Bowling, bouillon, and bold living

julia-child-memoir-life-in-franceWe recently attended my husband’s 20th high school reunion. Since I didn’t know these people in the ’90s, the biggest surprise for me was the fact that the reunion was held in a bowling alley. The second biggest surprise? How few of my husband’s former classmates were fired up about their jobs.

“So, what do you do for a living?”

“Oh, well, you know, I just, kind of…” A brief phrase of description, a shrug.

Maybe everyone was trying to be humble, but I guess I expected more enthusiasm. I wished more people would really let fly with what they were excited about–a job, a hobby, their monogrammed bowling ball… There is something so compelling about people who love what they do.

That’s why I loved reading My Life in France. Of course I’m familiar with Julia Child–albeit primarily through my dad’s hilarious comedy bit about her nipping at the cooking sherry–but reading My Life in France gave me wonderful insight into how Child found her life’s passion in her late 30s and lived from there on out with great gusto.

Even the most devoted foodies probably don’t spend days devoted to the nuances of scrambled eggs or pinpointing a precise flavor in a sauce, but Child’s enthusiasm for cooking is contagious. She managed to make descriptions of ingredients and endless rounds of testing recipes fascinating, funny, and compelling. I couldn’t help but feel happy each time I picked the book up to read a little bit, whether because of the clear love and respect Child and her husband had for each other, the tales of kitchen mishaps, or the sheer joy Child took in her life.

After reading My Life in France I did not attempt a single new recipe–my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking sits forlorn on my pantry shelf to this day)–but I did feel inspired to live life with more gusto, and boldly go after the work I love even if (and perhaps especially if) it seems ridiculous to everyone else.

After all, it’s not every day that you stand around at a bowling alley having to explain your life thus far. But every day you get to write that story, so you might as well live it for all it’s worth.


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.



A couple of resources for writers

course_badges_Starting_yesOnline courses are A Big Thing right now, which you’ve probably noticed, and I’m not sure how I feel about them. As with anything, there are great examples and also lackluster offerings. In general I don’t think they match my learning style as well as reading a book. But in some cases, for certain topics, I think courses really, really work. One case in point: Upstream Field Guide, and a new favorite, Christine Gilbert’s Starting Your Book.

I got the course as part of an incentive package Christine offered for pre-ordering her book, which made the price a great deal. I’m not sure I would have pulled the trigger at full price then, although having completed the course, I am convinced of the value.

As you might guess from the title, Starting Your Book takes you from your idea to a fully outlined book.  Although I think it’s structured more for a non-fiction book concept, it also works well for fiction projects. You learn about tools to help you collect your thoughts, organize your premise, and develop a well plotted, complete outline you can actually write from. I was skeptical of the idea, because I’ve tried to outline novels before, but this time? I actually accomplished it! It did take a lot of work, but I felt challenged, encouraged, and best of all, equipped to get the thing done.

If you need the course, Starting Your Book is an excellent choice. It worked well for me because it’s entirely online and it’s written down, which meant I could consume the content as I had time and mental space, but also at my own pace, versus the slooooow pace of a video or audio. Each day packs in a lot of material, with several assignments each day. At first I was thinking, “There is no way I am going to get this done in 30 days, there is no way.” But then, lo and behold, I actually did.

pressfield-book-coverAbout three weeks into the course, when I had a pretty well fleshed out outline of 30 chapters, I read Nobody Wants to Read Your S***. OK, I know, crass title, and people who can’t think of better titles than those involving words requiring asterisks are usually annoying, but the book turned out to be helpful. I got it as a free download so there was little risk involved. I think the book was helpful for me because I was neck deep in plotting a story, so I had very concrete ways to envision the advice. For the most part, it’s good advice. And it’s better than Pressfield’s other non-fiction books (The War of Art, Do the Work) although it covers lots of similar ground. Pressfield has a formula, and clearly it works (he’s a best-selling author) but you can take or leave what you like of that. I did think he had some interesting ideas about themes, particularly one about how American authors tend to (maybe subconsciously) write the American Dream–defined by Pressfield as the belief that if you do the right thing and play by the rules, you succeed–into their books.

I looked at my outline. OK, apparently I am not an American because I wrote the exact opposite. I guess you could say I sub-themed that the American Dream isn’t true?


But that’s honest, because I don’t believe it, if you go by Pressfield’s definition. I guess those four years I lived abroad while growing up had a bigger impact than I thought. Anyway, onward.

During the last week of the course, I started to have major panic. The daily content and assignments tapped into some insecurities I have about the outline and I started thinking I had wasted all of that time because the whole thing was a hopeless mess and irrevocably broken. So I almost missed out on THE MOST VALUABLE PART of the entire course.

Christine reviews your outline.

I very nearly didn’t send it in, but at the last minute I said what the heck and pressed send. And Christine reviewed the entire outline (it’s a 17 page single-spaced Word document, so this is not paltry) and sent back the most thoughtful, helpful, lovely response letter. I did not expect anything so encouraging.

I think the final review is an incredible value, because having another person–a person who doesn’t know you or your story and has no vested interest in your being a writer at all–look at your ideas and evaluate them is incredibly helpful.

So, how do you know if you need a course like Starting Your Book?

I know what you’re thinking, because I was thinking it too. I’m a fairly Type A person who gets things done. Couldn’t I just outline my book on my own without a 30-day course? Well, yes. Except I’ve been working on this idea for, oh, seven years or so, and still didn’t have a good outline. I’ve read all the books and listened to all the podcasts and written reams of scenes and partial ideas. I’ve even written an entire 80,000+ word draft! It was terrible. I wasn’t keeping at it in anything resembling a consistent fashion because I wasn’t sure if it was a good use of my time–in short, I have a serious case of Imposter Syndrome about writing, even though it’s what I do for a living. The course gave me a needed push to buckle down and really apply myself to combine ideas and sort everything out and get it done.

If you’re in a similar position–you write but drafts don’t shape up well, or you can’t seem to get over the mental hurdles to be diligent on the project, or you have an idea but aren’t sure where to go with it–I’d recommend Starting Your Book. It’s a bit of an investment, but might be just what you need.


Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are to my previous book reviews, but one is an Amazon affiliate link and I am also an affiliate for the We Create courses. Thanks for clicking through from A Spirited Mind!

On Purpose and Flourishing – a course and a few books

I like to think about things like goals and living on purpose, and I try (more or less desperately) to live a life of flourishing regardless of circumstances. The events of the past year have made me more deliberate in this regard, but also much less hubristic about the whole thing. Of course, since this is me, I keep learning!

UpstreamFieldGuide-464x600Being someone who generally learns better from books than from audio, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Tsh Oxenrider’s (author of Notes From a Blue Bike) course Upstream Field Guide. I had looked at the course several times because I liked the premise of uncovering and living into your life’s purpose even if you’re swimming upstream of the regular culture, but I was always uncertain because of price. It’s a lot of content–eight segments with Tsh, and a couple of additional interview pieces per session, plus a workbook–but I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to pay for it and kept wishing Tsh would just write a book on the topic.

So when it came up in a bundle at 1/2 to 1/3 the regular price, I decided to pull the trigger and YES, it was absolutely worth the price of the bundle (the rest of the bundle is e-books you can take or leave, but will probably mostly leave–I looked at it as being totally the price of Upstream Field Guide).

The course takes you through a lot of exercises designed to get at your purpose. I found many of them similar to Make It Happen, except MIH (and PowerSheets) are more geared toward purpose and goals on a year by year schedule, whereas Upstream Field Guide is geared toward life purpose apart from individual roles (mom, teacher, writer, etc) and goals.

You might be skeptical, especially if you’re already a fairly introspective person. I was really, really surprised at how the exercises and insights from the course revealed a handful of things that came up again and again and translated to a purpose statement. I’ve read a lot about purpose statements but have never before done one because it always seemed forced or too based on current life stage–or maybe I was just never ready for it or pushed to the edge enough for it.  Upstream Field Guide was different, and very helpful for me. Articulating a purpose has helped me to think through prioritizing in a different and more consistent way.

Spelling out your purpose then helps you to set better goals, and Tsh walks through goal setting in the course too–again with a similar framework to Lara Casey’s though not in the same detail, I still recommend Casey’s goal setting process as the best I’ve found–and how to evaluate where you are in life compared to where you want to be.

Depending on when you read this, you might be able to get the Upstream Field Guide course for the bundle price–the bundle is available June 1 and 2, 2016. If you’ve looked at the course but have been on the fence, this is a good time to snag it.

own your lifeIf you’ve been reading here for a while you might remember that I have already reviewed Sally Clarkson’s Own Your Life. Ahem. Remember what I said at the beginning of the post about hubris? That. When I last read Own Your Life, I was about to enter a very difficult and intense year, with challenges on just about every life front. I had no idea of course, and so at that point I thought ok, sure, but Sally Clarkson is not Type A enough for me!  Let’s take over the world with our strong and mighty selves and be great at all the things!  Well. This time around, having been more than a little humbled, I was deeply impacted by the book.

As it turns out, it wasn’t so much my ENTJ personality that didn’t connect before, but rather my I’ve-got-this attitude. Own Your Life is full of good messages for anyone–to take responsibility for your life and make choices toward your ideals–but it really resonates when you’re looking for encouragement to do the hard work of really leaning into and owning the story you’re in.  Reading this book at the same time I was going through Upstream Field Guide was helpful in a big picture, heart and soul sort of way. This time around I recommend Own Your Life heartily!

living forwardHaving read Michael Hyatt’s blog and listened to his podcast intermittently, I was interested to read his latest book, Living Forward, which is about putting together a life plan. To be honest, I was hoping for more. If you’ve never read anything on goal setting or life planning, you might find the book helpful, but since I read a lot in the genre, I was sort of underwhelmed.  Most of the book seemed derived from other sources, like Getting Things Done (link is my review of GTD), or very similar to other goal setting tips you can get from Hyatt’s blog or other similar sources.  If anything, I’d recommend this as a library book.

If you’ve ever put together a personal purpose statement, how did it work? Did it help you? Did it stick?


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.




On reading with other people

parent's guideI recently had a chance to be part of a SENG parents group in my area. We read A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children and discussed one chapter per week.

Initially, I signed up because I thought it might be helpful to meet other parents who might be having similar issues to what we’re dealing with (and it was).  I’ve read a lot of books on giftedness (check this, this, and this for lists), so I figured the book part would be stuff I already knew.

As it turned out, A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children was one of the most helpful books on the topic that I’ve read. Primarily, I’d link that to the fact that it covers so many parenting issues (versus a heavy classroom management focus) but I also think I got so much more out of it because I was discussing each chapter with a group.

In the book clubs I’ve been part of, we’ve always discussed one book per month. That’s great for overall themes and usually seems like a good approach, especially for fiction, but I found that meeting more frequently and discussing individual chapters was a fantastic way to read a non-fiction book. It gave us time to dig deeply into each topic, share strategies, and talk through issues in a way that would not have been possible had we attempted to discuss the entire book in one fell swoop.

This got me started thinking about how or if I could do more book discussions this way.  Of course, living in the suburbs as I do, the immediate objection will be that no one has the time to meet once a week to discuss a book (sigh), but maybe I should ask around anyway.

Back to the book for a second: If you have gifted kids, I’d highly recommend A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, whether you read it alone or in a group.

Have you ever done a book discussion chapter-by-chapter?


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

An e-book bundle for people who don’t buy e-book bundles

Maybe you’re like me.  I never buy e-book bundles because:

  • Lots of e-books are free anyway.
  • Lots of e-books (even the not-free ones) are poorly written, poorly edited, and full of bad information.
  • You can often find the same information online for free.

And yet, this week I bought an e-book bundle.  I can’t believe I just typed that.  There was really only one thing that made me pull the trigger.


  • One of the free (well, almost, you have to pay $6.50 shipping) bonuses is three bottles of essential oils: lavender, lemon, and peppermint.

That’s it.  I clicked Buy Now on The Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle.  It was $29.97, and if you purchase by September 12 you also get access to a free live webinar with an aromatherapist about how to use essential oils safely and effectively.  I think that’s worth it.  Here’s my thought process:

  • I use Young Living essential oils, and the ones included in the bundle are not YL, they are Plant Therapy brand.  I may not use these oils exactly as I use my YL oils, because I did a lot of research into YL and trust them, but there are a lot of uses for oils that don’t require ingestion or undiluted use, especially for lavender and peppermint.  These three oils would set you back a lot more than $36.47 if you bought them elsewhere, making the bundle worth it for the oils alone.
  • In addition to the oils, there is also a bonus $16 credit, plus two Meyers soaps, plus free shipping to ePantry.  So even if I’m considering those as replacements for drug store brands, that saves me another $10.
  • The people at Ultimate Bundles screened and curated the included e-books, so I’m assuming a higher level of quality than your standard free-on-Amazon fare.

The Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle also includes:

  • A month-long membership to Paleofit and Paleo Meal Plan.  I’m not all in for paleo, but I do prefer to eat lower carb, real food meals, so paleo often fits recipe-wise, even if I don’t believe it as a philosophy.
  • Two free months of Once a Month Meals membership–choose menus based on your eating preferences and family size, and get a personalized plan to shop for, prepare, make ahead, or cook as you go, all of your meals for the month.
  • The Foundational Five course–a heal your diastasis program I have looked at before and will NEED after baby arrives.
  • Other good workout resources I can access any time after I get through post-partum recovery and ramp back up.
  • An e-book on handling PCOS, which is a major problem that comes roaring back every time I wean a baby.
  • Several e-books on healthy/real food easy freezer/crockpot type meals.  I’m a working, homeschooling mom expecting her fifth baby.  I’m sure I don’t need to explain why meal streamlining is a big thing for me right now!
  • money back guarantee on the whole bundle.  For 30 days, no questions asked.

There are also about 85 other e-books I might look at later although they don’t immediately appeal, and other free bonuses that I might or might not redeem depending on if I feel like paying for shipping is worth it (updated to add: I did wind up redeeming several of the other bonuses because the shipping charge still made the items cheaper than what I would normally pay).  You should check out the full list of courses and e-books and bonuses included–topics include: allergy friendly, essential oils, fitness and weight loss, healthy kids, homesteading, natural home, natural remedies, paleo, and real food–because different things would probably appeal to you.

So, you never buy e-book bundles.  I get it; neither do I.  But The Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle might make you reconsider.  At least this once.


Disclosure: If you do decide to purchase the bundle, I’d love it if you click through my link.  I signed up as an affiliate after I made the purchase because I think this is an actual good deal, and I so appreciate it when y’all help support A Spirited Mind!  Thank you!

Establish Your Heart (a Biblestudy on James)

Establish-Your-Heart-Cover-for-web-228x300Having really enjoyed Jenni Keller’s study on Colossians, I eagerly bought her second book, Establish Your Heart: A Six-week Study of James.  Although the format was a little different and I preferred the Colossians study overall, I still got a lot out of the James study, and would recommend it.

You can get the study two ways: via Amazon or directly from Keller’s website.  I got my copy from her website as a download and printed it out, but in hindsight I would have just gotten it on Amazon because for $2 extra you get a paperback version that doesn’t require your colored ink and is presumably bound versus being a stack of computer paper held together by a binder clip.

Either way, the study is an economical investment that will encourage you to think deeply about the book of James and really study this Scripture.  Like Keller’s previous study, this one doesn’t force feed you any answers–you really do your own study, but feel supported along the way.  I really like that about Keller’s approach.

The study could easily be done with a group or on your own.  If you’re looking for a tool to help you dig more deeply in your Bible study, I’d recommend Establish Your Heart or Complete in Christ, Keller’s study on Colossians (you can read my review of the Colossians study here).


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Five People You Meet in Heaven

five-peopleIf you’re into feel-good books with a pseudo-spiritualish but not overly challenging theme, you might really like The Five People You Meet in Heaven.  If not, you might find the main character interesting enough to get you through the hour and a half or so it will take you to read the book.

One of the book clubs I’m in chose this for the June selection, and although I had in my head that it was going to be sort of sappy or about dogs or too much like a Nicholas Sparks novel, it wasn’t.  Well, it’s not about dogs anyway.  And the love story part is much less formulaic and saccharine than a Sparks special.

But I couldn’t get past how fluffy the book is.  It’s like a book version of It’s a Wonderful Life but without old-timey kitsch or Zuzu’s petals.  The heaven idea–that you meet five people who impacted your life and they tell you what your life really meant, and that heaven is all about figuring out your own personal role in the pageant of time–seemed lame to me.  I mean, it’s appealing to think about figuring out the purpose for all of your suffering, but if that’s all heaven is about I think it falls sort of flat.  The fact that this self-centered, superficial view of heaven permeated the book gave me that “ugh, what is our culture coming to?” feeling.

I will say that the structure of the book is inventive and the main character is compelling.  Maybe if you’re going into the book looking for a beach read that is really easy, and if you can avoid being sidetracked or annoyed by the vaguely spiritual-esque-ness of it, you’d like The Five People You Meet in Heaven.  But I can’t say I’d really recommend it.  There are many, many better books on which to spend your hour and a half.

If you read this book and loved it, tell us why!  What did I miss?


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Historical Mysteries Set in Tudor England

crownNancy Bilyeau had me at “set in Tudor England” but my desire to read this series–The Crown, The Chalice, and The Tapestry–was cemented by the fact that Alison Weir herself gave the books a glowing review. That’s enough for me!

The series follows a woman of the nobility who attempts to take vows at a priory just before the Dissolution. While still a novice, her house–like most others in England at that time–is disbanded and Joanna is thrown into all sorts of adventures and intrigues surrounding the court of her cousin, Henry VIII.chalice

With excellent historical detail and strong pacing, the books manage to pull off historical fiction and good mysteries, while exploring an aspect of Tudor England–the dissolution of Catholic religious orders–that is not exhaustively treated in historical fiction about the era. I’m not sure if more Joanna Stafford mysteries are planned, but I hope so, as I liked the character and Bilyeau’s writing style.

The books are well written but not overly demanding, making them an excellent choice for your beach week or any time you need a gripping but enjoyable read.  They are a series, tapestryso I’d recommend reading them all and in order.  They might stand well on their own, but the stories do build on each other so you might not get as much out of the later books if you don’t read them as a series.


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.



The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

little bookstoreThe Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book would be an excellent title to read along with Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop, as it’s a light and interesting real-life memoir of a couple who runs a used bookshop in a small town in Virginia.  Although rather less fraught with hoboes and espionage, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap has plenty of parallels to the Christopher Morley fiction, and lots of funny and heartwarming tales besides.

I wouldn’t say that I finished the book feeling ready to own a bookstore (that’s not on my bucket list anyway), but I did enjoy reading about the ins and outs of the author’s experience establishing her business and her place in the community.  If you like memoir or bookshops, I’d recommend The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap as a nice casual read, well suited for the breather week at the end of the year.

Am I the only person who thinks of the week between Christmas and the New Year as down time?  My husband thinks of it as a rush-around week.  Either way, I thought this was a nice book.


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Defining Your Vision, and Connecting Church & Home Giveaway Winner!

connecting church and home

Where there is no vision, the people perish.  -Proverbs 29:18

You’ve probably been there.  Sitting in a meeting for work, or a volunteer project, or some sort of committee, bracing yourself for the train wreck.  Contradictory opinions fly.  Some people want to set goals, others want to wade in and start working.  Only no one can really articulate what they should be working on because it’s unclear what you’re actually trying to accomplish.

“Ahem,” you clear your throat politely for emphasis, “Could we take a step back for a minute? What is the actual vision for this project/committee/group?”  (You use the word “vision” because it sounds more business-like and if you use the word “philosophy” people will panic and think you’re suggesting a team-building exercise involving yoga.)

As the we read in Proverbs, without a vision, we just spin our wheels.  Or, as another (non-Biblical) proverb puts it, “if you aim at nothing, you’ll always hit it.”

In Connecting Church & Home, Tim Kimmel notes that some people naturally think strategically (goals, strategy) and others naturally think tactically (details, getting something done), but neither group can be successful without figuring out their underlying philosophy or vision.  You can do a lot of work and write a lot of strategic plans and handle tons of logistics, but if you don’t know where you’re headed, you’ll probably go in a lot of different directions and not have much to show for your efforts.

Kimmel applies this truth to parenting, which struck me as particularly apt.  It’s so easy to run this way and that, trying new ideas and methods, rewording your statements and slipping pureed vegetables into the brownies and making chore charts (Laminated! No, stickers! Surely velcro will get those beds made!).  But do we really take the time to articulate our overarching goals as parents?  If we did, might it give our goals and methods some direction and focus, and cut down on the frenzy a little bit?

As Kimmel writes, “Activities, accomplishments, and assumptions can be simply busy work without the context of [grace-based] relationship in a family or church.”  We want our kids to know scripture and doctrine and to be obedient and turn out ok.  Those are good things, but they aren’t a philosophy for parenting or family ministry.

In my review of Connecting Church & Home, I mentioned how I liked the way Kimmel tied the concept of grace to families and churches, and I think most people would find his explanation of how grace forms a part of our vision while leaving room for different goals and tactics helpful and thought-provoking.  It has given me a lot to mull over this week, and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on it too.

Have you defined your vision for parenting?  How has that helped you?

Also, Giveaway Results!

The winner of the Connecting Church & Home giveaway is Gladys!  If you didn’t win, you can find a copy at Amazon or request that your local library add the book to its collection.