Category Archives: Reviews

Finished that Potty Book!

Well, I didn’t finish by the end of the month; it is April 2, and I just finished my potty book-of-the-month.

But, if I had not been traveling for a week in the middle?  I would have finished with time to spare.

So for me, the potty reading habit will live on…there’s already a book of William Blake poetry waiting for my next “visit”.

If you remember, I was reading The Last Lecture, a collection of anecdotes and wisdom from Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon professor who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and only a few months to live.  I knew the basics of his story because I had seen part of the lecture video, but there was so much more depth in the book.

Randy Pausch spent his days chasing after the dreams of his childhood: he loved Disney and wanted to be an Imagineer–which he achieved.  He wanted to be in zero gravity–which he achieved.  The list goes on and on, but more than gloating about his accomplishments, Pausch wrote about how he achieved his goals and why he personally had the tenacity to reach after them.

He’s an interesting study in optimism…though the whole thing should be sad, I only got a bit choked up at the end, and even that wasn’t in a manner of pity.  If you’re looking for something inspiring, accessible, and quick-to-read, add this to your list.

And if you have an hour or so, check out the video of his lecture*:

It’s worth the time.

If you were told you had three months left of good health, what would you do with it?

*Note: Beware of (and sorry for the pun) some potty language in the lecture.

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Wanna Write Alotta?

I picked up a neat little book the other day at the library.  Then, I went home and began reading it.

I put it down to have some dinner and play with Pookie.  I put her to bed, kissed my husband, snuggled into a chair, and finished said book.

Do you know how satisfying it is to finish a book in an evening?!

Granted, I skipped a chapter or two in the middle that didn’t apply to me, but at any rate, it was lovely to see something through to the end; I felt like Winston Churchill, who claimed he read a book every evening.

So, what did I read?

Silvia writes specifically about academic writing (which is why I skipped quite a bit), but his main principles can apply to bloggers, novelists, journalists, etc.:

*Create a writing schedule. I need to get back to this…because I’m in the editing phase, I tell myself that I need an entirely different system, but Silvia points out that your scheduled writing time is for any activity relating to your writing.  He says he takes one day a month of his writing time to plan: projects, priorities, goals, and how exactly he will use his upcoming writing time.  Genius!

*Just do it, material situation be darned. I admit, I dream of a pretty room with a particular desk and special chair just for my writing, but I need to wake up to the fact that I can write in any place if I have paper and pen.

*Reward yourself. I let loose when I finished writing my novel manuscript: plenty of treats from the convenience store, extra time to sit around and watch TV…but maybe small rewards for reaching small goals would help me achieve more.  He also recommends tracking your progress somehow, because everybody loves gold stars and hates to see a blank tally sheet.

*Start a writing goals group. Not just a group to talk about writing, books, publishing, whatever.  A group in which everybody writes down a goal for the next week/2 weeks/month/until the next meeting and is held accountable to meet that goal.

Short highlights from a short but helpful book–great for the academic in your life or anybody looking to write…and write a lot!

I’m going to back to writing (or editing for now) for an hour during afternoon naptime–I get a big checkmark for today!

Reader friend, when do you write?

Finally, a little fiction!

I don’t know what it is about motherhood, but I have found it darn near impossible to get through a novel these days!  Finally, the happy day has come in which I plowed through the last 100-or-so pages in an evening and have that satisfied, finished feeling.

The book?  The Thorn by Beverly Lewis.

But before I talk about the book, I must give a little background on my relationship with Beverly Lewis.

No, I don’t actually know her or anything, but I had never read Amish fiction before I read her books, and I think I had only ever read one Christian novel.  I was working at a library and commuting to university two days a week…two hours each way (it was only for a semester, but still pretty crazy).

After one round-trip with nothing but the radio to keep me company, I knew something needed to change.  I started scouring audiobook titles as I shelved them and happened upon The Covenant, the first of the Abram’s Daughters series.

And oh. my. word. I fell head over heels for the simplicity of the lives but the complexity in the story. As I was only months from my own wedding, I desperately wanted a happy ending for Leah and Jonas…but I had to get through five books to know whether or not it happened!  I love how Beverly Lewis keeps you on your toes, makes it seem as though a happy ending is impossible, then gives you an ending that is satisfying, plausible, and unexpected all at once.

Plus, isn’t she cute as a button?

The Thorn follows Rose Ann as she cares for her injured mother, courts a beau, and tries to keep a wayward neighbor fella–adopted by the local bishop when the boy was nine–from leaving the Plain life behind.  Meanwhile, her older sister longs to get back to her Amish roots…even though she married an Englischer and has a daughter.

I can’t say much more without giving away the game, but it was delightful to get through a novel, and I can hardly wait for book two of the trilogy, The Judgment, to make an appearance at my local library!

When you’re looking for a good novel, who do you reach for?

100 Thing Challenge + Little House on a Small Planet

I’m a big fan of simple living blogs, books, magazines, you name it.  When I picked up The 100 Thing Challenge by Dave Bruno from the library and saw how thin it was, I expected to devour it in a day or two.

But for some reason, that just didn’t happen.

I struggled with Bruno’s book in part because of its repetitive or circular nature: imagine reading a book that reads like a neverending blog post, referencing itself repeatedly  but without the nifty hyperlinks to take you back to the source.  The same intense language that gets smashed into a blog post so the author doesn’t lose your attention is mingled with more blase fare…not the most engaging book I’ve ever picked up.

Still, I took away some good points, like not keeping clutter pertaining to hobbies you wish you liked…makes me feel better about those empty scrapbooks I dropped off at Goodwill!  I also enjoyed that Bruno was entirely open and honest about his struggles throughout the year of the challenge.  But I have the feeling I would have gotten just as much out of reading his blog rather than slogging through the book.

I won’t be embarking on a 100 thing challenge of my own, but I am whittling down my possessions slowly and am more determined to tame my closet: Bruno had about 50 clothing items and never left his house naked or too underdressed…do I really need a stuffed-to-the-gills wardrobe?

This book, Little House on a Small Planet was something of a guilty pleasure read for me.  Jay Shafer, owner of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, says in his interview for the book that he had something of a “perverse” obsession with tiny houses, with the idea of subtracting just a little bit more to create the smallest livable floor plan he could.

I love tiny houses.  And I love reading about alternative building materials and construction methods.  Build your house on a trailer?  Use straw balesCordwood masonryComposting toilets?  I didn’t necessarily fall in love with every idea in this book, but I definitely spent a lot of time doodling my own floor plan and dreaming and thinking about how the Professor and I could reach our goal of building our own farm in a sustainable way.

I guess that’s not such a “guilty” pleasure then, but since I can’t do anything about it in the here and now, it would probably be prudent to focus on other things.  But that doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally dabble in a little amateur architecturing…

What’s your guilty pleasure reading pick?

Surviving Without a Salary?!

Did you panic just a bit for me when you read that title?  When I picked up How to Survive Without a Salary by Charles Long, I expected it to be about ultra-frugality and living on basically nothing after losing a job.

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That premise enticed me, but what I got was even better: a book on living–and making a living–without a 9-5 job through simple living and pursuing what you really want.  I already quoted the book once, with Long’s point that we can choose stuff that will cost us money (and therefore require us to work more) or we can choose time with loved ones, gardening, visiting on the front porch, things that add meaning to life without denting the pocketbook.  McMansion or tiny house…or somewhere in between.

Now, this is not new stuff to me, or to most people.  But Long makes you think about all the things you’ve assumed.  Here are some of my favorites:

*This Will Rogers quote–“There’s nothing dumber than an educated man, once you get him off the thing he’s educated in”–made me wonder what skills I (or my husband or anybody) have beyond my schooling.  Sure, I hold a BA in English and can write and edit, but could I also build furniture?  Do people’s taxes?  Kick butt washing windows?  Maybe we all need to think about how we else we could support ourselves, beyond one job.

*This one then goes hand-in-hand: “It’s the casual nickel and dime stuff, the once-a-week-if-I-feel-like-it jobs that are easiest to start and stop that provide the freedom only dreamed about by desk-bound nine-to-fivers” (16).

*In third world countries, farmers build their own houses and barns, they save their seeds, plant the seeds themselves, choose what and how to feed their animals–they do it all.  In America, farmers hire all sorts of experts from builders to nutritionists to do these things for them–we all need wider skill sets.

*This quote from page 24 only kindled my desire to build my own house someday: “Any peasant can build a wall.”

*We need to weigh the cost of everything: I need clean, dry clothes.  A dryer needs fabric softener sheets, special wiring, etc.  For us, a clothing rack works just fine…especially since the dryer in our apartment building is overpriced and hardly works.

*Fashion is the “obsolescence and the creation of artificial need” in our closets.  If hem lines are long this season, they won’t be next…but if I keep the same skirt, it will come back in vogue eventually (56).

*I don’t recall the story behind this quote, but I loved the phrase: “the material fast–buying nothing but essentials during a predetermined interlude of Spartan discipline” (78).

*When choosing your own work and setting your own pace (and really, who wouldn’t want that?), it’s important to have some physical work and some creative work in your day.  As a stay-at-home mom, I have that: I clean and cook and keep house but during Pookie’s naptime I write.  The Professor longs for the day we can move onto a farm of our own so that he’ll have that same balance when he comes home from work–we can’t have that now, but every day is one day closer to his PhD!

*Long makes a very interesting case about how freelancing and 9-5 work are pretty much equal in terms of job security.  The longer I think about that, the more it makes sense, but freelancing is tougher to get started in; I imagine once you’ve built up a portfolio and clientele, though, for whatever it is you do, things get easier.

So, that’s how to survive without a salary…in a nutshell, anyway.  Oh, and the entire chapter on auctions makes the book worthwhile.  The Professor and I might start going to auctions…just for fun!

Reader friend, do you think you could live without a salary or a 9-5?  And if you already do, tell me about it!

Happiness Project, Schmappiness Project

I was very intrigued by The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin’s year-long attempt to put more happiness into her life.  She focuses on a different aspect of life each month (work, marriage, etc.), and at the beginning, I was really gleaning some things.

But as the book wore on, I found myself getting less and less out of it, sometimes growing impatient, and it hit me: as a Christian, I don’t need a happiness project. I have the greatest and only source of true joy there is, salvation through Jesus Christ.  It is the sweetest gift, frames my every day, and gives meaning to my life’s work and leisure.

Once I realized that, I read the book more as a memoir of the author’s experience than as a book that would change my life or perspective.  But there were a few things that I took away, month-by-month:

January: Vitality: I need to establish–and follow–a bedtime routine, in the same order, at the same time, every night.  This momma needs more sleep!

February: Marriage: The Professor and I talked about this…our marriage is pretty awesome.  He doesn’t let arguments fester when I would, so things always get resolved.  It was interesting to see into the dynamics of another marriage, and exciting to realize that mine is rock-solid.

March: Work: Inspired me to be more daring in my writing, like trying to freelance and submitting my manuscript sooner rather than later.

April: Parenthood: This was probably the best thing I got out of the book: instead of just saying “no” to a child, acknowledge her feelings. Example: instead of saying, “Don’t touch the stove!” your child is more likely to listen and respond positively to “You want to touch the stove because Mommy does, but it’s very hot and I don’t want you to get hurt.”

May: Leisure: I could relate to the author hiding her love for kidlit: it’s not “adult” enough to be considered a valid reading choice.  She changed that, and I plan to as well, just like C.S. Lewis:

When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so.  Now that I am fifty I read them openly.  When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up. –from “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”

June: Friendship: I had no notes.

July: Money:
I had no notes.

August: Eternity: I didn’t even read it; I have that one covered.

September: Books: No notes, but I could relate to the novel-in-a-month experience that the author describes.  I am now certain I will do NaNoWriMo again this year, and I already have an idea!  The idea of making time for passions and taking notes while reading for no apparent reason also resonated with me.

October: Mindfulness: No notes.  Blech.

November: Attitude: Ho hum.

December: Happiness Boot Camp: I think I’ll keep the author’s idea of a resolution chart (like Benjamin Franklin used) in mind when New Year’s rolls around again.

Overall, an interesting look into one woman’s life and pursuit of happiness, but I think the greatest truth I took away from the book is that I never needed it.

Steady Days and change in our home!

I would recommend Steady Days to any new–or not so new–mother: it reads quickly in one sitting or (more effectively) can be read in tiny bursts, then set aside so that you can ponder what you have read and figure out how to implement it into your day.

The author addresses everything from routines to capturing memories to drafting a mission/vision statement.  A lot of the information wasn’t new to me, and a lot of things I already had figured out for our household.  But a few really hit home.

For me, the biggest thing I took away was the idea of the flexible but structured routine for “steady days”.  Previously, I had created all sorts of schedules that included too much for Pookie and I right now: I accounted for every minute and then felt stifled to the point where I rejected the schedule and did nothing.  My house was in shambles, I played less with my darling than I wanted to, and I spent way too much time on the computer.

For me, in this season, I need a morning routine, routines for filling nap times with housework and writing, an afternoon routine to get supper started and the house quickly picked up, and an after-dinner-quick-clean-the-kitchen-so-I-don’t-start-tomorrow-with-a-disaster routine.  The rest of the day fills itself with together playtime, reading together, independent play for both of us (Pookie on the floor with toys, me at the computer or with a book), and a whole lot more enjoyment.

The other big thing I took away was this: a little bit of TV is okay…and it can go a long way. After doing all sorts of reading online about babies and TV, I fretted that I had done Pookie serious, permanent damage by letting her anywhere near a television screen.  Common sense from the author (and my own memory of my childhood) tells me otherwise: a single kid-friendly TV show every day, balanced with a lot of active play, is not going to kill anybody.  So, I integrated Pookie’s TV time and my afternoon routine time.  I nestle her in a chair (she’s not mobile yet, but soon I’ll have to get a play pen or something out) with a few toys and turn on Veggie Tales.  At just seven months old, she watches the songs and sings along {so cute} but otherwise plays with her toys.

The TV show is almost more for my benefit: my afternoon routine of straightening and prepping dinner has a finite time limit.  I won’t clean forever, and I won’t ignore it either because when the Veggie Tales stop dancing, we move onto the next part of the day.  It’s a scheduled event that is extremely freeing.

And doesn’t she look like she’s having a good time? {I would have stopped to take more and better pictures…but I had things to do during this time! :D }

For more information on the book, the author, and the ideas she teaches, visit her website.  There are downloadable worksheets and lots of encouragement and inspiration–something every mom could use a little more of!

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P.S. This post is linked to Booking It on Life as Mom.

Review: Radical by David Platt

Talk about a game-changer.

David Platt got under my skin with this quick-reading, hard-hitting book: is pursuing the American dream–house, kids, good job, security–Christian?  That is, if we pursue the things of this world, can we truly be pursuing Jesus Christ?

That question alone stops me in my tracks.

No, Platt is not saying that I (or you or anyone) must sell my every possession in exchange for a one-way ticket to Africa to live life as a missionary, but he’s imploring us to check our hearts.

Our desires.

Our true motives.

He offers story after story of people in this world hurting, dying, needing Jesus.  Can I sit in my well-heated apartment when people in my own community lay their heads to sleep on cold benches?  Can I gorge myself on my favorite snack when children in my country go without food?  Can I spend my time and money at the mall when people across the world can’t even get a glass of clean water?

Platt does not merely offer stories and statistics to make the reader feel bad; he offers real, doable solutions that can be implemented by singles, marrieds, families, widows, kids–anybody.  And this year, I’m all about doable.

{The main premise of the book is this: Jesus called you.  He called you to take His love to the world, where you are and everywhere else.}

I would write more specifically about the book, but Professor and I are going to read through it together, one chapter a week.  After our reading and discussion, I’ll fill you in on the book’s contents and our discussion.  Suffice to say, I highly recommend this book and look forward to changing the world–here, there, and everywhere.

This book was provided by Waterbrook Multnomah as part of their blogging for books program.  The thoughts and opinions expressed are entirely my own.

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