Book 4/52: Psmith, Journalist by P. G. Wodehouse

If, upon your arrival in the States, you find yourself with very little to do in the great city of New York, perhaps taking over a local small newspaper would provide ample entertainment. Then, upon throwing out all the well loved, but equally boring, columns (and their authors), you may find you lack sufficient material to fill the paper you now edit. But, after rescuing the cat of a gang leader, locating a tenement building with a less-than honest landlord, and befriending an up and coming boxer, you may just have enough writing material.

Of course, because of all that you might also have enemies. Good thing you have a boxer and a ganglord as friends, they can be your body guards why you write. So goes the life of Psmith, who finds himself uprooted from his university life at Cambridge and living in New York City, looking for something to fill his time. Revealing the dark soul of a money grabbing landlord seems to be just what he needs.

From P. G. Wodehouse we have come to expect excellent writing and eccentric humor. Psmith, Journalist did not disappoint. I once again found myself laughing out loud as I read, while at the same time enjoying the in-depth look at life in the States 100 years ago. Wodehouse even includes a note in the beginning of the book, assuring his British readers that both gangs, like those that appear in the book, really do exist in New York City and that the American press is, for the most part, uninterested in most gang violence. Highly recommend this book as a light-hearted, well written piece of literature.

Book 3/52: They Say We Are Infidels by Mindy Belz

You are captive in a town, and begging another country to come bomb your town, so that you can escape in death away from the torture and nightmare that is your daily life. You would rather throw your child off the mountain you are hiding on, than watch them die at the end of a sword. Your wedding ring, to a spouse no longer alive, is the only possession you own, and it’s hidden in your infant’s diaper. But you would rather die in your homeland then abandon it forever. You escape to hide but long to return and raise your children there.

These are the families of the Middle East. They have lived for thousands of years to the sound of bombs and uncertainty. While we in the West read stories and watch movies, living with some anger and indignation, we are barely stirred to action. We don’t lose a lot of sleep over our Christian brothers and sisters who are being targeted and hunted down. One by one to be annihilated from the earth. They live on a moving chess board where the rules of the game change every day.

Every still image you see, every news clip you watch is full of real people. Real moms, real dads, real husbands, real wives. And those are the people Mindy Belz introduces to us. Time and time again this reporter for World Magazine has put her life on the line to meet the people and learn their stories that she shares with us in They Say We are Infidels.

Read this book knowing it will read somewhat like a journal. A run-on sentence of entries that span several years of travel. Story overlaps story and characters come in and out. This did make it slightly hard to read, since nothing had set timelines that would have made it easier to follow. But the book left me convicted, saddened, and burdened. Too often my answer is “flee persecution, come to where you’re safe”. I forget, in my selfish view, that they love their land and their heritage as much as I love mine.

And besides, since when did God say to flee persecution? These men and women are abused, killed, and tortured, but they never forsake Christ. The things of this earth are dim to them, in the light of all eternity.

Book 2/52: The Ghostfaces by John Flanagan

The Ghostfaces is one of those stories where certain details, certain people, certain places are so familiar that you almost call them one thing, then find them woven into a new and different story. Like a person who looks so much like their father you almost use his name, then remember you are speaking to the son.

Thorn, Hal, Stig, and the rest of the hilarious, heroic Brotherband (including Lydia) find themselves lost at sea after getting blown through a storm. In the unmapped, uninhabited part of the world they are wandering with little food and less water until they bump into land no one recognizes. There they find game in abundance (including a large oggle-oggle bird) and fresh water but keep feeling as if someone is watching them. After a fight to the death with a large bear, the band finds themselves the object of gratitude from the local Mawagansett tribe who finally step out of the shadows.

Friendship and mutual goodwill, as the Brotherband prepares for the return journey, is cut short with the approach of the Ghostfaces, a marauding tribe who hasn’t been heard of in ten years. In the past they have come to burn and destroy everything in their path, but they haven’t come up against the Brotherband before – or any of their inventions. They have faced a lot of things and always won as a team, fighting as one. But when one of their own faces a heartbreaking tragedy, the Brotherband is pulled together like never before.

This book did not disappoint, in so many ways. The writing is masterful and the plotline solid. But the best part is the characters. The guys are heroic gentlemen and the girls are lady warriors. The humor sprinkled in makes me laugh aloud as I read and the camaraderie between all the Band is heartwarming to read about. Highly recommend this addition to your library.

Book 1/52: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

I picked up this book and finally read it because it is one of those classics. You know? One of those books that you’re kind of expected to have read at some point in your life. Right up there with Great Expectations and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (neither of which I have read). So I finally sat down and did it.

From the author of Jabberwocky comes a story that doesn’t stray far from the nonsense that Carroll is most well known for. He plays with words, puns, and phrases; while going crazy when it comes to the storyline. Lobsters and Dodos with Queens and a White Rabbit. Tea parties that never end and a trial – where the lizard in the jury box takes notes without a pen. Alice is lost and becoming more and more vexed with the Queen, who seems bent on beheading her entire nation. But finally Alice awakes and was it simply the sounds of the farm she was hearing or was she actually in Wonderland?

The whole time I read it I confess I was making it too hard. I was looking for more. An allegory perhaps? Or a commentary on society? But I found none. And I was a little frustrated. What kind of story was this? It meant nothing. Until I read the author’s letter in the back… a letter written to children on Easter 1876. And in this letter I found that perhaps all Carroll wanted was for children to have a fun story. One that made them laugh and smile. For, “surely their innocent laughter is as sweet in His ears as the grandest anthem that ever rolled up from the ‘dim religious light’ of some solemn cathedral?”

And maybe it was as simple as that. A story to read with a smile. With the heart of a child.

New Year Resolutions: Living 2017


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Everyone loves a fresh start, a new book, a clean slate.  The feeling of another chance.  No matter how old or young we are, no matter where we are in life, there is something delicious in the start of a new year.  The fresh outlook on a new 365 days in front of us, the opening of a new story still to be written.  And I, a lover of to-do lists and checkboxes, am no different.  I love the planning and resolve at the start of the year.

So I’m picking back up the blog this year.  I’m still a student, still resolving to live life in an uncommon way.  My goal for the year 2017 is to live life simply, to live life well, and to live life bringing glory to God.

With that in mind, here are some 2017 resolutions I’m working towards this year:

  • keeping a prayer journal
  • building a cookbook of favorite recipes
  • finishing my undergraduate degree
  • applying to a Masters program
  • reading 52 books this year (and posting a review for each one)
  • run two 5ks
  • go tent camping
  • return to Honduras

Some of these resolutions are year long activities, some already have dates, some remain to be started.  All of them are challenging and exciting.  All of them will grow me, push me, and help me lean harder on the Lord.

Let’s get started!  Ready for Living 2017!

Get Me Started… College Algebra CLEP

Get your highschooler ready to earn 3 college credits after graduation with the College Algebra CLEP!!!!

 

Ready to be done with high school algebra, once and for all?  Ready to get those math credits under your belt and move on?  Most high school students are prepared to take the College Algebra CLEP after finishing the high school level of Algebra 1 and 2.  That means you could graduate from high school prepared to go test out of an entire semester of college credit!  Sound like a good plan?

Well let me help you get started on the College Algebra CLEP!

1) Stock your bookshelves

There are two resources that you *have* to have on your bookshelf for the College Algebra CLEP.  The first one is the CollegeBoard CLEP Official Guide and the second is the REA College Algebra Guide.  CollegeBoard makes the CLEP exams, so their test guide is the best one to have on your shelf, no matter which test you’re taking.  And REA guides are the perfect test prep guide, to make sure you are covering all the problems you will meet on the test.

2) Get to know the College Algebra CLEP

The College Algebra CLEP has 60 questions to be answered in 90 minutes.  A passing score is usually awarded 3 college credits, depending on the policy of your institution. Approximately 50% of the exam is solving straightforward problems, the remaining 50% of the exam is application of the concepts learned in a college algebra course.  A scientific calculator is provided for you, in the test taking software.

3) Take the CollegeBoard practice test

Take the CollegeBoard practice test for College Algebra and figure what percentage of the questions you got *correct* (i.e. divide number correct by total number of questions).  If your total is 60% or above, go take the test!  If not, move on to step 4.  Note that I usually only take the CollegeBoard practice test when I’m assessing my knowledge of the subject.  That allows me to reuse this practice test many times.

4) Study, study, study

This is the perfect time to pull out your handy, dandy REA College Algebra Guide!  I use my REA guide as the backbone of my study time, and then supplement with some other resources.  I use Khan Academy, Wikipedia, and Texas A&M.  I also use the Algebra I For Dummies and College Algebra DeMYSTiFieD books.  Feel free to use the practice tests in the back of the REA guide to measure your progress as you study.

5) Retake the CollegeBoard practice test

Take the CollegeBoard practice test for College Algebra and figure what percentage of the questions you got correct.  If your total is 60% or above, go take the test!  If not, repeat step 4.

Graduation Home Stretch

Time to dust off the books and finish this degree!  Once you’ve hit the graduation home stretch it’s a little easier to slow down, but you have to finish strong.  You have to run as fast across the finish line as you started out.

So here’s what I have left to accomplish before I can graduate:

[ ] Western Civ 1 (CLEP)

[ ] Western Civ 2 (CLEP)

[ ] World Religions (DSST)

[ ] Organizational Behavior (DSST)

[ ] Soviet Union (DSST)

[ ] Substanance Abuse (DSST) 

[ ] Vietnam War (DSST)

[ ] Technical Writing (DSST)

[ ] Public Speaking (DSST)

[ ] Human Growth and Development (CLEP)

[ ] Human Geography (DSST)

[ ] Capstone Project (TESC)

 

And here are my goals to reach before August 28 (which happens to be the 6th Plants and Pillars Film Festival):

  1. Technical Writing
  2. Western Civ 1
  3. Western Civ 2
  4. Human Growth and Development
  5. Substance Abuse
  6. Organizational Behavior
  7. The SAT

Oh yeah, I’m going to take the SAT on June 6 – which is just a few short weeks away.

Yes, I have a lot to do.  I’ll be studying and reading and writing and testing – and trying to blog when I get that chance.  :-)

Control Your Wasted Time

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It’s going to happen to all of us.  No matter how great your intentions are (or how long your “to do” list is or how many time management apps you have installed on your phone) you will waste time throughout your day.  Instead of living in denial that it is happening, you need to spend your time working to control your wasted time.

Evaluate

How do you currently waste time?  I know that sounds funny to think about, but your time goes somewhere.  When you aren’t working or studying what do you turn to?  Where does your mind go?  Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram are quick and easy to get to, so they can turn into huge time wasters.  I’m not saying social media is horrible – on the contrary, I study social media as a part time job – but it might not be the best avenue to always turn to when you have a spare minute.

In addition to those common wasters, we have watching television, surfing the internet, or any other way you can dream up to waste your time.  What we are worried about is passive activities.  When your brain turns off and you cease to have worthwhile thoughts.

Retrain

Now retrain yourself to control your wasted time.  To reach for challenging activities when you have a free moment to spare.  Start by searching for things that will challenge you and grow you in new ways.

Here are a few ideas to get you started…

  • Read a book
  • Play a musical instrument (or learn to play one)
  • Memorize Scripture
  • Go for a run
  • Play a mentally stimulating game (like chess or checkers)
  • Draw/paint
  • Write a letter to a friend or family member
  • Cook or bake something
  • Learn a new skill (changing your oil or sewing on a button)

And certainly, last but not least, sometimes just sitting and being quiet is good.  Good thinking only occurs when we are quiet and still with no distractions.  Sit on your front porch or hike somewhere.  Leave your phone and find a quiet place.  Think and pray.

There’s a reason God tells us to “be still and know He is God”.  Find some time to be still and know God.  That is never wasted.

Get a Normal Email Address!

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Welcome to your life, wherever this finds you.  Still in high school, venturing through college, finding yourself in the work place, or diligently at home.  Wherever you are, you probably have an email address and this piece of your life is a huge key to how you view life and what you make of yourself.

Besides your Social Security number you will probably use your email address more than any other piece of identification.  And, unlike other generic piece of ID, this is personalized and a peek into who you are.  Make sure you take your time on it.

Job applications, college admission forms, resumes… the list goes on and on.  Each of these will ask for your email address because it’s one of the best ways to contact people in the 21st century.  And on each of these many professional men and women will be looking at your email address.  Where you live is standard, your phone number is standard, but your email will stand out.

You may have a Bachelor’s in Accounting.  You many have a GPA of 3.7.  You may have been valedictorian in high school.  But if your email address is “NINJA_skillz435@email.com“, none of that will matter.

Believe it or not, your email address can be the determining factor in getting a job.

Take the time, invest the extra energy, and create a simple, professional, normal email address.  It’ll get you much farther.

The One State with Low Student Debt

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There is only one state where the average college student has less that $20,000 of debt when they graduate.  In all 50 United States, we can only find one state with this statistic and that award goes to the western state of New Mexico.  Student debt is becoming a bigger and bigger issue in America.

In a study released in November 2014, New Mexico was found to be the only state where the average college student graduates with less than $20,000 in debt.  

They weren’t far below that mark though, their average came in at $18,656.  New Hampshire came in with the highest ranking student debt, at $32,795.  As more students borrow and borrow more, it drives the cost up – leading to more and more students borrowing.

One of the biggest problems with student debt is it holds the graduate back from their full life potential after graduation.  Having over $30,000 in student loans leads to putting off buying a house, getting married, saving for your own children’s education, starting a business, or saving for retirement.  This delays the benefit that these adults could be to our economy.

Rethinking the traditional college route is becoming more and more of a necessity in our world today.  Testing out of courses and taking online courses can help shorten your time spent on campus and decrease your total college cost.  In addition, the average CLEP prep book is $30 – compared to the average $300 textbook for a traditional classroom course.

There are other options out there, besides binding yourself to thousands of dollars in student debt.  Let’s step back and look at the conveyor belt way of college.  Maybe there is a different way to do it.