I spent a long time finishing my Bookmarked Life post last night, only to omit the crucial step of pressing “update.”  So if you read A Spirited Mind in a reader or via email, you might want to click this link instead:

The REAL Bookmarked Life #8

Sorry about that!

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The Bookmarked Life, #8

The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:


“The purpose of life is not to be happy.  It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”  –Emerson

I added this quote to a sticky note on my desk after reading it in a friend’s book draft.  To have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.  This is something I’m really thinking about as I consider goals and plans for the new year.

…Learning about

I follow Almost Fearless because although it wouldn’t work with my husband, the concept of being totally untethered and picking up and moving abroad to soak up different cultures and languages fascinates me.  Recently, Christine posted this idea for learning Spanish so that you can help your kids to be bilingual.  As our Spanish learning limps along (it gets shoved aside when other school work takes too long–I’m working on solutions for that), I decided to use the Almost Fearless resource suggestions to tackle Spanish myself.  I got a copy of Easy Spanish Step-By-Step and started working through it.  I love studying languages, but one thing I’ve realized about myself is that I like the concepts of language and figuring out how a language is structured, but I struggle to follow through and really learn it to speak it.  The vestiges of high school German, college Russian, post-college Arabic, mid-20s French, early 30s Persian, and now mid-30s Spanish ping around in my brain in a most non-fluent fashion.

I told my college roommate about how much I enjoy this fits and starts studying, because it’s such excellent exercise for the brain and I love brain work outs.  She totally understood about brain workouts, but then added “Most normal people do not feel this way.”  Good thing normal is not on my goal list.  :)

…Living the Good Life

It’s trite to mention how difficult it is to get four children to smile all at once.  This photo shoot involved a complete melt-down on the part of the baby.  Eventually she agreed to be in the picture, but only if she could hold my phone and a random game piece.  You don’t even know what happened when I took the pacifier away.

DSC_0024Coordinating siblings. I will never get over it.


‘Tis the season of “Don’t touch! Don’t touch!”


I’ve tried to set up one fun thing for the kids each school day in our December term. Graham cracker gingerbread houses were a hit.


Post-ballet-class photobomb of my attempt to take a picture of my Advent-Wreath-esque breakfast room table centerpiece.


We are limping toward the end of our semester, winding up with the Victorian Era.  It was perfect timing really, to get to Dickens just in time for Christmas.  The big kids have really gotten into Dickens in their independent reading, and we read A Christmas Carol aloud.  Both Sarah and Hannah finished spelling levels, so now Sarah is moving into All About Spelling Level 2 and Hannah is catching up with All About Spelling Level 3.  The nice thing about homeschooling is that we’re going for mastery not completion, so it worked out fine to have Hannah switch into AAS from a different curriculum and refresh with Level 2.  I’ve noticed a HUGE improvement in her spelling, although she still tries to write too quickly and forgets to think about spelling a lot of times.  It’s a process.

On a math note, I’m glad I did decide to put Hannah in Saxon 54.  I had been unsure if that would be too big of a leap after Saxon 3, but she is doing a fabulous job, and is over halfway through 54.

I’m pleased with how the semester shaped up.  Breaking the year up into terms has been helpful, and I’m looking forward to a longer break starting next week.  I need some time to regroup and “identify the slowest hiker” in a couple of places.


Since we were hosting my husband’s family for Thanksgiving dinner and I was doing the cooking, I wound up unable to do a traditional outdoor 5K.  Instead, I decided to see if I could run a 10K indoors.  So, during a lull in the kitchen, I went to the basement and did just that.  It felt like a good accomplishment.

…Seeking balance

After a slow spell after Thanksgiving, several of my clients decided to do some final marketing pushes before the end of the year, so I’ve been knocking that out.  I’m hoping to take the week of Christmas entirely off.  We’ll see if that is possible.  I have 22 books on my To Be Read shelf, and delusions of finishing them all over the break.  I’m also pondering what my professional and writing goals should be for 2015.

…Building the habit

I’ve made progress on my Fall habits, but I’m looking at new ways of applying them, or possibly switching out a few.  Do you roll habits into your goal setting?

…Listening to

I decided to do a free trial of Audible in order to take advantage of some free stuff in November, and I used my free book credit to get Susan Wise Bauer’s The History of the Renaissance World: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Conquest of Constantinople, and have enjoyed listening to it so far.  I have a $10 Audible credit that I need to spend by Dec 31.  Suggestions?

What are you bookmarking this week?


Note: Most of the links in this post are to my longer reviews, but one is to Amazon, and it’s an affiliate link, just so you know! 

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Leading the Life You Want


With an appealing title, best seller status, and glowing reviews from all sorts of respectable sources, I expected great things from Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life.

However, to put it simply: if you have ever read anything on leadership, business, and work/life balance, you won’t learn anything new from this book.  At all.

At several points I had to double check to make sure I hadn’t read the book before, because it sounded so familiar.  Even the examples Friedman uses – especially Tom Tierney and Sheryl Sandberg–are so well known that you’ve probably already gotten their stories multiple times.

But a lot of books in this genre are derivative and cover basically the same information.  What’s different about this one?  After thinking about it, I decided that what bugged me most was the detached style.  The writing is not compelling and nearly every example or point is made by referencing a second hand account.  It’s a quote from Sandberg’s book, or an anecdote taken from a magazine article, or something the person said in a television interview–not first hand research or narrative.  Maybe this was the author’s attempt at scholarly attribution, but even very academic authors find ways to cite sources without bogging down every paragraph.

As you may have guessed, I only finished Leading the Life You Want because it was an upstairs book, and I never remember to keep a backup up there.

Although I’m panning this volume and don’t recommend it, I will say that if you’ve never read anything else on the topic the information is not incorrect.  I just didn’t get anything new from it, nor a fresh perspective on what I already know.


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100 Days of Real Food

100daysWhen it comes to eating healthy, real food, I know the good I ought to do but often just don’t do it.  At times I’ve been deeply into nutrition–making yogurt and kefir, sprouting everything, buying local, etc–and at times I’ve let things go.  The nice thing about having gone through phases of intense healthy eating is that I know how to do this stuff, and a gentle reminder is all I need to make changes.

I recently faced up to the fact that I had let too many things slide with our diet.  It’s too easy to tell the kids to make a peanut butter sandwich every day for lunch, to pull out the white flour for everything, to fall into habits of having treats too often.  Although we don’t eat the Standard American Diet, I don’t feel my best when we get too loose with nutrition, and I don’t think the kids do either.

I picked up 100 Days of Real Food: How We Did It, What We Learned, and 100 Easy, Wholesome Recipes Your Family Will Love with changing our diet in mind, and found it to be a good catalyst.  If you really do eat the SAD, or if you don’t know anything about nutrition at all, this book would be a good start.  If you know a lot of things and just need a kick in the pants, the recipes will make the book worth it.  I disagreed with the author on some points, but I think as long as you understand that you have to draw your own lines in the sand on things like grains, dairy, organics, and things like that, you can still find the book useful.

As I mentioned above, the recipes are what make the book really helpful.  I got a lot of good ideas for non-PBJ lunches, as well as interesting and different things to do with the meat and vegetable routine we have.  I wasn’t tempted by all of them, but did find 13 solid recipes and ideas to try.

If you know you need to tweak your eating habits, or if you’re already knowledgeable about nutrition but need some fresh inspiration, 100 Days of Real Food could be worth perusing.

What are your favorite sources of healthy food inspiration?


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What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

running(US)What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is author Haruki Murakami’s memoir covering the intersection of running and writing in his life and how each discipline has informed the other in his experience.  It’s not so much a how-to book–you won’t find tips on training or on how to put together novels–but I found his musings helpful in a broader sense, and thought the concept worked well as a memoir.

As you read the book, you develop a good sense of Murakami’s overall philosophy of work.  He writes about discipline and endurance, the importance of building good habits in line with your goals, and emphasizes the role of innate talent and aptitude.  I think Murakami’s take on this balance of talent and hard work is well developed, and linking writing to extreme running is a great metaphor.  Murakami’s memoir credits his body type, temperament, and talent, but leaves little doubt that daily hard work and endurance training formed a large part of his success in both areas.

One idea I found particularly interesting throughout the memoir was Murakami’s linking of physical habits to mental creativity.  For example, he mentions excellent writers who wind up burning out or even committing suicide when their creativity ebbs, and traces his own ability to maintain steady creativity to the balance that physical hard work brings him.  Without that balance, he says, you can only offset the toll of creative work for so long.  Over the weekend a friend remarked on the fact that creative work is more exhausting in some sense than physical labor, because the physical work is itself an outlet for stress and strain.  Murakami certainly chalks up his habit of daily running to his ability to avoid creative exhaustion.  It’s an interesting link to consider.

If you are into running or writing, or if you’re just a fan of good memoirs, I’d recommend What I Talk About When I Talk About Running as a quick but thoughtful read.

What do you think about the connection between physical and creative energy?  Do you see anything like that in your own life?


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Slim By Design

SlimByDesign-RevCover2Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life is one of the most fascinating books I’ve read this year.  Written by a high profile academic and public policy figure, the book is a highly readable account of the author’s decades of research into the behaviors, characteristics, and habits that make people slim or fat over time.  His thesis is that rather than hundreds of rules or laws, the best way to be (or become) slimmer is to make simple changes in our homes, our stores, our workplaces, and our schools.

The book is funny and a quick read, but it’s packed with ideas and findings.  For example:

  • People eat less (and are still satisfied) when served from the stove or counter onto smaller plates with a smaller serving spoon.
  • If you keep a box of breakfast cereal on your kitchen counter, you are statistically likely to weigh 21 pounds more than people who don’t keep cereal out on display.
  • However, if you keep fruit on the counter in a bowl, you are statistically apt to weigh 7 pounds less than average people.
  • Slim kitchens tend not to have toasters on the counter.

Wansink emphasizes that everyone thinks “Aha, now that I know that, I can keep my cereal on my counter and not get fat” but apparently the research does not bear this out.  Just knowing the good you ought to do doesn’t help you to do it when you walk into your kitchen starving at 5:30pm.

I found the section on making your home slim by design especially helpful and practical. I was surprised to see how many of the prescriptions we already do–not out of a desire to be thin, but just because that’s how we do things.  Our usual dinner plates are 9 inches wide (we do have one set that measures 10.25 inches, but don’t use them as often–and certainly nothing like the apparently average size of 12-14 inches wide!!!), we serve meals from the counter or stove not the table, and my abhorrence for clutter means cereal is never, ever on the counter (actually I rarely buy it at all).  Our toaster is kept in a cabinet and only brought out when needed, we keep a bowl of fruit on the counter, the only other food visible is the set of large glass canisters holding dry oatmeal and rice.

A few of Wansink’s ideas will appeal to moderators–you don’t have to get rid of the less healthy food, just don’t keep it in the line of sight–but still won’t work for abstainers like me.  When I keep the chocolate up high, in the cabinet over the refrigerator, I still know where it is and eat it.  :)  So as an abstainer, I just don’t keep that stuff in the house at all.  You can tailor the suggestions to fit either personality type.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to get our family out of a few bad eating habits that had crept in (mostly involving readily accessible sandwich bread, more on that in another book review) because life was busy.  Wansink’s book was helpful in giving me a few ideas for further tweaks to our kitchen (like wrapping less healthy leftovers in foil, using smaller serving spoons, serving food out of smaller bowls, allowing seconds or thirds as long as a plate of salad is eaten in between, etc).  It was also very encouraging, in that Wansink points out ways to make small, incremental changes that can really make a difference over time.

I’d highly recommend this book, whether you spend a lot of time at home or not.  The sections on workplace, restaurant, grocery store, and school strategies were equally strong, and would be very helpful to people in a wide variety of lifestyles.


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Run Like A Mother

runI keep different books stashed around the house so that when I have a spare minute or two to read, I have something at hand. At some point I put Run Like a Mother: How to Get Moving–and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity by the rocking chair in the baby’s room upstairs and then kept forgetting to replace it with something I actually wanted to read, and that’s really the only reason I finished it.

There are a couple of good points in the book.  I made a note about how to place my arms for better form when I’m working on speed.  I also appreciated the insight into fueling before and after runs.

I think my main problem with the book was the tone.  Much of it was more cutesy and silly than I can usually stand.  And then there was a lot of who-cares filler like what songs the authors like, and how random women answer questions like “How do you cope with time away from running?” (one answer: “I pouted and cried!”).

Then there were the questionable pieces of advice, such as how to fuel when you need it.  I’m sorry, but a candy bar is not the same as a piece of fruit, even if they have the same number of carbs.  A book on how great it is for women to be fit advises popping Tootsie Rolls during runs?  Seriously?  There has to be a better way.  I also rolled my eyes at the essay about how one of the authors tried eating low carb for two weeks and felt sluggish on runs, so runners shouldn’t worry about overeating carbs (Tootsie Rolls!).  What about getting carbs from real food sources or limiting processed carbs but getting macros right in a healthy way?  Totally missing.

Ultimately I was disappointed because this is not the book I thought I was going to read when I picked it up.  If you’re looking for a book that is kind of like talking about running with a bunch of other moms who may or may not be experts, this could be a good fit for you.  The essays and sidebars might give you new ideas for fitting in workouts or insight into how other moms handle easing back into exercise after childbirth.  But if you’re looking for data or science or concrete answers based on something other than opinion, this is not it.

I hate to fault a book for being different than what I expected.  That’s not the authors’ fault.  So, while I didn’t love it and it wasn’t a good fit for me personally, I do think there is a place for it–just with a different type of reader who is looking for different things.


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Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life

laura-ingalls-wilder1If you grew up reading the Little House books, you might enjoy Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life.  I found the book via a free online course that I signed up for, but didn’t really follow (it was just an online discussion forum, which I didn’t find very engaging or informative).  I was glad I signed up for the course though, as it inspired me to pick up this biography.

As someone who read the Little House series probably 25 times before finishing elementary school (conservative estimate), I feel like Laura was one of my closest friends growing up.  It was great to learn more about her adult life and about her development as a writer.  I knew some of the information already, but found the book’s perspective–particularly on Rose Wilder Lane–interesting to consider.

In this biography, Lane is portrayed as being very condescending to her parents, almost completely disrespectful to her mother, selfish, and grasping.  The narrative I had read before showed Rose being super helpful to her mother’s career and legacy, but this book points out that she was heavy-handed and almost rudely critical at points, and that even in her attempts to bolster Laura’s posthumous reputation, Lane emphasized the biographical aspects of the Little House books while putting down her mother’s artistic talent.

I did enjoy seeing how Laura used her life experiences to craft a compelling fictional narrative in the Little House series.  Apparently this process really flabbergasts and appalls some people–as though Laura did not have a right to use her life to write fiction, or as if the fact that some parts were fictionalized diminishes the books as history.   I find that reaction curious. Part of the confusion probably comes from Lane’s later attempts to portray the books as purely autobiographical.

If you aren’t a big fan of Little House, you might not find Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life very compelling.  It has more of a research-y feel, and does circle back on certain points again and again–which serves the interest of completeness, but does compromise the pace and impact a bit.  However, if you have read the series, or if your kids are reading it and you want to talk to them about it, I’d recommend this biography.


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Grace Filled Marriage

Grace-Filled-Marriage-198x300If you’ve read any of Tim Kimmel’s other books, Grace Filled Marriage will feel familiar to you.  In this book, Kimmel applies his ideas about grace-filled relationships to marriage, and even if the concepts are not new to you, the book is a good reminder to watch the lenses we use and extend grace to our spouses.

Since I have read Kimmel’s frameworks before, what jumped out at me in this book was not so much his grace message (although I am always glad for a refresher), but rather his insights on lenses.  Kimmel points out that we choose how to view, interpret, and react to objective circumstances in all of our relationships and life in general.  He challenges readers to examine their lenses–which is not our default mode.  This concept is applicable in so many areas of life and has such wide-ranging implications for how we speak, think, act, and relate to others.  I found lots of food for thought.

Grace Filled Marriage is a solid marriage book, with applications beyond the marriage relationship.  I’d recommend it as part of your ongoing reading on the topic (although if you only have time for one or two marriage books, I still think The Meaning of Marriage and What Did You Expect are the best I’ve come across).


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Deconstructing Penguins

penguinsI got so much out of Deconstructing Penguins: Parents, Kids, and the Bond of Reading that I ordered my own copy before I finished the one I borrowed from the library.  I’m glad I did because I’ve already referred to it again a few times.

The kids and I discuss books a lot.  We talk about the books we read for our history and literature selections, we talk about the books we read out loud together just for fun, and we have mom/kid book club discussions when Hannah or Jack want me to read something they’ve read.

While I enjoy these discussions, I have not always been intentional about what to ask and how to direct the conversation.  Sometimes I ask the kids for narrations (telling back what they remember–which also shows me their interpretations and how they weight different events, always interesting), and sometimes I let them bring up topics they want to cover.  Deconstructing Penguins gave me a different way to tackle book discussions.

I love the framework the authors used–based on their years of leading real book groups with kids 2nd grade and up–of approaching each story as a mystery to solve, teaching kids how to find the protagonist and antagonist to get at what the themes and the author’s message are, and helping kids learn how to read critically.  The method is a kid-friendly walk-through of literary analysis, and if you have studied literature as an adult it will feel familiar to you.  But even if you haven’t read anything remotely literary since a tortured 10th grade English foray through The Scarlet Letter, Deconstructing Penguins will give you the tools to make yourself and your kids more discerning readers.

Since Hannah was re-reading The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler for the eleventy-hundredth time recently (it was one of my favorites too–must be a firstborn girl thing) and that book is one of the examples from Deconstructing Penguins, I decided to try the method out on my unsuspecting 8 year old.  I re-read the book too (it’s still good!) and walked through a similar discussion to that described in Deconstructing Penguins.  It worked out great!  Hannah gave many similar answers to the ones described in the book, but it was also interesting to note where she veered off into other observations and connections.  Overall, it was a really enjoyable book discussion and I think it was more fruitful than our usual free-for-all method.

If you want to encourage your kids to be good readers, or aren’t sure how to talk to them about books, I would highly recommend Deconstructing Penguins.  It would be great if you want to lead group book clubs like the authors did, but it also works in a one-on-one setting.  It’s a fabulous resource, and one you would not regret owning.


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