Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Keturah by Lisa Tawn Bergren - fiction review

Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links. That means I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. Please read my full disclosure here.

Keturah's father has passed away and in order to provide for herself and her sisters they have decided to travel to the island of Nevis to try and save their father's struggling sugar plantation. The man Keturah loved as a child is also going to make his mark as a plantation owner but because of Keturah's previous abusive relationship with her deceased husband she declares she'll never rely on a man again. The sisters experience many trials as female plantation owners, and they have to really find their own strength in order to succeed against all odds.

The good: The description of life at the time seemed pretty accurate and I liked the evolution of the characters from stuck up society people to real-life humans trying to survive and figure out who they are. The writing was well done and I often felt like I was really there at times.

The bad: I felt like I was there at times. While slavery is not something that can be avoided in this story (the author discusses this in the historical notes at the end), I would almost rather not read the story than read about characters that participate in the moral atrocity that is slavery. The Banning sisters were kind to their slaves, but that doesn't detract from the fact that they in fact thought it was okay to own people. Keturah survived a horribly abusive marriage but in the end, her own comfort and the success of her plantation was more important to her than the lives of people she saw as beneath her. I don't need or want my characters to be perfect. And maybe the future books will see the hearts of these characters changed, but I couldn't get past this detail in order to connect with the main characters. The other issue I had was that the representation of Christianity was weak. It was so unimportant and uninspiring that I would have rather it had been left out completely. I don't need preaching in my fiction but I want there to be genuineness to their faith.

All in all I was disappointed with this book. Which makes me sad because I LOVE some of Bergren's other books (like her River of Time Series). I might read the next book just to see what she does with the slavery issue, but we'll see.

I received this book for free from Bethany House for my honest review.

Some of the links in the post above are Amazon referral links. I may receive money or products from them, but it's at no cost to you.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

How do I find time (and money) to read?

Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links. That means I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. Please read my full disclosure here.

Reading has always been a large part of my life. There were times (like in college) when I couldn't always read as much, but usually it's a big priority for me. I think this is for two reasons. The first is that reading fiction is one of the main ways I unwind. Self-care is kind of a hip thing now, and for me, reading is one way I take care of myself. The other reason I make reading a priority is because I love learning. One of the most obvious ways to learn is by reading. I know not everyone likes to read, and as strange as those people may be, hopefully they've found other ways to take care of themselves and to learn. For those who do enjoy reading, I thought I'd give you a little insight into how I make time to read, and how I afford my reading habit.

Finding Time to Read
Some would maybe say I'm not a true book lover because, for the most part, I'm not particularly attached to physical books. I LOVE reading ebooks. There are some books that I like to have the actual copy of, but it's not like I'm over there sniffing them or anything. I usually read using apps on my phone (like the FREE Kindle Reading App), but eReaders (Kindle, Nook, etc) and tablets are great as well. How this helps me read more is that it's so much more portable. I can read in the doctor's waiting room, during my lunch break, and it was great for when I was up nursing a baby in the middle of the night. It's a great way to find tiny pockets of time to get some reading done instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media (which let's be honest, I also do).

Audio books:
Along with ebooks, audio books are a great way to get more "reading" in. I mostly listen to podcasts in my car but sometimes I'll listen to an audio book instead. It's also nice when I'm doing things around the house like laundry or the dishes. Bluetooth headphones make that a lot easier, and it makes the chore go by faster. This isn't necessarily my favorite way of reading because if I'm not paying attention I'll sometimes miss important parts of the book, but it's nice to mix things up every now and then.

Multiple books at once:
I usually have one fiction book and one non-fiction book going at the same time. This is because sometimes I'm in the mood for fiction and it's easy for me to read through that quickly. And other times I want to read something a little deeper and I can pick up my non-fiction to fill that need. I try not to have too much more than that going on other than maybe an audio book otherwise I'm not as likely to actually finish the book.

Set goals and find accountability:
If you have something or someone pushing you to read because you've made it a priority then hopefully you'll find yourself more motivated to accomplish what you're striving for. To add on to this, give yourself some kind of reward when you've reached a milestone. Maybe you spend a bit more money than you normally would on that book you've been wanting because you read half your yearly goal. Or you allow yourself to watch the movie after you've read the book. As important as intrinsic motivation is to being a mature human, an external reward is helpful sometimes too. I've set a goal of reading 15 non-fiction books this year and I'm posting about each one on Instagram as accountability with a bit of a pat on the back built in.

Finding Money to Read
As much as I love books, I don't really love spending money on books. If it's something I really want, I will sometimes allow myself to buy a book. But that's actually pretty rare. Here are some of the ways I get books for cheap or free.

The library:
This one is fairly obvious. I don't actually make it to the local library much anymore, but I do take advantage of their ebook and audio book collections. I've even started letting Callie pick out some ebooks to read on the tablet after the younger girls are in bed. 

Kindle Unlimited:
Kindle Unlimited isn't free, but I pay a monthly fee and can read a lot of books for that one price. The selection is limited, but I can usually find some decent books on here, and if I'm lucky, an entire series will be on there so I don't have to hope my library has all of them or pay a ton of money to read them. Also, some books will have free narration so I can go from reading it on my phone to listening to it in my car!

My Reader Rewards:
I'm sure there are rewards clubs for other publishers, but My Reader Rewards is for Tyndale House Publishers. I just occasionally go on and fill out surveys and review some of their books, and I can get points to use towards free books. There's not a huge collection, but I've found several books on there for me and the kids. (And if you click here to sign up you can start off with 25 points.)

Review Programs:
Sometimes you can sign up and receive free books in exchange for honest reviews on a blog and/or a retailer website. I've been a part of the Bethany House Review Program for a while now and have received some really good books to review.

Free eBooks:
There are a ton of free eBooks on Amazon, B&N, etc. The problem with this is that most of these books aren't great quality, but every now and then you can find a good one. Usually this book is the first in a series and they're trying to hook you into reading the rest or they'll have a special promotion before a new book comes out. If you don't want to comb through a million books to find what you want you can get daily emails from sites like BookGorillaBookBub and others which will show you a list of free/cheap books based on your preferences.

There are a lot of ways to earn Amazon giftcards these days, but one I've been using for a while is Swagbucks. Sometimes I'm all in and I fill out surveys and do searches and stuff to get me closer to that giftcard. Sometimes I'm feeling lazy and the only way I earn is by printing off and using grocery coupons from their site. How quickly you work towards earning a reward is up to you.

Google Opinion Rewards and Play Books:
I just recently had the idea that I could use the money I earn filling out short surveys in the Google Opinion Rewards app to buy books in the Play Store. I use the Play Books app to read the books on my phone or tablet. Technically you can use your rewards from the Rewards app to buy all kinds of things like apps, movies, etc, but since reading is a goal of mine I'm planning on buying ebooks and audio books. I believe you can use the Rewards app on iOS devices as well and the money gets sent to your paypal account. There are probably other options similar to this out there.

There's a whole host of ways to get free or discounted books to read. If audio books is your thing, you could always sign up for an Audible subscription. I did this for a while and really liked it, but I don't listen to as many audio books now. There's also a whole host of apps which will reward you with Amazon gift cards. Grocery apps like Ibotta and Fetch Rewards (use referral code YU9MU to get 1500 points when you sign up and scan your first receipt) will get you Amazon giftcards. I always send my money to my Paypal account and back into my bank account to use on groceries, but to each his own.

Do you want to read more books? Do you already read a lot of books? How do you motivate yourself to read more and how do you get your books?

Some of the links in the post above are referral links. I may receive money or products from them, but it's at no cost to you.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January Recap

Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links. That means I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. Please read my full disclosure here.

As a point of accountability I want to update you on my progress on my January goals.

Starting a podcast
My motivation for my January goals here was to get back into the habit of posting online. I planned to:
  • Write a 2 month blogging plan ✅
    • I stuck with my plan for January and I have a few tweaks I want to make for next month
  • Write at least 2 blog posts ✅
    • I actually wrote 4 (if you count my two-parter separately)
  • Do research on current favorite podcasting blogs ✅
    • Some of my favorite podcasts are God Centered Mom and Journeywomen. I enjoyed looking through their blogs to get ideas on how to connect written content to a podcast.
Personal Growth
I focused on my non-fiction reading goal. I finished two which I'm pretty happy with. I also got a few fiction books in as well. Below are links to some of the books and also to some of my Goodreads reviews.

Heath & Fitness
  • I've been trying to find some more healthy meals our family will eat. Easier said than done when you've got a picky eater in the family (and no I'm not talking about any of our kids). I did manage to intentionally plan in at least a few healthy family meals each week.
  • I'm trying to figure out an exercise program that I like. I'm thinking I'll go back to 21 Day Fix this month since I had success with that.

Home Improvement
  • I pinned a pitiful number of garden pins which you can see here. Honestly, I'm pretty overwhelmed so any flower garden gurus who want to help a sister out are welcome over!
My main goal here was to get in one-on-one dates with each of the girls on (or near) the date they were born. It could be either Lee or I taking them, but I wanted them to have some special time with one of us.
  • I took Callie to Panera. I told her she could have whatever she wanted for breakfast and the girl chose a sesame seed bagel. She then proceeded to eat half of my cinnamon swirl bagel. Next time I'll narrow her choices so she doesn't seem so overwhelmed.
  • Lee took Sophia to the BCM and they played together. I hate to say it, but she's got some puppy-like tendencies in that she really loves to play fetch.
  • Letty's is coming up tomorrow and we'll probably do breakfast and shoe shopping.
My other goals involved saving money towards certain things and I was able to do that successfully this month.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

I Give Up!

I went about the whole becoming a mom business in a somewhat unusual way. We "acquired" three kids in 362 days. If you're behind, you can read about my struggles with pregnancy loss here, our decision to jump feet first into fostering here, and our youngest's birth story here. You could say it's all or nothing in our household. So at this point I've had a little more than two years experience in momming little people. I'm pretty much an expert now...except I'm not. The saying that you're a perfect parent until you have kids is 100% true. While Lee and I have stayed true to our core parenting value of trying to raise kids to love the Lord, almost nothing else looks the same as it did before we actually had kids!

One of the things God has really been teaching me in the last several months is to let go of perfectionism. Now, I would never have said that I was the perfect parent (far from it). But in my head I was always striving to be what I thought the perfect mom should be. And every time I didn't live up to that imaginary expectation I would beat myself up over it. Can that resonate with anyone else? So for those perfectionist moms (and dads) out there, let's talk about why I gave up trying to be supermom.

Social Media As Our Standard
It's a wildly different society we live in than when I first started dreaming of being a mom. It's not just the moms in your immediate circle that you have to compare yourself with, or the moms of TV and movies. It's millions of moms around the world who post pictures and stories of their seemingly perfect momming online. From Pinterest, to Facebook and Instagram. With the development of smart phones and filters for pictures it's so tempting to look at the lives of "real" people and compare ourselves. I really like social media. It lets me keep up with people and learn from those I may have never been able to connect with before. But the problem with relying on social media to give me my standard of parenting is that it's not reality and it's not realistic.

While people may often post pictures or videos of some of the messier parts of parenting, there is no way to actually see every frustrating, gross, mundane, loving or exciting detail of a person's life. Nor should their be. While you may feel like you're part of someone's family because of all the details they post online, no one can replace your real life family. And you shouldn't want them to! For example, my brand of creativity lies in my ability to solve problems and think through situations in detail. I'm an engineer, not an artist. That didn't stop me from trying to throw a Pinterest worthy party for one of my kiddos. I pinned all the pins, but when it came down to it, my heart wasn't really in it and the execution of said party fell a little lot short. I was frustrated with myself and felt bad for my kiddo. But do you know what? She didn't care. She never asked for the perfect Bubble Guppies party. I put that pressure on myself. She just really liked her Bubble Guppies shirt (thanks to Gigi) and playing with balloons! I need to be able to admire and encourage those moms who are able to throw awesome parties for their kids without trying to be one of those moms myself.

I let myself fall into the trap of seeing something in social media, and mistakenly drawing the conclusion that doing that was necessary for me to be a good mom and have happy kids. Trying to do all the things is just not realist, but mom-guilt is a real thing. Throwing the perfect birthday party may be a superficial example, but pretty much anything a mom holds herself responsible for is subject to mom-guilt. When in reality, most of those things are only important to ourselves. I knew that having all the bells and whistles for a birthday party wasn't important to me or my kids. So why waste time and energy on something no one cared about? Mom-guilt.

Others Opinions As Our Standard
This is related to using social media as our standard for being a good mom, but while I focused on the internal pressure in the previous section, here I want to focus on the pressure from others. Similar to mom-guilt, mom-shaming can also cause us to second guess our ability to parent. By mom-shaming I mean when others (usually women) decide that you're not doing things the right way and they want to "help" you by letting you know how it should be done (aka their way). I feel a lot of times people have the best intentions when they correct your decisions, but it's not usually any more beneficial. Sometimes, though, people can be downright hateful. This is usually exacerbated by social media.

For some reason it's often times other women who feel the need to judge a mom's parenting decisions. I too sometimes fall into this trap. God's nurturing characteristics are often very strongly present in women, but unfortunately sin has twisted this to cause us to be judgmental of another's ability to nurture. Part of us may want what's best for that person's child, but our pride causes us to think that only our way is best. Someone posts a question on Facebook. "What kind of bottles do you recommend for my beautiful baby?" Some comments are helpful, but then some possibly well-meaning person writes, "Breast is Best!" Umm, okay, that didn't answer the question. And now the original poster is possibly feeling guilty bottle-feeding. Or some conflicted mother posts a smiling picture of themselves with their adorable toddler with the caption, "First day of preschool! Forgive me while I go cry in my car!" And then someone comments with "I just don't know how you can handle having someone else raise your kids. It must be so hard. I'm so glad I can stay home with my babies." Then the poor working mom feels bad about abandoning her child and just knows they'll be ruined for life. While neither of these examples are someone trying to be blatantly hurtful, they do show how our internal judgments can subtly work their way into our external conversations.

This isn't relegated to social media, though. I have often heard the phase, "You sure do have your hands full." It's true! My hands are full. Parenting three small kids is hard! And I know the person who says it is usually trying to offer moral support in acknowledging how challenging it can be, but it also implies that maybe we don't know what we're doing. Maybe I'm in over my head and my kids won't get the attention and focus they need. Now we can't always ensure what we say will be taken then way we mean it. And we can't always read too much into what others say. But a little caution on both sides can go a long way in helping moms have confidence in their ability to parent well.

The Solution and Our True Standard
So what do you do when you are doubting your ability to be a good mom either because of what you've seen or because of something someone has said. Try these things:

  • What is your motivation? Why are you doing that particular thing you think you're supposed to do? Whether it's throwing the perfect party, doing all the things for Advent, putting your kids in every sport/lesson available, only giving them organic, non-GMO, vegan water (I kid), why do you think that's the way it should be done? Is it because you think it will make you look good? Is it because that's what all the experts tell you to do? Or is it because you think that's what's best for your family. If no one is enjoying it, or no one really cares, why do it? If it truly is important to you and/or your kids, do it! Don't make things harder than they need to be.
  • Set boundaries on social media consumption. If this is really a struggle for you then maybe you need to limit how often you're on social media or use someone to keep you accountable. If you can't look at a specific person's Instagram account without feeling like a terrible person then why are you looking in the first place? Give yourself a real assessment on how social media affects your thinking and then take appropriate steps to guard your heart and mind.
  • Show grace. Show grace to yourself when you use the iPad to keep your toddler occupied for 5 minutes so you can get a quiet moment to yourself. Show grace to yourself when you have to feed your kids chicken nuggets for dinner three meals in a row because life is really hard in the moment. Show grace to others when they say things that make you second-guess yourself. And show grace to others, especially when you don't really know everything that is going on in their lives. Take a second to evaluate whether or not what you want to say to someone is going to encourage them or just make yourself feel better.
  • In whom/what do you find your identity? If you find your identity in being the perfect mom, then you can pretty much bet that mom-guilt is going to accompany any supposed "failures." It's impossible to please the idol of perfectionism, and you will find yourself striving harder and harder to reach a self-imposed standard. We look to God and Scripture for our standard in living. I don't remember the Bible mentioning store-bought purees vs baby-led weaning or birthday blowouts vs family gatherings. You know what Scripture does say about parenting? "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4) "Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6) "'But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.'" (Matthew 6:33-34) You see, it's when we truly find our identity in Christ that we can be who we were meant to be as parents.

Final Note: To the Dads
I talked a lot about being the perfect mom, but I can't assume that dads don't also feel pressure as well. Well, sometimes I do assume that because that's how it seems, but I wanted to get Lee's take on it to get a guy's perspective. He said he didn't necessarily feel the need to be perfect, but he did feel like he needed to seem competent. He doesn't want to see overwhelmed (even if he was). It wasn't about the details of what it took to be a perfect parent, but more the overall goal of looking like he had it together. This corresponds to how he and I think about parenting. I'm concerned about individual details of parties, specifics of their health, etc. His is a bigger picture sort of view. Now, just because Lee (and maybe most guys) don't always seem as concerned with being the perfect dad doesn't mean they will never fall into the trap of feeling guilt or shame when everything doesn't go as planned. We all have to be aware of where we struggle and looking to God for guidance instead of the people around us. We all have to remember what's really important.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Looking Towards 2018

This is part two of my reflections of 2017 and looking forward to 2018. I was a tad too verbose in the first one so I thought I needed to split them up. If you missed it, you can see my 2017 review here.

For the most part, I haven't made New Years resolutions a large priority in the past. No one ever keeps them, so why make them. Oh, I have dreams in my head of how I'd like the year to go and how I'd like to improve myself, but I always struggle with turning dreams into goals into reality. This year I'm going to try to set some goals and strategically work my way through them. Here's how.

For the last several years I have solely used digital tools to keep my daily life running. I use Google Calendar for my schedule, a spreadsheet and Mint to stay on track with my budget, and various apps to track habits, make plans, etc. Now, I will still use those things, but I think an actual planner may help me have something tangible to assist with follow through. The problem is there are approximately 8.2 million planners out there. And as I've said before, I hate making decisions. After much research, I finally decided on the Living Well Planner. I don't think any planner has exactly what I want. For that I'd basically have to make my own like a Bullet Journal. That requires way to much time and creativity for this girl. The thing about the Living Well Planner that I did like was the emphasis on setting goals and then strategically working towards them each month, week and day. I'll do a full review of the planner after I've been able to use it for a few months.

My Goals
I started by choosing my top three goals. These are the things I will work on first. Then I chose one smaller goal in each of the following categories: Personal Growth, Fun & Recreation, Health & Fitness, Home Improvement, Finance, and Connecting. I've listed my goals below. I've taken out some of the specifics in order to not distract from the intent of the goal. The numbers would only be important to our family.

Big Three
  • Start a podcast - This is a huge one for me. I started listening to podcasts around eight months ago. I had a few I liked and my list has now grown to about six I listen to consistently on my long commute and a few more I listen to here or there. So, why start one of my own? I've grown so much from listening to these podcasts. I would really like the opportunity to share that experience with others and look at some of the topics that are important to me and those around me. The plan is to do an interview style podcast and I'm hoping to launch it late summer or early fall. This endeavor is kind of scary for me, but I'm really excited about the possibilities! Be on the lookout for more details later and be prepared for me to ask for some help.
  • Weekend getaway with Lee - Lee and I used to go away for a few days every six months to reflect on our marriage. We haven't taken a trip like that in three years so I'd really like to take at least one trip sans kids this year. It will require some planning and intentionality on our part, but I know it will pay off in the long run.
  • Substantially reduce our minivan loan principle - Without specific numbers here, we're looking to essentially cut our auto debt in half. 
Personal Growth
  • Read 15 non-fiction books - My goal last year was to read at least one non-fiction and one fiction book each month. I didn't quite reach my goal, but I read a lot more non-fiction than I normally do. I'm taking reading fiction off my goal list this year because it's not really a huge challenge for me. Reading is the way I unwind and since I'm sure I'll get entertaining books in when I can I want to be very intentional about reading books that are a bit more edifying. 15 is more than I read last year, but it still seems quite doable.
Fun & Recreation
  • Family trip - I'm still unsure what this will look like. I know what I'd like it to look like (reading some of the above mentioned books on the beach), but with so many goals that involve monetary investments I may have to be happy with something simpler (aka cheaper). Really I just want to have a fun getaway with my family and give the kids some new experiences.
Health & Fitness
  • Eat clean 75% of the time and consistently work our 4 days a week - I'm not planning on doing this day one. I hope to build up to this by making smaller, compounding goals each month. I was gung-ho for about half the year last year and did pretty well, but by the end of the year it took a back seat in my priorities. This year I'm hoping that if I gradually work up to my goal it will give me time to really build on those healthy habits. This isn't a weight loss thing for me. I'm honestly pretty happy where I'm at. This is about being a healthier person.
Home Improvement
  • Plant a garden - One of the books I'm reading right now is Finish by Jon Acuff. It's about (surprise) finishing goals. One of his points is that we need to choose what to bomb. I'm essentially choosing home improvement this year. I already mentioned in the previous post that this is a weak area for me and I'd rather not add a lot of stress or money commitments. So I've chosen one thing that I think would add the most value (in my eyes) to our home. Right now that's our extreme lack of curb appeal. So my plan is to do some research on what flowers/plants are easy to keep alive, get those things planted, and enlist the help of tiny hands with keeping it going. This is probably my scariest goal, because I don't exactly have a green thumb, but it's something I'd really like to do. After this year I may completely change my mind and fill the flower beds with rocks, but until then I'm going to give it my best!
Finance goals
  • Start college funds for the girls - A lot of my goals involve saving/spending money. While I'm really hoping our kids will be geniuses and get full rides to whatever college they want, or they'll choose an occupation that requires special training if not necessarily college, I'd still like to save towards them having a successful future. I'm not aiming for a lot in these funds this year since we have some debt to pay off, but I'd like to at least get them set up.
  • Monthly daughter dates - Last year I learned about the awesome idea of scheduling parent/child dates on the date they were born each month. So for example, since Callie was born December 2, either Lee or I would take her on a date on/around the 2nd of each month. I'd like to be more intentional about this by actually planning it out and putting it on the calendar. 

So there are my 2018 goals! It's a little scary writing them all down, but hopefully it provides me with an extra bit of accountability. You may have noticed while reading (as I did while writing), that many of these goals mention being more intentional in a specific area. Therefore, I'm declaring my word of 2018 to be...INTENTIONAL. I'm hoping to cut out some of the extraneous things and really focus on what adds value. This is not an exhaustive list on what I'd like to work on this year of course. Increasing the quality of my time in the Word and deepening my prayer time are always important. Building new relationships and strengthening current ones are of course essential as well. I'm so thankful for the new year which allows us to reflect on all God has brought us through and look forward to what's to come!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

2017 In Review

Well, 2017 brought a lot of changes to our family. I thought I'd recap/reflect here as well as look at what 2018 will bring. Bear with me as I try to get my mom brain to think of things from a year ago.

  • The first quarter of the year didn't bring a lot of changes, but at the beginning of May we made the HUGE step of purchasing our first home. It really has worked out so well for us mainly in that I have large kitchen I love (in spite of the grapevine wallpaper I haven't changed yet) and a fenced in backyard for our kids. For those of you who don't know, I'm not a decorator. I like nicely decorated houses, but I hate making decisions and even when a decision is made, I am often too lazy to put it into action. We're slowly getting things on the wall, but it's definitely a work in progress. Sorry there are no pictures for this one. I didn't actually take any before and after shots. 😞
  • Our family took a trip to Branson in June as part of the family retreat for the Collegiate and Young Leaders team of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (which Lee's work at the BCM is a part of). We got to go have fun (well, Lee had to work sometimes) with the other BCM campus ministers' families and hang out as a family. We went to Silver Dollar City, swam in the hotel pool (Callie's favorite part I think), and I even worked up the courage to take all three kids to the Butterfly Palace by myself (not my best decision). While it wasn't a lot of fun trying to figure out how to get all the kids to sleep well in a hotel, even with adjoining rooms (spoiler alert: we didn't manage it), the trip provided for some crazy fun family memories.

  • There was a lot of summer fun for our family other than Branson as well. Lots of playing in the backyard and hanging out on a mostly empty campus. The older two also had their first swim lessons. The first lesson was a bit rough since Callie nearly drowned because she was being disobedient and Letty screamed the entire time, but by the end of the lessons they had each made huge progress (well, there was less screaming at least). Callie also had the chance to participate in her first team sport...t-ball. While she mostly enjoyed the snack after the games and spent more time playing in the dirt than even looking at the ball, she had fun and looks forward to next year. Although, we're thinking soccer may be a little more action packed for her.

  • Another big "change" for our family is that we adopted our oldest two that we had been fostering for a year and a half. I put change in quotes because day-to-day life didn't change, but of course now they're legally ours. We had a bunch of people pile into the courthouse. It was a bitter sweet day for sure. Our family grew on the same day another was permanently torn apart. We continue to pray for our girls' biological family and hope that one day they'll know the forgiveness and grace of the God Lee and I so desperately cling to. We also closed our home after the adoption and are now involved with The CALL as trainers. So we're not fostering at this time (although we might someday in the future), but God is still using us to fight the foster care crisis.

  • This year Lee and I celebrated our 8th anniversary and everyone turned another year older. The last few months of the year are part of the birthday marathon for us. We loved celebrating with friends and family, but with 4 birthdays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and then Christmas in the mix as well we are all thankful for things to be back to normal. Well, Callie isn't. She still wishes it was Christmas.

Last year I set a goal of reading one good non-fiction and one good fiction book each month. I usually read more than that, but I don't know if I'd always qualify them as "good." I didn't exactly reach my goal, but I read a lot more non-fiction than I normally do which was what I ultimately wanted. Here's a recap of some of the books I read.

Health and Fitness
I was really able to meet a lot of health and fitness goals this last year. I got down to about 20 pounds below my pre-pregnancy weight, I was exercising regularly, and feeding myself and my family more healthy meals. I struggled a bit with consistency at the end of the year, but I have some plans to take a step back and build lifelong healthy habits this year. 

So, this doesn't encompass everything that happened in 2017. We all know that life is made up of small moments everyday which make a large impact on our future selves. I've got some fun goals for 2018 which I'm excited about, but since this post is already long I will do a part 2 about looking forward to the new year. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas

My non-fiction read for September was a biography anthology called Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas. I had this book recommended to me, and I hadn't read a biography in a while so I thought I'd check it out. I'm not a huge biography person, but since these were short I figured I could probably handle it. I'm glad I did.

This book gives a brief biography on seven women: Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie ten Boom, Rosa Parks, and Mother Teresa. The person that I probably knew the most about was Corrie ten Boom since I had read (and reviewed) The Hiding Place earlier this year. I had at least heard of most of these women, but it was interesting to learn more about their stories and how their faiths influenced them. At the beginning of the book Metaxas talks about how he chose each of these women to write about. As a woman in a very male-dominated field, I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, but I liked how he put this statement. "When I consider the seven women I chose, I see that most of them were great for reasons that derive precisely from their being women, not in spite of it; and what made them great has nothing to do with their being measured against or competing with men." They used their God-given femininity to accomplish amazing things for His kingdom.

I will admit, I had a difficult time connecting to some of the women in this book. Joan of Arc for example. Her experience was so "other" that while I found it interesting, I also felt pretty removed from it. I would say the same about Susanna Wesley. I can't really relate to having that many kids or even her style of parenting. And while I do think she was great in her own right, and not just because of her famous sons Charles and John Wesley, there wasn't a lot that really stood out to me. However, I think everyone can learn about standing against social injustice from the other five women. Hannah More stood against slavery in Europe. Maria Skobtsova was a radical orthodox nun who loved on refugees, including Jews during WWII, which eventually led to her death in a concentration camp. Corrie ten Boom also stood against the Nazis and was sent to a concentration camp, but her life after the war is a shining example of forgiveness. Rosa Parks, as we know, risked her life and stood up against institutional racism. And Mother Teresa of course stood up for the "least of these" by living with the very people she served. I think there are incredible lessons to be learned from these women because of the relevance of their stories in the society we currently live in. They stood up for those who had no voice. And only one of those women, Rosa Parks, was even part of the voiceless minority she defended. What an incredible challenge for us to step out of our comfort zones and be the hands and feet of Jesus.

So, all that to say, if you are looking for short stories of some incredible women and maybe you don't have the time (or desire) to invest in a full-length biography, this could be a great option for you. These women displayed qualities that I can point out to my own daughters. These are women who lived out their faith in remarkable ways.