Book Review: Mindful Parenting

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I spend a lot of time worrying about the super-fast, frenzied, hectic pace of our world.  I especially worry about the affect this pace has on our kids.  Questions like:

  • Are my kids too busy?
  • Do they know how to relax, be bored and unwind?
  • What will the long-term effects of our plugged in, crazy world be on them down the road?

When I discovered the book, Mindful Parenting, I was glad to see that someone else was a little worried too.  Dr. Kristen Race‘s book is a wonderful resource for parents who are concerned about stress in their kids.  She does a nice job explaining stress from  biological perspective, and also offers many do-able, down-to-earth strategies for helping kids (and parents too!) de-stress in an otherwise stressed out world.  I especially enjoyed her tips for kids who are “addicted” to screens, and those who are over-scheduled.

Mindfulness is a pretty hot topic these days.  Dr. Race‘s definition of mindfulness is:

Paying attention to the present moment without judgment

Mindfulness is the opposite of worry and multi-tasking.  It’s the opposite of zoned-out TV watching and snack eating.  What it is, can be hard to grasp – but Dr. Race and many others believe it is worth striving for because of its benefits for health.  Luckily, she offers LOTS of ideas about how to become a more mindful family (and hopefully raise more mindful children).  I like this sort of hands-on, easy-to-try parenting book.  Nothing too complicated, but filled with strategies that are simple enough to use today.

I recommend Mindful Parenting for families who feel like their lives are moving too quickly, or too filled with technology and outside activities.  Check it out here.

Book Review: Pastrix The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint

I was introduced to this book by a segment on Colorado Public Radio in which author Nadia Bolz-Weber was interviewed.  To say I was intrigued is an understatement.  It was one of those radio interviews where I continued to sit in my car long after I had pulled into my garage.  Naturally, I rushed out to read her book for myself.

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It literally changed my life.

I’m not overstating things either.

A quick summary: Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor in Denver, CO.  In the book she describes the evolution of her life and faith into what it is now (still growing and imperfect).  She leads a new and sort of renegade church in Denver which opens its doors to everyone – the homeless, the mentally ill, folks of all genders and ideas – they even open their doors to suburban-living, cardigan-wearing soccer moms (eek! that’s me!).  It is this last group who she describes as the hardest of all to accept (oh boy).

The book is funny and super honest.  She isn’t what you’d expect from a Lutheran pastor – or a pastor of any kind actually – and that’s what makes her remarkable.  She’s open about the life she lived before becoming a pastor (hint: lots of drugs and sex) and she’s open about the things with which she struggles now (being nice, keeping sarcasm at bay, understanding her relationship with God) – and does all of this while using plenty of foul language.  It’s pretty f**ing fascinating.  Oops! She must be rubbing off on this soccer mom.

Ms. Bolz-Weber makes lots of interesting points in the book, and grapples with many theological issues, but my favorite is this

We are constantly trying to divide the world into us vs. them.  When we do that, it can make life easier for us to understand, but it does nothing but drive the world further apart (and us further from God, if you believe in that sort of thing). 

(my quotes, not hers)

I would recommend this book to the following people:

  • Christians
  • Non-Christians
  • Women
  • Men
  • People who struggle with their identity in any way, shape or form
  • People searching for meaning
  • People searching for connection
  • Folks who find “liturgical dancing” creepy (…you’ll have to read the book to figure out what that means)

In short – READ THIS BOOK.

Book Review: The Perfect Score Project

Screen shot 2014-03-07 at 10.14.13 AMI was recently asked to review The Perfect Score Project by Debbie Stier.  It’s the true story about a mom who takes the SAT 7 times in one year as a way to help prep her son to take the test himself.  I thought the book would be a light-hearted, funny take on the craziness that surrounds standardized testing and college applications.  There were moments of that, but more than anything it is a chronicle of Ms. Stier’s study strategies, test-taking experiences and scores.

When I was reading the book, all sorts of memories surfaced.  Memories that I didn’t think I even had anymore.  Who knew that knowledge of my SAT score was still lodged somewhere in the recesses of my mind?  Even more amazing were the memories of the SAT prep course I took in the “big city” over 2 decades ago.  It was a pretty amazing journey down memory lane.

Once I got past my own (not so great) memories, I began to look forward, to the SAT prep that awaits my family in the coming years with my own 3 kids.  When that time comes I will surely be reaching for The Perfect Score Project to help guide me through the maze of tutors, study guides and courses.

To learn more about the book or to order a copy check out the site here.

Book Review: Please Don’t Label My Child

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I picked up this book, Please Don’t Label My Child, a couple of weeks ago at my local library. It was an impulse buy of sorts. I’m prone to those – particularly at the library.  And boy am I glad I am, because this book was fantastic.  It’s really much better than the title implies (it is not a rant against psychiatric diagnoses, labels, and drugs), but a thoughtful, common-sense, easy-to-read essay on kids and what affects them:

  • Poor eating habits/malnutrition
  • Lack of sleep
  • Lack of exercise
  • Stressors in the home
  • Stressors at school/with friends
  • Lack of exposure to sunlight

The author, Dr. Scott Shannon, posits that it is often these factors that negatively affect kids’ ability to concentrate, manage stress, and cope with worry – and NOT an organic psychiatric condition like ADHD, depression, or bipolar disorder.

While I don’t doubt the existence of psychiatric and emotional disorders in kids, I do think we sometimes overlook more basic explanations for maladaptive behavior.  After all, do any of us really function all that great when we are sleep deprived, grieved over the loss of a marriage, struggling with financial insecurity, or lack (for whatever reason) wholesome, nutritious foods?  Of course we don’t. And neither do children, whose systems are even more fragile than ours.

In our super crazy, complex world I appreciate straightforward answers and solutions.  Dr. Shannon’s book gives us just that. While there are many children and families who need more intensive interventions (therapy, medication) perhaps there are many, too, whose struggles can be aided by the relatively simple solutions offered in this book.

I recommend this book whole-heartedly for health practitioners, as well as parents who are concerned about some aspect of their child’s behavior.  It is a great first step in making some relatively small changes that can make a big difference.

Book Review: Living with Depression by Deborah Serani

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It’s not often that I am surprised.  But Dr. Deborah Serani’s book, Living with Depression, did just that – surprised me.  I was expecting a sort of boring book about depression – how it starts, why it ends – but was thrilled to discover (and within the first chapter no less!) something very different about Dr. Serani’s book!  Not only does she write about the topic as a expert in psychology (she’s a psychologist in private practice, as well as a professor), but also from the perspective of someone who has dealt with depression on a very personal level.

There have been other psychologists who have written about their own struggles with mental illness, but I found Dr. Serani’s candid admissions and forthcoming attitude about her mental health history to be not only refreshing but intriguing. I found myself wishing she had written more about herself and her family (full disclosure: While Dr. Serani and I have never met in “real” life, we have had several conversations via social media in the last few years).  And while it’s been done before, integrating personal and professional knowledge about depression made the whole book a quick and informative read.

In addition to recounting her own story, Dr. Serani also does a great job outlining all aspects of depression from the mundane (insurance coverage for treatment) to the academic (how psychiatric medications and psychotherapy actually work), to the most basic (what depression is, exactly).  I was most impressed with her discussion of what psychotherapy is and isn’t, and what one should and should not expect from it.  For example, psychotherapy patients should expect to work hard, be challenged, and make a real commitment to the process.  They should not expect to be given advice, get a “quick fix,” or find meaningful change in their lives without a bit of internal struggle.

I also love that Dr. Serani mentioned some (not very glamorous) but important aspects of treating depression, including getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, engaging in meaningful relationships, exercising, and maintaining a relatively tidy, organized home.  It’s not often that we see these things mentioned as part of an overall plan for the treatment of depression, so I was thrilled to see them get some air time in her book.

Living with Depression is a book that I will be glad to have on my shelf.  I highly recommend it for practitioners and lay people alike.  It is a quick, relatively easy read and individual chapters can serve as references in isolation. Check it out here.