Where The Wind Leads – by Vinh Chung and Tim Downs (2014)

Where The Wind Leads


Vinh Chung was born into a Chinese family living in North Vietnam during the Vietnam war. This tiny country was fought over by the French, the Viet Cong, the Chinese and Russian communists. The Chung family owned a successful rice business, but as the war went on, almost everything became government property. They joined the flood of people fleeing by boat, in search of a country that would allow them in.

There are three parts to the book. The first covers life in North Vietnam, and Vinh’s grandparents and parents. It helps you understand how important family is in their culture. The second part tells of the treacherous boat trip that they barely survived. The last part is about Vinh and his family in their new country.

Before reading this book, I had no idea how desperate and dangerous the journey out of Vietnam was for the “boat people”. They left their country with little more than the clothes on their backs, and no sure destination. I cannot imagine the terrible conditions that would make these people rather die in the ocean than stay in their homeland. Their courage was amazing, and the miracles along the way almost unbelievable.




In the seclusion and anonymity of the South China Sea, the human heart was free to turn its darkest, and predators knew that even the worst atrocities could be hidden beneath the water. Those Thai pirates were trying to kill us just for the pleasure of doing it, which seems like an incomprehensible thing for one human being to do to another. But refugees were not human beings; when they left their home, no list was made of who they were, when they left, or where they were headed. No nation mourned their departure, and no country awaited their arrival. There was death at sea but no death toll; there was heartbreak but no history. Refugees were unwanted, unclaimed, and unnamed – invisible people. They were just some country’s former problem, and the moment the problem was gone, they were forgotten – out of sight, out of mind.


Money, money, money…

Money money money

2015 is officially here. We’ve made lists of things to do better this year. On almost everyone’s list is something regarding money – saving more, getting out of debt, donating more, etc. If you’re really serious about your money resolution, it’s time to come up with a plan. Here are some ideas that have worked for our family over the years:

1. Give back! – Every time you get paid, write out a check, set aside the cash, or schedule an online payment to give back at least 10% of what you’ve earned. Many people of faith refer to it as tithing – giving back to God, since He’s the one who gives us the strength to work. Give it to the church/house of worship you’ve been attending. If you don’t have a church, find a missionary/charitable organization, and commit to regularly supporting them. You’ll be amazed at how giving back blesses the person who is giving.

2. Live BELOW your means! When you are looking for a house to buy and the bank okays you for a $200,000 loan, don’t buy a $200,000 house. Find a modest house that meets the needs of your family, and be okay with it not being bigger and better than your friends’ houses. Same idea for buying a car. Hey, it needs to get you from point A to point B, and be reliable. And if you’re at a point in life where you really can’t afford even a used car because the insurance would be a killer, get humble and explore the city bus system to see if it would work for you.

3. Pay the credit card(s) down to $0.00 every month. If you can’t do that, it means you’re spending more than your income. If you can’t pay it off entirely, pay as much as you can each month instead of the minimum, lock down your spending to just the bare essentials, and get it paid off as fast as you can. Don’t be a slave to credit card companies.

4. Analyze where every penny of your income is going with a fine-tooth comb, and separate out your “wants” from your “needs”. Make a list of every necessary expense – some will be weekly (groceries), some monthly (electricity), some quarterly (garbage pick-up), some bi-yearly (car insurance, property tax), and some yearly. Then get out the calculator and figure out how much that would average out to in a month. Compare it to what your monthly income is.

5. Look at everything you are buying that isn’t a need, and consider pitching it. This includes buying clothes, going out to eat, vacations, cable tv, expensive cell phones, etc. You get the idea.

6. Get rid of some of your “stuff”. Sell off things you don’t need/use, and put the money toward bills/debt. You’ll find it easier to clean the house without that extra stuff sitting there. Give those clothes you never wear to your favorite thrift store so someone else with a limited income can buy it reasonably. Got sentimental items around your house that mean way more to your brother or sister than they do to you? Give it to the one who will treasure it.

7. Develop a love for doing things that don’t cost any money. Talk to a friend or neighbor, spend time with your family, play table games instead of going out to a movie, check books out of your local library instead of buying them, listen to free pod-casts from i-tunes, take a long walk and do exercises at home instead of paying for an expensive gym membership, and so on.

So the bottom line is: 2015 will be what you make of it. What you do with your income is your decision, but I believe you will be happier in your life if you are in control of your money, instead of your money controlling you. Blessings and peace to you in the new year!

All You Need Is Less – by Madeleine Somerville (2014)

All You Need Is Less

This title in the “New Book” section of the library caught my eye, and I brought it home with me. From the first page, I was drawn into Madeleine’s passion to simplify her life and make the world a less polluted place to live. She looked at just about every area of her life to see where she could make some changes. This is truly a woman who lives what she believes.

Don’t like the chemicals in your cleaners? Madeleine has suggestions for shampoo, floor cleaners, soap scum remover, dryer sheets, laundry detergent, and more. She’s got great ideas on grocery-shopping,  developing a more natural diet, and dabbling in growing some of your own food. If you’re expecting a baby, she’s got fantastic ideas about diapering, wipes, clothing, and toy selection.

Madeleine has a frank manner of speaking, and sprinkles her book with mild swearing, but in my mind I envision a quirky neighbor with a heart of gold. I felt a kinship with the author, as so many of her attitudes about possessions and priorities resonated with me. I particularly enjoyed reading about her love of clotheslines, which I share! There are plenty of books on the minimalist lifestyle, but I would be hard-pressed to find one written with more humor and wit.

Don’t Kill The Birthday Girl – by Sandra Beasley (2011)

Don't Kill The Birthday Girl


Most of us can enjoy a wonderful meal with our family and friends at Thanksgiving, Christmas, or a birthday without analyzing what we are eating. You may have a milk intolerance, get a headache from eating chocolate, or be allergic to peanuts, but it’s not a big deal. You just avoid that one thing that doesn’t agree with you, and everything is fine. But what if you were allergic to more than a dozen things – and not just mildly, but severely?

Sandra Beasley almost didn’t survive infancy because she was allergic to every possible kind of milk given to her. As she grew, her parents discovered more and more things that her body could not tolerate. This autobiography is a window into the life of a person who has to double and triple check everything she ingests to make sure it won’t kill her.

The author also writes about the medical research that is being done on allergies, and treatments that have been tried. More and more people seem to be struggling with allergies to foods, so this is an important area of medicine. Reading this book gave me a better understanding of how serious this condition can be, and how it affects people’s lives.

The First Christmas…


“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.  So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

– Holy Bible, Luke chapter 2, verse 1 – 7  (New King James Version)

Turnabout – by Margaret Peterson Haddix (2000, 2007)


Have you ever wished you could go back to an earlier time in your life? Your body would be stronger, healthier, and faster. Hearing and eyesight would be improved. Your memory would be accurate. Life would be more carefree. Everything would be better – right?

At the beginning of this novel, Melly and Anny Beth are both approaching 100 and living in a nursing home. They and a number of the other residents are given the chance to participate in a medical study that will help them “un-age”. They agree to be in Project Turnabout, which is kept a secret from the world.

The story goes back and forth from 2000, when the project is started, to 2085, when Melly and Anny Beth have “un-aged” back to youth. Life is not quite what they thought it would be.  The book portrays what the fountain of youth might be like if we ever found it.

The Shoe Box – by Francine Rivers (1999)

The Shoe Box


Looking for a short story to read aloud on Christmas Eve? This little book is perfect! It is the story of a boy named Timmy who has just been placed in a foster home. The couple taking care of him notices that wherever he goes, a shoe box accompanies him. Everyone is curious about the contents of the box, but only Timmy and Jesus know. Read it around the dinner table or by the Christmas tree – it will only take about ten minutes, but it will warm your heart.