Category: Reviews

Wholehearted Life: Big Changes and Greater Happiness

Posted on March 18, 2015 by

Big Changes and Greater Happiness: How To Live a Wholehearted Life

“Everyone chases after happiness, not noticing that happiness is right at their heels.”

~Bertolt Brecht

What is it you want out of life? Are you chasing around for happiness each day, searching everywhere but inside yourself? Are you pausing to breathe, to take in the ordinary in the extraordinary that is right in front of you? Are you creating YOUR story, or living out someone else’s version of your life? Are you living a wholehearted life, or feeling like there must be more but you’re just not sure how to make the change? Are you happy?

If you find yourself asking these questions on a regular basis, I have one suggestion: get a copy of Susyn Reeve’s brand new book, The Wholehearted Life: Big Changes and Greater Happiness Week By Week. Don’t wait another moment – order it right now, right here. You won’t be sorry.

As I’m moving into the second half-century of life, I’m noticing more and more frequently the questions that pop up in my mind – and how they are different than the ones I asked myself in my twenties, my thirties, or even last year. Less and less I find myself worrying about the external forces that impact my world, and more and more I’m concerned about how I  impact my own world. Questions about how what I do changes myself, my children and my students visit me much more frequently than questions about why someone or something might have exerted some action or influence. I realize how little control I have over anything or anyone besides myself, and how useless it is to get caught up in the cycle of wishing or hoping or willing change. The only way towards change, I’ve found, is to start within.

That’s where the appeal of The Wholehearted Life: Big Changes and Greater Happiness Week By Week comes in. Created over years as a self-esteem expert, master coach, corporate consultant, interfaith minister and award-winning author, Susyn Reeve has lovingly and carefully crafted a handbook-of-sorts to guide us through a weekly quest for mindfulness. This isn’t necessarily the type of book that needs to be started January 1 and then maintained on a rigorous daily schedule. Instead, The Wholehearted Life: Big Changes and Greater Happiness Week By Week allows the reader to move around at ones own pace.  If you like reading from start to finish, perfect. Prefer to take it weekly? No problem. Are you like me, and enjoy a daily dose of mindfulness each morning? Easy. And if life gets in the way, no worries. This book allows for multiple access points.

In her “How To Use This Book” chapter, the author compares using this book to ‘install(ing) a software upgrade in your mind, creat(ing) a personal ritual that nourishes wholehearted living in your daily life, and stock(ing) your personal medicine bag with remedies, tools, charms, and reminders to continually expand your capacity for wholehearted living.” I love that analogy of a software upgrade – my brain consistently feels like I have dozens of browser tabs open and scrolling at any moment! As a teacher-mom, I’m always harping about the need for ‘tools’ to navigate the world-and rarely do I think about replenishing my own toolbox.

The Wholehearted Life: Big Changes and Greater Happiness Week By Week consists of fifty-two ideas, organized with daily activities for each week. As a writer and wordsmith, I love Susyn’s incorporation of thought-provoking quotes from writers as diverse as Erma Bombeck, to the Dalai Lama, to Anne Lamott. A scan of the table of contents shows Week 1 beginning with “The Law of Attraction” – which inspired an upcoming blog post – and ending with Week 52’s “Celebrate Success”. I confess I did skip to the finish to read the last section, titled “Putting It All Together – Creating a Bag Of Tricks”-I always like to begin with the end in mind, and it made me all the more excited about what I’d discover in between.

If you’re looking to discover more, if you want to create happiness and get more out of this journey by living a wholehearted life, this book should be on your bedside table. Trust me – you’re worth it.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review purposes; all links are affiliate links.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Toasts: The Perfect Words to Celebrate Every Occasion

Posted on March 10, 2015 by

That time of year is sneaking up on us again…when we are drowning in celebrations and occasions and oozing with smiles and happiness. A time when introverts like me hardly know what to do with ourselves, let alone what to say when we’re put on the spot. The right words usually come to me at the wrong time – about sixty seconds AFTER the fact!

Help is here! No longer will you be sweating the public speaking, or kicking yourself for thinking of that witty one-liner just a little too late.  The recently published book, Toasts: The Perfect Words to Celebrate Every Occasion by June Cotner and Nancy Tupper Ling answers every anxiety ridden thought you might have about what to say, when to say it, and how to walk away feeling like you nailed it.

Toasts Toasts was a long time coming; author June Cotner worked on the compilation of quotes and sayings for nearly a decade before connecting with writer Nancy Tupper Ling. Together they compiled words for every occasion – a peek inside offers everything from a guide to toasting (remember to introduce yourself), etiquette basics (thank the host, make eye contact, go out strong), and a plethora of delicious words for any occasion. 

As a verified ‘word nerd’, I’ve long kept journals of my own ideas, as well as of poetry, quotes, and other assorted lists of things I know I’ll never remember. One aspect of Toasts that I particularly like is the ability to use lines from a variety of well-known and yet-to-be known writers even when I’m not standing in front of a crowd. For example, in the “Birthdays” chapter, I might use an adaptation from William Butler Yeats, “In every succeeding year, may you sing more than you weep” when writing about my children growing up. Found in the “Charity” chapter, Thomas L. Reid’s quote, “May we realize that the best exercise for our hear is bending down and lifting up others” is perfect for my stories of working in Nicaragua. And in “Pets”, George Eliot’s words connect completely with writing about my dog, Cola: “Animals are such agreeable friends-they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.”

Toasts has something for all the common toasting occasions: for school or camp reunions (is your high school 30th creeping up on you?), to guests and hosts, and high school and college graduations (“You’ve earned your degree, You’ve made the grade, Success will be yours, once your loans are paid” – ugh, does that hit home!). Family reunions (we have a big one in August-and this year, I’ll be ready!), weddings, and memorials each fill a chapter, too. But Toasts also offers some surprises: four chapters devoted to children, children’s blessings (“May you be blessed by your dreams, and the courage to chase them” – ooh, I’m writing that one down!), children’s graces and children’s toasts (those would have come in handy about 20 years ago when I was surrounded by pregnant friends!), homecoming (yes-my college student should make an appearance in June!), patriotic toasts (Grand ‘ole flag party?), and 16 different holidays (May your neighbors respect you, trouble neglect you, the angels protect you, and heaven accept you – gotta love the Irish!).

Whether you’re an anxious first time toaster, a seasoned speaker who needs new material, or an introverted writer searching for inspiration, Toasts: The Perfect Words to Celebrate Every Occasion, is the perfect compilation for you. Perfect words to celebrate life, love, and the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Toasts: The Perfect Words to Celebrate Every Occasion for review purposes. These are affiliate links. 

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Imagine The Life You’d Love To Live, Then Live It

Posted on January 5, 2015 by

All successful people men and women are big dreamers. They imagine what their future could be, ideal in every respect, and then they work every day toward their distant vision, that goal or purpose.”

~ Brian Tracy

It’s the beginning of the year, and everywhere we turn are stories of resolution – it’s impossible to escape people’s heartfelt testimonies to how they want their lives to change, to grow, to improve. People are imagining the life they want to live.

I’m not a New Year’s Resolution kind of person – to me, resolutions are just a trendy way to acknowledge all the things people might think they’re not doing ‘right’ in their life – and most often, resolutions don’t resolve into anything but added stress and disappointment.

I think most of us have an inkling of the life we’d like to live, but often we don’t know how to get there. We think if we resolve to  check off this list of 10 or 20 or 100 things, we’ll be there. Life will be….perfect? In my experience, though, by the time we get everything – or nearly everything – checked off, life has changed, added more complications, and we wake up and realize in the quest for ‘perfect’ we’ve lost the present, and are likely in a similar place to where we began.

I’m an intention kind of girl. I like to think small to think big – and think about what I intend to do in any period of time. I do love to-do lists, but I also love the quiet and stillness required to imagine, to create, to inspire myself to live the life I dream of – and to muster the courage to do so.

Imagine The Life You'd Like To Live

This is one of the reasons I was drawn to Peg Conley’s new book, Imagine The Life You’d Love To Live, Then Live It: 52 Inspired habits and playful prompts.  Peg is an artist-turned-corporate-worker-turned-writer-back-to-artist kind of woman. According to her publishing website, mid-life, she listened to “ a nagging feeling that life might hold something else in the midst of it all. Then came a big breakthrough—(she)  founded a successful, art-centered company based on the advice of her inner voice:

Peg’s journey inspired her book, which is divided up into 52 weekly chapters full of an idea, application, quotes and advice about how to intentionally create the life that we’ve been wanting. Starting with Chapter One, Peg shares her personal story of change and then asks the reader to ‘imagine’ their ideal life – either by writing, drawing, collaging or dreaming it. Designed to be read one chapter per week, Peg offers ideas as varied as “Write With Your Nondominant Hand”, to “Look For Magic and Miracles”, to “Act ‘As If’”, “Get A Massage”, and “Look for ‘Meant To Be’s”.

One of my favorite chapters, “Give Thanks”, reminds us of the importance of gratitude in our lives. She shares statistical information as well as anecdotal, expounding her idea that showing gratitude should be more than just something we do on Thanksgiving – it should be a regular practice. I also enjoyed her chapter, “It’s the Little Things”, which assert our shared belief that we should remember to celebrate the small moments in life, the times which might be neglected on our push towards our goals.

I challenge you – make 2015 the year you set an intention to dream about the life you want to live. Think big, dream daily, and pick up a copy of Peg Conley’s book, Imagine the Life You’d Love to Live, Then Live It: 52 Inspired Habits and Playful Prompts for an extra nudge. 

I’m offering a free giveaway of one copy of Imagine the Life You’d Love to Live, Then Live It: 52 Inspired Habits and Playful Prompts – if you’d like to win, reply in the comments with your dreams for 2015! One winner will be chosen at random on Wednesday, Jan. 14!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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The Grateful Life: A Book About Gratitude

Posted on November 11, 2014 by

grat·i·tude

ˈɡradəˌt(y)o͞od/
noun
the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

Gratitude is trending. In less than a second I can find nearly 400,000 hits for #gratitude on Google. Twitter is alive with posts about gratitude, everything from people’s 5 Things A Day, ways to teach our kids gratitude, and celebrities like Oprah reminding us to “never let the things you want make you forget the things you have.”

It’s everywhere. How could we miss it? How could we not feel it around us, a never ending reminder that life is good and we should be grateful?

On Facebook we’re grateful for leaves changing color, for veterans and our loving husbands. Some folks are grateful for their ‘amazing’ main course or dessert, for their adorable kids and dogs, and for…gratitude itself. For the awareness, finally, that life is worth shouting out about.

If you’re inspired by stories of gratitude – stories by REAL people experiencing the transformative power of gratitude – you should put The Grateful Life: The Secret to Happiness and the Science of Contentment on your reading list. Written by Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons (I reviewed their last book, What Would You Do If You Knew You Could Not Fail), The Grateful Life offers tips and inspirational stories from people just like you and me who have experienced the benefits of living mindfully and with an awareness of the blessings in our lives.

Each of the ten chapters offers several short vignettes accompanied by sidebar tidbits, all centered around a theme. The book starts with Chapter One’s “How Gratitude and Intentional Behavior Move to Our Hearts, Creating Blessings in Our Lives” and sidebars “The Network for Grateful Living” and “Gratitude Prayer”, and ends with Chapter Ten’s theme of “The Secret to a Gratitude Makeover: How to Create Gratitude Practices That Stick” and sidebars about Jimmy Fallon’s Thank You Lessons, Writing Thank You Cards, and tips about how to bring more gratitude into your life.

I’ve experienced the power of gratitude first hand, as have millions of people. When my son was faced with a broken leg last summer and saw his ski racing dreams severely compromised, we got through the hardest hours by rattling off three gratitudes – and we made it. Life will always get better, but sometimes we need to take a little pause and give ourselves time and permission to remember that.

The Grateful Life: The Secret to Happiness and the Science of Contentment can offer just that – a reminder that in sharing our stories of the benefits of gratitude as told by people just like us, we can begin to live a life of more contentment, gratefulness and transformation.

To read more about the book, visit their website: http://www.vivaeditions.com/book_page.php?book_id=85.

p.s. – did you read my previous posts about gratitude? Deep Gratitude,  Thanks, Coach, For the Life Lessons, and Broken?

I received a free copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are my own.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Mom To Mom, Teacher To Teacher, Writer to Writer: A Conversation With Erin Lindsay McCabe

Posted on September 25, 2014 by

I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

It’s a good sign when you meet someone for the first time and you’re dressed in identical outfits. I guess Erin Lindsay McCabe and I were both more than a little excited the northern California heat had broken and jeans were finally not too hot and sticky to wear out for coffee.  Paired with cream-colored lace shirts and sandals, we giggled as we looked at each other in person for the first time. This synchronicity started off what would prove to be a delightful Sunday morning chatting about parenting, teaching, writing, and her latest book, I Shall Be Near To You, as we sipped organic coffee (me) and spicy chai (her) and nibbled on freshly made pumpkin muffins and bear claws. I found Erin to be as real as her Civil War character Rosetta as mom to mom, teacher to teacher, writer to writer, we filled three hours in a little bakery/coffee shop in northern California, the start of what I know will be a new friendship – mom to mom, teacher to teacher, writer to writer.

Erin Lindsay McCabe and mamawolfe

I first ‘met’ Erin when I devoured her Civil War era book, I Shall Be Near To You, over the summer. I’ll admit, I was on a historical fiction kick, and jumped at hers after seeing the cover – loved it – and was enticed by the love-story angle of the title. After only a few pages, I adored the main characters, feisty Rosetta and tender Jeremiah – and knew I had to tweet the author right away:

mamawolfeto2: @ErinLindsMcCabe So excited to start#ishallbeneartoyou by @erinlindsmccabe I love Rosetta already! #books #civilwar

ErinLindsMcCabe: @mamawolfeto2 Oh I’m so glad you <3 Rosetta! (Me too!)

mamawolfeto2: @ErinLindsMcCabe Oh yes, I’m hooked! Love how you so tenderly portrayed their ‘practice’ – refreshing #ishallbeneartoyou

ErinLindsMcCabe: @mamawolfeto2 Aw, gotta love Jeremiah too. ; )

mamawolfeto2: @ErinLindsMcCabe oh yes. He surprised me with his sweetness.

mamawolfeto2: @ErinLindsMcCabe just finished#ishallbeneartoyou Wiping away the tears. ❤️

Yes, I devoured this book…and was thrilled to meet a new author who was so eager to talk about her book, her characters, and life as a writing mom. And then life interrupted…

So on that somewhat smoky Sunday morning, inside a brightly lit cafe near the Sierra foothills, we picked up where we left off, and found threads of motherhood, teaching, and writing peppering our three hour conversation:

On motherhood:

I think every writer-mom wonders how a published author ever finds the time to make a book a reality. Turns out, Erin wrote the entire draft of I Shall Be Near To You before her son was born, and spent the early years of his life editing, rewriting, and submitting for publication. We talked about the writer/mom life-balance, so hard to juggle that precious time between naps and preschool and play dates, and the palpable awareness of being present during those years-all years, really-when our children are under our wings. Now working on her next novel, Erin notices an acute change in her writing/editing practice, and devoutly sticks to her ‘1,000 words-a-day’ commitment, something she credits to Anne Lamott and found enormously helpful after reading Bird By Bird. “It’s the doing,” Erin shared with me. “Start with 250 words, then 400, 500, and 1,000.”

On teaching:

I love meeting teachers, especially English teachers. They just GET my life. They understand what it’s like to balance motherhood and work, they understand how emotionally and physically draining teaching all day and then coming home with stacks of papers to grade. Erin GETS it – she spent years working as a high school English teacher in the Bay Area, and then again as a community college writing professor. She understands the challenge of attempting to squeeze out an ounce of creativity before daybreak, or most often for her, late into the night. I had to laugh when she mention her good fortune that her three year old was a night owl-I actually craved those moments when my own two babies were tucked into bed at night and I could choose between grading and writing!

Our conversations circled around how to teach controversial novels, what was just the right amount of feedback to give students, and how we wished our kids would dig deeper into their writing and not give up with a first draft. Her inclusion of ‘hot topics’ in I Shall Be Near To You, such as homosexuality, war, young love and even profanity have caused some controversy for a few of her readers, but for me, her choices not only provided a realistic story line and characterizations, but also shrunk the time between the Civil War and what humanity is still dealing with today. I loved making the teacher-writer connection, and her eagerness to jump right back into teacher-mode was evident when we started to chat about writing – our writing.

On writing:

Erin knew how much I adored I Shall Be Near To You before I met her, and after listening to our conversation swirl in and out of motherhood and teaching, I realized how closely woven her life was with the book and characters, it actually made me love it more! As a lover of historical fiction, I couldn’t wait to ask her how she approached the idea of historical accuracy – something I know requires not only tremendous research, but also carries with it tremendous risk that historians will dismiss her story as too fictionalized. Turns out, the idea that the story of her real-life main character, Rosetta, would be lost due to errors in historical accuracy was foremost on her mind during the writing and editing process. Erin’s choices to depict battle scenes as accurately as possible not only added depth and grittiness to the finished novel, but also were the hardest to write-after writing each battle scene she described herself as being in a ‘dark place’. She found herself attempting to balance just the right amount of detail for authenticity with the numbness that would come with an overabundance of the gore that Civil War soldiers experienced. Interestingly, she intentionally chose not to directly include slavery in the novel, feeling that after 10 years of reading and researching the ‘real’ Rosetta’s letters written during the Civil War, it wasn’t part of what she recorded and therefore not authentic to the character’s story.

Our coffee drained, pastries long gone, and families wondering if we’d ever come home, Erin and I ended our mom-teacher-writer conversation with hugs and expectations: new writing, new conversations, new friendship. What a lovely morning, what a lovely writer.

You absolutely don’t want to miss I Shall Be Near To You, Erin Lindsay McCabe’s ‘extraordinary novel about a strong-willed woman who disguises herself as a man in order to fight beside her husband in the Union Army, inspired by the letters of a remarkable female soldier who fought in the Civil War.’ Now out in paperback!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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