor at a major publishing house had reviewed a manuscript I sent her for a historical novel. In her response letter, she told me they weren't buying historical at the time, however, she liked my writing and my professionalism. She asked if I had any contemporary manuscripts. I didn't, but I knew I could write one. So I did.
Q:  Tell us a little more about your book.
When I set out to write a contemporary novel, I was in the mood for an exotic setting. So, I did what all "normal" people do—I sat down and read through the encyclopedia. After much research and a slight case of eyestrain, I came across the entry for Venezuela. The history of the country fascinated me. The Spanish discovered rich pearl beds off the coast of Venezuela in the early 1500's. They immediately began to harvest the pearls, enslaving the native population to do the work, but the natives suffered greatly for the Spaniards' greed. The pearls harvested eventually totaled 40% of the world's wealth at the time, so there was a LOT at stake.

As I tried to imagine the natives plight and see the events through the eyes of a Spanish sailor, the story captured my imagination. Surely there was a Spaniard among the fleet who had a conscience, someone who was sickened by the cruelty and injustice the natives were suffering, someone who wanted to do something about it. And with all those pearls, how could you not have a treasure story involved?  And so, two stories were born. The historical account is told in journal entries through the perspective of a Spanish sailor. The contemporary story follows Isabel as she receives her ancestor's journal and begins to translate it only to find herself pulled into a treasure hunt and smack-dab in the middle of dangerous intrigue.

Q:  What audience did you have in mind when you wrote the book?
I write every book for myself. I write what I would want to read, something that holds my interest and keeps me on the edge of my keyboard. I try to find topics and subject material that I feel passionate about. I find that if an author is passionate about the story, the readers usually feel the same.

Q:  What is the exact book title and where can people purchase it?

The name of the book is "Pearls" and it is available in print and Kindle formats through Amazon. And FYI, you don't have to have a Kindle to read Kindle books. [I just learned this--remarks Teena] Amazon provides apps for your computer, iPod, and smart phones, so you can read on any number of devices. For me, this has become a great option because there are so many low-priced or free books available in electronic format. I get more for less. Here's where you can download "Pearls" on


Q:  What encouragement can you give to other writers or others hoping to get published?
*Hone your craft. A well-told story and edited manuscript is your best sales tool.
*Be persistent and patient. The writing profession requires long-term commitments and projects that may last years. Learn to take it one step at a time.
*Learn to market. Writing is barely half the battle. Once you get a book in print, there's the monumental task of letting the world know it's there.
*Have fun! Hold on to the joy you feel when you create. It will sustain you through some tough times.

Q:  Tell us a little about your hobbies.

When I'm not writing, I'm usually crocheting. I learned to crochet when I was eight years old from a saint-of-a-woman who taught my Bible School group some crochet basics for our craft that year. I took to the hook and have been crocheting ever since. My friends and family usually get a crocheted Lisa Mills original goodie for birthdays and Christmas. And recently, I've begun writing down my patterns and making them available for sale. Here's a link to my crochet site if you'd like to have a look:

For more info contact Lisa Mills at

Website and Blog Info:

Monday, May 14, 2012

Nothing Beats Sweet Family Gatherings

This past weekend, Jeff and I made a last minute decision to drive up to Lynchburg, VA from Hickory, NC to attend our niece Brooke's college graduation. We picked my mother up from assisted living in Lewisville. Our stay was short and sweet, just Saturday and part of Sunday morning. But we packed in the fun and memories. I am so glad we went. The days of us all gathering at my mother's house are over. We have to find new ways and places to gather. This coming weekend we'll hold a garage sale to help clear out her house and then we'll put it on the market. An era is passing away.

Being with family this weekend underscored more than ever the value of family, and, how fleeting time is. It slips by so quickly and in the moment we don't see it passing away. It's only when we compare the yesterdays with the todays, looking at old photos and how we've all grown and aged that we realize that life is so very temporary. I watched my mother struggle with remembering even the basic things. She sat through the graduation ceremony only to forget later she'd even attended. "When is graduation?" she asked as we gathered with family at the grad party afterwards. I gently reminded her she'd already attended.

More than ever I wanted to preserve family memories. As a writer/artist I am always working on one art project or another, but rarely do something for myself. Finally, I found a way to capture some of these precious moments and memories. You can find more about the heirloom mirror on my blog.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Book Review, Riding Lessons

Riding Lessons is Sara Gruen's debut novel and if this is her first novel, I cannot imagine what masterful work will come next. Her writing is sensitive and superb and her knowledge of horses and the world-class competitive equestrian world is stunning. Every writer must study up on certain topics in order to realistically incorporate it into their work, but Gruen clearly is an expert in horses and horsemanship.

At the heart of her story is Annemarie Zimmer who nearly made it to the Olympics but at eighteen saw her dream and life shattered when she suffers a fatal injury that nearly left her crippled for life and destroys the horse she worshiped. Though she recovers physically, she never fully recovers emotionally and she lives the equestrian dreams behind to become a wife, mother and career professional. Suddenly everything unravels.  As if losing her job, and husband isn't enough, Annemarie must also return home to her dying father and hardened mother. Her relationship with her teenage daughter is falling apart and Annemarie is so emotionally fragile from past wounds and her present circumstances she begins a slow descent into destruction that nearly undoes her.

Annemarie comes to symbolize lost youth and childhood wounds. At times the story is almost too painful to read, but when things seem darkest, Gruen gives us new hope tied to an amazingly beautiful but imperfect horse who enters Annemarie's life and gives her a second chance.  This was a book I had difficulty putting down. I give it five stars out of five. You can't do better than that.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Which Movie Star Are You? I'm Grace Kelly!

A friend of mine emailed me a questionnaire entitled, Which Movie Star Are You?  I had so much fun with it I thought I would share it. I ended up being Grace Kelly. That made my day!

There are only 10 questions so it doesn't take long and I believe these are all women, so sorry guys, you're out of luck.

Grab a blank piece of paper and number it from 1 to 10, then answer each question with the choice that most describes you at this point in your life. Then add up the points that correspond with your answers.

Don 't look ahead or you will ruin the fun!

1. Which describes your perfect date?
A) Candlelight dinner for two
B) Amusement Park
C) Roller blading in the park
D) Rock Concert
E) Have dinner & see a movie
F) Dinner at home with a loved one

2. What is your favorite type of music?
A) Rock and Roll
B) Alternative
C) Soft Rock
D) Classical
E) Christian
F) Jazz

3. What is your favorite type of movie?
A) Comedy
B) Horror
C) Musical
D) Romance
E) Documentary
F ) Mystery

4. Which of the following jobs would you choose if you were given only these choices?
A) Waiter/Waitress
B) Sports Player
C) Teacher
D) Policeman
E) Bartender
F) Business person

5.. Which would you rather do if you had an hour to waste?
A) Work out
B) Make out
C) Watch TV
D) Listen to the radio
E) Sleep
F) Read

6. Of the following colors, which do you like best?
A) Yellow
B) White
C) Sky blue
D) Teal
E) Gold
F) Red

7. Which one of the following would you like to eat right now?
A) Ice cream
B) Pizza
C ) Sushi
D) Pasta
E) Salad
F) Lobster Tail

8. Which is your favorite holiday?
A) Halloween
B) Christmas
C) New Year's
D) Valentine's Day
E) Thanksgiving
F) Fourth of July

9. If you could go to any of the following places, which would it be?
A) Reno
B) Spain
C) Las Vegas
D) Hawaii
E) Hollywood
F) British Columbia

10. Of the following, who would you rather spend time with?
A) Someone who is smart
B) Someone with good looks
C) Someone who is a party animal
D) Someone who has fun all the time
E) Someone who is very emotional
F) Someone who is fun to be with

Now total up your points on each question: Note that each numbered question has its own and different matches.
1 a-4 ; b-2 ; c-5 ; d-1 ; e-3 ; f-6
2. A-2 ; b-1 ; c-4 ; d-5 ; e-3 ; f-6
3. A-2 ; b-1 ; c-3 ; d-4;e-5 ; f-6
4. A-4 ; b-5 ; c-3 ; d-2 ; e-1 ; f-6
5. A-5 ; b-4 ; c-2 ; d-1 ; e-3 ; f-6
6. A-1 ; b-5 ; c-3 ; d-2 ; e-4 ; f-6
7. A-3 ; b-2 ; c-1 ; d-4 ; e-5 ; f-6
8. A-1 ; b-3 ; c-2 ; d-4 ; e-5 ; f -6
9. A-4 ; b-5 ; c-1 ; d-4 ; e-3 ; f-6

(10-17 points) You are MADONNA:
You are wild and crazy and you know it. You know how to have fun, but you may take it to extremes. You know what you are doing though, and are much in control of your own life . People don't always see things your way, but that doesn't mean that you should do away with your beliefs.
Try to remember that your wild spirit can lead to hurting yourself and others.

(18-26 points) You are DORIS DAY:
You are fun, friendly, and popular! You are a real crowd pleaser. You have probably been out on the town your share of times, yet you come home with the values that your mother taught you. Marriage and children are very important to you, but only after you have fun.
Don 't let the people you please influence you to stray.

(27-34 points) You are DEBBIE REYNOLDS :
You are cute, and everyone loves you. You are a best friend that no one takes the chance of losing. You never hurt feelings and seldom have your own feelings hurt. Life is a breeze. You are witty, and calm most of the time. Just keep clear of back stabbers, and you are worry free.

(35-42 points) You are GRACE KELLY:
You are a lover. Romance, flowers, and wine are all you need to enjoy yourself . You are serious about all commitments and are a family person. You call your Mom every Sunday, and never forget a Birthday.. Don 't let your passion for romance get confused with the real thing.

(43-50 points) You are KATHERINE HEPBURN:
You are smart, a real thinker. Every situation is approached with a plan. You are very healthy in mind and body. You don't take crap from anyone. You have only a couple of individuals that you consider 'real friends'. You teach strong family values. Keep your feet planted in them, but don't overlook a bad situation when it does happen.

(51-60 points) You are ELI ZABETH TAYLOR:
Everyone is in awe of you. You know what you want and how to get it. You have more friends than you know what to do with. Your word is your bond. Everyone knows when you say something it is money in the bank. You attract the opposite sex. Your intelligence overwhelms most.
Your memory is the next thing to photographic. Everyone admires you because you are so considerate and lovable. You know how to enjoy life and treat people right.

Did this quiz make you feel better about yourself?  Do you struggle with feeling valued?  Many women do. That's one of the reasons I wrote my newest book, The Treasure Seeker: Finding Love and Value in the Arms of Your Loving Heavenly Father.  Here's a  bit more info on it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Wildly Pointing Compass

In the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: The Black Pearl, Captain Jack Sparrow possesses a quirky compass that seems horribly broken. It points in all sorts of different directions but hardly ever due north. It's only later that we learn that the compass actually isn't broken.  Instead of pointing north it points to the object of the holder's heart's desire.

I can identify with that feeling of my compass pointing wildly in all kinds of directions. And I do know, without a doubt, that my strongest passion (heart's desire) is creativity and the arts. But many creative sorts will tell you that one has to sometimes make concessions in order to keep bread on the table. I was employed full time until a little more than a year ago. I worked as an admin assistant and volunteer coordinator for a non-profit, but ended up having to leave that position (I was headed for the mental ward of the hospital because the job was so out of control).

 The good news is I have been collecting unemployment, and on the side managing art, writing and a pet silhouette business for a friend. The other good news is I love being self-employed. Life, until recently, has been so much more sane. The down side is a) no health insurance b) having to jump through hoops in order to keep the unemployment c) having way too many areas of focus d) and an highly volatile variable income.

It's overwhelming, and with my unemployment going to the next tier, I had to go in for more evaluations which is enough to make anyone want to jump off a bridge. I've reached the breaking point.  As they say, "insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting it to change."  If I want to get unstuck, I have to be a change agent.

I have always felt like a square peg in a round hole. The traditional work force is not for me....but it's the reliable income I miss.  I do plan to continue looking for jobs, but here in Hickory, NC we have the 8th highest unemployment rate in NC. Employment prospects don't look too promising.  And though the papers report that unemployment is down slightly, I also learned from one of the counselors at the unemployment office, that this is a false reading. People who have been unemployed for a long time are settling for lesser jobs...and it might not be what they are qualified for or provide the money they need.

So much for the unemployment rate decreasing. So, with the job market looking bleak, I've been checking into other possible career paths.. Yes, I do plan to continue writing and making artistic creations on the side.  I've visited a career counselor, am checking into a lateral certificate program for teaching... But that means going back to school to pick up courses I might need in order to qualify for the English program. And there seem to be divided opinions with those I spoke with as to whether there will actually be teaching jobs in those fields when I am done with that program.

I have strong entrepreneurial tendencies, so today I met with a guy from our local community college's small business center to run some ideas by him.  One is related to the pet silhouette business I've been trying to manage...but it has some issues...was kind of a mess when I assumed the reigns. The other is the possibility of putting much more energy and time into my art business which focuses on creative reuse. Since this is a "green" business, the man who met with me is going to check to see if there are any grants for such a business. The bottom line takes money to make money and there isn't really any free "dough" to be had. I will most likely need to borrow some money to make more.  Area experts are saying that with the local economy the way it is, entrepreneurship is a good route to take. So magic compass, spin and spin and let me know where you land, then help me chart a direction.

How about you.  Is your compass pointing due North or spinning wildly?