Remodelista: The Organized Home by Julie Carlson

Remodelista: The Organized Home by Julie Carlson

remodelistaRemodelista is another de-cluttering book. This one encourages readers to utilize storage containers made out of natural materials, to hang items in unexpected places and to make your space functional and beautiful.

Maybe I’ve reached my limit on these types of books. For example, I loved The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but that was one of the first books of this kind that I read.

I know not everyone responds well to Marie Kondo’s philosophy of considering the spirit of your stuff, but that clicked with me, for whatever reason. Must be a hippie thing.

I thought this one was a bit ridiculous. It just wouldn’t work for me in my real life with my crazy pets, busy family and serious amounts of stuff.

My main problem with this one is illustrated quite clearly on the cover. We’ve got two brooms, a towel, an umbrella, some string and a large bucket hung right over a cat drinking from a water bowl.

I can think of a hundred reasons why that wouldn’t work for me, but let’s start with three:

First of all, the kitties would think I was trying to kill them- hanging menacing items over the watering hole. And, let’s be honest, with my poor hanging-things-up skill, it just might.

Second, putting string high up but visible is inviting a kitty disaster. They would hunt the heck out of that string, probably using the umbrella as a climbing wall to get to it, destroying my artfully arranged buckets and mops in the process.

Third, where would I put the rest of my family’s entryway stuff? We’ve got a lot more than that in just umbrellas, not even counting the brooms, swiffer mops, you-name-it.

The result: easy-to-maintain spaces that are both orderly and artful, personal and purposeful. Because, ultimately, the goal isn’t a flawless, impossible-to-maintain showcase. The aim is an unencumbered life in a house that makes you happy.” pg 9.

All of the rooms and cabinets in this book had like three things in them. It’s just not realistic.

That being said, I did like the “Daily Rituals” on pg 18. The authors included “seven simple habits” to adopt every day to make your life easier. They include activities like making your bed and opening the mail.

I can handle that.

I also liked the ‘Herb and Spice Drawer’ suggestion on page 70. My spices are a jumble of bottles and sizes and it’s nearly impossible to find anything quickly.

The authors suggest storing herbs and spices in: “Uniform glass jars- we like small paint jars from the art supply store.”Then, label the tops. It’s a simple solution but one that never occurred to me.

Only recommended for people who have calm cats and very few items. Other than the suggestions mentioned, I can’t see myself using very many of the tips from Remodelista.

Thanks for reading!


The Only Girl in the World: A Memoir by Maude Julien

The Only Girl in the World: A Memoir by Maude Julien

onlygirlThe Only Girl in the World is an extraordinary memoir about madness, control and the survival of horrific childhood abuse.

Maude Julien’s father Louis chose his future wife and mother of his child, Jeannine, when she was only six and he was 34. He became Jeannine’s guardian by promising her family that he would provide her with a quality education.

Then: “Twenty-two years after he took possession of Jeannine, Louis Didier decided the time had come for her to bring his daughter into the world… Louis Didier liquidated his assets, bought a house near Cassel, between Lille and Dunkirk, and withdrew to live there… to devote himself entirely to carrying out the project he had devised back in 1936: to make his child a superhuman being. That child was me.” loc 73, ebook.

Unfortunately, to “make his child a superhuman” involved leaving her alone in a dark, rat-infested basement, sleeping in a room without heat, eating stale bread, practicing music for 12 or more hours a day and being entirely separated from any other children her age.

That’s where Maude got the title of this memoir: The Only Girl in the World

I have not read a childhood account this disturbing since A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer.

Maude’s father was unhinged. “My father is convinced that the mind can achieve anything. Absolutely anything: it can overcome every danger and conquer every obstacle. But to do this requires long, rigorous training away from the impurities of this dirty world.” loc 247, ebook.

He asks Maude to do things he cannot do like perform somersaults or swim in freezing water. He shows no affection to either his child or his wife.

Louis makes the females of the house wait on him as if he is an invalid. He makes his child hold a chamber pot each morning while he empties his bladder.

He’s a controlling monster.

Louis has strange beliefs about water and soap removing the body’s immunities so he insists that Maude only bathes once a week or less. And, when she is finally given the opportunity to bathe, she must use his dirty bathwater to “take strength from him.”

And she can’t count on protection from her mother, who was groomed by Louis to do anything he asks of her. Jeannine actually blames Maude for Louis taking them to live in the middle of nowhere. It is very sad.

Maude’s only friends are her pets, whom her father abuses as much as he hurts Maude. “Can an animal teach a person about happiness? In the depth of my despair, I am fortunate to have this incredible source of joy.” loc 685, ebook.

Even worse, Maude is abused by the few adults Louis allows in their lives. (Trigger warnings for those who were sexually or physically abused as children.)

Though incredibly disturbing, The Only Girl in the World is ultimately a story of survival against all odds. The human spirit is incredibly resilient as Maude’s tale illustrates.

Perhaps she is more superhuman than even she realizes. Highly recommended.

Thank you to NetGalley for a free digital copy of this book.

Thank you for reading!

Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Live as TV’s Most Influential Guru Advises by Robyn Okrant

Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Live as TV’s Most Influential Guru Advises by Robyn Okrant

livingoprahLiving Oprah is Robyn Okrant’s account of how she spent one year conscientiously following the advice Oprah dishes out to millions of women across America.

If Oprah said to read a book or watch a film, Robyn did it. If she advised de-cluttering, new make-up tips or relationship work, Robyn was on-board.

For the most part, I enjoyed this quirky book, but I also found it to be slightly repetitive- similar to what Robyn found following Oprah to be after a few months.

She starts out with high hopes: “Could Oprah’s guidance truly lead a woman to her ‘best life,’ or would it fail miserable? Is it even possible to follow someone else’s advice to discover one’s authentic self?” pg 4.

We all discover the answer to be no. But, Robyn gives it a good run because: “It’s vitally important for women to question the sources of influence and persuasion in our lives. We are inundated with get rich/get thin/get married suggestions every time we turn on the TV or walk by the magazine rack. And sadly, we tend to judge ourselves against seemingly impossible standards.” pg 11.

I liked her thought process throughout the year. I also thought her reasoning for doing the experiment was excellent: “One of the reasons I was drawn to Oprah as a subject for this project was my continual search for new ways to manage my pain, keep my self-esteem from faltering, and ease the stress and fear associated with scoliosis.” pg 36. In some ways, Robyn was sort of Oprah’s target audience.

My favorite part of this book was when Robyn was trying to follow Oprah’s advice to read Eckert Tolle’s A New Earth and live by its precepts, while still engaging in the consumerism and self improvement programs Oprah touts on her program each week.

“It’s also uncomfortable to enjoy a celebrity lovefest on Oprah after I’ve spent an hour competing my reading assignment for A New Earth. Oprah’s Book Club selection focuses on separating ourselves from our ego and learning to connect with people on an authentic level rather than a superficial one. I don’t see how a segment on the show glamorizing Mariah Carey’s lingerie closet supports the work Oprah’s asked us to do.” pg 72.

Robyn comes to the conclusion that if Oprah’s viewers followed all of Oprah’s advice, they quickly wouldn’t need her anymore to live their best lives. Part of Oprah’s draw is that she has viewers convinced there’s always something more to be improved upon, tweaked, de-cluttered or examined.

It is a never-ending process of evolution. That is why Oprah’s built her empire and also why women don’t stop watching.

And sometimes it’s the promise of ‘infotainment’ that keeps viewers coming back: “Oprah frequently reminds her guests and audience that her tell-all shows are not pulp entertainment, they are for our education. I do take her warning to heart but think that if this is something we must constantly be reminded about, maybe a different format is in order.” pg 57-58

I’ve never been a huge watcher of Oprah (or any tv for that matter), but I still enjoyed this book for it’s honest examination of hero worship, popular culture and the self improvement industry. I think Oprah viewers may enjoy this book even more.

Thanks for reading!

How to Be Happy, Dammit: A Cynic’s Guide to Spiritual Happiness by Karen Salmansohn

How to Be Happy, Dammit: A Cynic’s Guide to Spiritual Happiness by Karen Salmansohn

howtobehappyHow to Be Happy, Dammit is a succinct, brightly colored treatise on enlightenment. Coming in around 230 pages with only a few words per page, this is a book that can be read over the course of a lunch hour or *ahem* during other short breaks in your life on a porcelain throne.

It doesn’t use an abundance of coarse language (see title), but it does utilize a few words to get the point across.

The book is broken down into short life lessons that feed into the next. “Life Lesson 1: Pain exists. Life can hurt. Like a lot. Even when you’re good, you can get whacked. Without apology. Without explanation.” pgs 14-15.

That’s the life lesson about being born. Can’t really argue with that.

My child was born wailing before she was even entirely out. I was wailing too, for different reasons of course, but life can hurt. No doubt.

I found meaning in “Life Lesson 6: Never go shopping for kiwis in a shoe store. Some people just don’t have what you need. So why waste time, banging on their doors, ringing their bells, demanding service?” pgs 38-39. I think I’m still learning that one.

“Life Lesson 19: This is a world of duality: of good and bad, yin and yang, decaffeinated and caffeinated. So you must always be prepared!” pg 112. Decaffeinated? Poor souls…

In the chapter on self-programming, we get this wisdom: Life Lesson 27: The world is your mirror.” pg 174.

I don’t think folks realize that either.

Recommended for people who are interested in spirituality, but don’t necessarily have a lot of time or patience for more touchy-feely books. How to Be Happy, Dammit delivers on its title. Now let’s all go be happy. Dammit. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

Seed Libraries: And Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People by Cindy Conner

Seed Libraries: And Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People  by Cindy Conner

seed librariesSeed Libraries gives readers the tools and know-how to set up their own seed distributing communities. The community could be through a public library, informal seed swap, or other location.

Cindy goes into enough detail about the specifics so that first timers or inexperienced gardeners can get an overview of what will be required, but not so much information so that the reader feels overwhelmed.

Even though I knew a bit about seed because I have an uncle who has owned his own seed company since the early 80’s, I found this book useful and informative.

Through his experience, I learned how seed producing mega-companies introduced hybrids into the supply that will only grow one season. This hurt the smaller, local seed companies (like my uncle’s) that processed seed for the farmers who grew it and then used it to plant the next crop.

He was forced to expand his company away from seed processing, which was once a major part of his enterprise, in order to stay in business.

The farmers, who only purchased seed every couple of years and grew out their own plants to save money, were forced to buy seed every year. It was a huge shift in how planting and seeds were handled.

It also changed who controlled the food supply.

If there is a way that I can help get seed back into the hands of local people, I’m all for it.

The afterword to this book discusses a legal challenge presented by the state of Pennsylvania to a public library that wanted to start a seed library there. I was wondering what Illinois has to say about seed libraries.

Maybe I should look into it.

I’m very excited about the possibilities that Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People has sown in my mind. If you’re interested in starting one of these in your town, this text is definitely required reading.

I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads. FTC guidelines: check!

Thanks for reading.

Level Up Your Life: How to Unlock Adventure and Happiness by Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story by Steve Kamb

Level Up Your Life: How to Unlock Adventure and Happiness by Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story by Steve Kamb

levelupSteve Kamb, the creator of, offers behavioral games and community support to assist readers in becoming their best self. It’s the self help genre meets gamification.

Steve was addicted to video games, miserable at his job and disappointed with life. “I still love those games and movies and enjoy the entertainment they provide. They’re a part of who I am as a person. The problem was that they had become a way to avoid the unhappiness in my real life while also allowing me to continue doing nothing about it.” pg xi

The game that had him hopelessly hooked was EverQuest. “What had begun as a fun way to blow off some steam after school or work quickly became an addiction.” pg 5.

So, Steve took what he loved best about the game- the levels, the endless quests, the secrets- and created an online community in which the members support each other to become the best whatever-it-is you want to be through just those things.

Essentially, Steve takes the hero’s journey, as described by Joseph Campbell, and crafts a way to implement that into your life through your own preferences. “Life is meant to be lived on your own terms.” pg 23

I picked this up because I recently read a behavioral game book and I wanted to see what the theory would look like in action. Steve has done a solid job making his game completely customizable.

He provides examples between the chapters of people who have used his game to “level up” their lives. The results are impressive.

“The truth is that most people fear change. They, themselves, might want to change but don’t want to put forth the effort and energy to make it happen.”pg 57.

With Level Up Your Life, Steve gives readers the tools to make their lives into a game of their choosing. Recommended for gamers and the young at heart.

Thanks for reading!

Game Frame: Using Games as a Strategy for Success by Aaron Dignan

Game Frame: Using Games as a Strategy for Success by Aaron Dignan

gameframeIn Game Frame, Aaron Dignan outlines what games are, their components and how to create behavioral games to change your own and others behavior.

He clearly states his goals for the book in the introduction: “The truth is, we are born knowing how to play, and how to invent games where none exist. I’m convinced that there is a role for games and play in reshaping the world around us.” introduction, xiii.

Dignan goes on to do just that. His detailed breakdown of the components of games and why we think they’re fun was particularly good.

I also agreed with his assertion that “play is a state of mind”: “…when a chef cooks something new, it feels like play. When I cook something new, it feels like work. Both of us are making a meal, but we’re not experiencing the same thing. Play is a state of mind.” pg 26.

My quibble with this book is that he didn’t convince me that games are the best way to change behavior. In Level 5 (Chapter 5), Dignan describes a speech given by Professor Jesse Schell at the D.I.C.E. conference in 2010 that scared the crap out of me.

Essentially, Professor Schell outlines how businesses and the government could use behavioral games to create a dystopian world in which our every action is analyzed and nudged towards consumerism.

“You’ll get up in the morning to brush your teeth and the toothbrush can sense that you’re brushing your teeth. So hey, good job for you, 10 points for brushing your teeth. And it can measure how long, and you’re supposed to brush your teeth for 3 minutes. You did! Good job! … And who cares? The toothpaste company. The toothbrush company. The more you brush, the more toothpaste you use. They have a vested financial interest.” pg 58

After that chapter, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Dignan is inviting us to open a Pandora’s box.

“My challenge to you is simple: I believe that a million behavioral games could change everything, but they must be imagined and realized soon.” pg 169.

Hypothetically, say I design a game with the best intentions, but then, at some point, it’s taken over by the government and forced on people. Suddenly, it stops becoming a game and ruins the world.

Who wants to take the risk to potentially be the person who destroys society because of an ill-conceived behavioral game? Not me.

Recommended only for the truly brave gamers.

Thanks for reading!