Saturday, December 7, 2013

Goals for 2014

I think I'm just wired to set goals.  I'm not sure I'm wired to complete goals, but I set them with the best intentions.  I've always made New Year's resolutions, but rarely stuck with them.  Of course, few people ever knew what resolutions I made.  I didn't share them because I didn't want anyone to know if I failed...which I almost always did.

There's something very motivating (and terrifying) about making goals known to others.  I've experienced a renewal of accountability in 2013 through, of all things, Facebook.  I joined several groups on Facebook in 2013, mostly related to fitness.  In these groups, which are private, you post daily how you worked toward the goal of the group.  For example, I joined a fitness group where I had to post a sweaty picture of myself after a workout and a record of my daily consumption of calories.  I was on a team with other members and earned points for every posting.  If I didn't post (which means I didn't work out or eat well), I was costing my team points.  Talk about pressure!  All I can say is:  it worked for me.  I lost 20 pounds and got in pretty decent shape. 

Because of this first FB goal group, I decided to sign up to run a half marathon.  My longest run at the time was a 10K with lots of walking.  It was going to take a lot of focus and training to run 13.1 miles, so I joined another FB accountability group to keep me (literally) on track.  Well, goal achieved.  I finished that half marathon on November 8th and am doing another half in February.  So, I'm now sold on accountability and motivational groups.

With these things in mind, I've decided to set some goals for 2014 and make them...gulp...known. 

Financial Goals:
1.  Save more, spend less...
It seems like every time we get some savings built up, some crazy unexpected event happens (a new puppy with parvo, one of our trees falling on our neighbor's house, two unplanned surgeries, and so on...).  It's time to get serious about the savings account.  Life isn't getting any cheaper and our daughter is 2 years away from a driver's license (eyes wide with terror).  Having a more substantial emergency savings account will certainly help ease the stress I feel from my huge weakness in life:  FEAR.

2.  Set a realistic budget and STICK TO IT!...

Obviously, this is a necessary step to achieve #1.  We have a budget, but still can't seem to get it just right.  Dave Ramsey needs to personally come have a sit down with this family.  I plan on using his Total Money Makeover book for 2014.  In order for our budget to work, we need to use cash instead of the check card.  It hurts more to use cash and we will be less likely to buy the "stupid stuff". The check card is the death of many budgets, including ours.


3.  Purchase new living room furniture with cash...

We have horrible, hand-me-down, living room furniture.  It's old, ugly, torn, and way too big for theroom.  The tables are stained with marker, scratched mercilessly, and way out-of-style.  We have mismatched bookshelves and a huge TV console that takes up half the room.  Let's put it this way, my kids are programmed to hide in the dark and pretend no one is home if the doorbell rings to keep ANYONE from seeing the house (even the UPS delivery man).  New furniture and refinished floors are topping my must-have list.  With two kids and three dogs, this needs to be some heavy-duty, indestructible, easy-to-clean, furniture.  Furniture is EXPENSIVE!  My goal is to buy this furniture in the early fall so we can enjoy movies and football and friends.
 
4.  Save for a Disney World vacation...
We went on a great Disney and Universal vacation in 2011, but haven't been anywhere since then.  My kids beg weekly to go back to Disney, and I want nothing more than to take them again.  My husband loves it as much as the kids, so we are hoping to find extra income to pay for this through extra jobs.  We hope to take this vacation in 2015, so we will have 17 months to save.  We'll see...


Family Goals:
1.  Eat at home more...
This will certainly help with the financial goals, but it's not easy for this family.  I am a terrible cook and a poor meal planner.  I work long days and I despise the grocery store.  Our kids are involved in sports and church activities, so we're often out late multiple nights a week and eating out frequently is the solution for dinner.  But, even when there is no need to eat out, I'm still likely to want to.  I like eating out.  No planning, prep work, cooking, or clean up.  Right up my alley.  My kids are also super picky and I get irritated when I actually fix a meal and they won't eat it.  I've got to step up and get cooking in 2014.  I just need to think about new furniture and Disney World to help motivate me in my weak moments.   
2.  Take advantage of more local events...
Chattanooga has a lot of things for a family to do that are either free or very cheap.  We rarely take advantage of them!  I blame myself because I am such a homebody.  I like to be at home and it takes a lot to get me out the door.  I also don't like crowds, so that makes things challenging.  There's always so much catching up to do at home on the weekends when most of these events happen.  In 2014, I want my family to get out more and make more memories.
3.  Spend more family time together...
It seems that we're often at home together, but not actually spending time together.  I'm sure we aren't the only family caught in this rut.  With an almost 14 year old and a 6 year old,  it's not always easy to find "family fun" that everyone can enjoy.  In 2014, I'd like to find more ways to spend family time at home that everyone looks forward to each time.  My plan is to schedule family nights on a monthly calendar.

Personal Goals:
1.  Organize, Renee, organize...
I say this every year, but I just can't take it anymore.  Before the producer from Hoarders shows up at the door, I am going to get rid of, for lack of a better word, stuff.  Lots of stuff.  We do not live in a big house.  We have stuff everywhere.  It makes me sad, angry, depressed, and defeated.  I must organize this house, and I will have to do it (mostly) alone.  This is not a goal for the other members of my family.  They are fine with the narrow trails through each room.  I am not.  I am going to make a realistic plan for organizing throughout the year.  After all, how do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  The stuff that survives the cut will have a place.  A place for everything and for everything a place.  There are tons of tips for organization and purging clutter online.  This will be a 12 month project.  I must succeed.

2.  Run, Renee, Run...
I finally got serious about running in 2013.  I completed my first half marathon in the upright position, had a personal best 10K time, and am in the midst of training for the Disney Princess Half in February.  I want to do at least 2 half marathons in 2014 along with several other races.  I really like a 10K race.  The distance is enough, but not too much. I'd like to really improve my 5K time.  I would love to run a 5K in under 30 minutes.  Races really motivate me to stick with the training and challenge me to improve my pace times.   I feel great after a run and I'm learning a lot about myself, especially on long runs.  Hopefully, I can avoid injury and keep running.  It also helps to keep some of the weight off.

3.  Read, Renee, Read...
I set a 2013 goal of reading 40 books.  I'm probably going to fall a few books short of that goal for
one main reason:  Social Media.  I spent way too much time in 2013 on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.  I played way too many levels of Candy Crush and Farm Heroes Saga.  I don't think it's a bad thing to check social media daily, but I seemed to be overly connected.  I would like to substitute a bunch of social media time for reading time.  I already own enough books to fill up the next 20 years, so I need to dedicate more time everyday to reading.  I do start my day with devotional reading, so I plan to keep that going.  I'm going to set a goal of 36 books for 2014.  Three books a month sounds like a good number.  Hopefully, I can read more.

4.  Write, Renee, Write...
Writing is therapeutic.  Whether it is blogging, journaling, or writing a book review, I need to get back into the habit of writing in 2014.  My goal is to write at least 2 times a week during 2014.

5.  Eat better, Renee, eat healthy...
As I mentioned earlier, I'm a terrible cook.  That has made unhealthy convenience food a staple in our house.  I want to eat more clean in 2014.  I've also learned that running well requires eating well.  I can tell a real difference in a run after eating junk and a run after eating well.  It's time to clean up the diet, wean off the sugar and processed foods, and fuel properly.


Well, that should be enough, I think.  I know none of these goals are unusual or uncommon, but I still think the accountability of making them known will help me stay focused on achievement.  I plan to update throughout the year about the progress (or lack thereof) made on each goal.  I would love to have some accountability partners along the way.  If you set yearly goals and want to share them, I'd love to read them and help encourage you along the way.


I hope 2013 was good to you and 2014 will be even better. 

Happy New Year!

--Renee--

    
  
     

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Film Review: Inheritance

I am home with my sick, but rapidly recovering, 5.75 year old son today.  One of the side effects of his "illness" is wanting me to be right by his side at all times.  This doesn't bother me at all (he's only little once), but it does prevent me from accomplishing the chores that I could have gotten done on this unexpected day off of work.

Instead of watching ANOTHER episode of Scooby Doo, I decided to stick in the ear buds and watch something (not animated) on the iPad.  We have an Amazon.com Prime Membership.  It rocks.  One of the many benefits of this membership is the unlimited, commericial free, instant streaming of movies and television shows.  We watch movies and tv series often this way.

 
While perusing the documentaries available, I stumbled on Inheritance.  It was released in 2008 and is the extraordinary and gut wrenching story of two women, Monika Hertwig and Helen Jonas.
Monika never knew her father.  Like million of German children, she lost her father in WWII. She was not yet a year old when he died.  At age eleven, Monika finds out that her father did not die in battle as countless other German soldiers.  Her father was executed; hanged as a thief.

Helen, however, knew Monika's father very well.  She was only fifteen when she arrived with other Jews at the Plaszow concentration camp in Poland.  Monika's father was Helen's warden, her torturer, and her nightmare for nearly two years at Plaszow.  He made her one of his house maids, exposing her to daily humiliation and beatings (but, most likely, saving her life).

Now, take a step back with me to December, 1993.  Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List opens in theaters.  My husband and I went to see it on a Saturday afternoon.  We had planned to go to dinner afterwards, but neither of us had any appetitie when we left the theater.  Seeing that film changed me.  It was one thing to know about what happened in The Holocaust.  It was a whole other thing to see it.  I have not seen Schindler's List since then.  I do not need to see it again.  I do believe everyone should see it once...to see what man can do to man.  I remember it very well.  It's seared into my brain.  I had a particular problem, after Schindler's List, being able to see Ralph Fiennes in any other films.  No matter how heroic or dashing his character may have been, to me he was always that horrific, evil, sadistic, Nazi who thoroughly enjoyed killing and torturing his prisoners.
  


Monika Hertwig saw Schindler's List in the theater, also.  But, her experience was very different from the millions of others who saw the film.  Monika was waiting to see her father on the screen.  Monika's father was Amon Goetz, the commander of the Plaszow camp,...brilliantly played by Ralph Fiennes.

Can you imagine?  Can you even fathom?



When Monika sees Helen Jonas interviewed in a documentary about the survivors of Plaszow, she writes her a letter asking to meet her.  Inheritance is the story of the two women and the very different scars they bear from the same man's choices.  It's also a story of hope and learning from the past.
 
As an avid fan of documentaries, I will tell you that this is not the best film you will ever see.  It isn't slickly produced with wonderful background music and dramatic editing.  It's just very real.  The pain in these women and the emotional journey they take will certainly move you.  I do not hesitate to recommend it.

4/5 stars

Note: This documentary is not rated, but because of the topic and some strong language I would be cautious about allowing children under age 16 to see it without adult supervision (and a good history lesson beforehand).
"Every father in a war should think about his children."--Monika Goetz Hertwig


       
 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Book Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go

After reading A Monster Calls back in October, I knew I wanted to get my hands on more novels by Patrick Ness.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into!  The Knife of Never Letting Go is a roller coaster ride with little chance to catch your breath.  There were a few times I was actually physically tired because of what was going on in the story.  Don't plan on reading this one for a few minutes before bed.  You won't be able to put it down.

From Amazon.com: 
Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him -- something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn't she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd's gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is.

Easy comparisons to The Hunger Games and the Divergent series can be made, but Knife is a unique and creative dystopian novel with a bit more sci-fi than these others.  It's gritty, dark, and intense, but holds just enough hope and optimism to keep the reader totally off-balance.  The ending is a merciless cliffhanger, so I'm really glad I already own the rest of the series.  You will not want to let go of this novel or the characters you meet.

5/5 stars for The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness      

Book Review: "Do What You Can" Plan: 21 Days to Making Any Area of Your Life Better

I follow Holley Gerth's contributions to the wonderful blog, (In)courage, so I was excited to read this short e-book she wrote for the new year.  It's only 60 pages, but it's packed full with inspirational and motivational truths.  Studies show that it takes 21 days to form new, or break old, habits.  This book is divided into 21 short chapters, one for each of these habit changing days.  Gerth encourages her readers to set faithful goals and dream God-sized dreams.  She asks thought-provoking, and sometimes tough, questions but remains encouraging and judgement-free.  I recommend this book for anyone looking for her place in the world.  A practical and affirming read.
4.5/5 stars
       

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Book Review: State of Wonder

  The first book I've completed in 2013 is State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.  I wish I had amazing things to say about it, but it was just....dare I say it...average. 
  Patchett wrote one of my all-time favorite books, Bel Canto, so I really wanted to love this book.  I didn't love it.  It just never grabbed me. I kept waiting to get to the good part, but there wasn't really a good part.  I have rarely ever, and I mean ever, not finished a book...but I was tempted at times to quit this one.  I am glad I finished it and I will certainly read other Patchett novels. 
  Patchett loves exotic locations and characters.  She had those in State of Wonder, but the story just never took off for me.  Many have given it excellent reviews, but I was never engrossed by State of Wonder.   
  If you are interested in scientific research for major drug companies, fertility drugs for women well past the age of fifty, and/or the Amazon jungle, this may be a book you will enjoy.  Definitely read Bel Canto.  It's amazing.


3/5 stars for State of Wonder

Sunday, December 30, 2012

What I Read in 2012...

I set a goal last December of reading at least 25 books in 2012.  I actually surpassed this goal by reading 32 books.  I rarely surpass a goal, so Woo Hoo!  I did not, however, write a review on this blog of each of those 32 books.  I've become a major slacker in the book review area.  So, I thought I would write a recap of what I read in 2012 (I provided links for the ones I actually reviewed).  A few were great.  A few were not.  Most were just good reads.  Here's a list of what I read in 2012 (in order, thanks to goodreads.com):


1.  Sarah's Quilt by Nancy E. Turner
This is the sequel to These is My Words.  I LOVED the first book so much that I think this sequel stood little chance of great success.  There is a 3rd in the series which I plan to read someday.
3/5 stars






 2.  Matched by Ally Condie
My daughter and I read this at the same time.  We both thought it was just so-so.  Neither of us plan to read the rest of the series, but it is a very popular series.
3/5 stars






3.  Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Patillo
Another "okay" book.  I love Jane Austen, so I wanted to like this book.  It was entertaining, but not really good.
3/5 stars







4.  Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
This was a distrubing book, but I'm glad I read it.  The main character, Hannah, has committed suicide.  She recorded on good-old-fashioned cassette tapes the thirteen reasons why she killed herself.  This book does make you stop and think about the influence you have over other people and the danger in "doing nothing" instead of making an effort with people.  It will make you think and make you sad.  A worthy read.
4/5 stars



5.  Night Road by Kristen Hannah
This was my first Kristen Hannah book. The novel is well written, but I never felt that connected to the characters. With a storyline so dependent on heavy emotion, the characters need to be very well defined. I wanted to feel for them, but I wasn't able to consistently. I think Harris just had too many characters to define them well. Not a bad read, but I was disappointed. The 2nd half is much better than the first and I was happy with the ending.
3.5/5 stars


6.  Divergent by Veronica Roth
This book held my attention from start to finish with an intriguing plot and well defined characters. Really well written and a fun read.  My daughter read it also and loved it.  I have heard the movie is about to be cast.  It will be a thrill ride, for sure.
4.5/5 stars





7.  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I actually wrote a review of this one (click title to read it).  Such a powerful book.  Don't let the heavy topic (teenage cancer) keep you from reading this gem.  John Green has mega talent.
5/5 stars




8.  Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Another powerful YA book.  Set in WWII, this is an educational and emotional journey.  I can't believe this was Sepetys's first novel.  Definitely a must-read.  I'm looking forward to reading more of her books in the future.
4.5/5 stars



9.  A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
This is the third in the Flavia de Luce series and is just as delightful, maybe more so, than the first two.  If you are looking for a fun series that takes a break from vampires, werewolves, forbidden teen romances, and government controlled fights to the death, then you might like (adore) these cerebral 1950s murder mysteries. 
4.5/5 stars


10 Defending Jacob by William Landay
A smart legal thriller is always fun.  This one is more than that and keeps you guessing until the very end.  Landay puts the reader in the position of answering the question, "How far would I go to protect my family?"  A really good read.
4/5 stars


   11.  Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
This was the strangest book...peculiar, even.  Somehow, I really liked it.  There were times I was completely lost and confused, but everything eventually makes sense.  This is not a book I would suggest for an e-reader.  The photographs are amazing and add a lot to the story.  Definitely a fun read.
4/5 stars

 
12.  Insurgent by Veronica Roth
This is the sequel to Divergent  and it does not disappoint.  What a ride!  The third book isn't out yet, so be prepared for a serious cliffhanger in this book.  I am really looking forward to the third book.
4.5/5 stars


13.  The Passage by Justin Cronin
I did not know what I was getting myself into with this one.  It's a committment, but worth it.  I'm no fan of vampire books (or vampires in general), but this is just different enough to suck you in (pardon the pun).  I scare easily and lost a little sleep while reading this one.  I haven't read the sequel yet (The Twelve), but it's on my must-read list for 2013.  Cronin can really write.
4/5 stars


14.  Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
Follett's new trilogy opener does not disappoint.  I learn so much from his epic historical fiction.  Lots and lots of characters who all, eventually, connect.  Great historical research, but not for the squeamish.  Follett holds nothing back, as usual.
4.5/5 stars




15.  Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution by Michelle Moran
Really well written , but began to drag in the second half. I learned a lot about the French Revolution. I will look for another Moran book. She is well researched as an author and develops characters very well. Enjoyable book.
3.5/5 stars


16.  Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Definitely my favorite book I read in 2012.  One of the most touching books I've ever read. There is no one who would not benefit from getting to know August Pullman and his family. This book truly is a wonder.
5/5 stars





17.  A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
This book does not live up to the hype...at all. I really wanted to like it, but I struggled to even finish it. There were so many good reviews, I thought I would really enjoy it (especially with the history worked through the story). I found it to be really boring throughout, and silly at times. I know this is the first of a trilogy, but I am not interested in reading the other two. Matthew is a oompletely flat character. I just couldn't feel anything for any of the characters. The reason I gave it 3 stars instead of 2 is that Harkness does have strong moments in her storytelling. I just wish there had been more of them. The book was very interesting at first and then went completely downhill.
3/5 stars


18.  A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson
Great storytelling. Funny, poignant, touching, and completely Southern. The only reason I couldn't give this book 5 stars is the rough language. It was too much for me and not at all neccessary for this wonderful story. This was my first Joshilyn Jackson book, but it won't be my last. 
4.5/5 stars



19.  Bossypants by Tina Fey 
This book is certainly entertaining, especially the audiobook because Tina Fey is reading it. I laughed quite a bit, but I still didn't think the book was exceptional. There's just not a lot there.  I do think that Tina Fey and I, if we ever met, would be instant friends. This could be wishful thinking on my part, but since both of us speak the complex language of sarcasm and share a similar poor body image, I think we could be BFFs, but I didn't love her book.
3/5 stars


20.  Harvest of Rubies by Tessa Afshar
I really enjoyed this book and will definitely read the sequel. It wasn't as good as Pearl In The Sand, but it is a great story. Tessa Afshar is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.
4/5 stars


21. Fearless: The Heroic Story of One Navy SEAL's Sacrifice in the Hunt for Osama Bin Laden and the Unwavering Devotion of the Woman Who Loved Him by Eric Blehm
This is an amazing story. It's not the type of book I usually read, but I'm really glad I did. I actually bought this book for my husband and I've recommended it to several friends. Adam Brown was a true hero, as are all our service men and women. This book made me truly appreciate the difficulty of their training, the sacrifices their families make, and the true heroism of these men and women. I think everyone could benefit from reading Fearless.
4.5/5 stars


22.  What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
I loved this book! It made me look back on my life and think about how I've changed (or not changed). It also made me aware of how many judgements people make every day. Very well written. I especially appreciated the peripheral characters and the way the reader gained insight through them (letters to a counselor and a dead fiancé). A great read.
5/5 stars


23. Receiving Love: Transform Your Relationship by Letting Yourself Be Loved by Harville Hendrix
I thought this was terrible.  I wish I had not read it. Hendrix is only trying to sell his products.  A few good ideas, but nothing really useful.
1/5 stars



24.  The Witness by Nora Roberts
Good story and enjoyable book. Likable characters. I just wished Roberts had used less profanity. Way too much: gratuitous in my opinion. It added nothing to the story.  This was my first Nora Roberts and I think I will read more of her novels.
3.5/5 stars


25.  A Dog's Purpose by Bruce Cameron
I thought this was so-so. I have 3 dogs, so I guess I am a "dog person". I just didn't get into this book, but apparantly others do.  It's reviews are great.  Maybe I missed something, but it didn't work for me.
3/5 stars

26.  A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Absolutely beautiful! Wonderfully written and illustrated. This is another that works better if you don't read it on an e-reader because of the amazing illustrations.  I have recommended this book to many.  I will certainly read more of Patrick Ness's work.
5/5 stars 

27.  The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
I found this book to be delightful. I really had no idea what to expect, but I ended up loving this book. It seemed so realistic, especially for a dystopian novel. I can understand the buzz around this book. Excellent read. 
4.5/5 stars

28.  The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown
Very good advice from Dr. Brown. I highlighted dozens of passages. Now, to put what I've learned to work--wholehearted living. This will not be the last of her books that I will read.
4/5 stars

29.  Winter of the World by Ken Follett
This is the sequel to Fall of Giants.  Follett is masterful in his storytelling, as usual. I thoroughly enjoyed this sequel. So many characters to keep up with, but Follett makes it manageable. Epic and engrossing. I also learned a lot about WWII. I look forward to the third part of the trilogy.
4.5/5 stars

30.  The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
A sort-of fairy tale for adults, The Snow Child is sweet and poignant.  I liked the first 1/2 better than the second. I'm still not sure how I feel about the way the book ended. Very well written.  An especially good winter read.
3.5/5 stars

31.  Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption by Katie Davis
Katie Davis is an amazing young woman. This book tells an incredible story and makes you ask a lot of questions of yourself. The writing is young and fresh, but a bit repetitive in parts. Definitely a worthwhile read. 
4/5 stars 

32.  The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Although this book was a little tedious in the middle, I ended up really liking it. You can't help but love the very ordinary Harold Fry who has decided to do an extraordinary thing. I even shed a few tears at the end. A very sweet story about how life can knock you on your rear-end, and your only choices are to stay down or to get up and walk. I'm glad Harold Fry decided to walk. I'm, also,glad Rachel Joyce chose to write this touching tale.
4/5 stars



Overall,  I had a good year of reading.  The perpetual problem is that there will never be enough time to read all of the books I already own, much less the ones I haven't purchased yet.  I think I'll set a higher reading goal for 2013 and a goal to review each book I finish on this blog.  I plan to mainly read from my already purchased stack (2013 Challenge), but I'm sure I won't be able to resist purchasing a few new books along the way.  So, here's to a great year of reading in 2013!

-Renee-