Posts filed under ‘book review’

Book Review: How To Be Alive

How to Be Alive cover

Book Description:

The author of No Impact Man and founder of the No Impact Project returns with this trailblazing guide to living a meaningful and fulfilling life while also contributing to the wellbeing of our communities and the planet.

When Colin Beavan embarked upon a yearlong experiment to lead a zero net-impact existence in the middle of New York City, he had no idea what a profound effect it would have upon himself and others around him. For Colin, the project—chronicled in a book, a documentary, and an ongoing lecture series—formed the basis of a radical “lifestyle redesign” that reached beyond just environmental activism. And, in the course of his travels and lectures, he encountered scores of people who were similarly breaking from traditional ideas about work, home, and even family in order to take their futures, and the planet’s, in their own hands. In the process they made a startling discovery—a happier way of life that is also having a deeply positive impact on the world.

For most of us, though, even contemplating this kind of transformation is overwhelming and confusing. In How to Be Alive, Beavan shares his insights on finding the path that’s right for you. Drawing on everything from classic literature and philosophy to current science, and combining that with his own experiences alongside those of the many people he has met along the way, Colin explores a broad array of transformational lifestyle adjustments—small and large—that offer security and meaning in a world confronted by ecological crises, economic upheaval, and ongoing war and social injustice. In the process, he helps readers embark on the quest for a “good life” of their own—lives both better for them and the planet.

My Thoughts:

It’s the beginning of a new year, which seems like a fitting time to read a self-help book. Although I didn’t write a single new year’s resolution I still wanted to reflect on my life. What is working for me and what isn’t? What should I change, if anything, and what should remain the same?

When I received an invitation to review this book I jumped at the chance. After all it’s difficult to refuse a book promising to be “a guide to the kind of happiness that helps the world.”

I don’t know the author, but I bet Colin Beavan and I would be good friends in real life. I could picture us sitting across the living room on comfortable, but ordinary living room chairs discussing the “Own What Really Makes You Happy” chapter in great detail. Over the years I have pared down my belongings, minimized my wardrobe and curtailed my spending. As time goes on I am less and less attached to things. I find it easier and easier to rid my house of unwanted stuff and to ensure that unwanted stuff doesn’t find its way back in. While I found myself nodding along in this chapter I think the advice is sound: understand your relationship with stuff and focusing on owning only what makes you happy.

As a personal finance blogger I felt most connected to that chapter, but I enjoyed Beavan’s advice overall. This book guides you through the baby steps to a more enjoyable life. Many of us have big dreams and goals, but simply don’t know how to make any progress on them.

Beavan’s advice is to take baby steps and he sums it up in a wonderful example. Beavan meets a man who wants to play the guitar, but that man never buys a guitar or takes lessons or makes any attempt to learn how to play. The man says its a goal, but never takes a single action to meet that goal. Then one day he meets a woman playing the ukulele. In a few minutes he learns how to play a song on it and quickly realizes he doesn’t need to buy a guitar that may involve spending a lot of time and money on equipment and lessons. Instead he feels quite fulfilled playing the ukulele.

It’s an instrument that is inexpensive and easy to play. He can  learn songs easily and gains immediate enjoyment. It’s not a guitar, but it meets his goal of making music in a fun way.  Will he ever meet the goal of playing guitar? Maybe, maybe not, but the point is we can take baby steps to find fulfillment.

Beavan writes of other examples of this. Rather than deciding you need to exercise, cut out all sugar, never eat a carb or whatever else your health goal might be, just take it easy one step at a time. One day drink a little less soda, the next go for a short walk, the next make dinner from scratch. Rather than changing everything at once, make a tiny change and let the momentum build.

If you are looking for inspiration to make changes in your life, think baby steps, then read this book.

About the author:

Colin Beavan is a writer and activist best known as the author of NO IMPACT MAN: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process and founder of THE NO IMPACT PROJECT. He is the author of two previous books that have absolutely nothing to do with the environment: Fingerprints: The Murder Case That Launched Forensic Science and Operation Jedburgh: D-Day and America’s First Shadow War. His writing has appeared in EsquireThe Atlantic, and The New York Times. He lives in New York City.

Find out more about Colin at his website, and connect with him on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

February 4, 2016 at 9:00 AM Leave a comment

Book Review: Celebrity and Entertainment Obsession: Understanding Our Addiction

Celebrity

Book Description:

“Our celebrity captivation seems out of proportion,” says Michael S. Levy, PhD, addiction expert and author of CELEBRITY & ENTERTAINMENT OBSESSION: Understanding Our Addiction

Dr. Levy wrote CELEBRITY & ENTERTAINMENT OBSESSION to shed light on why we as a society are obsessed with people who work in the entertainment field—movies and television in particular—but singers, musicians sports figures and people on reality TV as well. Dr. Levy, whose previous book, Take Control of Your Drinking…and You May Not Need to Quit, resonated with many people, finds it remarkable that people who work in the entertainment field get more recognition and adoration than a competent brain surgeon who saves people’s lives, or a pathologist who has made inroads in cancer treatment.

This wasn’t always the case. Sixty years ago, a Gallup Poll study showed that people who were most admired included Einstein, Winston Churchill, Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur. Not one entertainer, sports star or media personality made the list. Fast-forward to 2000 – 2009 and we have stars like Bono, Tiger Woods, and Denzel Washington making the list.

Dr. Levy can discuss society’s obsession with beauty, how our vulnerability to addiction, our need for idols and our voyeuristic predispositions all contribute to our celebrity obsession as well as:

• How the mass media controls our thinking, the nature of our social intercourse and interactions with each other and our preoccupation with celebrities

• How the media exploits our voyeurism and how our voyeurism serves as a form of distraction and amusement

• Why being entertained has become our primary preoccupation

• Why celebrities’ real-life, off-screen stories get more publicity than anything they have done in their careers

Dr. Levy laments that television news programs focus as much, if not more, on the lives of high-profile celebrities than about other more important issues of the day. He believes that our obsession with entertainers is something to be concerned about since we will have missed opportunities to learn from others who could provide us with valuable ideas and standards for our young people. While the entertainment machine has given us a quick fix to feel good, Dr. Levy asks: “is our obsession with celebrities the best use our time? What will be important to reflect on at the end of our lives: Will it be what we knew about some celebrity or might it be something else?”

My Thoughts

As a child I vividly remember looking at the cover of tabloid newspapers on my neighbors dining room table. There always seemed to be some story about big foot or aliens or some other far-fetched creature that someone had captured on film. My friend’s mom couldn’t seem to stay away from this stuff. Every time I came over to play a new edition of that same newspaper sat right on the edge of the table where the previous version sat a week or so before.

Eventually junk magazines replaced those tabloids. You know the type I’m talking about. The ones that claim Jennifer Aniston is still upset with Angelina Jolie or secretly married or expecting her first baby. Poor Jennifer Aniston has been on the cover of those magazines since Brad Pitt left her so many years ago. Why does the public have such a fascination with her love life or her desire to have a baby?

Why do Americans love to watch The Kardashians or any other celebrity family? Doesn’t Facebook seem like it’s own little celebrity show? Show me the beautiful pictures of your glamorous vacation, gorgeous children or sparkly new wedding ring. How many of us seem to strive for our own limelight these days with pictures of our children’s straight A’s and prom pictures?

Have you ever wondered why our culture is so obsessed with celebrities? With all that we have going on in our own lives why do we spend any time watching, listening and learning about the lives of people who aren’t all that special anyway?

Michael S. Levy’s new book Celebrity & Entertainment Obsession Understanding Our Addiction gets to the heart of this very interesting phenomenon. Why are people so interested in the lives of the rich and famous? Are we all trying to live vicariously through the images projected on film and video?

How has our perspective on celebrities changed over time? Why does it seem like people now care about the famous just because they are famous, not because their fame is warranted by some great accomplishment? If you’ve ever wondered why our culture seems so addicted read Levy’s book. It’s an interesting look into the psychology behind this growing obsession.

Meet the author:

Michael S. Levy, PhD is a clinical psychologist who is the director of substance use services at North Shore Medical Center in Salem, Massachusetts. He also maintains a private practice in psychotherapy in Andover, Massachusetts and is a lecturer in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He has often been interviewed on radio and television. Levy has published numerous articles and book chapters, gives many lectures and workshops, and is the author of one previous book, Take Control of Your Drinking…And You May Not Need to Quit.

Connect with the author: Website   Twitter   Facebook

January 15, 2016 at 8:00 AM Leave a comment

Book Review: I Love My Pet Elephant

i love my pet elephant

Book Description:

A colorful tale of friendship and fun between a little girl and her best friend – her pet elephant! I Love My Pet Elephant is a delightful medley of reality and fantasy, with shenanigans and adventures brought to life through vibrant illustration and simple rhyming text.

Meet the author:

Lauren Micchelli is a newly published author, having penned her first book in 2014. She has since continued the Snootzytime Adventures of Maddie and Murphy series, and went on to publish A Day Of What Ifs and I Love My Pet Elephant.

Impressively, she was the recipient of New Book Award 2015 for I Love My Pet Elephant.

​Lauren Micchelli grew up in West Caldwell, New Jersey and currently resides in northern New Jersey.

Author Interview:

What inspires you?

I’m inspired by the world around me, cliché as that may sound. I’m inspired by the people that I’ve had the good fortune of meeting, the places that I’ve been, the memories that I’ve made- it all drives my energy and fuels my imagination.

Where and when do you write?

I write when I feel inspired, whenever and wherever that may be! I keep a small notebook with me wherever I go to capture a burst of creativity. In fact, I was inspired to write I Love My Pet Elephant while I was on a train coming back from Manhattan. The concept came to me seemingly out of nowhere, so I grabbed my notebook and had the entire story on paper before the train ride was over!

Do you have another profession besides writing?

Writing is one of my many hobbies and an outlet for creativity. By day I work full time in business and have been continuing my education in holistic nutrition studies, which has made for a hefty schedule! Down the road I aspire to write about health and wellness in addition to children’s stories. Who knows, perhaps my next adventure could be writing about health as pertains to children!

What’s your fondest memory from your writing adventures thus far?

My first book, The Snootzytime Adventures, was released early December 2014. Shortly thereafter I received an email from a friend which included a picture of his four year old daughter snuggled in an oversized chair, engrossed in my book. He said his daughter loved my book so much she wanted to read it every day. That candid picture, and love of a story that I worked so hard to bring to life, was incredibly surreal and heartwarming.

Name someone – past or present – that you would like to meet if given the opportunity.

That’s a great question, and while there are many people I’d love the opportunity to meet one person that’s top of mind is Ellen DeGeneres. Not only does Ellen crack me up but she always appears to be having fun, and people seem to have a great time with her! I’d love to see what kind of humor she would bring to my book, if given the opportunity to chat with her about it!

What are you most proud of?

I’m extremely proud of myself for swinging pendulum from apprehension to excitement and pursuing my dreams. I didn’t anticipate it would be easy to publish and market a book, but I didn’t let that stop me! I’m proud of how much I’ve accomplished in such as short amount of time. In addition to publishing four books in six months, I was a recipient of New Book Award 2015 for I Love My Pet Elephant! While I still have a long way to go I’m happy of how far I’ve come in the last year!

What advice would you give budding writers?

Follow your dreams and don’t take no for an answer! Be aware that the road ahead may be filled with twists and turns, and don’t be afraid to ask questions to help you along. It may not be easy, but if it’s something you want to pursue then find a way to make it happen!

My Thoughts:

When my oldest was just a few months old we started a bedtime routine that involved a bath, snuggling, nursing and reading three stories. We removed the nursing component at some point, but we’ve continued the rest of the ritual every night since. At just over four years old he knows the routine by heart and happily selects three books off his bookshelf before climbing into bed each evening.

Now that his baby brother has joined our crew we switch between more complex books he enjoys and colorful stories that will capture the interest of our littlest guy. When I received I Love My Pet Elephant in the mail I knew it would be the perfect story for both of them. On every other page there is a brightly colored illustration of a little girl and her pet elephant. The opposing page includes a short rhyming verse detailing the adventures they experience together.

The story is told from the perspective of the little girl who loves to go on adventures with her favorite pet. There are every day experiences a child might share with a pet dog like washing him and feeding him and of course more mystical adventures like sledding, playing hide and seek and even flying.

This book has a good rhythm to its rhymes. It reads rather easily and the words roll off the tongue quite nicely. The pictures of the girl and her pet elephant are colorful without being too bright. I especially love the expressiveness of the little girls eyes as they light up with each adventure. Best of all both children really seem to enjoy this story!

Connect with the author:  Website   Twitter

December 15, 2015 at 8:00 AM Leave a comment

Book Review: The Travel Adventures of PJ Mouse

The Travel Adventures of PJ Mouse in Canada The Travel Adventures of PJ Mouse in Queensland

Book Description (The Travel Adventures of PJ Mouse – in Canada) :

PJ Mouse, an adorable little stuffed animal, was lost and alone until young Emily heard his cries for help. Now, along with his new family, PJ gets to travel the world-discovering exciting new places and people along the way!

Come join PJ on his first adventure across Canada as he hikes on a glacier in the Rockies, finds a salt lake in the prairies, and walks on the ocean floor in Nova Scotia.

Book Description (The Travel Adventures of PJ Mouse – in Queensland ) 

PJ Mouse, an adorable little stuffed animal, was lost and alone until young Emily heard his cries for help. Now, along with his new family, PJ gets to travel the world – discovering exciting new places, people, and animals along the way!

​Come join PJ on this, his second adventure, along the coast of Queensland, as he snorkels at the Great Barrier Reef, chats with a Loggerhead turtle in the midst of a great undertaking, and explores the tropical rainforest- until he has to be rescued by one of the local friendly wildlife.

Meet the author and illustrator:  

Gwyneth Jane Page (Jane), who holds an MBA from Simon Fraser University, has called many countries home. She grew up in such places as England, Peru, the USA, and the Caribbean, and has also lived in Australia and Canada. She now resides in Victoria, BC with her husband and four children. The PJ Mouse books are based on Jane’s family trips with the real stuffed animal, PJ, who was found by Emily, Jane’s youngest daughter.

Megan Elizabeth, Jane’s second oldest daughter, has lived in Canada and Australia and travelled extensively with her family and PJ. Having been artistic since she was a little girl, illustrating the PJ Mouse books has enabled her to combine her love of travel with her love of art. Megan completed her studies at VanArts and is now building her career as a professional photographer as well as an illustrator. She currently resides in Victoria, BC with her family.

Connect with the author:  Website   Twitter   Facebook

My Thoughts:

My four-year-old son is graduating into books with more words and fewer pictures. Where he was once more interested in the images on the page then the words, he is now much more interested in the story line then the pictures set out on the pages before him.

When the Travel Adventures of PJ Mouse arrived on our doorstep I knew he was just the right age and at just the right stage to enjoy them. I typically read books while he eats breakfast in the morning. While he actually enjoys reading multiple times throughout the day, morning and nighttime have always been his favorite.

I started the book in the morning before he went to school, but told him it was too long to finish before we piled into the car. I read the first two chapters of The Travel Adventures of PJ Mouse – in Canada before we left in the morning and the minute we arrived home he asked me to finish the story. He loved how PJ Mouse kept getting into trouble on his adventure. His favorite parts occurred when PJ got caught up in a wave,and when he fell into a crevice in the ice. He asked me to read those chapters two or three times before we could move on to the rest of the book.

The same thing happened when we read The Travel Adventures of PJ Mouse – in Queensland. Although he was interested in many parts of the book there were a few chapters that he absolutely loved. After reading them he’d flip back to the beginning of a chapter and ask me to read it all over again.

Both books were a huge hit at my house. We even used our imaginations to think of adventures my son’s own stuffed animals might like to take.

December 7, 2015 at 8:00 AM 1 comment

Book Review: Stop and Smell Your Children

 Stop and Smell

Book Description:

Ready to laugh about motherhood and be encouraged? Tired of feeling overwhelmed and stressed out in the baby and toddler season? Need some fresh vision and perspective so you can enjoy—not just endure—your young children?

Stop and Smell Your Children: Laugh and Enjoy the Little Years offers moms-to-be and moms of young children short, real-life parenting stories that encourage and inspire. Leah Spina, mother of three children ages five and under, and former journalist, unleashes humor and perspective for tired moms who are parenting the “little” years. From the excitement of the positive pregnancy test to morning sickness and the banes of pregnancy, to childbirth, babies, toddlers and new parent struggles, the stories will make you laugh and see beauty in the chaos. Each story also includes thought-provoking takeaways to help busy moms gain a fresh outlook.

Strangers remind us that our children will be small only for a short time and to enjoy each moment. But then we return to the wild reality of parenting young children! All-night crying sessions. Never-ending laundry. Every-three-hour feeding schedules. Diaper explosions and projectile spit-up. Teething. Potty training. Yes, we enjoy our children, but we’d also like to enjoy a shower that lasts more than two minutes, or a meal that isn’t lukewarm (if we’re lucky). The truth is, pregnancy and parenting young children can be hard at times. But it can also be one of the best chapters of our lives, if we can learn to laugh and change our mindset.

Young children are one of life’s greatest gifts. Each page of this easy read will help you truly enjoy the “little” years!

Meet the author:

Leah Spina is a former journalist of a national newsweekly magazine and also worked as a childbirth coordinator at a large adoption agency. She has her B.S in Business Administration from Thomas Edison State College. She has two adorable children – Samson and Esther – and resides in Dallas, Texas with her husband, David. When she’s not changing diapers, she enjoys singing Broadway, sun tanning on Italian beaches and riding horses.

Interview with Leah Spina:

  1. Tell us a little about you. Sure! I am a former journalist of a national news magazine turned stay-at-home mom. I live in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas area with my husband, David, and three children, age five and under. Samson is five, Esther is two and we have a baby that’s only five-weeks-old. Whew!
  1. What’s your book about? My new book, Stop and Smell Your Children: Laugh and Enjoy the Little Years is a short, easy read for busy moms of young children. It’s full of real life parenting stories to help overwhelmed parents laugh and change their parenting perspective so they can enjoy, not just endure, the little years. It’s full of encouragement and inspiration for the tired mom!
  1. Why do you feel your book message is important? I feel that so many parents, including me, can easily get bogged down in the constant caretaking that young children require. It’s not a fun way to live and you can start resenting your children because you are not enjoying it. I believe, with all my heart, that if we can STOP in our busy day to find and enjoy ordinary, extraordinary moments with our little ones we can truly enjoy this crazy but wonderful season of young children!
  1. What are some of the topics of your book? Oh, the chapters titles are topics all parents can relate to! Pregnancy, labor and delivery drama, sleepless newborn nights, teething, potty training, traveling with children, eating out with children, nursing, etc – it’s all there. The nitty gritty of new parenthood.
  2. Who is your target audience? Expectant parents and parents of children age zero to five years old is my target audience. But have I have also had grandparents and parents of older children read it and say it was fun to relive the little years through the stories.

My Thoughts:

I must admit that the first few chapters of this book made me want to close the cover and walk away. The author begins this book with a laundry list of complaints about pregnancy, childbirth and the experiences of mothering her first child. I believe the author was writing honestly about her feelings, but I was turned off by her tone, and I would imagine other new mothers might feel the same. She writes about the inability to adventure on her ‘babymoon,’ about driving around in her Suburban and about being grossed out by breast milk and other bodily fluids. It sounded like a whole lot of grumbling by a woman living an overly privileged life.

The first few chapters were a torture for me to read, but thankfully my feelings changed quite a bit around chapter eight. In that chapter the author describes an experience with miscarriage that altered her view of mothering. As a reader this chapter changed my perspective of the book and I found the words that followed much more enjoyable to read with interesting tidbits on treasuring the moments parents experience.

The takeaway from this book is to cherish the time we have with our children. Even in those early days and years of motherhood when our bodies are misshapen and our brains are tired from lack of sleep.

After years of infertility I never felt resentful or unhappy with my children so this book did not speak to me, but I would imagine the later chapters might speak to a mother struggling with the transition to motherhood. If you are unhappy with this phase of life I would imagine the author’s words would ring true:

“Unless you purposely stop in life to appreciate the here and now, you’ll rush through each day often unhappy and unsatisfied. Instead of resenting the new-parent pace of life, be grateful for this temporary, once-in-a-lifetime magical slow season of young children. Try to find times in your day to stop and relish the moment with your children… Savor today’s special moments and anticipate tomorrow’s rainbows. You’ll only find them if you look for them.”

Whether you or unhappy or not it never hurts to look for the special moments of motherhood. Over the years I’ve found it helpful to keep a journal for each of my children. I want to capture my thoughts and create a record of feelings as my children grow.

I liked some of the lessons in this book, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the tone in which those lessons were presented. Perhaps a mother struggling with her new found parental status would enjoy it more than I did.

Connect with Leah:    Website    Twitter    Facebook

November 20, 2015 at 8:00 AM Leave a comment

Book Review: Ditching the Drive-Thru

Ditching the Drive Thru

Book Description:

After an exhausting day at work, hitting the drive-thru or nuking a pre-fab meal is all too often the go-to decision for feeding a family. Cooking a meal from scratch using fresh ingredients can seem beyond the average person’s time, energy, or financial means. But with mounting evidence pointing to processed food and our industrial food system as the culprits behind many of our nation’s health problems—including obesity, diabetes, and cancer—it’s now more important than ever to be fully informed about what goes on your family’s dinner plates.

If you’re ready to take control of your food choices but don’t know the difference between grass-fed versus grain-fed, pastured versus free-range, or organic versus sustainable, read this book to discover:

• How to create your own thirty-month plan to convert your family from junk food to real food, without a revolt!

• Recipes and advice on planning and prepping meals so you can make homecooked a habit for your family

• Instructions for getting the most out of produce using techniques such as lacto-fermentation, dehydrating, and canning

• introduction to the world of farm-direct sales, including tips on locating local farms, seeing through marketing buzzwords, and shopping with CSAs Ditching the Drive-Thru exposes the insidious hold the commercial food industry has taken over the fast-paced lives of the average American and the danger these processed foods and diet plans pose to our health, environment, and emotional wellbeing.

Learn how to break free from the grind and return to a simpler relationship with food from farmers, not factories, and home-cooked meals that are created in your kitchen, not on a conveyor belt.

Buy the book: Amazon Barnes & Noble

An Excerpt:

Modern Tools Help You Source Better Food by J. Natalie Winch

Once I was married, I never ate commercial beef at home. My husband’s family, who live in Minnesota, had been getting their beef from the same in-state farmer for fifty years. As insane as this sounds, we too began getting our beef from this same farmer, in Minnesota. Did I mention we live in New Jersey? My in-laws would pack it all up in their car and drive it out to New Jersey every year at Christmas time, and this was our supply for the year. We were all very sad when we were told that the farmer was retiring and none of the children were taking over the farm. We needed to find a new meat source, because the steaks we picked up at the grocery store just didn’t have the same flavor or consistency, and we weren’t happy with the rather expensive meat from a local butcher shop, either. It was all very depressing, but this cloud had a platinum lining!

Where does one go to find a new source for beef? The internet, of course. Even if you don’t have internet at home, I would venture a guess that your local library does. My search for local, sustainable meat at last landed me at the website Eatwild.com, founded by Eating on the Wild Side author Jo Robinson, dedicated to providing research-based information about the benefits of choosing modern foods that are nutritionally similar to their wild, natural forebears. The site’s directory of pasture-based farms and dairies led us to places like Nature’s Sunlight in Newville, Pennsylvania, and our CSA at Fernbrook Farm in Chesterfield, New Jersey. That was back in 2004, and we found quite a few farms where we could purchase pastured meat products. When I accessed the site about a month ago, I was awed by how it has grown. There are so many farms listed! How do you sift through? Slowly. Decide what you would like to try first, read through the listings for your area, and give the farm a call. The farmers are friendly people who want to do business with you. They will answer your questions. Just be aware that, unlike a grocery store, you can’t call the farm on a Monday and expect to go pick up a side of beef on Tuesday. Many of these farms take orders well in advance (six months to a year in some cases) and raise animals to fill those orders.

Ditching the Drive-Thru by J. Natalie Winch (2015, Spikehorn Press, ISBN 978-1-943015-06-1, $19.95).

Author’s Bio:

J. Natalie Winch lives in southern New Jersey, not far from where she grew up, with her husband, two children, and dogs. When she isn’t mothering, teaching, grading, or making lesson plans, Natalie runs the Hebrew School at her synagogue, coaches soccer, teaches lacto-fermentation classes, writes the occasional entry for her blog Food Empowerment (tradsnotfads.com), and fights the dust bunnies that threaten to take over her family room.

Connect with the author:   Website

My Thoughts:

Ditching The Drive-Thru is a book about real food. Do you want to know where your food comes from, when it was cut from the trees and plants it grew from and how it was processed? I know I do. At this point, in the year 2015, we are more abstracted from food then ever before, but Natalie Winch, the author of this book, wants to broaden our minds. She wants us to understand more about the items we eat. After all, we eat for sustenance and nourishment every day. Shouldn’t we understand what it is we are biting into?

Winch hopes this book will help readers regain control of the food we eat, by understanding where food comes from, how it is processed and ultimately how what we eat impacts us each and every day.

This book steps the reader through the every day catch phrases of food and distinguishes the differences between categories like all natural and organic. The author talks about the perimeter of the grocery store, why it’s important to pass by boxed, ready-to-serve meals in favor of real food that must be cut and cooked.

After my children go to bed my husband and I prepare dinner two nights a week. You can find us in the kitchen at 10 o’clock at night mixing up sauces and sauteing chicken. It is a time to fill the house with warm smells and to prepare meals that can be heated up throughout the week.

I purchase a lot of organic meat, fruits and vegetables I didn’t realize how much there was to learn about food and the means by which it gets from the farm to our table.

One moral of Winch’s story is to place more importance on the value of time. You can spend hours mindlessly surfing the Internet and checking Facebook or you can purchase real food and learn how to prepare it.

As a personal finance blogger I would add that we all need to eat, but when money is saved in one place it can be spent in another. Unless you live paycheck to paycheck you can choose to avoid unnecessary spending and to use the money saved to purchase food that truly nourishes you.

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November 16, 2015 at 8:00 AM 2 comments

Book Review: REEF LIBRE

Reef Libre
Book Description:
Cuba reefs host apex predators and coral cover at optimal levels. While Cuban reef vitality may be linked to economic default and no shoreline development, no agricultural pesticides or fertilizers and limited human population growth, the Castro regime is aggressively developing its reef potential. Seas to the south are now 100% shark protected. Most Cuba travelogues advise “getting off the beaten path,” but Reef Libre examines that path, to see where it might lead as things change. Will Cuba reefs remain protected? Or is this perilous age of natural decline a last chance to see a healthy reef system? Robert Wintner and the Snorkel Bob Jardines de la Reina Expedition herein provide narrative insight with photos and video. First stop is the baseline: Havana urban density. Down south at Cayo Largo, reef collapse seems imminent with 600 guests changing daily, and the phosphate-laden laundry water flowing directly to the deep blue sea. Will Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism step up with the Jardines de la Reina paradigm? Rising from the Golfo de Ana María, Jardines is a thousand square miles of mangrove estuary, for ages compromised by constant extraction of its biggest predators, taken as food. Protected, it now rises on the world reef stage.
A DVD comes with the book in a paper sleeve glued to the inside cover. Reef Libre, the movie, runs about an hour.
My Thoughts:

This book is an interesting mix of history and beauty. It contains absolutely beautiful pictures of the Cuban reefs. Vivid images of colorful fish and muscular sharks jump off the shiny pages. I read this book at the dining room table and my son climbed right into my lap so he could see the pictures up closely. He was so excited to see the fish that I had to put aside reading the text for another time. He pointed out all of his favorites then flipped the pages back and forth time and time again to make sure he didn’t miss any.

This is a beautiful coffee table quality book. The front cover image displays a beautiful yellow fish and is one of the most striking images in the book. This book isn’t just about the beautiful Cuban reefs though. It also contains many images of Cuba and the residents who live there. It provides a detailed history of the land and the impacts that US relations have had on the land, sea and inhabitants there. The author provides extensive information on the conservation efforts in Cuba and how the lack of tourism has allowed Cuba to maintain spectacular sights in deep contrast to tourist heavy reefs located in his home state of Hawaii.

It is equal parts beauty and history, which makes for a very interesting read with incredible images that make it feel a bit like a very complex travel guide. The book includes a DVD, which brings the images in the book to life. The tone of the movie is quite laid back, told in a conversational way that is both accessible and interesting. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and watching the accompanying film.

Meet the author:
Best known as Snorkel Bob in Hawaii and around the world, Robert Wintner captures Cuba above and below the surface with urgency and hope. As a pioneer in fish portraiture, Wintner demonstrated social structure and etiquette in reef society. Reef Libre goes to political context, in which human folly will squander Cuba’s reefs as well—unless natural values can at last transcend political greed. As pundits joust over who did what to whom and why, Wintner ponders reef prospects in view of political changes.

Robert Wintner has authored many novels and story collections. Reef Libre is his fourth reef commentary with photos and his first overview of survival potential in a political maelstrom. He lives and works in Hawaii, still on the front lines of the campaign to stop the aquarium trade around the world.

Connect with the author:     Website  ~   Facebook

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October 26, 2015 at 8:00 AM 2 comments

Book Review: AMERICA IS AN IDEA

america is an idea

Book Description:

From a co-founder of empowr.com comes this “Why?” story behind the massive social platform, empowr, that’s been in the making for fifteen years.
Learn exactly what drove the participants (founders, advisors, success coaches and 1,000 employees plus 100,000 alpha test users) in their gigantic moonshot project.
After meticulously discussing the “Why?” the author then delves into how empowr has been designed to exploit the exponential characteristics of the web – via its tightly-integrated democratic, economic and educational platform – to deliver opportunity to people everywhere.
The book reads like a manifesto and a manual. One can’t help but come away with newfound or elevated inspiration to dream big, take on their own moonshot project and make a massive difference on the planet.

My Thoughts:

As one who writes about personal finance this book was an absolute dream to read. I am offered quite a few books for review each year, but this book spoke to me more than any other I have read in a very long time. The author, Michael Pousti, discusses so many important financial topics in an effort to explain why he built empowr.com, a massive technology platform that hopes to redefine the American Dream and deliver that dream to people via the Internet.

Pousti actually summarizes the first few chapters himself stating

  • First-world democracies are being hijacked by special interests and big money;
  • Educational systems are leaving students woefully unprepared to participate in the modern, global economy where only highly skilled labor jobs matter as software and automation replace low skill jobs;
  • Network technologies are making it much easier for single corporations to rapidly take over entire industries and form job destroying monopolies;
  • To add insult to injury, each structural problem is making the others even worse, leaving the human race completely unequipped to face the many complex threats facing humanity.

Does that sound down right frightful? That is nothing compared to the three core problems Pousti is most concerned about. The issues listed next may make your heart race. They are problems that should concern each and every one of us. They are:

  • Poverty and inequality
  • Terrorism and extremism; and
  • The backsliding and destruction of democracy

In the second half of the book Pousti explores each of these three topics in great detail. He shows us just how easily terrorism and extremism can rise in areas where poverty and inequality abound.

He states quite eloquently what we all know. “When people have nothing to lose in their current lives, extreme ideologies and promises of a perfect afterlife have a much greater appeal. This often makes them easy targets for groups with radical ideologies and seemingly simple answers to complicated questions… the key factors of poverty and inequality once again create monsters that can do almost immeasurable damage to their own countries and to the rest of the world.” This is certainly a frightening but absolutely true commentary on the Taliban and other terrorist forces around the globe.

I am not certain if empowr will be successful, but either way this book contained a lot of interesting information about the world, economics and technology and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Meet the author: 

Mike Pousti is the co-founder of empowr, a partnership between academia and tech entrepreneurs that’s attempting to deliver a democratized social media experience where the company is governed by its citizens.

Mike began his entrepreneurial journey when he founded his first start-up during his senior year as a computer engineering student at UC San Diego (UCSD). Employing 200 people and generating millions of dollars in profits before the age of 22, his company, Higher Educational Resources Corporation, developed the first commercially successful search engine on the Internet, known as the Arpanet.

His next start-up, Productivity Solutions Corporation, was acquired when he was 24 and two years later, Mike started CollegeClub.com, the world’s leading website for the 18-23 year old demographic.

After the dot-com crash in 2000, CollegeClub.com was acquired, and less than a week later, Mike started Phase 1 of empowr. empowr’s highly patented suite of technologies generated over $150M U.S. and today, empowr’s proprietary technologies are used by all major social platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus and Tumblr.

While Mike remains an integral part in the daily operations of empowr, he recently relinquished his CEO position and handed over control of the company to empowr’s citizens, who formally elected their leader (and new President of empowr) via a web-based election.

Connect with the author:   Website

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October 23, 2015 at 8:00 AM Leave a comment

Book Review: Someone Died Now What

someone died

Book Description: 

Someone Died… Now What? is a GPS for grieving. Corrie Sirota provides Guidance, Perspective and Support to help navigate through the grief process. Whether someone you love has died or someone you know is struggling with a loss, this book addresses many of the issues and questions that surface, providing concrete assistance on what to do immediately following a death, how to deal with feelings of sadness, anger and guilt, non-death losses and how to support grieving children. You will learn that grief is an ongoing process, and is as unique and individual as you are.

Link to Montreal Gazette:    Article

My Thoughts:
Our fifteen year old cat died earlier this year. I mourned for his loss, as any pet owner would do. My husband and I knew what needed to be done, but it didn’t make it any easier to take him to the veterinarian in the morning. While I struggled with my own feelings I struggled even more over the discussion that would take place with my three year old son.

How do you talk to a child about death? I wanted to be honest with my son but I wasn’t sure what to say. I told him the truth. That his dad took the cat to the vet, but that he was very sick and couldn’t be cured. As a result the cat died. I made certain not to tell him that our cat went to live on a farm or that the cat went to sleep, but of course, a three year old doesn’t exactly understand death. As I cried telling him what happened he said “It’s okay if you’re sad mommy. If you’re really sad just bring the kitty back home.”

So we talked about what it means to die. We talked about the flowers we bring home from the store. How they stand tall and vibrant in the vase and then slowly wither and die. He brought up death in little bits and pieces after that. He pointed out plants that died or flowers that were wilting. He asked questions about the cat. When he struggled with the idea he asked again why the kitty couldn’t come home.

I am grateful that our first conversations about death involved our pet. My grandmother is ninety-two years old and it is quite possible that our next conversation about death will be about her.

Among the chapters in Someone Died… Now What? is a chapter specifically focused on speaking to children about death. There are many practical suggestions including talking to your children about life and death as a part of your everyday routine. That you are honest and speak with love. That you explain that death is irreversible, that you do so at eye level and that you ensure the child is surrounded by loved ones.

This book is extremely helpful in guiding the reader through the grieving process or helping others grieve. The author dispels the myths around what is or is not expected when one suffers a loss. She lists ways of speaking to those who are grieving including what you should and shouldn’t say and points out that everyone handles these situations in different ways.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone. You never know when you will suffer a death of a loved one. You also never know when you will need to support someone who is suffering a loss. This book is a great reference to assist the grieving process.

Meet the author:

Corrie Sirota holds a Masters degree in Social Work as well as a Graduate Certificate in Loss and Bereavement from McGill University (Montreal) where she has been teaching as a lecturer in the School of Social Work for over 20 years. Corrie is a licensed psychotherapist who currently maintains a private practice specializing in Loss and Bereavement, Parenting issues and Relationship issues. She is a well-known lecturer who regularly presents at conferences and workshops, both locally and abroad. Working in the Montreal Community for over 2 decades, Corrie has developed numerous prevention and intervention programs for families, children and professionals, students and various community agencies as well as Day and Residential Camps.

Corrie has also written numerous articles and blog posts and is regularly interviewed on local radio, news and TV programs to consult on issues relating to loss and bereavement, Child Development and Parenting.

To learn more information about Corrie Sirota visit her website www.corriesirota.com.

Connect with the author: Website  Twitter  Facebook

October 7, 2015 at 8:00 AM 1 comment

Book Review: Inspector Dewey

Inspector Dewey

Book Description:

My name is DeweyInspector Dewey.

I live in the big green house on Hampshire Avenue with my family: Thumper, Lily, and Anna. I am the Big Cat—responsible for keeping everyone safe and in order. I do this quite well, in spite of the fact that managing my family is like, well, herding cats!

Mostly our life is peaceful. But one night it wasn’t. That was the night the bad guy showed up on our block. Of course, I knew exactly how to outsmart the outlaw, but—miserable mullet!—would Anna and the police understand my instructions?

To find out how the adventure ended, you’ll have to read my book. But I’ll give you a hint: there’s a reason I’m called Inspector Dewey.

Fifty percent of the profits from the sale of this book will fund veterinary care for pets whose families are in financial need, so that the animals can remain in their homes and out of the shelter system.

My Thoughts:

My oldest son loves to read. As a small child he would stare at the pages of a book and let me choose board book after board book from his tiny library until the pile of books was as tall as he was. Every morning, from the time he was twenty-two months old until the time he turned three, he would climb into my bed and settle in to read three stories. When those three stories were finished he would scurry off my bed, choose three more, (with my assistance), and climb back on the bed. We could spend an hour reading together that way each morning.

I loved snuggly beside him. He awoke in those warm, footed pajamas with his hair all messy and disheveled. He would borrow his head into the crook of my arm and rest quietly against my chest. Back then we went to the library once a week, but never picked up books. He had a few favorites that he wanted to read day after day and showed no interest in adding new ones to the list.

These days he loves to read new library selections and is filled with over-the-moon excitement when we receive a book he can keep. Inspector Dewey is a gorgeous book. My words honestly cannot provide justice the beauty with which the cats and their owner Anna are depicted. There is a hazy, almost dream-filled way in which they are drawn.

My son loved the story about a crime solving cat. It’s told from Dewey’s perspective and Dewey is one smart creature with great telepathic powers that help Anna and the police figure out exactly what to do to catch a thief.

Our family recently lost our beloved cat of over fifteen years, so reading about Dewey and his family is a great way to remember our own cat and imagine all the thoughts he might have had if presented with a similar situation.

This is a beautiful story for any child, but might be particularly special for a child with cats of his or her own.
Meet the author:

Marketing Officer, Strategy Expert, Innovator and Brand Builder, Kristen’s business career spans 20+ years serving the biggest brands in industry and the biggest hearts of start-ups and entrepreneurs. Kristen revels in bringing compelling products and services to life and helping leaders and individuals with big dreams realize their big goals.Kristen’s life joys include her 2+ year obsession creating the most beautiful self-published picture book possible, the breathtaking forests and lakes of her Minnesota birthplace, the family that really does love her no matter what, and her three magnificent Norwegian Forest Cats who together, with Kristen, helped catch the bad guy on their block that inspired her upcoming book (stake out and high speed chase included!)

She holds a master of science in eCommerce from Carnegie Mellon University, an MBA from the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management, and a BA from the University of St. Thomas. As the great transformer in her life, Kristen supports others’ education and literacy as an adjunct professor of business and strategy and, more recently, through her children’s book, Inspector Dewey (Available September 2015).

Connect with Kristen:   Website  ~   Facebook Author  ~   Facebook Inspector Dewey  

Author Interview:

What genre do you write and why?

Picture books played an important role in my development as a child. They still influence me today. I collect them by the dozens, reading them as others read novels. I can’t imagine creating anything other than picture books—I love the marriage of words and visuals too much.

I am inspired by experiences—beautiful, emotion-packed, multisensory experiences. These are the things that memories are made of. And no book imparts a 360-degree sensory experience for me more so than the picture book choicefully designed to be read aloud by parent to child—with cherry-picked words, cadence, rhyming, alliteration and, of course, illustrations, those masterful swoops of the brush that add texture and beauty to the story, bringing it to life.

What are you working on now?

Right now, Lily’s silliness and certainty have taken hold of my heart. She’s a kind-hearted kitty who earnestly believes that she is the center of the universe. Her life isn’t too shabby—everyone should have days as delicious as Lily’s! So I started writing short little ditties about the silly, Lily-centered things she does to pass her time. I would love for these to turn into a picture book for young readers. However, I realize, as her human, I may be a little bit biased about her adorableness. Thank goodness my editor is a genius with a gentle touch—she’ll set me straight!

I’m also documenting my book journey online for Children’s Writer’s Guild (childrenswritersguild.com). It’s a monthly series that kicked off in July 2015 entitled “Trailing Joy.” I named it that because it was my emotions, and only my emotions, that propelled me to pursue the absolutely glorious, but highly impractical and unpredictable, journey of book creation.

For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or paper/hard back books?

A traditionalist, I refused to welcome the e-book into my life for a long time. Then the desire for immediacy got the best of me. When that first e-book graced my device the instant I pressed “go,” I was hooked. To this day, I’m an e-book buyer, albeit selectively. Speed, travel convenience, variety, and cost—e-books have advantages on all of these fronts. But the fact is, I prefer real books—the kind I can touch, smell, and feel their heft in my hand and their comfort on my pillow. My favorites grace the bookshelves in my home. They remind me where I’ve been, what I am thankful for, and what I dream for the future.

What is your favorite travel spot?

My favorite travel spot is the place I have not yet visited! I love to travel. My parents were responsible for instilling wanderlust in me at a very young age: I was hooked after my first trip abroad. I’ve been traveling ever since. I love exploring diverse cultures—the more different from my own, the better. People, history, architecture, food culture, and, well . . . experiencing and learning anything new excites me. Right now, I feel strongly that I need to get to India. But I’m not terribly picky. I’m all smiles anytime I can pack a bag, grab some Pearson’s Salted Nut Bars, and jump in my car on a road trip with family or friends. Anywhere will do—especially if there are homespun diners, antique shops, and historical markers along the way.

What is your favorite positive saying?

Ooh, tough. I believe fundamentally in the power of one’s environment to help or hinder one’s growth. To the best that I am able, I create a beautiful, supportive environment around me so that I can be my best. Practically, this means a clean house, fresh flowers when I feel like it, and a tidy to-do list. It also means being willing to let go of naysayers and soul-sappers, and the courage to walk away from harmful cultures—work or otherwise.

When it comes to positive sayings, I don’t think I could choose just one. I have hundreds, even thousands of sayings and quotes that I love. I collect them from books, online, and my own inspirations. I pin at least one or two each day on Pinterest as a reminder to me that, in life, it’s all mind over matter. Thoughts are things. I collect the good ones to keep the negative ones at bay.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I spent a good portion of my early life trying to do and be what was expected of me or believed to be in my best interests—by my family, my friends, our society, and culture. My advice to my younger self would be quite simply: Trust yourself. That inner voice of yours is divine. Follow it, and you will discover your dreams and live the life you were meant to live.

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September 28, 2015 at 8:00 AM 1 comment

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