Book Review: Of Stillness and Storm


Before I get in to what I thought about the book “Of Stillness and Storm,” I gotta give a little background for my viewpoint.

First, I grew up a PK — preacher’s kid —  and growing up a PK is hard. People joke about how the call of a pastor isn’t just on the pastor but on his family too. Unless you’re in that family you have no idea how true that really is. The families of pastors and missionaries sacrifice that member of their family to the Lord’s work, and you feel bad getting too upset about it because well, they’re doing the Lord’s work. But too many times ministers forsake one call for another, leaving behind the call of a husband and father to their family at home to the “more important call” to their church and community. I’m not so sure that’s what God intends. Yes, it’s tough to manage both roles, to pastor a church and ALL that that entails and to be a husband and a father, but just because it takes extra effort doesn’t mean it’s not worth working at or doing well. I’ve seen it done bad and I’ve seen it done well. The impact on the family is significant either way.

Second, ‘Of Stillness and Storm’ involves an emotional affair by a woman who’s missionary husband has emotionally forsaken her and their child for the lost in Nepal. He’s there physically, albeit intermittent, but his heart is sold out to the lost and that doesn’t leave much left for his family unfortunately. Shades of her story resemble some of my own experiences.

So for these reasons I related to parts of this story in a very personal way.

So the book … left me wanting more! Which is a good thing. Author Michele Phoenix did such an amazing job creating characters and situations that I care about that I want there to be a future book that tells me what happens next. In fact I actually tweeted the author to ask if there was a sequel in the works. It turns out there’s not, but I wish there was! Without spoiling anything let’s just say the story comes to an end but doesn’t come to a conclusion, if that makes sense.

One of my favorite moments was early in the book when Lauren and Sam are falling in love. Lauren is a little scared of what’s going on with Sam and tells her friend she’s trying to play it safe with him, not take the risk of anyone getting hurt. Her friend encourages her with a quote from C.S. Lewis:

‘To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.”

Then her friend says something just as profound as Lewis:

“You can keep your heart safe or you can lay it on the line and mend it when it breaks. A heart unrisked is a heart unshared — and yours is too good to waste.”

I’m kinda scared to fall in love (again) so I understood well Lauren’s fear and found the Lewis quote and the friend’s comment poignant to my own situations.

Later in the story I underlined this thought by Lauren as she reminisced about someone she loved in the past:

Love, like grief, doesn’t die. It bleeds until it can no more. Then, pale and listless, sleeps.

Hmm. Interesting to compare love and grief; I’ve experienced both deeply. I think I get it though. When do you fall out of love? Like, can you name the moment when you stop loving someone. Similarly, when do you stop grieving a loss? Some say never but for most grief wanes over time and then one day, after enough time or distance has passed, grief kinda stalls and lies dormant, which means it can be awakened again without notice, rhyme or reason. Is love like that too? Maybe so. Something to ponder.

One more thing to point out: This story incorporates the dangers of reconnecting with old boyfriends or old crushes on social media. One of the neat things about sites like Facebook is reconnecting with people from your past. But many relationships and marriages have been uprooted and undone by it. Something to be extremely careful about.

Review in a nutshell:

  • Enjoyed it
  • Related to struggles and characters
  • Underlined some cool quotes
  • Wished there was a sequel
  • Be careful reconnecting with old boyfriends on Facebook
  • 3.8/5 stars

I received a free early release copy of this book exchange for this review from Litfuse Publicity Group. More on Litfuse and Of Stillness and Storm here.

 

 

Book Review: The Invoice will make you think


What if you had to pay for your perceived happiness? Not your actual happiness but how happy someone else says you are based on factors they determine and measure. I imagine if this were the case there’d be a lot less folks portraying picture-perfect lives on Facebook.

So in ‘The Invoice‘ by Jonas Karlsson this guy gets a bill for his happiness quotient, and he completely disagrees with the charges. I mean, the bill is egregious. He owes millions of dollars (actually kronor, which it turns out is Swedish currency; who knew?) and he doesn’t feel like his life is that great to owe so much. Especially when friends who he thinks have happier lives owe less than him.

See how this book will make you think? Cool, eh?

So he sets out to prove how crappy his life is so that the people who decide such things will lower his bill. In the process he discovers that maybe his life isn’t so bad afterall.

Quick, quirky read that made me think. And since I like thinking, I give the book 3/5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received this book free from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

 

Moving Out & Moving On


The moving truck with all our stuff!

Moving Out

The boys and I moved across town yesterday.

“Across town.” My country roots are showing. I’ve lived most of my life in the country so on Saturdays as a kid we “went to town,” and even though that town is now a bonafide big city that mentality has stuck with me.

So, we moved across town. If you’re reading this and like “oh my gosh I had no idea this was happening” (either at all or so soon) you’re in good company because it happened kinda fast, and I haven’t talked about it online, so the only way you’d know if we talked about it face to face, and I’ve not done a lot of that either.

Here’s the scoop: the boys school is on the other side of town from our house. About 25-27 miles. This is our 5th year to do the commute, and while the drive is long and we wake up super early and stuff, the real disadvantage all these years was that living far away from the school limited our involvement in the extracurricular. Like Friday night football games and after school volleyball. We had such a long drive we couldn’t feasibly go home and come back. To wait around in town killing time til games started was just too much so we did what we could and missed out on a lot. But as the boys have gotten older and as I’ve made more friends with parents too, we want to be at those things more. The cost is high though because we often spend that time between school and the school-thing we’re doing later by doing homework, reading, listening to radio or watching a movie, eating, studying, napping, etc. IN THE CAR. I keep the car stocked with drinks, snacks, blankets, movies (I’m not kidding) for this reason.

The boys are in 8th and 5th grades; the number of things they/we want to be involved in at the school is increasing, not going the other way. For example, Finn has cross country practice every day but usually not til 5. So we have a gap from when I pick them up at school at ~ 3:30 til practice at 5. It’s a 30 minute drive to our house, so if we go home, we drive 30 are at home for 30 then drive 30 back. Then Caden and I sit in the car for the 1 1/2 hour practice. Or maybe we’ll hop out and toss frisbee or play ball, but we’re still killing time and time, my friends, is too precious and fleeting to be killed.

I hit my wall with this about 6 weeks ago when we went to the Target cafe during this 3:30-5 window to get a snack and do homework. Caden was working on math and was very distracted by a family with a noisy toddler near us. He frustratingly said in a low voice to me “Can you ask them to keep their baby quiet, I’m trying to do homework here?” No, we’re in a public place, we’re in a grocery store even, can’t ask that. So I knew we couldn’t make this work any longer. They need a place to do homework and study that’s conducive to learning, and Target is not it. And they need to be able to go home after school and grab a snack from the fridge and plop on their couch and watch some TV or play a video game. As much as the experts says that’s a waste of time, they need time to veg and be kids and we’re aren’t getting enough of that. By the time we get home after practice everyone is starving so there’s dinner to figure out, showers, homework, studying, and all of that takes right up til bed time, which is pretty early because of how early we have to wake up to do it all again the next day.

Moving though? Ugh. Who wants to go through the hassle of selling and buying and moving. Not me. That’s part of the reason why we haven’t moved til now because moving is SUCH a chore! Their dad and I moved 7 times in 6 years before building this house 10 years ago, so 10 years without a move has been heavenly. I considered moving when they first changed schools, but the housing market wasn’t as good then and just seemed too risky. But the housing market has bounced a little from then with lots of houses selling in my area in a good price range too. So maybe now was the time, I thought.

Call me inpatient, but I didn’t want to wait all the months I knew it would take  to get the house ready to sell (i.e. de-cluttered, super-clean, painted, repaired, etc.) all while still living in it and trying to sell it, so I made a move (literally) that would force my hand to do it quicker. I decided we’d move as soon as I could find a good apartment for the rest of the school year. That gets us where we need to be physically ASAP and forces me to more quickly get the house ready to sale and on the market. I just knew that if we continued to live in it while trying to get it ready to sale that it would take forever and it would be next school year and we’d still be there.

So I found a nice apartment complex with plenty of room for us very near the school and willing to do a short term lease and here we are!

 

Moving On

So that’s the facts of the move — the who, what, where, when, why — but what’s missing from all of that is the emotions. Moving can be hard emotionally. We’ve lived in that house 10 years, so this is the boys first move that they’ll remember.

If that’s all there was, that’s emotional enough. My sons learned to walk, talk, crawl, everything in this house! But that’s not all there is. Because this is the house that their dad and I built, the last house he lived in, so moving out is a form of moving on from that too. It’s brought back memories of building it and choosing all the colors and fixtures. Moving out of the house we built and bought together closes out that chapter of my life in a big way.

Truth is I/we have lived in that house longer without him than with him. But because it started out as “ours” it’s still felt like “ours” even though we’ve lived in it without him the last 6 years.

When I talked to John’s mom about the move she said, “Well it’s time, time for y’all to move on,” and that puzzled me because that’s not what this move is about. We’re moving to be closer to the school and to be rooted in the community where they go to school. But it’s moving on too, even if that’s on the reason.

It was inevitable, of course. I had no grand illusions of living there forever. I just had no hard-and-fast reason to move before now so we just stayed put until life’s circumstances urged me on. We were comfortable with our stuff and our routine and “home” felt like “home.” My parents live a few streets over from the house, so it’s been nice to have them close enough for the boys to ride their bikes to their grandparents and to help when the boys were little. But they say home is where the heart is, and our heart has been moving to this side of town little by little for 5 years. Part of my heart is still VERY MUCH over there, but it’s the past part not the present or future part. Acknowledging and accepting that that house and it’s memories is part of my past is harder than I thought. Especially when part of my heart is really happy to be over here and have so much time and life back! It’s a happy-sad moment, goodbye to good things, hello to other good things.

Finn bungee-ing stuff on the truck to move

So this is Phase I of the Smith Family Move. The plan is to be in the apartment the rest of the school year. The guys are coming to paint and fix up my house the next few weeks and we’ll get the realtor in there the next few weeks too. I’m praying it sells quick and for the amount I need to cover the mortgage, repairs, temporary moving expenses and a downpayment on the next one. Because there will be a next one. The apartment is temporary so in Phase II we’ll buy a new house. So more Smith Family moving adventures to come ….

 

Book Review: The Tea Planter’s Wife


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Two things attracted me to The Tea Planter’s Wife at first glance: the beautiful cover and the intriguing title. I wanted to know who this woman was and what her life was like. In the cover art she looks troubled and deep in thought. With no other information about her other than her husband’s profession I wanted to read what was it that made her sit on this balcony looking quite forlorn.

And the book didn’t disappoint. I loved it! The characters captivated my interest from the very beginning, and the slow reveal of everyone’s secrets kept me reading with great anticipation of how all of this was going to work out in the end.

I mentioned secrets. There’s several secrets in this book, which kept me pondering most of the time. Even when I knew the secret, I wondered how on earth the other characters were going to respond once the secret was out. Author Dinah Jefferies doesn’t just come out with the secrets either, but draws them out with subtle hints and sometimes just enough details to lead you to guess 2-3 different possibilities. This is very skillful storytelling on Jefferies’ part.

The relationships in the story are quite complicated too, from a sister who is over-attached to her brother and gets in the way of his marriage relationship, to a secret child whose very existence threatens to tear apart the marriage, to the tea planter himself still grieving the loss of his first wife and child. I like reading about complex relationships because struggles like that usually reveal characters’ true selves along with their strengths and weaknesses.

Having not read much historical fiction set in the 1920s, I enjoyed the time period, with mentions of ’20s fashions (flapper dresses!) and the worldwide impact of the Great Depression in America comes into play as well. The story is not set in America (plays out in Ceylon, modern Sri Lanka, an island off the coast of India) yet investors around the world were impacted by the American market crash.

Overall I’d say it’s a fun little piece of historical fiction.

I received this book free from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

Swim Caden Swim


Caden doing the butterfly. Looks like a natural!

Well, last year we had Run Finn Run. This summer we experienced Swim Caden Swim.

One weekend, we were just hanging out at the pool when another parent at the pool and a  pretty young lifeguard (turns out she’s the swim coach) starts talking to Caden about how good a swimmer he is, encouraging him to join the swim team and telling him how much they need another 10-year-old boy swimmer.

He was flattered to say the least.

He seemed semi-interested so we said we’d come to the next practice and see how it went.

The thing is, this was half way through the season so there were only 3 swim meets left then the city finals. The rest of the kids knew all the strokes, turns, breathing, etc. and had been practicing for two months. When Caden swims he (like most of us I think) just jumps in and does his own thing. So he had to learn the proper way to dive, all 4 strokes, how to do a flip turn, correct breathing, etc. and he was going to need to learn these fast.

So we went to the first practice (on a Monday) and of course he liked it and wanted to continue.

His first swim meet was two days later!

He was SO nervous at that first meet he just sat there away from the team wrapped up in his towel not speaking to anyone. Very un-Caden like. He told me under his breath I am never doing this again. But he swam 6 events that night and by the end of the meet was MUCH more comfortable and confident.

By end of summer he was a fish, swimming several times a day and with an amazing tan to boot.

Caden with his city meet poster the coaches made and drove ALL the way out to our house (we live far far away from the pool). So nice of them!

Each meet his times and strokes and confidence improved — at his second meet he was an entire minute faster on one of his strokes than the week before!

He competed in the two-day city meet, and I even volunteered to be a time keeper, which was pretty fun in a close-to-the-action you’re-gonna-get-splashed kinda way. City meet was HUGE and chaotic but a lot of fun.

He loved getting ribbons!

The whole thing was good for him in several ways that he won’t admit but that I, mom, can see.

One, he was trying something new and it was good for him to experience relying on someone more experienced to teach him. Every day when I took him to practice I coached him be teachable. He sometimes acts like he knows it all (what kid doesn’t right?) and there’s nothing anyone can teach him about anything. And it’s important to take that down a notch (or two or three) and acknowledge that these swim coaches who’ve been doing this a long time might actually know something you don’t. So it was good for him to practice being teachable.

Two, this was a sport that none of us had ever done before, and Caden was leading the way. As the younger brother and the youngest of his cousins, he falls in other people’s shadows a lot, for no other reason than just he’s the youngest. They’ve all played all the sports and kinda paved the way so to speak. So this was new for all of us! It was nice that he got to be the first in the family to be a competitive swimmer!

At the end of the year party he got a trophy (he loves trophies!) and award for being the Fastest Learner!

I really hope he’ll continue this next summer with the whole summer to practice and improve. He really showed potential and had SO much fun. His coaches were so great at teaching and encouraging him it was a positive experience all around — especially since it was one we didn’t seek out but that just kinda fell in our lap.

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Why I finally gave in and let my middle schooler have a SnapChat


Pretty sure messages like this from his mom wasn’t what Finn has in mind when he asked for SnapChat

Finn (7th grade) first asked for a SnapChat the beginning of the school year, and without a discussion I gave a really firm ‘No.’ You’re not old enough, not mature enough, the world is big bad scary place, SnapChat is evil, No.

A few months later he wanted to understand why. Good for him. So I tell him all the bad things that can happen with an app like SnapChat. We googled real life stories about social media gone wrong with teens committing suicide over something someone said on social media. Plus, the fact that posts on SnapChat disappear in just a few seconds lets you hide things. Not good. More on that in a minute.

Of course to him, I was being the eccentric over-reacting, over-protective mom. To me, I wasn’t take any chances with serious problems like sexting, cyber-bullying, stalkers, etc. Teens (adults too) misuse social media and the more private they think it is the more they misbehave. Then there’s creeps and weirdos out there who use social media to lure or blackmail young people to do or say bad things. So I limit and watch carefully what little bit of social media he does.

We also have a “no delete” rule. You can not delete photos or texts without my permission, and if I found out you have (and I WILL find out, I have my ways), you lose your device. Indefinitely. If you’re not OK with your mom reading what you text or post on social media, then don’t post it. I’ve even used the WWJD threat — if you wouldn’t text it to Jesus you shouldn’t text it to your friend.

Which brings me to the biggest problem I have with SnapChat: privacy. Because the snaps disappear after a few seconds the accountability for what is sent and shared is non-existent. And let’s face it, accountability measures work. Knowing that your mom is going to see whatever you send or post is a reason to keep your posts in line. Knowing that your post is going to disappear in a few seconds is just enough false security to do something stupid and think you won’t get caught.

I also don’t see the benefit to SnapChat over using other apps that allow the same things without the accountability/disappearing posts issue. If you want to share a picture with your friend, post it to Instagram (he has an Instagram) or just text them a photo. If you want to chat, text or iMessage. So the only capability SnapChat adds is the disappearing posts. Which again, if you think you need to share something that private, especially at age 12 or 13, you’re probably up to no good and shouldn’t be sharing it at all.

Finn countered that you can add emojis and text on top of photos. Eh, there’s apps that do that too.

And I get that it saves space on your phone because the photos don’t get saved to your photo album thus filling up your phone’s memory with silly one-use selfies. So go delete it when you’re done. Easy peasy. Which violates the no delete rule so you’d have to ask me before you could delete it but still, there’s a way. I have a go-around for every single thing he says SnapChat can do that other apps can’t.

Except one.

The thing SnapChat does that no other app can do is make you cool. There. I said it. SnapChat makes you cool. How? Because you can say “yes” when one of your friends asks “Are you on SnapChat?” And if you and your friends think SnapChat is the best thing since sliced bread (I sound like an old person saying that don’t I?) then having the app — even if you don’t use it at all or often — makes you feel included, cool, like you’re the same as everybody else in your friend circle. And while we don’t always do what everyone else is doing (if everyone was jumping off a bridge would you jump of a bridge too?) I get that desire to fit in and if I can find a way where he gets to fit in and the risk of terrible things happening is significantly lessened, that’s what I want to do.

Finn says he just wants to share team selfies at the track meet or pics of what he’s having for dinner or selfies saying “I’m bored.” And I believe him. He’s a good kid with good intentions. But what do people want to share with him? THAT concerns me more. I know all too well that teens (and who are we kidding, adults too) use SnapChat and apps like it to hide their sexting, bullying, etc. and it’s all too easy to do.

So how I do let him enter this community where his friends are hanging out but keep him from using it inappropriately?

I decided it’s a trust issue. Do I trust him and his friends to use the app appropriately. The answer? No! How can you trust immature, impulsive moody teens to do the right thing when the wrong this is SO easy? You can’t, at least not 100%. So if I can’t trust you, I’ll create rules, rules to make it harder to do the wrong thing and easier to get caught doing the wrong thing lest your teen try.

So my No. 1 SnapChat rule is simple but strict: Before he can add anyone to his friend list I have to approve them. And I have the right to not allow him to follow someone if I don’t trust that person to use the app appropriately. So if you’re a girl who I see publicly push the limits of what’s appropriate on Instagram or be rude or use bad language on Instagram or texting with my son, he will not be your SnapChat friend. I will not give you the opportunity to take your inappropriateness to the next level with private disappearing messages.

If he adds someone without my permission, no more SnapChat. If he receives something in appropriate, he is to tell me no matter how embarrassing or no matter who gets in trouble over it. I will give him the opportunity to tell that friend that he doesn’t want to receive that kind of stuff and if they don’t stop he’ll remove them from his friend list.

So we’re trying it out. Which means he gets to receive snaps like this from me too.

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Run, Finn, Run


After his whole young life playing all kinds of ball, Finn changed gears this year to running.

I blame it all on Paula. She’s the one who first mentioned cross country to Finn last spring when he didn’t make the middle school basketball team and was pretty bummed about it. Cross country is a walk-on sport, no tryouts and your main competition is yourself, to beat your own fastest time and set new personal records. It’s been such a good thing for him I shouldn’t say blame but rather credit Paula. She’s kinda changed his life. Way to go Paula!

See, I never thought about Finn as a runner. He’s never been particularly fast at running, and when he ran bases in baseball he struggled to beat the ball to the base. Honestly, his dad struggled with running, and Finn kinda runs like him. Caden, on the other hand, has always been speedy so I always thought he should get involved in cross country and track when he gets older. I never imagined it for Finn, so I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see him fall in love with running.

Hold up though. It’s not the running he loves, it’s the team. It’s the social aspect of running with others, especially since, at his school, cross country and track are varsity sports even for middle schoolers.

The running itself, of course, has been great for him physically, staying in shape and all. I’m impressed with his endurance, running long distances for 20-30 minutes at a time and running at hours-long practices without complaining. But socially, he’s made friends with upperclassmen — and upperclasswomen — and they don’t seem to care that he’s a 7th grader. They help him train and hang out with him at practices and meets like he’s one of the team.

The coaches are great male role models for him and have really taken him under their wing, which something he desperately needs and that I’ve prayed for God to send him/us!

I don’t see his love for running being on the cross country and track teams ending any time soon so I see lots of cross country and track meets and a “XC Mom” car magnet in my future.

Have you ever seen anyone look so happy while running?!