Midweek Mix-Up #14: Indians, Spotify, and Goal Setting

Welcome to this week’s version of midweek mix-up! Since I missed Tuesday’s post, I thought I’d share an extra-wonderful resource that I personally love with you today.

Reading this week:

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
Progress: Finished.

This book turned out to be a fascinating read! I loved how Elizabeth Speare showed Matt interacting with the Indians, learning their ways, and how she worked the ending—that was quite sweet. Overall, this is a well-written story about pioneers and the life they led in the mid 1700s.

All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor

All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
Progress: Page 63 of 189 (34%)

This book was part of my school work when I was eight or nine. I loved it then—it’s a clean, fun story—and recently realized it should have a place on the website as well! So, time to re-read it! Since this book is for younger children, I’m not finding it quite as enthralling as I did a few years ago, but even so it’s still very enjoyable.

Elsie’s Womanhood by Martha Finley

Elsie’s Womanhood by Martha Finley
Progress: Finished!

As with the other books in this series, Elsie’s Womanhood picks up where Elsie’s Girlhood left off—at the scene where Elsie is finally engaged. This story continues the tale, and while it’s fairly slow at times, there are several interesting diversions with Tom Jackson trying to kill Mr. Travilla—or Elsie, if he can—in order to get revenge for not being able to marry Elsie himself. Then Elsie’s family starts to grow, and the Civil War begins, with friends fighting on both sides. After five long years, the war is over—with many family members dead or permanently changed. This was another great book in the series—I’m looking forward to reading Elsie’s Motherhood!

New book reviews this week:

The Adventures of Unc Billy Possum by Thornton W. BurgessFun family read-aloud!
Unc Billy Possum’s greed for fresh eggs gets him into big trouble.

Farewell for a While by Sharon A. Lavy
Dustin and Rebekah, just a few weeks before their wedding date, discover that they have some issues they must work through before they are married.

Moses the Kitten by James HerriotOne of our family’s favorite picture books!
As the vet arrives at Mr Butler’s farm, he finds a kitten huddled in a freezing marsh and takes it to the house for the farmer’s wife to care for.

The Adventures of Mr. Mocker by Thornton W. BurgessAnother fun family read-aloud!
When Mr. Mocker moves to the Green Forest from Ol’ Virginny, he uses his talent of imitating other people’s voices to bring chaos to the animals and birds in his new home.

My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara
When day-dreaming Ken is given a colt of his own, his life begins to transform.

This week’s blog post roundup:

Ask Annie: 5 Twitter Mistakes Writers Make and How to Avoid Them (Writer Unboxed) — Super helpful advice. I’ve recently started exploring Twitter (not much, I don’t really “get” how it works, but I can see the potential in it), and this is really helpful. I need to work on no. 2—that’s basically all my Twitter has been used for so far. Woops.

Slip Away and Be With God (Youtube) — This is an excerpt from one of Paul Washer’s sermons. Challenging, to say the least!

The Absolutely Enormous List of Christian History Books {By Grade and Time Period} (Thinking Kids Blog) — This is an absolutely enormous list! So many great-looking books on here, and a wonderful resource for homeschoolers!

Setting Achievable Goals (Heritage Literature) — Great post on goal setting. Reminds me that I ought to add some deadlines to a few projects I’ve got going right now….

The Ultimate Book List For Boys! (The Modest Mom Blog) — Lots of familiar titles here! Great books—and this isn’t only for boys, of course. Many are wonderful for girls as well.

Scene Creation P. 2: 5 Essentials for the Framework of a Scene (Christ is Write) — Good tips here. For non-outliners, some of these things might be difficult, but there are some really helpful ideas here, regardless.

Resource of the week:

EZBlocker (Spotify Ad Blocker)

EZBlocker Screenshot

Truth be told, I love music. Probably a little bit more than I ought. When Grooveshark shut down a few months ago, I wanted to find another customizable music source—Pandora is fine for a while, but being able to control what you listen to is also nice at times.

Enter Spotify. I’d used Spotify—briefly—before, but when I already had music I liked sorted out in Grooveshark, I really didn’t have any reason to add another website to the mix. When Grooveshark was no more, I decided to try Spotify again. And I immediately encountered commercials…lots of commercials. Like, a full minute of them every quarter or half an hour. I got to the place where I could recognize a commercial within the first two seconds or so, and turn the volume off so I wouldn’t have to listen to it. But then, of course, you have to remember to turn it back on as well, and that didn’t always happen right away.

After a while, I was fed up, trying to find something commercial-free. Then I began to wonder if others were annoyed with the problem, and figured that someone probably was, so thus initiated a Google search—which ended in finding EZBlocker. As soon as I installed it, I noticed a difference. Ah, bliss. No more commercials and (incredibly!) with the “Block Banner Ads” setting on, I didn’t even have to see any flashing ads! Wonderful!

Oh, and a couple tips:

  • Apparently, EZBlocker works best with Windows 7 or 8 (I’ve got 8), and there’s been some success with 10 as well. There is an Android version, but no current plans for an iOS version.
  • You only have to open EZBlocker whenever you want to start up Spotify—it will automatically open Spotify for you.
  • To block the banner ads (besides the vocal commercials), open EZBlocker for the first time as an Administrator. You should be able to do that by right-clicking the icon and selecting “Run as Administrator”. Then, check the “Block Banner Ads” box and close and reopen the application.

Question: What is your favorite source for music?

Midweek Mix-Up #13: Romania, Adoniram Judson, and Tools for Writers

Well, midweek mix-up is a bit late this week. I’ve had a full schedule lately uploading new book reviews, enjoying spring time, and writing the September newsletter. Here I am now, with a few more books for you to peruse!

Reading this week:

Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand

Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand
Progress: Finished!

Oh, this book. I love it, and at the same time I hate it. It’s…powerful. Through Richard’s eyes, we see the harsh reality of what it means for many Christians in restricted nations to never be able to know—from one day to the next—what their future is going to look like. What it’s like to always hide—even from your own pastor at times!—that you’re a believer. Richard suffered much under the Communists—when the USSR had control of Romania—and while he doesn’t go into a lot of detail, he shares enough that you can understand where he’s coming from.

This book was great for me to hear, although I hated hearing it the whole way through—the picture it showed me was not pretty at all. It showed me the ugly apathy in my own life, and challenged me more than I ever remember being challenged before. Even though I may never read or listen to a recording of this book again, it’s given me a lot of food for thought—I’ll not be forgetting its message any time soon.

A Different Kind of Courage, by Sarah Holman

A Different Kind of Courage by Sarah Holman
Progress: Finished!

I loved this story! Being both a bit of a history nut (thanks, Mom), and a lover of good historical fiction, I was really looking forward to reading this story. I’ve read other books by Sarah before—and loved every single one of them—and this one didn’t disappoint me at all.

Through the eyes of William, we are shown the conflict that would have arisen between families and friends when the American Revolution got underway. I loved seeing that the historical facts didn’t override the story—especially considering how much research went into this book to make it what it is today. William’s story is very relatable—trying to follow God’s will and yet stay in the good graces of everyone else is a struggle I can understand all too well. I also loved the slight romance through the story—it was there, but not overdone. If you want a fascinating perspective of the American Revolution, this is a great resource. (I’ll be writing a full review of A Different Kind of Courage soon, to post on the website.)

Adoniram Judson, Bound for Burma by Janet and Geoff Benge

Adoniram Judson: Bound for Burma by Janet & Geoff Benge
Progress: 95%

This is another great book in the Christian Heroes: Then and Now series. I love how it shows the early life of Adoniram—how he struggled to please his preacher father at times, how he became a Deist for a while (until he heard his Deist friend dying and realized this wasn’t what he thought it was!), and much more. The last part is very sad—because of the poor living conditions in Burma, many of his friends died, and he lost both his first and second wives to sickness and bad diets. Overall, this is a great story, one that would to go along well with any Church history or missionary course. (I’ll be writing a review of this to go on the website soon, too.)

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
Progress: Chapter 10 of 25

While uploading books this week, I noticed that Mom mentioned this book in a review—but she hadn’t reviewed it yet! So since it’s really good, I’m re-reading it with the goal of reviewing it when I’m done. Not a hard job!

Twelve-year-old Matt is in charge of keeping the cabin tidy and ready for his father to bring his mother and siblings out to their new land. Then his gun is stolen, a bear destroys all food supplies when he forgets to properly bar the door, and he is attacked by some swarming bees. How is he going to survive long enough for his father to get back? This is quite the fun adventure story!

New reviews this week:

Granny Han’s Breakfast by Sheila Groves — Wonderful book about faith in God.
When all her money is stolen, Granny must trust God to supply her needs, which He does abundantly.

There’s an Owl in the Shower by Jean Craighead George
While Borden’s dad is out of work because logging has been halted, Borden finds a baby owl in need of help and they raise it.

Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express by Margaret K. Wetterer
When a storm causes a train to crash into a creek, Kate must go for help for the men who were on it.

Flame Over Tara by Madeleine Polland — Great story about St. Patrick.
When Patrick brings the gospel to Ireland, he must win the approval of the High King, Leary, in order for his mission to succeed.

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey — Favorite childhood story!
Sal and her mother go picking blueberries, and Little Bear and his mother go eating blueberries, on the same hill.

This week’s blog post roundup:

15 Productivity Hacks For Procrastinators (Lifehack) — Good, solid tips. Very helpful article!

Conventions and Obligatory Scenes (Steven Pressfield Online) — This post is writer’s gold. Seriously. It’s a bit on the long side, but worth while reading. (You can see a video version here, if you wish.)

Free Music & Background Sound Resources for Writers (Raychel Rose) — Great sites listed here. Good resource to bookmark and go back to later.

The Next Chapter: I’m No Longer Writing Twice Per Week. Here’s Why (James Clear) — Interesting. I’m enjoying a twice-per-week rhythm, but I enjoy seeing others’ thoughts on how they do their blogging, too.

5 Criteria for Selecting Read-Aloud Books for Children (Year Round Homeschooling) — Good tips for homeschool mothers here!

This week’s resource:

The Story Grid: A Five Part Video Series on the Craft of Story Editing

This is a superb resource for writers! In five fairly short episodes, Shawn Coyne shares his methods for editing. He shows you how to break your story up into bite-sized chunks, see the big picture of where your story is headed, and figure out the loop-holes without feeling overwhelmed at the size of your story.

This series was so good I stopped teaching writing to my brother for a little bit, so he could have the chance to go through this as well.

Note: There are some words used that I don’t consider appropriate, and the story they use as an example isn’t one I’d normally read. Be warned!

What have you been reading lately?

Midweek Mix-Up: 2 Books I’m Reading Now, and Horse Rides

Welcome to today’s version of midweek mix-up! I hope you enjoy reading these posts as much as I do compiling them! Now, on to . . .

Books of the week:

Completed books:

Ready or Not, by Chautona Havig

Ready or Not, by Chautona Havig

This book ended up being just as good as Mom had told me. I really enjoyed the story, and when William finally told Aggie his secret, I was relieved. I’ll be putting up Mom’s review of the book soon—since she reviewed it already, I won’t repeat her.

For Keeps, by Chautona Havig

For Keeps, by Chautona Havig

After finishing Ready or Not, I had to read this second book in the series. Aggie’s struggles in learning to be a homeschooler and her fight against chicken pox were rather amusing to read about. The romance (very clean romance, but definitely romance) was fun to watch as well. I’m planning to post Mom’s review of this book soon too.

Books currently in progress:

Here We Come, by Chautona Havig

Here We Come, by Chautona Havig
Progress: 57% read

After finishing Ready or Not and For Keeps, I was especially glad to know we have the third and final book in the series. As a writer, I’m looking forward to seeing how the climax works to finish off the series. As a reader, I’m looking forward to seeing how Aggie’s fiance and she get along—and if the children start behaving. Currently, Aggie has been on a huge emotional roller-coaster, and is feeling pretty burned out. I still haven’t decided if the tension is stronger in this book than in the last two, or if it’s just different—I’ll probably have to finish the book to decide.

More Than a Carpenter, by Josh McDowell

More Than a Carpenter, by Josh and Sean McDowell
Progress: 6% read

I did get a bit further in this this week. Right now I’m reading about why Jesus is different from other famous prophets—and what the name “Jesus Christ” means. Fascinating book.

Next on the to-read list:

The Sound of Diamonds, by Rachelle Rea

The Sound of Diamonds, by Rachelle Rea

This is Rachelle’s debut novel, so I don’t have any experience with knowing what her style is like. I’ve heard about this book for several months now, and recently she offered advanced reader copies, so I asked if I could be an advanced reader. I’m looking forward to reading this book—and knowing what she reads, I’m hoping it won’t have too much romance in it!

Memory of the week:

I helped give my baby sister her first “horsey-ride” the other day. She seemed to enjoy it—and her brothers loved being the horses for her!

Playing horseback riding

Useful posts this week:

  • These Books Are Free On Kindle! — Some fascinating books here—ones that I want to read soon. I need to learn to get into more classics—I love them, but it takes some determination to start reading them.
  • Which Copy is Best For Your Home Page? — Very helpful information about home pages, and what length and content makes the best conversion rate. Now, to put this information to use!
  • 100 Books for 1st Graders to Read — This one was recommended by Mom. She said that some of the books here are ones she wouldn’t tend to like, but others are very good.
  • 5 Ideas for Author Newsletter Content — A fun, inspiring post for creating a good newsletter. I have a feeling I’ll be referring back to this next time I’m writing the LRD Newsletter.
  • For The Sake of Research — A very humorous post on the things an author has to go through to ensure they have the setting right. What happens if you video the interior of a bank?
  • Yielded or Tossed? — An encouraging devotional—the perfect start to my day. Katie’s words are always so challenging to me, and yet so true. Much to think about from this post.
  • The Weekend Edition — Seekerville, a daily blog for writers, always has these fun “weekend” posts. They’re just about my most favorite posts of the week! If you’re a writer who wants encouragement, I’d recommend checking this blog out. It is mostly geared toward romance writers, but many of the tips they share are really helpful no matter what form of fiction you write.
  • The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People: INFOGRAPHIC — Fascinating infographic, and I highly recommend checking out the interactive version on podio.com. I especially found it interesting that out of twenty-six people, only eight did any actual work between 12 am and 5 am—almost everyone else was asleep during that time.

Resource of the week:

A post, resurrected from the archives of my bookmarks: 9 Best Tools to Make Writers More Successful, Organized, and Effective. Who knew that gem was there? I completely forgot! But those tools look very useful. There are several programs mentioned in the comments as well that look handy. I’m planning on checking out SquareSpaceNote and The Timeline Project as soon as I’m done here.

What did you come across this week that you found particularly inspiring or helpful?

Midweek Mix-Up: 4 Books I’m Reading Right Now, and Useful Randomness

I love fun, not-always-stiffly-serious blog posts. And yet, at the same time, I want to make sure you have something helpful to take away from every post. Hopefully, I can find a balance of that today.

4 books I’m reading right now . . .
Give Me This Mountain, an autobiography by Helen Roseveare

Give Me This Mountain, an autobiography by Helen Roseveare

I’m roughly half way through this story. Helen is very transparent when it comes to sharing her spiritual life at different stages, and I’ve found that very encouraging because often I see myself in her shoes. Knowing someone has been there before really gives a new perspective on things.

The Eagle, by Rosemary Sutcliff

I don’t like this cover. Underneath, it is a great story—I just hope they haven’t changed it to go along with the movie. Our version is the previous edition of this one.

The Eagle (previously Eagle of the Ninth), by Rosemary Sutcliff

This was first introduced to me as part of our school curriculum. Mom recently read it to the boys again, and I heard bits and piece—enough to make me want to read it again, but not enough to hear the whole thing! She’s been reading the two sequels to the boys lately, and they are loving them, as well. I’ve only read the first chapter so far, but hope to get back to it soon!

More Than a Carpenter, by Josh McDowell

More Than a Carpenter, by Josh McDowell

Another “school” book. This small volume is both incredibly challenging, and incredibly reaffirming. Josh presents the facts without any apology, and seeing the pure truths of who Jesus really is—in all their beautiful glory—is very encouraging. This book is a great devotional, and even just reading one or two pages before bedtime is enough to give you much food for thought.

Ready or Not, by Chautona Havig

Ready or Not, by Chautona Havig

This is by far the most favorite book I’ve been reading lately. Mom finally convinced me to read it after all her ranting, and I’ve got to say I’ve fallen in love with the story too. Aggie, mother of eight inherited children, is so real in all her struggles of learning to be a mother—let alone learning to deal with her inherited mother-in-law! Even though Ready or Not is a long story, I’m enjoying every word—and glad to know there are two more books in the series waiting for me to read them! Oh, and did I mention I love the humor in the story?

Most exciting event this past week . . .

We had this big brush pile out back, and now that the fire ban has finally been lifted (we’ve had a bad drought all summer, so we were not allowed to burn fires for quite a while) the boys finally were allowed to burn it. Did they ever have fun, too!

Fire 01

From the yard, just after they lit it.

I got a few pictures of the proceedings, but soon had to get back to work—leaving it under the watchful eye of the firefighters.

Fire 02

I didn’t get any very good pictures of the main firefighter, because he was almost always running to put out small patches of grass that caught. This was the best—he was working very hard!

Most useful posts this week . . .

A random collection of posts I’ve found interesting and helpful this past week.

This week’s resource . . .

I’ve been using this little calendar for three months now, and it has proved to be the most effective tool so far for tracking work chains—I can see at a glance what days I was very productive, and what days I was . . . shall we say, not so productive.

2015 Work Chain Tracker

Seeing how well (or badly!) I did last week is encouraging, and challenges me to do even better this week. It is also a great way to keep a quick record of what I’ve been doing. At the end of each month, I tally up how many hours I’ve done on a particular project all together, and sometimes average that to each day I’ve worked, to see how many hours minimum I should try to do per day to beat that. (Side note: Time Calculator is very helpful for the calculation side of things—just input your times, and it will do the rest for you.)

I’ve been using this tracking system for almost three months now—tracking three different projects—and it’s still proving to be very helpful.

If you’d like to try it out for yourself, see the links below. I usually print it four-up (four pages per page) and just one-sided, so it’s a handy pocket-sized calendar that fits easily on my pin board. Do whatever works for you—I’d love to hear if it helps!

Download the free printable:

  • Unmarked Version
  • Marked Version (basically the first version, but with phases of the moon and a few select holidays—I like this one best, mostly because I like seeing what’s coming up next)

The idea for using a calendar like this was inspired by a passing mention in a blog post by Raychel Rose, so all credit goes to her. 🙂

Have you found any easy hacks for tracking the time you spend? Also, what’s the most useful post you’ve come across this week? Feel free to share below—I love hearing from you!

Why You Need a Simple Atmosphere for Writing (+ free program!)

A year and a half ago, I wrote my first novel. Along with many other writers, I had taken the NaNoWriMo challenge, an incentive program designed to help you break through your writers block and simply get words out on the page. During the month of November, I challenged myself to write 50k words.

That was completed within three weeks, and one program that helped me immensely to get the words out on the page was FocusWriter. FocusWriter provided a superbly simple atmosphere for writing — and I was able to focus much better on content creation, rather than being distracted by fancy formatting.

Why You Need a Simple Atmosphere for Writing (+ free program!)

Photo courtesy of Pixabay/Unsplash | License: CC0 1.0

Today, I’d like to introduce you to FocusWriter.

But first . . . .

What Happens When You Have a Simple Atmosphere

  • Your productivity soars. When you work in a clutter-free environment, your targets for the project are clearer. You also will have a happier attitude because you can’t see the other—perhaps not as important—work you need to attend to.
  • Perfection becomes a non-issue. When you can forget about having it just perfect, you can focus on the content instead of the container. (P.S.—Simple often also equals elegant, even though we may not realize it right away.)
  • The process becomes more important that the end goal. When this happens, you can enjoy it more. Yes, you do want to keep the end goal in mind. But if you can focus more on getting words on the page than on what you want the polished masterpiece to look like, you’ll make more progress than you do dreaming about the end goal.

I’ve been using FocusWriter for several years now, on and off. At times, I prefer other writing environments better, but as far as a simple atmosphere I can’t beat this program. If you’re looking for a distraction-free writing environment, check FocusWriter out—it may just be the tool you need to get your work done well.

(Disclaimer: I recieve nothing from recommending FocusWriter. I have just found this tool very useful in my own writing life, so I’m sharing it in the hopes that you will find it helpful, too.)