Monday, May 28, 2012

A Sound Among the Trees - a Multnomah review

A Sound Among the Trees, a Christian historical fiction novel by Susan Meissner, is a book about a house and a family that has survived its antebellum roots, but not without its share of sorrow and mystery.

This is a book that is written quite interestingly. A fair portion of the book is spent "showing" the letters of an ancestor of the family who was touted for having been a spy during the Civil War. Susannah Page had lived her share of tragedy, and her great-granddaughter Adelaide felt like the house was cursed because of what had happened there. Because of Adelaide's ancestry line, the "curses" simply continued throughout the years, leaving the family to continue its struggles with tragedy and sorrow.

When Adelaide's deceased granddaughter's husband remarries and brings home his new wife Marielle, Marielle began hearing rumors about the house and its former inhabitants right away. Through one of the Old Blue-Haired Ladies, Marielle learned that a seer (clairvoyant) had been at the house and had proclaimed that Susannah's spirit still haunted the house, exacting restitution upon all of the women who continued to live at Holly Oak. While Marielle is getting moved in, she finds herself interested in knowing the story and seeks to find answers.

I liked how the author was able to throw the letters from the Civil War into the storyline. It felt joined together very nicely. This isn't an easy task to undertake, but Meissner did a wonderful job adding that to the story.

While I found the writing of this book to be really wonderful--engaging, even--there was something missing that I can't quite find words to explain. For one, I didn't feel like the characters were fleshed out remarkably well. I didn't feel a connection with Adelaide--in fact, her character was an annoyance to me. Marielle's character seemed flighty and disconnected, and I just couldn't find myself relating to her at all. Her husband Carson was merely a secondary character that didn't have much involvement in the story at all. There was the use of a seer (clairvoyant, medium, etc.) that, to me, added nothing to the story.

In spite of being published under a Christian publisher, there was nothing overly Christian about this book. There was a talk of the "spiritual" life, but nothing overwhelming or even much noticeable.

The story felt very somber all throughout, and it wasn't until the very last two or three pages that I felt like there was some resolution there, but even then I've left the story feeling a little dejected.

I really feel like this story could have been better served as a traditional historical fiction novel. Wow, that would've rocked! But since it wasn't, I would have liked to have seen more interaction with Carson, more of Susannah's story (that really intrigued me), and generally more fleshing out of the family members. It felt like historical fiction novel that was forced into a contemporary story.

I received A Sound Among the Trees as a complimentary gift in exchange for review from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers. My comments and opinions are my own.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Praying With the Grain - a Kregel Review

Praying With the Grain by Pablo Martinez is a fascinating read! As you can see, the subtitle says, "How your personality affects the way you pray". It uses Carl Jung's psychological types to show how individuals with those typologies tend to pray. As a psychology junky, this greatly snagged my attention, and it was a book I just had to read. If you're familiar with the Myers Briggs personality test, then you know what I'm talking about. If you're not familiar with what this is but you've seen or heard people say, "I'm a ESFP" or "I'm an INTJ" (or something similar), then you're one step closer to knowing how this book relates.

This book is a short read--at 175 pages, including Notes--and was so interesting to me that it was read in just a little over an hour. Prayer is the focus of this book, and more specifically, how our personalities define how and where and with what frequency we pray. If we're more interested in being alone to pray, whether we are encouraged by praying in groups, etc.

The first portion of the book (Part I) talks about the eight groups of personalities (based on Sensation, Intuition, Thinking, and Feeling) and what their good points and bad points are. The author also mentions several famous people (including some Biblical familiars) who may have endowed those personality types.

The second portion of the book discusses overcoming problems with praying. We all have our hangups when it comes to praying; sometimes even getting started can be a problem for some. Maybe it's hard to pray aloud, maybe during prayer it's easy to get distracted, or maybe God seems far away. No matter what the problem, the author gives some suggestions for overcoming individual difficulties with prayer.

The last section deals with the value of prayer to the individual--a way to develop a strong relationship to God so that prayer life can be rich and fulfilling. Here's a portion of that section that particularly drew me in and made me think of scripture:

We cannot limit the concept of prayer to words, no matter how important the words may seem. Talking with God is only one of the dimensions of this dialogue. . . . There exists an unspoken language: the language of intention, of desire, of the heart. We see this very thing in daily life. The husband - or vice versa - can transmit much to his wife even if he speaks very little, because there is a type of dialogue that is non-verbal, that involves gestures of tenderness, a loving look, positive attitudes, a dialogue whose rich shades and dimensions escape the realm of words. So we cannot impoverish prayer, limiting it exclusively to verbal communication.
That portion brought to my mind the verse in Romans 8:26 that says, "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." Sometimes there are times in prayer when we just can't find the words to speak what's in our hearts. When grief assaults or there's a need so large that you just can't find the words to accurately portray what we really need God to hear, the Holy Spirit takes charge and reveals to God the essence of our need.

At the end of Part I is a Question and Answer section. Part II covers two chapters: Is prayer a psychological illusion and are all prayers alike--comparing Christian prayer to Eastern prayer.

Now, I know you might wonder what my own personality type is. Well, from what I can gather, my closest guess is ISFJ, which stands for Introverted, Sensing, Feeling, Judging (or Introverted-Sensing in Jung's way of analysis). While I'm definitely Introverted, I am barely "Sensing"--the difference between my Sensing and Intuitive scores only vary by 3%, and my score difference between Feeling and Thinking was only 5%. I'm glad that I'm able to have a pretty close balance with those two portions of the personality types.

And how does my personality type affect my prayer life? Well, I'll let you figure that out. :D I love this book!

I received Praying With the Grain as a complimentary gift in exchange for review from Kregel Blog Tours. My comments and opinions are my own.

Monday, May 14, 2012

It's not Goodbye; It's See You Later

*Warning: If you're tender-hearted and don't like gut-wrenching stories, don't read this. I'm bearing my grief in my own way.

If you were looking for my update yesterday about my weight loss, there's a good excuse for why I didn't update. Shoot, I didn't even keep up with the diet for a very good reason.

On Wednesday, I found out that I was expecting. It was quite the surprise! We have two children--12 and 7, and we weren't planning to have another. I just felt odd that day, and we went out and I bought a pregnancy test. The boys had no idea what I'd bought, because I didn't see a need to tell them if it was negative, and I strongly suspected it was. So, I came home, did my thing, and straightened the bathroom while I was waiting. A minute later, there was a definite line. I was surprised--no, SHOCKED!--and worried at the same time. Where were we going to put this child? We live in a 3-bedroom trailer where all the bedrooms are in use. Our contract here where we live states that we cannot have more than four individuals living in the home. That meant we'd have to move. What about pregnancy complications? I'd had pre-eclampsia with my first child. Since I'm already overweight, I worried about what complications that might cause. And I worried about how achy I would be, since I'll turn 35 this year.

But I was happy. I went out to the living room where the boys were sitting. I pointed at one and said, "You're a big brother." Then I pointed at the other and said, "You're a big brother." They looked at me strangely, and they both realized that the younger brother couldn't be a big brother. So I crooked my finger at them and told them to follow me where I showed them the pregnancy test and told them what it meant.

The babying began. Especially from Jacob--every few minutes he'd ask if I needed more water or if I wanted something to eat. He even took a walk with me around the neighborhood and we talked about how neat it would be for him to be a big brother.

That afternoon, Jacob had a baseball practice, and so I prepared some special t-shirts for their dad to see.

They were both so excited and kept hugging me the whole day. At the baseball practice, my oldest son had his back to his dad, so my husband didn't see his shirt. It was only when my youngest came to us to get his batting gloves that Brad saw the shirt and was perplexed. Then he asked Daniel to turn around, and when he saw what it said, he grinned and said, "Are you pregnant?"

Of course, the news snowballed. The boys wore their t-shirts to church, and no one figured it out until we were leaving.

We called both of our parents that night, and told them the news. It was my dad's birthday, and I knew that it was news he'd never forget.

However, that was the happy day. Things began to go a little south after that.

While everyone was having their own little thoughts about our news ("Where are you going to live?", "Mom, I'm so excited you're having a baby!", "Babe, I'm already tired, and we don't even HAVE the baby yet," "We just worry about you".....), I was cramping. Not anything drastic, but it just felt different. It hurt to sit down on the baseball bleachers--I knew that wasn't normal. My back was cramping a good bit. Even as early as Wednesday evening, I was feeling a sixth sense that something wasn't right.

I didn't announce anything on Facebook, and I didn't tell many people. Brad and Jacob were doing that for me. *grin* I just felt like it was too early to tell anyone, especially with what I had going on, so I just didn't do it.

On Friday, I had some light brown discharge along with the cramping and just about freaked. I spent most of the day researching my symptoms online, trying to comfort myself that everything was ok. I'd already made an appointment to see the OB, but I wouldn't be getting in to see someone until June 5--a whole month away.

On Saturday, I only had a little bit of cramping, but that whole day I felt like I was in Twilight Zone, because I felt almost normal. It scared me. My body almost felt normal again--I wasn't feeling that little hint of nausea I'd felt since Tuesday. I tried not to worry, but in my mind that gut feeling was playing again. It felt like a broken record--"something's wrong, something's wrong, something's wrong". I didn't say much to anyone, because I was trying to convince myself that this feeling I was having was wrong. I wasn't bleeding, right? That's the telltale sign, and I didn't have that.

Sunday morning, Brad announced the baby to our Sunday School class. Again, I heard that broken record, but I put on my little smile and forged ahead. After Sunday School was when it began. I had Brad take me home, and we left the boys in the hands of a friend of ours and headed home. It was Mother's Day. I should be celebrating being a new mom, but I was sitting on the toilet knowing that something was definitely not right. I was watching things fall into the toilet that should not be there. I was realizing that my gut feeling was not wrong. I cried and I cried and I cried. Brad and I sobbed and held each other. Brad asked if it was ok for him to call his parents, and I said yes. I knew that I couldn't call mine--I could barely hold it together to talk to my husband, so I knew that making a phone call wasn't going to happen.

I talked to my mother-in-law and she suggested I go to the emergency room. By that time, we had the boys back, and so off we went. Blood drawn, urine sample, transvaginal ultrasound that was horrifically painful, and a pelvic examination. All while bleeding heavily. I knew. They didn't have to tell me. My beta (hCG) level was 36. After finding out that I was pregnant on Wednesday, the level should be in the thousands by now. The news wasn't devastating, because I already knew. I knew on Wednesday that something wasn't right.

But as much as I was prepared all week for this simple bit of confirmation, I was not prepared to give up my child. All week, I'd been clinging to the hope that everything would be ok. I was hoping against my gut feeling that the pregnancy would go to term. I would do whatever it would take--bed rest all nine months, drink some kind of ghastly medicine every day, stand on my head while saying the alphabet backwards! I would do whatever it took to make this happen. But it wasn't going to happen.

We came home and cried some more. I've never cried so hard in my life, I have never seen Brad cry so hard in his life. We both look like we've been hit in the eyes. My eyes are bloodshot, the skin around my eyes are so swollen I look like I have had an allergic response to something.

Brad said yesterday that we need to come up with a name for the baby--something to help us find closure. And we need to put the boys' t-shirts and the pregnancy tests in a memory box just like we put our boys' baby things in a memory box. Because, this is not just a failed pregnancy. This is our child. Just because I was only 4 weeks pregnant doesn't mean that it was any less a baby. What it DOES mean is that we've got a little one waiting on us in heaven. It means that we've got three grandmothers in heaven to chit-chat with our baby, to tell it all about us while we can't. It means that the first face our little one saw was Jesus. It means that it won't be here to suffer.

Even though we are so heartbroken, we're still trucking along, because we put our faith in One who knows the beginning from the ending, the whys and the reasons for all things. God knows our grief and our sorrow, and we rest knowing that He knows what's best. And that's all I need.

To my sweet baby,
I mourn the fact that I won't get to hold you here, see who you look like, or smell your sweet baby breath. I won't get to hear the sweet baby sounds that you'd make or rock you to sleep. But you'll be loved for as long as I live, and I will never forget what it meant to me to realize that I was having you.

Your big brother Jacob knows that he's still a big brother, even though you won't be here. And he's taken back his title of Cuddle Monkey in your place, because he knows that my lap is going to be lonely.

Your dad was looking forward to having you. He was already making plans for how we would rearrange our home. Our home will be always empty without you.

And while I'll miss you for always, I'll carry you forever. You'll always have a place in my heart, my thoughts, and my life. The days right now are full of grief and tears, but one day your memory will be easier to bear, and I'll look forward to meeting you up There where I'll get to spend eternity knowing your personality, your laughter, and your smile.

Daddy, Daniel, Jacob and I will miss you. We'll always remember the day you should have been born. And we'll always call you our Victory, because you have the victory now. It's been won, and no doubt there's a Celebration going on over your entry into the Kingdom. You deserve it, and we look forward to the day where we'll get to celebrate with you.

We love you, Victory Celebration.
Love forever,

So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 1 Corinthians 15:54

But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. I Corinthians 15:57

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. 1 John 5:4

Monday, May 7, 2012

Starting Week 1 - Weight Loss

Last year I lost a lot of weight. I was down 41 pounds with only about 30 to go. Well, I've packed on about half of that back. Bad girl! What I did was for almost 8 weeks, I didn't eat any bread or sugar. None whatsoever. It was HARD, and it's not something that is easily done unless you're extremely determined. I was very determined. I did it, I was healthier for it, but where I live, bread and sugar is like air. It's just there and it's so tempting.

So today I'm starting over again. I've got 60 pounds to lose altogether, and while it seems daunting, I know I can do it because I made such great strides last year. *grin*

Ok, so I know you're dying to know what I'm going to do. Well, there's a book that I had checked out at my library two years ago. It's a low-carb idea, but it's not as strict as Atkins. It's called "Crack the Fat-Loss Code" by Wendy Chant. I was successful in losing a good deal of weight while I was on it. The first week is tough, because carbs are depleted. Carb allowance for each day is under 20 grams. If you're not big on carbs, though, it may not be hard for you.

The first week is where you will find your largest weight lost. Naturally, some water weight is lost, but also during the Carb Deplete week, your body is being taught how to grab from your fat stores.

Since this is my first week on the program, I will be doing the Carb Deplete all week. In my experience, it's not so fun. But when you're ready to lose the weight, you'll jump on board. I hate the energy shakes, I hate eating a whole cup of broccoli a day (though I love broccoli), and I hate the headaches that are there until my body has gotten used to the fact that this is the way it is going to be. But all in all, the plan is not bad after the first week. Next week I'll talk about Week 2. :)

I'm not a fan of exercise. Let's just get it out there: I hate it. But when you've got spare tires in your way, you're going to hate it. It's no fun to feel out of shape, and the battle is fierce when you attempt to correct that issue. I've regularly done Leslie Sansone's Walk videos. This is great for me, and the videos aren't boring. They're low-impact (you won't put someone's eye out or damage your TV), and for me that's great. I've learned that I'm not coordinated enough (nor do I have room) for videos that require violent kicking and punching. I'm sure my kids value their lives. *grin* Anyway, Leslie has many walking videos, so you can choose which one's right for you. And not only that, you'll feel great afterwards!!

Besides getting a good cardio workout, I've got a problem area that needs specific adjusting. My tummy. After two kids and two cesareans, then a gall bladder removal, I've got this extra flab that is just there. It's not going to go away quickly. It WILL go away slowly if I just adjust my diet and exercise, but I want to go beyond that. I want to try something that I've never tried before.

I love Dr. Oz, and I know some of you do too. He's always got some interesting tips for bettering  health, and this week, I found this dude on Dr. Oz's site named Brett Hoebel who I'd never heard of before. He has a 5-minute flat belly workout. It caught my curiosity really quickly, and I clicked on the video link and watched in amazement. "I can do that!" I said out loud. Thankfully, only the dog witnessed my talking to myself. It looks like a pretty intense workout, but hey, if it works, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. There's nothing worse than losing 40 pounds and knowing that you SHOULD be able to fit into a size 10 pants but because you've got this extra donut attached to your gut, you're wearing a 14. Baaad news, and no girl wants to sport that atrocity. So, I figure I'll do this for a few days a week and see if I'm able to whip that gut into shape.

The bad thing with the Carb Deplete week (or maybe it's a good thing--I dunno, I might change my mind) is that Wendy doesn't recommend exercise that week. If my memory is fresh, I don't think I would've wanted to exercise that week the last time I did a Carb Deplete. The detox from carbs produced headaches for a few days, and I'm not sure I could've dealt with trying to exercise too.

So, that's my story for the week. I'm anxious to see how much weight I lose this week. Most people lose around 5-15 pounds during the first week on this program. The last time I did this, I think I lost either 7 or 8 pounds that week. We'll see.

Stay tuned for my report on Sunday. I'll let you know how much weight I lost and how I've done this week.

I've not been paid to try these products. This is a personal journey, and my opinions are my own.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Switched! - a Tyndale review

Switched! is the fifth book in the TJ and the Time Stumblers series written by Bill Myers. This is a youth fiction novel that, in my opinion, would be a great book for 10-13 year olds. Girls or boys would enjoy it, but I have no girls so I can't give an adolescent girl's review. :) I did have my 12 year old son give it a read so that I could put his opinion out there. But first I'll give you my spill.

First of all, Switched! is a Christian fiction book, has a fantasy feel to it (time travel, invisible characters) as well as exciting and hilarious adventure, and is written in a fashion that would appeal to adolescents (primarily preteens). At 156 pages, the font isn't teeny tiny, so it won't take a child forever to read. At times, there is large font to convey excitement, which is appealing to the eye. The chapters are about the right length for a kid who likes to read one chapter at a time (about ten pages per chapter).

Goofball friends Tuna and Herby from the 23rd Century have teamed up to make their friend TJ Finkelstein the greatest leader of the world. First, however, they have to teach her many lessons along the way to prepare her for greatness. But when a futuristic technological gadget malfunctions, TJ finds herself in the body of her nemesis Hesper Breakahart! If that's not problematic enough, Tuna and Herby find themselves having a battle with their own enemy--Bruce Bruiseabone. The story is action-packed, full of hilarious problems to solve and goofy characters.

My son liked the part when TJ thought that Bruce Bruiseabone was trying to get after her. He was in the form of a crab and he chased her. She thought he was trying to kill her, but he was trying to tell her something. The book was funny, and he also recommends it for preteen adolescents.

If you're looking for a good series for your Christian adolescent like this one, I recommend it. It's funny, it's off the beaten path, and it's full of adventure from start to finish. I've not read the whole series, but I have a feeling that it will be one that my kids will enjoy in the future!

I am a member of Tyndale Blog Network, a fabulous website that sends free books to read and keep if you write a review for your blog and for a major retailer (such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble). Tyndale Blog Network is through Tyndale House Publishers.