First of all, before I explain the controversial title, I hope everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving had a great holiday. And I hope everyone managed to resist the pull of materialism over the weekend. [I am always amazed at how quickly we turn from gratitude for what matters most in life to wanting more stuff. But, I digress.]
In my last post, I shared my habit tracker for last month, which showed that I exercised on all but three days. [Exercise is the red line on the tracker below.]
Some people probably wouldn’t notice or care how much I exercise, but other people [especially any personal training clients of mine] would be thinking But you need a rest day!!!
So, let’s talk about exercise and rest.
There are times when full rest and recovery is absolutely necessary, such as after an injury or when you are really sick [like “can’t get out of bed” sick, not the sniffles]. However, in our super-sedentary society, rest days often mean sitting on the couch and not moving all day and that is really bad for us because we all need some regular movement every day.
Which is why, I don’t do rest days.
Instead of “rest days,” I prefer the term “down days” because I’m not actually sitting on my bum all day. Instead, I’m just lowering the amount of exercise [or the intensity] for a day. So instead of running five miles and doing thirty minutes of weight training and finishing with plyometric HIIT intervals, I might walk a few miles, or hike up hill on the treadmill, or go for a family bike ride. I still choose intentional movement, but I lower the intensity and give my body some variety.
That being said, it is possible to over work your muscles and lead to damage or injury, so I do stand by a strict rest day from weight lifting to allow the muscles to heal and rebuild appropriately.
I say, ixnay the whole rest day idea to prevent ourselves from feeling like we deserve a day to be couch potatoes. There’s a lot of joy and peace and introspection and beauty and confidence, not to mention endorphins, to be found in moving our bodies [especially outdoors, surrounded by nature]. I don’t want to miss out on all that for the sake of a rest day. I want to take advantage of that every day. I need that every day.
What do you think? Am I just an overly enthusiastic cardio junkie? Lemme know.
Last month, I focused on all the health habits that I’ve been developing so far this year:
Drink more water
Quit late night snacking
In order to stay motivated and judge how well I’m doing, I decided to use a habit tracker.
When I looked around for printable tracker ideas, I found this design and immediately loved it because it’s so aesthetically pleasing—much better than a simple chart with boxes to check. I assigned each habit a color so it would [hopefully] look like a rainbow at the end.
Unfortunately, I didn’t even get the idea for a tracker until the 4th, so my first few days were…not great.
But check out how it looked at the end of the month!
Not too bad. I missed a few days here and there, but overall I’m happy with how well I maintained these goals. I definitely still need to work on consistency with yoga and eliminating “cheat nights,” but I’ve made good progress.
A caveat about my exercise habit… You might notice that I exercise every day say “don’t you need a rest day?” And the answer is yes, in theory, but no, technically. A “rest day” is a recovery day, but not necessarily a day sitting on the couch. I choose to have “down days” instead of “rest days” because I am a really active person so I don’t take days and just do nothing. I will discuss this in greater detail next week for those who are curious about it.
This month, I’m making a few changes. I’ve added more specific goals [“drink 64oz of water” instead of “drink more water”] and I’ve swapped the goals that I have mastered for new healthy habits I need to work on [“practice Spanish” for “no junk food or sweets” and read” for “floss”].
This month will be different though because I start my new job at the hospital on Monday and I will work 12 hours shifts plus an hour drive to and from work, so I doubt I will be able to get a lot of these things done on those days. We will have to see how it goes.
Does anyone else keep a tracker? Or check list? How do you keep track of goals and habits? Let me know!
We are officially in the thick of fall season, folks! And I LOVE IT!
You know how some people feel about pumpkin — pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin pie, pumpkin roll, pumpkin everything? That’s how I feel about apples — apple fritters, apple pie, apple compote, apple bread, apple cider donuts [oh my god], apple sauce, apple cider…I could go on and on….
Caramel apples, appletinis, apple crisp, apple cobbler, apple cider sangria…
Anyway, I recently bought 20 pounds of apples from my MIL who went to a local orchard to pick [she and her friend together picked over 55 pounds of apples!] so I’ve been making apple goodness for the past week.
So when my apple bread was in the oven, I surveyed the damage —which was extensive because I am very messy in the kitchen—and saw the apple scraps.
I remembered a post years ago by my absolute FAVORITE zero waste blogger at Zero-Waste Chef about using apple scraps to make vinegar. You can find her whole how-to guide here. Basically you add the scraps with some sugar and cover with water and let it sit for several weeks.
So, I decided to give it a go.
Hopefully I have made the Zero-Waste Chef proud.
[Her name is Anne-Marie Bonneau, by the way and she has a great cookbook out which I of course own, and which also contains the apple scrap vinegar recipe and a gazillion others.]
Back to the vinegar. I’ll have to let you know how it turns out. Right now it is sitting on my counter with a few other fermenting goodies like hot sauce from our home-grown hot peppers and cabbage that is hopefully on its journey to becoming sauerkraut!
What do you use the apple scrap vinegar for, you might ask? I use it in [of all places] the dishwasher because it helps the glass dishes to come out sparkly. ✨ It is also good for cleaning and gut health. So don’t waste those scraps!
A while back I mentioned that I was going to try to cut down on the amount of books that I read [particularly audiobooks] so I can be more present with my family. And true to my word, this is the shortest quarterly review I have ever done!
Let’s talk about DNFs. I’ve only heard this acronym for “did not finish” in reference to race performances, but I recently read a book blogger post about DNF books.
Confession: The old me pushed through every book I ever started no matter how painful. I simply could not leave something incomplete. However, a few years ago I read a book [ironically] that convinced me to stop finishing all the books that I’m not enjoying. So, I began DNFing [is that a word?] books.
This past quarter I DNFed [is that a word?] a record number of books. Here are all the books that almost made it on this review list, but I gave up on for one reason or another:
The Dinner by Herman Koch
Mindful Work by David Gelles
Fat Chance by Robert H. Lustig
The AnthropoceneReviewed by John Green
You, Happier by Daniel G. Amen
The Nurses by Alexandra Robbins
This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub
Unbound by Tarana Burke
Homeland Elegies by Ayad Ahktar
On Animals by Susan Orlean
How to Be Alone by Lane Moore
These books weren’t bad or anything [necessarily]. For some of them, it just wasn’t the right time. For instance, I tried to listen to Lustig’s Fat Chance on a six-hour road trip and it was just putting me to sleep. But someday I would like to read the physical book.
So what you’ve got left here are the real gems. Some of these were better than others, but they were all at least enjoyable or insightful enough for me to read all the way to the end.
The Guncle by Steven Rowley
This is a charming book that is both lighthearted and powerful. I thought it would be a fun, easy beach read — and it was fun and easy, but it also surprised me with its depth and lessons about love and loss and moving on and accepting oneself. It was really beautiful.
This was a great road-trip audiobook.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Loved this book, but I especially loved the audiobook [the extra star is for the audiobook] because Tom Hanks is an absolutely phenomenal reader [which I’m sure surprises no one]. I could listen to him read to me FOREVER! A great story about the bond between a brother and sister — and between a family and a house.
The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt
Jonathan Haidt is becoming one of my favorite authors. His books probably only appeal to people with very specific interest [such as moral psychology, politics, and ethics] and I am definitely one of those people. But everyone cares about happiness and of all the books I’ve read on the topic, this book is the best.
The Emergency by Thomas Fisher
This book was really eye-opening about how hospitals work and how underprivileged communities continue to be underserved by our health care system. It is also a very personal story of a man trying to help his community in a time of crisis. I really enjoyed it.
Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris
Truthfully, I only gave this book four stars because Dan Harris is such a funny writer. His books are very entertaining. But I didn’t enjoy this one nearly as much as I liked 10% Happier [which I LOVED]. The structure of the book seemed forced and followed the story of a meditation publicity road-trip, which I just didn’t particularly care for.
The Choice by Dr. Edith Eva Eger
Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. It is so powerful and beautiful, full of the darkest horrors and yet so full of hope and life. This is the most inspiring story with the most timeless and encouraging message I have ever read. We all suffer in some way and we all have a choice in how we will live.
“Here you are! In the sacred present. I can’t heal you—or anyone—but I can celebrate your choice to dismantle the prison in your mind, brick by brick. You can’t change what happened, you can’t change what you did or what was done to you. But you can choose how you live now. My precious, you can choose to be free.”
Dr. Edith Eva Eger, The Choice
I agree with Oprah [quoted on the cover]—I will also be forever changed by Dr. Eger’s story.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
I heard so many good things about this book from a book blogger I follow…but I just didn’t care for it. I’m not sure why. Maybe I didn’t get it. But it was at least interesting enough to finish. Or maybe I was just curious enough to keep reading.
Josie’s Story by Sorrel King
This was recommended reading for my nursing program and I thought it was another really insightful look into the hospital system. Of course, it is a heartbreaking story [and as a mom, it is my worst nightmare], but ultimately it is about improving safety in the whole system. I’m so glad I read it and I want to remember Josie when I am a nurse someday.
The Stand by Stephen King
This was my least favorite of King’s books so far. It wasn’t even bad, of course, because Stephen King is a amazing at telling a story, it was just too long. I mean, it’s a 1200 page book and I felt like the story could have been told in half that many pages. I realize this is the expanded and uncut edition, but I kind of wish I had read the original shorter version because I think this one was just excessive with the details. I also felt like there were missed opportunities to create some really cool “ah-ha!” moments, but…who am I to tell Stephen King how to write a book.
Overall, I liked the story and I enjoyed the characters and as always, I am in awe of this man’s ability to write such sweeping novels.
As always, share your book recommendations in the comments! I love to read books that other people have enjoyed.
And I’ve been enjoying lots of quality time with my kids and my handsome man [who now works from home!] since I withdrew from grad school [a story for another day]…
So, I’ve been staying busy and not posting, but now I’m ready to update you on my monthly goals.
Starting in January of this year, I chose a new health goal to focus on for each month.
January = no added sugar
February = a salad every day
March = practice more yoga
April = no alcohol
May = no more cheat days
June = drink more water
July = start meditating
I skipped August altogether because I was so stressed over school and so this month I decided to refocus on ALL of the goals. Yep, that’s right, no added sugar, no alcohol, no cheating, more salad, more yoga, more water, and more meditation. And, honestly, it’s been a great month so far. I feel great. I have lots of energy. I’ve been training for a marathon [not sure which marathon at this point]. I’ve been making strength gains. I finally feel like I’m getting back to my old self [the self before I had two surgeries…and almost back to my old self before I had four babies].
So, anyway, I’m not adding any more new goals, but I am taking suggestions for later this year. Anyone making mid-year health resolutions?? Lemme know!
It’s been a while…but I’m back for the moment to tell you about a salad dressing I made that has practically no calories at all. [To be technical, all four ingredients in this dressing have 0 calories on the label, but there very well may be a trace calorie or two 🤷♀️.]
Look, finding salad dressings that are even low calorie is a challenge, so this, my friends is a near miracle. The only catch is, in order to like this dressing, you’ll need to love hot sauce…
I’m going to tell you all about it, but first, a rant about salads…
I have been extolling the virtues of salads since I began this blog five years ago. [In fact, I just searched through google photos for a picture of salad and I think I actually have more photos of salads than I have of my own face.] Personally, I eat a fresh vegetable salad almost every day. The only problem with a salad [besides potentially out of season and pesticide ridden produce] is the calorie bomb usually found in the dressing.
For the past ten years, I have eaten my salad with oil and vinegar or a squeeze of fresh lemon. And that is all well and good, but if I want to load my salad with chick peas and avocado AND a tablespoon of EVOO [120 kcals, btw], well, that adds up. So, sometimes I want something a little lighter and I’ll tell you all about it, but first, a caveat about extra virgin olive oil.
I am in NO WAY saying that EVOO is unhealthy or that you shouldn’t eat it. Quite the contrary. Extra virgin olive oil is wonderful for you — especially when it’s high quality and cold pressed and drizzled onto a fresh veggie salad [or drizzled raw on anything really]. So adding it to salad is a healthful and filling choice [due largely to the healthy fats in EVOO]. In fact, you can add that drizzle of olive oil right along with this salad dressing if you wish.
I personally, consume A LOT of olive oil and use it in many, many dishes. So sometimes I skip it in my salad. No biggie.
Now, on to the salad dressing…but first, the story of my inspiration.
Story of Inspiration
I was riding my stationary bike in the basement the other day and following along on an absolutely BRUTAL HIIT ride with my favorite Peloton coach, Robin Arzón, when she said “I use hot sauce for salad dressing.” She was meaning this metaphorically, I think, since hot sauce is her favorite analogy for ridiculously high resistance on the exercise bike, but I thought to myself…I would like to have hot sauce as a salad dressing. That sounds delicious.
I finished the ride first, but then I immediately googled “hot sauce salad dressing recipe.” Nada. I mean, I found some spicy Mayo recipes [that ain’t going to work] and I found some spicy honey mustard recipes [nope], but nothing like what I was looking for. I wanted something that tasted like Franks RedHot, but was not just plain ol’ RedHot, which would maybe be a little too spicy even for me. [And ya’ll, I LOVE spice.]
So, then I went into my kitchen and did a little mixing magic and voila! A hot sauce salad dressing.
None of these measurements are exact because mixing magic does not involve measuring things. Just throw some of these ingredients into a jar and shake. If you no likey, add some more of this or that and try again.
Ingredients: mustard, vinegar, hot sauce, lime juice.
Generally speaking, the ratio I use is about 2 parts mustard to 1 part vinegar [I’ve tried rice vinegar, white wine vinegar and red wine vinegar so far]. Then I add enough hot sauce to make it SPICY [and to prevent it from tasting like just mustard] and a few splashes of lime juice. Too spicy, add more lime juice. Too thin, add more mustard. Too thick, add more vinegar. Adjust per your personal tastes.
I for one LOVE hot sauce. I have been putting it on [or in] every savory thing I eat— except salads and I don’t really know why. I love this dressing so much and the fact that it happens to have no calories is just a bonus.
Alright, so if you like heat, try it out and lemme know what you think.
In April, because of being in school and having to read chemistry, microbiology and anatomy, I spent my fun reading time mostly on fiction, which provided a much needed mental break. I don’t know what came over in me in May [maybe because of the semester ending and summer break ahead], but I read exclusively non-fiction. And then I started reading less in June in order to focus more on giving my attention to my kids. All that to say, hopefully this review post won’t be as long as they usually are.
Let’s get started…
Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich
Loved it. I haven’t seen the stage production or the movie [I intend to see both eventually] but for me the book was a good place to begin, even though it came after the Broadway hit. And, I’m happy to say, it did not disappoint. I listened to the audiobook, which was read by three people — Ben Levi Ross, Mike Faist, and Mallory Bechtel — and was really good.
Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
After reading [or rather listening to] Ready Player One, I was very interested in this sequel, but I was a little doubtful that it would stand up against its predecessor. The first book was such a fun adventure and very unique [at least to me], that I didn’t know how he could do it again. In the first book, the contest had been won and the hero was enjoying the spoils…I mean, what could happen next?
Well, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but Cline manages to come up with another great nail-biting story. Is it as good as the first? Nope. Pretty much impossible. But it is definitely really, really good.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
I’m not sure I quite understood the point of this novel and I felt like I just kept waiting for something surprising, or some sort of resolution at the end — but it never came. Though it was an enjoyable read and I actually flew through it [I think because I kept anticipating something exciting happening], I don’t really recommend it because of the disappointing [or non-existent] ending.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This is a beautiful and powerful novel. I listened to the audiobook which was read by Zach Appelman and it was fantastic, but I do wish that I had read the physical book because I felt like some of the small details were lost on me. Maybe I was distracted at times, or perhaps all the back and forth in time with dates and such made it harder for me to keep track, but regardless, I recommend the physical book. But it obviously didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize for no reason.
You Deserve Better by Tyler Cameron
Confession time: I watch The Bachelor and The Bachelorette and even Bachelor in Paradise. So, I know of Tyler Cameron from The Bachelorette and when I saw he had written a book, I thought it would be interesting.
It kind of felt like he got this book deal because during his season people were calling him some sort of “feminist icon.” Which is just ridiculous. He made one comment during the season about Hannah being allowed to sleep with whoever she wants to [or something like that] and all the women went gushing about this handsome hunk who understands women’s rights. He doesn’t ya’ll. He might be a nice guy [or nicer than most guys] but he’s no hero for women.
Besides that, when I looked through my list of books that I had read, I couldn’t even remember what this book was. So, I definitely don’t recommend it.
Under the Dome by Stephen King
I love Stephen King. This book was masterful. It’s just so…HUGE. I don’t know how he manages to write these really big novels. This one doesn’t span as much time as 11/22/63 and it’s not a horror like The Shining, but it does have some messed up stuff in it, so its not for the faint of heart. But I loved it. I would get up at 5am just so I could have an hour of uninterrupted time to read it. And I read the physical book which was a pleasure in and of itself.
I have two more Kings on my shelf to read and I can’t wait.
Run Like a Pro by Matt Fitzgerald and Ben Rosario
Oh man, it’s been a LONG time since I’ve read a book about running. In fact, it’s been a long time since I took my own running seriously. But this book did give me that itch…if you have ever run a race, you might know what I’m talking about — that itch to see how fast you can go, how far you can go, how much you can handle. I used to love that about running.
Anyway, this book was great. I’m trying to get Brett to read it. It breaks down training, recovery, nutrition, etc and explains how the pros do it. If you are a runner, this is really helpful, practical stuff. And there are drills and training plans included. I have actually added the physical book to my Amazon wishlist because I want to own a copy and re-read it occasionally.
No Drama Discipline by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
I read this book because I had enjoyed The Whole-Brain Child so much. Unfortunately, it repeated a lot of the same information and also overlapped with other parenting books I have read like Now Say This. And this one didn’t make it into my list of Top 5 Parenting books [which you can find here]. I still love Siegel’s scientific [neuroscientific, to be exact] approach to parenting and found a lot of the information in this book and The Whole-Brain Child to be fascinating, especially as I was studying anatomy and physiology and psychology at the time of reading.
The Foie Gras Wars by Mark Caro
Honestly, I’m still in shock that I read a whole book about foie gras [not to mention my surprise that such a book even exists]. Despite living in the Chicago suburbs for 14 years, I was totally unaware of the “war” surrounding this French delicacy. In truth, I didn’t even know a thing about foie gras — other than that it is some kind of fancy food I can’t afford to eat — and I had to look up the pronunciation [“fwah grah” you’re welcome].
The book turned out to be very entertaining and surprisingly complex, as Caro weighed in on the fight between animal rights activists and celebrity chefs. And, even more surprising, it rather becomes a discourse on reclaiming responsibility as a society for the foods that we produce, sell and consume. Of course, Caro, ever the journalist, doesn’t exactly take a side on the debate [and if he leans one way, it is definitely towards the consumption of foie gras], but I appreciate hearing the truth from someone who is not on the bankroll of either side. I’m sure it will surprise no one that I won’t be eating foie gras [besides the fact that I have never been, nor will likely ever go, to the kinds of establishments that serve foie gras] since I’m not a big fan of eating any animals, even those who have not been force-fed. But, it doesn’t hurt to read a book like this to be reminded that, in the very least, we have a responsibility to know what we put in our mouths.
My other favorite quote that I can’t help but include:
“…The popular image of animal-rights activists is radicals who splash red paint on fur-clad women and otherwise would rather provoke than persuade. In some cases the shoe fits, but other times that association becomes a convenient crutch for the unconverted. We want animal-rights activists to be crazy because we don’t want them to be right.”
Mark Caro, The Foie Gras Wars
I don’t consider myself an activists…more like a subtle dissenter. If you come to have dinner at my home, I won’t serve you meat [though possibly some cheese, if I happen to have any], but we won’t make a big show of it. You may not even notice the omission.
This is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan
I, once again, have to take beef with Pollan’s title here. I find it misleading. The book isn’t really a scientific discourse on how certain plants affect the mind, but is rather a recounting of Pollan’s personal experience trying three different drugs: opium, caffeine, and mescaline. Maybe it should be titled, This is My Mind on Three Plants, which would be more accurate and actually more clever since it’s mostly his personal opinions and experiences.
But don’t get me wrong. I love Pollan. Always have. I’ve read nearly every book he’s written. And this is really interesting information about these three drugs. However, I disagree with his anecdote of the one drug on the list that I have extensive personal experience: caffeine. Of course, that doesn’t mean that he’s wrong. His experience is his experience. But I think it is safe to say that his experience does not account for the full range of human experience possible on these drugs. Maybe he didn’t mean that…except that he literally titled the book, This is YOURMind on Plants.
Anyway, I found the book entertaining–especially about his attempt at growing illegal poppy plants in his backyard.
Give and Take by Adam Grant
In Give and Take, Adam Grant basically takes the old adage “’tis better to give than to receive” and applies it to business, arguing that “givers” actually get ahead in an area where most people believe “takers” will be more successful.
“This is what I find most magnetic about successful givers: they get to the top without cutting others down, finding ways of expanding the pie that benefit themselves and the people around them. Whereas success is zero-sum in a group of takers, in groups of givers, it may be true that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
Adam Grant, Give and Take
This book provides plenty of evidence that giving is the fastest path to happiness, success and personal well-being. I especially loved the overlap with Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and Angela Duckworth’s Grit and how all of these ideas tie together to provide a cohesive picture of what is ideal in so many [if not all] aspects of life.
In my own life, I have found that giving [particularly financially] is a tremendous source of happiness–much greater than spending money on myself. Grant agrees and provides evidence that this is true.
“Most people think they’d be happier spending the money on themselves, but the opposite is true. If you spend the money on yourself, your happiness doesn’t change. But if you spend the money on others, you actually report become significantly happier…Economists call it the warm glow of giving, and psychologists call it the helper’s high.”
Adam Grant, Give and Take
I highly recommend this book, particularly for business people, but really for anyone who wants to know the how and why of giving more than receiving. This book is a balm to our selfish souls.
Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman
This parenting book repeated a lot of the typical advice…however with a side of sexism that, quite frankly, pissed me off. I thought there were some good things in here, however they can all be found in other books that don’t encourage stereotypical gender roles, or explain them as “nature.”
On the whole, I didn’t hate the book, but I don’t recommend it either.
Do Nothing by Celeste Headlee
I loved this book about doing nothing. Of course, I’m about to enter the busiest season of my life as I return to school full-time + clinical rotations in the fall, but as I wrote about in a previous post, this book helped me to scale back some areas of my life that were running me ragged. And it taught me the importance of play and leisure time. As a result, I’ve enjoyed taking time this summer to relax with my family, and I’m not going to punish myself for it.
“In many ways I think we’ve lost the sight of the purpose of free time. We seem to immediately equate idleness with laziness but those two things are very different. ‘Leisure’ is not a synonym for ‘inactive’ – idleness offers an opportunity for Play, something people rarely indulge in these days.”
Celeste Headlee, Do Nothing
Brett actually took a lateral position instead of a vertical one recently because he doesn’t want to work more hours and miss out on any more living. This is a choice that I think way too few people make. Just because upward seems to be the best way to go, doesn’t mean it is, if it is costing you hours with your family, sleep, hobbies, simple pleasures, vacation time or anything else that brings you joy. Of course, some people love their jobs or consider their careers a “calling” and so get a lot of joy out of the rat race. But, for most of us rats, we should work a little less, and play a little more.
Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough
This audiobook was recommended by People Magazine, because part of it is read by Cate Blanchett, and I must say, she does a great American accent and is an excellent reader [of course, that surprises absolutely no one].
Besides the reading, I appreciated the book for the unique perspective Hough provides as a lesbian, ex-military, cult survivor. It’s entertaining, but in a kind of sad way. And strangely, her upbringing in the Family cult is not all that different from my own upbringing in Protestant Christianity–minus all the sex stuff, of course.
There are a lot of great quotes in this book, but here are two of my faves:
“If there’s a useful side effect of homophobia, it’s that most people who find gays abhorrent find it rude to assume someone’s gay, despite all obvious signs… It’s not gaydar. It’s the ability to see reality without the constraints of judgment.”
Lauren Hough, Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing
“I didn’t accept abuse. I expected it, welcomed it. It’s the lesson not only of asshole step-dads or cults, but also evangelical Christianity. You’re nothing without a relationship with Jesus. You’ll take anything; form a healed flu virus to a pretty flower as evidence your love is reciprocated. Shit luck is the devil testing you, or punishment for sin because a loving god hits you sometimes. He hurts you because he loves you, to teach you, to make you better. Or he had a bet with the devil (see the entire book of Job).”
Lauren Hough, Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing
Grit by Angela Duckworth
This is a great book about developing passion and perseverance, the recipe to create “grit” according to Angela Duckworth. We need both to find and pursue our life’s purpose.
“Without effort, your talent is nothing more than unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t.”
Angela Duckworth, Grit
I really appreciated that she also addresses how to develop grit in our children, which is something really important to me and, I assume, all parents who want to see our children succeed in the things that matter most to them.
Arms Wide Open by Patricia Harman
I was drawn to this book because it is the memoir of a midwife [which is my ultimate career goal] so I thought it would be interesting. It definitely was interesting, but was a lot less about midwifery and a lot more about hippies and communes in the 60s and 70s. I was quite surprised to learn about hippie life from an actual hippie. It didn’t sound appealing to me. Everyone running around naked, sharing partners, no running water, watching each others’ kids [ok, that part sounds pretty nice]. Brett often teases me saying that I want to live on a commune, which did sound idyllic to me at one time–before I read this book. But it was a different time back then and I like how honest Harman is about it.
“TV and movies portray hippies and protestors as kids going crazy with love and drugs, but in reality there was pain everywhere. Pain, on our families’ parts, when they lost their children to a world they didn’t understand. And pain, on our part, when our parents rejected us for not believing what they believed and not wanting to live as they lived.”
Patricia Harman, Arms Wide Open
Well, I can definitely relate to that.
Entitled by Kate Manne
In the beginning, I was a little put off by Manne’s formal tone. It came across overly harsh for some reason. After all, I have a feminist husband and Brett is exceptional at balancing the sexist scales for me. But, by the end, I was used to the almost academic writing style and agree with the majority of her assessment of sexism’s affect on women.
“Entitled tackles a wide range of ways in which misogyny, “himpathy,” and male entitlement work in tandem with other oppressive systems to produce unjust, perverse, and sometimes bizarre outcomes. Many of these stem from the fact that women are expected to give traditionally feminine goods, such as sex, care, nurturing and reproductive labor to designated, often more privileged men, and to refrain from taking traditionally masculine goods such as power, authority and claims to knowledge away from them.”
Kate Manne, Entitled
The book breaks down the things that men feel entitled to receive from women: love, sex, nurturing, childcare, motherhood, free labor, etc. Even I wanted to come to the defense of men at several points, thinking to myself, surely not all men. But I had to recognize that this was my own case of “himpathy” – a term I had never heard used before but which I now LOVE and recognize EVERYWHERE.
“Recall that ‘himpathy,’ as I construe it, is the disproportionate or inappropriate sympathy extended to a male perpetrator over his similarly or less privileged female targets or victims in cases of sexual assault, harassment and other misogynistic behavior.”
Kate Manne, Entitled
If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone defend a man in the case of sexual misconduct, so help me I’d be so frickin rich right now.
And it turns out that I had my own [incorrect] ideas about what I owe to Brett. Even the very common belief that you better give your husband sex or he will cheat on you is so ludicrous. Let the asshole cheat on you, ladies. He ain’t worth it.
I wish more people would read this book…but they would have to have an open mind, because sexism runs deep in all of us, even women.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
I loved this book. Such a great story told in such a fascinating way…or rather a fascinating story, told in a completely standard sequential way…either way, a wonderful book. The characters are developed so well. I’ve even taken away a common catch-phrase of the protagonist’s mother. “Needs must.”
I highly recommend it.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
This is the most complex story of race and class I’ve ever read. This one story contains so much discourse on American life right now that…quite frankly, it’s hard to describe it. It breaks down so many stereotypes, which is what I think I like the most about it. The characters don’t fit into the typical type-casted roles that you would expect.
We need more books like this one.
Raising Good Humans by Hunter Clarke-Fields
Love, love, love this book because it is the first parenting book that actually provides a legit recipe for keeping your cool so you can use all the excellent parenting tools you know you should be using. This is similar to How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids by Carla Naumburg, but goes a step further and provides specific mindfulness meditation exercises. Maybe a few years ago I wouldn’t have been receptive to the idea of meditation, but in the past few years I’ve read several excellent books on the topic and even wrote a research paper on the health benefits of meditation for my psychology course, and I have been totally convinced of it’s effectiveness, even importance, for everyone, but especially parents.
“So mindfulness meditation is intentionally training our attention to be in the present moment, nonreactive, and nonjudgmentally curious. Mindfulness is a quality we are aiming for; mindfulness meditation is the tool for building that quality in ourselves.”
Hunter Clarke-Fields, Raising Good Humans
Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica
This was another recommendation by People Magazine [I don’t actually read the magazine, but my MIL has a subscription and I rip out the book recommendation from each issue], and I liked it….but there were some things I didn’t like. Overall, it was a good book.
There are some plot surprises, but also some plot holes. I was surprised at the end, but that’s only because there was absolutely no indication throughout the book and, to me, that felt a bit like cheating. I don’t like when it’s so obvious that I can figure out the “whodunnit,” but I also don’t like it when the answer is so hidden that it doesn’t even come across as plausible. What can I say? I’m picky about my mysteries…
In the end, I still think it was a good book.
I think this may be my last book review for a while. I hope to still do some fun reading, but I can’t really tell how busy I will be when school starts in the fall and I doubt I’ll have time to post much at all. I graduate [IF I graduate] in May 2024…so, see ya then!
“Suppose you read about a pill that you could take once a day to reduce anxiety and increase your contentment. Would you take it? Suppose further that the pill has a great variety of side effects, all of them good: increased self-esteem, empathy, and trust; it even improves memory. Suppose finally, that the pill is all natural and costs nothing. Now would you take it?
The pill exists. It is meditation.”
Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis
Did anyone think my daily pill was going to be a multivitamin??? Nope! This month, I’m focusing on developing a mindfulness meditation practice.
In the past year, I’ve ready many books that encourage regular meditation. These are my favorites:
10% Happier by Dan Harris
The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the late Desmond Tutu
Raising Good Humans by Hunter Clarke-Fields
and now I am in the middle of The Happiness Hypothesis by my absolute favorite social psychologist [and quickly becoming my favorite author], Jonathan Haidt.
The titles of these books give hints as to why I want to meditate regularly, but I also just wrote a paper for my General Psychology course about the health benefits of meditation and there are SO MANY reasons to meditate. Meditation can improve your mental and physical health! It can lower blood pressure, improve sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, help with mental cognition such as retaining memory, alleviate chronic or clinical pain, and help treat addictions! Meditation is powerful stuff.
Of course, when I call it “the happiness pill,” I’m not insinuating that it makes you immediately happy in that sort of superficial, smiley, “today’s a great day!” kind of way. Meditation works in a more subtle and much deeper way to cultivate a sense of contentment and inner happiness. A better word for it might be “joy” such as the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu describe in The Book of Joy.
Meditation works because our lives are dependent upon our perceptions. I don’t want to get overly philosophical [or overly scientific], but everything we experience and feel and even remember is filtered through our brains. This has never been so apparent to me as it was while I was studying anatomy this past semester. Our brain interprets everything and that interpretation is based on what is already inside our minds and that interpretation affects future interpretations. Everything is filtered through a lens [or schema, if you want the psychology term] and what most people don’t realize is that we can change the lens through meditation.
“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind.”
I don’t know if I explained that right or if it made any sense. If you’re curious about meditation, here’s a New York Times article by David Gelles [who also wrote the book Mindful Work] about why and how to meditate: “How to Meditate”.
My goal is to spend 10 minutes in mindful meditation four days a week. I actually started a few weeks ago, with just five minutes of meditation in the morning before the kids get up. It is harder than I anticipated — especially at 5am, where my brain doesn’t want to wander so much as fall back asleep! But I am determined to keep at it.
In other news, we are half-way through 2022 and real talk ya’ll—these monthly health goals are CHANGING MY LIFE! I am not kidding. If you’ve ever wanted to make some changes, I HIGHLY recommend this monthly approach. It is just enough time to solidify new habits and by tackling them one at a time, I never get overwhelmed. So far this year, I’ve kicked the late-night snacking habit, cut back on alcohol, gotten back to my daily yoga practice, increased my water intake, and started serving a salad at [nearly] every dinner! I am so excited about the second half of the year!
Over the years, I’ve read a lot of parenting books in a never-ending attempt to become the best parent I can be. Some books have been amazing, others have been so terrible I couldn’t even get past the first chapter. Some have been life-changing [like the one that said I don’t have to finish every book I pick up, which is why I stopped reading some parenting books mid-chapter] and some have been only minimally helpful.
Of course, whether a books is “good” is totally subjective. I’m not trying to say that I am some authority on the topic [or even on books in general], but I will tell you the kind of parent I want to be, and that should give you an idea of the types of parenting books that I appreciate the most.
The Parent I Want to Be
When I had kids, I knew one thing for certain: I didn’t want to raise my kids the way I was raised. And, initially, that was the extent of my thoughts about it. I knew I didn’t want an authoritarian, “my way or the highway” approach that demanded immediate, unquestioning obedience from my kids, and I didn’t want to dole out humiliating corporal punishment for disobedience, disrespect, or even questioning authority. [I knew by the time my firstborn was one-year-old that I was absolutely against spanking.]
Don’t get me wrong. My parents loved me very much. They would probably be appalled to read what I wrote above. They would insist that they had done what was right…not to mention what their religion told them was the only way to rear a child. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” and all that ancient bullshit. But, hitting a child is still hitting a child, no matter how good one’s intentions. And regardless of who is “right,” that’s just never going to be my parenting style.
I want more than just obedience, I want a relationship with my kids — one built on love, respect and trust that is mutual. I want my kids to trust and respect me because I’ve earned it. I want my kids to question my rules and decisions because I’m not always right. I want my kids to be a part of solving problems and finding solutions because I believe they are capable. When they grow up, I want them to say, “My mom’s my best friend.” I want them to call me if they’ve had too much to drink at a party. I want them to come to me for advice when they’ve messed up and know that I won’t punish or threaten or even judge them. I will love them.
But, heck, I’m a mom of four kids [ages seven and under]…and so I also need cooperation. I can’t just let them do whatever they want. I have to have some order, some structure, some firm guidelines. Sometimes I just need my kid to put on her frickin shoes so we can leave. But the only way I knew how to get kids to behave themselves was the way that my parents did it with me: through fear, threatening, and hitting.
So, I had to read some books. Turns out, there are non-violent, non-threatening, non-authoritarian ways to get kids to behave themselves. This is the path I have chosen.
In the end, all I’m really trying to do is raise competent, compassionate, independent adults. That’s really it. If they grow up and become these things — kind to others, capable of contributing to the world and taking care of themselves — then that’s a win in my book. And if I can teach them to do that without instilling fear, using intimidation, or teaching them that it’s the right of the powerful to strong-arm the weak, then that’s how I want to go about it.
I have definitely not arrived, but these five books have helped me tremendously on my way to calm, compassionate, mindful parenting.
Top 5 Parenting Books [Best to Very Best]
#5. How To Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids by Carla Naumburg
First of all, this book is hilarious. Well, it’s hilarious for parents. If you don’t have kids, I’m not sure you’ll get the humor. [But if you don’t have kids…why are you reading about parenting books anyway? 🤨]
In How to Stop Losing Your Sh*twith Your Kids, Naumburg gives the BEST tip to prevent your kids from pushing your buttons [and you know those grubby little fingers are always reaching for buttons]—make your buttons harder to push! It’s so simple and yet so BRILLIANT!
“Many parenting books focus on how to get kids to stop with all the pushing already. While it is technically your job as a parent to teach your children to keep their hands to themselves, both literally and figuratively, this is not the best tactic for managing your shit. Do you really want to hinge your sanity on the behavior of someone who licks the walls and melts down over the shape of toast? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Fortunately, there’s a better plan.
Carla Naumburg,PhD How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids
This book basically taught me that to be a good parent I have to be good to myself, as well.
#4. Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne
I was reading this book while I was in the process of becoming a minimalist for my own reasons and I learned that simplicity is just as important for my kids as it is for me. All the struggles I was having with consumerism and clutter and excess and wastefulness and feeling hurried and glorifying busy and losing creativity and being stressed…all of that affects kids too. [Maybe even more so.]
This book helped me with intentionally structuring our family life and thinking through all the things I want for my kids and, more importantly, all the things I don’t. If it hadn’t been for this book, I think I would have been swept up in middle class American family life—filling my house with cheap plastic toys, allowing screens to babysit my kids, constantly trying keep them entertained, dragging them from one program to the next, and ultimately missing out on the joy, beauty, and wonder that simplicity fosters.
Instead, I learned that I had to be intentional about making space for my kids to be kids.
“Children need time to become themselves–through play and social interaction. If you overwhelm a child with stuff–with choices and pseudochoices–before they are ready, they will only know one emotional gesture: More!”
Kim John Payne, Simplicity Parenting
#3. The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
The Whole-Brain Child helped me to better understand my children’s developing brains which it built on all the great advice I learned from Now Say This [the next book on the list]. For instance, there is no point in trying to reason with a toddler in the middle of a meltdown because their “upstairs brain” has been hijacked by their “downstairs brain” — their strong emotions. So, instead I “connect, then redirect.”
A lot of the actual parenting advice is the same as in other books, [including the “connect, then redirect” tip above] but it makes a lot more sense when given with the context of what is physiologically happening inside your child.
“It’s also crucial to keep in mind that no matter how nonsensical and frustrating our child’s feelings may seem to us, they are real and important to our child. It’s vital that we treat them as such in our response.”
Daniel J. Siegel, The Whole-Brain Child
The book also has helpful cartoons to illustrate these concepts for your kids [or in my case, my partner, since he refuses to read any books].
#2. Now Say This by Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright
Now Say This has been my favorite parenting book for YEARS. I’ve read it multiple times and I intend to read it many more times before my kids are grown. [It was just recently moved to my second favorite by another book, but I’ll get to that in a minute.]
This book helped me understand my kids on a deeper level and marked the beginning of my long journey toward more skillful communication. I learned how to accept my kids’ feelings without condoning their actions. I learned how to see the underlying need my child was expressing, rather than just seeing them as being difficult and disobedient. I learned how to sit with my kids through their big feelings so they would know that I won’t shame or isolate them for having emotions. I learned how to stop threatening, accusing and punishing my kids. [I still do all of these things sometimes, which is why this is an ongoing practice and I re-read this book frequently.]
This three-step method of handling behavioral issues [or any issues at all] has become the backbone for how I communicate with my kids [and even my partner] – though I am still far from perfect at it. First, I attune to my kids’ feelings. Then I set the limit. And then we problem-solve together. This shows my kids that I care about how they feel [even about trivial things like the color of their plate] but that there are limits to how we can behave [we don’t throw our plate because it is not yellow] and I am open to suggestions of how to solve the problem [you can have that plate tomorrow, maybe?].
Ya’ll, this process works! I have seen it in my family. But like all things worth doing, it also takes a lot of work. It’s definitely not an instant, miracle cure for all parental aggression. But, trust me, it really works.
#1. Raising Good Humans by Hunter Clarke-Fields
I just finished reading Raising Good Humans and it has surpassed my previous parenting favorite [Now Say This] because this is the first parenting book that makes mindfulness a priority. The first part of the book is dedicated solely to the work we must do on ourselves before we can even hope to change our responses in heated moments.
This was the key I was missing from all the other parenting books that tell you to speak softly and get down on your child’s level and give them a hug and say with empathy, “I see that you are really upset about that” — when all I have the emotional fortitude to do is scream and storm off to my room. How the heck am I supposed to put all this great parenting advice to good use when my nerves are frayed and I’m low on sleep and high on caffeine and hanging on to my sanity by a thread?!?
The answer is mindfulness meditation.
Meditation may sound daunting [or maybe even ridiculous] to people first considering it, but I’ve read many books about meditation over the years and I am totally convinced in the benefits of a regular meditation practice. I just haven’t started it…til now.
This book shows how mindfulness meditation is necessary for skillful parenting because it calms down the emotional waves inside ourselves, allowing us to be there in a calm, nonjudgmental way for our kids.
Guys, this is a game changer.
I’m going to write more about it next week because [surprise, surprise] my health goal for July is to prioritize a regular meditation practice.
Honorable Mention: Parenting Beyond Belief
I have to mention Parenting Beyond Belief, which is actually a collection of essays from secular parents about how they handle religion and ideas about god with their children. As I was in the process of leaving the religion I was raised in, this book was an absolute life saver.
It IS possible to raise kind, compassionate, moral kids without god or religion. If you want to try it, I recommend this book.
Let’s face it, parenting is tough. Parenting intentionally is even more tough. It takes a lot of work and effort and practice…and in my case, reading.
All of these books have impacted my parenting in big ways and I highly recommend all of them. I’ve tried many, many times to get my partner, Brett, to read these books, but he won’t [books are not his thing]. So, maybe I’ll have better luck convincing one of you that these books are worth reading.
Final word of encouragement to all parents out there: you don’t have to raise your kids the way you were raised. You can find your own way. It may even be a better way.
You are not going to believe this, but I’m making it a point to read fewer books for the second half of 2022. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but…I’ve been reading too much.
Ironically, it’s the books I’ve been reading that have led me to this conclusion. Books like Do Nothing by Celeste Headlee and Raising Good Humans by Hunter Clarke-Fields.
Although these two books have very different intentions, they both helped me to realize that I am glorifying busy and missing out on important interactions with the world around me—especially my kids. In other words, I’m not being present.
Reading isn’t my only vice in this regard, but it is a major contributor.
For every mundane task [fold laundry, vacuuming, chopping vegetables, washing the dishes] I just pop in my headphones and listen to a book. A book makes all of these chores WAY more enjoyable. However, I get really irritated if my kids interrupt me, I often get distracted from what I’m doing [I once dumped cinnamon into my stuffed pepper casserole instead of cumin], and, in general, I miss out on being present in the moment, costing me precious moments that I could be spending talking to my kids, listening to their stories, playing “kitty and owner” [the current favorite game of my four-year-old]. This, I believe is bad for my brain and bad for my family and especially bad for my relationship with my kids.
It won’t be hard to do less fun reading since I will start my masters in nursing in August [which is estimated to be a 60+ hour per week time commitment]—though my school reading will increase significantly—but that makes my time with my kids all the more precious. It is even more important that I spend the time I have with them actually focused on them, not in my head about my to-do list, or meal planning, or appointments that need to be made, or phone calls that need to be returned. But in order to silence all that noise in my head [the “emotional labor” of the household as Kate Manne calls it in her book, Entitled], I have to practice being present.
So, I’ve been really trying lately to take out the earbuds, put down the book, and be more invested in what’s going on around me. I don’t know if my kids have noticed a difference, but I hope in the long run, they will think of me as being attentive, involved, good at listening, and always interested in what they want to share with me.
[I’m not giving up all fun reading, however. I still get up at 5am to spend a quiet hour meditating and reading, and I will definitely be listening to audiobooks on my road-trips this summer because that’s the best way to pass time in the car. 👍]
Since this is my last summer before I start my full-time schooling and then go back to work full-time, I really want to soak up these moments with my kids. We’ve already had a lot of fun so far this summer and we have a few more special trips planned to visit friends and family. I want to be really living in the moment and focusing on being present with my kids.
Any other parents out there struggle with this???
Well, here’s to the never-ending journey to becoming a better parent. Wish me luck!