{Review}: How To Break Up With Your Phone


This is going to be the shortest review I’ve ever written, I’m pretty sure. But first, why did I pick up this book? Because I fully 100% admit that I spend way too much time on my phone, and I have to make a great effort to stay off it. I leave my phone home, I put it on my purse, I leave it in my car when my goal is to stay present. If I have my phone in my pocket, I WILL pick it up. It’s like a nervous tic.

I’m not sure what I was hoping to find in How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price, but  but everything in this book is nothing that hasn’t been written in countless articles in the past decade. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you won’t learn anything new.  The advice here is fairly common sense and the “program” is a little ridiculous.  Just put your phone down.

It’s not a terrible book, by any means. It’s easy to read, enjoyable but just…what was the point? For me, not much.

But if you really have no clue, and want some structure and guidance in giving up your dependency on your phone, then this is probably the book for you. You can buy it HERE.


{I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links, which means I recieve a small commission when you shop from my link.}

{Review}: Home Cooked by Anya Fernald

Quick Review: A thoughtful, approachable, visually appealing cookbook that makes even The Most exotic recipe seem  within reach.

(This post contains affiliate links. That means when you click on a link, I get a small commission.)

Isn’t this book pretty? I’m definitely guilty of judging a book by it’s cover. The photographs and layout inside Home Cooked by Anya Fernald are gorgeous, too. A cookbook is more than just  recipes– good ones also tell a story (unless it’s the Joy of Cooking or How To Make Everything, my favorite go-to for regular old recipes).

Anya Fernald is the founder of Belcampo Meat Co., founded in 2011 with the mission of creating sustainable pathways to meat processing through its slaughterhouse, farm and restaurants. In writing this cookbook, Fernald showcases the simplest of ingredients and elevates home cooking without putting it out of reach for the everyday home cook.

I admit, though, not every recipe in this book is for me. There are a fair amount of recipes that involve ingredients that have never found their way into my kitchen, like pig feet (for trotter broth) or chicken hearts (to be sautéed in brown butter), but to Fernald’s credit, she makes even offal seem appealing. (Still not going to be made in my kitchen, though.)

There are plenty more recipes that I do plan to make!  So far, I’ve been able to try two of the recipes. One was the farinata, a chickpea flour pancake, which proved to be an excellent vehicle for almost anything. With only five ingredients, plus one optional ingredient (mortadella!), and a fast cooking time (ten minutes), it’s a simple, affordable, highly adaptable addition to my repertoire of dinner accompaniments.

The other recipe was for pickled beets, but instead of beets, I pickled beautiful radishes from my weekly produce box.

A quick flip through the book reveals that nearly all the recipes consistent of ten ingredients or less, which makes even the most intimidating-sounding recipe feel do-able. No fancy, hard-to-find ingredients (offal notwithstanding…) or specialty cooking tools needed here!

More about Home Cooked by Anya Fernald, from Penguin Random House:

A recipe collection and how-to guide for preparing base ingredients that can be used to make simple, weeknight meals, while also teaching skills like building and cooking over a fire, and preserving meat and produce, written by a sustainable food expert and founder of Belcampo Meat Co.


{I received a review copy of this book from Blogging for Books for review purposes. All opinions are my own.}

{Review}: Writing My Wrongs

We love redemption stories. We love the triumph of the will. We watch the fall from grace salaciously, with judgement but we cheer when grace is restored. Why? Because all of us have redemption stories. Some of them are big, like rags to riches or a life of crime to a life of honesty, but a lot are small, quiet moments in our everyday relationships. We build trust, break trust and restore it again. We disappoint each other, apologize, kiss and make up. In every redemption story, big or small, we see ourselves.

And in Writing My Wrongs, we see how a stubborn streak and parental neglect leads to a fatal mistake that brings the killer low, though it takes Shaka Senghor many years to accept that he has hit rock bottom. His stints in solitary confinement, his realization that he has made an avoidable mistake, his willingness to confront his demons and let go of his anger allows for a degree of introspection that is admirable and difficult. Senghor comes to realize that small, meaningful interventions early in his life would’ve made all the difference, something as simple as “Are you okay?” “Why are you so angry?” Indeed, the world would be a more peaceful place if we stopped reacting and started listening, looking, wondering, getting at the root of a conflict instead of hitting back.

Writing My Wrongs is a compelling, engaging read that doesn’t radically stand out from any other redemption story out there, but the voice carries the reader along. Redemption stories are, by their very nature, predictably full of plot lines that crest, dip then crest again. However, this is the first time that I’ve really understood how the prison system is designed to rob people of their humanity. The constant upheaval, the threat of violence from all corners, the social isolation– all of this serves to set inmates up to fail. Should someone be punished for committing a crime? Yes. Should someone be made to feel that there’s no hope for change? No. What good does it do to return angry, demoralized people to society? Not much, as far as I can tell, and neither can Senghor, who has made it his mission in life to help children find a way to express their anger, frustration and disappointment without succumbing to violence.

So read this book for the story itself, and for a reality check.

{I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links.}

{Review}: The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian is full of powerful and graphic imagery but nothing gory, nothing overly disturbing as alluded to in the many rave reviews of this book. I wondered if something was lost in translation.
The words that come to mind when I think of this book, post-read, are minimalist and sparse. Yet the imagery is vivid, and in sharp relief. Each word has been carefully selected, each phrase carefully turned. There is a distinct lack of superfluity.
At the core of this novel is a woman who we don’t really get to understand on her own terms. She is defined by her relationship with others. Her husband is quietly unsatisfied with her, though he cannot say she is a bad wife. Her sister pities her, and feels responsible for her. Her father cares little until he cares too much, refusing to understand her.  There are three voices in this book, and none of them belong to Yeong-hye, as central as she is to the book. 
Yeong-hye commits herself obsessively to being a vegetarian, as the result of a dream. The confusion,  wrath and indignation this elicits from her family is outsized. The more she is excoriated for not conforming, the deeper she digs her heels in, turning herself inside out and driving herself insane.
But is she really insane? Or is that an identity foisted on her by those around her as way of understanding her refusal to be like everyone else? It’s hard to tell in this novel. We get the sense that she has discovered something about herself and has become attuned to her own sexuality, in a way that was never revealed to her husband. An inverse relationship develops. As Yeong-hye begins to fall together,  those around her who were so sure of themselves begin to doubt themselves and fall apart.

{I received a copy of this book for review purposes from Blogging for Books. This post contains affiliate links.}

{Review}: The Prime by Kulreet Chaudhary

What was it that possessed me to request this book for review? I don’t normally pick diet books, preferring to read actual literature and knowing that most of what it inside diet books is freely available on the Internet. Maybe it was the phrase “spontaneous weight loss.” Maybe it’s because I caught up in the “new year” frenzy to do something, anything differently than how I was doing it before. Who knows?
It’s not a secret that I struggle with my weight, and I know I’m not alone. More specifically, I struggle with cravings. Overall, my day to day diet is not terrible. It’s a mostly vegetarian diet with actual vegetables in it. I don’t eat a lot of processed food. Give me sugar and carbs, though and it feels like I’ve gone out of my mind. Even when I’m mindful of what is happening, I have to slap my own hand to come to my senses. If you remember, awhile back, I reviewed Gretchen Rubin’s Better than Before. In that book, I learned that I am an Abstainer. As long as I don’t have even one piece, I’m not tempted. But give me a taste, and all is lost.
The sticking point is those cravings. If I could master control over those, I think I’d be golden. The Prime , written by a neurologist, is based on the premise that you need to first “prime” or cleanse your body of the things that cause cravings. The word “cleanse” always gives me pause– was this going to be another bit of quackery that required me to spend a shitload of money on mystery powders that make nasty shakes full of who knows what from who knows where?
That misperception died pretty quickly once Chaudhary explained that rather than changing or overhauling or eliminating things for your daily diet, you tap into Ayurvedic principles of eating, using ingredients commonly found in Indian households. She recommends using a combination of spices and herbs to clear out your gut and improve your gut health, drinking bone broth, and ingesting only warm foods and drinks. She also tethers physical well-being to mental well-being.
The first part of the book, when Chaudhary tells the story of how she came back to Ayurvedic principles after being derailed when she became a teenager, ditching her family’s traditional diet for a more American one, a habit that followed her to college and beyond, is compelling and engaging. After that, Chaudhary delves into the tradition behind Ayurvedic principles and how it applies in a weight loss context, which I found fascinating and useful. After that, it became hard to maintain focus and I found myself fast-forwarding to the sections where she describes implementation because it becomes repetitive at some points. Overall, the book was a good read, and because of Chaudhary’s credentials, it seems more creditable than other diet books out there. I suppose the true measure of the book’s worth comes from trying out The Prime, and seeing what happens. Here goes nothing.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books, for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links. 

{Review}: Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. It’s been a long time since I wrote a blog post. I don’t what the point of this is anymore. etc. etc. etc. 

The point is that sometimes I have things I want to say and I like to share them, and hope other people don’t mind too much. Actually, I started a blog post earlier this month about my new Word of the Year but then I got interrupted by needy children, and when I went back to finish many days later, I FORGOT WHAT MY WORD OF THE YEAR WAS GOING TO BE. No joke. I think it was going to be Patience, but I’m not 100% sure about that. I’m hoping I have it written down somewhere. Anyway, let’s move on because this post is supposed to be a book review.

I’m the most annoying kind of writer–the kind of writer that thinks about writing all the time but never actually writes anything. I love to read about writing, which is why I requested a review copy of Dinty W. Moore’s Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy.  (Two things: Sorry, Blogging for Books, for taking so long! And also, sorry, Mr. Moore, I’d never heard of you before reading this book…) It seemed like a fun book and I totally was judging this book by its cover when I hit the request button. I finally picked it up the other day, resisting the siren call of my iPhone and Two Dots to whip through the book. I finished it in two days, which apparently passes for “whipping through” these days, though in the past, it meant mere hours. Whatever.
The premise of the book is that writers wrote in their questions about essay writing to Mr. Moore, and Mr. Moore wrote letters back, each followed by an essay written by way of example. It took me awhile to decide whether the letters were real, and as of this writing, I’m still not sure… BUT I really admire the way Mr. Moore was able to crank out these neat little essays to demonstrate the various conundrums presented by advice seekers. Sometimes I give away the books I get for review, but I’m keeping this one on my shelf as inspiration. You really can write an essay about absolutely anything and I would be well-served by the reminder every time I feel like I have nothing to write about.

{I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. This post contains affiliate links.} 

{Review}: Everyday Detox by Megan Gilmore

 Last month, my sister and I did this cleanse by a doctor that shall not be named. The cleanse itself wasn’t so terrible– a shake hree times a day, plus two light meals, which is about all I have time for anyway these days. But the shake was pretty gross, plus the vitamins that had to be taken with each meal made me nauseous. (I’ll spare you the details of the time that I threw up in the bathroom at a hibachi restaurant ON MY DAUGHTER’S BIRTHDAY.) In any case, I stopped using the shakes and the vitamins but stuck to the basic idea of the cleanse, which included the usual no-nos: no dairy, no eggs, no caffeine, no wheat, no nightshades. It wasn’t that hard but none of the meals were satisfying.

Why do a cleanse anyway? I always joke that we all already have a detoxer– the liver! But a detox cleanse is a way of pressing the restart button on your eating habits, if they’ve gone awry, or to learn some good habits in the first place, if you’ve been inhaling ho-hos and chugging quarter water since you came out of the womb.  After the cleanse I did last month, I did feel pretty good, especially without dairy, which I’ve finally accepted is not good for me or my sinuses. I wanted to keep up with the “detoxing” but I needed something more substantial than two light meals a day, which basically amounts to a salad with some protein on it. Boring.

When Everyday Detox by Megan Gilmore, the blogger behind Detoxinista came across my radar, I was immediately taken in by the front cover. I didn’t know what it was but it looked delicious. This was the kind of detox diet plan I could get behind. I wasn’t familiar with Megan’s blog at this point though I’d heard of it and read a few posts, so I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down with the book. It turns out that this book is all about food combining– the idea that certain foods should be eaten with certain other foods, or certain food combinations should be flat-out avoided. Food combining helps to improve digestion, and makes meals simpler by virtue of having less variety on your plate. At each meal, you pick one category of food: fruit, starches, animal protein or nuts & seeds. To that, you add non-starchy vegetables to make a complete meal. For example, in one day, you might start out with a chia pudding for breakfast, then a salad for lunch, and a butternut squash pilaf for dinner.

I decided to do the seven-day jump-start menu included in the book. After reviewing the shopping list, I realized that I had a lot of the ingredients in my pantry already but the grocery list for the fresh produce and proteins is pretty long, and some of the pantry staples are pricey. As I shopped for the ingredients, it became apparent that for someone on a strict grocery budget and three kids to feed, the jump-start was going to put me way beyond my grocery budget for the week. I allowed myself to go a little over budget and decided to do what I could, and omit the rest. One thing you’ll notice is that recipes that call for coconut flour also call for a lot of eggs, like a crazy amount of eggs. In my house, eggs are a major source of protein and there’s no way I could use eight eggs for one batch of pancakes, for example because I only buy farm-fresh eggs and they are more expensive than grocery store eggs so I ration them throughout the week.

But for the most part, the recipes are do-able, pretty easy to prepare and delicious. The chocolate chia shake is a great post-workout drink, and my two year old loves it, too. I’ve never used dates in a smoothie before. The dates made it satisfyingly sweet without being cloying. In fact, dates weren’t a pantry staple for me at all but the last time I went shopping, I stocked up because I discovered my son loves them in oatmeal, and so do I! I also really liked the banana walnut smoothie. Despite it’s green color, it totally tasted like banana bread, thanks to the cinnamon. It never would’ve occurred to me to put SPICES in a smoothie.

I also loved the “parmesan” cheese, which is nutritional yeast and walnuts blitzed together. I keep a container of it in the fridge and throw it on top of every salad I eat.

I lent the book to my sister, who tried a few of the recipes in the book. Her favorites were the Everyday Basil vinaigrette and the Skillet Fish Tacos. The tacos look amazingly delicious and they are on my menu this week!

I have a lot of cookbooks on my shelf, and there are only a few that are well-worn with stained pages.  Everyday Detox is one of them, even though I’ve only had the book for a couple of weeks. If you’re looking for delicious, easy meals that will make you feel good, add this one to your cookbook collection.

{I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. This post contains affiliate links.} 

{Review}: Living With Intent by Mallika Chopra

So, that last post was really supposed to be a book review. When I started writing, I realized that before I could write the review, I needed to give some background and then it morphed into a post in and of itself.

I’m here, parenting alone with the kids (with help from my sister and my mom!). Being the sole parent 24/7 is pretty stressful and the first week Henry was gone, I did okay for a few days but by the end of the week, my nerves were frazzled, and my fuse was short. I was in the middle of reading Living with Intent by Mallika Chopra during this time.

Inspired by the book, I decided I needed to set an intent to be more patient, both with the kids and with myself, especially as we get used to this new set-up. I wrote it down in my journal: “Intent: Be More Patient” and I’ve been trying to internalize it. Part of being more patient means letting go a little bit. And I have. Whether or not that is a good thing remains to be seen. Alice said to me the other day, “Since Daddy left, you say yes a lot more.” Ha ha? or Mmh….?

Living With Intent is the kind of book that you need to read more than once. The first time, you kind of get the lay of the land. The second time, you start to stuff into motion. What I really appreciated about this book is that Chopra acknowledges that there is a lot of one step forward, two steps back and that though we might try to take action, we might not be ready for it and so we fail, and fail again, and berate ourselves, and feel badly. It’s all part of the process and we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves.

And what is the process? Chopra devotes a chapter to each step: Incubate, Notice, Trust, Express, Nurture and Take Action, but the process is reiterative, not linear and some steps take longer than others. Throughout the book, Chopra illustrates the process with stories and observations from her own life, and each chapter ends with an exercise designed to help you practice the chapter’s focus. At the back of the book, you’ll find a section for recording your daily intents, a mind map, and a balance wheel to make the ideas in the book more concrete and to guide towards purposeful practice.

This is a book that I will keep on my shelf and return to, time and time again. Highly recommended for anyone feeling a little lost and looking for some direction.

{This post contains affiliate links. I received a review copy of this book from Blogging for Books.}

{Review} Better Than Before.

If my twenties were all about figuring out who I am, trying on different personas to see which one would stick, my thirties have been about coming to terms with the person that I’ve become, both the good and the bad. More importantly, I’ve had these a-ha moments where I recognize emerging patterns in my behavior.  I’ve never been very good at recognizing patterns and relationships. If you point them out to me, I will make the connection but tell me to look without giving me a clue and I come up empty-handed. Is it any wonder that I’m drawn to self-help books?
I don’t know how Gretchen Rubin would feel about being labeled “self-help” because the genre does kind of have a weirdo, fringe reputation but her new book, Better than Before, has been a kind of revelation for me.  I needed someone to do the pattern-finding legwork for me so I could just say, “hey, that’s me!” and go from there. That’s exactly what Gretchen does in this book. First, she describes what she calls the Four Tendencies, her framework for helping people figure out the best way to break or start a habit. The Tendencies are like personalities. There might be overlap between them but for the most part, you’ll find yourself relating to one in particular. From there, the book walks you through different strategies for making the changes you want to see in yourself, in that classic Gretchen way of using herself and her friends as guinea pigs, and of course, copious amounts of research, evident from her nearly twenty pages of notes at the end of the book.
If you are looking for answers, you will find them here.  At least, that is how I felt while reading this book. There are many, many books out there with advice about habits, but they tend to take a One-Size-Fits-All approach. In Better than Before, Gretchen offers strategies that speak to specific Tendencies. Right away, I understood that I am what Gretchen calls an “Obliger,” someone who meets outer expectations but resists the inner ones. And it’s true—I hate to let people down and I am motivated by external accountability.  So, if I want to adopt or shed a habit, I need a form accountability that comes from outside of myself. I am a major procrastinator. For example, in school, I was motivated to get good grades. At work, I am motivated by positive feedback and feeling useful.  So, these motivations spur me out of procrastination. Another way that I break free of procrastination is to put potential distractions out of sight, out of reach and out of mind. This makes me an “Abstainer.”  I can never do just a little of something, I can never just eat one chip or read just one blog post. It’s all or nothing with me, and here’s the thing about Better Than Before. Instead of being told to change who I am, Gretchen says to accept who you are and change your environment to suit that.  So, I don’t buy the chips and I leave my phone or computer in a different room when I sit down to read a book.  Someday, my kids will learn that we never have Oreos in the house not because they’re unhealthy and junky (I mean, yes they are…) but because mommy can’t control herself around cookies.  Sorry, kids!
But make no mistake. Even with this blueprint that maps everything out for you, the job is still not easy. Since finishing this book, I’ve turned Gretchen’s words over and over in my mind, and I’ve gone back to the book to re-read the sections that speak to me the most but making the leap to action is a different story. Gretchen is good, but not that good. 

Fans of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home won’t be disappointed by this book, and readers looking for a different, more intuitive and gentler way to change their habits will also get a lot from Better Than Before. 

{I received a copy of this book for review from Blogging for Books. This post contains affiliate links. A version of this post was published at From Left to Write. }

Adventures in Gardening

When we moved to Redding, the property we rented included a vegetable garden that was already fenced in. That first summer, since we moved in July, we didn’t do anything with the garden. The following summer, we planted directly in the ground with poor results. Last summer, we put in raised beds and did a much better job! We learned quite a few lessons along the way.

Lesson No. One: In a small garden such as ours, the square foot method of gardening works better than planting in long rows. We were able to plant a greater variety of vegetables, though we had mixed results owing mostly to our inexperience and less-than-ideal sun exposures, as well as some timing issues with the frost.

Lesson No. Two: Raised beds are the way to go! We bought some  high-quality organic soil from a local farm to fill the beds. For some plants, the beds really needed to be higher but overall, it was much better than planting directly into the ground, and we were able to mostly avoid the odious task of removing rocks from the soils.

Lesson  No. Three: If you want to eat salad all summer long, you have to dedicate more than two or three squares to lettuce. I think I made one salad last summer, thanks to rabbits eating our greens and not planting enough!


Those are the major lessons we’ve learned and this spring and summer, we are starting a new garden since we’ve moved since last summer. The garden is much smaller, so we will likely be looking at vertical growing and containers. When I saw that Blogging for Books was offering The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden for review, I jumped on it.

This best-selling book by Karen Newcomb was first published forty years ago, and it is easy to see why it is still in print.  In eight easy-to-read chapters, the book takes the gardener through everything she needs to know in order to prepare and nurture a small, high-yield vegetable garden. What I really appreciate is the chart that shows how many plants you need per person. One of the problems I have as a novice gardener is not having a frame of reference for how many people a plant will feed.

The book is very thorough, with detailed illustrations throughout, which is great for me since I often have a hard time visualizing how things are supposed to look and I like to have as much as information as possible, in terms of what to expect, before embarking on a project.

One of my goals this year is to plant beans, since we eat a ton of beans in our house. In the past, the idea of planting beans has been intimidating. I don’t know why and it seems silly now, after reading the sections in the book that cover pole and bush beans. Newcomb explains clearly how to support the growth of beans in a small garden, with illustrations of various vertical bean-growing structures.

Right now, it looks like this outside:

And we’ve had two snow days in a row but surely, planting season will come again and soon. When it does, I’ll be armed and ready with this book. It sits on my nightstand in the meantime, with its pages dog-eared. 

{I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. There are affiliate links in this post.}