review of “half the sky”

HTS-book-cover-200-300My brother got this book for me for my birthday, and I am SO grateful that he introduced this book into my life. It seriously has rocked my entire worldview. I had no idea how many women are living in terrible, oppressive situations around the world. Reading this book makes me feel so grateful for things I’ve taken for granted: having enough food to eat and a warm bed to sleep in, feeling safe when I walk down the street, being able to get an education and pursue a career I’m passionate about… and on, and on, and on. After reading the remarkable true stories of survival and strength in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, it is impossible to even feel a moment of self-pity. Instead, you will feel empowered to take advantage of all the blessings you have been given.

I also really enjoyed the writing style of the authors, husband-and-wife team Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: detailed journalism combined with personal stories that touched my heart. The book was surprisingly uplifting at the end, with a passionate call to action and a list of ways you can help. Here are the four main ways the authors list:

1. Go to www.globalgiving.org or www.kiva.org and open a microlending account to help women entrepreneurs in developing countries. {I’m planning to do this today!}

2. Sponsor a girl or woman through Plan International, Women for Women International, World Vision, or American Jewish World Service. The authors add: “Sponsorship is a great way to teach your children that not all children have iPods.”

3. Sign up for email updates on www.womensenews.org and/or www.worldpulse.com.

4. Join the CARE Action Network at www.can.care.org which will assist you in learning more about these issues and becoming a citizen advocate for women’s rights issues around the world.

The authors also have a website for the book, called the Half the Sky Movement, where you can learn more and also watch a trailer for the film version of the book.

I’ll leave you with this powerful informational poster I found on the Half the Sky website:

violence against women

What books have you read that changed your life?

wisdom from “abide with me” by elizabeth strout

abide with me

This weekend, I read Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout — what a beautifully written, poignant, luminous novel! I loved it. The main character, Tyler Caskey, is a minister in a small New England town in the 1950s, and the book explores what happens to him — and his congregation — in the wake of terrible loss. If you’re looking for a good summer read that will make you think, I’d highly recommend this book.

I wanted to share some quotes with you from the novel that really struck me:

“Oh, we are far less important than we thought we were, and we are far, far more important than we think we are. Do you imagine that the scientist and the poet are not united? Do you assume you can answer the question of who we are and why we are here by rational thought alone? It is your job, your honor, your birthright, to bear the burden of this mystery. And it is your job to ask, in every thought, word, and deed: How can love be served?” – pg. 268

“No one, to my knowledge, has figured out the secret to love. We love imperfectly, Tyler. We all do. Even Jesus wrestled with that. But I think — I think the ability to receive love is as important as the ability to give it. It’s one and the same, really.” – pg. 285

elizabeth strout

“I tell stories because life fascinates me, baffles me, intrigues me, awes me. And by writing about the world — the natural, human world — I experience these feelings in a way that makes me both joyous and sad, and that brings me face-to-face with what I believe lies behind the mystery of our existence. I can only hope that readers will not only be entertained by the stories I tell, but be moved to reckon with their own sense of mystery and awe. Through the telling of stories and the reading of stories, we have a chance to see something about ourselves and others that maybe we knew, but didn’t know we knew. We can wonder for a moment if, for all our separate histories, we are not more alike than different after all.” – pg. 299-300 (Author’s Note)

Have any of you read Abide with Me? What did you think?

What books have you read and loved lately?

review of “the sunny side up!” by lauren cook

sunny side up

The Sunny Side Up! is a real gem. Not only will you have fun reading this book, you will learn a lot, too. How can you squeeze the most happiness out of your daily life? What are important components that will bring you lasting fulfillment and joy? What about when life throws challenges your way—how can you find happiness even in the hard times? Lauren Cook, a.k.a. The Sunny Girl, covers all of these topics and more in this engaging, thought-provoking, fun and inspiring book! {You might remember Lauren from this beautiful and inspiring guest post she wrote for us last year about finding happiness in a sense of daily accomplishment.}

Lauren interviewed hundreds of young people and incorporates their views throughout the book on everything from friends to dating, family to volunteering, stress levels to definitions of success. I was fascinated reading all of their thoughts and opinions, and it made me realize that I am not alone in my quest for greater happiness and fulfillment. Indeed, Lauren makes us feel like we are all on the same team, cheering each other on and helping one another gain more joy from life.

One of my favorite things about the book is the interactive quality — Lauren frequently poses questions to the reader, with room for you to write down your own answers. In this way, The Sunny Side Up! is not only a book — it is also a lively, dynamic workbook that will take you through tangible strategies and ideas for pumping up the happiness in your life! The Sunny Side Up! is a joyful manifesto you will find yourself returning to again and again.

What books are you reading and loving this summer?

previous book club posts:
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
– Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
– The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
– The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
– Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

a terrific new book available for pre-order!

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WOODEN & ME:
Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with
Humanitarian and Coach John Wooden to
Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece”

Hi, friends! I have a special post today with some terrific news to share: my amazing dad, who also happens to be an amazing writer, has written a book about his relationship with the legendary coach and humanitarian John Wooden. The book is now available for pre-order on Kickstarter, and he needs your help to make this book’s publication a reality!

Do you ever feel adrift? Are you looking for more purpose, love and strength in your life? Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed by your goals or disappointed by setbacks that inevitably spring up. Or perhaps you are looking for a wise, heart-warming book to read this summer.

If you loved books like Tuesdays With Morrie, The Happiness Project, or Kitchen Table Wisdom, I know you will love WOODEN & ME!

This book would also make a terrific Father’s Day or graduation gift. Do you love basketball or have a basketball lover in your life? This is the book for you!

Here’s how you can help:

1) Pre-order your copy at the Kickstarter campaign at: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1138392258/wooden-and-me-book-and-e-book

2) Share the link with your friends and family — and ask them to do the same. Pledged supporters will receive a signed copy of WOODEN & ME this summer upon publication.

3) Join the Facebook event and spread the word! https://www.facebook.com/events/630992526929012/633205676707697/?notif_t=plan_mall_activity 

Now I’ll leave you with some words from my dad about the genesis of this project and what your support means to him:

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As a longtime newspaper sports columnist in Southern California I am often asked to speak to civic groups – and the person audiences invariably want to hear more about during the Q&A afterward is Coach John Wooden. Listeners at these talks, as well as readers of my columns, over the years have encouraged me to write a book about my experiences with Coach.

Now I have, with the memoir WOODEN & MELife Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece.”

It was in 1987 as a young sports writer and near-newlywed that I met Coach, who soon became a friend and mentor through the births of my two children and their growth into young adulthood; the death of my mother; career decisions; and more. As I note in my completed manuscript: “One did not have to play for Coach Wooden in order to be one of his students, and of this I am a privileged example. I was not one of his basketball players – except for one glorious week at his youth camp in 1975 – but make no mistake, I was his pupil. No coach or teacher or professor has taught me more, or taught me more important things.”

Just as Coach Wooden was beloved and revered by people of all ages and all backgrounds, readers from teens to parents to grandparents, basketball fans and non-fans alike, will find WOODEN & ME enlightening and inspiring.

* * *

WOODEN & ME is an inspiring combination of Tuesdays With Morrie and Chicken Soup for the Soul — author Randy Robertson

Order your copy today! http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1138392258/wooden-and-me-book-and-e-book

I’ll be back tomorrow with this week’s year of kindness challenge! Have a wonderful day, and thanks in advance for your support!

review of “the fault in our stars” by john green

The book for the March Peanut Butter Fingers Book Club was The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I’ve read and loved previous John Green novels, so I was eager to read this one. And I was not disappointed! This is a beautiful, heartbreaking, honest, incredibly moving book about love, loss, and the bittersweet ephemeral quality of life.

This was one of those books I could not put down but simultaneously did not want to end. The characters felt like real people. I was entirely invested in their lives and their emotions. I’ll warn you, this book is sad — the main character is a teenage girl with terminal cancer — but I was surprised by the many moments of humor and hope. This is a heartbreaking, but ultimately joyous and uplifting, read.

Instead of a traditional review, I decided to pull some of my favorite quotes from the book to share with you:

  • “I started scrolling through the pictures on my phone, a backward flip-book of the last few months, beginning with him and Isaac outside of Monica’s house and ending with the first picture I’d taken of him, on the drive to Funky Bones. It seemed like forever ago, like we’d had this brief but still infinite forever. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.” -pg. 233
  • “I would probably never again see the ocean from thirty thousand feet above, so far up that you can’t make out the waves or any boats, so that the ocean is a great and endless monolith. I could imagine it. I could remember it. But I couldn’t see it again, and it occurred to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again.” – pg. 305
  • “She is so beautiful. You don’t get tired of looking at her. You never worry if she is smarter than you: You know she is. She is funny without ever being mean. I love her. I am so lucky to love her, Van Houten. You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers.” -pg. 313

Read this book. {Maybe not on a plane or public bus, as you will likely weep while reading, if you are anything like me.} But yes, read this book! You will be glad you did.

Till soon,
Dallas

previous book club posts:
– Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
– The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

happy friday!

I have finished teaching my afternoon class, which means it is offically SPRING BREAK here at Purdue! Woo hoo! There may still be snow on the ground, but it is beginning to feel a little more like spring. Today’s temperature was a balmy 40 degrees, and it is staying light out later and later, which is so nice after a long winter of 5 pm sunsets.

A few fun things of late:

  • Yesterday I saw Warm Bodies, a zombie love story. It was witty and hilarious and surprisingly moving. I loved it! If it’s still playing where you are, I’d highly recommend it.
  • Today I had lunch with good friends at Panera {shout-out to Sarah The Pajama Chef: fuji apple chicken salad is the best!} My friend Matt and his wife Casey recently got the most adorable basset hound puppy named Merriwether, and I could not stop petting her soft ears and wrinkly face. I miss our family dog Murray a TON — I even dreamed about him last night! — and I can’t wait to see him this summer! He would have been jealous at all the attention I was giving Merriwether.

murray jealous

  • I just finished reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, a suspenseful, twists-and-turns mystery that was recommended to me by mulitple people and I have to say, I really could not put it down. The book is over 400 pages but I flew through it in a matter of days, even staying up late to read it a few nights! I was over-all satisfied by the book and very impressed with the author’s plotting and characterization talents, but for me the ending was disappointing. It felt like a roller-coaster that is building and building, and then just stops before the final descent. There is a final twist, but my main feeling when closing the book was frustration. Has anyone else read Gone Girl? What did you think of it?
  • The next book I’m planning to read is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green as part of the March PBF Book Club. I have read other books by John Green in the past and LOVED them, so I have high hopes for this one!
  • Maybe I am feeling book-crazy because I stopped by the local library this afternoon and spent some time browsing — one of my favorite things to do! I go to the library pretty much once a week and stock up on not just books, but also DVDs and CDs. Before I moved to Lafayette, I often used to overlook the library as a wonderful treasure trove of free entertainment.
  • I’m super excited to be participating in The Lean Green Bean’s Foodie Pen Pals group for March! It’s free to sign up, and you’re paired with another blogger or reader to send a box of treats and food goodies to that month. I’m having a blast picking out things to send to my pen-pal. You can learn more about the group and sign up for next month at The Lean Green Bean.
The Lean Green Bean

Hope you have a wonderful weekend! Anyone else getting spring fever?

review of “blackberry winter” by sarah jio

Happy Friday, everyone! I don’t know about you, but I am *so* excited for the weekend! I’m getting together with some friends for dinner Saturday, and Sunday afternoon a group of us are going to see Circus Oz  at Purdue. I’m also just looking forward to sleeping in and getting some rest. We’ve been having a long string of gray, gloomy days and it’s been a little more of an effort to keep myself cheerful this week — I think the winter blahs are trying to settle in! But I am resisting … perhaps I’ll make some more peanut-butter cup brownies or chocolate-chip cookies this weekend to build up my defenses! 🙂

One highlight of my week was reading this month’s PB Fingers Book Club pick, Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio.

sarah jio

Here’s a brief synopsis: the book alternates between two storylines that gradually merge as the book progresses. The first takes place in Seattle in the midst of the Great Depression, when single mother Vera Ray is forced to leave her treasured 3-year-old son Daniel home alone one night while she goes to work. In the morning, she leaves work to a city blanketed by a freak May snow, termed a “Blackberry Winter.” When she arrives home, her small apartment is empty. Her son has disappeared.

The second storyline takes place during another Blackberry Winter in Seattle in 2010; it centers around reporter Claire Aldridge who is assigned to write a story about the phenomenon. She recently suffered a loss of her own and in the face of her devastating grief, she is growing further and further apart from her husband. Claire becomes obsessed with the story of Daniel’s long-ago disappearance and trying to find out what happened that long-ago Blackberry Winter. Cue the dramatic music!

I was completely swept into the mystery of this story and snuck in bits of reading time whenever I could this week. I just finished it last night and the ending was so sweet and satisfying.

Sarah Jio’s writing style is lyrical and lovely. I have only been to Seattle once, more than a decade ago on a family vacation, so my memory of the city is not too clear. But Sarah describes the city so vividly — both in the present and back in the 1930s — that I felt like I returned there every time I opened this book. It was neat to “go back in time” in Vera’s storyline, and I thought the themes of wealth vs. poverty and greed vs. generosity rang very true to the world today. {Yet another book that confirmed my passion for my #yearofkindness challenge!}

A main theme of this book is motherhood, and I thought of Mr. Jude a LOT while reading. I treasure him beyond words and I can’t imagine not being able to see him, cuddle him, and watch him grow. Mike and I miss him so much between visits, but I am grateful we at least get to see him every month. It was viscerally painful reading about Vera losing her son Daniel in Blackberry Winter — Sarah Jio writes very vivid, real, compelling characters who seem like real people, and my heart just broke for Vera. Her pain is so real. In the book, both Vera and Claire’s lives change in an instant. This book will make you grateful for not just the children you love, but all the loved ones in your life — it will make you want to hold them close, just a little longer and tighter than usual. And of course always, always tell them you love them!

This is a moving and wonderful read that will warm your heart even on the coldest winter day. 🙂

Happy weekend!

review of “7: an experimental mutiny against excess” by jen hatmaker

You know when you hear a ton of good things about a book or a movie or TV show, and there’s a part of you that is hesitant to delve into that piece of entertainment or knowledge because you’re worried that it’s been built up too much, that it can never live up to your expectations now that so many people have raved about it to you?

Often, when I do end up caving and watching or reading whatever it is everyone is buzzing about, I do feel a little disappointed in the end — I guess my imagination and expectations are too easily raised to insurmountable heights! But there have been a few exceptions, when I have just been knocked off my feet by something that had already been built up so much. Off the top of my head, I can think of:

  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • the musical Wicked {I saw it with my mom, who was similarly blown away}
  • Downton Abbey {Mike and I resisted this for a while but are now thoroughly on the Downton Abbey train! Still a little behind, making our way through Season 2 and trying to avoid spoilers on Facebook!}

And now I have a new thing to add to my list: Jen Hatmaker’s amazingly inspiring book 7: an experimental mutiny against excess.

7 by jen hatmaker

I bought this book because I kept seeing great things pop up about it on many of my favorite blogs. The idea behind the book really intrigued me; here is the synopsis from Jen’s website:

7 is the true story of how Jen (along with her husband and her children to varying degrees) took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence.”

When sifting through my thoughts about this book, the first thing that struck me was that my experience reading this book is a little ironic, considering Jen’s message of taking your life back from the modern pressures of materialism and overindulgence. Because I gobbled up this book. I devoured the whole thing in less than two days. I just could not stop myself from reading “a little more, just a little more, one more chapter …” Talk about indulgence! 🙂

There were a number of things that made reading this book so addictive. First, I loved Jen’s voice. Much in the same way I felt like reading The Happiness Project was an extended conversation with author Gretchen Rubin over coffee, reading 7: an experimental mutiny against excess felt like I was sitting with Jen Hatmaker at her kitchen table, listening to stories from her life. She opens her home and her life to readers, and her voice is so warm and inviting. I read part of this book on a plane trip, and I had to bite my lip multiple times so as not to laugh out loud. She is hilarious!

I think one of my reservations about reading this book was that I would feel “preached at,” but this is not one of those books. The book is written in a diary format, so reading it feels like you are there with Jen in the trenches as she attempts to make these huge changes in her life. She chronicles her failures and setbacks in addition to her successes and high points — by the end of the book {or, to be more honest, by the end of chapter 2 or 3!} I felt like Jen was one of my good friends. Or perhaps my own personal cheerleader, encouraging me to take the leap and implement some of these ideas into my own life.

The book proceeds chronologically over the course of a year in Jen’s life, with each chapter devoted to a month of the project. {She took off a couple weeks between months to recharge and regroup.} Here is the breakdown of how Jen organized her 7 project:

  • month 1: Food
  • month 2: Clothes
  • month 3: Possessions
  • month 4: Media
  • month 5: Waste
  • month 6: Spending
  • month 7: Stress

I think for me, the most eye-opening and inspiring chapters were those devoted to waste/the environment, possessions and stress. After reading this book, I feel so blessed to have so much, yet also the pressing need to unburden myself from extra possessions — I want to give more to others, to use what I have for good. I feel even more committed to my year of kindness challenge and inspired to do even more! And I have plans in the works to create a more efficient and thorough household recycling system — I try to recycle what I can, but I think I can do better. I will keep you posted!

Well, this review is getting quite long, so I guess I should wrap it up … as you can probably tell, I highly recommend this book. It surpassed even my built-up expectations, moved me, made me think, and warmed my heart. Perhaps above all else, it made me feel hopeful and inspired to do my small part to make a difference and make the world a better, brighter place. Jen Hatmaker is a testament that we all can take charge of our lives, mutiny successfully against excess, and live a more simplified, healthier and happier existence!

——————-

if you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
review of The Happiness Project
review of Thirteen Reasons Why
review of The Secret Keeper

saturday upsides: the small, ordinary pleasures of home

Happy weekend, everyone! It’s time to celebrate Saturday Upsides!

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Yesterday, I was reading a lovely collection of short stories, Who’s Irish? by Gish Jen, and I came across this quote about life as a mother and homemaker that really struck a chord with me. Maybe it will for you, too!

whos irish cover
“It was absurd to be made happy by this small shared anticipation. Before the table actually got set, there had to be an argument about whose turn it was. How could this make Pammie happy? But it did, even as it drove her batty. She liked her busy boredom, too, if only because it readied her for the moment when Adam presented Inka with a rattle shaped like a football, or when Phoebe invented her own version of Duck, Duck, Goose: House, House, Home, this was called. You had to be a little bored to have those moments break over you the way they could. But if you sat waiting in a good dark night, they opened and opened like a brand of newfangled fireworks that lit the clouds, and the ground below, too, and all the faces turned upward, then fell with a sparkling rush right into your hands.”

– an excerpt from the story “House, House, Home” from the collection Who’s Irish by Gish Jen

I treasure the small, ordinary moments of life at home with those I love!

What are your upsides this weekend?

review of “the secret keeper” by kate morton

I mentioned on Saturday that I was happy to be curling up with a good book: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton, which was the January pick of the PB Fingers book club. I’m so happy this book was chosen for the book club, because otherwise I’m not sure if I would have known about it. I had not read any books by Kate Morton before, and in general I do not read much historical fiction, but I will certainly be checking out the rest of her work now!

The Secret Keeper shifts between present-day England and WWII London during the Blitz. It took me fifty pages or so to fully settle into the book, but I grew to deeply enjoy the rich details and extensive research Kate Morton must have done to write this book. I also don’t want to spoil it, but the ending is marvelous!! I felt almost giddy with suspense and the thrill of a surprise well done.

kate morton

Without trying to give too much away, here are some of my thoughts and take-aways from this book:

  • Reading this made me feel like I was alongside the characters, living through a war: incessant days and nights of terrible bombings, friends and family killed, men going into battle. It made me appreciate the quiet, peaceful life I enjoy. Nothing like war to put my own little daily struggles and problems into perspective. And it also made me feel very grateful to veterans and current U.S. soldiers who put their lives on the line for our country. I want to do something as part of my #yearofkindness to show my deep appreciation and gratitude.
  • On a craft level, reading this book as a writer, I was impressed by the way Morton shifted across characters and time periods to keep the reader in suspense. Also, by using a close third-person perspective, she was able to dip inside multiple characters’ thoughts and points of view–and the reader was left to decide how much to trust/believe the information given. {I have long been a fan of unreliable narrators ever since falling in love with The Great Gatsby in high school.}
  • I really enjoyed settling into the vividly drawn world of this book. Morton’s use of details and description is stunning. I want to weave in more details and setting description into my thesis novel that I am currently revising.
  • Historical fiction is wonderful reading! I love feeling like I am learning things about a place and time in history while also being engrossed in a story. Caring about the characters in the book also makes me feel that I get a better sense of who the people were who lived during that time.

Have any of you read The Secret Keeper? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

Have a wonderful day!
-Dallas

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like these:
review of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
review of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin