The concept of a “cheat day” is pretty common in the health and fitness world. As a personal trainer, I would typically recommend that clients follow an 80/20 rule [eating clean 80% of the time and loosening up the other 20%], which basically allowed some wiggle room in the diet for weekends or nights out or their kid’s birthday party. For many people, knowing they can have a “cheat meal” really helps them to maintain a healthier diet the rest of the week.
Not so for me.
Unfortunately, a cheat meal for me turns into a cheat day, then to cheat weekend, then a cheat week…and so on. Just when I get into a good system of not snacking after dinner, only having one drink a week, and no sugary candy, cheat day shows up and throws me off my game. So frustrating!
My food weaknesses are: sour gummy worms, spicy garlic wings, McDonald’s French fries, chips with queso, and ice cream [any kind or flavor will do]. For some reason, when “cheat day” rolls around, I convince myself that I must eat ALL of these things in one day. You would think it was my last meal on earth….
[Of course, I am doing this to myself.]
So, I have decided to get rid of the whole idea of “cheating.”
Last year I read the book, Four Pack Revolution, and in it Chael Sonnen talks about having a “reset meal” once a week [instead of a “cheat meal”]. The difference is really just in the name, but it helps psychologically. I’m not “cheating” on my diet and throwing all of my health goals out the window, but instead I’m “resetting” so I can re-focus on my goals.
We’ll see if this mind trick works.
Oh, but I WILL be having a small dessert on Mother’s Day [a mini chocolate raspberry tart that I intend to make for myself] and a slice of cake for my birthday [which I will also make because I love baking cakes, so happy birthday to me].
Oh wait, there’s more!
I’m also going to save movie candy for the movies ONLY. I have a real problem with eating family size bags of chewy, sugary, preferably sour candy. This started a decade ago when I was running 45 miles a week and putting in six hours of cardio at the gym on top of that…and gosh darn it, my body needed those carbs! [Well, truthfully, it needed healthy carbs, but back then I was nutritionally illiterate.] So today I am still struggling with that same bad habit I developed all those years ago.
That habit has got to go! 👋 Bub-bye!
So, I’ll save my bag of candy for when I go to the movie theater [which is very rare now that I have to drive 45 MINUTES TO THE NEAREST THEATER!!].
In Q1, I read 23 books. We took two trips with lengthy car rides which really helped me achieve this. [Audio books on long car rides are my favorite.]Most of these are real winners, some are just “meh,” but here’s the list and my thoughts about each one.
[Warning: these reviews often digress into soapboxes. Sorry.]
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Unfortunately, the first book I read in 2022 was not my favorite. This memoir of Paul Kalanithi’s life, career, and struggle with the cancer that would ultimately claim his life was interesting, but so sad, mostly because I was aware at the outset that he was going to die. But I really can’t even say anything critical about it because I know that the man spent his last dying days writing this book, and I am grateful to him for doing so. He lived what we all fear—a fatal diagnosis—and as a doctor himself, of neurosurgery no less, he has important things to say about life and the role of medicine in it.
“Science may provide the most useful way to organize empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human life: hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue.”
Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
10% Happier by Dan Harris
Dan Harris is really funny. Since I had never watched him on TV [honestly, I didn’t even know who he was], I was completely surprised by how great this book was – both for entertainment value and for providing real talk about mindfulness and practical advice about meditation. Of course, I am also insanely jealous of Dan Harris, who because of his position within the media, was able to just schedule interviews with all the great spiritual leaders of our time [Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, and the Dalai Lama] any time he had a question. Geez, wouldn’t that be nice.
I especially appreciated that this was not a spiritual journey, but more of a journey toward centering oneself around meaningful principles through mindfulness. It actually reminded me a little of Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind, about psychedelics, which seem to ultimately provide someone with the same result as meditation: a loss of the ego. As someone who is highly spiritual, but anti-religion, this book was just another reminder that I simply must start a meditation practice.
I definitely recommend this book. It is entertaining and interesting and liable to convince you to sit on the floor in silence for at least 10 minutes a day.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
I listened to this audio book while driving back from Florida after our vacation in January and it was the perfect book for a road trip. And the reader, Wil Wheaton, is EXCELLENT. [I just recently finished listening to the sequel, Ready Player Two, which is also ready by Wil Wheaton and it was just as good.] I’m not a big “gamer” per se, but I love a great quest adventure and this one was interesting enough to keep my attention for the full 12 hour drive.
The story is set in the future, when climate change has ravaged the planet and overpopulation has led to huge ghettos [called “stacks”] and all the people on earth spend most of their time escaping the real world through a virtual simulation called the OASIS. [This is all sounding a bit too plausible, am I right???] Living in one of the stacks is Wade Watts, who spends all of his free time searching for a hidden Easter Egg left by the original creator of the OASIS, James Halliday. And of course, the kicker—the finder of the egg inherits Halliday’s company and fortune.
As far as futuristic fiction goes, this one is good. [The movie by the same name is also pretty decent, but as always, the book is better.]
Die with Zero by Bill Perkins
Well, this book was a huge disappointment. I picked it up in the library because, after reading the back, I thought that Perkins was going to recommend that everyone stop hoarding a ton of money until the day they die and instead, using all that money to improve the world. Sadly, that is not what he recommends. This book’s whole agenda is to encourage people to spend all their money on themselves, specifically on experiences that will provide happy memories that they can think about when they are eventually bedridden. I could not disagree more with this idea; however, I do agree that everyone should use their money in such a way as to die with zero. I agree that it makes absolutely no sense to save up money your whole life just to leave it behind in a bank account to be distributed by whoever is left behind. Actually, I don’t think we should be hoarding money no matter how you intend to use it. I mean, how insane is it for me to amass wealth while millions of children die every year from diseases I could easily prevent with all that money? Which is why, Brett and I only save a little money and give the rest away.
I mean, it’s not that he didn’t have any useful information in here. I thought that some of his practical points were good, like about annuities, which I had never heard of, and about spending more when you are young and less as you age. And there is information in here for every income level.
Honestly, this book kind of made me angry as Perkins writes about spending his millions on his favorite past time—poker tournaments! For the love of all that is good and holy. What a fucking waste! [Please excuse my language.] Maybe I’ll just have to write my own book about how to use your money to create real and lasting happiness. And trust me, it’s not by purchasing yachts or traveling to fancy destinations or owning massive homes or driving obscenely expensive cars. Happiness has always been found in compassion for others. I kind of thought we all knew that by now.
Decision Points by George W. Bush
This book was a real trip through the past for me since I vaguely remember the major events of Bush’s presidency, but not with any real detail. I was in junior high and high school for most of his time in office, and not particularly interested in politics at the time, so it was fascinating to read about the backgrounds and circumstances of each of these historical events.
As you may know by now, I love a political memoir. There is something about hearing a first person account of historical events that I really appreciate. It also humanizes these leaders and shows how they are normal humans with feelings, just trying to do their best, like we all are. We may judge them and criticize them and disagree with them [or, more rarely, adore them], but the position of President isn’t a cake walk. If you need a reminder of that, read this book.
Holy cow, Bush had a miserable presidency. All of the worst events of modern history [with the exception of the COVID pandemic] seemed to occur during his time in office — including the only two wars that the US has fought in my lifetime. Here’s a short list of the highlights [or should I say low-lights]: the terrorist attacks of 9/11 which led to the “War on Terror,” the Iraq war, the war in Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina, and of course, the stock market crash, housing market collapse and great recession of 2007. Yikes. And there are more, like No Child Left Behind, the biggest tax cut in history [which of course favored the wealthy], and the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US military. This book started sounding like one long apology to the American people as President Bush explained his reasoning for all of his decisions. And I actually believe him. He seems like a very decent, kind man. He is a man who came from money, a man who was in the oil industry, a man whose father was also the president—with all of those limitations, I would say he did the best he could.
A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren
I love this woman and I’ll just get it out of the way right now: Elizabeth Warren is not a socialist. [I mean, really, it is almost embarrassing how American politics has basically turned into a name-calling sport with the left hurling “Trump-lovers!” while the right screams “Socialists!” Geez, louise.] Anyway, in this memoir, Warren shares how she rose from a mom who dropped out of college to a tenured professor at Harvard to a congresswoman serving in the United States Senate. Warren was also the first female to be elected to the Senate in Massachusetts. Basically, this woman is a rock star.
This book is especially interesting when read simultaneously with Decision Points by President Bush and A Promised Land by Barack Obama, because she provides a different perspective of the financial crisis of 2007. As a specialist in bankruptcy law, Warren had been fighting for more protections for ordinary people from big lenders who take advantage of vulnerable people through obscenely high interest rates and risky loans. In this book, she tells the story of being asked to speak to the board of a large bank about how to reduce the number of clients who are filing for bankruptcy. [This was years prior to the bursting of the housing market “bubble.”] When she told them that they shouldn’t lend to people who are already in financial trouble, they told her, “Look, lady, we’re not going to stop doing that—that’s how we make our money!” [My paraphrase.]
All I can say is, if we had listened to this woman earlier, the recession could have probably been avoided altogether.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
Honestly, I was really drawn to this book because of the cover art, but in the end, I was a little disappointed because it felt too predictable and too similar to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I did, however, appreciate that this novel featured homosexual main characters while not making it a thing. Thanks to this book, our society is one step closer to treating everyone like they are normal, because, of course, they are.
The Guest List by Lucy Foley
This murder mystery by Lucy Foley has everything I love in a good novel: great use of flashback and foreshadowing, characters full of secrets, slow unraveling of the mysteries, and plenty of suspense to keep me reading. I listened to the audio book which was also really good and used different readers for each of the different characters.
As always, with fiction, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but you should definitely read it.
Mine! By Michael Heller and James Salzman
This book was very interesting because it made me think about things I’ve never thought about before, sometimes totally blowing my mind. For instance, did you know that when you send in a DNA sample into one of those ancestry companies, they keep the sample and own the rights to that DNA [YOUR DNA] forever. That might not be a big deal, but it could turn out to be pretty lucrative for these companies in the future. And they actually convinced YOU to pay them to take your DNA.
Anyway, this whole topic is especially interesting for two reasons: #1: The two most valuable words in America are “money” and “mine” and it turns out if you have enough money, you can make anything yours. #2: Our laws set the ownership rules and our judicial system interprets them, so our government is really important for defining all these weird gray areas of ownership. It might sound pretty straight forward. What’s yours is yours and what’s mine is mine. But in actuality, it is far from that simple.
Read this book and you’ll understand what I mean.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
I love Malcolm Gladwell, and I loved this book even more than Talking to Strangers, which I read last year. Strangely enough, I’ve read around this topic enough to have heard some of these studies quoted in other books, but that did not make this any less of a riveting read.
I don’t remember how I first came to recognize that my own success in life—in everything, actually—is not a result of my hard work, or my perseverence, or my skillset but, rather, is a product of random chance. I just happened to win the cosmic lottery and be born to a white, middle class family in the wealthiest nation in the world. I happened to be born to parents who loved me, who paid for me to have a private education, who taught me to work hard and manage my money wisely. I mean, yeah, there are people who made out better than me, but they are very few compared to the number of people who are born on this planet without any of those privileges. The moment I realized this fact, my life changed because I was no longer the victor enjoying the fruits of my labor, I was just like every other person on this planet, except I got lucky.
The strange thing is that we actively teach the opposite to people. We tell people to work hard and they will succeed and as a result, we imply that people who are not successful simply aren’t working as hard as you are. We could not be more wrong. And I love this book because it is proof that we are products of so many outside forces, so many factors out of our control, and so few of us are getting lucky. We have to stop the arrogance of thinking we are better just because we were born in a better position than the people around us.
“Everything we have learned in Outliers says that success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed. If it were, Chris Langan would be up there with Einstein. Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities — and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”
Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers
If we, in America, could recognize this truth, then maybe we wouldn’t find it so offensive to give equal opportunities to everyone. Maybe then we could be more gracious to those lower on the social ladder than ourselves. Maybe we could finally believe that our success is tied to everyone around us and that we can’t achieved anything on our own.
11/22/63 by Stephen King
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I’m a Stephen King fan. I used to always associate King with horror stories like It and The Shining, but he clearly can do more than that. What I like best about his writing is that while reading his books, I get so engrossed in the story that I completely forget about the author and honestly, that is really rare for me. This is partly the curse of studying writing and literature in college, but I often find myself thinking of the author when I’m reading fiction. She made this foreshadowing too obvious.[In Five Complete Strangers] or Why does he use the word “untoward” so frequently? [In The House in the Cerulean Sea]
But Stephen King writes so seemlessly, so naturally, so convincingly that I literally forget that there is an author, that this is a work of someone’s imagination, that I’m reading a story and not a real man’s account of travelling back in time to stop the assassination of JFK.
This book is incredible. It is an undertaking, but totally worth it.
Atomic Habits by James Clear
This is a great little book with very practical tips for how to make or break habits. I shared previously [in my March health goal post] that I have a planner with a list of daily habits that I try to accomplish every day and this book provided some really helpful ideas for achieving some of my less desirable goals—like yoga. Here are some of my favorite tips from the book: habit stacking, habit tracking, temptation bundling, and gateway habits. I used habit stacking to re-develop a yoga habit, by stacking yoga with a habit that I already do every day, in this case, my regular workout. [You’ll have to read the book if you want to know what the rest are. I can’t give all his secrets away.]
The book also contains a lot of motivation for getting your shit together, and it’s a quick read.
Career & Family by Claudia Goldin
This is an important book about the gender wage gap in the workplace. In it, Goldin examines the careers of five groups of women based on their birth years and draws the conclusion that the gender wage gap is not due to explicit sexism in the workplace, but rather a societal issue we have with who handles childcare and how it is handled. When it comes to couples with children, women more often opt for the more flexible position so that they will be available for the children, but that prevents them from taking positions that require more hours and therefore more pay. As someone who is about to go back to school full-time and then hopefully back into the workplace full-time, childcare is a major challenge—the biggest obstacle in the way of me having a successful career.
My most prominent thoughts throughout reading this book, were gratitude for the generations that have gone before me and paved the way for me to go to college, get a masters degree, have a career, all while I have a husband and children. This has not been a possibility for very long and I am indebted to everyone who has helped to make it a reality for me. And now my job is to make these things, including equal pay, even more attainable for my three daughters.
The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt
This is my favorite book of the quarter. To love this book, you have to have just the right mix of religious background, liberal politics, philosophical thinking, and a love of ethics and morality. But I’m clearly not the only one, because this book has been published and [I assume] purchased by other people.
[Please, if you are out there and you have read this book and you loved it, reach out to me. You are a part of my tribe.]
This guy, whom I had never heard of before reading this book, is a moral psychologist. I didn’t know that was a career choice back when I was eighteen and choosing “what I wanted to be when I grew up,” but if I had, I think my life would have been very different.
Anyway, this book discusses the moral foundations underlying American politics. Fascinating stuff. I took notes from this book and typed them all into a word document and my document is over 7 pages long! [And that’s single-spaced ya’ll.] It is practically impossible for me to choose my favorite quote from my seven-page document, but I will try…
That’s a really great quote, but it’s not my favorite, that was just the shortest one…
“Morality binds and blinds. This is not just something that happens to people on the other side. We all get sucked into tribal moral communities. We circle around sacred values and then share post hoc arguments about why we are so right and they are so wrong. We think the other side is blind to truth, reason, science, and common sense, but in fact everyone goes blind when talking about their sacred objects…Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.”
Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind
Ahh I can’t choose a favorite quote from this book. I guess my favorite quote would be the whole book.
Lost and Found by Kathryn Schulz
Gotta love journalists. They can take three simple words and write a full-length book about them. [And I can poke fun at them because I used to dream of being a journalist.] In this case the words are “lost,” “and”, and “found.” This book is poetic and interesting and…hard to describe. Schulz talks first about losing her father and then finding the love of her life. But along the way she spend a lot of time discussing losing and finding in general.
Here are four quotes that I found to be really profound and meaningful:
“…This may be why certain losses are so shocking. Not because they defy reality, but because they reveal it. One of the many ways that loss instructs us is by correcting our sense of scale, showing us the world as it really is—so enormous, complex and mysterious that there is nothing too large to be lost, and, conversely, no place too small for something to get lost there.”
“Most of us alive today will survive into old age, and although that is a welcome development, the price of experiencing more life is sometimes experiencing less of it too. So many losses routinely precede the final one now: loss of memory, mobility, autonomy, physical strength, intellectual aptitude, a longtime home, the kind of identity derived from vocation, whole habits of being, and perhaps above all a certain forward tilting sense of self, the feeling that we are still becoming, that there are things left in this world we may yet do.”
“The first problem that love presents us with is how to find it. But the most enduring problem of love, which is also the most enduring problem of life, is how to live with the fact that we will lose it.”
“No matter what goes missing, the object you need or the person you love, the lessons are always the same. Disappearance reminds us to notice, transience to cherish, fragility to defend. Loss is a kind of external conscience urging us to make better use of our finite days.”
Kathryn Schulz, Lost and Found
But outside of these thought-provoking paragraphs, it felt at times like she was just trying to fill pages.
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
You’ll notice that I’ve started reading books about happiness, not because I am unhappy, but because I’m SO HAPPY that I’m looking for a book that actually gets it right. This book, in my opinion, gets it mostly wrong. In it, Gretchen Rubin endures a self-imposed “happiness project” for a year, doing the things she lists on the cover..and many more. I don’t know why I keep finding myself reading these “challenge books” where the author has to live like a Biblical woman for a year [A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans] or give up sugar for a year [Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub] or limit themselves to seven of everything for a year [7 by Jen Hatmaker] because I don’t really like these books. [Also, why are these types of books always written by Christians?? Can Christians not stick with anything for more than a year???]
But anyway, I did find this interesting tidbit from this book:
“Spend Out. Don’t think about the return. ‘It is by spending oneself,’ the actress Sarah Bernhardt remarked, ‘that one becomes rich.’ What’s more, one intriguing study showed that Sara Bernhardt’s pronouncement is literally true. People who give money to charity end up wealthier than those who don’t give to charity. After doing complex number crunching to control for different variables, a researcher concluded that charitable giving isn’t just correlated with higher income, it actually causes higher income.”
Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project
FINALLY! Proof of what I’ve been telling Brett for years! [Of course, Rubin conveniently forgets to mention the source of this “intriguing study.”] I knew this to be true based on the Karmic principle and on my own life experience. The more you give away, the more you get back. It takes some faith in the beginning, but in the end, it makes you happier and gives your life more meaning, which is of course, the real secret. When you give money away, you care less about having money, which actually makes you more rich.
As one of my favorite quotes goes:
Sustainable Happiness edited by Sarah Van Gelder
This is a great little book that is direct and to the point and [rightly] ties the happiness of the planet to our own. In the intro, Gelder inspires us to a new way of looking at happiness:
“The good news is that sustainable happiness is achievable, it could be available to everyone, and it begins by assuring that everyone can obtain a basic level of material security. But beyond that, more stuff isn’t the key to happiness.
“It turns out that we don’t need to use up and wear out the planet in a mad rush to produce the stuff that is supposed to make us happy. We don’t need people working in sweatshop conditions to produce cheap stuff to feed an endless appetite for possessions. We don’t even need economic growth, although some types of growth do help.
“The research shows that sustainable happiness comes from other sources. We need loving relationships, thriving natural and human communities, opportunities for meaningful work, and a few simple practices, like gratitude. With that definition of sustainable happiness, we really can have it all.”
Sarah Van Gelder, Sustainable Happiness
This pretty much sums it up. I mean, I think she misssed an important part of happiness in the last paragraph, but everything else is spot-on. She and the other contributors have a lot of other great things to think about when it comes to happiness.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I wish I had read this book earlier, but I don’t really read much YA fiction anymore. This is a really important book for everyone to read. It is so close to reality that it is scary…and heart breaking. Thomas uses a fictional story to share the struggle, frustration, defeat and hope of the black community in America. We still have so much work to do.
The United States of Arugula by David Kamp
A very interesting historical account of how we went from adoring all things French cousine to creating our own American food culture with our own American celebrity chefs. As a lover of the Food Network, I enjoyed reading the history of some of my favorite chefs. However, I’m not a foodie so a lot of this was outside of my wheelhouse.
The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalia Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams
FINALLY, a book on happiness that gets it right. It’s no surprise that the Dalai Lama knows the secret to happiness, but considering how many books I’ve read on the topic that get it wrong, I think more people need to read this book.
The main points can be summarized in this one quote by Abrams:
“As our dialogue progressed, we converged on eight pillars of joy. Four were qualities of the mind: perspective, humility, humor and acceptance. Four were qualities of the heart: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity. On the first day, the archbishop had touched the fingers of his right hand to his heart to emphasize its centrality. We would end up ultimately at compassion and generosity and indeed both men would insist that these two qualities were perhaps most pivotal to any lasting happiness.”
Douglas Abrams, The Book of Joy
I could not agree more that compassion and generosity are the keys to happiness. I came upon that conclusion from my own life and I wasn’t searching for happiness at all. I was searching for meaningfulness—and happiness was just the byproduct.
This is a great book and a challenge for anyone who is searching for true and lasting happiness.
Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner
I’m sorry, but I did not like this book at all. Just not my cup of tea, I suppose. Nearly everything was a metaphor and felt very forced. [I have to stop accidentally reading this superficial fluff by Christian women.] I was hoping it would be about paring down life and enjoying simple pleasures, but it seemed like it was mostly praising superficial American consumerism.
I did however, like this one quote about a time when she visited an underprivileged community in Africa.
“I do not understand what it is like to live in a place where a drink of clean water is not readily available, where education is not accessible, where my basic needs are either not met or fought for with every ounce of my being. Where I live, we are after silver spoons. Here, there is no soup to slurp.”
Erin Loechner, Chasing Slow
You can kind of see what I mean about the metaphors…and of course, when she came back home she went right back to retail therapy and obsessing over her all-white kitchen [which is apparently all the rage on her hugely-popular website.]
For me this book, is down there with Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis. Both are directed at wealthy, white American women and are basically pats on the back for superficial, self-righteous, self-centered living.
The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Byrson, Ph.D.
This was a very good book with lots of practical information that I put into practice right away with my own kids.
I’ll give you an example. When I took my kids to see Sing 2 in theaters, my middle daughter [4 years old] was terrified at one point, screaming and kicking in her seat. After that part was over, she was fine for the rest of the movie so I forgot all about it. Then last week while we were at someone’s house, they were going to play the movie and Jo immediately started freaking out and saying that she was so scared of that movie and she didn’t want to watch it. Normally, I would have just suggested we watch another movie and moved on; however, because in this book they say to “name it to tame it,” I asked Jo to tell me about the scary part of the movie. As she was telling me what scared her, she started laughing and said “It’s actually pretty silly.” And we talked about how the lion who appeared scary in that part wasn’t really scary in the end and how he just didn’t want anyone to come to his house. Putting her fears into context and talking about them made her see that there was nothing to be afraid of. And, just like that, her fear of the movie was gone.
This is a total game-changer in my home where two of my kids get scared easily and tend to obsessive over their fears.
And there’s lots more great advice where that came from.
“It’s also true that feelings need to be recognized for what they are: temporary, changing conditions. They are states, not traits. They’re like the weather. Rain is real, and we’d be foolish to stand in a downpour and act as if it weren’t actually raining. But we’d be just as foolish to expect that the sun will never reappear.”
Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, The Whole-Brain Child
I recommend this book for all the parents out there [it’s even helpful for adults].
The New Rules of Aging Well by Frank Lipman, M.D. and Danielle Claro
I loved this book and immediately put into practice many of it’s practical tips like foam rolling [which I know I should be doing regularly, but dang it, it hurts!] and having a swig of vinegar before a meal and eating more fermented foods [sauerkraut anyone?] and extending my overnight fast to sixteen hours…and plenty more.
I don’t consider myself to be old yet, but it’s never too soon to start preparing for the future. Am I right? It’s interesting to me that people plan for their financial future [obsessively, it seems], but totally ignore their physical future. I for one, want to be rock climbing, hang gliding and deep sea diving at the age of 88. That requires some prep work….starting NOW.
Well, there are the books for Q1! Some really keepers. I think I may start posting monthly reviews because these are getting so long…
What have you been reading? Let me know in the comments!
You may recall that I recently donated one of my kidneys, so for the month of April, I’m going to give my remaining kidney a break by cutting out alcohol and increasing my water intake.
First of all, I’m not a big drinker. I enjoy an occasional glass of wine in the evenings or a cocktail when I go out to eat, but I haven’t done any heavy drinking since before I had kids. That being said, I find it really easy to allow a one-drink-a-week lifestyle to slowly devolve into a one-drink-a-night lifestyle—which, for me, is unhealthy and kinda makes me feel like crap. So, I like to occasionally scale back my alcohol consumption. For April, my healthy goal will be to cut out alcohol AND to start each day with 8oz of water [before my cup of coffee or tea].
Last year, I went ten months without drinking anything other than water and it was a really great experience. I felt really hydrated and, quite frankly, just better in general. I felt less tired, had fewer headaches, basically no stomach issues at all, less bloating, and better skin. So, geez….why did I ever start drinking normal drinks again???
Well, just like food, drinking—whether it be a chai tea latte at a cafe with a friend, or a wine flight at a vineyard on date night, or tea at a friend’s house after dinner—is a social activity. And I’m a social person. Brett and I love putting the kids together and having a drink while playing video games or catching up on a tv show. And while I didn’t miss alcohol per se, I definitely missed the sense of community that sharing a drink provided.
On the flip side, drinking [especially late at night] always makes me want to eat junk food and typically makes me feel exhausted and puffy when I wake up the next morning [mercifully, I do not get hangovers]. And, now that I only have one kidney, I have to be much more careful about my alcohol intake.
Alcohol is hard on the body. Besides the carb intake, it puts an extra strain on the internal organs and my poor little kidney is already doing the job of two. So, I’m going to her a little break. [I should probably give her a name, and write a series of children’s books about my lone kidney, don’t you think?]
So, a month with less alcohol and more water will do me some good. And since Brett and I have an agreement to only drink together, then it will reduce both of our alcohol intake and save us some money to boot.
I recently decluttered the “craft closet,” which is used so frequently that it was becoming dangerous to open the closet door.
WAAAAAY Better right?
I pride myself on being “minimal”…in all things EXCEPT craft supplies.
What can I say? Art is super important to me and a full [albeit messy] craft closet is how I foster creativity with my kids.
But I’m not actually here to extols the virtues of decluttering. I wanted to talk about how I organize and store all of the mementos that my children accumulate.
You know what I’m talking about…the coloring page that they are SO proud of for actually coloring the whole thing, the first note where they wrote “I love mommy,” the spelling test with the hard earned 100%. Normally, I’m the first one to say NOT to hold on to sentimental junk – but some times I don’t listen to my own words. Sometimes I want to hang on to these mementos of my kid’s childhood.
I just finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, in which she makes it a goal to be a “storehouse of happy memories.” At one point she gets cute boxes to literally store the happy memories of her daughters. I’ve had my own version of her boxes for a few years now.
Back to the craft closet…
Besides all of the craft supplies, this closet also holds my kids’ memento drawers [the plastic drawers on the floor]. I use these drawers to organize the paperwork that my kids bring home from school and the many pieces of artwork that children create.
However, this collection goes through several rounds of “reductions” over time.
The Three Round Rule
Round 1 – I make the initial decision of what to keep immediately. Most coloring pages get recycled and a lot of the school papers, but occasionally there is a special drawing, creation, piece of art that I put away in their drawer. I also keep their graded papers and projects.
Round 2 – At the end of the school year, I go through everything in their drawer again and keep the most special. In a lot of cases [and in the face of the sheet quantity] a lot of the items have lost their value, so I feel fine recycling. Obviously things like school pictures, the class photo, and special creations move to the next round.
Round 3 – I really liked Gretchen Rubin’s ideas about boxes, so I’m working on acquiring four cute storage boxes [you know I HATE buying things] which I will use to store the special mementos for my kids. BUT I still plan to review the items that make it into the box every year and toss anything that doesn’t still hold special meaning. Over the years, time really does put some of these sentimental things into perspective and the items that really matter stand out.
When I married Brett, his mother gave us boxes and boxes of his *ahem* crap from his childhood. And we had to go through it and look at every kindergarten field day green ribbon, every plastic t-ball trophy, every grade school report card. Quite frankly, by the time you’re an adult, you don’t care about the majority of that stuff.
I had a few boxes of my own from childhood when I moved out of my parents house and I tossed most of it. But, of course, I’m glad I had the newspaper clippings about my speech competitions, my autographed photo with the President, and some of my favorite writing projects. But the rest was junk.
The three round rule is my attempt at doing the majority of the sorting for my kids so that they don’t someday inherit a basement full of crap to sort through. Maybe someday they will wonder, Where is that kindergarten cut out of the letter B that I loved so much?…but I highly doubt it.
As a personal trainer, I always love sharing the surprising fact that a person’s overall fitness is dependent on their flexibility. The vast majority of my clients over the years would have described themselves as “not very flexible,” so most did not appreciate this bit of news. But the most important thing about improving your fitness is working on your weaknesses. And, unfortunately, your weakness usually correlates with your least favorite part of the fitness triad.
What is the fitness triad, you ask?
Fitness is measured by three important elements: cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength/endurance, and flexibility [which I have personally entitled “the fitness triad”]. In my experience everyone has a preference for one of these three. Some people love cardio and can spend hours on a bike or a treadmill. Other people prefer lifting weights and building strength. And I’ve known many, many yogis who swear that the only thing they need is a mat. Even my fellow personal trainers over the years have had definite favorites [just like I do] BUT trainers know fitness is very much like a three-legged stool. You really need to have a balance of all three elements if you want to reach peak fitness.
[Common Fitness Myth: It is a common misconception that cardio is for weight loss and strength training is for body building and stretching is just to cool down at the end of a workout. Actually, cardio is for heart health – which is super important since more people die from heart disease (in the US) than any other cause. Weight training is important for strengthen muscles, increasing their size and endurance, but also to increase bone density. If you’re worried about osteoporosis, you could cut back on the milk and start lifting weights. And stretching is about keeping optimal range of motion in all of your joints so that you’ll always be able to bed over and tie your shoes. Exercise is less about looking good, and more about feeling good. It’s about having a body that is fully functional for as long as possible.]
So, to find your weakness, just ask yourself which of the three elements you like the least – and there you have it.
My Fitness Weakness
As for me, I’m a total cardio junkie. I have been since I first started working out eleven years ago. But, on my journey toward my own fitness, I learned that I had to also strengthen my body through weight training AND stretch my body to improve [or at least maintain] my flexibility. Over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate all three; however, if I’m running short on time, or have an extra busy day, the one thing I will skip is stretching.
This is NO BUENO.
Check out my planner from a typical week…
On the right page, I put a list of “daily tasks” – things that I want to accomplish every day. As you can see, I’m pretty terrible at getting yoga in. Last year at this time I was doing 20-30 minutes of yoga every night before bed…and it was AMAZING! Besides the benefit to all my tight muscles, doing yoga in the evening prevented me from snacking on junk food or just sitting in front of the television. I miss it. But I am also [obviously] not working up the willpower to get it done in the evenings.
So, for March, I’m going to focus on re-cultivating my yoga habit. And I’m going to use some tips I got from Atomic Habits by James Clear [a great book and a quick read that I recommend if you need some practical help with making your goals happen].
One of my favorite tips that Clear shares in this book is that if I want to change my behavior, I must first change my beliefs – particularly, about myself. So, for instance, instead of thinking of myself as an inflexible, cardio-addict who wants to try to squeeze in yoga several times a week, I am going to think of myself as a yogi and do yoga because that’s what yogis do. [That’s why I titled this post “Be a Yogi” and not “Practice Yoga.” I really do want to BE a person who makes yoga a regular practice, so I that is my goal. It is not just the simple change of an action, it is the change of my identity.]
“The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.”
James Clear, Atomic Habits
Here are the four tips Clear provides for changing habits and how I am using them to get my yoga habit back on track:
Make it obvious. Clear recommends “habit stacking,” which is to add the new habit to a habit that you already have. So, I have been stacking my yoga habit on top of my exercise habit. I never miss a workout, so if I add yoga to my workout, then I should [theoretically] not miss yoga either.
Make it attractive. I haven’t found a way to reward myself for a consistent yoga practice. Truthfully, I know how great regular yoga makes me feel and how good it is for my body, and that is reward enough. And I guess, in a way, my reward for getting yoga done is that I get go relax – my workouts are done for the day! [I love working out, but it is still hard work, and I am always relieved when I’m done.]
Make it easy. I have moved my yoga mat and yoga blocks into the television room, so that they are very close by and a constant reminder that I need to do yoga. I have also changed my commitment from 20-30 minutes of yoga to “any amount will do” – so sometimes I only do 5 minutes, which is the shortest yoga workout available on the Peloton app.
Make it satisfying. Every day when I practice yoga, I check it off my daily habit list and that is quite satisfying for my obsessive list-making inner organizer.
I recommend Atomic Habits if you haven’t read it – especially if there are habits you wish were part of your life: getting up early, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating more fruit and vegetables, reading more books, learning a new skill or improving a current skill, being more successful in your career, or in general, improving discipline.
There are always ways for me to improve myself. I, personally, want to be a flexible person, but I won’t get there without changing my habits.
Today is laundry day in my home. Years ago, laundry was ruling my life. There was always some laundry bin somewhere full of clothes that needed attention—either washing or sorting or folding or putting away. I got so sick of doing laundry every day that I decided I would only do laundry one day a week. Now, I take one day and focus only on laundry. I do all the washing, drying, sorting, folding and putting away once a week. It is heavenly. [I actually quite look forward to laundry day because it is the one household chore I can multitask while watching tv and I don’t have to do any other cleaning that day. Can I get an amen!?]
Recently, my laundry routine got an extra zero waste boost when I switched over to a more environmentally friendly alternative to the plastic jug of liquid laundry detergent.
Introducing: the laundry detergent sheet!
I absolutely LOVE these things. I just take half a sheet [or a full sheet for really dirty loads] and toss it in the drum and start the wash. They are better than traditional detergent in a lot of ways. First of all, they remove the need for plastic jugs, which I would guess are rarely cleaned and recycled. Secondly, they don’t contain unnecessary, unhealthy, or dangerous chemicals, which harm our health and the health of aquatic life and our shared water sources. And the rest of the reasons are for convenience: they don’t take up a whole shelf of the laundry room, they travel easily, they don’t spill or drip and get blue goo everywhere, they require no “guesstimation” regarding how much to use and prevent over usage.
[Buy them for yourself here, and read about the zero waste packaging, ingredient list, and FAQs.]
Seems like a no-brainer. Friendly for the planet, better for our health, and convenient to boot!
I buy them from Well Earth Goods [which is also where I buy my toothpaste tabs, stain sticks, dishwashing blocks, and a bunch of other zero waste goods]; however, you can find these detergent sheets lost of places now—even Amazon. BUT please don’t. I love Well Earth Goods because it is a small family run business located in Oregon and it’s the kind of business I like to support.
Please, please, PLEASE don’t just buy the cheapest option you can find [this advice goes for every single purchase]. There are many, many things to consider before buying. While it’s great to buy zero waste products, it is also now possible to support unethical and environmentally damaging companies who sell green products. The best choice is to support the companies that actuallycare about environmental issues – not those that are just jumping on the latest trend to make a buck.
That’s my two cents.
Anyway, back to the detergent sheets.
You can buy scented detergent sheets, but I think that clean clothes should be void of any smell…not smell like they’ve been doused in Aunt Bonnie’s floral perfume. Plus I’ve been using unscented laundry detergent since I had babies because the chemicals that create that overpowering “spring rain” scent can lead to skin irritations and there is some concern about carcinogens.
To make things even more earth-friendly, I use a stain stick [which I once posted about at length here],
…and wool dryer balls, which were the first zero waste gift I ever received after starting this journey [Thanks, Michelle!]
I just keep these balls permanently in my dryer, so that every load comes out nice and fluffy.
[Side note: I’ve heard complaints about static with the dryer balls as opposed to dryer sheets, but static is more about the materials you are drying. Synthetic fibers cause more static in the dryer. My family and I don’t have that problem because we avoid synthetic fibers – which I also recommend everyone do for the sake of Mother Earth and personal health. But that’s a post for another day. 😁]
So, there you have it! A totally zero waste laundry routine.
In Q4 of 2021, I read 19 books. That might be a quarterly record for me!
In 2021, I read 66 books [68 if you count my two school textbooks]. Of those, 16 were about health [my reading goal for the year], 14 were memoirs [my favorite genre], 13 were about racism or social justice issues, and 11 were fiction.
Also, I should mention that I give star ratings for these books just for fun and based solely on my own enjoyment of the book. Also, a four star rating means that I really, really liked the book. These are books that I definitely recommend and think are absolutely worthwhile reads. The only reason they don’t get five stars is because I reserve five stars for my absolute favorites – either for their entertainment value or the value of their content.
After I list my Q4 reads, I’ll share a list of my five star reads and my absolute favorite book(s) of 2021.
Here are the books I read in the final quarter of 2021:
How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Fabre and Julie King
Eh. This book was just okay for me. It was very similar to the parenting advice book, Now Say This, which I LOVE and have read several times. But, How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen was [in my opinion] not nearly as helpful or practical. Both books have similar content about affirming kids feelings and avoiding harsh reprimands and all of that, but many of the recommended responses did absolutely nothing to sway my stubborn toddlers.
So I would recommend that you skip this and go read Now Say This.
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
Brett bought me this book to read when I took my kids on a trip to my aunt’s lake house. Maybe it was more about the setting – getting up early and reading with a fresh cup of coffee while watching the sun rise over the lake – but I really enjoyed this book. It is definitely not my preferred type of fiction, but it’s on Oprah’s book list, so I knew it would be worth a read. [Brett did not know that it was borderline erotic when he gave it to me, but I don’t think he was upset about it].
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Probably one of my favorite reads of the entire year – and definitely my favorite book about health and nutrition and food and animals and life and family…
This is the story of Barbara Kingsolver and her family buying a farm and growing/raising their food and committing to only eating local for a year.
It is just such a good book! Of course, it’s about topics that I am SUPER interested in: healthy food, sustainable farming, homesteading, eating local, environmentalism, the ethical treatment of animals, cooking, baking, raising, growing, and making food from scratch.
Basically, this book is about rethinking all of the aspects of our food that we currently view as unnecessary inconveniences – such as raising animals, growing vegetable from seeds, and knead bread by hand – and realizing that all of these things reconnect us to the earth, to its finite resources, to its shared inhabitants, and ultimately, to our own humanity.
This book is also largely responsible for me becoming an omnivore once again, after a year of veganism – although I now have much, much higher standards for the meat and dairy I am willing to consume. Here’s an excerpt from her very insightful views on veganism/vegetarianism:
“A hundred different paths may lighten the world’s load of suffering. Giving up meat is one path; giving up bananas is another. The more we know about our food system, the more we are called into complex choices. It seems facile to declare one single forbidden fruit, when humans live under so many different kinds of trees.”
Barbara Kingsolver. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
But that’s not all. There is SO MUCH good information in this book, I could quote the whole thing! So you just have to read this book!!
Natural Causes by Barbara Ehrenreich
“Being old enough to die is an achievement, not a defeat, and the freedom it brings is worth celebrating.”
Barbara Ehrenreich, Natural Causes
So, I’ve been reading tons of books about health, and then it all took a rather morbid turn and I started reading books about death. This, however, turned out to be especially depressing because she’s basically saying that everything I’m doing to be healthy is a total waste of time.
I didn’t really like the book for obvious reasons. She may have very good points about how worthless preventative screenings are or how pointless it is to avoid wine and chocolate or to frequent the gym when your body is withering away regardless – but she seems to imply that the only reason for healthy habits is to lengthen one’s life. I disagree. I think that a healthy life is a more fulfilling, more useful, more productive, more enjoyable life, even if that does mean a little less chocolate and wine. And, heck!, I frickin love my time at the gym.
Stop trying to take that away from me, Barbara!!
But I will say this: as a result of this book, I am a lot less likely to undergo a colonoscopy in the future. So, I guess I can thank Barbara for that!
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Now this book, on the other hand, was a really helpful, practical book about how to make the most of your time at the end of your life. In particular, I came away realizing how hospice is not just a death warrant that you take on when all else has failed and you’ve totally given up hope of having any meaningful time left, but rather it isa means by which you can experience a full end of life – one that keeps you out of the hospital, away from painful or debilitating treatments, and allows you to enjoy the things that matter most in life for as long as you have left.
It’s hard to imagine an end of life scenario where I don’t want to fight for more time, but truthfully, we need to come to terms with the fact that some fights in the end are simply not worth the trade off. A quiet passing, surrounded by loved ones, without pain or ambulances or defibrillators…that would be my preference in the end [if I am someone who knows in advance that the end is near]. I can’t decide whether I would prefer to know I’m going to die or to die unexpectedly, but if I’m lucky enough to live a long life and die of typical old age ailments, then this book will prove very helpful for me. It has already dramatically changed my view of the medical world and it’s role in the human experience of dying. But I will probably want to reread this book in thirty years or so – assuming I’m still kicking.
“Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set by genes and cells and flesh and bone. Medical science has given us remarkable power to push against these limits, and the potential value of this power was a central reason I became a doctor. But again and again, I have seen the damage we in medicine do when we fail to acknowledge that such power is finite and always will be. We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive. Those reasons matter not just at the end of life, or when debility comes, but all along the way.”
Atul Gawande, Being Mortal
“…Our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives.”
Atul Gawande, Being Mortal
Though I’m only thirty-five years old, this book has really valuable advice and information about how to make the most of my life all the way to the very end. I mean, the end is coming for all of us. We should be prepared for it.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
This was a great book. I read Colson Whitehead’s book, The Underground Railroad, which was good, but The Nickel Boys is excellent – gut-wrenching, poignant, suspenseful, and even has an unexpected surprise at the end. I really enjoyed it and I highly recommend it.
As with all fiction I read, I don’t like to give very much away, but it’s worth mentioning that this story is based on a real boys school, which made it all the more powerful for me.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
I love this book! Bill Bryson is so entertaining as he recounts the adventures that he and his friend, Katz, have while hiking the Appalachian Trail. I’m pretty sure I was laughing out loud at times, mostly at Katz’s expense [and as I’ve said before, when I start responding to books audibly while reading, that is a very good sign]. You just can’t make this stuff up…well, actually Bryson totally could have since most of it happened on a completely isolated trail through the woods – but if he did, I don’t want to know. It is too perfect the way it is.
“It would be useful (I wasn’t quite sure in what way, but I was sure nonetheless) to learn to fend for myself in the wilderness. When guys in camouflage pants and hunting hats sat around in the Four Aces Diner talking about fearsome things done out-of-doors, I would no longer have to feel like such a cupcake. I wanted a little of that swagger that comes with being able to gaze at a far horizon through eyes of chipped granite and say with a slow, manly sniff, ‘Yeah, I’ve shit in the woods.’”
Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods
I’ve always wanted to hike the AT – but not so much shit in the woods – and I actually can’t decide if this book made me want to do it more or less…but either way, it was a great book.
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (⭐️) for audiobook
Talking to Strangers is a fascinating book and the audiobook is phenomenal. Gladwell introduces the audiobook by saying that he wants it to sound like a podcast – a podcast with a production budget. And it definitely does.
In the book, Malcolm Gladwell discusses how to understand the people we don’t know, or maybe more importantly, how to not misunderstand them. By using high profile people from world history and recent events – Adolf Hitler, Sandra Bland, Amanda Knox, Larry Nassau, to name just a few – and the stories of how these people were misunderstood, for good or bad, Gladwell paints a complex picture of how we interact with one another.
I learned A LOT. I was at least vaguely aware of most of these stories, but had never heard them in detail and I was riveted. I was also fascinated to learn of our natural default to truth, how sitcoms like Friends has impacted our understanding of each other, why cops are trained to use aggressive policing methods, how computers are better able to predict a criminals behavior than a judge, and much more.
“We think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of clues. We jump at the chance to judge strangers. We would never do that to ourselves, of course. We are nuanced and complex and enigmatic. But the stranger is easy. If I can convince you of one thing in this book, let it be this: Strangers are not easy.”
Malcolm Gladwell, Talking to Strangers
Overall, this book teaches us to be more humble and compassionate in our interactions with the people we don’t know. And we all need more of that.
This book is worth a re-read – or, better yet, a re-listen.
Clean and Green by Nancy Birtwhistle
I’m all about green cleaning, but my favorite part of this book was all of her British-isms like “worked a treat” and “boiled on the hob” and, my personal favorite, “bung up the hole.” [I’m just assuming these are British sayings because I’ve never heard them before.]
But in all seriousness, this book is full of brilliant ideas for cleaning without all the chemical-laden, aquatic life killing, toxic fume filled cleaners you find at the store. I decided to earmark each recipe/method that would be useful to me….omg check out the book now:
I should have saved the poor pages and just put the whole book in the “to-do” pile. Anyway, I intend to go through the book systematically using every recommended swap.
I’m especially anxious to try setting my oven racks in the lawn overnight to see if they are magically cleaned in the morning. [This is a real tip that she provides and since it’s in print, it must be true.]
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
What a sad story. It was actually kind of creepy for me in a way because I am not entirely unlike Christopher McCandless in my worldview. The major exception, of course, being that I haven’t rid myself of all my possessions and heading out into the Alaskan wilderness. I’m not that crazy, at least not yet. But, truthfully, the idea is kind of intriguing to me. [Thank God I have kids who keep me from doing anything too rash.]
This book was not entertaining like A Walk in the Woods, but I love how Krakauer slowly unravels the story, or should I say mystery, of McCandless’s final few months of life. Of course, the ending is written right on the cover of the book, but it’s the how and the why that are intriguing.
Anyway, I enjoyed it, but with a sort of sadness that weighed down the experience of reading it. I don’t quite know how else to describe it.
Nomadland by Jessica Bruder
[I listened to the audiobook and do not recommend it. My low rating is largely because of the reader. Get the actual book.]
As someone who dreams of selling all my earthly possessions and living out of a van, I thought this book would be right up my alley. However, it painted a pretty bleak picture of #vanlife. Instead of praising the nomad lifestyle like was hoping, this is the rather depressing story of an apparently large number of homeless…I mean, “houseless” retired people being worked to death and taken advantage of by big companies who need seasonal labor.
[Seriously. Amazon has a whole department called “CamperForce.” Here’s the enticing info on Amazon’s CamperForce hiring page:
“Want to keep enjoying life on the road? Join an enthusiastic team of like-minded travelers and adventurers at Amazon CamperForce. It provides great seasonal jobs at a growing number of state-of-the-art Amazon warehouse locations across the US.”
I was totally unaware that this subculture, which I always assumed to be full of young hippies in their twenties who smoke a lot of pot, is also populated by folks my parents age and older who have fallen on financial hardships and taken to the road.
But the idea of life on the road is still appealing to me and the book was very helpful in explaining how to live out of your van, make a pee bucket and not get caught by the police. But I guess I was envisioning a more…I dunno…lawful and sanitary version of the nomad life.
Anyway, it will mean pretty wild changes for our economy and our communities if more people leave their houses for the new frontier – Boon-docking [and her close cousin, Wally-docking].
Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards
I only read this book because it was the library’s book club pick so I didn’t have to wait to borrow it. Definitely not my favorite fiction book. The genre was right, but the story was lacking [almost non-existent] and the whodunit was way too obvious – though they hadn’t actually done anything yet. I knew the antagonist a few chapters in and was incredibly disappointed when I was actually right, still clinging to some hope that there would be a surprise or twist or something.
But, alas. Just a book about a girl who takes a ride through a blizzard with five strangers – one of whom is a creep.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Loved this book. What a beautiful story!
Ultimately, I think this is a story about regrets. Everyone has things in their life they would like to go back and change. And the magic of this story is that it reminds us that there is no such thing as a perfect life, only our own unique experience based on our choices – our personal opportunity to make the most of what we have.
“It is easy to regret, and keep regretting, ad infinitum, until our time runs out. But it is not lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself. It’s the regret that makes us shrivel and wither and feel like our own and other people’s worst enemy. We can’t tell if any of those other versions would of been better or worse. Those lives are happening, it is true, but you are happening as well, and that is the happening we have to focus on.”
Matt Haig, The Midnight Library
My friend who recommended it to me described it as a “feel-good” read, and I couldn’t agree more. I listened to the audiobook while traveling to Chicago for my kidney surgery and it gave me all the feels. Life is a series of choices and all we can do is make the best decisions we can and enjoy the ride.
“The only way to learn is to live.”
Matt Haig, The Midnight Library
What Happened by Hilary Rodham Clinton
“We all have the ability to break out of our echo chambers and engage with people who don’t agree with us politically. We can keep an open mind and be willing to change our minds from time to time. Even if our outreach is rebuffed, it’s worth it to keep trying. We’re all going to share our American future together. Better to do so with open hearts and outstretched hands than closed minds and clenched fists.”
Hilary Rodham Clinton, What Happened
As you know, I love a political memoir. And I have serious respect for this incredible woman. Unfortunately, at the time she was running for President, I was not at all interested in politics and I didn’t vote at all [to my everlasting shame]. And she is correct in her perspective on public opinion because all I really remember about her and her campaign can be summarized in one word: emails. How sad and pathetic that such an innocent and commonplace thing could turn into the media firestorm that it did and cost someone a president election. It’s painful to think about, especially in light of the terrible repercussions of our collective stupidity in that election.
Anyway, in this book Clinton is as gracious as ever. I especially love that she recorded the audiobook so that we could hear her share her story. My favorite part is when she shares what a day on the campaign trail looked like for her. I love this sort of “backstage pass” to the lives of political leaders.
If I could go back to my 2016 self, I’d slap myself across the face and say “Wake up! A woman is a primary presidential candidate!Rally the troops and head to the polls!” But, I can’t do that. Not certain what kinds of “troops” I could have rallied anyway since my circles are almost exclusively sexist and republican…but I would have tried. For my daughters. For me. For all women.
Despite the fact that she didn’t win, she definitely paved the way for a female president in the future and I am SO STOKED that I will be able to see it happen in my lifetime.
So, thanks, Hilary. [Is it okay if I call you Hilary?]
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
I listened to this audiobook as I recovered from surgery and I think the pain meds I was on made it hard to concentrate…or maybe put me to sleep while I was listening, because I don’t have many memories of reading it. I will have to re-read it in the future.
Though I’m slightly ashamed to admit I’ve never read the Harry Potter series, I only read this book now because I was trying to determine whether my kids are old enough for me to read it to them. [From what I remember of it, this book would be fine for them – ages 4, 5, & 7.]
One thing I do remember clearly about this book is being a little disappointed. There are a lot of Harry Potter fanatics out there, so I guess I was hoping to be really blown away by the book, and I wasn’t. But I was also drugged and had other more pressing concerns at the time of reading it.
Ok, I’m definitely going to re-read it. And I think I’ll read the actual book which always sticks better than the audiobook anyway.
How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
I love Michael Pollan and this book was interesting, but it seemed to be so different from his usual writings on healthy eating [then again, maybe it’s not that different after all]. He begins with a history of LSD and psychedelics, which was fascinating, and then moves on to describing his own experimentation [in safe and controlled environments] with various psychedelic drugs.
I still don’t have any interest in trying psychedelics – not because I’m a prude, but more because I have a stronger fear of a “bad trip” than a desire for a “good trip.” Strangely enough, in Waking Up by Sam Harris, which I read a few months back, Harris wrote that if his kids never experienced psychedelics in their lifetime, he would think they’ve missed out on something important. There seems to be an element of spirituality found in the “loss of self” or “silence of the ego” when using psychedelics, and I am very much interested in experiencing that. However, I’ve since read Dan Harris’s book, 10% Happier, and it seems you can find a similar feeling/experience from meditation, which feels less risky…and also controversial.
But suffice it to say, Pollan succeeded in making me curious.
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave
I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. Unfortunately, it seemed way too unrealistic for me to accept the ending. There is no way that would have worked out the way it did. It’s a nice idea though.
I read the whole thing in two days, so it was an interesting book, suspenseful enough to keep me reading, but ultimately a disappointment in the end.
Don’t want to spoil it for you, so if you’re so inclined, read it yourself and see if you agree.
Think Again by Adam Grant
This book reminded me a lot of another book I read a few years ago called Talking Across the Divide. In that book [which was also excellent], Justin Lee taught me for the first time about “echo chambers” and how to be open to listening to opposing views in order to communicate effectively with the people I disagree with. Think Again is like the second part of the lesson. Now that I have learned how to talk to people with different views, next I need to learn how to be open to change my own own views.
“A mark of lifelong learners is recognizing that they can learn something from everyone they meet.”
Adam Grant, Think Again
I think of myself as a life-long learner. And I believe myself to be pretty good at questioning my own beliefs. After all, I spent the first twenty-seven years of my life being a sexist, homophobic, conservative, religious zealot. And look at me now, a liberal feminist agnostic-leaning quasi new-age hippie. It took A LOT of rethinking to change my beliefs on literally everything. And even now, all my beliefs are fluid and always changing. And since 99% of my connections are still religious conservatives, my beliefs are always being challenged.
BUT Adam Grant has shown me weaknesses in my own thinking and habits that reinforce rather than question my beliefs – quite literally with his story about the debate on the topic of free universal preschool – but also through important lessons about wisdom and humility.
“It’s a sign of wisdom to avoid believing every thought that enters your mind. It’s a mark of emotional intelligence to avoid internalizing every feeling that enters your heart.”
Adam Grant, Think Again
This is a great book. Two thumbs up!
The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell
At the time of reading, I didn’t really like this story because of the ending, but now looking back on it, I think it is a good story. The book is about a family who, like all families, has history and secrets and complexities that are slowly unraveled throughout the story. The major events always seem happen on or around Easter [hence the egg on the cover].
For me personally, it didn’t have any redeeming qualities beyond the horrors of hoarding [when I finished the book, I immediately felt the need to purge my excess crap – of which there isn’t much since I’m already a minimalist] and the damage that secrets can do. But I enjoyed the way the story was told.
Similarly to other fiction books I read this quarter, the end of the story was slightly disappointing.
Five-Star Reads from 2021:
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
The Shining by Stephen King
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
Lost Connections by Johann Hari
Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
How Democracies Die by Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky
How Not To Die by Dr. Michael Greger and Gene Stone
Night by Elie Wiesel
Persist by Elizabeth Warren
A Path Appears by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Locally Laid by Lucie B. Amundsen
Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
Think Again by Adam Grant
Favorite Read(s) of 2021
Despite my best efforts to choose only one favorite book of the year, it is a tie between these two:
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
You’ve GOT to read these two! And if you do, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
Well, here we are again at Valentine’s Day, trying to give thoughtful, waste-free Valentines to my kids’ classmates.
When Evangeline was in preschool, we gave cuties wrapped in twine with a little “leaf” tag that said “You’re a cutie!”
[You can read my post about how to make these valentines here.]
Then, when Evangeline was in Kindergarten, we made coloring bookmarks with a crayon to pass out on Valentine’s Day.
[You can read my post about how to make these here.]
Last year, I homeschooled the kids and didn’t have to worry about passing out class Valentines – and I’m not sure whether anyone else did either since a lot of schools were doing distance learning because of COVID.
But now the kids are back in school – Evangeline in second grade and Theo in Kindergarten – so we’re making the obligatory school Valentines again.
My daughter adamantly refused to give cuties again [what can I say? It was worth a try] and she fought very hard for heart-shaped suckers, but I really hate giving out candy and dread all the plastic wrappers that will end up in the trash. [This is the unfortunate result of having an environmentalist/personal trainer for a mother.]
So, we agreed on pencils.
I got the free printables from Perfectly Splendid [link here]. You have to check out all the awesome printables for Valentine’s Day that she has on her site, PositivelySplendid.com. [I also used her Bernie Sanders printable for a Valentine’s Card for my husband! Find them here. Too perfect!]
My mother-in-law was kind enough to print the hearts on card stock for me and then we got busy this morning cutting out the hearts, punching holes, and signing names.
Fair warning, my standard hole punch did not make a big enough hole for the pencils so I had to do some fancy punching to make them fit. But it still worked out fine.
Warning: There was some waste created in the making of these Valentines. Five plastic sleeves that the pencils came in ended up in the trash, but all the paper scraps were recycled and these pencils will hopefully get lots of use in the future.
Practical, [nearly] zero waste Valentines for the win!
My healthy goal for February is to serve a salad with every dinner.
It’s no secret that I am a lover of salads. I’ve posted many, many times about them. They are my favorite way to eat a lot of fresh, raw veggies.
Healthy Salad Dressings
I have been making my own salad dressings for years and I highly, HIGHLY recommend it. It is better for your health, better for your wallet, and allows you the freedom to customize a dressing that’s perfect for you. I usually mix the dressing right in my salad bowl, but sometimes I do make it ahead for when I’m taking a salad to dinner at a friend’s house.
To make, put equal parts olive oil and vinegar of choice in a jar with a lid. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a little bit of dijon [or any kind] mustard. Then shake to combine.
This dressing is customizable in a million different ways by using different vinegars, adding different spices/herbs, and adding lemon [or other citrus] juice.
Healthier Homemade Ranch
Like pretty much all kids, my kids like ranch. They like the vinaigrettes that I make too, but ranch is their favorite. I make my own healthier version by mixing the following seasonings into plain Greek yogurt: parsley, garlic, onion, dill, chives, salt and pepper. Use equal amounts parsley, garlic and onion. About half the amount of dill. Even less chives [this can be omitted altogether]. Then salt and pepper to taste.
Or you can just buy the ranch dip package at the store – but why when you have everything you need in your cupboard already???
Vegan Green Goddess Dressing
This is a recipe that I got from America’s Test Kitchen, The Complete Plant Based Cookbook, but of course I’ve modified it.
I basically soak a cup of raw cashews in hot water for 30 minutes, then blend with 3/4 cup water, fresh lemon juice from one lemon, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley flakes, salt, pepper [and whatever other seasonings I feel like] until smooth. I add water if it’s too thick.
So far this month, we’ve had side salads, taco salad, and “salad pizza” [which is just salad on top of my homemade pizza dough – more like a flatbread]. I’ve even had a “smoothie salad” – don’t ask. And my kids keep asking me for their favorite: chickpea salad.
Looking forward to this month of raw veggie salads!
For the month of January, I’ve been avoiding added sugar, which is a LOT harder than it may sound. Though I thought I already knew most of the culprits hiding sugar, I have discovered a few more places that I was unaware of.
For instance, sriracha has sugar. That might be common knowledge for people who eat sriracha regularly. I just thought it was like any other hot sauce, until I tasted it. It was so sweet that I had to check the label.
Sure enough – sugar is the second ingredient.
Though, the real conundrum is how they manage to put “0g added sugar” on the nutrition label…????
I don’t know what that’s about, but I decided not to take any chances and switched back to my regular hot sauce [Tapatio, at the moment] which has no sugar.
I also happened to be in the market for a new multivitamin and I thought I would give gummies a try [they are so dang popular after all], but I decided against it when I realized that they have added sugar.
These are the gummy vitamins that my kids take every day. They prefer gummies for obvious reasons [and truthfully, the sugar content is nominal], but they also like Flintstone chewable vitamins, and these don’t contain any sugar.
Sugar in Bread
By far the sneakiest place to find added sugar is in bread. It is very challenging to find bread in the grocery store bread aisle that doesn’t contain any sugar. It’s not impossible, of course, so if you really want to buy your bread, I recommend looking in the bakery for freshly baked loafs that only have the four necessary ingredients: flour, yeast, salt, water.
Obviously, if you want a sweet bread [such as zucchini bread] or even an enriched bread [such as brioche], then you can expect to find sugar in the ingredient list – but for every day, run-of-the mill sandwich bread and buns, sugar is unnecessary.
So, I’ve been making my own for years.
It all began when I experimented with giving up processed foods for a month. I was pretty new to baking at the time, but I had to find a bread recipe that I could actually make that would work for sandwiches – that was also 100% whole wheat. It took me quite a while to find one that worked for me, but now I’ve been using the same recipe for the past five years to make everyday bread for my family.
The base recipe is from An Oregon Cottage [you can find the recipe here]. Over the years, I’ve altered the recipe to suit my needs — namely removing the honey and swapping two cups of whole wheat flour for bread flour, which makes a slightly fluffier bread.
So, here is the recipe that I use [and it’s in my preferred format which is with ingredients listed in bold in the instructions].
Whole Wheat Bread Recipe
This recipe makes two loaves and takes me 2 hoursto make [1hr and 20 minutes of that is rise time], but I’ve been making it every week for years, so maybe plan on 2.5 hours.
1. Put 2 1/2 cups warm water [about 110°, but don’t stress it – just not so hot it can burn you] in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast over the water. Add 2 cups bread flour. Mix until incorporated. Wait 10-20 minutes [the mixture should rise and get foamy on top].
2. Add 1/3 cup olive oil [or any neutral oil], 4 cups whole wheat flour, and 2 1/2 teaspoons salt. Stir until it becomes too thick, then turn out onto a floured surface and knead by hand until smooth, adding additional flour as needed to keep it from being too sticky.
3. Divide dough in half. Take one half and flatten, then roll up and pinch together. Curl up ends and pinch together. Place seam side down in oiled bread pan. Repeat with other half of dough.
4. Cover with a towel and let rise for one hour [preferably in a warm place].
5. Preheat oven to 350°. Bake for 40-45 minutes.
And voila! Enjoy that freshly baked bread smell! Mmm…