Mothering From Scratch – A Book Review

A quick side note – three book reviews in one day! I promised myself no more borrowing books from the library until I finished all of the books I had accepted for review at home. This is my last one and then library freedom! Woohoo!!

In preparation for adoption, I keep reading parenting books. Some are about child development, some are about discipline, and some are general motivation with a lot of rah rah. Some of the books are fairly general parenting books and others deal with a specific issue or topic. Based on the book’s subtitle (Finding the Best Parenting Style for You and Your Family), I expected Mothering From Scratch to be one of the books that digs into specific parenting philosophies. While there were a few nuggets of wisdom, overall I felt like I was promised something that was never delivered.

First of all, I felt like the authors assumed that my reading material primarily consists of magazine articles or blog posts. Each chapter contains a “Lovin’ Spoonful” which is a small sidebar of information. There were also numerous small quotes along the margins scattered throughout the book. The co-authors alternated who shared personal stories, which felt disjointed and kept me from really getting to know which kids belonged to which mother.

Second, the book wasn’t really about finding the best parenting style for your family. I was hoping that the authors would present various parenting styles and discuss which styles are best for different personalities and temperaments and life experiences. Instead, the basic message of the book is that you should just do whatever you feel is best for your family. I agree with that but it’s such a basic idea that I felt I wasted my time reading an entire book about it.

Scrolling through the Amazon and Goodreads reviews, it seemed most readers really enjoyed the book. It just wasn’t a good fit for me. Thank you Bethany House for the free copy in exchange for my honest opinion. All thoughts are my own.

And just because this amuses me, I have to share this photo. This is the first time I’ve ever noticed the same stock photography being used on two different book covers.

Your Life Still Counts – A Book Review

I’m going to let myself be vulnerable for a moment and share my biggest struggle in life. I’m currently reading a review book titled Your Life Still Counts by Tracie Miles. I can’t tell if this book is helping me or kicking me while I am down. I requested it for review because of the subtitle: How God Uses Your Past to Create a Beautiful Future. My past is rather “tame” compared to some. I’ve never smoked, never gotten drunk, didn’t have premarital sex, never used drugs, have never stolen anything… and yet I’m still a sinner in need of a Savior.

My religious upbringing left me with a very distorted view of God. By the time I graduated from high school, I was a very judgmental person. I fully believed that God required His followers to live perfect lives or else they wouldn’t be allowed into heaven. I believed that meant that everyone should live a conservative lifestyle and eliminate all sin from their lives. Otherwise, there was no way that we could stand in front of God. Because God is perfect, we must be perfect to be in His presence.

I know my view of God is wrong and yet I still struggle with overwhelming shame because of my sins. I forever fear that God will not accept me as I am, that He cannot possibly love me. So when I fail, which is daily, I despise myself. If I am unloving toward my husband, I will mentally berate myself for hours because I failed yet again. How can my husband still love me when I act like such a jerk? How can God still love me?

So I requested this book in hopes that it would help me in my journey to better understand God’s character and teach me how to move beyond my past. I’m only half way through the book but wanted to write up my review now because I have no idea how long it will take me to actually finish it. More than anything, the book is helping by pointing out Bible verses that show just how much God loves us. This was the passage I read yesterday:

The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
He gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
And binds up their wounds.
He counts the number of the stars;
He gives names to all of them.
Great is our Lord and abundant in strength;
His understanding is infinite.
Psalm 147:2-5
In the chapter titled “Your Pain Was Not for Nothing,” Miles points out a lesson I am desperately trying to learn. She writes:

In Isaiah 43:18, it is obvious God wanted them (the Israelites) to look at what was to come and what was ahead of them, not behind them: “But forget all that – it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.” The NIV puts it this way: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.”

God wasn’t most concerned about what they had done but about where they were going and how they would allow what they had been through to fuel their faith and propel them to spread the knowledge of Him. He wanted them to seek a new interest in Him and embrace a new vision for their future – not be paralyzed and fixated on their past mistakes and circumstances, or even their long-term patterns of sinful and idolatrous living. Although they couldn’t erase the past completely from their minds, they could learn from it and move forward and be used for God’s kingdom. He wanted them to focus on new miracles, new accomplishments, and new victories in Him, while looking to Him for direction and guidance for the future.

So far I have not internalized this lesson. I am too busy looking backwards and feeling shame and rejection for all of my past mistakes. Hopefully I can learn to move past the shame and find forgiveness. I know God forgives when we ask, and I have begged for His forgiveness, but I am not letting His love reach beyond my past perception of His character.

Again, many thanks to Bethany House for a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. I hope that I can continue to learn from the book and learn that God does have a beautiful future in plan for me.

Like a Flower in Bloom – A Book Review

I had the opportunity to read and review Siri Mitchell’s newest book titled Like a Flower in Bloom. I believe I had now read every single one of Mitchell’s novels. I’ve enjoyed each of them, though to varying degrees.

It’s all her uncle’s fault. For years Charlotte Withersby has been free to pursue her love of plants and flowers by assisting her botanist father. But now that she’s reached the old age of twenty-two, an intrusive uncle has convinced her father that Charlotte’s future–the only proper future for a woman–is to be a wife and mother, not a scholar.

Her father is so dependent on her assistance that Charlotte believes he’ll soon change his mind…and then Edward Trimble shows up. A long-time botany correspondent in the South Pacific, Trimble arrives ready to step in as assistant so that Charlotte can step out into proper society–a world that baffles her with its unwritten rules, inexplicable expectations, and confounding fashion.

(description from the back cover)

Like a Flower in Bloom was fairly entertaining. Sometimes I feel like I can literally run through a novel. Other times it feels more like a leisurely walk. This novel felt like I was skipping down a dirt road the entire time. I couldn’t quite pinpoint what was causing that feeling, but it was a bit disconcerting. Some of the dialog reminded me of The Importance of Being Earnest, which is one of my favorites.

The story, however, was rather frustrating. I am not a feminist but I do believe that women should be valued. When the men in her life believe that it’s time for Charlotte to find a husband, they take away all of her duties. Charlotte loves working with flowers and helping her father and feels completely bereft when she is no longer allowed to do either. It was frustrating to see how many people would not listen to Charlotte as she tried to explain how useless she now feels without something productive to do each day. Instead, she is told to learn to dress pretty and to fit in with society so that she can snag a husband. It felt like much of the conflict could be resolved with some simple communication.

It’s not a novel that I will return to but I’m glad I took the time to read it. Much thanks to Bethany House for providing a free copy in exchange for my honest opinions.

Let the thought of God allure thee

Lately I have been reading The Pursuit of God. I’m not familiar with the author, though I do recognize his name. I don’t yet have any comments on the devotionals themselves, but I have discovered that I rather like 18th century Christian poetry.

Tis not enough to save our souls,
To shun the eternal fires;
The thought of God will rouse the heart
To more sublime desires.

How little of that road, my soul!
How little has thou gone!
Take heart, and let the thought of God
Allure thee further on.

-Frederick W. Faber

Do you have a favorite poet? Now I want to browse my library to see if I can find some poetry compilations.

Forever Mom – A book every adoptive parent should read

I loved this book so much I read it in less than two days. I just couldn’t put it down. I laughed, I cried, and I marked sections to go back and reread later. This is more than just a “how to adopt” book. It covers the transition of a new child into the home and how to connect with your child over the next few years. It’s not super in-depth, but it covers more than most of the introductory adoption books I’ve read. Plus, the author admits her mistakes so that you can avoid making the same ones in your own adoption.

Forever Mom: What to Expect When You’re Adopting, by Mary Ostyn
I loved this thought, which echoes some of the material covered in our 10 week parenting class:

But children can’t model positive behavior on the outside until their brains heal. Amy Monroe, from Empowered to Connect, said that expecting emotionally healthy behavior from an emotionally wounded child is like setting a three-month-old baby in the middle of the living room and telling him to walk to you. He’s not mature enough to do it yet.

We parents desperately need to understand the level of woundedness that drives difficult behavior so that we can remain compassionate toward difficult behavior over the long term. We’ve got to address the root of the behavior instead of focusing on the behavior. Only then can we create a healing home (page 65).

In a section that offers suggestions for bonding with a newly adopted little one:

All these activities are ones we tend to do naturally with little ones, but they’re especially important for adopted babies who need extra time and interaction to make up for the time you missed before you became a family. And don’t listen to the folks who say you’re spoiling your baby. Spoiling is something that happens to fruit that is forgotten, not babies who are well loved. So love on that new kiddo of yours. It’s one of the joys of parenthood, and it’s just what he needs (page 78).

This next quote is something I need to remind myself often.

John and I assumed that once their behavior improved, our relationship would grow too. We didn’t realize for years that we had that little equation exactly backward. It goes: first relationship, then behavior. It’s how we did it with our babies, right? We build the relatioship for many months, saying yes to their needs thousands of times before we ever add in behavior expectations. But somehow with our hurt kids, we expect all sorts of things just because they’re older. Well, guess what? Relationship still needs to come first. The more we tried to change our kids’ behavior via consequences before we had the relationship piece in place, the further their hurt hearts fled. The more I tried to encourage right behavior using typical parenting methods, the more like a drill sergeant I became. The gentle, patient, intuitive part of my soul was getting buried. And drill sergeants aren’t so easy to bond with. I had to take control of my frustration and learn a new way to relate, one that looked a lot more like the love that comes from Jesus. Instead of being a nagging taskmaster, I needed to be a channel of His grace (page 154).

That last section was reinforced by a Bible text quoted later in the chapter. Romans 2:4 says, “God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance.” There is a lot in this chapter to chew on, both in how I relate to God and how I should relate to my children.

Ostyn also quotes John 10:27, which says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” She adds a note to say, “our kids won’t follow us until they know us (page 162)!”

One of the last chapters includes advice directly from adoptees. I love what this adoptee had to share:

Be patient. Most older-adopted kids are broken people. We don’t trust easily and we are cautious. Once we feel secure and safe, we open up. Be kind. Harsh words and anger tend to hurt us more than the average person. For me, knowing I disappointed my parents was enough punishment. Be kind to yourself. You are going to make mistakes, but any parent will. Know that being a parent of an adopted child is harder and more emotional. Have faith in yourself and God. Know that all we as adoptees want is a loving, stable home (page 203).

Overall, I loved this book and would recommend it to any parent who is getting ready to adopt or who has already adopted but is looking for encouragement. This book is going on my bookshelf to reread right before my daughter comes home. Thank you to Booklookbloggers for a copy in exchange for my honest thoughts. I would have bought this book had I discovered it at the bookstore before being given the chance to review it!

The Secret of Pembrooke Park – a book review

I have now read every single one of Julie Klassen’s books. On her About Page on Goodreads is this description – “Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen.” Yes! I can tell! So when I received an email from Bethany House that Klassen’s latest book is available for review, I snatched it up and was not disappointed.

I started reading this book and could barely put it down. It’s longer than most Christian historical fiction, coming in at 456 pages. Even being a longer book, I felt there wasn’t much filler. The story was great, about a “spinster” whose family loses their fortune so they must move into the country. They move into an abandoned house, one filled with the servants’ whispers of tragic events that happened years ago. The rumor is that there is a treasure hidden somewhere in the house. Is the rumor true? Is Abigail going to be a spinster or will she marry?

Parts of the book were cheesy, mainly Abigail’s romantic interludes. But the treasure hunting aspect of the story and how Abigail seeks to uncover her home’s past, were delightful. While I can’t label this a classic that I’ll be returning to, Klassen wrote another fantastic weekend read. I just discovered that she has another book scheduled to come out next summer and I can’t wait!

God’s secret

I recently finished reading Washington’s Lady (Nancy Moser) and was really struck with how applicable one of the thoughts was.

“All things – fine or not – belonged to the Lord, and if He should choose to take them all away from us, I would grieve (and ponder why) but finally accept His will as superior to our own. George and I both believed the Almighty had His reasons for all things. We relished the occasion when He let us in on the secret” (pg 117).

Today we received the final refund check from the failed adoption attempt. I can finally close that door and face the future. I’m sure I will continue to miss the girl we thought was going to be our daughter. But I want to start looking forward and concentrate on the girl we’re trying to adopt now.

I still don’t know why God closed the door on our previous adoption but I will have to trust in Him. And maybe someday He will let us in on the secret.

Book review – with a giveaway!

I’m so excited that I get to post a book review that includes a giveaway! Adams Group contacted me about reviewing the book Life Not Typical: How Special Needs Parenting Changed My Faith and My Song by Jennifer Shaw.

When I read the description, I knew this was a book I needed to read. Life Not Typical is a memoir about a parent who discovers that her son Toby has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Toby refused to walk on grass, screamed when he got wet, and hated the wind. Even though people told her that he would grow out of it, Jennifer fought to figure out exactly what was going on with her son. When he was diagnosed with SPD, he was able to get the therapy he needed and his life was changed.

Jennifer and I are different in that Toby is her biological son and we are adopting internationally. However, I still felt this book would be extremely beneficial to read. In international adoption, SPD is rarely diagnosed and listed in a child’s adoption file but is often diagnosed after the children come home. I have read blog posts where parents talk about their children having SPD but didn’t know much about it until I read Life Not Typical.

The book does deliver on both aspects of the subtitle. It talks about special needs parenting, what it’s like to have a child who is challenged with sensory issues, how therapy worked for their family, and about how Toby was able to improve over time. Jennifer also talks about her music ministry, how God worked through both her music and her parenting to increase her faith in His guidance and care. I thought the book was a great overview of both SPD and how God builds our faith through life’s trials. I do wish the book was longer, that it had covered both topics in more depth, but I thought it was a great overview.

Adams Group is offering a copy of the book to someone who reads my blog. Just leave me a comment and I will draw a winner on Tuesday (Nov. 11). Please make sure I have a way to contact you. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did!

The Butterfly and the Violin – a book review

When I saw this book mentioned in a newsletter, I knew I had to read it. The Butterfly and the Violin is a debut novel by author Kristy Cambron. The description intrigued me.

A darling of the Austrian aristocracy of 1942, talented violinist, and daughter to a high-ranking member of the Third Reich, Adele risks everything when she begins smuggling Jews out of Vienna. In a heartbeat, her life of prosperity and privilege dissolves into a world of starvation and barbed wire.

This book includes two plot lines, both a modern day one and a historical one. In the modern day story, Sera passionately searches for a painting she was once as a child. Obsessed with this painting, she searches out information about the painting’s subject – a “young violinist with piercing blue eyes.”

The historical plot line tells the story of Adele. It is this plot line that I couldn’t wait to read. A young girl decides to help Jews, gets caught, and lives in a concentration camp. So far, the plot has been done in a number of novels. However, Cambron includes an interesting twist – Adele is forced to play in a concentration camp orchestra. I had no idea that such things existed and was fascinated to read all about it!

The modern story felt a bit forced, but the WWII story was fantastic. It really was haunting. I have to admit that I cried near the end of the book.

I also thought Cambron has a beautiful writing style and can’t wait to read her future novels. In fact, I just found out Cambron has a new book coming out in 2015 titled A Sparrow in Terezin! I definitely plan to read it!

Much thanks to Thomas Nelson and BookLook Bloggers for a free copy in exchange for my honest thoughts.