What We’re Reading Wednesday

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Check out this book!

A brand new series from debut author, Lisa Mayer, The Aletheian Journeys is a wonderful contemporary Christian allegory in the style of The Chronicles of Narnia. The first novel, The Arrow Bringer, is an exciting adventure that blends fantasy and faith.

Evangeline, Evie to her family, is your typical high school girl…until she receives a terrible burden, revealed in the powerfully emotional opening chapter. She’s probably going to die. Soon after the awful prognosis, she enters into the world of her childhood dreams–but this world, Aletheia, is real. And what’s more–it’s hers. She’s pulled into her birthland facing its own crisis moment: her father, the king, wants to destroy the arrow, which the Arrow Bringer has given them for its protection. The Arrow Bringer is calling Evie to come to Aletheia to save it–she’s their hope. But to do so, Evie will have to leave her earthly family immediately, instead of spending her last precious months with them. Her choice and the subsequent choices she later makes leave the fate of Aletheia and her conscience in her hands.

The fast-paced, ever-changing plot is more than just a well-described, action-packed fantasy with dramatic stakes–it’s a meaningful allegory that deftly presents themes of honor, forgiveness, and sacrifice. Many scenes are inspired and informed by passages in the Scriptures. The renderings fit naturally within the narrative–it’s Evie’s story and journey all the way, but with special significance. As Joseph Pearce writes in his recent post on The Fellowship of the King: “magic must have a meaning, and meaning must have some one to mean it.” And The Arrow Bringer is full of magic, meaning, and well drawn, admirable but real characters to bring the meaning to life. Fans of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein will enjoy this book.

Click on the link with the cover to learn more about the book, the author, and how to purchase your own copy.

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Lisa is a fellow member of the Catholic Books for Teens Facebook group and kindly sent me a complimentary copy for a review. As you see form above, I was very happy to promote such a worthy book!

NAS: Spiritual Motherhood

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Most of us single ladies aren’t mothers here on Earth, but that doesn’t mean we’re not mothers at all. Christianity has a long tradition of “parents” who become our leaders, protectors, guides, and counselors by spiritual means instead of physical. Do you have spiritual children? Godchildren, adults you sponsored through the RCIA, your close friends’ kids, or students? How do you build relationships with them as a mother? Have you ever spiritually adopted an unborn baby in danger of abortion, or a priest? Are all women called to be mothers?

Linking up with Lindsay, our host, and Rachel!

When I was single, for a long time, I never seriously thought about motherhood–literal or spiritual–except for the idea, that one day, when married, I would happily become one. Late in my twenties I first heard of the concept of “spiritual motherhood.” I immediately took to the beauty of the concept as set forth in the theology of the body.

Women are designed by God as bearers of new life and as receivers. New life can look like nurturing spiritual children. I think of Dorothy Cummings MacLean of the Seraphic Singles blog of yester-Internet and Cindy at The Veil of Chastity whose wisdom and spiritual counsel have guided and inspired young women along the faith journey for years. I don’t know about the rest of their readers, but I certainly feel “new” after their particular form of mothering. We are also receivers–called to be open to life–we are given the gift of persons, and not necessarily children within marriage. In the Gopsels, the children and little ones Jesus speaks of and to are not just literal young ones, but also spiritually young, and we need to follow His example and “adopt” them.

Called to be a godmother to my nephew, I have been entrusted with his spiritual care. Though sometimes it’s difficult at times to “mother” him and his sisters in the faith to the degree I would like, I take my responsibility seriously, praying for him and the other “children” God sends my way and living my life as a witness to Christ, His Church, and His teachings. In some way, I also feel like a spiritual mother when it comes to my writing. For when I write, I think of the girls and boys, and young women and men, who will read my work, and how this book can nurture them, help them understand God’s authentic love, and grow in faith.

But until the prompt, I’d never considered becoming a spiritual mother to babies the world has lost. That act is so beautiful and wonderful, and something the Lord could be calling me (and you!) to. For yes, I believe all women are called to be what we already are: mothers. We are fashioned after Eve, mother of the living, fashioned after Mary, mother of the Church and model for every woman. Though sometimes it’s hard to sense our role and how, in our particular lives as God calls us, as “mother,” I believe it is a wonderful vocation that I pray I can tap into more.

NAS: Finances

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Linking up with Lindsay and Rachel and the rest!

Money and budgeting seems to be at the top of many New Year’s plans. Finances can add stress to a relationship, but it’s obviously preferable that we know how to manage our finances before we are married, as well as have some sort of idea of how we want to share finances once we are married. What are some of your recommendations for planning your finances and budgeting your money now so that it will be less stressful down the road? Do you hope to share accounts with your spouse or have a yours/mine/ours system? How have you seen other couples manage their finances in a way that works well?

While money isn’t everything, it is certainly important to know how it works, how to manage it, how to save it, how to spend it (yes, that too), and how to share it. When I was single, I admit to not knowing much except, yes, contribute as much as I could afford to my employer’s 401K, save for a rainy day, and spend wisely and always within my means. I never drew up a budget, followed a program, or went beyond my comfort zone. But I did keep an eye on my ins and outs and never overdrafted my checking or carried a balance on a credit card. I do regret not learning more about advanced savings (investments beyond safe work programs or IRAs), but feel that the following fiscal habits helped me to now share finances with my husband, an experience nothing before would ever truly prepare you 100% for. Lots of financial advice centers around specific philosophies or advocates certain principles that you may not feel are appropriate for you, and you will want to keep doing it in a way that’s comfortable for you. And my biggest takeaway for this post is THAT’S OKAY.

Some Basic Rules

I’m sure you’re all going to hear about keeping a budget or never carrying a balance on a credit card or never paying full price. So here’s a couple general rules I always followed that I think get lost in financial advice columns.

  • “Pay yourself first.” This advice from Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad, is the biggest thing I remember from AP Econ (it was the summer reading). Essentially, this principle asks you to put money into the bank–savings, your retirement. Even if it’s only a little, or not the same amount each paycheck, the habit fosters an awareness to sock away what you can for the future. If you absolutely cannot, this principle could demonstrate changes you might make over a period of time–seeking better compensation, lower rent, investigating why credit card bills got so high, etc. Now that I’m married, and viewing what our aging parents and grandparents are experiencing, I’m personally finding it more and more important to have savings, especially for retirement. Also, as jobs change or your family changes and if someone’s at home with the kids, a nest egg built in your twenties will help so much more. Compound interest is a beautiful thing.
  • Trust yourself. What this means is getting to a place where you can make financial decisions, like using a credit card for air miles, without worrying about “mistakes.” Advisers like to tell young people not to do certain things because they presume we all lack self-control. If you are in a solid place and have made good decisions, you can ignore some of the “nos” you might read about–not everyone needs to link all their bills and accounts online to a budgeting software if they can follow their accounts without remembering yet another password; or to be told not to use a credit to pay for things (to earn rewards) if they’re responsible enough to pay it off every month.  But if you feel like you just know it might go sour, or you can’t adapt a habit if later circumstances change, then get to a place where you can trust yourself. In marriage, confidence and trust in money management skills are central to sharing funds.

Flexibility

Sometimes you can’t stick to hard and fast rules, the program or budgeting software you got in college, or even your own ingrained habits. Life changes. Circumstances change. It’s incredibly important to learn how to adapt, as well as give in on some of your own rules–even as something as small as “never full price”–because it is better in the long run. Plus, when you marry, flexibility is key.

As my husband and I discuss finances, we keep in mind that whatever we decide together now is the “right now plan,” and doesn’t necessarily have to be the forever plan. When two people are figuring out the rest of their lives and spending them together, differences will arise. You should definitely discern the ones that you know you could not overcome, including with money management. But with flexibility, some differences, even money management skills, can be worked around. My husband and I have the important similarities, but we also realized we have two different mindsets about a particular fiscal move. The rationale for both ideas were explored, boundaries discussed, and in the end we’re going with a particular accounting plan, but with the caveat it could always be changed in the future.

Flexibility does not mean fluidity, though. If one of us is seeking a change, it should be discussed and agreed upon. Too much yo-yo-ing within plans and habits is not good when dealing with something as serious as money. It pays for the roof over our heads, the food we eat, our medical care. We’re not going to treat it cavalierly.

Balance

The above word is the watchword of our marriage, in so many respects, but especially with finances. Both of us carried similar attitudes from our single years into our relationship. While we don’t treat money loosely, we also don’t hoard it. We save, but we also treat each other. I shop at certain stores for somethings, and Savers for others. Even our nontraditional accounting plan is not heavily skewed to one way of working. Rather, we have it set up so it levels out in both our favors.

A healthy attitude toward money is one that appreciates its value and role in the world and people’s lives, but doesn’t make a god of it–either through accumulating to spend out of greed or accumulating to save out of fear. Be a good steward of your money now, seek it out as the chocolate chunks in the ice cream of goodness that is your hopeful beloved, and however you decide to manage money will be what is best for you.

 

7QTF: Status Update

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Linking up with Kelly and the gang!

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I did the thing. I wrote two novels at least 50,ooo words each, in the month of November. And I did it. Two novels, The Graced, and The Dream Maker, poured out of me. And now they await some serious editing. But they’re there. And done. I’m so very tired. Happy, but exhausted.

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These are the Christmas bins that lined the living room Sunday afternoon as we rooted around for the Advent wreath. Of course, it was in the last bin we pulled out of the basement. And below is a sampling of what I got done Wednesday, my first day I had not full-time writing or Christmas shopping.

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Above is the Christmas box of shame. Not pictured is the cannister of candied popcorn and box of brandy beans I hope someone in Boston is getting me ahead of our excursion there next week. Fun fact: Connecticut Trader Joe’s stores cannot carry their infamous two buck chuck, nor any other alcohol products, save beer. So far we’re done a half of the mint stars and a quarter the dark chocolate stars.

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Oh yes, the Christmas shopping. The list has doubled since my single days, what with a whole other family to buy for. And I love buying presents for loved ones; just get easily frustrated when I can’t think of what to get them. So far, we’ve tackled a fair bit, and I think the best was getting lost in the Target baby aisles for our newest nephew, just three months old. He’s giggling now, and baby giggles are the best giggles.

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That reminds me: I don’t mind sharing (if any of you were curious), that current status is not pregnant. Auntie Seraphic/Edinburgh Housewife has a points game for single girls at the holidays. I’d like to create a married-no-pregnancy-or-kids (MNPOK) points game, creating a tally for every time I get asked about our family planning. Any takers on how high we get by January 3? But so far, a total of 0 since the wedding, including Thanksgiving! So that was nice.

If the above seems weird, I humbly refer you to this post in the “Just Don’t Say It” series by Amanda at Worthy of Agape.

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Did you all check out my Verily article? My freelancing got stalled thanks to NaNoWriMo, but in the coming weeks, I hope to put out feelers for trying to get more pieces–especially pieces that pay. But mostly that looks like brainstorming topics I could reasonably write about to sustain a regular gig I’m considering.

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A couple weeks ago, I had an interview for another part-time job. Did not get it, but I was one of the finalists. I’m all right with that, as just yesterday, I found a listing for another one that pays more per hour! Wish me luck!

7QTF: Moving Past the Saggy Middle

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Linking up with Kelly and the rest!

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According to NaNoWriMo word count goals (both regular and my own hyper-achieving insanity), I should be in the thick of my novels, at the halfway point and beyond, at what many writers call “the saggy middle.” Contrary to simplistic plot constructions (the triangle, pictured below), the climax is not exactly 50% of the way through the book. 24,999 words is a lot for falling action and a resolution.

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So I’m in the throes of pushing past this large third of the book in which stuff has to happen, but it’s not the “big” stuff, and with more things getting added to my to-do list, it’s been hard. Getting through this slog is what tempts us wrimos to fail or give up, but I really, really don’t want to.

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I also am getting concerned about my own literal saggy middle. Not only is Fall “eating season,” but being married (and more particularly, being home a lot m0re) has seen my healthy eating and exercising habits go kaput. Pants are not fitting, and not just because I’m “with sandwich,” but my hips have started what my mom calls “the spread.” Something’s gotta change, and again, slogging through working on this particular sagging middle is hard. Any motivation would be most welcome!*

*Note: my recent doctor visit confirmed I am healthy, at an appropriate weight for my height, not pregnant, but still. No person is supposed to consume the amount of sugar I do. The goal is healthy, and to not endure pants shopping.

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November is also a kind of “saggy midddle.” It’s between the glories of Fall and the joys of Advent/Christmas. I refuse to decorate until at least the first Sunday of Advent, refuse to listen to Christmas music–and even then only secular “winter” songs. It’s weird to see commercials for holiday specials starting in two weeks in December. It’s weird to tell patrons at my library their materials are due in December. And it’s weird to have these gray, chilly days to push through to get to something new and exciting. For whatever reason, the holidays still seem so distant to me personally, and this month is not going so fast or flying by. I guess that means I should be able to enjoy it more, but right now, time just seems to sag. Again, have to push through!

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The “middle” is also a state between a beginning and an end/resolution. In a summer writing program, we were given the word “liminal” to describe these in-between states, and I have to say again, being married but not pregnant/a mom is such a liminal position. The beginning–a move to a new town, a new job–was so exciting. And I have met people, but we’re not at the “end” of the friend-making process, so I’m in this saggy part of trying to reach out and get together with other women, but it’s hard. The ones I’ve met are either single or moms and it’s just tough. Being very shy, it’s a big deal for me to ask someone to coffee or to just sit and talk while the children play on the free gym in the mall. And I sometimes take the dating approach–it would be so nice if they expressed interest first, but they haven’t. So while I have made connections, we’re still in the awkward middle part of moving beyond chat buddies at work or church programs and to the nice resolution of “friend.” Any encouragement or ideas on how to make new friends, especially when your pool is in different stages of life?

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Being a nuanced centrist on a lot of issues is also in its own way a saggy middle. I do have thoughts about things like the Starbucks cup (but so not going there. It seems to have died. Let’s not resurrect it), refugees, the presidential candidates, and so much more lately, but nuance can’t be adequately captured in a Facebook post, and all the trappings that come with expending energy on a blog post, well, weigh down on me. Plus, to capture the different thoughts I have, as opposed to a simple, clear, very-much-one-way position, then the piece will sag from all the sentences, and I may lose the reader. But again, although it is hard, I want to push through, because all too often, I think sensible, rational, complicated, nuanced positions need to be heard, and you know what, not shouted down in comments because of one line a person disagreed with. Or given that there’s no official Church teaching or declaration of material vs. formal cooperation with evil on a small decision, a space to civilly discuss differences. And most of all, being okay with each other even if we have not convinced the other of our viewpoint.

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Speaking of not wading too much into “issues waters,” I actually do want to share a thought-provoking documentary series on early childhood called Raising America. One episode aired on PBS earlier this week; all videos are free to view here through November 30. Children’s issues are a particular concern and interest of mine, and I thought this series was interesting, and rather than  like this similar article in the Atlantic on daycare in the 40s, this documentary really was about the family, families “in the middle,” and how providing voluntary opportunities  for those who cannot do what others can (parent at home), is a good investment for everyone. To me, it’s a little like NFP, if subsidized health insurance covered test strips/OPKs, thermometers, and classes: not mandatory, there if you need it, and if you do, a benefit. One episode in particular demonstrated the economics of how programs could push families through the middle to get a great, successful return.

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But if I have to be “stuck in the middle,” I am at least grateful to be with you, my sweet husband. So, so thankful for all that he does for us. We’re solidly in the middle as far as our home and such goes, but so, so rich in love and never poor in spirit. Hey, that’s not so saggy after all. :)

What We’re Reading Wednesday

Happy Veteran’s Day! A special thank you to all our servicemen and servicewomen and their families for their sacrifices.

Today, I finally have some book reviews! But first, as promised, the announcement of the winners of the raffle! Congratulations to Laura Rene, a newlywed! In lieu of the prize packs, she’s getting Seven Saints for Seven Virtues by Jean M. Heiman, Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood by Pat Gohn, and Women, Sex, and the Church: A Case for Catholic Teaching, edited by Erika Bachiochi. Do check out her blog, linked in her name.

I’m waiting on hearing back from the winner of the Singles Bundle before announcing her name publicly.

And the second piece of bookish business: I recently joined a Catholic YA Authors group, and am so happy to help out my fellow writers. Please take a moment to check out Cynthia Toney’s Goodreads Giveaway of her book 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status. Thank you!

On to the reviews! Today’s theme is “Catholic Marriage Guides!” If either spark your interest, you can learn more and purchase directly from the publisher (support Catholic businesses!) by clicking on the covers.

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Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage by Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak

When PJ and I were at the World Meeting of Families, we came across Dr. Greg at a booth, and I told him that their book was hands down, the best marriage prep we had done–so, so much better than what our diocese offered. And I meant every word. While I do have one nit to pick with it, this book encapsulates most of the big-picture issues a couple entering marriage or just starting out should look at. Chapters cover the spiritual life couples should develop together, practical topics like dealing with conflict, money, relatives, sex, and what they call “marriage enemy #1” (spoiler: refusing to leave your comfort zone).* Nearly every section includes an activity to do with your spouse. Though PJ and I weren’t married when we worked through this book, the exercises prompted great conversations about expectations we were bringing and maybe how they might need to be managed, about how we were actively loving each other and ways we could love better, and about our hoped-for visions for our new family. The lists we wrote each other of the various ways we loved the other and ways we could feel even more loved sit our nightstands to this day. Also included in each chapter are Dr. Greg and Lisa’s “story” regarding their personal experience with the topic, written like a dialogue. These sections, as well as the example conversations of actual couples with similar problems, were my favorite. They reminded me of the “Can This Marriage Be Saved” columns in magazines that featured a couple, each discussing their view of a problem, and the therapist’s turn. To me, there’s something in seeing concrete, specific issues and how people dealt with it, as well as qualified assistance–it’s like free counseling–as opposed to just generic “here’s how you communicate effectively” bullet points.

  • The BEST takeaway: the concept of not “negotiating the what.” I wished WordPress let me underline. Oh to emphasize how eye-opening this tidbit was. Essentially, “negotiating the what,” is described in this book as the biggest, unnecessary source of conflict. The thesis is that little and big fights happen because one spouse tries to only negotiate the actual thing. To use a small example from the book: a wife buys new decorative pillows for the couch; husband is frustrated that money was spent on what he calls a frivolous item; they get trapped in arguing about the pillows themselves, the “what.” Instead, Dr. Greg advocates for negotiating the when, the how, anything but the darn pillows. So that might mean in this situation, the couple discusses the potential purchase–maybe they wait until an expected bonus comes in; maybe they move the throw pillows from the bed in the bag downstairs (what we actually did!); maybe they agree to see if someone will get them for a birthday or Christmas present.

I judge advice books by how practically, effectively, and successfully the guidance can be used in a real relationship. Now that we’ve been married four months (exactly today!), this concept, along with many other pieces of counsel are working. For example, we had a discussion about a matter in which we initially disagreed, and it was looking like there was no way around it–perhaps sometimes you have to negotiate the “what.” In our example, I’ll call the “what” ‘bananas.’ I really believed that there shouldn’t be a question that I could have bananas without reservation, and PJ believed that before having bananas, it should be discussed, and under certain circumstances. We could’ve ended the conversation and day in an unhappy stalemate, but we pushed through and came to the conclusion that instead of one person getting their way about the bananas, we could negotiate the when and how. The whole conversation also reflected the ways the authors suggested we handle conflict “gracefully.”

  • The one thing I didn’t like: This book is about the first five years of a Catholic marriage. One chapter deals with the “when do we have kids?” question. This bothered me particularly, though PJ not so much. So this critique is just a personal reader response. No book can be everything and encompass everything, so perhaps I am asking too much. But…Let’s be real. If you’re a Catholic couple, following Church teaching, children can very likely not be a decision you make some months or years in, but are right in your face three weeks after the honeymoon with that positive pregnancy. I personally believe this dramatic change in both the woman’s hormones and your identity as a couple–no more just husband and wife, but mother and father, too–deserves some consideration, especially given how it can affect a couple. Some couples may do great, but I just wish this Catholic book had more examples of newly minted couples that had to deal with pregnancy or a baby in addition to figuring out how to live and work as husband and wife. Yes, at the core, dealing with conflict and money and in-laws are general areas and the advice in the book could be applied in those situations, I just wish there were more specific examples–especially if leading up to the marriage, any of those areas had only recently been resolved, and the arrival of a new person will add a layer or new dimension, or worse, open up old wounds. That’s just my take.

Bottom line: if you’re engaged or recently married and looking for guidance or enrichment, I heartily recommend this book. (And yes, I know, it has a sex chapter and some of you aren’t married yet, but you really have to talk about this stuff appropriately, and in my *unqualified, but reasonable* opinion, this treatment is okay.)

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Catholic and Married: Leaning Into Love, edited by Art and Laraine Bennett.

At least two years or so ago, both Hallie Lord and Simcha Fisher, two incredible bloggers, teased their chapters for an upcoming book of essays on marriage through Our Sunday Visitor. I was so excited. It finally released in late 2014. Both of the mentioned women’s chapters were great. Most of the chapters were good; one I didn’t especially care for the presentation of the content–snippets of moments from the marriage that go from high to low and back again without transitions or application to the topic (marrying young). Perhaps just the scenes were meant to reveal a larger point with takeaways for all couples, but for me, this one just didn’t quite “hang together,” and that’s my overall personal feeling about the book. As a whole, the individually good chapters on a variety of subjects form marrying young to children to challenges to marriage and divorce, it just didn’t quite hang together. I greatly respect each of the contributors and the editors, being familiar in some way with nearly all of their work from my publishing days. But from that background, I couldn’t help but think about if I had received this manuscript how my reader’s report would have yes, personal, suggestions for how to make it more cohesive. So yes, this critique is tempered mostly by my own views, but I believe it somewhat useful, as this form of evaluation is useful, for if a book doesn’t turn on my inner editor but inspires me, then I feel that the book is particularly successful in achieving what it intended.

While I felt this book lacked a flow–it appears to jump from one topic to another, held together loosely that these chapters are “about marriage”–the personal stories are illuminating, and as you’ve seen above, I do like those. Best moment: the writer who tells us about the time her husband got up in the middle of the night and slept in front of the children’s bedroom door, so they wouldn’t come out and bug mommy who was very ill. #Husbandgoals, amirite? Because it tackles topics like entering into marriage as a child of divorce, pornography, and cohabitation with those areas’ general effect on the institution, this book could actually be good for engaged couples, of course, but also Catholics dating and Catholic singles.

Bottom line: For those who are married, about to be married, or are interested in the subject of Catholic marriage, this book features some good essays on the various aspects of the sacrament, along with some examples of living it out. Though it lacks a focus like the above title, it offers some takeaways for couples. And while it was not my personal utmost favorite treatment of marriage and married life, it is still a good entry in the Catholic couples’ book realm.

—Given my publishing history, I’ll add this disclaimer: I probably won’t review books that I first saw as manuscripts. So I have never seen the above books before purchasing them for my own personal collection.

*Edinburgh Housewife, aka Auntie Seraphic, says it’s contempt, and both sins are incredibly destructive to a relationship.