Review: Happily Ever After by Trista Sutter

I’ve loved Trista Sutter’s warmth and authenticity since I first saw her on The Bachelorette. I don’t watch the Bachelor franchise anymore, but it satisfies me to see the first Bachelorette marriage succeed.

Happily Ever After isn’t about finding happiness, or filling yourself up with something new to make yourself happy. It’s about taking another look at the life you have — the life you choose each day — and appreciating all of it: the rough, the easy, the sad, the joyful, the frustrating, and the tragic. We can’t see the full picture of our lives, because so much of our own life hasn’t happened yet. But Trista helps the reader look back at some of the bad times in order to see how they’ve contributed to the good things we have in life today.

I have had experiences like that: being upset and jealous that my dad helped the neighborhood children (who didn’t have a dad). I didn’t have a lot of time with my father when I was young. When I did, I wanted him all to myself. But when he was home, he took the time to help fix bikes, pump up soccer balls, and smile at these three girls who didn’t have a father figure in their lives. I resented it.

Fast forward 30 years when my father passed away, and those same siblings came over to shovels the snow from my mother’s huge driveway… In their words to repay my family for what my father gave them so many years before. Who knew that would come full circle?

That’s the kind of memory that Happily Ever After evokes. Not seeing the blessing right away doesn’t mean it’s not there.

*wiping away tears* *composing myself* *deep breath*

Okay, so Happily Ever After takes it one step further: we need to be actively GRATEFUL for the people and events in our lives, trusting that things really do happen for a reason. Trista makes a case for writing thank you notes, letting your children make a mess once in a while (be thankful for their creativity and joy!), and putting in the effort to maintain friendships.

Trista’s anecdotes are entertaining. She tells of the ups and downs in her life with sweetness and peace. Her joy and honesty translate through the pages. Read Happily Ever After and be uplifted.



Musing: Reading and Running

IMG_0209.JPGLast year I read Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run. Read my review here.

One valuable nugget I took from the book was that people who ran barefoot – and who were raised running barefoot – had fewer injuries than westerners running on super-cushioned shoes.

Even in my 20s when I was in the best shape of my life and ran half-marathons, I still felt pain when running. Shinsplints and knee pain attacked the most. I was slender, strong, and young. I couldn’t imagine why running was so painful sometimes.

Fast forward 15 years, three childbirths, and five pounds… and the book Born to Run.

I decided to try barefoot running shoes to help me shorten my stride and land on the balls of my feet. (I’ve since learned this is called “running forefoot.”) I picked out some cute Vibram FiveFingers. See some Vibrams here. My husband calls them my Himalayan mountain shoes. And hey, if it helps me run like the guys running 20 miles a day in the Himalayan mountains… Awesome.

Guess what? On my very first longer-than-a-mile run, NO SHIN SPLINTS. I haven’t had shin splints or lasting knee pain from running in the entire year I’ve been running “barefoot.”

I recently trained for 8 weeks for a race. Just 8 weeks. I finished the half-marathon (13.1 miles) wearing barefoot running shoes. My stride is more natural and I am pain free. I even recovered twice as quickly as my sister who has been training longer and further than I have.

I credit Christopher McDougall, Born to Run, and Vibram with my success. Thank you!

To you readers out there I say, Give Born to Run a read. Even if you’ll never run in your entire life, it’s a work of science and anthropology followed by a fantastic, inspirational story.


buy more by journalist CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL

Review: Growing Up Duggar by Jill Duggar, et al.

20140302-232159.jpg I love watching 20 Kids and Counting (The Duggars) on TLC, and I couldn’t wait to read what the four oldest daughters had to say about growing up, well, Duggar.

I liked that they each gave several personal anecdotes relating to the concept they focused on in each chapter. I had fun peeking into their lives and feeling like I was in on something. The women wrote as if they were talking to me, personally, and I found it very engaging.

I’m an organized, linear sort of reader, so I appreciate that the book was divided into chapters relating to the various types of relationships Duggar children attend to. We hear about the young ladies’ and their siblings’ relationships with their family, God, and their community.

As a mom, I paid special attention to the chapters on relationships with parents and siblings. Even though I don’t homeschool, I don’t have the same beliefs about clothing, and I’m not as strict with media, I do see many areas where the Duggar style of raising children would help my family. The Duggars encourage kindness, forgiveness, and obedience using consistent, focused, and Bible-driven rules.

The only thing that really interfered with my enjoyment of Growing Up Duggar were the dozen or so references to websites and specific organizations that the Duggar family supports. Those mentions seemed a little bit on a PR/marketing bent, and it made me question the sincerity of the ladies’ stories.

Overall, this was an uplifting, eye-opening read. I am duly impressed with the many ways these four sisters serve The Lord and each other.


BUY Growing Up Duggar

Review – Will in the World: How Shakespeare became Shakespeare, by Stephen Greenblatt

137717Stephen Greeblatt is touted as the preeminent authority on the study of Shakespeare, and for the longest time, I have been meaning to read some of his work. It’s taken me a while, but I finally got there! As someone who predominantly reads fiction, getting through this nonfiction book took a little bit longer than usual. However, it was well worth it.
Have you ever been interested in what influenced Shakespeare and his plays/sonnets? Of course, there are many theories out there that claim to have some insight into the motives behind the works, but so many of them are based upon urban legend and propaganda, that it is difficult to separate the truth (or as close to the truth you’ll get without actually interviewing The Bard himself) from hyperbole and outright lies. In his book, Greenblatt examines what little remain of historical records relating to Shakespeare, his family, and other figures of the time, and bases his theories upon historical and sociological context. Greenblatt quite clearly states that some of his theories are based both upon the scarce historical records available and some educated conjecture.
Whilst, Greenblatt admits that his theories cannot be taken as the ultimate indisputable truth, with over 45 years of professional experience devoted to Shakespeare studies, this is probably the closest to accuracy as we’ll get for a while.
As I said above, reading this piece of nonfiction took a while to get into. Once I got into it however, his style of writing began to read like fiction. Greenblatt does not assume that we’ve all taken graduate courses in Jacobean drama or 17th century history, but nor does he belittle his reader; Greenblatt’s narrative takes us chronologically through the known history and events of Shakespeare’s time, and presents us with an entertaining, but educated, glance into the influence behind many of the plays that we’ve all known and loved (or hated!) over the years.
~ Pegasus.
Buy it here: Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare

Review: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

20131016-195916.jpgHow do you define courage? It can be exemplified in many different ways. A firefighter rushing in to a burning building. A shy student standing up in front of the class to give a speech. A child riding a bicycle without training wheels for the first time. Malala’s story gives a whole new meaning to the word. If by some chance you haven’t heard of Malala, that’s even more of a reason to read this book.

The prologue takes us back to the day that Malala was shot as we are given a brief overview of that fateful moment. We then get a glimpse into the childhood of Malala’s parents. This backstory provides us with the knowledge of what exactly a woman’s role was and still is in many parts of Pakistan and the Middle East. Having this background knowledge made me even more appreciative of the strength and courage shown by not only Malala but her entire family. I also felt a huge amount of respect for her father for following his heart and not bowing down to traditional roles he disagreed with. As the leader of this family, he truly set the stage for all the good things that followed.

We are next taken through her childhood and witness tragic events such as 9/11 and the Taliban’s invasion of Pakistan through her eyes, those of a young girl. Malala’s story made my heart weep at the tragedy she faced but more importantly at the bravery of this young girl who wanted nothing more than to simply go to school. Such a simple thing but yet one that most children in more industrialized countries take for granted. We are reminded of the harsh lives that children around the world face.

In Malala’s words, looking the other way is not an option when thirty-two million girls around the world are not in school. She’s not asking for anything special, just the right to go to school. Most people would withdraw from the public eye after coming so close to death for simply standing up for their beliefs. Not this young woman. Although her family has not returned to Pakistan, she continues to speak out for all children.

I eagerly anticipated the release of this book and was not disappointed. It was everything I expected and more. I had to keep reminding myself that this horrible tragedy happened to a fifteen-year-old girl. I am simply in awe of this young lady and can’t wait to see what else she accomplishes in her life. My favorite quote from this book also happens to be the last one:

I am Malala. My world has changed but I have not.


Buy it now I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban

Review: The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida


Why do you talk so loudly? Why is your voice weird? Why do you ask the same questions over and over? Why don’t you make eye contact? Is it true that you don’t like to be touched? What’s the reason you jump? If you’ve ever known someone, adult or child, with autism, these are some of the questions that may have gone through your mind at the time. The Reason I Jump is an ambitious and admirable attempt to answer these questions and others.

Naoki Higashida is a thirteen-year-old boy with autism, and this is his story. Using an alphabet grid to communicate and with the assistance of translators, Naoki provides rare insight into the mind of a person with autism. Nothing is sugar-coated, and Naoki himself admits to the challenges he poses to his parents and others around him. His answers and perspective on his corner of the world will surely be appreciated by readers touched by autism in some way.

I was very much looking forward to reading this book about a fascinating and little discussed topic. Sadly, it didn’t live up to my expectations. While the question and answer format works well enough, I found myself wanting more background on Naoki and his family. Had I known more of his story from the viewpoint of his parents, other family members, and teachers, I really think I would have been able to feel more connected to Naoki. It’s also a very short book, coming in at under 200 pages. Still, I have much appreciation for the courage this young man showed in opening himself up to the world as he did. Although this story was not the experience I had hoped for, there are plenty of readers who have read and enjoyed Naoki’s story.


Buy it Now: The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism

Review: Five Days at Memorial

Where were you at the end of August, 2005?  Chances are, most people couldn’t say with any degree of accuracy.  But for those in the path of one of the worst natural disasters of all time, that date is indelibly etched in their psyche just as surely as other notable dates in history.  For those involved, time can be divided into two eras:  before Katrina and after Katrina.

Five Days at Memorial delves into the unimaginable conditions immediately before and after the tragedy at one of New Orleans’ largest hospitals that ultimately led to the deaths of a larger than expected number of patients.  Rumors began to circulate that certain patients deemed “disposable” had been purposely euthanized by medical professionals to avoid the trouble of moving them when rescue finally arrived.

Sheri Fink walks us through attempts by authorities to charge and convict those deemed to be in charge of the situation.  But really, was anybody in charge at that time?  Certainly not the state or federal government whose blunders are clearly documented in this book.  Miscommunication by all involved, lack of planning, bureaucratic red tape, and plausible corporate deniability  all led to a chain of events that had lasting repercussions for everyone regardless of the legal outcomes.

The author poses both medical and ethical questions regarding “humane intervention” when someone is critically ill.  If we can provide humane and compassionate end of life decisions for our pets then why not human beings? However, the bigger question for me as the reader was, who gets to make this decision? How much of a life is worth saving? I’m not sure if there is a black and white answer to this.  New Orleans was basically cut off from America for several days during that period.  Most of us cannot even begin to imagine the conditions inside that hospital and throughout the region. As I read this book I felt the panic and heartbreak of all involved as they tried to simply survive.

Seven years after Hurricane Katrina the region is still recovering.  On the outside everything looks shiny and new.  Memorial Medical Center narrowly escaped demolition and was sold a few years after the disaster after undergoing extensive renovations and was reopened under a new name.  Many of the people involved in the euthanasia controversy have moved on while others have not for various reasons.  If anything positive resulted from this horrible situation, I would hope that lessons were learned to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.  Only time will tell.