Friday, 18 January 2013

Book Review: The Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen

About the Book: Filled with page-turning suspense, The Tutor's Daughter takes readers to the windswept Cornwall coast-a place infamous for shipwrecks and superstitions-where danger lurks, faith is tested, and romance awaits.

Emma Smallwood, determined to help her widowed father when his boarding school fails, accompanies him to the cliff-top manor of a baronet and his four sons. But soon after they arrive and begin teaching the two younger boys, mysterious things begin to happen. Who does Emma hear playing the pianoforte at night, only to find the music room empty? And who begins sneaking into her bedchamber, leaving behind strange momentoes?
The baronet's older sons, Phillip and Henry Weston, wrestle with problems-and secrets-of their own. They both remember the studious Miss Smallwood from their days at her father's academy. But now one of them finds himself unexpectedly drawn to her...
When suspicious acts escalate, can Emma figure out which brother to blame and which to trust with her heart? 

My Thoughts:  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and read it in one weekend.

I think my favourite thing about this book were the characters themselves.  Klassen created such different personalities and really brought them to life.  I really felt like you became invested or really got to know each character, and the interplay between them and the intricacies of their relationships were the heart of the story.  The well-rounded character development combined with the intriguing storyline made this a very enjoyable story indeed.

The book also had some deep spiritual insights without coming across as preachy.  I really liked this quote in particular....

What mattered in reality was a person's character, what he did with the life and abilities God had given him, and his daily choice to act honorably despite the selfish tendencies and weaknesses shared by all humans.

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.

Book Review: The MoneySmart Family System by Steve & Annette Economides

About the Book:  Is it possible to raise financially responsible kids of any age in a society filled with consumerism and entitlement?

New York Times best-selling authors Steve and Annette Economides raised their five kids while spending 77 percent less than the USDA predicted. And the money they did spend was also used to train their children to become financially independent. The MoneySmart Family System will show you how to teach your children to manage money and have a good attitude while they’re learning to earn, budget, and spend wisely.

Learn how to: *Get the kids out the door for school with less stress. *End the battle over clothing—forever *Teach your children to be grateful and generous. *Inspire your kids to help with chores as a member of a winning team. *Prepare your kids for their first paying job. *Help your kids pay for their own auto insurance, and even pay cash for their own cars. *Employ strategies for debt-free college educations. *Truly help your adult children when they want to move back home. *Be prepared to deal with your adult children when they ask for bailouts.

With clear steps for children of every age, The MoneySmart Family System proves that it’s never too early, too late, or too hard to start learning financial responsibility.

My Thoughts:  I liked some things about this book and other parts just missed the mark for me.

The system seems really rigid to me.  The basic idea is that each child has age appropriate expectations for every day including morning routine, chores, school, etc.  For each item that is done (and done well, and done with the right attitude) they are given a point.  At the end of the week the points are tallied and cash is handed out based on how many points they received, and how old they are.  There are opportunities for bonus points when kids show initiative above and beyond the regular expectations and if they hit a certain mark they get double pay.   The money is then split into different areas, again, depending on age.  At the earliest ages they are split into giving, saving and spending.  As they get slightly older they split the spending into both a spending and clothes category.  And even older the savings gets split up into more specific categories.

The basic idea is good, I just think it's too rigid for most families, and goes too far in some areas and not far enough in others.

I do not like the idea of tying almost everything in your family life to money.  I don't want my kids to have a good attitude about doing their chores or getting ready for the day because they get paid for it (or technically, earn points which are then traded in for money).  I want them to learn to do that because it's the right thing to do and is a way in which they can glorify God and love our family.  I don't want my kids to only show initiative around the house because they know they will get rewarded monetarily for it, but because they have a heart for the members of our family, desire to serve one another, and simply see something that needs doing and they do it.  I don't want them to decide to simply not do any work one week and forgo the $4 they would've received because they've weighed the cost and decided a one-week vacation is worth it.  Obviously our children do not this attitude on a consistently regular basis (nor do I!) and it's something we'll all need to continue to work on basically forever.  I just don't like the idea of tying everything to money.

Although this is directly against the advice given in this book, we give our children allowance as a privilege of being in this family.  And they do chores as a responsibility for being part of our family and because everyone needs to contribute to the running of a household.

This doesn't mean that we just give them whatever they want, whenever they want it, or that we foster an attitude of entitlement, which is the Economides' (I find their last name hilarious considering the book topic!) concern with giving allowance without tying it to responsibility.  And it doesn't mean that we can't take money out of their allowance to pay their siblings for doing the work they should've done for themselves.

We do have the My Giving Bank that they mention in the book and I really like it.  It's one piggy bank split into 3 sections - church, bank and store (same categories they listed above).  It helps keep their money divided and, as it is slightly transparent, they can visually see it accumulating.  I do agree that it won't be long until they need to move onto another method that's easier to get the money out of - in this book they do cash envelopes and balance them like a cheque book.

I do like their focus on saving and teaching our children how much those Guess jeans actually cost.  I definitely like their focus on the fact that teaching our children when they are young means that their mistakes end up being much less costly.  They have a 5/50/500/5000/50,000 rule which basically  means that when your toddler makes a mistake with money or wastes it on an unnecessary purchase, that will likely cost only $5.  When your slightly older child makes a similar mistake, it might cost $50.  When your teenager makes a mistake, it could cost $500.  And when your college age child makes a mistake it may cost $5,000.  And your adult child, could mess up to the tune of $50,000.   This is very true and is definitely something to keep in mind.  We need to be proactive about teaching our children about responsible financial management (and model it ourselves!!) and the younger you start the better. So that's definitely something I agree on from this book.

I was disappointed that they didn't mention God throughout the book (because they are Christians - I don't expect every book to mention God!), not even in the giving section!  As a Christian, to me that's the most important part of money management. Recognizing that God has given us everything we have and that we are to be stewards of what He has given us, for His glory.  Without that focus, it's just money management tips that anyone can use - and maybe that was their intent, but it's just something that I found lacking.

Thank you to Booksneeze for providing me with my complimentary e-book review copy.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Book Review: Where God Finds You by Anita Higman

About the Book: Have you ever longed to crawl into the pages of the Bible? to walk on the Judean hills or feel the spray of the Red Sea? to know what it's like to confront a king or pour perfume on a Saviour's feet?

In forty devotional tales, Where God Finds You breathes new life into ancient Bible characters.  Through reflection on Scripture and prayer, you'll discover a place in each of these lives of vulnerability, tenderness, truth, and love - a place where you can find God ... and where God finds you.

Either on your own or in a group, live with and learn about more than forty Bible men and women, including: Pontius Pilate's wife, Esther, John the Baptist, Hagar, Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, and many more....

My Thoughts:  Each chapter or daily devotional centres around one biblical character.  First Anita creates a fictionalized version of the biblical account that brings the character to life in a way that only fiction can.  Then Higman provides the story straight from the Bible in The Story from God's Word.  Next, she provides insight into the character's life and the event she chose to focus on, and some things we can learn from them in The Story - from Then to Now.  And, finally, in The Story - Questions to Think About, Anita provides questions for personal reflection - some easily answered, and some requiring deeper thought.

I have never read a devotional book quite like this one and I really enjoyed it.  It's definitely a well rounded devotional - it draws you into the biblical account, lets you realize how much we actually have in common with biblical characters and what they could have been thinking and feeling, makes you think about how God was working in their lives and how you can relate it to your life, and makes you realize how very personal our God is.  I also love how Higman included both well known characters (such as Leah, Esther and John the Baptist) and more obscure ones (such as Noah's wife, Pontius Pilate's wife and Puah - bet you have to look up Puah in order to even know who she is!), as well as both males (Paul, Lazarus) and females (Queen of Sheba, Eve).

If you're looking for something a little different than your traditional devotional, this is the book for you!

Thank you to Joni Sullivan Baker from Buoyancy Public Relations for providing me with my complimentary review copy.

Q&A with Anita Higman

1.         Anita, let’s start right there with God’s interaction with mankind. You’ve spent your career writing stories, so you must have thought about this before—why do you think God uses stories so often to communicate his truth?

I believe Jesus used storytelling (parables) because he knew that we could truly relate to this form of communication. After all, our lives are like living storybooks with each chapter being written every day. Stories go right to our hearts—stirring us, challenging us, inspiring us, changing the way we think. And most importantly, ever moving us toward redemption.

2.         You are an award-winning writer, a best-selling writer – you are still writing fiction, also, right? Or have you achieved all you set out to do with your fiction writing?

Yes, I’m still writing novels, and I hope to do so for the rest of my life. I have dozens of stories yet to tell. I just hope people will continue to want to read them!

3.         How do you see this book being used?

I believe Where God Finds You would make a good book to read while you’re sipping your morning coffee, or it would work well for a group Bible study.

4.         What did the experience of writing these stories bring into your own life?

I have never felt so close to God as when I was writing this book. The experience felt a little like when you turn up the volume on your phone, and you can hear someone’s voice with more clarity. But it was also sensing his nearness—the warmth of his love and the light of his presence—that also made me well up each morning with worship and wonder and gratitude.

5.         Why did you decide to tackle this particular subject matter?

Good question. I generally write contemporary romantic fiction, so working on a devotional book infused with Biblical fiction was not an easy task. Also, I’m not a Biblical scholar, so at first I was overwhelmed, knowing how much research it would take to write a book of this kind. In fact, I said no to the editor who’d asked me to take on this project, but then he asked me to pray about my decision. That weekend I did pray about it, and felt strongly that I was meant to write this book. I may not have a degree in theology, but I did want to be obedient to God. Writing this devotional book, Where God Finds You, turned out to be an amazing experience.

6.         What do you think readers will take away from the book?

My hope is that people will enjoy discovering how relevant the Bible stories are to our lives today. I wanted to bring the characters to life and show that these ancient people were very much like us with similar hurts and tragedies, hopes and transgressions, joys and triumphs. Even though the culture was dramatically different, our hearts are the same. Those famous Bible folk needed God back then just as we need him in our daily lives right now.

7.         What do you like about this book?

Getting to know these Bible characters and writing their stories in first person was a seemingly impossible undertaking, and yet the experience inspired and encouraged me. I hope readers will be equally moved.

8.         Beyond your research, did you do anything special to prepare for a day of writing Biblical fiction?

During the months of research as well as the writing of this book I held to the routine of listening to the scriptures on CDs while I was in my car running errands and while I was getting ready in the morning. I did this hoping to absorb the Bible’s rich language, dramatic metaphors, and epic nature. In the end, this technique of preparing my mind for the day’s writing worked well. On some days the words flowed with little effort, almost like taking dictation, and on other days I struggled to complete one or two pages. But amidst my routine and aching back from long hours at the computer, the one thing that helped me more than anything was prayer. God really was faithful in helping me prepare this devotional book.

9.         Do you have a favorite Bible character?
If I were to choose a favorite Bible character, I’d say that I was drawn to Mary Magdalene. I wept when I read the exchange between Mary and Jesus just outside the empty tomb. I could not only see the Jesus who loved the masses, but I could see a more intimate portrait—the Jesus who loved Mary Magdalene as a precious friend—the same Jesus who loves me and you.

10.       Any other thoughts about the book that we didn’t cover?

Through the writing of these devotions I sensed the Holy Spirit whispering, “This book is going to change your life, Anita.” And I have to admit—it did. Even though all my troubles didn’t vanish when I finished the last page of the book, I did come away with an awareness—that the same God who set the stars in the heavens also knows the number of hairs on my head. Jesus is nearer than I imagined, and he cares more deeply than I’d hoped. And he’s constantly working things out for good in my life. And in your life… 

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Where was God?

I should've posted this at the end of December, when it was still 2012, but I figured, better late than never!  (That's usually my motto - ha ha!)

Anyway, when things go wrong, you often hear the question "Where was God?"  Where is God when evil happens?

There have been entire books devoted to answering that question (a really good one to read on the subject is "If God is Good" by Randy Alcorn).

But, why do we never hear "Where is God when good happens?"

John Piper asks this very question in his post, "Where was God in all the Goodness of 2012?"
Here is that post.....

As this year ends, the question I am asking is: Where was God when so many good things happened this past year?

How can God be a God of justice, yet allow so much good to happen to people who dishonor him by disbelieving in him, or giving lip service to his existence, or paying no more attention to him than the carpet in their den, or rejecting the kingship of his Son, or scorning his word, or preferring a hundred pleasures before him?

How can God be righteous and do so much good to us who are so unrighteous?

Where was God in 2012?
Where was God when nine million planes landed safely in the United States?
Where was God when the world revolved around the sun so accurately that it achieved the Winter solstice perfectly at 5:12 AM December 21 and headed back toward Spring?
Where was God when the President was not shot at a thousand public appearances?
Where was God when American farms produced ten million bushels of corn, and 2.8 million bushels of soybeans — enough food to sell $100 billions worth to other nations?
Where was God when no terrorist plot brought down a single American building or plane or industry?
Where was God when the sun maintained its heat and its gravitational pull precisely enough that we were not incinerated or frozen?
Where was God when three hundred million Americans drank water in homes and restaurants without getting sick?
Where was God when no new plague swept away a third of our race?
Where was God when Americans drove three trillion accident free miles?
Where was God when over three million healthy babies were born in America?

Here are a few of the answers given by God himself in his word.

1. God was reigning from his throne to do his sovereign will.
“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” (Psalm 115:3)
“He works all things according to the counsel of his will.” (Ephesians 1:11)

2. God was reigning from his throne to prevent much sin and harm in the world.
“God said to [Abimelech, the king of Gerar], it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.” (Genesis 20:6)
“You know what is restraining [the man of lawlessness] now.” (2 Thessalonians 2:6)

3. God was reigning from his throne to give a witness to his goodness and his patience.
“God did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:17)

4. God was reigning from his throne to summon the world to repentance.
“Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4)

So as the year ends, I bow my head as an undeserving sinner, amazed that I have not been swept away. And even more, that because of Jesus, I am forgiven, adopted into God’s family, and destined for eternal life.

God has been good to us. And his best gift is the one that will be there when all the others fail. Jesus, crucified, risen, reigning.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Goals for 2013

I don't always do "New Year's Resolutions", in fact I more often don't.  The only one I've ever posted on this blog was in 2011. One of the reasons I don't is that I do have the philosophy that if I notice something that needs changing in my life, I should probably change it right now instead of waiting till January 1st.   That being said, it's also very easy to just go through daily living without purposefully be introspective and noticing things that you would like to change.  With that type of mindset, New Year's is a great time to look over the past year and be purposeful about what you want to change in the coming year.

As a look back - these were my goals for 2011 and whether or not I think I accomplished them.
1) Read my Bible in a year (for the 3rd straight year) and participate in my Bible in a Year Blog. Since it's my blog, there's not a single doubt in my mind that I'll accomplish this goal. In fact, this year we have several more participants which means I'm only posting once or twice a week instead of 4 or 5 times! Easy peasy :)

Check!  Did it.

2) Develop a consistent and organized prayer time. Normally when I tell people I'll pray for them - I do it right then and there because I know there's about a 99% chance I'm not going to remember later. Ok, maybe not that bad, but seriously, it's bad. I want to to take the time to make the prayers more personalized for the individuals I'm praying for, and to simply take time to be with God.


3) Being a more deliberate wife, mother and friend.
I want to spend more time discovering how to put my husband first among my earthly relationships and what that's supposed to look like in my daily living. I want to spend more time doing things WITH my girls instead of merely being together in the house every evening, each of us pursuing our own agendas. I want to conscientiously work at developing an attitude of service and hospitality, to serve my friends and church family members better. All the above categories of people deserve more from me than they've gotten in the past. I don't want people to hear that I care about them; I want them to FEEL it.

If that sounds like I just copied that paragraph from my cousin Tammi's post - it's cause I just totally did. Hey - she got it totally bang on the first time, why mess with perfection?!

This one is, of course, much harder to quantify.  And it's not something you can ever "arrive" at.  So, I think I got better, but there is still so much more room for improvement.

4) Begin each day praying that God would guide me to do what He has planned for my day - pursuing His agenda instead of my own. OK, that one's gonna be real tough! (I probably should've just copied my cousin Tammi's paragraph about this one too!;)


5) Continue to exercise regularly and eat healthier. The exercise thing? No sweat. (ok, lots of sweat!) I've exercised regularly (3-5 times per week) for the past 13 years or so including all 4 pregnancies, except when nausea was at it's peak, so this barely counts as a goal, but it is something I'm committed to continuing. Eating healthier is tougher. But with Nathan having some high blood pressure concerns we need to cut back on the sodium intake around here which means a few changes such as limiting deli meats and making more from scratch. (Ragu, I will miss you!!). I've already started baking chicken breasts for lunch sandwiches, so things are looking up!
Overall, I would say this was a success.  But there is still room for improvement on the eating part.

There were no goals for 2012, but here are my goals for 2013.
1) Read my Bible in a year (for the 4th time in 5 years) and participate in my Bible in a Year Blog.
This is "an easy one" because of the continued accountability factor of my blog.  Last year I did not read through the Bible in a year because I was doing the majority of the postings - generally 9 days every 2 weeks.  But this year we have more participants again, so I'm down to only one post per week, so I'm reading through the Bible in a year again as well as our in depth book study.

2) Develop a consistent and organized prayer time.
Yup, another repeat.  This was an absolute fail and I need to set aside prayer time as priority time.

3) Being a more deliberate wife, mother and friend.
As I mentioned above, this is never something you have arrived at and is always a worthy goal, so it stays on the list too!

4) Begin each day praying that God would guide me to do what He has planned for my day - pursuing His agenda instead of my own.
Again, another one that could be on the list every year.

5) Continue to exercise regularly and eat healthier.
Broken record here, I know.

Now, for some new ones....

6) Write weekly on my prayer blogs for my kids.
Similar to #2 but specific to my children.  This was one of those great ideas that I just haven't managed to keep up.  I created prayer blogs for all our kids that would contain both letters to them, and prayers for them as individuals.  My plan is to make it into a book to give to them at some point during their teenagerhood, either at a certain age or whenever I think they might need it.  Like may of my plans, good intentions have not given way to reality - so far I've only written 3 posts on Emma's blog.  At this point I need to write more often in the older kids blogs in order to "catch up" to at least an approximately even number of entries.  I've decided I need to dedicate one day per week to writing in these blogs so that it actually happens.  (They are private so you won't be able to read them, sorry!).

7) Work on scripture memory.
Last January I began a scripture memory blog to help keep me accountable to memorize scripture as it was something I had felt convicted about for some time and really wanted to do.  It worked, up until September when I fell off the bandwagon.  So, this is a good time to get back on!  Last year I memorized Psalms 1, 23, 46, 121, 134, 1 Corinthians 13 and the Book of Titus (which is 3 chapters).  I will be starting off by reviewing each chapter for one day, and then I will start working on memorizing new chapters.  If you're interested in joining me, I'm following Janet Pope's method and it was much, much easier than I had anticipated and literally took no extra time out of my day.  Check it out!

8) Write regularly to our sponsored children.
More details on this will come in a post shortly, but for now, suffice it to say that I need to make it a priority to write to our sponsored children.  Or rather, to get our children to write to them.  We have one sponsored child for each of our children - all their ages.  They love writing the letters but it's up to me to make sure it happens!

9) Get caught up on bookwork and then continue to stay caught up.
I do the bookwork for my husband's home building company and I am always behind.  Don't get me wrong - I do always pay all the bills, but I don't always enter everything in.  I have to get caught up at least every 3 months to submit GST (good thing for that checkpoint!), but then inevitably I get behind once again.  So, this year, I want to get caught up and then purposefully set aside one day per week to work on bookwork so that I stay caught up.

Now for some "fun" ones.
10) I want to do a "Twelve Days of Christmas gift extravaganza" for Nathan this coming Christmas.  My sister Andrea did this for her husband Les this past Christmas and I thought it was a fantastic idea and want to do it myself next year.  You can check out what she did here.  Needless to say, Les loved it, and I'm sure Nathan will too.  After all, who wouldn't?!   My friend Pamela is doing this one too.  Anyone else in for this challenge?

11) Take and post 365 iPhone photos - one for each day of the year for 2013.  I got this idea from my friend Pamela once again.  She has created a new blog specifically for this project and I decided to follow suit.  You can check out my iPhone Photo Project 365 blog here - I've even already done today's post.  Pamela mentioned that blogger has an app for posting.  I know it doesn't do everything you can do on the regular blogging platform, but it does what I need it to do for this project, so I think this will be relatively easy to do.  And a great memory tool for years to come!  Here's 10 great reasons why you should do it too. Anyone else game for this challenge?

12) Sew big bags for the kids sleeping bags and bedding for camp.  Another idea stolen from Pamela (hey, she had some good ones!).  They should be relatively easy to make, I'll let the kids choose their fabric, they will be sturdier than garbage bags and easier to identify - and just fun!

I think I better stop there - 12 goals is a lot.  But, I just realized, it's one for every month of the year.  Even though some of these are obviously year long goals, and some are regularly occurring goals - it still helps to realize that one goal a month should be attainable!

Happy New Year!!


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