Friday, January 31, 2014

Weather Reflections & How to Help Others

As January ends I've been reflecting on what a tough month it has been for many people. The weather has been CRAZY with Alaska being too warm and snow in the southern states. Snow and  extreme cold here in Indiana have caused school to be delayed or cancelled giving parents and kids a case of cabin fever. The impact of this weather has been huge in all areas of life. The school delays and closings have parents scrambling for childcare, businesses have closed due to cold or road conditions meaning lost profits and lost wages for employees, and people are getting sticker shock when they receive their heating bills. There have been power outages, traffic troubles, and cancelled flights. I'm not sure you could find someone who hasn't been impacted by the weather conditions in some way this month.

I've thought about how lucky we have been to be able to just stay home together as a family. We haven't lost power so the heat has stayed on. Our fridge and pantry are regularly well stocked with food so we only needed to pick up a few essentials. My daughter's preschool only closed for two days so we still had a reason to get out of the house. We are blessed in so many ways.

There are others who are not as fortunate. Monkey Do Project is a non-profit organization that works helping in the poorest areas of Appalachia. This is the most impoverished region in the country. One of their projects is purchasing food for a food bank in West Virginia. This food bank was literally empty when the founder of Monkey Do Project visited but through donations the shelves have been filled each month. Now though the weather is causing the need for food supplies to be even greater. Many of these families rely on the food programs at the schools for their children and since the schools have been closed so many days this month these kids have nothing to eat.

This is only ONE of the ways Monkey Do Project helps people.

Monkey Do Project can't continue to provide food, clothing, blankets, and other aid without help. Right now there are two easy ways that you can help:
  1. Make a donation to Monkey Do Project. It doesn't have to be large - even $5 will help!
  2. Vote for Monkey Do Project to win a small business grant from FedEx. There is no registration required, it only takes a click, and you can vote every day through February 23, 2014. Vote Here
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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Say Goodbye to Survival Mode by Crystal Paine

Last year I was invited to be part of the launch team for Crystal Paine's new book Say Goodbye to Survival Mode: 9 Simple Steps to Stress Less, Sleep More, and Restore Your Passion For Life. As a part of the launch team I received an early copy of the book in electronic form, participated in a Facebook discussion group, and was given access other materials to help promote this book. All thoughts and opinions shared in this post are my own and I am so excited to share this book with you!

The invitation to participate in the Say Goodbye to Survival Mode launch team could not have come at a better time for me. I have been unsettled lately. My heart and spirit want to do more meaningful things while at the same time I feel overwhelmed with the things that I am not getting done these days. I haven't been accepting review requests for the blog because I was so far behind in my commitments that it wasn't fair to accept another book and have it sitting on the shelf for months. Even with all that something pulled me to apply for the launch team when I saw it on the Money Saving Mom website. I am so incredibly thankful that I did!

In Say Goodbye to Survival Mode Crystal Paine doesn't simply give women strategies for using time more wisely, setting goals and reaching them, clearing clutter, and improving finances. Sure all of that is in this book but Crystal shares her story and that is why her tips reached me more than any other personal management book that I have ever read. This is not a clinical assessment with statistics regarding productivity or stock options but instead honest, heartfelt advice from a woman who has lived through survival mode and dug her way out of it.

Although our experiences are different, I was able to relate to Crystal on a very personal level. I could feel the emotion in her stories because I have lived with those emotions also. Crystal opens her past wide open and lets the reader see her as her imperfect self. She also acknowledges often that these are the strategies that have worked for her and that not every strategy fits every person because we are all at different points in our lives. There are no "one size fits all" strategies but instead ones that can be adapted to work in your life.  

Crystal's book truly helped me see things in a different light. Now I approach activities with a different mindset, asking myself if this is a good use of my time and energy before I commit. I ask myself if something will move me closer to my goals and if it doesn't then I may choose to pass on that activity or purchase. It feels a lot different to not get the dishes done because I made the conscious choice to play a game with my girls rather than not getting them done because I spent an hour flitting around on social media sites. This year I am investing in myself and my family more than ever. My activities and financial goals need to reflect that commitment.

The idea of change can be overwhelming. One reason I have never allowed myself to have big goals is because the idea of trying and failing was terrifying. I was only seeing the huge picture rather than the little steps I could take along the way. Even something as simple as keeping up with the house felt like too much for a while. Say Goodbye to Survival Mode helped me see that I can put little pieces into place each day or each week and those little changes will add up to larger changes over time. Goals and changes don't have to be overwhelming if I take them one step at a time.

I feel that I am failing to convey how large of an impact this book is having on my thinking and my approach to life these days. The downfall of having an early copy was that I have been telling everyone I know about this book and I wanted them to be able to read it RIGHT NOW. I even pre-ordered a copy for my friend and we are going to work through the chapters together when her copy arrives (should be here tomorrow!). I can't wait to read the book a second time and have another great discussion as we work on putting ideas into practice together.

Buy Say Goodbye to Survival Mode by Crystal Paine
 on Amazon or at your local bookstore.

I highly recommend picking up a copy if you are ready to make some changes and get your life running more smoothly. Also be sure to check out the 7-Day Challenge and Book Launch Celebration activities at
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Friday, January 17, 2014

Into The Woods by Kim Harrison

I love it when my favorite authors write short stories in the same world as their main books. This gives the author and reader a chance to explore side stories or go deeper into supporting characters than page count allows in the novels. What I don't love however is trying to keep track of all these stories. They are often printed in anthologies with other authors, offered as online content, or even placed in the back of certain novel editions. I'm lucky if I can keep up with an author's next main release date so forget about tracking down stories in a multitude of places and formats.

This is why I love short story collections by single authors. Into The Woods by Kim Harrison brings together short stories from the Hollows as well as some unrelated stories. While many of these stories were previously published, there are new stories in here too.

I love that Harrison provides an introduction to each story giving some background as to where it fits in the Hollows chronology and her thoughts in developing it. These extra little insights really add depth to the book.

The novellas and short stories here are not focused on Rachel but go deeper into the stories of other characters including Al, Jenks, Ivy, and Trent. It is nice to see some of the people surrounding Rachel get their moment in the spotlight for a change.

Into The Woods is a must read collection for Kim Harrison fans. The release date chronology puts it as book 10.1 in the series (after A Perfect Blood). It should not be read until this point as later stories would give away plot points in some of the novels. I would not suggest it as a starting point for people interested in starting the Hollows series. The stories are meant to be enjoyed within the framework of the Hollows not necessarily to stand on their own. (The exception being the additional stories that are not Hollows related of course.)
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Monday, January 13, 2014

The Orphanage of Miracles by Amy Neftzger

Have you ever been reading a book that you thought was a stand alone title only to realize as you get closer and closer to the ending that there is no possible way all the storylines will be wrapped up and that it must be the first in a new series? This is exactly what happened to me when reading The Orphanage of Miracles* by Amy Neftzger. I wasn't looking to start a new series, especially a middle-grade one with only one book published currently. These days I have enough series that I'm trying to keep up with and many of them I have been reading for years. I've gotten frustrated with waiting for new books so now if a series sounds interesting I will wait until there are several books out so I can read them one after another. There are so many books to read that a series can easily be forgotten or pushed aside if another book is not released quickly enough. I must make sure this does not happen with The Orchard of Hope**, the second title from Amy Neftzger, which continues the story of Kelsey and her companions.

The Orphanage of Miracles is an extraordinarily entertaining fantasy story which contains great wisdom. I think adults can get as much out of this story as the intended middle school audience. Kelsey joins with unusual companions on her quest to find a miracle while Nicholas and his friends live in an orphanage where miracles are housed. Their stories are told in alternating chapters for most of the book until the two storylines converge as at least some of the issues are resolved. The ending of the book provides some answers while offering many more questions to be dealt with in a future story.

I loved the whimsical characters who were so much more than they appeared to be on the surface. The conversations were often confused but with great understanding underneath. Neftzger plays perfectly with questions of great meaning and the image of authority which cannot be questioned.

The only aspect of this book that I struggled with was the two storylines being told in alternating chapters. I think this is something of a personal issue though as I seem to struggle to find my reading rhythm with any book that is written in this format. It seems that one chapter is barely long enough to get into the story of one character and then the story shifts quickly back to the other. However if multiple chapters are given to one story and then the other, it is easy to lose track of where a character is and what has happened up to that point.

Although I wasn't looking to begin another series when I received The Orphanage of Miracles from the LibraryThing Early Reviewer Program I am looking forward to reading more adventures of Kelsey and Nicholas.

* Amazon Affiliate Link
** Amazon Affiliate Link for preorder (anticipated release date is June 2014)
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