Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Updated Book Review: Unseen

Updated review from Nov. 2010

I was sent the book Unseen (formerly called Blind Sight) by James Pence to read.  James Pence has authored 3 novels and also has a ministry in chalk art.  (You can see one of his chalk art videos here.)


Where is Justine Bishop? And why did she abandon her children?

Thomas Kent is determined to find out. Asked to pick up a "package" at the airport by an old friend he barely remembers, Thomas is shocked when he finds two desperate children looking to him for help. As he’s reluctantly drawn into the murderous plot of a ruthless cult, Thomas is forced to come face-to-face with his own torturous guilt over the tragic loss of his family and faith. Why does the cult so desperately want the kids? Their mother, Justine Bishop, holds the key. He just has to find her . . . or die trying.

My Thoughts:

The book pulls you in from the start.  I know when books are really good because I don't want to put them down until I finished them.  This became one of those books.  The main character, Thomas Kent, is heartbroken almost to the point of being paralyzed after his wife and 2 kids are killed in a car accident.  All of the sudden he is thrust into a deadly situation where he is trying to keep two 10-year old twins alive until he can find their mother.  Oh, and while he's at it, taking down a ruthless, powerful cult that the twins family was ensnared in would be an added bonus.

While reading the book, you get an inside look into a cult - how it got started, how it brainwashes people to believe it's agenda, and what it's endgame is.  It's really pretty terrifying to think this kind of cult could exist in our world.  On the flip side, it's so encouraging to see how God's love and Jesus's gift of salvation could penetrate even the deepest Satanic, cultic influence.  And when more than one Christian band together, they can bring down the giant by using God's strength and guidance.

The action in the novel is very fast-paced.  The whole story takes place over 5 days and has many twist, turns and narrow escapes.  But the theme of Christ drawing people to himself is prevalent throughout the book - both in Thomas Kent's life and in the lives of the twins and their mother.  The book is easy to read and would be a great weekend read for the adventurer in your life.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Smart Money, Smart Kids book review

Smart Money, Smart Kids by Dave Ramsey and Rachel Cruze

(Affiliate links are used)

I’ve written a few posts about this book already (First Step to Teaching Our Kids About Money and Putting Your Kids to Work), but today it’s time for the full book review.


Financial guru Dave Ramsey and his daughter, Rachel Cruze, team up to teach parents how to “raise money smart kids in a debt-filled world.”  Starting with how to teach your children to work, and continuing through what your child should do with their hard earned money (spend, save, give), Dave and Rachel talk about the principles of good money management for children as well as giving the reader plenty of stories of what life was like for the Ramsey kids.  The second half of the book dives into more advanced issues such as how to be debt free for life, including how to go to college debt free.

My Thoughts:

I’m a huge Dave Ramsey fan and I’ve read a lot of his books, but this is his first book written with his daughter, Rachel.  As usual, Dave presents a no nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is guide to raising money-smart kids.  However, the addition of his daughter as an author changes the feel of the book.  She offers story after story of what life was like growing up as “Dave Ramsey’s daughter.”  The stories she adds give the book humor and somewhat soften Dave’s usual writing style.

Reading a book with two authors can sometimes feel disjointed.  Not so with this book.  Dave and Rachel identify themselves before each section that they write.  They also use two different fonts in the book (one for Dave and one for Rachel) to help the reader remember who is writing at that point.  It’s a nice touch that helps make the book feel more connected.

The information presented in Smart Money, Smart Kids is the same information that Dave Ramsey has been preaching for years, but it’s tailored to apply to children.  Not only do we get stories of how these principles were applied to Dave’s own children growing up (which are the best parts of the book, in my opinion), but we find out specifically how to implement them in our own families.  After talking about each concept in the book, Dave and Rachel break it down by age group and tell us how to apply that concept to our own children.  For instance, in the chapter on saving, we’re told that kids younger than 6 need to see their money so it should be kept in a clear container.  Six to thirteen year olds need to set small savings goals such as saving for a toy.  And children ages 14-18, need to learn how to save for something big, such as a car or college.  What you end up with is a very practical guide for how to train your children to handle money at every age.

This is a very well written book.  The information presented in it is practical, timely and opposite of what the rest of the world may teach your children about money.  And best of all, it’s fun to read.  I highly recommend Smart Money, Smart Kids for parents of children ages 18 and younger.  Your children will thank you one day for reading this book.

I give Smart Money, Smart Kids 5 out of 5 stars.

I received a complementary PDF version of this book to review as a member of the Smart Money, Smart Kids launch team.  All opinions are my own.  Affiliate links are used.  If you enjoyed reading my review, please consider clicking through my links to buy the book on Amazon.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Putting Your Kids to Work

Smart Money, Smart Kids (Part 2)


"Work creates discipline and when you have discipline in your life, you are a healthier person." - Rachel Cruze

Saturdays begin in our home like they do in most of yours, with a little Saturday morning TV.  And what comes next is probably fairly similar to most other houses as well.  Around 10 AM every Saturday, it becomes chore time.

But that may be where the similarity ends.  Because we don't MAKE our kids to their chores.  They CHOOSE to do their chores or they choose NOT to do their chores.  No, we're not some sort of progressive parents who let the kids rule in our home.  We are parents who are purposefully teaching our children financial concepts that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

The work /payday system that we implement in our house with our kids is adapted from what Dave Ramsey has taught for years out of his Financial Peace University and from his many books.  And on April 22, Dave and his daughter, Rachel Cruze, are releasing their brand new book, Smart Money, Smart Kids which goes into detail about how to raise money-smart kids in a debt-filled world.

Chapter 2 of SMSK is all about putting your kids to work.  After explaining the Ramsey way of doing commissions instead of allowances, Rachel and Dave give several stories about what this looked like for the Ramsey kids.  Then they give details on how you can implement this system in your house.  If you want more details, you'll have to read the book!  You can pre-order it on the Smart Money, Smart Kids website.  If you do, you get all sorts of freebies like the free audiobook and the free e-book version of the book.  If you want to look before you buy, be sure to visit the site and scroll down to the bottom where you can download the first 2 chapters of the book absolutely free.

So you can see how this chore/payday system might play out in your house, I'll show you what it looks like in our house.

Every year, on their birthdays, we assign our children with their chores for the year.  They have 2 less chores than their age (for example, my daughter is 10 so she has 8 chores to do a week).  We have chosen to assign chores that just have to do be done once a week.  I make up a new chore chart every year and put it on the fridge.  When the kids do their chore for the week, they put a magnet on the chart.  Every Saturday night is "payday" in our house.  My husband and I count the magnets under each child's name and they get $1 for each chore they have chosen to do.  Then we take all the magnets off and start over for the next week.  Our kids know that if they choose to do no chores, then they will get no money that week.

2014-04-07 08.33.39

When choosing which chores to assign to our children, we kept some things in mind.  Of course, we kept in mind their ages and what chores they could and could not physically do.  For instance, our vacuum is fairly heavy, so we waited to assign vacuuming as a chore until our children were old enough to actually be able to push it.  Second, we don't want our children to think that they should get paid for every little thing they do.  So chores that are daily occurrences are expected to be done without a payday attached to them.  Everyone is expected to help set the table for dinner, to take their dishes to the dishwasher after dinner and to straighten up the living room and the den, just to name a few.  Lastly, I want my children to one day leave my house knowing how to take care of a house of their own.  Yes, even the boy!  Keeping that in mind, I assign my children chores that teach them some essential household skill.  For example, both of our children started doing their own laundry at age 8.  It's not that I really mind doing their laundry for them, but when they leave for college, I want them to have laundry down pat.

If our children really hate a chore, they can petition to have it changed.  They have to have tried doing it for a couple of months first.  Then they have to give us 3 good reasons why they shouldn't have to do that chore and they have to give us a suggestion for a chore to do in it's place.  Sometimes, when they have done this, we have chosen to switch out a chore and sometimes we haven't.  Just before their birthdays (and the annual reassigning of chores) the kids can give us a list of chore suggestions that they would like.  However, Mommy and Daddy always have the final say in the which chores are assigned for the year.

In case you are wondering what sorts of things we make our kids do, I'll give you the list of chores they are currently doing.  My 10 year old daughter's 8 weekly chores are: empty all the trashcans in the house, clean the master bathroom toilet, straighten her bedroom, vacuum her bedroom, clean her sink, wash/dry her clothes, fold/put away her clothes, and fix 1 meal (with plenty of parental supervision!).  My 8 year old son's 6 weekly chores are: wash/dry his clothes, fold/put away his clothes, clean the hall bathroom toilet, straighten his bedroom, vacuum his bedroom,  and take recyclables down to the garage.

We have been using this system for about 5 years now.  Our kids are 10 and 8 now and we started each of them on the chore/payday system on their 5th birthday.  It has worked really well for us.  Our children know that we don't just give them money to buy things.  Of course we provide for all their needs - food, clothes, school expenses.  We just don't supply all their wants.  That's what they are earning money for.
This system has worked really well for us.  If you are interested in giving your children a payday (or commission as Dave and Rachel call it) instead of an allowance, be sure to pre-order a copy of Smart Money, Smart Kids and get all the details.

Next kids/money post - teaching children to spend, save and give.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The First Step in Teaching our Kids about Money

Smart Money, Smart Kids (Part 1)


(affiliate links are used)
I’m pleased to announce that I have been selected to be part of the Smart Money, Smart Kids launch team.  Yay!!

I’m going to be telling you all about the book in bits and pieces over several weeks.

Do you want your children to learn how to handle money correctly?  Do you want them to avoid some of the financial mistakes that you have made?  Are you at a loss as to how to start the process?  Now there’s help.  Smart Money, Smart Kids teaches you how to raise money-smart kids in a debt-filled world.

My husband and I have been huge Dave Ramsey fans for most of our marriage.  I’m not sure where we originally heard about him, but early on in our marriage we read The Total Money Makeover together and loved it.  A few years ago we had the opportunity to go through the Financial Peace University at our church.  Once again we loved all the material we were learning and we loved getting to share those ideas with others.  For the last 11 years, those “others” have included our children.  We, as parents, have a responsibility to teach our children good money habits.  We need to teach them how to handle $10 correctly now so they can handle $10,000 correctly when they are older.  Good money habits are not about how much money you have, but about the principles that govern that money.

So how do we teach our kids about money?  Good question.  The number one thing we can do, according to Dave Ramsey (and according to common sense), is to model good money habits ourselves.  Do we tell our children to tithe their earnings at church but forget to tithe ours?  Do we make our children save up for something big but pull out our credit card for every little thing we want?  Our children are like little video recorders.  They watch everything we do and they record it in their brains.  Later when we try to make them do something that we aren't doing ourselves, they pull out that video file from their archives and say “But Mom, remember when you did…”  And you’re busted!  Start off your children’s financial education by getting financially educated yourself.  You don’t have to have “arrived” at Financial Peace or wealth but you need to have the education and the intention to know where you plan to go financially.  A good place to start is with The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey.  It is a step by step guide that gets you out of debt, and into saving.

If you are a Dave Ramsey fan at all, you know his background story.  By the time he was in his mid-20′s he had made millions of dollars.  They were living the high life….that would be a life high on debt.  All that came crashing down on him and he went bankrupt with a wife and 2 small children.  That was the point in his life where he decided to learn about money and to learn how to handle money.  And thus began the road to financial peace.  His daughter, Rachel, was a baby back then and doesn't remember the “crash” but she does remember growing up in a house where learning about money was key.  In Chapter 1 of the book, she recalls her earliest days as a Ramsey kid and what it was like to grow up as a Ramsey.  I really enjoy the way Rachel writes.  Her story is written more like a memoir then a “how to” book.  Rachel and her father, Dave, have teamed up together to write Smart Money, Smart Kids so you get the interesting perspective of seeing things from both the father and the daughter’s points of view.  Very cool!

I’ll tell you about chapter 2 tomorrow.  But for now…

If you’d like a sneak peek at the book, visit the Smart Money, Smart Kids website.  Scroll on down to where it says “Start reading now for free.”  Stick your email address in that little box and hit enter and the first 2 chapters of the book will be sent to you.

If, after reading those 2 chapters, you decide you want to order the book, I would highly suggest pre-ordering instead of waiting for it to come out.  If you pre-order you get a bunch of cool freebies to go along with the book.  You get the hard copy, the e-book version, the audiobook version and a free video lesson.  You can check it all out on the Smart Money, Smart Kids website.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Living with Myofascial Pain Syndrome

Dreamstime stock photo - source

I had a friend remind me last night that it's been a while since I've posted about my health.  (I just looked and my last post was in June of last year - yikes!)  So let me update you.

I went to my last visit with the Osteopathic doctor in Atlanta last August.  The only thing he did on that visit was upset me.  I told him that I did everything he said to do.  I ate gluten free.  I took the gobs of supplements he "prescribed" for me.  And I was still in pain.

His response?  "What pain?"

Um, hello!!  The pain that I've been having for 2 years.  The whole reason that I've traveled 5 hours, 3 different times to see you.  The reason I did $11,000 worth of testing at your office.

So, once again, I re-explained my pain to him.  His response?  "Oh that's just adhesions from your surgery.  There's nothing I can do about that."

At that point I was so mad I couldn't see straight.  So when he told me to keep doing all the same stuff and come back in the winter, I walked out of his office knowing I would not be back.

If a doctor can't remember, between visits, why I've come to see him and nonchalantly waves off a pain that has been majorly affecting my life over the past 2 years, then he doesn't deserve my business.

And for the record, I don't believe it's adhesions.  I believe it's Myofascial Pain Syndrome.  And unlike a lot of doctors (including the guy in Atlanta), I believe MPS is a real, specific condition.  I have done a lot of research on the condition and I find it to have recognizable symptoms that set it apart from other conditions.  Unfortunately there are no cures.  Different therapies have worked for different people.  And some people have had to live with the pain for the rest of their lives.  Not so uplifting, I know.

So who have I been seeing?  Since June I've been going to see a local chiropractor.  I get a massage every other week from her and on the "off" weeks I get a chiropractic adjustment.  She's convinced that she can get me better.  While I know the massages help, I'm still not sure about the adjustments.  What I do like is that, unlike other doctors, she remembers me from week to week and she seems willing to keep trying to figure out what is wrong with me.  She hasn't given up on me like my two physical therapists did.

However, it gets frustrating.  Some days, I feel like I'm starting to feel better and move better and then I try to do something that I haven't been able to do for 2 years.  Something crazy - like hold a baby or sit on the floor for 10 minutes to play with my child.  And then the pain comes back and I realize that I really haven't improved at all.

I might be more pessimistic than usual right now because it's been a bad week for me, pain-wise.  And the worst part is I don't know why.  I think I spend half of my life analyzing everything I've done to see what it was that caused my pain to flare up.  Did I move funny?  Sleep weird the night before?  Try to pick up one too many clothes baskets?  Maybe it was the extra trip I took to Walmart walking around, or the fact that it's 40 degrees colder (or hotter) than normal.

And the truth is...WHO KNOWS???????

I certainly can't figure it out.  What I do know for sure is that it's incredibly frustrating.  I shouldn't have to analyze every movement of every day.  Changes in temperature outside shouldn't affect my muscles like they do.  I shouldn't have to wonder if my side will start feeling like it's on fire halfway through the church service.  I should be able to live my life like a normal 35 year old woman.

But I can't.

It's frustrating to see everyone post on Facebook about the awesome workout that they had and how they lifted a gazillion pounds and did 5000 miles in cycling class.  I love exercising.  It used to be the best way for me to relieve stress.  But I haven't been able to do it in over 2 years.  I should be able to workout and enjoy the feeling of my body getting stronger.

But I can't.

It's frustrating when my children automatically run to pick up things I've dropped because they know I can't bend down well to pick them up.  It's frustrating when I know we are spending hundreds of dollars a month on prescriptions and doctor's visits for something we can't even see or really even diagnose well.

I don't want you to think that it's all bad and that I'm not able to enjoy anything.  I have developed coping mechanisms and, for the most part, have learned my limitations.  I am still able to do things with my kids, just not on the floor and nothing strenuous.  I am still able to have leadership positions within PTA and at my church.  They just have to be administrative positions and not hands-on positions.  I am still able to laugh and enjoy life, just with a more limited set of movements than before.

Living with pain, taking 7 extra pills a day, vising the pain doctor once a month, and guarding my every move have now become a way of life for me.  I pray every day to be healed but if I am not, I will survive.  I don't want to let this thing beat me.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Snowstorm Pax

Last week we had an unusual occurrence around here.

We had 7" of snow.  That's a lot for Tennessee.

There are only a few times in my life that I remember getting that much snow.  About 4 years ago, it snowed the last day of school before Christmas break.  On that day, the sky unleashed buckets of snow and we got 6" in about 2 hours.  Before that there was the blizzard of 1993, where we had 12" of snow (and no power for several days) and the blizzard of 1996, which was about the same, 12".

Other than that, we usually get 2" or less.  Usually less.  Not that the weatherman hasn't called for snow in the past.  We just haven't really gotten the snow that they said might come.  This time it came.

I'm thankful for our school system that believed the weatherman this time (I believed him.  My phone said 100% chance of snow.) and dismissed our kids early on Wed.  Not only that, but they told us the night before that they would be dismissing early, which meant we could all prepare and people could get babysitters if they needed to.

Anyway, school got out at 12 and the snow started about 2:30 or so.  It snowed off and on all night and we ended up with 7" and 2 more days out of school.  But they were a fun two days.  The kids played in the snow at our house and played in the snow at my Mom's house.  They watched TV and played video games.  And we watched several movies as a family - the first two Lord of the Rings movies and the latest Superman movie.

While a few days off are fun, I have to admit that I was ready for them to go back to school this morning.

Because apparently the weather likes to be crazy around here, we will have temperatures in the 50's and 60's this week.  It's likely to snow the week after just because that's how it's been all winter.  Cold and snowy one week, abnormally high temps the next.  It just needs to make up it's mind and become Spring already.

I'll leave you with some pictures of my snowy yard and my snowy kids.

David sledding

Julie measuring the snow.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Disney/Universal 2013 Day 6

Missed one of my Disney trip posts?  Catch up on day 1, day 2, day 3day 4 and day 5.

Day 6 was our Epcot Day.  Pop quiz!  Anyone know what EPCOT stands for?  The answer is at the bottom of the post.

We started off our Epcot day with our favorite ride - Test Track!

We loved it the last time we came and now it is even better.  Disney has updated it with an area that lets you design your own car.  As you go through the ride, you test your car on different factors such as speed, agility, etc.  Then at the end, you find out who's car did the best overall and that person is the winner.  And, of course, you store all that data in your handy-dandy MagicBand, which you scan as you are going onto the ride to load your car data.

Using my awesome Disney know-how, we managed to ride Test Track 3 times without ever having to stand in line.  Fortunately for us, we visited at a time when both the new Fastpass+ and the older Fastpass machines were both in service.  We ran walked really fast to Test Track when the gates opened.  We got on it immediately.  When we were done, we went and got a Fastpass to ride again (Fastpass line = no line).  Then we already had a Fastpass+ reserved so we got to ride it a third time with no wait.  Score!!

There was really fun area at the end of Test Track.  Really it was one big advertisement for General Motors cars, but to the kids, it was a fun place to take futuristic pictures.  You got to pick the background and features such as fireworks in the sky or what was shown on the planet next to the car.  Then you ran and got in place and it took your picture.  The pictures were then emailed to you (with some GM propaganda in there too).  Here are some we engineered together.

We visited several other rides, including Soarin', which we also had a Fastpass+ for.  Then it was on to the World Showcase.

When we came to Disney in 2011, we came to Epcot and started around the countries to the right.  We only made it halfway around before everyone was hot, tired and whiny.  So we left without seeing the rest of the countries.

This time my goal was to go around to the left and see the other half of the countries.

We started in Mexico.  And since you can't go through the World Showcase without some entertainment for the kids, we picked up an Agent P phone on the way.  Did we mention how much the kids fought over that phone the last time we came?  Guess what?  Nothing's changed.  They still fought over that phone.

But the special effects with the phone were great.  You stand in one particular spot and push a button and Doofensmertz pops up out of a pot.  Or guitars on the wall start moving and singing.  Really cool.

Mexico was our favorite, mostly because it was inside and air conditioned.  It seems like every time we go to Epcot, it's exceptionally hot that day.  It was close to 100 the day we went, and that was in Oct!  They need to build some more shade in that place!

It was on to China next, which was beautiful and serene.

 We made it over to Norway to ride Maelstrom (our last Fastpass+ for the day) and we were sorely disappointed.  First of all, we shouldn't have wasted a Fastpass+ on that.  The line wasn't long at all.  And then it seemed like a joke of a ride.  It is touted as a tame roller coaster.  I didn't find it roller coaster-ish at all.  My recommendation is that unless you really want to know about Norse history, you should skip that ride.

Well, once again we made it halfway around and everyone was hot, tired and whiny.  So, like before, we took the boat back across the lagoon and headed back to our hotel.  I guess it's just par for the course for us at Epcot to only see half the countries every visit.  And, once again, we didn't make it to the Illuminations fireworks show.  Oh well, it gives us something to shoot for next time.

EPCOT = Experimental, prototype city of tomorrow