The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg

Once you see everything as a bunch of habits, it’s like someone gave you a flashlight and a crowbar and you can get to work.

51Q4AwpPDkL._SY346_We want to be healthy, do well at work, and have positive relationships with family and friends. Every year, we resolve to do better and be better, and for a while we eat well, exercise, and work hard without social media distractions. But then…

Charles Duhigg describes this cycle as the habit loop. Our brain automates our actions, the positive and negative ones. So despite our strong desire to change, we’re fighting against an automatic process. Duhigg breaks this down into three-steps. First, there’s the cue, then the routine, and, finally, there is a reward.

Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize—they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.

For example, at 2:00 pm every day, you feel bored and a little tired (this is the cue). Your routine is to grab a cookie and chat with some friends either in person or on social media. The reward is that you feel stimulated (via the sugar and conversation) and energetic. But maybe you’re trying to lose weight and want to cut out that cookie. You must change the routine. Are you actually hungry for food or for conversation or both? Changing the routine requires exploration into your routine, discovering if that routine provides the reward you’re subconsciously seeking.


Habit Flowchart

Duhigg backs up his explanations with fascinating research studies and examples from real-life habit conquerors. Instead of a dry scientific work, it’s a fast and enlightening read. Particularly interesting and disturbing is the example of how Target can (and has) determine(d) if a woman is pregnant before she’s even told her family. (Seriously. Read this one)

Knowing how our brains work is powerful. We can use the habit loop to implement what we know to be right, even in reactions to our coworkers and family members. Do you have a coworker or family member who drives you crazy? Do you react poorly to this person? You can’t change the cue, but you can change your routine.

The Power of Habit is not a self-help book per se but Duhigg does conclude with some concrete steps to figure out your particular cue, routine, and reward — and how to change the routine effectively. You must identify the routine, experiment with rewards, isolate the cue, and have a plan. Essentially, “Know Thyself.”

Purchase The Power of Habit.


Children’s Book Week – the Librarian reviews

by Meg

This week marks the 99th year of the National Children’s Book Week – and to celebrate, I thought I’d share what kids these days are reading and enjoying.

I got to fulfill one of my life-long dreams this year when I became the librarian for my children’s small school. Granted, it’s nothing glamorous. But once a week, I get to go into a room full of shelves of books (many of which I purchased this year) and try to inspire kids to “Read More!” – then watch their faces light up as they tell me all about the great book they just finished reading. That may not give everyone the warm fuzzies, but I love it.

Today – Library Day – I decided to survey each class and find out what their favorite books/series were from this past year. Each student got a chance to share. And honestly, my favorite part was hearing from certain kids who started out the year never wanting to check out or read ANY books. You’ll see below what made the difference for them. So if you’re a teacher or parent and you’re looking for some books for your kids (but don’t know how to get them reading), here is a  list of books submitted solely by kids.





  • The Harry Potter books (once one got started, they were all reading these – I couldn’t keep them on the shelves)
  • The Serafina books by Robert Beatty (see our reviews of them – also had these checked out every week).
  • Any and all of the Minecraft novels (NOTE: In my opinion, these aren’t the greatest books as far as writing goes; however, there were at least 5 or 6 boys in this class that wanted nothing to do with reading; but as soon as I got these, they started checking them out every week. I’ve gotten to where I will get this kind of stuff if it gets them reading. We now have 12 of these and many are checked out every week in all grades – 1st-6th) – this is just one of many sets.
  • The Red Rocks Mysteries by Jerry B. Jenkins & Chris Fabry – 15 total of these (might find sets on ebay), many of which were checked out weekly. The girls in particular would have “discussions” each week on who got to check out the next one in the series first.
  • Book Scavenger, by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman (a super-fun mystery – the most checked-out “new” book I got).
  • Jackie and Me, by Dan Gutman (for the kids into sports).
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WORLD BOOK DAY 2018 – 3 multi-cultural novels that are “out of this world”


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You Bring the Distant Near, by Mitali Perkins – (4/5 stars) I think I found this on a list of “New YA novels worth reading” and was intrigued by the multi-generational plotline involving a mother and daughters from India (Think classic traditional Indian mother with daughters trying to become more “American” –  one wants to be a feminist writer, the other an actress).  I’m assuming Perkins has a similar background/ancestry – she provided enough details to make this culturally enlightening for me while also expressing appreciation for other cultures (including English and American). Overall, it was an enjoyable story of love and family that I think would be perfect for both the adult and teen ages. A great one to check out at your local library. ~ Meg 

“There’s something about putting words on a page in private that makes me feel powerful in public.” — from You Bring the Distant Near


scotland44 Scotland Street Series, by Alexander McCall Smith – We’ve featured a few of McCall Smith’s novels before (including 44 Scotland Street), but since I’ve read 3 more in this series since January, I just wanted to put out another plug for what has become one of my favorite authors and series to read. AMS has such a unique way of blending philosophy and humor into his stories about everyday Scottish folk while easily working in all of the little places and traditions that make Scotland what it is. His human themes will resonate with most readers while still providing them a fun snapshot at this fascinating country. ~Natalie 

“The Scots’ language can do that—can effortlessly transform the mundane into the poetic, giving the dignity of profound truth to the most banal of observations, making even a weather report sound dramatic.” — from Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers by A.M.S.



The Winternight Trilogy, by Katherine Arden – We reviewed the first novel in this (soon-to-be) trilogy last year after all reading The Bear and the Nightingale. I was intrigued about Russian culture, particularly the people’s value system and their fairy/folk tales. This is an era and setting I know practically nothing about – a stark but enthralling portrait of 14th century Russia. But Arden’s ability to take a very old folk story and put it to paper in this way was inspiring. I know Meg had some drawbacks about the way the second novel (The Girl in the Tower) developed, so it’ll be interesting to see how Arden concludes this series. ~ AB

“Solovey will take me to the ends of the earth if I ask it. I am going into the world, Alyosha. I will be no one’s bride, neither of man nor of God. I am going to Kiev and Sarai and Tsargrad, and I will look upon the sun on the sea.” — from The Bear and the Nightingale

Even So, Joy

Dying is not a word that should describe anyone’s six-month-old child.

But that’s the word Lesa Brackbill heard when her daughter Tori was diagnosed with51bFflu5E5L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ Krabbe leukodystrophy, a disease that progressively damages the nervous system, resulting in death. Lesa and her husband Brennan were overjoyed when Tori was born, especially after struggling with infertility. Tori’s first several months went smoothly until she began missing milestones and struggling to eat. After a misdiagnosis of reflux followed by extensive testing, Lesa and Brennan received the devastating news that Tori was indeed dying.

During the time before Tori’s diagnosis, her story began spreading on social media. And after her diagnosis, thousands began following Lesa’s blog and Tori’s Facebook page. Supportive strangers from around the world, friends, and family donated money, held fundraisers, and prayed fervently for Tori. I became one of those following Tori’s story because of a mutual acquaintance, and in fact, the Brackbills were living in my hometown at the time.

It was a mental battle like none other, one that took months to overcome. Why is it that we fight the hardest against the things we cannot change, even when we know that God is ultimately in control?

Lesa updated her blog regularly, opening up about her faith in Jesus Christ and the struggle to hope continually that God would heal Tori while accepting that may not be his will. On March 27, 2016, Tori Brackbill went to be with Jesus, now fully healed and free from Krabbe. Not long after Tori’s home-going, Lesa began writing a book detailing Tori’s short, but influential, life, Even So, Joy.

How can parents have joy when their child is dying? How can they even carry on in daily life? Lesa answers these questions and more in her book. She and Brennan cultivated and fought for an attitude of gratitude:

We had so much to be thankful for despite the looming threat of death that was constantly present.

The time for mourning and grieving would come. Eventually. Until then, it was a time for joy, for laughter, for dancing, for life, and for love.

The Brackbills created a bucket list for Tori that included everything from mother-daughter pedicures to visiting the Grand Canyon. Lesa kept Tori’s followers updated with pictures and blog posts. Lesa details some of these adventures in the book. They chose to live despite the shadow of death because they know the One who conquered death:

We will always love our girl, and we will never be the same. But how can we not praise the One who made her, who so perfectly orchestrated her entire life and even her death?

Even So, Joy is not only the story of Tori’s life and death, but it’s also a primer on surviving and even thriving during loss and intense grief. Lesa offers valuable insight into caring for the caregiver(s) including what to say, what not to say, what to give, and when to give. Lesa spent most of her days holding Tori, and even something like a cup of coffee was a welcome gift. She also details specific steps she and her husband took to maintain and strengthen their relationship.

My main interest in reading Even So, Joy was Lesa and Brennan’s life after Tori was healed in heaven. How had it changed them? How did they feel? Instead of retreating, Lesa and Brennan have embraced their lives while looking forward to the day they’re reunited with Tori.

The depth of my love for my daughter is not measured by the number of tears I have cried, but rather by the life I choose to live in her absence. I choose to live a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and grace (Galatians 5:22). She deserves all of that, and more.

Joy isn’t always obvious; sometimes you have to fight for it, sometimes you have to search for it, but the journey toward a joy-filled life—especially when it seems impossible—is always worth it.

Purchase Even So, Joy

Reviewed by Natalie

Reading List Recap & Tips – Natalie’s TOP 4

2017 was the best reading year I’ve had since my first child was born seven years ago. I credit that to a few reading strategies I adopted. First, at the recommendation of a friend, I started listening to Anne Bogel’s What Should I Read Next podcast. Listening to other readers gush over their favorites and hearing Anne’s recommendations inspired me to fill more of my limited free time with reading.

I also started using the Kindle reading app more frequently. I used to be a hard-core, physical-books-only reader, but it’s not always practical. For example, holding a 400-page novel while nursing…Nope. Not gonna happen. So now, I use Overdrive to borrow the Kindle version of whatever book I’m reading. I read the physical version either early in the morning or at bedtime, and then I pull out my phone when I have those few minutes to read throughout the day.

In addition to Kindle books, Overdrive is stocked full of amazing audiobooks. FREE audiobooks. To use Overdrive, you simply need to select your library and enter your library card information. This year, I’ll be using Overdrive to listen to classic works of literature. I used to think listening to an audiobook was cheating, but research is showing it’s no less beneficial for your mind.

Another strategy I’m using is keeping closer track of what I’ve read. And you know what? I also track chapter books I’ve read aloud to my kids, such as The Indian in the Cupboard and On the Banks of Plum Creek. Writing down the name of a recently finished book is inherently rewarding, at least to me. It’s an accomplishment. It means that’s several more hours I’ve spent nourishing the brain cells I have left rather than binging on Netflix (except for, of course, The Crown, season 2).

That brings me to my recap of 2017. Instead of listing every single book I read, I’m going to highlight my top 4.

Magical and mysterious. Read my full review here.

bean treesTHE BEAN TREES, by Barbara Kingsolver
I wanted to read a book set in my current state of residence, Arizona (see review here). I still think about this book often. Twenty-something Taylor decides to leave her native Kentucky for a job and adventure. Halfway through her trip, a woman leaves a child in Taylor’s car. Sensing the child was in danger, Taylor decides to keep the child and continues her journey, ending up in Tucson, AZ. This is a story about sacrifice, community, friendship, and love.

You can read my review of the first book in the series here. I finished the series and then also read the prequel, The Door Before. The Door Before fleshes out the history of Henry York’s parents, but also opens a door (ha!) to another fantastic N. D. Wilson series, the Ashtown Burials series. Overall, the 100 Cupboards closed with a supremely satisfying ending. What I love most about N. D. Wilson’s books is the strong theme of a boy facing extreme difficulty and choosing courage in the face of imminent death.
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king11/22/63, by Stephen King
This was my first Stephen King novel. BUT WAIT — this is not a horror story — but rather a time-travel story. The day after my birthday, I injured my neck so badly I couldn’t turn my head at all. I spent the entire weekend on the couch reading (and finishing) this book until I could get to the chiropractor. It was truly riveting. A diner owner divulges the location of a wormhole to Jake, a schoolteacher, in the hopes that Jake can stop the eventual assassination of President Kennedy. Think Stephen King is a second-rate author because he writes horror and sci-fi? Think again. He crafts beautiful, thought-provoking literature. Would you change history if you could? Would the present actually be better if we could change the past? I love this exploration of the role of tragedies in our history.

The First Five Books – a reading challenge update

from  Meg’s Reading Challenge – follow her on Goodreads here.

Here are the first 5 books I’ve gotten through so far this year in my 40 book reading challenge – and whether or not I’d recommend them (note: they are not all 5-star).

The Outlaws of Sherwood, by Robin McKinley

sherwood3-STARS – This one’s been sitting in my kindle for a while, barely started – so let’s start by finishing! Part of my motivation for reading this was that I LOVED the BBC Robin Hood series (circa 2009); and the other part is that I love McKinley’s Beauty – I read it annually. (Also see AB’s take here.) This version takes a unique twist in that Robin is not quite the archer/hero most tales make him – he’s not that great with a bow (Marian is much better – go woman power!), and his leadership is kind of “thrust upon him.” A fun alternative for sure, esp. for those who aren’t born wanting to blaze the trail. But by focusing more on the outlaws as a whole, I felt like the story dragged on a bit, lacked compelling character development, and by the end, was wrapped up much too tidily. It’s not a bad book (boys who love all things Robin Hood may love it)- just definitely not my favorite of hers.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco

Continue reading

End-of-Year Reading Challenge Update

By Megan

2017’s Reading Challenge is in the books (ha – ok, maybe pun intended) – so I wanted to share the last few books I read to finish it up along with a few tips I learned about doing a “reading challenge” as well as share my goal for this new year (actual books on my list coming later).

Tips about Reading Challenges:

  1. DO try utilizing Goodreads – this website/app makes it really easy to keep track of books you’ve read/are reading/want to read. I almost always have my phone with me, so if I hear about a book or read something online, I can quickly add it to my “want to read” list – no more forgetting all those “friend recommendations.” They also set up a Reading Challenge that you can customize to any amount you want. And any book you mark as “Read” will go towards your reading goal for the year.
  2. DON’T try to assign titles to all of your reading goals – for instance, I want to read 40 books this year. But this time, I’m not going to write down 40 titles – only 25-30. I get so many recommendations throughout the year, I want to have room to fill in with new ideas.
  3. DO try to read a wide variety of genres – this is always stretching for me, but I loved the variety I got from last year’s challenge.
  4. DON’T shop for books on Amazon or if you have no money. Enough said.

2017 Books reviewed:

Here are 10 books that I read this year that I haven’t reviewed yet – some might be good ideas for your own reading challenge lists (or your kids’ lists!). A good number were juvenile/Young Adult books because I am now a volunteer school librarian, so … it just kind of happens. 🙂 Continue reading