Hopefully Devoted

by Carlton Hughes

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: God has a sense of humor.

Proof of this truth came during the final evening of the 2016 Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. A faculty member announced that an editor friend needed new writers for a devotional book. If interested, attendees could drop by the faculty member’s book table for submission information for The Wonders of Nature, about finding God in the great outdoors.

There are two things you should know about me:

  1. At the time, I had never written a devotion and did not consider myself a devotional writer.
  2. I really love . . . the INDOORS! Had it been The Wonders of a Recliner, The Wonders of Air Conditioning, or The Wonders of Salty Snacks, it would have been a natural fit.

Even with these strikes against me, I returned to my room, pulled out my laptop, and prayed my usual prayer, God, give me something! A story came to mind about butterflies. I wrote a rough draft and polished it once I got home the next day. I sent it off and forgot about it.

Several days later, I got an acceptance and ended up signing a contract for ten devotions—me, in a book about nature! After I signed the contract, I sat at the keyboard staring at an empty page. What now, God? My prayer life increased as I searched for things to write about. Slowly but surely, I found the secret to devotional writing—look for God in the everyday moments of life.

I found Him in the most unusual places—a snow-covered football field, a brightly-colored autumn leaf, a rainy morning drive. If we are intentional about seeking Him, we will find Him in the tiniest of details, in the heat of every moment.

What to do when you find Him? Write about it! What is He teaching you in those moments? What scriptures line up with this thing? What prayer do you have to offer based on this situation? Think about that word “devotion.” Are we devoted to God in our everyday lives? How can we show it and give others insight about Him?

[Click to Tweet] God is there—you just have to look. And then write about it.

PROMPT: Go outdoors (or look out the window) and really notice your surroundings. What is the evidence of God there? Write about it.

Summer Fun: I Scream, You Scream . . .

I was just telling someone the other day that August is almost here. Call me “King of the Obvious.”

For many of you, August is a summer month. For those of us in the field of education, August means back-to-school.

Cue the “waaaah-waaaah” sound effect.

So far I have had a lot of summer fun, and there’s still more to come for a couple of weeks or so. I decided to create a “Summer Fun Top Ten List,” mostly because I couldn’t think of any other way to organize my thoughts (Keepin’ it real!):

1.            No matter what, no matter where, go for the ice cream.

2.            Never pass up a chance to do something fun with loved ones, whether it be enjoying a picnic, playing a game of putt-putt golf, or sharing ice cream.

3.            Always pack extra clothes for summer trips. Ice cream drips and gets messy sometimes.

4.            The summer heat is very hot. This seems to be a bigger issue now that I am older. Cooling off with ice cream helps.

5.            Reading, in the comfort of air conditioning, is a nice summer thing.

6.            Watching a new season of The Great British Baking Show, in the comfort of air conditioning, is also a nice summer thing.

7.            Eating ice cream, while watching a new season of The Great British Baking Show, in the comfort of air conditioning, is a most awesome summer thing.

8.            Long walks in the evening, when the heat isn’t so hot, are wonderful. Even better if they’re on a beach somewhere.

9.            If your job or life situation allows, sleeping in during summer days is refreshing. If only my internal alarm wasn’t so early!

And the final summer fun thing is . . .

Just add fruit to create a nutritious summer meal!

10.          Ice cream is a cool meal alternative when the summer heat makes it too hot to cook. Unless you’re a contestant on The Great British Baking Show, in which you would be burning up anyway in that tent.

NOTE: If you’re not a fan of ice cream (????) or cannot have it, substitute your favorite treat in the items above. Popsicles, slushies, sno cones, smoothies, etc.

 

[Click to Tweet] The “Summer Fun Top Ten List,” from @carltonwhughes via @InspiredPrompt – Warning: this post WILL make you hungry for ice cream, and may also make you giggle.  #summer #fun #icecream

WRITING PROMPT: Imagine you have a free summer day with no responsibilities.  What would you do? Where would you go? What would you eat?

Encouragement from Harlan County

by Carlton Hughes

“I’m proud to be a Kentucky woman from Harlan County!”

Those were the first words out of the mouth of Sandra Aldrich as she began her first keynote address at Kentucky Christian Writers Conference several years ago. I couldn’t believe my ears.

It was my second time attending the event, and I looked around the room—I was the ONLY attendee from Eastern Kentucky and certainly the ONLY one from Harlan County, as far Southeast as you can go in the state.

I listened intently as Sandra detailed her writing journey, from humble roots in our “neck of the Appalachian woods” to working for Focus on the Family and speaking all around the country. She lived up to her title of “encourager,” as her speech fired me up to not only write but to conquer the world.

At the break, I timidly (people who know me are laughing, but I WAS timid) approached Sandra and introduced myself, letting her know that I now lived in her home county. To say she was excited is an understatement. She asked to meet my family back at the hotel, and, later in the weekend, I won a drawing for a spot at her lunch table. I now want to apologize to the other people at our table because Sandra and I chatted and chatted until time was up, leaving little room for anyone else to get a word in edgewise.

We promised to keep in touch after the conference, and I bought two of her books, 101 Upward Glances and Bless Your Socks Off, devouring them when I got home. Sandra has a way of taking the simplest thing, like watching her grandmother remove biscuits from the oven, and finding God in it. Her work is encouraging and uplifting.

I had been home about two weeks when I got an email from Sandra.

“A couple of friends of mine from Jerry Jenkins’ Writers Guild are putting together a book. Here’s the information—submit something! Deadline is in two weeks.”

TWO WEEKS? Thanks, Sandra, but I don’t know . . .

I prayed about it, and God gave me a spark of an idea. I sat down at the computer and wrote the piece, editing and honing it over those two weeks. I finally hit “submit,” and the rest is history. That essay, “God Will Honor Your Sacrifice,” was my first major publication, featured in the book Simple Little Words.

Sandra and I have kept in touch over the years, and she returned to KCWC a couple of years ago, much to my delight. As always, we shared some great conversations and some hearty laughter. She continues to inspire me with her written words in her books, her spoken words in her speeches, and her encouraging words in our exchanges, both online and in person.

WRITING PROMPT: Write a “Thank You” note to a person who has encouraged you in your writing journey, detailing how that person inspired you.

Click to Tweet: Encouragement from Harlan County–Carlton Hughes: Sandra Aldrich continues to inspire me. How an author inspired me via @InspiredPrompt #amwriting #writerslife

Here’s the Story . . .

Are you unpopular? Do you get pooped out at parties?

If you know me and/or have read anything I have written, you know I like to write humor. My personality is wired for the “funny,” and someone recently gave me the ultimate compliment: “I love your quick wit!”

I could say it’s just me, but I owe a good chunk of my sense of humor to Lucy, Laverne, Shirley, Oscar, and Felix.

It’s so tasty, too!

Classic sitcoms are my “jam,” as the younger set would say. I grew up on them, cut my teeth on them, and still watch them whenever I can. I have a substantial DVD collection, and I am constantly scouring streaming services and YouTube for episodes.

Do I just sit around all the time, passively watching classic TV? No (well, mostly “no”). In my writing, I can tell that my “style” has developed over the years from tricks and tips learned through these wonderful comedies. The “triple” joke, used so often in the Dick Van Dyke Show? I use it all the time. Broad exaggeration of everyday situations? Thanks, Lucy and Ethel and Laverne and Shirley. Contrasting opposite things for humorous effect? I see you, Oscar and Felix.

Join the thousands of happy, peppy people . . .

I guess you could say my research with classic sitcoms has been both intentional and unintentional. There are times when I search out a show or a specific episode for a focused purpose; other times, I am relieving stress by popping in a “Lucy” for a good laugh.

So, in the words of that great philosopher Jed Clampett, take off your shoes and sit a spell—enjoy an episode on me. Trust me—it counts as research!

WRITING PROMPT: Find an episode of an old sitcom, either on a streaming service or on YouTube. Watch with a critical eye, noticing the style of the humor and the jokes. Now, think of a humorous situation in your own life and write about it, incorporating ideas you learned from the episode.

[Click to Tweet] Classic sitcoms are my “jam,” as the younger set would say. I grew up on them, cut my teeth on them, and still watch them whenever I can.

Gingerbread Love

By Carlton Hughes

Have you ever been the apple of someone’s eye? The object of affection from someone who loves you unconditionally?

That was me with my grandmothers. They loved me more than anyone else has in this world, and I say with a straight face that I was the favorite. Apology to my cousins—who probably feel the same way. Both grandmothers had a way of making me feel like I was the most important person in the world.

Growing up, I loved to visit my grandmothers, and there were always special treats and surprises.

Mammaw Dema, my paternal grandmother, was petite in stature but strong as could be. She didn’t mince words, and you never had to guess what she was thinking. At her house I could always find a fresh pitcher of green lemon-lime Kool-Aid in the fridge, and, if I was lucky, there would be a homemade chocolate pie. Not a combination you find every day, but it worked for us.

Mammaw Arietta was my maternal grandmother, and she was a bit more soft-spoken. She loved having her family members around her, and they often gathered at her small home to talk, to drink coffee, and to play cards. Speaking of cards, I spent many an evening getting thumped by her at 500 Rummy. When I finally beat her after hundreds of tries, she wasn’t disappointed—she said she had taught me well.

One of my favorite treats at Mammaw Arietta’s house was her homemade gingerbread. It wasn’t shaped as cute gingerbread men—it came out of the oven in big slabs, with a design made from pulling a fork through the dough. I enjoyed large pieces smothered with peanut butter; again, it worked for us.

My mother recently provided me with the recipe, which is typical of a grandmother’s method of cooking. Some of the measurements are not exact, and there are no baking instructions. The cooks from that era didn’t have Google or hundreds of cooking blogs to draw from—just their own instincts, put to good use with limited ingredients.

The recipe was passed down to my grandmother from her mother. It’s the best gingerbread I have ever had, and, to this day, when I smell ginger, I think of those days at her house.

GRANDMA GREER’S GINGERBREAD

2/3 cup sweet milk (what we called regular milk, as opposed to buttermilk)
1 cup molasses
½ cup regular granulated sugar
2 eggs
½ cup shortening
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ginger (or more to taste)

Mix all ingredients together. Add enough all-purpose flour to make the dough stiff. Grease a large baking sheet and spread the dough on it. Run a fork through the dough several times to make a design. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown.

Click-to-Tweet: An old-fashioned holiday recipe from .@carltonwhughes #inspiredprompt #gingerbreadlove #grandmotherslove