Reading, Reviews, Top Ten Tuesday

My Top Ten Beach Reads

Is there any felicity on earth that compares to reading a great book on a quiet beach? No. There is not.

I’m linking up to the Top Ten Tuesday meme over at thebrokeandthebookish.com to share my five favorite beach reads from the past and the five books I’ll be reading this summer. What’s even better is I’m also including the five books you must read with your kids at the beach! Fifteen for the price of ten! Hang on to your sunhats.

Favorite Past Beach Reads

  1. The Pilot’s Wife – Shreve is like Piccoult: she may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but read at least one of her books. Her writing is beautiful.
  2. Jacob Have I Loved – YA that you’ll never leave behind
  3. The Light Between OceansThe Light Between Oceans – I think this will be considered a classic in fifty years. (more about this book here!)
  4. What Alice Forgot – Light hearted, yet thought provoking.
  5. Orphan Train – A great piece of historical fiction!

Bonus: If you have not read these, these two off my Favorite Books List are best by the beach!

  1. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  2. Anne’s House of Dreams

What I plan to read this summer:

(though probably not on the beach—I have three kids 7 and under…reading on the beach is a thing of the past and the future, but not the present).

  1. The Forgotten Room – Karen White is best read by the ocean! I especially loved Long Time Gone
  2. Everyone Brave is Forgiven – The book of the year, apparently! It’s often compared to All the Light We Cannot See.
  3. At the Edge of SummerAt the Edge of Summer – A new book by the author of Letters from Skye.
  4. Birds of a Feather – I read the first Maise Dobbs book a while ago, and it’s high time I moved on with this fabulous series.
  5. Deerbrook – An old book I’ve never heard of til recently! It’s compared to works by Gaskell and the Brontes, so sign me up! Also, it’s available for free on Project Gutenberg.

 

Great beach reads for you and your kids!

  1. The Maggie B. – I am in love with this book.
  2. Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat – Great for little boys!
  3. Amy's EyesAmy’s Eyes – I read this chapter book in an old beach house when I was 10 or so and thought it was awesome.
  4. The Nickelplated Beauty – Such a good book about a family who lives near the sea, their rusty stove, and their love for their mama.
  5. The Golden Venture – Out of print, but an absolute treasure. I checked it out repeatedly in the library as a kid. It’s about a girl who stows away to follow her dad to the California Gold Rush and ends up living in San Francisco.

I think I could go on forever! Beach reading is absolutely the best. I’m looking forward to a great summer of books and beaches. Share your favorite beach reads for you or for children!

[Side note: My brain is already on vacation. Seriously, it thinks it’s lounging on a beach chair sipping lemonade in a tropical oasis. The only problem with this is, it’s totally not true. We are not done with school yet (two more days), we are still in the middle of a million house projects, and life is very busy. I am trying my hardest to focus and get motivated to get stuff done, but my brain is saying, “Sorry. I’m done. DONE.” And my body is not far behind it. I’m tired, and it’s a weird tired. An “I’ve been sitting by the pool for three hours and can’t will myself to move” kind of tired. Except I have most certainly not been sitting by the pool. I’ve been staring at unfolded laundry and stirring macaroni and cheese. Hence the quiet on the blog. I can’t think an original thought, even though I’m off Facebook, so hang tight…something will come to me eventually. But maybe not til the rest of me joins my brain at the beach.]

Reading, Reviews

Update on the Spring Reading List

Time for a quick catch up on some recent reading! As always, my reading list is mishmash of novels and a little bit of nonfiction. A couple of months ago, I put out my Spring TBR list of 9 books. Here’s how it played out.

  1. The Summer Before the WarThe Summer Before The War, Helen Simonson – I loved the setting and the characters of this book. One the one hand, I wanted to read about them forever. On the other hand, the pace of the novel was uneven and it was hard to pull out the overarching themes that take a book from just a story to something worth recommending. Not as good as Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.
  2. The Song of Hartgrove Hall, Natasha Solomons – Also did not meet expectations. Very gloomy characters. Very gloomy setting. The main character is a moody young man in some parts of the book and a grumpy old man in others, who doesn’t seem to have developed much of a moral compass or compassion for others in between times. The back and forth between time periods disjointed the book. Solomons’s The House at Tyneford was much better.
  3. Keep Me Posted, Lisa Beazley – Surprisingly, this one was my favorite. It was PG-13 rated in my opinion, and sometimes got a little too gossipy in tone at the beginning when the two main characters, sisters living in different countries, start writing letters back and forth. However, this book was actually one of the catalysts that led me to Give Up Facebook. I liked its themes of true friendship and authenticity. It’s not a literary masterpiece, but it has redeeming value, likable narrators, and it was just what I needed to read at the time I picked it up.
  4. Flood Girls, Richard Fifield – Abandoned early because of excessive crudity.
  5. Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly – I want to go back to this one…but I’m scared. I got about 1/8 of the way in and chickened out. Why? Well, I’ve read quite a few books set in WWII. Now, I get to a certain point in the story and think, “Oh, no. No no no. I know that place. I know that name. I know how this is going to play out…and it isn’t going to be pretty.” Lilac Girls is in a stack with The Nightingale right now, waiting for me to recover enough bravery to go on.
  6. Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist – Didn’t get an early copy, so it’s still high on the list this summer. It has an August release date.
  7. Longing for Paris, Sarah Mae – Still in the middle of this one! I’m struggling to engage with it, but I don’t think it’s because it’s not a good book. I think it’s because it hits pretty close to home. Sarah Mae is presenting an idea and a challenge that requires hard consideration on my part. So I keep putting it off, saying, “Maybe tomorrow.”
  8. High Rising, Angela Thirkell – Haven’t gotten a hold of a copy yet. Thirkell isn’t exactly floating around libraries and used bookstores in the U.S.
  9. Last Stop on Market Street – Still on the holds list at the library for this one!

And now for some short reviews of books that got added to the Spring reading list as I went along!

A Place We Once Knew Well, Susan Carol McCarthy

SA Place We Knew Wellet in Florida in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, this is the story of how the missile crisis was the tipping point for many other crises in a small town near McCoy Air Force Base. Before reading this book, I knew nothing about the Cuban Missile Crisis. The historical accuracy of the book combined with the emotional story depicting how many Americans must have felt during those 13 days of uncertainty in 1962 was fascinating. The actual story and characters delve into some other themes of the time like women’s healthcare and mental health. Those were not as thrilling, but all in all it was good enough to make it a solid 3 star book.

Land Girls, Angela Huth

I thought I’d love this book. I hated it. It is set in the English countryside during WWII, and follows the experiences of three young women who signed up to be Land Girls. These women did the farm work that the men would have done if they hadn’t been called to war, and then some.  All that sounds fascinating, right? Sadly, that is where the historical accuracy of this book ends. Angela Huth imposed a college co-ed dormitory lifestyle of today onto characters and situations from the 1940s. The amount of “shagging” going on was ridiculous. The amount of food these girls ate was also ridiculous (rationing, hello?). Beyond the historical inaccuracies, the amount of time spent in the secondary characters’ thoughts was jarring and unpleasant. If Huth had stuck to developing the three main characters and kept their actions in line with other literature of the period, this could have been a great book. Unfortunately, it is loathsome. And the original Land Girls think so, too.

Heidi's ChildrenHeidi Grows Up and Heidi’s Children, Charles Tritten

I need large doses of Old Fashioned Goodness in my reading life, and these were perfect. They made for excellent bedtime reading.

Stars Over Sunset Boulevard

I grabbed this one up when I saw it was a new release by Susan Meissner, who wrote one of my favorite books of last year, Secrets of a Charmed Life. Set in the late 1930s, Stars Over Sunset Boulevard follows two women as their unlikely friendship progresses. The theme of motherhood is big in this book, and I appreciated how Meissner presented it tenderly and as something of great value, but also shattered the myth that it will complete a woman. The book is on the cusp of the change in what a woman expects from her life — from children and marriage and a life firmly rooted at home to a career. The two main characters present opposite sides of that shift. The complexity of their friendship as they navigate their differences points to the most important theme in the book — nothing you strive for in life will take the place of being truthful and living with love for others greater than love for yourself.

All in all, I haven’t come across anything work more than 3 stars this Spring. The search for the great summer read of 2016 is on!

Everyday Life, Home Renovation, Reading, Reviews

Why I Loved The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

So have you heard of this book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up? A few months ago it seemed like all my friends were telling me about. Apparently, it’s become all the rage since its release in 2014. In it, Marie Kondo outlines her KonMari method of tidying up your home once and for all. I didn’t want to hear about that, though. When this book came up in conversation, I would smile and nod, but I was thinking, “I don’t need to read another book about housekeeping, I just need to buckle down and keep house.” So I tried the Buckle Down Method. For months.  It worked terribly. When we moved into our fixer upper, I told myself it would be different. I would have more space and we would have a place for everything. But here’s the thing: if you’re not willing to confront all the things you have, you’re not willing to put them away. 

Moving after ten years of marriage and three children was eye opening. I was floored by all the boxes we pulled out of the attic only t to move them to another attic. They were out of sight, but they were weighing on my mind—what is in all those boxes? I always thought I was a ruthless de-clutterer! And it wasn’t just the attic. All my mental images of peaceful rooms were replaced with mounds of stuff.  I know I could say, “give yourself a break, you just moved in,” but that would not have been the truth. The truth was I liked our house better before we moved our belongings into it, which seems the opposite of how it should be.

Then came Spring in the midst of it all. The week after Easter feels like the true New Year. January is just a joke, when we’re still wanting to hibernate in the winter season of rest.  I don’t remember consciously deciding to, but I guess all this fresh air got to me, and I took the plunge and read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up cover to cover last week. Surprisingly, I loved it.  Okay, yes, there was a bit too much treating inanimate objects like they are living beings, but ignore all that and what you have is a whole new way to declutter and manage your home that actually works.

Before I tell you the five kinds of items I got rid of after reading this book, let me tell you a tiny bit about the KonMari method. The first step is going through your belongings by item type, not by room. You handle your things and ask “Does it spark joy?” Now, you don’t have to ask this about things like your toothbrush, but its a valid question for just about everything else. You may be shocked how many things in your house actually spark feelings of guilt or worse that you never even realized. I’m not trying to get all touchy-feely or assign life to inanimate objects, but Kondo’s point that our possessions have an effect on us is, strangely enough, true. So you go through this process for your clothes, your books, and progress through all the different kinds of items in your house, ending with your keepsakes and photos. Then, and only then, do you work on putting things away. Because every single thing in your house needs a home. Sound overwhelming? It’s not a process you can do in one week, for sure. Kondo recommends getting it all done in six months. I promise you, though, once you start, you’re going to want to get it all done right away!

Still curious about how this could actually be different from other methods of house cleaning? Let me share some unexpected results from my experience. Here are the five kinds things I got rid of after reading this book.

  1. Things I could use but I don’t want to use anymore. Perfectly good clothes fall in this category. I got rid of two canvas grocery bags of clothes. All of these clothes fit fine. They weren’t in bad shape. But they did not make me feel joy at all. For whatever reason, a certain blouse can make me feel like an uptight grump, and a specific dress can make me remember how inadequate I felt when I wore it to a wedding. I won’t ever put those clothes on and feel joy, no matter how serviceable or stylish they are. Beyond clothes, I got rid of scads of toiletries. Why in the world did I have 11 different bottles of lotion, with barely any used up? Six, yes six, of those bottles were expired. I threw all but one away because, newsflash to myself, I don’t even like using lotion! I now have one bottle of lotion and judging by previous lotion use, it will probably expire before I use it up.
  2. Things I’ve been meaning to use but haven’t. I.e. most of my craft supplies. I am not very crafty, yet when craft supplies come my way, I have trouble discarding them. I had in my stash glass painting supplies that I used when I was sixteen. I have been collecting odd yards of fabric for a decade, thinking I’ll someday sew something new and great with it….but I don’t really sew. Ever. The truth is if I am going to make something, I’m probably going to need new supplies. It turns out I only actually liked one piece out of the twenty pieces of fabric that have been taking up space in my home for ten years. All my glass paint was dried up. The only things I kept in my crafting stash were paints I’ve used in the last year, the one piece of fabric I liked, and my sewing kit I use for mending. I know if I really want to make something I’m going to want to use or display in my house, I’m need to pick the materials based what I like now, not what I had before. This category also could apply to books that glare at you with disdain from your bookshelf because you haven’t read them yet. Okay, so I find it pretty easy to personify books. But seriously. If you haven’t read it yet, you probably aren’t going to. And that’s what a library is for anyway!
  3. Things I thought made me who I am. Well, this is a tough one. Mementos and keepsakes come in all shapes and sizes. Weirdly enough, I’d been holding onto all my college papers. My mental hang up? I will probably never be in a situation again where the merit of my work was measured and found to be pretty great. I was good at college, and I liked to write academically. However, when I started re-reading the papers I pulled out of the attic, I realized I didn’t enjoy them at all. I am too far removed from that world to even know what I was talking about most of the time! It was something I was good at, but it’s not something I do anymore. Also, I still had all kinds of mementos from my wedding day. The sweat-stained satin shoes, the hundreds of greeting cards from friends and family, the dried boutonniere my husband wore. That’s what a wedding photographer is for, right?  It’s in this category that I found the most valuable principle I pulled out of Kondo’s book: “It is not our memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure. This is the lesson these keepsakes teach us when we sort them. The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.” It’s okay to get rid of the clock you really loved six years ago. If you find yourself resentful of all the mugs you’ve collected from your travels, get rid of some! The you in the here and now needs more space to breathe and think than items to pull you from the present back to where you’ve been (on the flipside, if those mugs/candles/what-have-you spark joy, keep them!).
  4. Things I didn’t know I hoarded. Did you know that almost everyone hoards something? Kondo declares this to be true in her book. Before going through my things, I said to a friend who was telling me about her particular stockpile, “I don’t think I hoard anything. I am a terrible planner and have never had the foresight to maintain a stockpile, much to my chagrin sometimes!” Oh, but I was wrong. I counted over 250 sheet protectors from various places in my house. #whatanerdhoards. I vaguely remember this time when I seriously needed a sheet protector and didn’t have one in college…that fear has morphed into packages all around my home. Dumb? Well, I bet if you started pulling out all the you-name-its in your home, you’d be surprised at all the ballpoint pens or packages of unopened socks or bags of tortilla chips, or what have you. It only takes one time of not having what you need to make you feel like you must buy that item on a regular basis to avoid dire straits. I’m starting to wonder about my love of the name Avery…
  5. PhotosOkay, okay, before you shutter and walk away, I just want to declare this truth: Just because a moment is captured and frozen in time in a photo does not mean it’s worth keeping. I really did not need to move boxes from house to house with hundreds of photos in them of my high school missions trips, college beach trips, or even a trip to Europe. Seriously, if you go through photos (especially from back in the film era when every photo snapped was a photo developed), Kondo says you will probably only want to keep 1 in 5. This was definitely true for me. I kept plenty of photos to give a more than ample overview of my life and my favorite moments and people, and that’s all anyone needs.

The bottom line is this: having a cluttered home makes me feel like all my problems are just that- having a cluttered home. Kondo shares story after story of how after clients tidy up, they are left with that delusion stripped away and get down to working on the real issues in their lives. Some of her clients changed jobs, some lost a ton of weight, others mended relationships. A cluttered home is not a life or death matter, but it can keep us from confronting all sorts of things because we hide behind the fact that we can’t deal with anything else, our homes are too much of a mess. Best to get that in order first. Yes…if you actually do it. This is the life changing part. Get your house in order once and for all and get on with your life. Have I done that yet? Noooooo. I’ve still got a lot of work to do. But I really hope that by the end of this summer, my home will be in order.

Image result for oak island beach houseMy goal is the feeling you get when you walk into a beach house you’ve rented for the week. The corners are empty. The floor doesn’t have stacks of anything on it. There is no laundry piled up on the beds. The air seems clearer and cleaner. Am I aiming too high? After reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I really don’t think so. I want to live with just what I need and just what makes our home beautiful to us.

I’m also looking forward to Kondo’s next book, Spark JoyBut first, more tidying!

Reading, Reviews

Light Reading Gone Awry: What I’ve Read This Winter

I’ve said before that winter is the best time for reading. A great classic and a warm fire on a cold night is just delightful. However, in the midst of all this renovating craziness and cold season sleep deprivation, I absolutely have to keep the reading light and easy.  I’m about to rethink my light reading theory, though, because it is so hard to find a quality light read! Here’s what I’ve read in the last few weeks. Please share your favorite light reads with me and save me from light reading gone awry! (If you’re more of a non-fiction fan, scroll to the end of this post).

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend – 2 Stars
25573977I was excited about this book because it is touted as perfect for lovers of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Why, I’m not sure, other than there’s lots of mentions of books in it, and a few letters. What I love about Guernsey is the setting (English Channel Islands), the characters (fresh and witty and kind), this history (WWII), and the subtle plot and character development. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is set in the Midwest, has one-dimensional characters, and every single feeling and detail of the characters is written down in painstaking detail. (And so is the physical nature of relationships, so thumbs down there. Really, I don’t need to know any of that about book characters!) In its tone and story, it’s similar to a Fannie Flagg or Sandra Dallas book, but the strong, unforgettable characters are simply not there and the pace is super slow. I wanted to like it, but I found it to be pretty trite. If you liked The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, you might like this one, but I’d still guess The Readers of Broken Wheel characters won’t draw you in. Feel free to prove me wrong and let me know what you think!

The Lost Husband – 2.5, almost 3 Stars

I really liked some of the characters in this book, and it was nice to read a novel written from a mom’s point of view for a change. The main character, Libby, does such a good job of describing why she can’t stand watching violent movies. The book is back at the library so I can’t type it out, but I think most moms of little children would enjoy this as a light read. However, I have to tell you, there’s a character who claims she can speak to the dead. If that sounds as sketch to you as it does to me, don’t let this stop you from reading on; it never happens and it’s not a big part of the plot.

The Daughter’s Walk – DNF

Sheesh. I wanted to ask the author, “Why do you feel the need to create horrific events like this for your characters? Do you hate them? I can’t take it!” I know Jane Kirpatrick has lots of fans, but this book is not my cup of tea.

The Brontë PlotThe Bronte Plot – 3.5 stars

This one is my favorite of the light read bunch I picked up in the last few weeks. If you love Victorian British Literature as much as I do, you will thoroughly enjoy it. If you aren’t a big fan of Victorian British Literature, you might still like it! There are lots of references to works by Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, and even Anne Bronte, so get ready to google some stuff if you’re unfamiliar with their works. Beyond the literary ties to some of my favorite books, I loved the elderly character, Helen. In my mind, she is played by an elderly Vanessa Redgrave and is just like her character in Letters to Juliet. So far, everything Katherine Reay has written has been a 3-4 star read with absolutely zero smut and thought provoking subjects that manage to end up being uplifting instead of depressing. I highly recommend her for all your light reading needs.

Chasing GodOn the non-fiction side of things, I just finished Chasing God by Angie Smith and I loved it. My favorite part was the last two chapters, because Smith pulls out some details of Jesus’ interactions with people in the gospels that I have missed my entire life. Her humor and humility makes this a great read if you want to go deep but you’re struggling to focus on the really serious books about Christianity. I’m looking forward to reading her other works, as well.

Now I’m in the middle of What Is A Family? by Edith Schaeffer which is very inspiring but also overwhelming. I have to remind myself “take small steps and make a little progress” almost every time I read it, though, because Schaeffer has some pretty high standards of nurturing— flowers on the table at tea time (and, well, tea time), lots of lovely art supplies, nature all around, etc.

So, what have you been reading?

Children's Books, Friday Favorites - Children's Books, Reading, Reviews, Three Book Thursday

Three Book Thursday: Frontiersman Edition

Welcome to Three Book Thursday! Three Book Thursday is a feature that’s all about sharing the joy of books with children. To read more posts like this one, go here!

My children and I are in the middle of the best unit study for young kids ever. We’re studying frontiersmen (and frontierswomen? frontierspeople?). Seriously, what kids do not want to pretend they’re churning butter in the mud pit under the swing set? Or tying meat onto their horse after hunting (but the horse is actually a mop and the meat is actually your sister’s pink cupcake purse…)? It has been an amusing for me to watch them play after doing this study, at any rate!

(Side note on our history theory: A lot of people say “It’s important to study history chronologically,” in a more classical method like Susan Wise Bauer‘s books follow. Another group says “read what your kids are interested in” or “start with U.S. history because it has the best literature for young children to go with it!” Rea Berg is a big proponent for this theory. Since I’m crazy about reading, I’m a big fan of the route with lots of stories and literature. And we also pick up The Story of the World and read that, too. In other words, we like it all! But mostly we stick with a literature based approach to history, so sometimes our just-for-fun books will also be our school books, but please know that these books stand alone as great books to read with your kids and it’s important to pick the educational method that fits you and your children best.)

Without further ado, here are our favorite books this week!

Daniel Boone's Great EscapeDaniel Boone’s Great Escape by Michael P. Spradlin is currently Isaac’s very favorite book. It’s just a snippet of what Daniel Boone did in his life, but it works well for young children because it’s an exciting adventure through and through. In the later part of Daniel Boone’s life, after he’s founded Boonsborough and even become a grandfather, he was captured by Shawnee warriors. His escape is pretty amazing! This book definitely falls in the Heroes For Boys category that I’m always seeking out on our library trips.

We’ve also enjoyed Who Was Here: Discovering Wild Animal Tracks as we talk about tracking animals.  One page has a clue about the animal and a picture of its print, and the next page has the answer. It’s a good combination of learning about 18769496the animals’ tracks, their habitats, and some interesting facts about them. We read Tracks in the Snow as another track-themed book, but it was definitely more for the 2-3-year-old age group than for a 4-year-old or 6-year-old. It was very cute and Violet loved it, though the concept of snow was totally lost on her.

I’m thankful we get to investigate tracks for fun instead of for food, but I also think it’s good for our modern-day children to know how much hard work frontiersmen went through. So of course, I chose Little House in the Big Woods as our read aloud for this month. Last time we read it, Ella was only four. She doesn’t remember much of it, and it’s all new to Isaac this time around. Does homeschooling mean I get to read the Little House books to my children every two years? Sold! =) I feel like I need to reread these books for my own perspective on how much easier my life is than Caroline Wilder’s was. And if you want to put Christmas gifts into perspective for your kids, read them just the Christmas chapters from Little House in the Big Woods or Little House on the Prairie.  Wow. Besides the perspective, these are simply some of the best books ever. And the great part is I hardly remember On The Shores of Silver Lake! Can’t wait ’til we get to that one.

So that’s what’s in our reading basket this week. What have you and your kids been reading?

Everyday Life, Reviews, Saturday Cooking

The Whole30 – Our Review {Saturday Cooking On A Wednesday}

As mentioned in this post, I’ve been poring over The Whole30: The Thirty Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom a lot over the last few weeks. Today, my husband and I have reached Day 28 (justtwomoredays!!!!) of our Whole30 experience.

What is The Whole30?

It’s thirty day period of taking everything out of your diet but fresh meat, vegetables, fruits, eggs, and some nuts. That is all you eat for 30 days. It’s along the the lines of paleo, but with a different theory and intention. The theory isn’t that we should eat like this because our ancestors ate like this, or even that we should always eat like this. The theory is that what we put in our body effects us and wouldn’t it be a good idea to figure out how the stuff we eat makes us feel? Maybe you have zero problems with dairy, or maybe you’ll find you actually have an intolerance. Maybe you’ve been eating way more processed grains than you realized, or that your diet is a lot further from “natural” than you would have thought. (Maybe I’m speaking from experience…). Oh, and it’s very likely you’re addicted to sugar. And it’s also likely that your body is completely hooked on sugars as an energy source instead of using fats .That’s the number one reason why I did this program, in fact. I reached for some form of sugar, be it unhealthy sweets or “wholesome” granola bars, pretty much any time I was hungry.

But really, the reason we got to this point where we decided to do something that makes everyone who knows us think we’re lunatics is that we wanted to get our indulgences under control. We’d spent years eating whatever dessert was available, whatever meal was easiest to make on a rough day, etc. It was time for a change, and how hard could it be to do this for 30 days?

So, how’d it go?

There were some great times and some hard times! I was extremely tired at first. Melissa Hartwig and Dale Hartwig write in their book that we have trained our bodies at a cellular level to use energy from the sugar we eat instead of the fat we eat or store. I was kind of skeptical about this, but when I felt how tired I was on about Day 3, I decided, “Yes. I am tried on a cellular level right now.” And then around Day 6, I felt a steady energy, much different than the kind of energy swings I had been experiencing. Other than better energy, losing an inch or two, and feeling pretty good overall, my husband and I did not make any amazing discoveries about what foods affect us negatively. Our bodies seem quite happy with wheat and dairy! In fact, since about Day 25, we’ve been feeling the pendulum swing from too much wheat in our diet to not enough. Our bodies need some grains!

I was very hopeful that my complexion would improve on this program, but alas, it all seems to be unrelated to what I eat. On the bright side, no guilt about chocolate. =)

How About The Recipes?

I’m really glad I bought the Whole30 book, because many of the recipes are keepers! We will keep eating menu items like Chicken Cacciatore, Harvest Grilled Chicken, Salad, and the beef brisket recipe found in the book. The salmon recipes we tried from the book were not our favorites. It’s our humble opinion that salmon needs some kind of sweetness in the marinade or sauce to take it from “meh” to delicious. We also were not fans of two of the breakfast recipes we tried that I found on Pinterest: Cauliflower Sausage Casserole (the smell was one of the worst smells ever! I ate it a few times, but my husband hated it and we won’t be making that again.) and Breakfast Pumpkin Custard (it was icky). This online recipe for Greek Meatballs was awesome, though! And we discovered we actually like sweet potatoes, though not as a sweet dish but a savory side dish.

While we’re on the topic of recipes, I would just like to say that the absolute hardest part of The Whole30 was all the cooking you must do in order to eat. You cook at every meal, or you cook lots at once and eat leftovers. You may find a few convenience foods like a rotisserie chicken, but even those often have some added sugar in the rub or marinade. So, if you do not cook, you’re going to need another kind of plan for getting jump started on healthy eating. We all know that homemade is best, but not all of us are there yet.

What’s Next?

The Whole30 has lots of benefits, but what we are most excited about is the re-wiring our habits have gone through. Where we once ate mostly carbs for breakfast, we now eat eggs. (And eggs. And eggs). We’re planning on adding oatmeal back into our normal routines right away, but we also plan to keep the majority of our breakfasts protein-based. For snacks we used to grab crackers or whatever the kids were eating, but now I reach for nuts or fruit. And we haven’t eaten this many vegetables per day in our whole lives!

I will tell you this though: as soon as I wake up on Day 31, I’m grabbing the half and half and enjoying some creamy coffee! The almond milk has grown on me, but it’s still not cutting it.  So the plan going forward is to keep our new good habits, but allow ourselves flour tortillas with our fajitas, and some cheese in our scrambled eggs, and see what happens.

Have you done the Whole30 before? Thinking about it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

For other food related posts from Miathereader.com, click on over here!

Nonfiction, Reviews

Better Than Before: A Book Review

Here’s a non-fiction review for my non-frivolous book readers! Yesterday I finished Gretchen Rubin’s latest book Better Than Before:  Mastering The Habits of Our Everyday Lives. The popular author of The Happiness Project and Happier At Home once again brings readers an insightful book on her favorite topic, how to live this present life well.

Rubin starts off the book by claiming we can’t be successful in our habits without knowing our habit tendencies. I found this section of the book fascinating. She breaks these tendencies down into four groups:

  1. The Upholders – Sensitive to inner expectations for oneself and outer expectations of other people
  2. The Obliger – Very sensitive to others’ expectations, not as sensitive to one’s own expectations for one’s self
  3. The Questioner – Always questioning expectations, and has to make all expectations his or her own by evaluating and deciding whether they are reasonable and useful or not.
  4. The Rebel – Basically, this person hates expectations and has a hard time with habits.

Rubin, herself, is a strong Upholder, and finds it very easy to begin and maintain habits. I almost question why a person who finds habits so natural would write a book about harnessing the power of habits – can we learn anything from her struggle if there actually is no struggle for her? Then again, I suppose we can learn from the best, and she does an insane amount of research and includes anecdotes from other types of tendencies. (Side note: if you read the beginning part of this book and you classify yourself as a Rebel, good luck. You don’t want habits in your life, you enjoy making each decision you make, and having the freedom to decide yes or no to most everything you do each day. Habits are not your thing. And probably neither is this book).

After doing a little self exploration, Rubin decides to tackle the seven areas in which people most commonly want to improve their habits: Healthy eating, Exercise, Finances, Rest and Relaxation, Accomplishments, Clutter, and Relationships. As is her wont, Rubin sets up a specific goal for herself in each of these areas and writes about the results. This is the part where the book gets a little less interesting to me, because I already know she is going to do a great job of creating new habits. She is going to nail this. But would I?

I read this book at a great time to improve my habits, when my youngest recently turned a year old and I had the mental fortitude to improve some areas of my life that were just scraping by one sleep deprived day after another. I didn’t want to grab the whole project by the horns like Rubin did; I thought I would pick just a few areas to work on: getting up earlier and eating healthier.

So far, I have failed miserably. For about a week, I did great, but then it all fell apart. I still get woken up often at night by one of the three kids, if not all, and I still can’t seem to get a meal plan together that is consistently healthy. Snacks are a whole ‘nother battle. The upside of this experiment is that I did feel exceedingly better when I did a good job of getting up early and putting healthy food on the table. I’m excited to continue my attempts at improving my habits in these areas.

Overall, I liked this book. I find that Rubin’s books can bring me some ideas and get me thinking, but when I finish them, there’s a sense of emptiness for me.  They lack the overall purpose of life in their theories. I don’t want to be so inwardly focused on living my life well. I want to love God and love others.  Also, as a middle class American in the suburbs, her upper-middle class New York City lifestyle is very hard for me to relate to. However, if you’re interested in using the practice of habits for to empower your daily routines, I think this is a great book for you.

Now, if only Gretchen Rubin would write a book about helping kids form good habits…

Reading, Reviews

The DNF List of The Summer

Confession: for every book I read start to finish, there are is another book (or two) figuratively marked with a glaring DNF. I have no shame about the Did Not Finish category. I know some people feel if they start a book, they must finish or else it’s all been a waste of time. I prefer to take Thomas Edison’s view, though: he discovered 10,000 ways not to invent a light bulb, I have discovered 10,000 books (er..maybe a few less) that I didn’t want to spend time reading. Unless a book has inherit merit (say, you promised a friend you’d read it, or it’s on your syllabus, or it’s The Bible, for instance), I say, feel free to cast it aside! How many books would I never discover if I was too afraid to pick up a book because I knew I was going to make myself finish what I started?  To prove I’m serious about this, I’m admitting today that I started and didn’t finish these four very popular books this summer. (please note: these are the books I did not finish just in the last two months. There are tons of others).

  1. Go Set A Watchman – Okay, don’t judge. I read this book through more than halfway, and I really appreciated the look into the way an author can develop characters and they can morph into people the author didn’t set out to create at the beginning. It really is like reading a first draft of To Kill A Mockingbird. I can totally see why Harper Lee’s editor suggested a re-write from Scout’s childhood perspective, for those were far and away the best parts of WatchmanYou can’t read this book as a sequel. It’s separate, it has hardly anything to do with TKAM. I read it out of curiosity, but when my curiosity was sated, I didn’t find anything in it to keep me going.
  2. The Book of SpeculationThe Book of Speculation– So morbid and dark! Tarrot cards, curses, babies abandoned. Not my cup of tea. I kind of wanted to know what happened, but not enough to endure through the end of the book. Maybe I should have skipped to the end? I was afraid of the end, though. It’s better not to know, sometimes. Plus, the cover ends up having nothing to do with the book. A misleading cover is such a bad start to a book relationship.
  3. In The Unlikely Event – I may pick this book up again one day, but right now I cannot handle any more books that shift their points of view. I counted twenty different points of view in this book. Twenty! Judy Blume can get away with it, because I’ve heard from so many people that this is a really awesome book. Right now, I just want to get sucked into a character and a story and stay there, please? Alright? Alright.
  4. The Nightingale – I will read this book one day. But this was about the 4th novel set in WWII I picked up this summer and I just could not go down that road again. I’d love to know any reader’s thoughts on this book.
  5. Circling the SunCircling The Sun – This is another book I may go back and finish. It was a hard week when I started this one, though, and I could tell by the first five chapters that this one would have some harsh word pictures in it. I needed soft, like Miss Read or something. So when it came due at the library, I gave it back only 1/8 done, vowing to go back to it one day when I was ready for the grit of African soil. I’ve heard so many people say it’s amazing. I make myself feel better by chanting, “I have read Beryl Markham’s true memoir, I have Beryl Markham’s memoir on bookshelf, I am not a phony book lover, I am not a phony book lover…” It sort of worked.

How do you feel about starting and finishing books?

Children's Books, Reading, Reviews

Books For Grown Up Fans of Louisa May Alcott

If you check out any books lists with the title, “Best Books of Childhood” or “Top 100 Classics,” you will find Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women somewhere in the top ten. I read the binding out of that book and Alcott’s many others when I was a young girl all the way through the teenage years. Then one cozy day close to a Christmas in my mid-twenties, I remembered the opening scene of Little Women, when Jo says, “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” and I had an instant longing to get reacquainted with some of my favorite literary people of all time. I snatched the book off the prominent living room bookshelf, where it has sat for my entire adulthood, still a bit ragged and adorned with blue crayon thanks to a younger sister. I got through the first few chapters while fighting back the thought, “I should be enjoying this more. I love this book, don’t I?” The sad truth is, Little Women did not speak to me like it did when I was younger. Maybe it was the simplistic language or the situations I already knew so well but no longer related to, but I put the book down before even getting to the part when Amy burns Jo’s manuscript. It was a sad day.

Since then,  I’ve made it my mission to find books that grown up fans of Louisa May Alcott will love. I was so happy to find that these books do exist! And I’m constantly trying to find more. Here is my running list so far.

(Oh, and one of the best parts of this list is hat with the exception of The Blue Castle and Emily of Deep Valley, all of these books are free as e-books at Project Gutenberg. You’re welcome!)

MotherMother – I read this just last week and found it to be both sweet and relevant to today. Written by Kathleen Thompson Norris in 1911, it tells the story of Margaret, the oldest daughter of a large family who longs to get away from her small-town, family life and make something of herself. By a seemingly fairy tale twist of fate, she is whisked off as a secretary to New York City. As the story develops, Margaret becomes a modern thinking woman, and her mother seems to live a sad life. Margaret’s wisdom grows, however, and this book becomes a tribute to motherhood. It is old fashioned, and I loved ever bit of it.

A Girl of the Limberlost – If you have not discovered Gene Stratton Porter’s best novel, you must rush to read this classic right away! Elnora Comstock is one of my favorite literary characters. Though poor and unloved by her grief-hardened mother, Elnora’s strength of character and determination to learn despite the odds against her makes this novel a classic American coming-of-age story.

The Making of a Marchioness – Who knew the famous writer of The Secret Garden and The Little Princess also wrote for adults? Frances Hodgson Burnett’s adult novels still follow the trend of a poor girl finding unlikely happiness, which I don’t mind because it’s kind of comforting when you have expectations of a writer and your expectations are met.

The Blue CastleThe Blue Castle – L.M. Montgomery’s best book for grown ups may feature a little too much rebellious spirit to be classified as Alcott-esque, but I’m pretty sure if you like Alcott’s books, you’ll like this one, too.

Daddy Long Legs and Dear Enemy – Jean Webster’s books are written as letters, so style-wise they differ a good bit from Alcott, but in character and theme, they are very similar.

And here are a few on my-to read list that I suspect will fall into this category as well.

Emily of Deep Valley by Maude Hart Lovelace

Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Payson Prentiss

The Wide, Wide World by Susan Bogert Warner

(Why do all these writers have two last names?)

I hope you find something on this list that makes your Fall reading a delightful plunge back into old-fashioned books.

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Reading, Reviews, Young Adult

Book Inhalation: Summer Reading Snippets, 2015 Edition

Are you soaking up the last days of summer this week? I am! We start first grade homeschooling in one week. It has been a truly awesome summer for our family. My husband has been busy with his new business, but way less busy than he was at this time last year. He’s been able to join us in our summer fun much more than in previous years. I love the days of waking up and throwing on a t-shirt and shorts (layering is too much work!), serving the kids breakfast in their playhouse,  watching them splash and play in crazy imaginative ways in our little kiddie pool on the back porch (which they can fill up themselves now…it’s almost like I’ve arrived), and so much more. Summer is my favorite.

And I have been reading a lot of books over the last few months, which also contributes to the awesomeness of this summer.  As soon as I put one down, I’m picking up another. Can you call that chain reading? I’m inhaling books these days, not stopping long enough to write a review or even process what I’m reading very well. I guess this is my version of summer binge TV watching. This book inhalation will slow down pretty soon (darn), but it’s been fun while it lasted. In the unintentional summer tradition of this blog, here is the 2nd  annual Summer Reading Snippets post.

Secrets of a Charmed LifeSecrets of A Charmed Life – My 2nd favorite book of the summer! I was totally spellbound by this book. I read this book in a 36 hour timespan. It’s very much like Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper, but shorter. One thing I really appreciate about this book is that while it is framed by a present day narrator, the bulk of the book is told in the past and does not flip-flop from past to present. I’ve come to deeply dislike all these books that transition every other chapter or so between past and present. Unless the writer is truly masterful, this format is jarring.  I like to get fully immersed in a story and setting. Secrets of A Charmed Life is a perfect beach read or curl up by the fire read. Just don’t plan on doing much else for two or three days! Five stars.

Henrietta’s War – A quaint mid-century British book that I loved. Full review here.

Ana of California – This is a pretty good YA book if you first put out of your mind the claim that it is a “modern day retelling of Anne of Green Gables.” It may be inspired by Anne of Green Gables, but that is the beginning and end of its ties to one of the best books ever written (okay, I am biased. I looove L.M. Montgomery).  None of the characters actually match up in personality between the old books and this “retelling.” Okay….so I obviously have some scornful feelings about the “retelling” claim, but I really did enjoy this book. The foster care background and the character development is well done, and I think it calls to light some important themes of caring for parent-less children and forgiveness. 3.5 stars. 

The Sound of GlassFalling Home and The Sound of Glass – I picked up Falling Home because it was all I could reach from the sofa one time when I was holding my sleeping baby at the beach house we rented in May. Thumbs down. However, The Sound of Glass, White’s most recent book, was pretty good if you like a good yarn. Her settings are always s. Her characters, especially the main characters, get a little predictable if you read more than a few of her books. My favorite book of White’s is still A Long Time Gone.  1 star and 3.5 stars.

The Persian Pickle Club – Another beach read, but it turned pretty well. I’ve never read Sandra Dallas’s work, but I found myself comparing The Persian Pickle Club to a Fannie Flagg book, kind of like Fried Green Tomatoes. 3 stars.

The Tilted World – I couldn’t finish this book about the Mississippi River flood in the 1930s and some very hopeless moonshiners. It was harsh and raw and great for readers who like Kenneth Follet. No stars because I didn’t finish it.

Saving Amelie – I cannot say enough good things about this Christian Fiction novel.  I don’t read a whole lot in this genre, but I’m glad I gave this book a chance. Set in Nazi Germany, it’s a look at the sanctity of all human life and how far from understanding that some people in this time era came. In light of recent debates on abortion in our country, this book hit even closer to home than usual, though it has more to do with treasuring children with disabilities than valuing them during pregnancy. 4 stars.

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity, #1)Code Name Verity – Young Adult fiction at its best! I loooved this book. Apparently, WWII was a theme in my summer reading. Oh, who am I kidding, it’s always a theme in my reading. I loved the creative journal format and the varying points of view that instead of making me infuriated, kept me guessing and led to some “aha!” moments in the plot. I’d read this again with my daughter when she reaches about age 15-16 in a heartbeat. 4 stars.

All The Bright Places – Two thumbs way, way down. YA at its postmodern worst. Do not read it. It’s being compared to The Fault in Our Stars, but it’s so much worse. That’s all I have to say about that. 1/2 star.

The Brontes Went to Woolworths – Erm…this is one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read. I can’t make sense of it at all. I think it’s supposed to be a comparison of three sisters who are like the Brontes but live in the 1940s. Their weird obsession with their current day stage actors just threw me off entirely. I don’t even know how many stars to give it.

A Spool of Blue Thread – Ann Tyler is an incredible writer. However, sometimes I get to the end of her books and go, “what was the point of that, again?” She’s an author I read for the beauty of her words and depth of her descriptions and characters, but not so much for the story. Tyler makes me think about writing and about how people live and think in every day life.

Garden Spells and The Peach Keeper – Here’s a conundrum: I like Sarah Addison Allen’s writing style, settings, and magical feel but I just don’t like her characters or the decisions they make. One might say they’re very human, but I’d say they’re often plain self-centered. Also, I end up skipping over many pages in her books when she decides to throw in a little romance because it is soooo cheesy and overly detailed. I guess the point is I get why people like her books, but I am not a fan. Yet. She may win me over someday.

Doomsday Book (Oxford Time Travel, #1)Doomsday Book – I am definitely finishing this book one day. It came due to the library when I was only a few chapters in (I got a little overly ambitious on one library trip and checked out too many books!). I read Blackout and All Clear by this author and really liked them.

Divergent – Always late to the dystopian lit parties, I’m in the middle of this one now. I’m not loving it, but I’m too involved to back out now.

I’m pretty sure this list doesn’t cover all the books I’ve read this summer, but those are  all I can remember right now. Even though I’ll be too busy to read as much as I have the past few months, I’m still a firm believer that Fall and Winter are the best times for reading. So, what have you read this summer? Anything I should put on my Fall reading list? I’m looking to get in a few more nonfiction titles and some classics.

Happy reading!