Hodge Podge: Health & Fitness

This week’s literary trail mix of book reviews features health and fitness.

The Case Against Sugar – I probably shouldn’t lead with this one, because people get their hackles up when you suggest they give up their sugar. Take that as a clue, or not, as you please. I listened to this book on audio and found it compelling, although not as good as Why We Get Fat. I really enjoyed the deep dive on history and research–if you’re not into that, this is not the book for you. But if you’re trying to cut sugar, you’ll feel bolstered.

The Microbiome Solution – Microbiome is a big concept in health circles now, so I was interested to read this book by a top gastroenterologist who is in private practice but also is a researcher and professor. This goes way beyond taking a probiotic or eating some yogurt. The book was interesting, although it did highlight the contradictions in various health prescriptions. I’m finding that really the only things people agree on are: eat more dark leafy greens and cut out sugar. Beyond that it’s a lot of: eat more meat! eat less meat! eat bananas! never eat bananas! legumes are good! legumes are bad! Sheesh. Basically, you’re going to have to filter this stuff, and biohack until you find something that works for you.

Lose Weight Here – One great idea I got from this book was to monitor your HEC (hunger, energy, cravings) to figure out when your diet/exercise plan isn’t working for you. Beyond that, this book is a pretty complex system of alternating between eat-less-exercise-less and eat-more-exercise-more. Sounds simple. Isn’t simple. I’ll just say that “exercise LESS” includes TWO HOUR WALKS. I can see how that is ideal, but not how that is feasible. The book has some great tips and action items, but if you’re easily overwhelmed or don’t want to spend all of your brain space on your diet and fitness plan, this is not for you.

Micronutrient Miracle – To be honest, I didn’t get a ton from this book. I’m not sure if that’s because it was information I already knew from other sources, or just not my jam. I’m not going to do a plan that requires two protein shakes a day instead of real food meals, but I did like the clear explanation of sprint timing and the reminder to take your iron at a different time of day than your other vitamins.

The Thyroid Connection – I heard the author on a podcast and thought her story was interesting, but in truth I do not have a thyroid problem. I do feel tired and brain-fogged a lot, but that comes down to the fact that I am a bad sleeper, have five children, and essentially work two jobs. So in that sense, the book was reassuring because I feel secure in my thyroid situation. However, if you’re not sure about your thyroid or have problems with it, this would be a really helpful book to read. The author is a physician and has definite opinions about the treatment options, so it’s certainly worth skimming before you take drastic measures with your thyroid. Although I don’t personally need the information right now, I’m not sorry I read this book, if only to know what to turn to if this is ever an issue in my family.

Podcasts – A lot of my fitness information intake is happening via podcasts right now. I find it inspiring to listen to something fitness related while I’m exercising. In case you feel the same way, I thought I’d give a shout-out to a few of my favorites:

  • The SANE Show – A simple, doable, no nonsense approach to health. Jonathan Baylor wrote The Calorie Myth (reviewed here) and his co-host is a relatable working mom.
  • The Model Health Show – Shawn Smith, who wrote Sleep Smarter (reviewed here) and his co-host Jade are really funny and always interesting.
  • Better Everyday – Sarah Fragoso, author of Everyday Paleo (reviewed here), and Dr. Brooke give a great perspective on health as it relates to women and female hormones and systems. So much health information is written for men, and it’s incredibly helpful to hear how certain advice applies (or not) to women in various life stages.



Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Brains, brawn, and bodyweight

books about brains, brawn, and bodyweightAlong with reading about sleep, I read a lot this summer about health. Although much of what I read tracks with what I already knew, I did wind up making some fairly significant changes in my routine. If you don’t have time to read about all six books reviewed in this post, the one I recommend most highly is last, so feel free to scroll. I added in headers so you can pause on books that make sense for you.

Bigger Leaner Stronger – if you want to know about lifting heavy weights

biggerFirst, I read Bigger Leaner Stronger after seeing a good review from Crystal at Money Saving Mom. It probably seemed funny to GoodReads followers that I was reading a book subtitled “…building the ultimate male body.” No, gentle readers, I was not going all Frankenstein 101 on my husband. It’s just that our library doesn’t carry the Michael Matthews book for women, and I figured I could get the gist from the guy book.

This was the first book I read extolling the fitness virtues of jettisoning endless cardio and “high weights low reps” workouts in favor of slow heavy lifts. I was skeptical, but gave it a shot. Instead of my usual Jillian workouts, I picked up some (for me anyway) really heavy weights. And it actually made a pretty solid difference. For one thing, I really enjoy the weights workouts. It takes about the same amount of time, and I’m still working hard, but I like it more and feel better afterward than I did doing fitness videos.

Does it matter if you get Bigger Leaner Stronger or Thinner Leaner Stronger? I’m not sure. From reviews it sounds like the difference is more about diet, but if you’re fairly well versed in nutrition and math, you could probably figure out your BMI and protein needs and so on using the same framework Matthews suggests whether you’re male or female.

One aside on tone: my husband thinks Matthews “sounds like a tool” (although he didn’t fault him on information) so if you are sensitive to that, be forewarned. 🙂

The Hormone Reset Diet – if you are a moderator and don’t like lots of explanation

hormone-reset-dietNext, I read The Hormone Reset Diet. If you’re a moderator and can’t stand cold turkey approaches, you might really like this book. The author’s premise is that hormones are involved in our ability (or inability) to lose weight, and so she suggests that you target seven of these critical hormones with what winds up as a cumulative elimination diet.

As an abstainer who is also a questioner, I had a hard time with this. If I need to eliminate dairy, why would I wait until Day 16 to eliminate it? If I need to eat more alkaline foods, shouldn’t I start adding lemon to my water and eating more greens on Day 1? Unable to answer these questions satisfactorily, I went ahead and cut everything she suggests in the whole book from Day 1.

Well, almost everything. What I did not do was cut caffeine. Gottfried’s approach to caffeine may strike you as completely nuts if, like me, you are a person who is highly affected by caffeine. In my experience, cutting caffeine means a 3 week headache and near inability to do anything. I do not have time for that at this point in my life. But Gottfried says you’ll eliminate all withdrawal if you cut caffeine in half on Day 1, cut to only 1 cup of coffee on Day 4, cut to 1 teacup of tea on Day 7, and cut caffeine entirely on Day 10. I did cut my coffee intake from 3 teacups of 3/4 strength coffee to 2 teacups of the same (roughly one mug’s worth) and suffered a headache for one week. After that I decided I was ok with that 2 teacup consumption level and elected not to undergo any further painful reductions.

I also freely admit that I did not follow the plan perfectly for 21 days. I took a couple of detours, such as our family Saturday movie nights when we have a fancy cheese plate supper. I also never stopped eating butter because I hate eggs cooked in coconut oil. Still,I did lose seven pounds, which may have been from this diet, or may have been the weight lifting, or may have been because of other tweaks I made based on other diet books I read the same month. Sorry I was hasty and thus can’t give a completely scientific review; I was essentially cobbling together my own diet plan for the summer.

Overall, I would say that The Hormone Reset Diet had good points (eat a ton of vegetables, get protein in every meal, cut sugar and carbs and eat more greens, etc), but was vague at times and probably would only work if you like the idea of a phased approach and don’t require a whole lot of explanation before making changes to your diet.

The Wild Diet – if you are really into bio-hacking

wild diet

If tone trips you up, you might also want to watch out for Abel James. The Wild Diet was a helpful book in many respects but I had a hard time with the writing. There was a lot of “Big Food is after you!” rhetoric, including reference to “the guys with the $400 haircuts.” Um, wait, is this an issue of food quality or class envy? Especially coming from an author who does not hesitate to tell us that after he graduated from Dartmouth he was a consultant and had a million dollar house and a Porsche and whatnot.

Anyway, once you get past all that, I do think the book is solid. James follows similar lift-heavy-do-HIIT exercise prescriptions to what I was hearing from other sources, and also advocates eating a ton of vegetables and enough protein. His main distinction seems to be his advocacy for fat fasting, which was never super clearly explained but seems to involve eating fat in the morning and through the day until you mostly load up on vegetables and protein in the late afternoon and evening. I tried it because you know I LOVE TO TINKER and I was grouchy and exhausted. Could be because I’m nursing, but James notes that fasting doesn’t always work as well for women so who knows.

However, I did shift how I do mornings after reading this book, in that I’m having a teaspoon of coconut oil in my coffee with a green smoothie, then after my workout I have protein.

The Wild Diet contains a lot of recipes–some of which turned out great like the AMAZING cucumber basil green smoothie–and a lengthy discourse on how to feed your pets a wild diet, if you are into that sort of thing.

Don’t Just Sit There – if you need to integrate more movement into your whole day


Katy Bowman’s short book Don’t Just Sit There provides an excellent resource not only for transitioning to a standing workstation, but really for integrating movement into your whole day. Bowman says that it’s not really sitting that’s the whole problem, it’s lack of movement generally. So you could get a fantastic expensive standing desk and still have issues if you stand in the same position  all the time.

Instead, Bowman advocates a dynamic work habit. Sometimes you sit, sometimes you stand, sometimes you walk around, sometimes you sit on the floor leaning forward propped up on your elbows…but you change it up.

Bowman provides lots of suggestions and exercises, but the simple motivation of the book was most helpful. After reading it, I brought a tray into my office that lets me type while standing, and I also started doing more of our school day from a standing/walking position rather than sitting. I also do a lot of work with my laptop on the kitchen island, so one way or another I’m standing and moving a lot more than before thanks to this helpful book.

Change Your Brain, Change Your Life – if you are considering contact sports or don’t have kids or need a reference for who to see for serious brain issues

change your brainDiet and exercise also play a huge role in brain health. With Alzheimer’s disease in my family, I am pretty interested in how to keep our brains going strong. So when I heard Daniel Amen on a podcast talking about the connection between physical health and brain health, I thought I would check out his book.

This was probably a mistake.

Change Your Brain, Change Your Life does have some really fascinating points. I love finding out how things work, and the visuals of brain scans were quite interesting. I learned some fascinating facts. For example, letting your kid play high school football is roughly as terrible for his brain as letting him do cocaine. Amen works with loads of ex-NFL players, and makes no bones about how wrong he thinks it is to let your children play contact sports. After looking at the brain scan pictures, I’m not going to disagree with him. Some people walk away from football just fine, but some people smoke and don’t get lung cancer and some people are functional cocaine users. Still not behaviors one would want to recommend.

The main reason I am hesitant about Change Your Brain is that, as a parent, I found it very distressing. I had a really hard time not feeling terrible about all of the times my kids have hit their heads. All of them have fallen down stairs, Jack once got a concussion when another kid slammed him into a concrete floor, etc. The book does have some hopeful points about how to rehabilitate your brain, but I found that it gave me a lot of anxiety about my children as I read it.

And, as it turned out, the diet and exercise aspect was really, really light. It basically boils down to: eat vegetables and high quality protein, eliminate sugar and most carbs, and do HIIT exercise. The suggestions for specific changes to make for problems in different areas of the brain were likewise simple–take Omega 3 supplements, drink green tea, some basic behavior modifications, and otherwise you need a specialist.

Overall, I felt like the book was mostly an advertisement for Amen’s clinics. And that’s fine–if you need brain help, definitely go to the experts who are actually studying brains rather than prescribing you medications without looking at your brain at all. But if you’re a (mostly) normal layperson, I’m not sure Change Your Brain is the best use of your reading time.

The Calorie Myth – if you only have time for one book on nutrition and fitness

the-calorie-mythI think the most helpful book I read in this entire array was The Calorie Myth. Again, this really goes back to temperament. In this book, author Jonathan Bailor cites tons of studies and research findings, quotes experts, and gives thorough reasons for what he claims. People like me need that. And despite the volume of information, Bailor also maintains a readable tone and doesn’t indulge in too much name calling, even as he clearly points out where government recommendations are based on bad science (or, more often, no science) and he’s up front about where food lobbies are financing policies.

I loved the simplicity of the guidelines Bailor draws out from his research.

  • Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables (at least 10 servings per day)
  • Eat 100-200 grams of high quality protein per day depending on your size
  • Eat 3-6 servings of good quality fats per day (but don’t go crazy)
  • Eat 0-3 servings of low sugar fruits per day, depending on whether you’re trying to lose weight and how you feel.
  • Eat good quality seafood daily for Omega 3s.
  • Drink a ton of water and green tea, plain coffee if you need it, and don’t get calories from liquids otherwise.

I also really got good results from Bailor’s discussion of weight lifting. He takes the whole lift-heavy thing farther by talking about different types of muscle fibers and how to get at the ones that really make a difference (Type 2B). Basically, you want to focus on very, very slow lowering of the weight, rather than letting it just drop. There’s more to it than that, but I got wildly improved workouts when I implemented his suggestions. To be fair, this may have also been in the Matthews book and maybe I was just too new to it to absorb that, but could synthesize it in Bailor’s book after reading so much about it.

And so, to boil down a 2000 word post into one recommendation–I’d say The Calorie Myth is the best, most helpful book in this bunch. If you’re still interested in the topic after that, I’d suggest Why We Get Fat, which is an excellent nutrition book along these lines, although it doesn’t get into fitness.

Have you made any changes in your life based on what you’ve read recently?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to Amazon. When you click over from the blog and make a purchase of any kind, I get a small commission at no extra cost to you. I appreciate your support for A Spirited Mind.

The Bookmarked Life #15

2The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:


I’m thinking about seasons and rhythms and the original purpose of the liturgical calendar. How might we do Advent and Easter and our school terms differently to renew focus and reduce the way holidays tend to breed frenzy? I like the idea of longer seasons and a contemplative approach to the year. We have to be careful not to get caught up in meaningless rituals, but in our milieu I think maybe there is more danger in meaningless seasons if you hew to the culture than if you follow some version of a church calendar. This is tied up in more thinking and reading about liturgy and habits and may wind up shifting how I schedule the next school year.

…Furnishing My Mind

IMG_5642Margaret was baptized in early May and we celebrated by having a picture that actually included all of us. It turns out that it’s really, really difficult to squeeze a family of seven onto a loveseat.

Related to the loveseat: people often ask why on earth I have white couches when I have so many kids. The truth is, these couches were super cheap at Ikea and the slipcovers are fully removable and washable. They hold up really well–I did not stain treat them and I only wash them 2-3 times a year, sometimes tossing the seat cushions in more frequently. We use the couches all day long and they do sometimes get a little grubby, but nothing a soak in Oxiclean can’t fix. IMG_5558Overall, I feel like they make me happy and are much easier to maintain than a couch you can’t wash.

My parents came to visit for the week of Eliza’s third birthday and Margaret’s baptism, and we had a nice visit as well as a mini-break from school.

IMG_5791Jack turned nine at the end of May and had a “Lego Inventor” party. It was a madhouse but he seemed to enjoy it. He made the cake topper himself, and it was nice to just go with it and not try to do some fantastical thing with fondant. Chocolate cake with lots of chocolate frosting (the Hershey’s recipe is easy and way, way better than any store-bought version) is good regardless.

Jack is very creative, loves to read, and is super intense about everything he does. Parenting him can be a wild ride, but he’s interesting and fun and very affectionate.


…Living the Good Life

IMG_5671We joined the Children’s Museum and Zoo this spring and have enjoyed frequent trips to both as I attempt to justify the cost with lower cost-per-visit averages.  🙂 So far we’ve done the museum nine times and the zoo five times. As you can see in the picture, the zoo has a cool exhibit going right now of giant animal sculptures made of Legos.

For some reason it often feels easier to take the five kids out than to stay home. It sort of diffuses the noise and energy! We’ve also been going to more parks and finding interesting new parts of the city to explore (that is a nice way of saying, “Mama often gets lost but then enjoys the scenery.”)


We finished our required 180 days of instruction last week, but don’t tell the kids since we will still be doing school through the rest of June (after a break this week for VBS). It works better for us to take July off and then have more flexibilty throughout the year for term breaks rather than having one long summer break. To the surprise of no one, I have changed some things up this semester, so I’ll do an end-of-year wrap-up later in June.

…Boosting Creativity


I think it’s so great to be creative in different ways.  Somehow being creative in a totally different medium can help with creativity in my usual tracks.  A couple of times lately a friend of mine has hosted a painting party–a local artist comes to her house and we all learn some techniques and paint a small picture. This one is a sprig of balsam fir.  I really like the way the colors in the background turned out.

When I was reading The Irrational Season, I was struck by Madeleine L’Engle’s schedule–she always made time for a walk outdoors, an hour of study and reading, and an hour of practicing piano in addition to writing and caring for her family and whatever else. She felt that the outdoor exercise, study, and piano were part of her creative process, and she was unabashed at saying that was what she needed for her creative life. I was inspired to pick up some of my old piano music and have been tackling Mozart’s Fantasy in D Minor.

…Building Fitness

IMG_5771 We are boldly embarking on hikes! I don’t know what it is about having five children that has made me delve into all of the things there are to do around town. Obviously it’s TONS easier to tote five kids to attractions, right? But in any case we have now met up with a friend and her two kids to do two hikes at state parks nearby. Surprisingly, Eliza (age 3) has been able to walk pretty far. And Margaret does well in the baby carrier. The big kids got these nifty water bottle holders (the friends we hike with introduced us–they are far more outdoorsy than we are!) and are allowed to eat granola bars whilst hiking, so they are all in.

I moved my regular workouts to the evening after the kids go to bed, and am now mostly doing my own circuit of heavy (for me anyway!) weights. I got this idea from Crystal, which led me to this free e-book (salesy, but informative), and so far it’s a nice break from routine.

…Seeking Balance

Work (the paid sort anyway) has been lighter this past couple of weeks, and that has been good in its way. It’s funny how the older kids, while not requiring the same hands-on vigilance as the littles, seem to be in phases that require more time and emotional energy right now, so it has been good to slow down and be able to focus on those needs lately. I’ve been doing more personal writing too, which is restorative and fun. I still have no idea how to work the schedule to include paid work, personal writing, study time, school, and intentional parenting all together. But if I look at things from a weekly or monthly perspective, it does all fit in.

…Listening To

The kids and I are listening to The Chronicles of Narnia books on audio (unabridged, not dramatized) in the car–what a great series to listen to one after the other! This is perfect for summer car trips or just for going around town. Highly recommended!

…Keeping In Mind

“May you treasure wisely this jeweled, gilded time, and cherish each day as an extra grace.” –Andrew Greeley

What are you bookmarking this week?


Disclosure: This post contains a few affiliate links. Thanks for clicking through when you shop on Amazon!

Diastasis Recti: A Whole Body Solution

DRI find the post-partum season a little bewildering this time around.  For one thing, thanks to a major emergency surgery after I delivered Margaret, I have a really ugly scar that bothers me a lot. I suspect that people who have c-sections might not mind their scars, because they are probably smaller and also associated with the birth of the baby. Since Margaret was born before my surgery, I don’t have that mental association. Then an added surprise was when about half of my hair fell out. Apparently that’s common after a traumatic surgery with extensive blood loss, and it might grow back at some point, but meanwhile I can blow dry my hair in LESS than two minutes flat when it used to take at least ten minutes, so that’s the bright side!

But the whole thing about having a couple of surgeries immediately following a birth is that it has made me very tentative about my abs. In earlier pregnancies I at least somewhat got the ab separation back together, but this time, after so much craziness, it has been tougher to know where to start.

All that to say, I was interested to read Katy Bowman’s book on Diastasis Recti, which is the official name for how your abs can separate–often during pregnancy but also for other reasons. Basically, this book is about your core and how it works and how to protect and use it well. I generally find books full of exercises difficult to implement, but this one helped me in that it gave me a better understanding of core function as a whole, and made suggestions for how to alter regular activities to make them more supportive. I won’t say that my stomach is back to normal, and honestly I suspect it never will be, but at least I can move toward more health in that area thanks to Bowman’s book.

Overall health is pretty much my goal for now–I am exercising (30 Day Shred for life!) and trying to eat well, and the scale does not budge, so weight loss can’t be my motivator! It’s amazing to me that six months after going through so much I am even able to exercise, nurse my baby, and handle managing life with five kids. It’s all grace and a constant reminder to thankfulness!

If you’re interested in core health or have had babies, I’d recommend Diastasis Recti. I’ve also found Lose Your Mummy Tummy and Maternal Fitness helpful in the past, and for some reason Jillian’s Six Week Six Pack helped a lot after one of my kids, although I wouldn’t recommend it until you get your core back into pretty good shape post-partum.

And as one final note for those who don’t have DR but are interested in biomechanics generally (and it’s really interesting!), I noticed that Bowman has several other books and might check them out. If you’ve read any, let me know your thoughts!


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!

4 Books, 3 Observations, 2 Asides and a Bagel in a Pear Tree

It’s Friday, so how about a round-up?  We’ll start with books because we always start with books around here!

Four Books

throneI’ve written extensively before about Bernard Cornwell’s fabulous Saxon saga (Reader’s Digest version: funny, awesome battle scenes, great historical detail) and all that applies to his latest installment, The Empty Throne.  Does Cornwell have a formula?  Yes.  But is it a great formula?  It is.  If you like British history in general or non-romancey historical fiction in particular, you’ll like Cornwell’s offerings.  I wouldn’t say this book moved the ball very far down the series field, but it was worth it nonetheless.

fairestIf you’ve read Meyer’s other books (Cinder, Cress, Scarlet) you’re going to read Fairest no matter what I say, so I won’t bother to dissuade you.  But it’s a disappointment.  We already knew Levana was the evil stepmother character, but I was hoping this prequel would give me some reason to like her.  Nope, she’s just evil.  I guess that’s part of the fairytale trope, but since we also don’t learn anything new about the overall storyline from this book, it seemed like a waste.  I also didn’t think that the Snow White frame came through very strongly, and the story was darker and less like something I’d let a kid read.  Fortunately it’s short and you can tear through it quickly.

Good-Cheap-EatsGood Cheap Eats: Everyday Dinners and Fantastic Feasts for 0 or Less is a solid cookbook from Jessica Fisher, combining fresh, real food ingredients with tips for saving money on your grocery budget.  If you’ve done any delving into those topics not much of this will be new (although I did get some good tips!) but the recipes are good for getting ideas and branching out, which I needed.  I did find that I had to double most of them to fit my family, and since we tend to be a protein + vegetables family rather than a carbohydrates + meat-as-condiment family not all of the ideas were a good fit.  But I tried several things and got great results every time, so I’d recommend this cookbook as a versatile and helpful resource.

tiredI wanted to look into adrenal fatigue after reading about it on Crystal’s blog, so I picked up Tired of Being Tired since the library had it.  I have some of the symptoms listed, and felt like lots of the advice was good (cut sugar, reduce caffeine, sleep more, don’t over-exercise) but some of it was flat out weird.  When the rationale for using some sort of magnet therapy is that Cleopatra wore a magnet on her forehead to reduce signs of aging, you’ve lost me.  I mean, even if Cleopatra did wear a magnet on her head, I think the asp got her before we could really draw anti-aging conclusions, right?  If you can take the good and leave the weird, this book might be a good choice.  Otherwise, go forth and do the good you know you ought to do anyway.

Three Observations

1) It’s always good to have a book on your phone.  I got stuck in Costco waiting for a pizza for 35 minutes (payback for trying to save time making dinner, I guess) and scrambled until finally found a library download about Queen Victoria.  I wish I had had something preloaded!

2) Jelly beans aren’t breakfast.  I try to get breakfast together in time to send my husband out the door with something to eat.  The other day my Biblestudy/exercise/shower routine got delayed and he had to leave hungry.  “It turned out ok, though,” he reported.  “Someone brought in jelly beans.”  #notbreakfast #nicetry

3) Small tweaks matter.  We dropped cello lessons and now all three kids take piano, back-to-back lessons, all at one time and in one location.  You wouldn’t think this would make a huge difference in my life but it has.  Driving to one less thing and having an entire hour to read a book while the kids are having lessons feels amazing.  Don’t underestimate the power of a small change.

Two Asides

1) Manners matter.  I’m not talking about which fork to use when, but basic courtesy like speaking politely, not making comments about someone’s personal appearance, and responding to communication in a timely manner.  Is it the internet that’s squashing basic courtesy?  Because it feels like unkindness and disrespect when you’re on the receiving end of bad manners, as I have been several times this week.

2) Jillian still works.  I went back to the 30 Day Shred and Level 3 still brings it.  I can barely walk up the stairs.  But in a good way.

A Bagel in a Pear Tree

The weather turned nicer here, so we’ve been out taking walks.  One of our neighbors hung a bagel in the pear tree in their front yard.  We assume it’s to attract birds, but so far it just looks odd and kind of soggy.  The kids wanted to know if we could hang assorted food items in our trees, but I said no.  Probably a missed educational moment of some sort, but oh well.

How was your week?


Disclosure: This post contains a few Amazon affiliate links, as well as links to some longer review posts.  Thanks for supporting the blog when you make an Amazon purchase through a link here!

The Bookmarked Life #9

2The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:


A childhood friend of mine recently took her daughters to New York City.  As I read about their adventures on her blog, I was amazed at the things they did that wouldn’t have crossed my mind.  I’d love to take my girls to NY, but I’d do completely different things.  It struck me how differently people can view the same city–the things that mean New York to me are different than for my friend.

It made me wonder about my own city. I have an internal narrative about Indianapolis based on my experiences here, but other people view it through a totally different lense.  It is interesting to consider what might be right here within reach that I’ve just overlooked.

…Furnishing my mind

sarahIt’s such a cliche, but I have this sense that time is slipping very quickly.  Sarah lost one of her front teeth and all of a sudden she really looks six years old (which she is, having had a birthday last month).  It makes me panic that I haven’t taken enough video, and I actually printed pictures from our Christmas trip to try to catch hold of what the kids look like now.  One of my deliverables for 2015 (yeah, I business-ize my goals like that) is to hug everybody in the family before breakfast is over.  It’s bizarre that I don’t do that anyway, but life spins madly on otherwise.

…Learning about

I’m reading an incredible book on language learning (review coming soon).  I love to study languages, mostly because I like to understand and unravel systems and how they work, but I’ve never been overly successful at actually speaking a language.  I feel like Fluent Forever might change that, but even if not I am learning a ton about memory and language and how brains work, which is a win in and of itself!

…Living the Good Life

readingWe had a great Christmas with my parents, brother, and aunt in South Carolina.  Although the kids all got a stomach virus (barf is my parenting nemesis) fortunately no one was sick on Christmas Eve OR Christmas Day.  Blessings.


We took the week of Christmas off because we were visiting my parents in South Carolina, but we did go on a field trip to Biltmore Estates one day.  It was great timing since we had just finished studying about daily life in a Victorian house!  Since all of the kids also got a stomach virus that week and came home with some terrible respiratory sickness, we took the week of New Years off too, and then I got the stomach bug, and with one thing after another we took the first week of January off too.  Now, after a three week vacation, I think we’re ready to start a new term on Monday!  One of the good things about homeschooling is that as long as we get in 180 days of instruction I don’t have to adhere to any particular calendar and we can take time off as we need it.  I’m grateful for that flexibility!


One thing I’ve realized about myself is that I need to have an articulable reason for goals I’m setting – and it needs to be my “why” not the general “right answer.”  So I spent some time thinking about exercising.  I’d like to get to my post-Sarah weight by the time Eliza turns two, but mostly I think running in the morning is a good thinking time, and Jillian workouts are good for my muscles and post-workout endorphins.  So I’m trying out a new schedule of five minute warmup, 20 minute run, 30 minute Jillian (on a loop, since none of my DVDs are that length, I’ll just go until the time is up and then pick up the next day where I left off), five minute stretch.  If that doesn’t take, I might need a new why.

…Seeking balance

We are having a big push-and-pull between a need for schedule and routine and the need to be flexible.  Some work/life gurus advocate having very clear boundaries between roles, while others take a more blended approach.  As someone who tends to choose D) All of the Above, I just tend to swing from one side of the pendulum to the other.  It’s not ideal, but it might be the trade-off for having the freedom to homeschool and also to work from home.

…Building the habit

After reading The Fringe Hours (review forthcoming, but it’s excellent, and available for pre-order!) I started thinking about how gratitude and thankfulness are really the antidotes for complaining and whining.  So we’re starting a new habit training for the kids (and parents!) such that when caught complaining or whining, the perpetrator has to write three sentences about things he or she is grateful for.  If nothing else, it puts us in a better frame of mind and improves our handwriting!

…Listening to

Between our long car trip and children lying around on the floor dealing with a stomach bug, we’ve listened to nearly all of The Fellowship of the Ringon audio. Then, when I fell victim to the stomach bug, I listened to hours of the Steve Jobs biography.  Audio books do help to redeem time you’d otherwise spend unable to read actual books, don’t they?

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! 

The Bookmarked Life, #8

2The 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! 

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?


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

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.


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.