Book Review | Branding is For Cows. Belonging is For People. by CJ Casciotta

brandingisforcowsI’m one of those strange people who buys things on Instagram just because they look interesting. Books are no exception. I was doing my usual tag-surfing when I came across CJ Casciotta’s Instagram account. His account looked eclectic enough for my tastes, so I hit “follow” and started scrolling through his pictures. I purchased his eBook Branding is for Cows. Belonging is for People. Break Free From the Heard and Make Stuff that Matters on impulse, basically because I liked the title.

Much later, I read up on CJ Casciotta and found out that he is not only an author, but also a brand leader and developer. The book’s price point was reasonable, but it was a very short eBook. To say that I read it in one setting would be an understatement. Before I jump into the book, I want to talk about the buying experience.

I clicked on the link in CJ’s Instagram to purchase the book. Because I’m a nerd, I realized that it was linked to a website hosted on that appeared to be hosted on Squarepages and the link went directly to the secure sales page. There were two options to purchase the book. I could either buy the eBook (which I did), or the rather attractive-looking Moleskin version. I kind of wanted the Moleskin, but waiting for shipping for books is not my thing.

It was pretty easy to click to buy the book, but it wouldn’t download on my phone. (I kept getting an error message.) This was probably an Android thing. The file could have been too big, or the way that the pdf was coded may have been hard for my phone to read, but it’s important to mention if you  buy a lot of eBooks on your phone (I do).

Anyhow, I was also emailed a copy of the book, so I went to my computer and downloaded it. I started to email it to my phone, but then I realized that the book was super short and I was putting way too much effort into a book that would only take me a few minutes to read. The eBook was a total of 34 pages with some rather large print and pictures. Unlike a lot of books, the title page and table of contents were numbered, so they were included in the page count. As an example of the large print and pictures, this title page is page 2:

branding-2

Out of respect for the intellectual property and copyright of the author, I won’t post any more pages from the book, but there were other pages like this with very little text and a large picture.

Now, let’s talk about the content of the book itself. As someone who tires of the non-stop discussion about “branding,” I found the book’s message to be rather refreshing. Casciotta tells the story of “McDonalization” and how standardization became the standard for the way products and services are delivered all over the world, and the fact that such standardization has both positive and negative consequences.

He talks about competition and the origin of the “branding” concept in terms of its real-life meaning and its marketing implications. More importantly, he discusses the modern movement to break away from traditional branding and standardization in favor of individualization and human belonging.

What stuck out to me the most was the Casciotta’s message to create a manifesto rather than a branding statement. He explains the process and what that means for both you and your business. For me, this was a profound concept. As someone who despises traditional “branding,” I love the idea of moving towards replacing mission statements with manifestos.

Despite the brevity of the book, I think the author effectively got his message across. If you are looking for motivation, then CJ Casciotta comes across as a master motivator who can help you kickstart the direction of your business. The book is a quick read and he also has a podcast and events that you can help you follow-up on the overall direction of his message.

However, if you are looking for a more robust plan for how you can manage your business in an unconventional way, you should also consider checking out The Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte. I’m currently reading this book and I will be updating this blog with a review. In the meantime, you can check out her reviews on Amazon.

Here’s my affiliate link to check out Danielle’s book on Amazon: The Fire Starter Sessions: A Soulful + Practical Guide to Creating Success on Your Own Terms

Book Review: Down the Rabbit Hole by Holly Madison

holly-madison-bookWhen I read that Holly Madison, former star of The Girls Next Door, had a book coming out, I must say that I was quite surprised. The 35-year old former Playboy Bunny has certainly had her share of opportunities to speak out about her life living in the Playboy Mansion as one of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends, but she has been mostly mum on the topic.

In Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny, Holly tells her story. (Note: This post contains an affiliate link.)

As someone who watched The Girls Next Door E! reality show, my perception of Holly was always that she was completely devoted to Hugh Hefner and wanted to become his wife. For whatever reason, they didn’t marry, she moved out of the house, and she went on to star in Peepshow in Las Vegas, which was all documented on her reality show Holly’s World. I wasn’t really sure what happened to her after that, but she seemed to be doing well enough. I just thought she stayed quiet about her Playboy Mansion experience because she was heartbroken over Hugh Hefner marrying someone else so soon after their break-up.

I was worried that Holly would come across as whiny, bitter, and sad. But, I was pleasantly surprised. Although she is clearly speaking her own truth, which doesn’t always paint others in the book in a positive light, she seemed to be self-reflective about the mistakes that she made and the way that her choice to associate with the Playboy brand has affected her life.

I think the fact that a number of years have gone by has allowed Holly to be more honest about her experience than others who have written about their time in the mansion. I read Kendra’s book, Sliding Into Home, a number of years ago, and although I really enjoyed it, I think Holly was a lot more honest about the ups and downs of living in the mansion. Holly also had some very interesting things to say about her relationship with Kendra, but I won’t post any spoilers here!

I downloaded the book for a road trip, thinking that it would be a quick read, but it was quite substantial and I really think that I got my money’s worth! (I paid $14.99 on my Nook. This was my first Nook purchase, and I will be writing more about my experience later.)

So, who would this book be good for? This book would be good for any person who actually watched the Girls Next Door reality show series and wants to know more about life behind the scenes in the mansion. It’s also good for any person who ever wondered about what motivated Holly to live in the mansion for 7 years, or any person who is curious about her true feelings about Hugh Hefner. Fans of Alice in Wonderland will enjoy the very relevant quotes scattered throughout the book that connect back to the book’s title.

Who is the book not good for? If you are a super-devoted fan of the Playboy brand or of Hugh Hefner, then this book will make you cringe. She is brutally honest about her good and her not-so-good experiences living in the mansion. In many of her stories, readers learn some no-so-nice things about the way she was treated by Hef. I must say, though, that Holly’s version of events is very believable, even if some people don’t want to read it.

Overall, it was a very well written book that kept me interested until the very end. I was happy to hear how Holly is doing now and it was enjoyable to read her reflections. Although her situation is highly unique, I think she shares valuable lessons about life, love, money, and fame, that any person can relate to.

Click to check this book out on Amazon: Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny

Have You Heard of Dave Ramsey? Book Review | The Total Money Makeover

TMMO BookIf you’ve never heard of Dave Ramsey, then I’m happy to introduce you to his teachings. Dave Ramsey is a financial expert who specializes in helping people get out of debt. If only I had heard of Dave Ramsey prior to entering law school, I probably would not have taken out so many student loans! The The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness (affiliate link) is the follow up to Financial Peace. I have also read Financial Peace, but I found The Total Money Makeover to be a more succinct money “know-how” book when FPU is more of a “why” with a some “know-how.” There is a new “Classic” edition of the book, but I re-read my copy, which is the “Revised and Updated” edition pictured to the left.

In The Total Money Makeover, Dave Ramsey describes the 7 baby steps to take in order to achieve financial success. You don’t have to read the book to learn about the baby steps. He lists them here for free on his website: The Seven Baby Steps and I have listed them below.

The Baby Steps

  1. Baby Step One – $1000 emergency fund
  2. Baby Step Two – Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball
  3. Baby Step Three – 3 to 6 months of living expenses in savings
  4. Baby Step Four – Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement
  5. Baby Step Five – College funding for children
  6. Baby Step Six – Pay off your house early
  7. Baby Step Seven – Build wealth and give!

Dave Ramsey provides the reasoning behind each step. For example, the $1000 emergency fund is a barrier “between you and Murphy,” or a way to keep you from taking on new debt in case of “emergencies” that pop up as you are working your way out of debt. The Debt Snowball is recommended in Baby Step 2. Some financial experts recommend paying your debt off from the highest interest rate to the lowest. With the Debt Snowball, you pay your debts off smallest to largest, so that you have a number of small victories along the way. While paying off the smallest debt, you pay the minimum on your larger debts, then roll the payment over into the next largest debt for a snowball effect.

I am currently paying off my own debts using the Dave Ramsey method. It certainly works, but I have some reservations. For people who have very large debts, it would be better to have more than $1000 saved simply because it may take many years for you to work through your debts. Now, the truth is that most people don’t even have that much saved, so saving the $1000 first is better than nothing. But, for others, it can be quite scary to have only $1000 in savings. I have been following Dave Ramsey for a number of years and my understanding is that, like all things, you should evaluate your particular situation and make adjustments accordingly. For example, I am the sole breadwinner in my home and my son was ill last year. For that reason, I plan to beef up my baby emergency fund to more than $1000.

The other issue that I have with the Debt Snowball method is that I’ve found it to be hard to roll over the minimum payment. Once the small debt is paid off, I tend to want to put that money (the payment I was making toward that debt) into my budget instead of rolling it into the next debt. This isn’t a problem with the Debt Snowball concept, but more of a problem with discipline. Throughout the book, Dave encourages readers to become gazelle intense, his way of describing being so focused and motivated that you will work your way out of debt.

As far as Dave Ramsey’s writing style, this book is written on a level that makes it easy for  a wide variety of readers to comprehend. In other words, there aren’t any deep and complex financial concepts described and the average avid reader could finish this book in a day. Some parts are a bit redundant, but I think that is because Dave Ramsey is trying to drive certain points home. I would describe his approach to teaching people about debt as a sort of tough love. He tends to describe financial mistakes as being “stupid” and he makes no excuses for using debt. He does not promote credit cards, he does not support the use of student loans, and he never describes debt as a “tool.” If you are looking for a money book that will teach you how to get rich quick or how to use credit cards for “rewards,” this is not the book for you. If you are sick and tired of being in debt and need a real plan that has been followed by thousands, if not millions of people, then I would recommend Total Money Makeover. Once you are out of debt, Dave Ramsey focuses on helping you develop a fully-funded emergency fund and learning to invest. The last step is to live and give like no one else.

Once you’ve read the book, you will find a vast support network across the internet to help you work through the plan. Dave Ramsey has his own forum (it requires a subscription fee), and there are “Dave Ramsey” sub-forums on discussion boards like Frugal Village. You can also listen to Dave Ramsey’s program for free on his iHeartRadio station, and you can catch the show’s highlights on YouTube. Be forewarned, he does talk about politics from time to time and he is a devoted Christian, so Christian themes run throughout all of his programs, including his books and his radio show.

Dave Ramsey is probably the most well-known financial expert and followers of his financial teachings tend to become very devoted. Whether you agree with his methods or not, the results speak for themselves. He has had a countless number of “baby steppers” become debt free. If you are ready to make a change, a simple book like Total Money Makeover can be life changing. With the new year beginning tomorrow, now would be a great time to get started on your Total Money Makeover! How much debt can you pay off one year from now? The couple below followed Dave Ramsey’s teachings on life and money and successfully paid off $79,000 in 23 months! That’s well worth the $10.00 investment in the book. Happy New Year!

Click to purchase using my Amazon affiliate link: The The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness

 

Tracy Brown is Back! Book Review | Flirting With Disaster

flirtingwithdisasterI decided to give my brain a break from  heavy non-fiction reading on financial matters with a quick urban fiction read. I was browsing Amazon for a new title to read over the holidays and I was excited to discover that one of my favorite fiction writers, Tracy Brown, had published a new book! No, it was not another installment of the White Lines series. This is an entirely new book called Flirting with Disaster (affiliate link) with a new set of characters, led by a fearless, street-savvy heroin named Chloe.

Chloe, much like many of Tracy Brown’s previous characters is a young, beautiful woman who attracts the attention of many male suitors. Chloe knows her worth and demands lavish gifts from her male companions and isn’t quick to give up the goods. She meets a guy named Trey and shortly after they begin dating. Chloe is impressed by Trey’s good looks and generosity, but she is so distracted by their fancy dates and his many gifts to her that she fails to get to know him very well.

It turns out that Trey is not quite who Chloe thought he was. As Chloe and Trey grow closer, he becomes even more of a mystery, and Chloe eventually finds herself in a very dangerous situation. The book was definitely a page-turner. I purchased the Kindle book, currently listed at $1.99. At first, this price seemed like a bargain compared to Brown’s other titles which usually sell for $9.99 in eBook format, but after I finished the book, I understood the lower price. The book was worth the (small) investment, but it ended too quickly. At 104 pages, it is much shorter than most of her works, like Aftermath: A Snapped Novel, which is 464 pages.

The ending of the book leaves readers to believe that there will be another installment in this series and I certainly hope so. I love Brown’s suspense-filled novels and this short, but well written book, was an enjoyable thriller for only $1.99.

Check it out on Amazon: Flirting with Disaster

Payhip: A new, hip way to publish

payhip-logo-200x200Over the years, I’ve dabbled in the world of self-publishing. I’ve tried blogging in many different forms (this is my first blog and the one that I always return to), and I most recently published a book on hair care. I tried two different eBook formats – one was Kindle and the other was a PDF file. Surprisingly, the PDF file was more successful! The whole thing was made possible with the help of a service called Payhip. To put it simply, here is what Payhip is all about:

Upload & sell your ebooks directly to your fans and followers
and get paid instantly via PayPal.

Yes, it’s really just that simple! I created an account with Payhip, uploaded my PDF file (the file for my book), and set a price. I also uploaded a thumbnail image and a description to go along with the book. At first, Payhip was completely free. Recently, they started charging a small fee of 5% per transaction. This is peanuts compared to what other eBook publishers charge and I hardly noticed the difference when they implemented the fee.

So, how do you share your book and get paid? It’s easy. Once you add your eBook, you are provided with a link to your eBook page. This means that you don’t need your own website to start publishing and getting paid. You can tweet your link, or share it on your Facebook page or another form of social media. Buyers click on the link, pay for your book, and download it immediately. I’ve received only one complaint about difficulty downloading the book and I think that was an IT problem on the part of the person trying to download it. Once she contacted me, I tried to help her resolve the issue on my own. (I did not contact Payhip.) I could have sent her the PDF file directly via email, but it is rather large, as it includes pictures. So, instead, I chose to refund the money.

I like the flexibility to change the price of my book whenever I chose to and offer discount codes. Payhip also offers sales stats and saves the basic information about your customers so that you can verify who actually made a purchase and who did not in case a customer contacts you about a problem with the book. I also like the fact that changes to my book can be made easily and they are instant. This is a much different experience than the one I had when I published with Amazon Kindle. I will be writing more about that experience in a later post.

The only major downside that I can think of with publishing a PDF product through Payhip is the process of formatting the PDF so that it will be clear and readable. It took me a very long time to get my book to look the way that I wanted it to, mainly because of the included pictures. I used an application by Apple called Pages to write my eBook on my Mac. I am not as familiar with Pages as I am with Microsoft Word, so I was trying to learn the word processing application, write a book, and learn about proper eBook formatting all at the same time. My advice would be to focus on your content first, then pick a platform for eBook publishing, then format your book properly. If you have the money to cough up for help, you can always hire someone to help you. I chose to do it on my own because I had no idea how well my book would be received.

When publishing a PDF book on any platform, another valid concern is plagiarism, which includes people blatantly copying your book and selling it or giving the book away for free. Payhip helps with this concern a bit by giving you the option of having the purchaser’s name electronically stamped on his or her copy of the file. This will deter a person from passing your book around because a person is much less likely to pass around an illegal copy of your book with his or name on it.

If you are a budding self-publisher and you want to get your book out to your fans and readers quickly, you should consider Payhip. In case you are wondering, this review is not a paid endorsement. I truly just wanted to share this great service with other aspiring writers. Questions? Leave them below and I’ll try my best to help. Happy publishing!

Book Review | Ultra Black Hair Growth II by Cathy Howse

This post contains an Amazon affiliate link. 

Ultra Black Hair Growth II 2000 Edition
by Cathy Howse, details a method for retaining approximately 6 inches of hair growth in one year. Like many books that I own, I had to reread this one before the knowledge entailed within it really sunk in! I purchased this book two years ago after reading about the “Cathy Howse Method” on various  hair care websites. I read it, tried the products, and then moved on to something else. Now, that I’ve reread it, I wish that I would have stuck with it!  Although people claimed to know and share the basics of the regimen, I’m the type of person who likes to read and obtain information for myself.

So, I purchased and read the book. Although it is a short and easy read (158 pages), it contains a lot of information. As I figured, many hair bloggers were leaving out crucial details of Cathy’s hair-growing method. I would encourage any person interested in beginning her technique read her books, check out her website, and consider purchasing her products. I will talk about my experience with her products in a separate post.

Cathy Howse is a pioneer in the world of black hair care. Long before YouTube, blogs, and online hair-growing communities existed, Cathy developed what she calls “the only proven method” for growing “black” hair. Black hair refers to the hair type that most people of African-American descent have naturally – hair that is tightly coiled. Cathy advocates sticking to the following six requirements in order to grow and preserve your hair:

1) Frequent cleaning

2) Daily moisturizing

3) A conditioner that contains: protein to strengthen, oil to lubricate, and a scalp stimulant

4) Good blood circulation

5) Careful use of appliances

6) No hairbrushes

Please note that Cathy’s suggestions allow hair growers to also incorporate techniques advocated by other “methods.” For example, if one chooses not to wash her hair with sulfate shampoos, this may be easily incorporated into this method. If one chooses to wear her hair in a protective style, this can be incorporated as well because Cathy does not advocate for one style over another, as long as the style is not accomplished by doing things that damage the hair.

One of the most controversial points that Cathy makes in the book is that there is no need to trim your hair. This is controversial because for many, including hair stylists, the idea that one has to trim her hair in order to “make it grow” is deeply rooted. Cathy points out that hair grows from the root, not the ends and that hair does not split up the shaft. She does note the importance of retaining healthy ends in order to accomplish growth, but she does not advocate trimming on a schedule or, really, at all, except if one chooses to for a neat appearance.

Like I stated, this book is chock full of common sense types that apply specifically to growing the driest hair type. She also has a question and answer section on her website. The only criticism that I have of the book is the editing. There are some errors here and there grammatically, but nothing that affects the knowledge contained within the book itself. I would also like to see an update since the book was written in 2000, but you can visit Cathy’s website for update. For example, her hair is no longer relaxed. She now wears it naturally and only washes her hair once a week instead of twice.

For more details about Cathy’s hair care routine and more of her tips, visit her website! http://www.ultrablackhair.com/ubh2/

Click to purchase on Amazon: Ultra Black Hair Growth II 2000 Edition

Book Review | The Laptop Millionaire by Mark Anastasi

The Laptop Millionaire is a book that caught my eye in Barnes and Noble. I was actually searching for The 4-Hour Work Week, which is a classic book about making money online through entrepreneurship. The Laptop Millionaire is about the same thing, only it is more focused on the actual how to of making money on the internet rather than trying to sell the concept as a viable way to make a living.

The author opens with his own rags to riches story. He tells us enough to prove himself credible without harping for too long on the details of this own misfortune turned fortune. He keeps the dialogue moving and begins doling out specific tips on exactly how one can become a laptop millionaire. One of the first things that Anastasi discusses is the concept of exchanging creating value in order to get more money. This was eye-opening because it gets to the heart of how and what people pay for. People pay for things that are valuable to them, so all one has to do is begin to create value and the money will follow.

One of the reasons why I was interested in purchasing this book is because I have had an online presence via my blogging platform and on online forums for years, but I have never been able to effectively monetize my presence. Anastasi offers concrete, proven tips on how to create products, content, eBooks, and other solutions in order to generate revenue. A lot of this content is offered in bits and spurts online, but what I have discovered is that the bloggers who know the “secrets” to making money online only reveal bits an pieces. The Laptop Millionaire cost me $22.95 plus tax at Barnes and Noble and it offers enough specific tips that I don’t have to spend more time researching on the internet.

As an example, after reading the first couple of chapters of the book, I came home and wrote the first 20 pages of the eBook that I plan to sell about a niche topic. Since Anastasi tells readers what websites to utilize to generate revenue online, I don’t have to spend any more precious time searching online forums and blogs for solutions. If you are SERIOUS about making money online and turning your passion into profit,  I highly suggest that you check out The Laptop Millionaire.

First Impressions: Huetiful Hair Steamer

The Huetiful Hair Steamer caused a bit of excitement last year when it was introduced to the hair care market. The company promises that the steamer can infuse hair with moisture 5x better than conditioner alone. I was skeptical. Although I had experienced great results with a hair steamer previously, the hype surrounding this one just seemed like a bit much. Apparently, this company sent many, many hair bloggers free steamers in exchange for reviews. That is not to say that the reviews were not honest…I believe that most were; however, I do believe that many bloggers and vloggers left out crucial details about the cons of the product. Either way, it served as a great marketing scheme for the company.

A couple of years ago, I purchased a hair steamer from Salons ‘R Us, now known as LCL Beauty. I really enjoyed the steamer. It was suitable for home use, but it was salon-grade and it has a powerful steam output that really helped me maintain well-moisturized hair. I can’t remember how it died, but it did. I don’t think that I was careful enough with it. I do recall that a piece fell off here and there before it just stopped working. I was annoyed, but not pressed. I was a super-PJ at the time, so I simply moved on to the next thing!

Now that I am, again, stretching my relaxers, I have begun to notice that my hair is dry, dry, dry! I decided to look into purchasing another steamer and remembered all of the hype around Huetiful. The company offers free shipping (both ways), and a 60-day money-back guarantee. You never get that type of guarantee with salon equipment, so I decided to go for it. I plopped own the $116.95. The shipping time was really fast and I received my steamer a few days later.

The box that it came in was super-light and very well decorated. It looks like they put a pretty penny into designing the box…great marketing, once again. The first thing that I noticed was that the hood was too light. I’ve owned a number of dryers and I’ve never seen a hood so light or so shallow. There was no way that it would be deep enough for my whole head of hair to be steamed. The set up was fairly easy, but I noticed that the cup where the water is stored (which was already attached) appeared to be impossible to detach from the machine.

It took me all of three minutes to put it together and I poured water into the top to test it. It took about 2-3 minutes to produce steam. I tested the heat with my hand and noticed that it was not nearly as hot as the steam produced by my LCL beauty at-home steamer. Sigh. I tried not to get discouraged. A day later when I had time, I decided to give it a go. I washed my hair with WEN fig and 613, then lightly towel-dried with a turban towel. I applied my deep conditioner to my damp hair and added a bit oil to the conditioner. I set the steamer up, waiting for it get going and got ready for a treat.

I ended up being disappointed. There was absolutely no steam – zero, zilch, nada- getting to my nape. I mean, it was cold at the back of my head. I had my ends pinned up so that they could be steamed, but I didn’t feel the same power as I did with my previous steamer. There is no way that this steam was penetrating through my strands and I’m sure that the hair nearer to my scalp was getting zero benefit from the steaming. Another con is that the steamer height is not adjustable. I was using an adjustable-height chair, thankfully. I also noticed that the steam didn’t last long…only about 20 minutes. I usually deep condition my hair longer than that. But around the 20-minute mark, the water was boiled away and the steamer shut off.

Actually, the water was not completely boiled away. There was some still in the cup, I couldn’t figure out how to detach the cup and empty it out. The design also requires you to detach the hood to drain excess water. It’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s as tedious as it sounds. The bottom line is…I’m glad that they have a 60-day return policy.

I’ve had the steamer for about a week and I’ve used it twice. I had the same results both times. There was no noticeable difference in the moisture level of my hair following wash day and I basically feel like I’ve wasted $116 bucks. I’ll probably give it another few tries and if I don’t experience any noticeable improvement, then it’s going back to the company. I do plan to try the facial attachment out, also, and I will write about how that goes.

I also want to note that the steamer is overpriced. You can purchase a salon-grade steamer for $90-$140. Although the Huetiful does not fold, it can be stored pretty easily by detaching the hood and draining the water; however, the make of it is not very durable so you’d have to be careful with it. Huetiful might be a better choice than a salon-quality steamer for those who don’t have much space, but it should be priced at around $60 and no more than $75, tops. As a comparison, a table top hood dryer costs about $25-$50 and the Huetiful hair steamer is about the same quality. It is not a professional-use product, so it should not have a professional price tag.

Lastly, one thing that bothers me is that the company insinuates that they carefully developed this steamer. I believe that it is a mass-produced steamer that they simply branded, not developed. I found a steamer online that appears to be the exact same model, only offered by a different company and not marketed specifically to black women. As you read other reviews about the product, analyze them carefully. First, find out whether the reviewer received the product for free! Until next time…happy steaming.

How I Passed the Texas Bar Exam

Induction Ceremony Program Booklet (Austin, TX)

Disclaimer: This is what worked for me. I am not suggesting or promoting my methods or practices, or any of the programs mentioned. Although I am posting this on April 3, 2012, I took the July 2011 Texas Bar Exam and this blog post was written the day after I received my results online. I was busy looking for a job and never posted it. By the way, I got my results in November and found a job in December.

I usually don’t write too much about personal matters. I like to keep my blog about reading; however, I decided to write this post in case some other soul is out there googling “how to pass the Texas bar exam” like I was. I wanted to write this down while it was still fresh on my mind.

Yesterday, I found out that I passed the Texas Bar Exam on the first try. I was ecstatic! I tried to recall the feelings that I had over the last 3 years and 3 months. I’ve had a mix of anxiety, joy, and nervousness. I’ve had great triumphs and smalls setbacks. But, the feeling that I felt yesterday when I saw my name on that list was worth every single moment of studying, crying, being broke, worrying, living with family, traveling for conferences and law school prep, dragging heavy books around, buying $900+ laptops, and countless hours reading in the library. I’ve broken my tips down into what helped me to prepare for the bar during law school, what helped me during bar prep, and what helped me on the day of the exam.

Before Law School

I’ll keep this section brief. Before law school, I focused a lot on writing. My degree was in English and I also taught writing. Now, a lot of people think that they are good writers, but they are not. I actually enjoy writing and I focus on keeping my writing as well-organized as possible. My knowledge in the areas of grammar and punctuation are well above average (although, I do make mistakes like everyone else, especially when blogging). I am sure that this helped me immensely on the writing portions of the bar. Where my knowledge might have been lacking, my answers were succinct and easy to understand. This likely helped the graders understand my responses, at least.

During Law School

During law school, I took bar classes. This tip may seem basic, but I know that many of my friends took “fluff” classes after second year in order to pad their GPA’s. They graduated “with honors” but had not learned much law after the first year. I took harder classes, some of which dragged my GPA down, but when bar prep came around, none of the subjects were new to me.

When I started my commercial bar prep course, there was only one bar class that I had not taken, which was Oil and Gas law. The only reason that I had not taken it was because the time that it was offered conflicted with the time that I had to pick my son up from school; the following semester, it conflicted with my internship. However, had I known that it was not only “on the bar,” it was also interwoven into the Property essay questions, I would have found a way to take it.

Since I did not take Oil and Gas, I started reading a book called The Oil and Gas Primer. I started reading it during the second semester of my last year of  law school. I read the first half of the book twice. It helped me get a basic foundation; I took notes on the vocabulary at the same time.

By taking bar classes, I was able to review certain areas of the law during bar prep, instead of trying to learn them during bar prep. There is no time for that during bar prep….but, I’ll get to that.

I made detailed outlines or took detailed notes in class, or both. I saved every single handout and informative email sent by professors. I categorized them and referred to them when need be. During bar study, I referred to them because the information was often much more compact and useful than the massive amounts of information from BarBri.

During my first year of law school, I took LEEWS (http://www.leews.com/)  and started practicing that system of essay writing. It worked well for me and I used a lot of the tips that I picked up for bar essay writing. (Disclaimer: I distributed information for the company while I was in law school, but I was not paid or asked to promote it in this post.)

My school offered an MBE course, which I took. In the course, we reviewed MBE subjects and took practice exams. The practice tests were extremely useful; we were required to achieve 60% or better on each subject area. If we did not meet this barrier, we had to retest. Some of the restest questions were the same, but not all. What really helped, though, was the explanations after the test that were conducted by the professors. I should mention that this course was provided through a partnership with Kaplan PMBR. All of the professors who participated were also PMBR lecturers.

During Bar Study

I am not trying to tout my study habits during bar study. I will say up front that I was not the person who followed BarBri’s schedule, or the suggested schedule from my school 100%, or even close to it. Here is what I did and did not do:

  • I DID NOT submit practice essays to be graded by BarBri. I did not know enough law to write out essay questions during the entire bar study period. Also, I was a hand-writer and BarBri wanted typed essays submitted. This would require me to either type up my essays, or mail them to BarBri to be graded. I decided early on that that would be a waste of time (for me!). If you need essay feedback, by all means either take the time to send them to your bar prep company or bar prep tutor.
  • I DID look through several years of practice essays and during the last 3 weeks of bar study, I focused almost exclusively on writing out practice answers or outlining answers, then comparing them to model answers.
  • I DID NOT complete 2000 practice MBE questions, nor did I spend an excessive amount of time working out of the MBE books provided by BarBri.
  • I DID do hundreds (probably not thousands – I didn’t count them, but maybe 1000 or so) of practice questions using the BarBri app on my phone. I kept pace with BarBri’s suggested number of practice questions, at  least 25-30 or so a day. I read the explanations after each question and marked questions that I needed to review again. This was all done on my iPhone app. I also uploaded my scores so that I could compare my performance to others who were studying for the bar. (Remember, I started my practice MBE questions during law school).
  • I DID NOT supplement my bar study with any other program besides BarBri.
  • I DID go directly to the bar examiner’s website to pull off questions and answers because it was just easier than lugging around books.
  • I DID NOT skip any lectures! I also DID NOT always attend the live lectures. The lectures were offered on video at my school & occasionally watched them at home. When I watched at home, I sat for the entire 3 hours with no distractions – no TV or phone. I only took breaks that were scheduled within the video itself, just as I would have at a live lecture. (Let me add that I was absolutely broke during bar prep and had car problems, which was why I did not attend every single live lecture.)
  • I DID take notes in the lecture handbook for every lecture. This was vitally important to me because it meant that at least once during the summer, I was exposed to every piece of information that the lecturers thought was relevant.
  • I DID attend the BarBri essay-writing workshop. It was helpful. I also DID do the BarBri  MBE “midterm.” I scored horribly and after that, I started re-reading outlines (long outlines) in my weakest areas, like property. I did exponentially better on the real deal.
  • I DID not review each question. I didn’t have the time. I only reviewed questions that I got wrong and I only focused on areas where I did very poorly.
  • I DID NOT have a set schedule. This was good and bad. I listened to my body, took a night off when I needed to, and rested when I was exhausted. However, I would get up at 4 am sometimes to do practice questions, etc., or do them while eating dinner. I listened to my body and used my common sense, along with paying careful attention to the BarBri schedule and my suggested school schedule to make sure that I did not fall behind.
  • I NEVER did the pre-reading the night before a lecture. I never had time.
  • I DID do a practice MPT and I submitted it to BarBri; however, I had done practice MPTs for a class I took on Texas Practice (the first day of the bar exam), so MPTs were not new to me.
  • I DID NOT study with anyone else. I mean, every now and then I sat at a table with, or by, a friend but we did not study together.
  • I DID NOT fully utilize the available bar mentors at my school.
  • I DID do lots of practice MPTs during law school. I DID NOT spend time on them during bar study; during bar study, I only did one or two.
  • I DID NOT pay for the extra BarBri session specifically for Day 1 of the Texas Bar Exam. Instead, I studied bar-focused class materials on Civil and Criminal Procedure in Texas. (I had taken a whole class on preparation for Day 1 & I did go to the summer prep course offered by my teacher, who was also a Kaplan instructor.)
  • I disabled my Facebook account, but I did waste some time on Twitter.🙂

I hope this is helpful to someone. If so, please post in the comments!

The Night Before the Bar Exam
Interestingly enough, I almost missed the first day of the exam. I had it written down incorrectly and had also told my family the wrong dates. I didn’t realize the bar exam was the next day until I started getting “good luck!” text messages and emails with last-minute suggestions. Basically, I didn’t have time to be too anxious, so I relaxed and read over a long Criminal Procedure outline in preparation for Day 1. I went to bed early (9pm), and prayed. I believe I was too nervous to eat. My son spent the night at my mother’s house.
 
During the Bar Exam
 
I was a hand-writer. I was too nervous to drive, so I had planned for my sister to drive me and pick me up for all three days. On Day 1, I ate a light breakfast, but I couldn’t finish it. I was too nerved-up. I had a clear pencil pouch with my necessary supplies, entry ticket, and ID. I had my sister wait outside for a few  minutes in case I had forgotten anything.
 
Day 1
I used all of my time on Day 1. I did not talk to anyone after the exam. I went straight to the car and left. No calls, no text messages to other examinees. I did a few practice questions in Real Property, but I was mostly too tired and nervous to do anything else.
 
Day 2
My school provided lunch. I did not talk to anyone during the lunch breaks. I grabbed my lunch and laid on a park bench to rest. The weather was beautiful, not too hot. I didn’t dare go to sleep, but I relaxed deeply and even kicked my shoes off. I didn’t have a car with me, so I didn’t have one to go to. After Day 2, I was no longer a bundle of nerves. I was almost done. I spend the evening reading long outlines. I stayed up rather late, until about midnight doing rote memorization exercises so that I could recall information quickly the next day. I had to flush out all of the MBE stuff and focus on Texas-specific laws. There wasn’t much time left, though.
 
Day 3
I was really nervous about Day 3. Essay Day meant straight-memory and writing. Again, I was a hand-writer. My hand hurt a bit on Day 1 after a half-day of writing, so I figured it would be killing me on Day 3. Actually, it wasn’t that bad. I timed myself and remained as relaxed as possible. I felt okay after the morning essays I purposely left a bit early so that I could grab my lunch and study.
 
Day 3 was the only day that brought my outlines (they were left outside of the testing room, as required). I grabbed them, grabbed my lunch, and found a secluded spot. Based on the morning essays, one can predict what topics will be on the afternoon essays. So, I separated the outlines for the topics still to be tested and furiously reviewed them. The lunch break was long and it only took me about 5 minutes to eat, so I ended up getting a pretty decent extra study session in.
 
Yes, I saw others laughing and talking. Some of them, in fact, failed. I, personally, had too much riding on the exam to relax to the point of laughing and talking. I barely spoke to the people that I recognized from school, but I did speak just to be cordial. I gulped down an energy drink and, just like that, I walked back into the exam room and finished the test. I finished early and left well before time was called. I was focused on keeping my answers succinct; that is probably the main reason why I finished early, not because I was just that “good.”
 
Right After the Bar Exam
 
While waiting for my sister, a few people tried to engage me in conversation about the exam. I seriously thought that was pointless. Why stress about something that we no longer had any control over? There was also a group outside of the testing building conducting a survey about whether or not we were happy with our bar prep. My sister and I walked downtown to eat an early dinner. She says that I seemed relaxed, calm, and confident. I say that I was just glad that that it was over!
 
The worst parts of taking the actual exam were 1) timing; and, 2) waiting. You have to watch your time carefully. There were clocks provided in front of each hand-writing section that made this easier. I had worn a watch just in case. As far as waiting, I despised those who chose to type the test. They greatly outnumbered the rest of us. A good amount of all of our time was spent listening to their extra instructions and waiting for them to get “technical assistance” after each portion of the exam. I really wish that they could have been put into a separate room or something, but we were all in one huge auditorium-like setting. At least the temperature was comfortable. It was neither too hot or too cold…this is coming from someone who is chronically cold and had worn layers and socks just in case.
 
Waiting for Results 
 
I seriously forgot about the exam for the next three months…oh, that is, when people were not harassing me over whether or not I had yet received my results. I didn’t get nervous/obsessed with my status until about a week before the exam. In the meantime, I started working to get back on my feet financially and daydreaming about my future career. (I started working in temporary/part time positions, but I didn’t get a full time job until December.) I am very happy that I passed. Wait, I am beyond happy. It was seriously one of the best feelings that I have ever had in my life. Had I known what joy I would feel, I would have studied like a crazy person. I’m glad that I did what worked best for me, though.
 
I hope that those of you out there reading this will figure out what works best for you. In case you are wondering, I am not going to share my exact score. Good luck!

Book Review | Unplanned by Abby Johnson

It’s been quite a while since I posted a book review! I started a new job in December of last year and I’ve been too busy to post, but I’m back! I hope to read a book a week until the end of the year. This is very doable if I cut back on TV time! I have 3 hardback books and 4 e-books on my Kindle waiting for me to read them. But, Unplanned by Abby Johnson is a book that I read back in December.

Little did I know in December of 2011 that the topics of healthcare and abortion would come together and cause turmoil throughout the ranks of the Komen Foundation and other high-ranking organizations. Unplanned is a book that tells a riveting behind-the-scenes story of a conservative working at Planned Parenthood. Abby Johnson started out as a young volunteer and rose to rank of executive, leading a Planned Parenthood location in Texas. Her unusual participation in an abortion procedure forces her to face her internal conflicts. As a devout Christian, her job (working in a clinic that provided abortions among and other healthcare services) conflicted with her moral beliefs.

Many young women can relate to Abby’s conflict whether they have performed similar work or not.Like Abby’s real-life character in this book, I have been conflicted about my moral beliefs versus my support and patronage of Planned Parenthood. This book presents both sides.

What I enjoyed most was Abby’s candid discussion about not only her experience working at Planned Parenthood, but also her own past. She reveals some ugly truths about abortion clinics and also discusses the value of the other healthcare services provided by Planned Parenthood. In addition, she shares her own story of not one, but two, unplanned pregnancies and why she  made the choices that she did.

Lastly, Abby talks about why and how she changed her mind about working for Planned Parenthood. If I have a criticism of this book, it would be the slightly dramatized chapters in the book following Abby’s choice to walk away. Although it was a heart-wrenching decision, people quit their jobs every day. It is also fascinating that she ran away from one extreme to the other, seemingly without considering a middle ground. She went from being a staunch supporter and worker at Planned Parenthood to being strongly anti-abortion and anti-Planned Parenthood. I would have liked to see some talk about a middle-ground, an area of compromise where we can support the rights of women and the unborn at the same time…is that possible? I’m not sure, but when I put this book down, I felt inspired…of course, my beliefs align pretty strongly with Abby’s. Abby introduces readers to pro-life organizations that are less divisive. She could have simply walked away from Planned Parenthood and found another job, but instead, she chose to share her story and to use her experience as a platform to help change the lives of others.

For those looking to better understand the perspective of individuals, particularly, Christians, who work at Planned Parenthood, this would be an interesting book to read. Be fair-warned that this book is not pro-Choice. The author advocates an end to abortion because of her religious beliefs and because of the detrimental effect that abortion has on women and families. But, the way she wrote this book provides a fair perspective of both sides because, unlike many people, she has “fought the war,” from both sides. If you’ve read this book, let me know what you think! If you wouldn’t read it, let me know why not!