You are a BADASS

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The #1 New York Times Bestseller YOU ARE A BADASS IS THE SELF-HELP BOOK FOR PEOPLE WHO DESPERATELY WANT TO IMPROVE THEIR LIVES BUT DON’T WANT TO GET BUSTED DOING IT. 

In this refreshingly entertaining how-to guide, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author and world-traveling success coach, Jen Sincero, serves up 27 bite-sized chapters full of hilariously inspiring stories, sage advice, easy exercises, and the occasional swear word. If you’re ready to make some serious changes around here, You Are a Badass will help you: Identify and change the self-sabotaging beliefs and behaviors that stop you from getting what you want, blast past your fears so you can take big exciting risks, figure out how to make some damn money already, learn to love yourself and others, set big goals and reach them – it will basically show you how to create a life you totally love, and how to create it NOW.

By the end of You Are a Badass, you’ll understand why you are how you are, how to love what you can’t change, how to change what you don’t love, and how to use The Force to kick some serious ass.

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I picked up this audiobook from my local library because it has an attractive cover and a person had recommended it to me a couple of years ago, but I didn’t get around to reading it at the time.

The audiobook was read by the author herself, and her voice is … pleasant? She doesn’t grate on my nerves, the way some narrators do, but I also found that I tended to drift off a lot. I’m not sure how much of that is due to her narration skills or her writing skills, but I had a very difficult time connecting to her and paying attention.

I found that Sincero had some interesting and inspirational ideas throughout the book, and I liked that her book was full of “real talk”. She seems to be trying to reach out to the self-doubters, my term for people who scoff at the “self-help” genre, and the author fully admits that she used to be one of those people.

However, Sincero mostly came across a someone who “drank the Kool-Aid”, IMHO. In Part II, she talks about certain profound meditation experiences where she has ‘seen the walls melt’ and ‘people levitating’. Uh-huh. Backing away slowly now.

It may be “boring”, but I am trying to put Christ and financial security at the forefront of my life, and when I have a family of my own, I know that they will jump into first place. I’m definitely not talking about earning millions of dollars, but I am working really hard and making sacrifices to be debt free and then eventually buy a house of my own one day (renting sucks. Am I right or am I right?!).

The author of You are a badass talks a lot about trips, expensive things, and taking tons of chances to make yourself happy even, if the consequences could be dire. She is all about finding the thing that makes you happy.

That is one way to look at life I guess, but personally, I think happiness starts from within. We all need certain things to be happy and what I need is different from what you need. My happiness stems largely from a strong sense of security and self-sufficiency, as well as a close romantic relationship and one of the things I desire most in the future is to have a large family, and a family-oriented existence.

So financial security, owning a home, these things that might seem arbitrary are actually feeding into what I need to be happy, those senses of belonging and of safety, of home. But if I can’t find some degree of happiness in my life now, as I am pursing my dream, that is a problem. To borrow an oft-repeated phrase, life isn’t about the destination, its the journey along the way.

Sincero doesn’t take into account that not everyone is operating on an equal playing field, and appears to scoff at others, creating the idea that she is judging others, and by extension, the reader. I particularly detest that she is of the opinion that depression and anxiety are reflective of an undisciplined mind rather than (in many) actual illnesses.

Her official blurb describes the book as 27 hilarious and inspiring stories, but I didn’t find them to be either. I also had difficulties with following the book. Perhaps this was because the book didn’t hold my attention and I drifted off, but I didn’t find that each chapter was building to a conclusion, that “aha” moment that pulled everything together. Instead, it felt more like a random series of self-congratulating moments and “you had to be there” stories.

You are a badass is a polarizing book. A quick glance at Goodreads user reviews showed that reviewers tended to love or hate this book. Many found her to be incredibly inspiration and there is no denying that Sincero has created “buzz”, but too many others had similar opinions to mine.

If you give this book a chance, I recommend you pick it up from the library until you know whether it is for you or not.

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The Power of Habit

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A young woman walks into a laboratory. Over the past two years, she has transformed almost every aspect of her life. She has quit smoking, run a marathon, and been promoted at work. The patterns inside her brain, neurologists discover, have fundamentally changed.

Marketers at Procter & Gamble study videos of people making their beds. They are desperately trying to figure out how to sell a new product called Febreze, on track to be one of the biggest flops in company history. Suddenly, one of them detects a nearly imperceptible pattern—and with a slight shift in advertising, Febreze goes on to earn a billion dollars a year.

An untested CEO takes over one of the largest companies in America. His first order of business is attacking a single pattern among his employees—how they approach worker safety—and soon the firm, Alcoa, becomes the top performer in the Dow Jones.

What do all these people have in common? They achieved success by focusing on the patterns that shape every aspect of our lives.

They succeeded by transforming habits.

In The Power of Habit, award-winning New York Times business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. With penetrating intelligence and an ability to distill vast amounts of information into engrossing narratives, Duhigg brings to life a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential for transformation.

Along the way we learn why some people and companies struggle to change, despite years of trying, while others seem to remake themselves overnight. We visit laboratories where neuroscientists explore how habits work and where, exactly, they reside in our brains. We discover how the right habits were crucial to the success of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and civil-rights hero Martin Luther King, Jr. We go inside Procter & Gamble, Target superstores, Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, NFL locker rooms, and the nation’s largest hospitals and see how implementing so-called keystone habits can earn billions and mean the difference between failure and success, life and death.

At its core, The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, raising exceptional children, becoming more productive, building revolutionary companies and social movements, and achieving success is understanding how habits work.

Habits aren’t destiny. As Charles Duhigg shows, by harnessing this new science, we can transform our businesses, our communities, and our lives.

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The Power of Habit is an interesting split between self-help book and scientific / medical study. It follows multiple cases where people have changed their habits, due to serious developmental changes, professional sports analysis, or psychological intervention. Some have changed their habits on their own, others were guided by medical professionals. But they have all drastically altered their lives.

I decided to read this book because habits are a topic of interest of mine of late. After all, who doesn’t have a few they would like to get rid of?! Or good ones to they’d like to start. I have also heard that this book is recommended by many health professionals, from mental health experts to general practitioners, as a tool for creating changing in one’s own life.

Also, I listened to the audiobook version … the narrator has a smooth and pleasant voice!

I am not sure how practical and relatable most of the dialogue is, but this book is definitely one to get you thinking!

The author explores habits on an individual level, as well as in larger social contexts. He explains some of the behaviours that can lead large groups of people, particularly protesters, to occasionally turn into mobs. He explores why some professional sports teams always seem to lose (his example was the 1990’s era Indianapolis Colts, but I couldn’t help but think of the Toronto Maple Leafs), and the habits of multinational companies.

Wait. Multinational companies?

Yes. They have habits too, a concept I had never thought too hard about before. But companies – large and small – are made up of collective habits that we all abide by, because they are made up of human workers, from the lowest employee to the CEO.

Think of it this way. If you had a new co-worker start with you at work, what insider tips would you give them to help them fit in and succeed? Would you say, this person is awesome and can be trusted, stay under the radar of so and so, or make sure you keep this person in the chain of command for the most simple of things or they will lose it on you? These are common social habits of a workplace that we all learn quickly upon starting, and we all agree to abide by, even though they aren’t official rules that you would find in any employee handbook. Habits are everywhere.

I personally found most of these examples thought-provoking and was able to apply them to my own workplace, and see certain communal habits in a new light. I did have to skip ahead on some of the more medical-based institutional examples though. I’m pretty queasy when it comes to things like listening to a description of neurosurgery. Not my thing at all.

Overall, The Power of Habit is enlightening and thought-provoking, a book I would definitely recommend to a dedicated reader looking to change their life, or improve their lot in the workplace. I would especially suggest it for a manager struggling to lead in a toxic workplace.

However, I am not sure how helpful it is to the average person who wants to start working out and drinking more water, or stop that habit of picking up fast food on the way home from work. This is because it is difficult to identify keystone habits, and understand why they affect us and you have to be able to do this before you can change an established habit. This isn’t easy to do.

Luckily, the author includes an appendix which lists a step-by-step guide to helping readers go through this process with the least amount of anguish and missteps possible. I was expecting this easy-to-read guide to be a much larger portion of the book, however, and I am unsure how much it will help me to actually change those habits I don’t like, although I am more aware of them now. So at least that is a step in the right direction.

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What is Mormonism all about?

I’m a latter day saint. A Mormon. A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Though, technically I’m still working on that last one, because I haven’t had my baptism yet. But I consider myself to be a follower of the Church that Jesus Christ created.

I have been a non-active member if you will, for several years, and finally am ready to take the last steps to confirm my membership and be baptized. While in the process of understanding the beliefs, ideology and culture of LDS folks, I have of course been reading the The Book of Mormon. I was already familiar with the King James version of the bible from childhood but the Book of Mormon was new to me.

I have also explored lay-books about the Church and one of my favourites was by Al Fox Carraway, More Than the Tattooed Mormon. Most recently, I finished reading a nonfiction book titled What Is Mormonism All About: Answers to the 150 Most Commonly Asked Questions about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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What an excellent read this is! I love that Johanson wrote the book in an easily read Q & A style. Each question starts a new page, even if there were only four lines of text on the previous page. This allows the reader to fly through the pages. So even though there are 200 pages, it is a super quick read which is encouraging.

All of the questions and answers included were clear, concise and informative. I love that they were detailed enough to really get to the roots of what Latter-Day Saints believe and also explored how they are perceived by the rest of America, both laypeople and other religious groups.

Unlike most religions today, Mormonism is a cultural commitment that goes well beyond a short Sunday morning sitting in the church pew. It is a lifestyle adjustment for converts with me but the sacrifices are so so worth it because of everything you get in return.

Some of the questions that the book addresses are: What do LDS folks believe? Do they practice plural marriage? Who was Joseph Smith? What similarities and differences does this belief share with other major world religions? Isn’t Mormonism only practised in the USA?

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Brain on Fire: my month of madness

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An award-winning memoir and instant New York Times bestseller that goes far beyond its riveting medical mystery, Brain on Fire is the powerful account of one woman’s struggle to recapture her identity.

When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?

In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Cahalan tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen.

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Brain on Fire is sooooo good you guys. I read it in one sitting after work and it is a decently large nonfic. It was already on my radar and then my amazing coworker April was talking it up in the breakroom one day so I picked it up as soon as she returned it. I already knew the premise of the story and that it was based on a true story, but I could not put it down all night.

Cahalan spent months researching her “lost period” by putting together diary excerpts her parents wrote at the time, watching video feed of herself, reading medical reports and interviewing anyone who she had contact with while she was slowly losing her mind.

Using her journalism skills, she recreated the account of her illness as closely as possibly and turned it into a compelling story that not only touches the reader but has transformed the lives of so many others who would ultimately be diagnosed with the same rare illness, thanks to the publicity Cahalan’s story has created.

As incredibly smart as most medical specialists are, and as remarkable as the machines and tests mankind have devised are, when you are in a situation such as Cahalan’s, you realize that medicine is more of an art than a science. Doctors don’t know as much as you think they do.

At first I thought that Cahalan would be diagnosed with schizophrenia or something similar, and to be fair she was. Incorrectly. Her medical diagnosis would be much more difficult to pin down and require dozens of tests, more than a million dollars, and a considerable amount of luck.

As the book progresses, less and less of the story is told from Cahalan’s own recollections and journal entries of the time and therefore becomes more heavily reliant on third party testimony, as her ability to communicate deteriorated. It has the potential to be depressing except that it is an autobiography of sorts. So you know that there is a happy ending coming from somewhere, even if you don’t know from where.

Brain on Fire: my month of madness is a compelling story of a mystery medical diagnosis, and the race to discover a young women’s illness before her dire symptoms become irreversible.

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Fat Dad, Fat Kid: One Father and Son’s Journey to Take Power Away from the “F-Word”

fatFat Dad, Fat Kid was written by the father-son duo Shay and Gavin Butler, better known as two members of the Shaytards, Youtube’s “Royal Family”.

I’ve been a follower of the Shaytards for years and have seen Gavin grow from a young boy in the earliest blogs to a teenager. So I was excited when Shay announced that he would be writing a book. A little less so when the news broke it would be co-written with Gavin … no offence Sontard, but an adult and child co-writing is not my preferred book style. Still I eagerly picked up the book via audible and settled in to listen.

To my knowledge, this is the first father-son weight loss book that has been published. Weight loss is usually in the female realm, and there are plenty of mother-daughter or sister-sister tales out there, so Fat Dad Fat Kid was an interesting new spin on told-to-death subject.

I can’t say that I loved their book, unfortunately. Most of what was in it was already familiar to me as a regular viewer of the vlogs. Most purchasers, at least initially, were undoubtedly people already familiar with them and I expected the book to be touching upon new subject matter. I also expected there to be more of a narrative, but instead, each chapter was a different day over the course of a month-long fitness challenge that both boys undertook together.

Their book wasn’t the hard-hitting expose I was hoping for, full of deeper meaning and new stories about this inspirational family who kept me going in a very dark time. Perhaps if the format had been different, I would have approached the story differently and pulled more out of it. As it was, I had to force myself to finish the book, just so that I could say I could and write this blog.

If you need some inspiration, some wholesome entertainment or want to learn more about living positively and being happy, I definitely encourage you to check out the Shaytards on youtube. Especially back when they were doing the daily vlogs. But I just can’t recommend this book.

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Outside the Box by Jeannie Marshall

I have just finished reading an amazing book by local author Jeannie Marshall. It has been published under two titles so you might find it by looking for Outside the box: why our children need real food, not food products  or by searching The lost art of feeding kids: what Italy taught me about why children need real food.

I had read this book originally a few years ago and picked it up under the second title thinking the author had written another one. Well, a couple chapters in it was too familiar so I checked and it was exactly the same book! Fortunately it was so good that I decided to just keep going and will probably re-read it at least a couple more times in my lifetime. It is one of my favourite books and teaches you so much about food cultures and the art of looking at food as a whole, rather than just a compilation of different nutrients and vitamins to sustain the body.

Here is the blurb from goodreads:

When Canadian journalist Jeannie Marshall moved to Rome with her husband, she delighted in Italy’s famous culinary traditions. But when Marshall gave birth to a son, she began to see how that food culture was eroding, especially within young families. Like their North American counterparts, Italian children were eating sugary cereal in the morning and packaged, processed, salt- and fat-laden snacks later in the day. Busy Italian parents were rejecting local markets for supermercati, and introducing their toddlers to fast food restaurants only too happy to imprint their branding on the youngest of customers. So Marshall set on a quest to discover why something that we can only call “kid food” is proliferating around the world. How did we develop our seemingly insatiable desire for packaged foods that are virtually devoid of nutrition? How can even a mighty food culture like Italy’s change in just a generation? And why, when we should and often do know better, do we persist in filling our children’s lunch boxes, and young bodies, with ingredients that can scarcely even be considered food?

Through discussions with food crusaders such as Alice Waters, with chefs in Italy, nutritionists, fresh food vendors and parents from all over, and with big food companies such as PepsiCo and Nestle, Marshall gets behind the issues of our children’s failing nutrition and serves up a simple recipe for a return to real food.

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Marshall doesn’t come across as patronizing or elitist – something food writers and bloggers are often charged with. She doesn’t lecture you but instead inspires you to want something more for your family, and your community. She stresses the importance of societal norms in creating a food culture and its significance to overall health.

Having not grown up in a strong food culture the likes of which is common in Italy, the entire idea behind it was somewhat foreign to me but I love the idea and it is something that I desperately want to implement with my own family. I want my kids to grow up helping in the kitchen because through this they will develop cooking skills (from shopping and storage to preparing meals) as well as social skills, budgetary management skills, and will (hopefully!) associate good wholesome food with a fond, nostalgia for family and home that will carry the habit of healthy eating through the temptations of salty, fatty, sugary foods in adulthood.

The book begins with a short history of her childhood (which is to frame her experiences as an adult and make it easier for North Americans to relate to her) and how she and husband James arrived in Rome. The chunk of the book however follows her struggles as a mother to wade through all the BS and implement the healthiest choices for her son, from the introduction of first foods, to temper tantrums post-swimming lessons because little Nico wants a sugary treat from the vending machine … experiences any mother can relate to, regardless of where she lives.

Outside the Box is so much more than just a dietary ideal though. She talks about the role of advertising, particularly advertisements to children, and the subversive role they play in driving a wedge in between parents and children. Commercials and subtler ads, such as those in a television show, work on kids. Industry wouldn’t spend billions of dollars per year in America alone if they didn’t. And I can see it in the kids in my own life, how they beg, cajole and bargain to get a sweet or salty treat. To me, a treat like ice cream or McDonald’s should’t even be a once a week thing, never mind every day, or every trip to a store.

But you can’t raise your kids in isolation. Marshall uses examples such as these to explain why it is so important to have a societal food culture to raise kids in. If your child is the only one at swimming lessons to not get a treat from the vending machine, and you are the parent constantly saying no, it affects your relationship. If none of the kids get a treat, or if the vending machine isn’t there at all, it’s no big deal. Its normal.

Imagine a culture where everyone upholds a certain standard when it comes to food so that you can be sure that the food your child eats at school or his friends’ houses will be fresh and healthy rather than packaged. Advertising food products, particularly to children, subverts such a food culture.Though the culture supports healthy habits, marketing exploits your desires and weaknesses and encourages you to do what is bad for you. The traditional food culture incorporates opportunities to take pleasure in food with feast days for religious, seasonal or familial reasons. Marketing encourages self-indulgence, and when every day is special, nothing is special. Children have little defence against food marketers, and it doesn’t take long before these intruders define the culture to suit their needs.

Marshall, Jeanie. Outside the box. pg. 81

To me, protecting your children from food marketers is as important as teaching them not to accept candy from people in vans. Someone is coming into your home, through the computer or tv, and attempting to establish a relationship with your child, encouraging them to become consumers who enjoy a treat all the time. Children see commercials as factual and authoritative, according to the American Psychological Association; they can’t ignore or reflect critically on what is presented to them. And many companies go further, portraying parents as dumb old adults who don’t understand children or fun, rather than loving individuals who have to be the bad guys and make you eat broccoli instead of that cupcake because they care about your health.

One of the sections I was most interested in reading in Outside the Box was when Nico was a baby and Jeannie was introducing him to solid foods. In North America, it is still common to introduce foods one at a time in case the baby has a food allergy. In Italy, mothers make a pureed soup broth with veggies and a little rice or pasta for their baby. It incorporates the little into eating with their family unit, as they eat at the table at the same time as everyone else, and are introduced to a healthy and savoury combination of food that continues their introduction into the traditional food culture of their region.

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By the way, I read this book as a part of my 2016 Read Harder Challenge!

It was cool to see that Marshall offhandedly includes some traditional Italian recipes in her writing, ones that I am excited to try! I highly recommend this book. Try to find it at your local library or bookstore and give it a try if you have any interest in healthy living, cooking, food justice and sovereignty, or raising healthy children.

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The Undead – a review

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The Undead is written by Dick Teresi, a medicine and science journalist turned author. I waffled for a few weeks on whether or not to write this review. I wanted to like the book and ended up not, for a few reasons. I even browsed through reviews on goodreads after reading, which is not something I normally do, to find out what other people thought and it seems like most readers are split. You either really like it or really don’t. Guess which group I fell into?

Teresi implies that readers who dislike his book do so because they are consciously or unconsciously afraid of death. Um, no. How about, the reason I dislike your book is because you somehow took a vibrant and cutting edge topic and made it tedious and boring. Buddy, you don’t have a psychology degree and it shows. Don’t try to psychoanalyze your audience and don’t ever lump all critics or dissenters into one category.

Part of the reason this book rubbed me the wrong way, despite my interest in the topic, is because I didn’t like Teresi’s writing style. He proudly discusses his journalistic beginnings and there is nothing wrong with that, but The Undead felt like a Frankenstein cross between the journal article that just wouldn’t die and the most anti-climatic academic journal article in history. I did listen to this via audiobook rather than reading the book myself and that could have made a difference. Some titles are not written to translate well into audiobook format and I had a difficult time telling where one chapter ended and another began. Teresi uses subheadings throughout his book, and when you hear the narrator pause, say one and then pause again, it sounds like a new chapter. And whether it was a mistake by the narrator or someone else, the introduction became chapter one on my copy so that meant chapter two according to Audible was chapter one according to the narrator and so on. Frustrating to me and unprofessional sounding.

Although the book is only 10 hours long, about 368 pages according to goodreads, it feels much longer. That is actually a pretty decent length for a nonfiction book, but I listened to a 48 hour audiobook much quicker. The Undead starts out slow. As a reader, I was excited to dive right in to all of the controversial and intriguing things listed in the title: organ harvesting, the ice-water test and beating heart cadavers. What I got instead were several chapters debating the definition of “death”, now and through the ages, and how we view death as a society. A short conversation as to how death is viewed now and its relationship to religion and spirituality may have been warranted, but I definitely did not require such a thorough understanding of the Ancient Egyptians’ spiritual beliefs. I covered that in grade 11 Ancient Religions class, thanks.

It almost feels like the author was showing off to his detractors, or writing in a way that he thought he should, instead of just writing to the average person, who is his audience. The average person who is reading for fun is busy and as other things to do and read. I don’t want four chapters of background information. I don’t want real-life examples to read like case-studies. As a fifth year university student, I can honestly tell you that I have had text books that were more interesting and compelling than this book, and I don’t even like my major, I’m just finishing my degree so that I can go to grad school and get a masters in the career field I actually intend to work in.

The last thing I want to say about The Undead is that it sure didn’t do the organ donation community any favours. I’ve always been a huge proponent of organ donation but I sat down and seriously thought about pulling my permission after listening to this book, and even called my Dad to talk it out with him on the phone. I’m still not comfortable with my decision either way, but I’ve left it as is for now. If I am undecided, better to save a life if the unmentionable happens, than to know in the next life I could have saved lives and didn’t.

I want to put it out there that I DNF’d this book at about 80% of the way through. I cut out with roughly two chapters to go because life is too short to waste on a bad book when there are so many good ones you won’t have the opportunity to read. Not going to be one that I recommend unfortunately.

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