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.


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.

Strep, Lies, and Audiobooks

41bsZf4KRFL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_By Natalie

I have been to the Walgreens health clinic four times in the past four weeks. Three times for strep and once for an ear infection. I’m sure each one of you can relate to this season of illness. And during this chaotic and mucus-covered (too gross?) time, I’ve been telling lies. Lies to myself. Lies like, “I am going to lose my mind if someone else sneezes on me,” or, “I am going to fall down dead if anyone else asks for a snack.” My inner voice tends to get overly dramatic during stressful times. Recently, I read The Happy Christian by David Murray. Murray’s premise is that our self-talk about circumstances and situations directly affects our physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Continue reading

A Short List of Picture Books for Kids

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Autumn is a season that reignites our family’s love of reading, when we cozy up more often on the sofa with a good book. This past Sunday afternoon, my husband made hot cocoa, and he and our oldest read The Return of the King. For us, that’s a perfect afternoon.

And November was Picture Book Month! To mark this special month, we made an extra trip to the library just for picture books. Margaret Wise Brown is best known for Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny, but in recent years a collection of poems was discovered in a trunk in her sister’s barn. Part of that collection was published as A Celebration of Seasons: Goodnight Songs. Twelve artists lovingly created the illustrations for the book, and the poems celebrate the seasons, animals, and children. The book also comes with a CD collection of the poems set to music that won’t drive you crazy, parents. Continue reading

Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger

by Natalie


Eleven-year-old Reuben Land shouldn’t be alive. He failed to breathe after he was born, and it was only when his father commanded him to breathe that he did. His father, Jeremiah Land, is a peculiar man, seemingly with the ability to perform miracles. The Lands live a quiet life – until Reuben’s older brother Davy kills two local villains who attempt to harm the family. Davy is arrested and tried but escapes before his sentencing. As the Lands set off in search of Davy, they’re followed by a fed who’s convinced they’ll lead him to Davy’s hideout. Providence brings them to Roxanna, whose stories and home give the family warmth through winter in the Badlands. Continue reading

The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton

reviewed by Natalie

51pV4lY0MtL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgPart fairy tale, part history, and part mystery with a dash of romance, The Forgotten Garden is a story about three abandoned children, an English cottage, and a walled garden.

On her 21st birthday, Nell’s father reveals that she was found abandoned on a dock in Australia with no clue as to her origins other than a white suitcase and fairy tale book. This earth-shattering revelation leads Nell to search for her biological parents. Her search is cut short upon her death, but she leaves her granddaughter, Cassandra, a cryptic message and, in her will, a cottage in England. Continue reading