Category Archives: Self-Help

Book Review: ‘Success with Stress’, by Jae Ellard

About the Author

After years in senior communication roles crafting content for executives, Jae collapsed from stress-related adrenal fatigue. This life-altering experience propelled her to research human behavior, neuroscience, mindfulness, and organizational relationship systems.

The Five Truths about Work-Life Balance by Jae Ellard on Sahar's BlogIn 2008, Jae founded Simple Intentions and developed the Mindful Life™ Program, which includes four group coaching workshops to generate reflection, awareness and action at the organizational and individual levels. Jae has taught the skill of awareness to thousands of employees at multinational corporations in more than 50 countries including China, Russia, India, Japan, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, Germany, United Kingdom, Norway, and the United States.

Jae contributes to the Awareness at Work column for Mindful Magazine, the Healthy Living section on Huffington Post as well as the Simple Intentions blog. Jae has a master’s degree in Communication Management from Colorado State University and a bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Communication from Metropolitan State College of Denver. She holds certificates in co-active coaching and organizational relationship systems coaching and is the author of seven books.

About the Book

Success with StressBelieve it or not, stress isn’t all bad; in fact, it’s an important part of the natural world. Stress helps us survive as a species – because of that we want the ability to be stressed. That said, being able to MANAGE STRESS WITH GREATER SUCCESS is the difference between surviving and THRIVING. Success with Stress explores five simple ideas to spark your personal power to change the level, duration, and frequency of the stress in your life. With workplace stress being linked to quality of life, health, and workplace morale, this is a must-read for any team looking to improve morale and individuals looking to improve their quality of life.

Book Review

The previous Jae Ellard book I reviewed, The Five Truths About Work-Life Balance, became (and still is) and notebook of sorts.  While I have only had Success With Stress for a week now and have yet to jot anything down, I know it’s going to become the same thing: an on-going tool that I will use for quite some time to come.

Yet again, despite being void of either a ton of pages (total page count: 85) or a wealth of words on each page (some count only three words!) or of the trappings ones usually associates with a book that needs studying—I’m thinking a thick book with lots of words and maybe even some tables and graphs, covered in colour-coded sticky notes with sections highlighted in different colours and a stack of notecards on the side—Ellard manages to engage readers in a deep study of the stress in their lives, in such a way that they can accept it as a positive thing and mould their way around it, skillfully, gracefully, and almost painlessly.

Because I have experience with her books, I was anticipating the self-explanatory statements, made with the assumption that the reader is not, as is most often the case, a passive recipient of wisdom, but rather an empowered protagonist in his or her own life.  Each of these statements serve as a beginning, tracing the broad direction of the road, but leaving to the reader the responsibility of figuring out its twists and turns.

If you are looking for a magical, quick-fix solution, then don’t bother.  But then again, you shouldn’t be looking for such a thing.  Rather, you should engage in a long-term, thoughtful process of reflection and action, and this book is a great coach of sorts in this regard.  And you will know that you are working well with this coach if your copy ends up covered in notes, preferably jotted at different times during different readings.

It feels like, after being encouraged to see stress as one of the many evils we have to conquer, we, as a North American society, are starting to realise that stress is a great tool—if we don’t overdo it and if we learn how to manage it.  We are also taking a big step back from the understanding that we are meant to be passive recipients and taking our place as active protagonists in our personal development.  Ellard’s Success With Stress, just like The Five Truths About Work-Life Balance, can come in as quite the handy companion in this regard.

More information is available on the Simple Intentions’ website and Facebook page; you can also reach out to the team on Twitter.

Thank you to iReads Book Tours for providing
a copy of this book for me to review!

Book Review: Toxic Friends by Susan Shapiro Barash

The premise is simple: you can’t change your friends, but you can change the way you deal with them. A toxic friendship can be dealt with once you understand what is going on and your contribution to it. Once you figure out your part in starting and sustaining it, you will be able to take the steps to improve it or, if it’s hopeless, get out of the relationship knowing that you did what was possible.

You would expect women, the mothers and caregivers of our society, to be especially caring and nurturing towards each other. After all, who better can understand what a woman is going through than another woman? But as most women (and men) can tell you, female friendships are so complicated that many (if any!) can’t understand what exactly is going on.

Oh, the number of times a female friend of mine said something to which I had absolutely nothing to say. This is highly unusual for someone as verbose as I am.

Which is why I have always been baffled by the way women act towards each other, and how, in an era where woman have so many more rights, we seem to be held down more by each other than by men. How many times do we worry about what a man thinks about what we are wearing versus what a woman thinks?

On top of that, we live in a society that thrives on off the roof drama. And so, women’s fights are often encouraged and even enabled. This makes books such as Toxic Friends all the more important, as they help us identify the real issues at hand, understand them, and rise above such pettiness.

The tone of the book is that of a curious and systematic investigation of what types of women exist. It is based on various essays on the topic as well as a study the author did. A strong point is that the book is explorative in nature and in tone; rather than preaching a truth to readers, it invites them to join in the journey of figuring out what toxic friendships are about, who plays which role and how it can be dealt with.

The majority of the chapters cover not only the aspect of each identified personality type, but also the way the women interviewed for the study who are of that personality type perceive themselves, how women who are not of that personality type perceive it and the personality type’s contribution to a group dynamic. Each chapter ends with what I believe to be the book’s biggest strength: a series of questions that make the reader think in depth about the personality type, its presence in her life and what she can do about its potential toxic effects.

As I read through the book, faces flashed by as I remembered past or current relationships. All my friends, my female coworkers, my female neighbours, my female family members were one by one identified as one or a combination of the ten described personality types. I also identified my own personality type, and was intrigued by the way the author describes how others react to it.

There are two other books I would recommend reading at the same time as Toxic Friends, before or after.

The first one is The Lolita Effect, by M. Gigi Durham. Many of the relationship issues as well as the personality profiles described in Toxic Friends were reflected in The Lolita Effect, which talks about the media sexualization of young girls, its effect on the way they act, the consequences it has on their identity and their relationships and five keys to fix it. After all, a lack of self-confidence, as exploited and enhanced by today’s corporations and the media, underlines many of the issues at the heart of Toxic Friends, so why not try to understand how we women were ourselves affected, as kids, teenagers, young adults and adults, to be able to build a form of immunity against it and not fall into the trap of a toxic relationship again?

The other companion read for Toxic Friends is Rafe Esquith’s Lighting their Fires. I know, I know – how can a book about children’s education help adult women with their toxic friends? Well, Rafe Esquith offers a wealth of information that, while they are meant for parents to use when raising their children, they should probably have incorporated into their own personality beforehand. It isn’t difficult, with a little mental aerobics, to see how these two books could work together. For example, Rafe Esquith talks over and over about the importance of communication, and how things like learning to play an instrument and putting on plays help develop the skills to communicate, including eloquence, emotional conversations and timing. In Toxic Friends, many of the problems are related to the fact that women cannot seem to be able to communicate honestly and effectively together.

Now imagine if a mother is reading both books at the same time. She identifies the need for her child to learn to communicate more effectively while reading Lighting their fire, and later on identifies how her toxic friendships have a lot to do with the fact that she herself doesn’t know how to communicate with her friends. Wouldn’t it be powerful for such a mother to work on a form of project with her child so that both learn to communicate more effectively with each other and with others?

And now imagine if this mother’s child is a pre-teen or a teenage daughter who is going through the intensely difficult period of time covered by The Lolita effect, and the mother can use this newfound quality communication to talk to her daughter about it.

This is what I call being efficient. Because, let’s be honest, however fantastic they are, mothers are also limited by the fact that there are only 24 hours in one day, and that they need some sleep.

Toxic Friends is a must read for any woman.

A word of caution: the author refers to many essays that are available online. If you are anything like me, plan to spend a LONG time reading this book, since you are going to spend double, if not triple, the time reading the essays she refers to. But they are all so interesting that it’ll be worth it.

Enjoy, and I hope your friendships with fellow females will benefit from reading this book.

First published here on Blogcritics.
First published on Sahar’s Blog on 4 June 2013.

Book Review: ‘The Five Truths About Work-Life Balance’, by Jae Ellard

About the Author

After years in senior communication roles crafting content for executives, Jae collapsed from stress-related adrenal fatigue. This life-altering experience propelled her to research human behavior, neuroscience, mindfulness, and organizational relationship systems.

The Five Truths about Work-Life Balance by Jae Ellard on Sahar's BlogIn 2008, Jae founded Simple Intentions and developed the Mindful Life™ Program, which includes four group coaching workshops to generate reflection, awareness and action at the organizational and individual levels. Jae has taught the skill of awareness to thousands of employees at multinational corporations in more than 50 countries including China, Russia, India, Japan, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, Germany, United Kingdom, Norway, and the United States.

Jae contributes to the Awareness at Work column for Mindful Magazine, the Healthy Living section on Huffington Post as well as the Simple Intentions blog. Jae has a master’s degree in Communication Management from Colorado State University and a bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Communication from Metropolitan State College of Denver. She holds certificates in co-active coaching and organizational relationship systems coaching and is the author of seven books.

About the Book

The Five Truths about Work-Life Balance by Jae Ellard on Sahar's BlogWork-life balance has nothing to do with work. Really. It also doesn’t matter what words you use to describe it. The fact is, most people share a similar desire to create easy joy and meaningful engagement across the roles, relationships and responsibilities that make up life.

Our current habits and perceptions often get us stuck and prevent us from creating the life we desire. Get unstuck, learn the truths about work-life balance.

Book Review

When you think of a book that needs studying, I’m willing to bet that the first image that comes to mind is that of a thick book with lots of words and maybe even some tables and graphs.  In my case, said book is covered in colour-coded sticky notes with sections highlighted in different colours and a stack of notecards on the side.

But that’s just me.

Interesting enough, The Five Truths About Work-Life Balance is a book that requires a lot of study as well despite it being devoid of either a ton of pages (total page count: 99) or a wealth of words on each.  Rather, it reads as a guide for a reflection of sorts on how to create work-life balance.  Each page contains a self-explanatory statement.  Initially I was a little taken aback—I wanted Ellard to tell me more about each statement, to take me through it all and help me figure out this whole ‘balance’ thing.

Then I realised that my view of this book was affected (and quite heavily so) by the way we are often relegated in the position of passive recipient.  I realised then that the reason perhaps the pages of the book are devoid of superfluous words and only have a basic statement was to drive home the truth of the section in question.  So I read the book again but this time, did the work.  Each page became covered in notes as I pushed myself to reflect on each statement and to identify its application, actual or potential, in my life.

This is how I suggest reading this book: as a workbook.  The fact that the pages do not come with lines where we can jot down answered is liberating; some of my notes are supremely short and succinct (and are written in broad, bold letters) while others go on for so long that I covered the page in tiny, scratch-like writing.  Jot down your notes after really taking the time to think about what is written on it in the first place.

It feels like, after being encouraged to do more every day, we, as a North American society, are starting to realise that we are trying to live our life as a race to check off as many items on a giant, never-ending to-do list.  We are also taking a step back from living as passive recipients to everything and anything to take our rightful place as active protagonists in both our personal development and the development of the society around us.  Ellard’s The Five Truths About Work-Life Balance can come in quite handy as a companion to achieve this.

More information is available on the Simple Intentions’ website and Facebook page; reach out to the team on Twitter.

Thank you to iReads Book Tours for providing a
copy of this book for me to review!

Book Review: ‘Dream: Clarify and Create What You Want’, by Marcia Wieder

About the author:

Dream by Marcia Wieder on Sahar's BlogDream University’s CEO, Marcia Wieder is a long established thought leader on visionary thinking. As Founder of The Meaning Institute, she teaches people to create and live fulfilling lives. She’s been a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, writes for Huffington Post and is the author of 14 books. She appeared often on Oprah and was featured in her own PBS-TV show called Making Your Dreams Come True.

She has taught at Stanford’s Business School and as president of the National Association of Women Business Owners, she assisted 3 U.S. presidents. She is a member of the Transformational Leadership Council and on the advisory board for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

About the book:

Do you dare to dream? If so, you are a results-oriented person. Dream is designed to help you both transform your own life and contribute to making the world a better place. Dreaming is something you do—or should do.

Dream by Marcia Wieder on Sahar's BlogYou were created to create, and your ability to dream is paramount and fundamental when it comes to living a dream-come-true life. Dream will help you design a life that is the highest expression of your purpose by creating dreams in every area that matters to you, both personally and professionally.

This book will help you take real steps toward creating and achieving the dreams that matter to you most. It will help you to uncover, or recover, your purpose so that you can live with purpose—and there’s nothing that will bring you greater fulfillment.

Reading this book will help you to fully understand:

  • Who you really are
  • How you want your life to be
  • How to develop dreams that inspire you
  • How to look at your life with a fresh perspective
  • How to remove fear, doubt, or other obstacles
  • How to implement shortcuts and the techniques you will learn

Dream will teach you exactly how to do these and so much more.

Book review:

Just like with most self-help books, Marcia Wieder’s Dream: Clarify and Create What You Want requires a dose of introspection as well as a dollop of detachment. I personally felt that a lot of the book read as a pep talk. It was very well written and engaging, and although it wasn’t why I picked up the book for, I have a feeling that many going through a tougher time than I am will make good use of it. After all, there is nothing that doesn’t make sense, and it can get very, very difficult to break through mental barriers that have kept us from pursuing our dreams.

Speaking of which, the use of the word “dream” should not be taken as an indication that the advice contained in this book is directed towards those whose goals are so ambitious and big as to be typically labelled as a dream. One of the most interesting things for me is how Wieder recasts the concept of dreams in the first place. A dream can be something very simple, humble, even. It is an aspiration for something different in whatever aspect of one’s life. Wieder also makes it quite clear from the beginning that to dream is quite different than to daydream. While daydreaming is a form of wishful thinking, dreaming, according to her, is action-oriented, based on tangible, day-to-day deeds strategically done on the path to achieving a dream.

The book alone would be a little overwhelming at times—some of the more action-oriented sections can be paralysing in their weight and meticulousness. But—and this might come as slightly ironic—readers who get discouraged can seek strength from the beginning of the book, the sections that sound more “pep talk” like than anything else.

A book can help us go a long way, but there is something to be said about the vital importance of mutual support and assistance. The way I see it, I feel that this book would be best used by a small group of individuals who come together weekly (or more often) to read from Dream and make their plans accordingly. They would have Wieder there as an off-site facilitator of sorts and would have each other as companions on the path to fulfilling their dreams one step at a time.

Book Review: ‘The Greatest Prospector in the World’, by Ken Dunn

About the author: Ken Dunn is one of the leadership training world’s up and coming great speakers and trainers. An incredible hunger to learn and teach others has led Ken successfully through five different professional careers in the past 25 years.

The Greatest Prospector in the World by Ken DunnKen began a policing career at the age of 18. He was involved in the policing world’s most exhilarating and challenging disciplines, including undercover drug and surveillance work, S.W.A.T. teamwork, aggravated child abuse, frauds, aggravated assaults, illegal weapons smuggling and homicides.

Today, Ken regularly speaks to groups in the direct sales, mortgage, insurance and banking industries. He uses humor and his own experiences to inspire audiences around the world. Ken lives in Toronto, Canada, with his wife, Julie, and children Matthew and Laura.

About the book: Laura Dunagan, was born in the gold prospecting days of rustic Alaska in the early 1900’s. When Laura was 14 years old, her father was trapped under a mudslide while prospecting in a nearby river and died. Laura was forced to move to Chicago in the care of her rich Uncle Joe. Laura hated Uncle Joe because he forced her to leave the river, but also because he had left the family prospecting business to move to Chicago years before she was born.

Laura discovers that Uncle Joe made his fortune selling insurance and was the owner of the largest insurance company in Illinois. While wandering through the mansion one day, she found Uncle’s Joe personal den. In it, she discovered an entire new life that would lead her to heights that she would never had realized panning for gold in Alaska. Uncle Joe used the 6 gold prospecting rules for safety to prospect new clients for his insurance company and in doing so, discovered the secrets to wealth in selling.

The Greatest Prospector in the World by Ken Dunn coverBook review: What Dunn has done (ha) is to write a non-fiction book about creating success in business (and in life) by using a fictional narrative. If you want a cheat sheet or a “winning formula” that you can apply to reach said success, don’t even consider buying this book. It is meant as a source of reflection to make readers understand more profoundly how they can create success for themselves. It’s also a fun, light read for anyone just looking for a feel good story that will be easy to read if you gloss over some of the heavier parts of the book.

The narrative itself is a simple one, a straightforward plot in which a young girl learns how to create success for herself by applying life lessons an elder is teaching her. The Greatest Prospector in the World does come off a little heavy-handed at times, with some parts reading as lectures rather than a story. The parable was heavy-handed; it made for easy to glean lessons but for a less literary experience.

Then again, it works; all the “lectures” fit in the narrative quite well, and the writing is engaging enough that even these parts are easily readable by both those looking to delve into the lessons and those just wanting to read a story. The lessons in the book did lose some of their strength because Laura did have it easy in some ways (for example, the help of the family fortune.) But again, just like with the obvious approach Dunn chose to take, it helps to really focus on the lessons rather than to get lost in speculation. An engaging read, The Greatest Prospector in the World can be as light or heavy as its reader make it to be.

Book Review: ‘Right or Almost Right’, by John Haremza

About the author

After he graduated high school, John got a job as a machine operator at the potato chip plant. When he was promoted to maintenance manager he thought that this $22,000 a year job was the best job he could ever hope for. Then he was introduced to Network Marketing and his life changed forever. John’s story is 'Right or Almost Right' by John Haremzaone of those American rags to riches, from adversity and obscurity to a life of dreams. Now after spending 23 years in network marketing John has earned over $12 million. He has been responsible for product sales of over $500 million. His teams have earned over $200 million in commissions and he is featured in numerous publications and has produced 100’s of sales tools to support his teams. ​Currently, a regular speaker, consultant and author, John hopes to bring his message of Right or Almost Right to the masses.

About the book

Right or Almost Right is based on John Haremza’s 25 years of success in network marketing. It’s John’s answer to the questions so many ask such as, “Where’s the money? Why am I not seeing the success I expected?” As John says, “I meet so many intelligent, hard-working, dedicated network marketers who are struggling. They are not seeing the results they expected, and they always as, “Why?”

'Right or Almost Right' by John HaremzaJohn believes that the small subtleties of how the network marketing business is done make the big difference between making a little money versus making a lot of money, between success and struggling. He addresses many of the basics of doing “the business,” from prospecting to leading your organization, and points out what is “right” as compared to what is “almost right.”

John has lived every example contained in his book. “Network marketing changed my life beyond my wildest imagination,” says John. His story is amazing, from living in a trailer park to a well-known network marketing leader. And his story can help you to make your dreams come true too!

Book review

There is a lot of heart in this book, and one can feel it oozing out of every page. Most of the book seems to be a pep talk meant to encourage an individual interested in network marketing to get their feet wet, or to give someone already involved in network marketing a boost of energy and enthusiasm. But as a blogger interested in growing my audience, I didn’t find much of good use in here. I thought that perhaps I chose the book wrongly, and that someone with an interest in starting a business will be able to take full advantaged of the advice in ‘Right or Almost Right’.

But that’s the thing: there doesn’t seem to be much practical advice in this book as much as theoretical, pep talk-worth anecdotes and tips and for this reason, I don’t know how much a potential business person will glean from it either. Another intriguing thought: for a book that highlights the importance of network marketing in making modern and quality products available to the public, I was surprised at the number of typos and formatting mistakes peppered throughout (most the latter).

So if you are discouraged and need a pep talk, perhaps after reading a couple of advice-filled business books, then you should definitely pick this one up. You will probably get a boost of energy out of ‘Right or Almost Right’ which you can then use to translate into action whatever advice you have picked up from your study of other books. But alone, I’m not sure how useful it would be.

Book Review: Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert

While I love chick-flicks, they are not the only books that I read (the proof is in the pudding – or rather, in my bookshelf). I read everything and anything, except a certain couple of genres. There is one in particular that I have always been very wary of: self-help books. The few I perused a couple of years ago were vague to the point of tearing-my-hair-out frustration and I set the entire genre aside to focus on, amongst others, chick flicks. Because really, how can a book, written by someone who isn’t omniscient and who has no idea what I’m going through, help me deal with all my problems?

But lately there has been a recent surge of amazing self-help books, which take into consideration each person’s individuality and seek to inspire rather than solve. Just in case you haven’t noticed, life is very complex; your problems continuously morph, and the ‘same’ problem two people might be having is actually quite different. While general rules might apply to both, it doesn’t make sense for one formula to be applicable in both situations. However, both can be inspired to rise above what can be extremely difficult circumstances and make life worth living.

One such book that I highly recommend is Eat Pray Love. While it won’t give you the answers as to what is life about and how do you get over a bad break-up, Eat Pray Love does give you hope that if you stay true to your journey, you will end up in a better place than when you started.

The storyline is quite simple. “Reeling from a contentious divorce, a volatile rebound romance and a bout of depression, [Elizabeth Gilbert] decided at 34 to spend a year traveling in Italy, India and Indonesia. “I wanted to explore one aspect of myself set against the backdrop of each country, in a place that has traditionally done that one thing very well,” she writes. “I wanted to explore the art of pleasure in Italy, the art of devotion in India and, in Indonesia, the art of balancing the two.” Her trip was financed by an advance on the book she already planned to write, and Eat, Pray, Love is the mixed result.” (From: The New York Times).

The author is surprisingly open and honest about the various steps she goes through on her journey, even going so far as to admit that she would doze instead of meditating. By doing so, she focuses on the journey as much as the insights it gave her. She is also quite candid about the fact that even after taking such a long time to discover herself, she still has a long road ahead of her. Rather than losing respect for her, these admissions make her all the more human, thus making her trip seem all the more attainable to her very human readers.

While Elizabeth Gilbert wrote this book when she was in her mid-thirties, the appeal of this book isn’t limited to women of that age, but rather spreads to anyone who is willing to be open and honest with themselves about their failings and limitations and are ready to do something concrete about them rather than just complain. She manages to still be witty and light-hearted even while tackling heavy and important subjects.

The author’s honesty is further enhanced by the structure she adopts in writing her book. Rather than going into full blown, twenty page monologues, she organized her book in little sections, each very meaningful yet short enough that a busy person can catch a little snippet in between meetings or on a commute. That in itself is some wise editing.

The writing, while not the most complex and literary, is fluid and easy to read. It fulfills the purpose of the book in a pleasurable way. Once you are hooked to her story (which happens pretty quickly), the book is as easy to read as it is to cut through warm butter with a knife.

I found one of the most memorable quotes of the book to be the following: Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.” This quote summarized one of the most important lessons of Eat Pray Love: that happiness doesn’t just happen. You have to want it, to work hard for it and, when you get it, you have to take care of it. And the book does inspire you to do just so.

One last word for the wise: the first part of Elizabeth Gilbert’s trip happens in Italy and is all about eating great food. This might inspire you to develop a sudden and constant yearning for carbohydrates, the consequence of which we are all quite aware of. You have been warned.

For more information about the book, please visit its official website.

First published on 15 September 2008 on Sahar’s Blog.

Book Review: ‘Ditching the Drive-Thru’, by J. Natalie Winch

Ditching the Drive Thru by J Natalie WinchAbout the author: 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, and fights the dust bunnies that threaten to take over her family room.

Ditching the Drive Thru by J Natalie WinchAbout the book: 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.

Review: While reading books such as Fast Food Nation, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Sugar Fat Salt have been quite eye opening, none of them offer tips about the nitty gritty of making a change from processed to whole foods. Ditching the Drive-Thru is filled both with information that will encourage readers to want to make the switch and information about how to undergo said switch.

It’s not like author J Natalie Winch is a health-care professional, but she neither presents herself as one nor writes as if she is one. Quite the contrary; she states it outright in the first sentence of the book that she is not a pro but that rather, she is a mother who wanted to help her family become healthier. This sets the tone for the entire book, both in the content as well as in the style. I felt like I was chatting with my passionate, opinionated friend

It takes a big change in our patterns of thought and patterns of behavior to be able to change the way we perceive our relationship with food. Winch takes us along the path she has treaded in the hopes that we, too, will be inspired to do the same. Non-judgmental but unapologetic, she shares her reasons why she went au naturel without coming off as a know-it-all. She is confident is what she knows but seems comfortable in the limited of her knowledge and open to learn more. If you are a disbeliever in the dangers of processed foods, this book is not for you—reach instead for one of the others I mentioned earlier in this review. But if you are convinced that there is a need for profound change in our diet but don’t quite know where to start, or have reached a plateau, then this is the book for you.

Purchase links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble


Book Review: ‘Stop and Smell Your Children’, by Leah Spina

Book Review: ‘Stop and Smell Your Children’, by Leah Spina

About the author:

Reviews 2015 10 31 Book Review Stop and Smell Your Children Leah SpinaLeah 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. Leah blogs and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

About the book:

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?

Reviews 2015 10 31 Book Review Stop and Smell Your Children Leah SpinaStop 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!

Novel Review:

An entertaining read meant for not just parents of small children, but also those of us looking to understand what our family and friends are going through, Leah Spina’s Stop and Smell Your Children comes off as the excited conversation with a good friend about what she learned during her struggles during what she calls her children’s “little years”. Spina mentions that she doesn’t want parents to just survive this time of their child’s life, but rather “to thrive and love them”. To do that, she is quite adamant: she needed to change her parenting perspective, and that’s what she wants everyone to do. So each day, she “started to search for extraordinary, ordinary parenting moments” which helped her see “humour instead of defeat in the diaper war” and helped her attain a mind space in which she can try to treasure each day with her kids as “a gift to savor” rather than as “a duty to endure.”

To help readers achieve this, Spina ends each chapter with two sections: “Stop and Smell” and “Stop and Reflect.” In the former, she shares a learning she has had which helped her enjoy her children’s little years more. In the latter, she asks readers questions that are meant to help change their perspective on parenting. Another little detail in the book that I particularly enjoyed are the quotes that kick off each chapter, such as: “’What day is it?’ ‘It’s today,’ squeaked Piglet. ‘My favorite day,’ said Pooh.” and “I live in a madhouse ruled by a tiny army that I made myself.”

Of course there are some aspects in Spina’s life that will no doubt be quite different from that of her readers’, but the focus is on the universal experiences that bind all parents of young children, allowing the book to have a much broader appeal than if Spina had focused on how to deal with the specifics of her situation.

Spina’s Stop and Smell Your Children is an often hilarious yet inspiring read that will help not only parents but those around them reconsider how they deal with the reality of children’s little years.

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Book Review: Living Oprah by Robyn Okrant

I’m an Oprah kid. Kind of. I didn’t understand much – if any – of her show when it first started its dizzying ascension in the late 80s, early 90s, but I watched most of them. Actually, no; I watched my family watch the show and then have heated debates about whatever the lady with the sometimes alarmingly big hair had to say. It fascinated me how she was able to engender such heated discussion in my very own, usually much quieter living room. And so, as I grew older and my powers of understanding expanded, I started listening to both the lady with the thankfully decreasing hair size and the discussions in my living room. Interestingly enough, it’s the latter that taught me more than the former, but without the former, the latter wouldn’t have existed.

Living Oprah on Sahar's ReviewsThis is one of the biggest lessons Robyn Okrant learned during her year of Living Oprah: it isn’t Oprah’s advice alone that teaches her audience the most, but rather her ability to engender discussion. The path tread by the author during this experiment has brought forth countless other reflections that evolved as she struggled along to live her life by the various dictates given to her by Oprah.

Even if you just want to pick up a book to read without going into pages and pages of philosophical discussion like some people do (guilty!), Living Oprah is a great choice to tote around on a plane or a beach. Robyn Okrant’s writing style is easy to read, informative and dosed with the just the right amount of humour. It’s also a great discussion piece for a book club, or a way to help your Oprah-obsessed friend through a 12 step Opraholics Anonymous program.

While there are many lessons, reflections and learnings to be taken out of this book, the most important thing I took from it is the importance of active learning. The quality of what Oprah gives to her audience has as much to do with what she gives us as what we do with it. While the amount and the quality of the information pouring from Oprah’s various outlets (her show, her website and her magazine) is astounding, alone it can’t empower the audience.

After all, education is not about filling up an empty head with goodies, since a human is “a mine rich in gems of inestimable value”. When seen as such, it’s only logical that “education can, alone, cause (a human) to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit there from.” As recent education reform after education reform in Canada has shown, learning is about bringing out inherent talents in children rather than filling them up with information. If we have gotten this far in our understanding of educating children, why are we having troubles as adults who continue learning through their entire lives through outlets such as Oprah?

Perhaps part of the problem is that while Oprah and Co. have put a lot of effort in developing content, they haven’t spent as much time tackling the issue of its delivery. During her year of Living Oprah, Robyn Okrant acted as an empty vessel that needed to be filled with Oprah juice. While she herself admits that she did learn some important things (including a new appreciate for leopard-print flats), this learning came at a price. Oprah’s program, which is meant to empower women, made her feel more insecure in her mid-30s than she did as a teen.

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

But we can’t blame Oprah for a phenomenon that is societal. After all, all fashion magazines tend to tell women that they are not thin enough, that their hair isn’t shiny enough, that their skin isn’t clear enough — in short, that we are not woman enough. In a sea of demotivating messages that make so many women loathe themselves, O magazine is quite unique in its approach. By the same token, Oprah’s show has been a unique source of a variety of information that has definitely helped women in North America.

But it seems that perhaps Oprah has just become too big, too much of a brand name, to be able to empower women by her example alone as she used to. Robyn Okrant reflects on this topic, pointing out that while for her, cleaning up her physical space to enable her to clear out her mental space means two days of cleaning and tidying, for Oprah, it means only one thing: hiring a house cleaner.

But neither Robyn nor myself seek to demonize Oprah, who has helped so many women in my life and has inspired me countless times. However, however good Oprah’s intentions, her methods need to detach themselves from that of a society nitpicking at a woman’s self-worth. It’s an incredibly difficult job to do, which is why the emphasis should shift from information-giving (which Oprah is really good at) to accompanying her millions of viewers to learn to digest that information and choose what would suit them at which point in their lives.

After all, I’m sure that even the Queen of Daytime Show would agree that it’s not about living life as Oprah sees it. It’s about living life as you see it, which is what Oprah has done.

But, as always, change can’t come from the top; it has to come from the bottom. While as an audience, we don’t have much choice as to what wisdom and message Oprah chooses to dispense or as to the way with which it is dispensed, we do have a choice in the way we treat this information. If we are to stop being mindless recipients of information, we have to undergo the kind of reflection that Robyn Okrant went through. Granted, we don’t all have to do this drastic an experiment (something which I’m sure all our partners are going to be relieved to hear), but maybe if we enter into a pattern of consulting Oprah’s material, reflecting on its pertinence in the framework of our life and then act upon the fruits of our reflection, perhaps we would be taking the first step towards the very empowerment Oprah wants for each one of the women watching her show.

After all, however great she is, it’s rather ridiculous to think of Oprah as an infallible source of information and guidance. Why not add another layer of empowerment by actually reflecting on the guidance she offers? Wouldn’t that not only give us information about cooking and fashion etc but also be an invaluable lesson in empowerment – and isn’t that, at the end of the day, what Oprah is all about?

First published here on Blogcritics.

First republished on Sahar’s Reviews in June 2013.