Hope for the Financially Frustrated: A Review of More Than Just Making It

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Photo Credit: MrJamesBaker Flickr via Compfight cc

 

From the time we were first married, my husband and I always had a budget. In fact,we had to make a list of all our bills to prove we could pay them each month before my parents would agree to let us get married. We were very young and I had never really known a life of financial struggle. For the majority of our marriage we were just making it. Most of the time, it didn’t worry me much. We had each other and if something terrible happened (which fortunately rarely did) we had family nearby. Certainly we were a bit naive but we also had faith that if we honored God with our lives and our money that he would be faithful, and we always had what we needed, if not a bit extra. I remember what it’s like not to have any financial margin, and many ways, I’m still there.

 

 

Tomorrow morning, More Than Just Making It by Erin Odom will be officially released by Zondervan publishers. I had the opportunity to preview the book and share my thoughts. I wasn’t positive what I was expecting from this book. I was expecting some budget tips, though I know that wasn’t the primary purpose. But the best feature of this book is Erin’s incredibly encouraging story. Yes, she has found success after years of struggle but this is not a how-to book. It’s not a step by step guide on how to get out of debt and build a financially healthy life. But it is filled with encouragement on how to slowly crawl out of a financial hole, no matter how you got there.

 

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I really appreciated the chapter on creating more income, though not for the reasons I expected. Some of her suggestions were good ones. But I was especially drawn to her wisdom not to select a side business that doesn’t mesh well with your personality. There are many times I’ve been tempted to take on a side gig that I knew wouldn’t work well for my personality of lifestyle but I felt desperate. There are times to be desperate. But truly, we weren’t there. Our kids were eating. We were surviving. We just had mountains of student loan debt that seemed insurmountable. We couldn’t seem to build our savings without it being drained every other month by the next crisis.

 

However, Erin did inspire me to take a hard look at the financial state of our household. I redid my budget and managed to scrape a couple dollars from each category to make sure we have SOMETHING going into savings each month instead of spending virtually every dollar as it comes in, toward the goal of rebuilding our savings account after a lot of moving expenses at the beginning of the year. We even tried a No Spend Month. While that didn’t net us the large amount of excess I was hoping, it did help to fill a few holes in my budget and helped answer some questions about how much we really can do without.

 

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Most significantly, I feel inspired to try and expand my blog further. I’ve always been nervous about doing this. Because sometimes the words just don’t come. It seems easier to stay in the holding pattern of low readership and a trickle of income. I don’t necessarily plan to build a full time income or anything. But I need to start taking some major growth steps, some of which will eat into the tiny income that we are currently making and mostly need.

 

I’m also trying to get back on track with my book. I’ve been working for several (we won’t say how many) years on my Lenten devotional. My Advent devotional, As We Wait, came so easily that I thought a devotional for Lent felt like a natural extension. Except it hasn’t been easy, it’s been like pulling teeth and most days it’s easier to just tap out another blog post or get caught up in the general chaos of my life homeschooling with three small children and helping to run multiple church ministries.

 

 

This book also helped me recultivate gratitude on my heart. Too often I focus on what we are lacking or the size of our financial difficulties than on all of the good things. Earlier this year, we were finally able to move into a home that is better suited to our growing family. Even just three years ago that seemed impossible. I am able to continue to stay at home and homeschool my children, yes it takes great financial sacrifice to do this, but it is nice to have the option at all. I know not all families do.

 

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It has also renewed my commitment to generosity regardless of our circumstances. Many times over the years we have benefited from the generosity of others, whether it be personally or anonymously. Sometimes it was random money, other times it was an item at a time we needed it most. When things rare tight for a season it can be tempted to be less giving because it feels so difficult. But I think maybe those are the kind of times I need to hold much more loosely to what I am and realize that it all comes from God.

 

No matter where you are in your financial journey, you will find encouragement in Erin’s book. If you have a spending problem or an income problem, have survived hard times or are only just now coming into difficulty; there is hope for you. If money is so tight that you can’t even think about purchasing this book, then try going to your local library and requesting that they purchase a copy. If you have the means, consider purchasing a copy for a friend that doesn’t and ask that she pass it on to another friend in need when she is done.

 

There is hope for a better future, not because of any magic formula or special method but through trust in Jesus and a little bit honesty and logic as we assess our financial lives. Someday, we will be more than just making it.

Read the first chapter here!

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I received this book for free in exchange for my review but my opinions are my own. This post may also contain affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

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How Do I Inspire Them?

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Photo Credit: seabright hoffman Flickr via Compfight cc

 

I’ve always loved to read. To me, reading was like magic. It opened the world to me. When we decided we were going to home school our children, I was ecstatic about sharing my love of reading with them. But it hasn’t always worked out that way.

There is a saying in certain home school circles, “Inspire not require.” As a natural born student and a life long learner, this made perfect sense to me. But no one explained to me how to do it. When my daughter would rather draw or play outside than do math, I feel torn. Because my brain says “She can’t just go through life only doing what she wants.” and my heart dies a little at ever telling a child they can’t create or explore.

I keep hoping that we’ll find the right book and suddenly the light will come on and she will love the written word. So far she loves audio books and graphic novels. So I read articles about which books are the best for reluctant readers. I find every decent graphic novel adaptation of classic books.

How do you inspire someone? The people who have inspired me most were mostly just being themselves and doing what they love most. So I will read to her, talk to her about reading and let her see me reading. Hopefully she’ll get the message.

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Like a River Glorious: Reading My Favorite Author’s First Book

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I was a voracious reader as a child, teen and young adult. I remember the Carolyn Haywood Betsy and Eddie books, Encyclopedia Brown and All of Kind Family. I didn’t discover the wonder of Lucy Maude Montgomery, not really, until the early years of my marriage. The same with J.K. Rowling and Rosamunde Pilcher. (While I still consider the Harry Potter books to be a fun little romp, I can’t compare them with Pilcher, they aren’t in the same class at all). Somewhere in all those years, filled with their fair share of twaddle, I discovered Lawana Blackwell.

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I read the Courtship of the Vicar’s Daughter. It was a gift from my then boyfriend, now ex-high school boyfriend. It turned out to be the second in a series. I sometimes find it amusing that the relationship ended after two and half years, but the book still sits on my shelf nearly 15 years later. I reread that book, along with Blackwell’s others every year. But for some reason I never went back. I loved the trios, the Greshem Chronicles (along with its additional fourth book) and the London Tales. I even enjoyed A Table by The Window as an entity unto itself. But I never tried to read her older four novels. When I think about it, I’m not sure why it took me so long.

I think I was afraid. Afraid that this voice that spoke to me from the page as an old friend and later a fellow writer (though I don’t yet consider myself her peer let alone her equal), would be changed. That by reading her early work I would see the cracks in the façade and peek behind the curtain, thus losing the mystery.

But desperate for something to read, lest my writing inspiration dry up altogether and not in the mood to tackle a new author (though Naomi Novik’s new book still sits half finished on my nightstand, waiting for me to try it again), I logged onto paperback swap and wished for the first book in her Victorian Serenade series.

I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, I can see how she has grown as an author. The prose is not quite as tight, the characters a little less realistic and the ending a tad too predictable, but I liked it. No, it won’t be a new favorite. (Which, for the record, is Leading Lady, but it only edges out the Dowry of Miss Lydia Clark by a tad, as it is nearly tied with Courtship of the Vicar’s daughter anyway). The plot had some unique twists and I found it to be darker than Blackwell’s other work. Maybe it is the grit that makes it feel just a little too much, like the author was trying too hard, but yet it makes me respect her more as an author. This was her first published novel, at least to my knowledge. She didn’t play it safe. She wasn’t afraid to show the darker, grittier side of life. I found the image of a man being treated in a Crimean war hospital particularly poignant.

“Then to Adam’s ultimate horror, Satan–covered with blood and holding a knife–turned in his direction and motion to his demons . . . As he gladly gave himself up to the comforting nothingness, his mind registered astonishment that Satan would speak the Queen’s English and wear a British army uniform.”

Wow! She had me right there. Yes, I saw the ending coming, in a way that I often do in most romance novels. (The exception being A Garden in Paris and A Hilltop in Tuscany where Stephanie Grace Whitson evolved the plot so slowly over the course of the two books that the ending is almost a surprise, yet it isn’t really a surprise because when you look back you can see the beautiful, winding road that led to the end.) But yet Blackwell took me there in ways I wasn’t expecting.

I don’t think I realized that the other books were actually related, originally believing them to each be stand alone pieces. Unfortunately book 2 was been lost by the US Post Office and books three and four sat on my nightstand taunting me. I’m also resisting the urge to reread all of her other books again, but I want to wait. I wait to appreciate these early books for what they are, without comparing them too closely with her others.

Why is she one of my favorites when I have read, arguably, more successful or talented writers? Because she lets me see what I could be. There are authors that I read who make me mourn what I can never write. There are those who make me furious because the work is just that bad and yet someone published it. (No doubt the same guardians of good literature who claim that indie publishing removes the all important gatekeepers of what is worth reading). Then you have authors like Blackwell who are part role model, part secret pleasure. Both inspiring and rejuvenating as I page through her books yet again. Never underestimate how your words may impact someone else, especially another writer.

Working My Way Through One Bite at a Time: Eat That Frog

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Adult leopard frog (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been meaning to read Tsh Oxereider’s One Bite at a Time since it first came out, but thanks to the Ultimate Homemaking ebook Bundle, I got a copy along with several dozen other books I’ve been wanting to read. While the book does contain 52 challenges, she encourages the reader to work through them that your own pace, so I’m trying to do so. So you will periodically see me post the details of my attempts, but it probably won’t be one every week.

Eat that Frog. This isn’t a new concept for me. Not so much because my frog is things I don’t want to do (of which there are many like dishes and housework) but the things that if I don’t do them first thing, there is little hope of them being done at all. Exercise, eating breakfast, quiet time with God (I say quiet time rather than devotional time because I am able to work in devotional time occasionally, but with my kids roaming around, it is rarely quiet), getting dressed. So I have far too many frogs and children who wake up inconsistently and far too early. Truthfully what I really need is a good review of Tell Your Time with a workable plan in place. I have too many things to do and not nearly enough time. But I can’t quite let go of any of them. They are all important, most are necessary, many of them are things I love and sustain me. Those things rarely overlap, so how can I find a balance?

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sunrise (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

I tried waking up early for a while to exercise before my kids got up. This worked well for a few weeks until my son started getting up at 6:30. Given the choice between getting up early to spend an extra hour child wrangling, or taking my son into our room and falling back to sleep, sleep usually wins out. Once the kids are up most of my high goals for the day are shot anyway. So how do I find a way to eat the frog will having the kids in tow? Have can I keep from getting distracted by all the little things that need to be managed in the morning? So I’m probably going to try again to start getting up early again, to exercise, get dressed, sometimes shower and try to get breakfast for the family started. The hardest part about this will be going to bed earlier so I can get up earlier, but I think I can probably manage that. It’s possible that some frogs can be more easily eaten in the morning if the kitchen and cooking implements are prepared the night before.

Another Reason to Visit Cornwall: A Review of the Tutor’s Daughter by Julie Klassen

the Tutor's daughter51N7fCrpUrL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Emma Smallwood and her father have the opportunity to become tutors in residence for the family of two former students, the Westons. One, Philip, was a good friend of Emma’s, the other, Henry, an adversary. But when they arrive confusion arises. Not everyone seems pleased to see them and there are secrets everywhere. While Emma’s father is happy to focus on the education of the two youngest sons of the house, Emma manages to become entangled in the intrigue of family dynamics and the beauty of the surrounding countryside. She soon begins to question who is her friend after all.

I first read Julie Klassen when I picked up one of her earlier books from the library. I was looking for a new author and in the absence of a new book from my favorite author, Lawana Blackwell, I had heard that Klassen’s work was similar in some ways. It was good book. So when I was presented the opportunity to review The Tutor’s Daughter, I looked forward to it.

Perhaps the most compelling part of this book is the beautiful descriptions of Cornwall. While Ebbington Manor itself is fictional it is based on several places Klassen visited on her tours of the Cornwall coast. This isn’t the first time I have been drawn to this beautiful place by the description of a talented writer. (Rosamunde Pilcher has made me want to pack my bags on more than one occasion). The descriptions of the Chapel on the Rock were especially poignant. I found myself wishing I had a retreat like that. While I was able to predict certain parts of the story line, others were total surprises to me until near the end.

I was not compensated for this review but I did receive a free copy of the book to review.

Interested in becoming a reviewer for Bethany House? Apply here.

Starflower: Fantasy, Allegory and I’m Not Sure What Else.

Starflower51Awz+cAFkL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_I should preface this review by saying that fantasy is not my preferred reading style. My husband is a fantasy author, and while I enjoy his work, as well as that of C.S. Lewis and Madeline L’Engle, generally fantasy is not my go-to genre. In the immortal faerie realm, a cousin of the queen, the fairest of the land, is kidnapped by a dragon. The resident poet and the captain of the guard, rivals for her affection, set off to rescue her. While on his quest, the poet encounters a young woman who he assumes must be a princess of some kind. She cannot speak (though we the reader can hear her thoughts), and he is certain it is because she is under some kind of enchantment.

This book was a struggle to get through. In fact I was nearly 50% of the way through before I became heavily interested. This is how long it takes before we hear Starflower’s story. Her story is far more interesting than the interactions of the faerie realm. How did Starflower end up in this immortal realm? What horror did she escape from and why can’t she speak? These are questions that will eventually be answered, but in my opinion it took far too long.

This book is well written by the plot seems to meander. Would I recommend it to a friend? That depends. If the friend enjoys all styles of fantasy and revels in the drawn out nature of this epic storytelling style, then yes. But if a reader is looking for a first introduction to fantasy this isn’t it. The average reader is likely to be come bored and listless and possibly give up before the best parts of the story.

I was not compensated for this review but I did receive a free copy of the book to review.

Interested in becoming a reviewer for Bethany House? Apply here.

Against the Tide: An Unexpected Novel

51GYE662OuL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_I didn’t know what to expect when I went into reading this book. The description on the back speaks of a young woman who serves as a translator for the U.S. Navy and her encounter with a young man trying to end the opium trade. What it didn’t say was that this Against the Tide takes place in 1876. This is not a time period I read much about and while I knew a little bit about the opium trade during this period, I had never read a novel set in the United States that talks about it (a couple of British themes novels I have read in the past mentioned it.) I was immediately fascinated with Lydia Pallas, a Greek orphan with a gift for languages. Her ability to survive in a male dominated world is written believably, even considering the era. As a writer myself, I have the unfortunate gifts of predicting the climax and ending of many novels. While some things about the end proved true to my prediction, the journey blew my expectations out of the water. The level of adventure, excitement and intrigue was unmatched within this genre and I was impressed with the real feel of the characters. All of the characters, including the protagonist felt realistic

Spoiler Alert: One of the more impressive aspects of this book was the detailed descriptions of opium withdrawal. This author has a talent for accuracy as well as tactile description.  I would highly recommend this book as a unique read in a genre often characterized by too much emotion and characterization without strong plot. This book is a definite exception

I was not compensated for this review but I did receive a free copy of the book to review.

Interested in becoming a reviewer for Bethany House? Apply here.