Review: Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…and Maybe The World



“True leaders must learn from their failures, use the lessons to motivate themselves, and not be afraid to try again or make the next tough decision.”

Every year I read a few management or business books and a few motivational books. I also take time to read a few commencement speeches by famous people.This book is both–starting as a viral hit commencement speech, the message is now in book form. It makes a fabulous graduation gift, of course, but it also would be an excellent book for new parents. Keep reading and you’ll see why.

I’ve long been a big fan of the United States military forces. The discipline, structure and career ladder they supply to young people is crucial to our nation’s success–and not just in times of war. Each branch is also a fabulous training organization. Few parts of our armed forces command as much respect as the Navy SEALs (Sea, Air, Land Teams).

Drawing on his own days in SEAL training, Admiral William H. McRaven applies the factors that make a sailor into a SEAL to ordinary, daily life. The title essay, “Make Your Bed,” shows how one simple act–making your bed as soon as you get up–sets the stage for a successful day. Think about it. You just woke up, yet you’ve already accomplished something. What an awesome way to look at a mindless chore!

Using stories of SEAL training, of soldiers and sailors on duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places, the lessons boil down to one important message: You CAN do it, if you don’t quit.

“If you quit, you will regret it for the rest of your life. Quitting never makes anything easier.”

Now, why would I pick a book on Navy SEAL training for new parents? No, not because the first few years are like the mud flats the SEALs trained on! But because today there is too much focus on the child and not enough on the family. Parents have lives, too. Everyone makes a contribution to a family. No one person is the center of it. Parents today seem hell-bent on micromanaging every aspect of their child’s success. This book shows, in essence, how ridiculous that notion is. By empowering the child to tackle everyday tasks, to stand up for him or herself, to help others, to set and achieve a goal,  to do what it takes–that is successful parenting. That is also what gets a SEAL thru training without ringing the bell to quit.


Make Your Bed by Admiral William H. McRaven


Top 5 Wednesday: Books Outside the Western World




This week’s topic is “Books That Aren’t Set In/Inspired By The Western World“. Hmmmmm. I had to really do some thinking, but found a few really good ones!



I am a royal-watcher. Royalty IS my celebrity crush, my soap opera, my reality tv show fix. This novel is outstanding. It is a fictionalized account of the current Japanese Empress Michiko, and her courtship by the then Prince, now Emperor Akihito, who is currently in the news for wanting to for officially retire. The Commoner: A Novel by John Burnham Schwartz.



Best-selling travel writer Paul Theroux and I have something in common: We both served in the Peace Corps in Malawi. Theroux famously wrote a short story for Esquire called the Killing of Hastings Banda (the one-time Life President of Malawi) and lives on in Peace Corps history as solely responsible for getting Peace Corps kicked out of that country for many years.

In The Lower River, he tells the story of a Peace Corps volunteer who returns to his PC service “home” and sees all the wrongs that have struck the place. It was very hard to read this. I had to put it away from time to time and go back to it weeks later in order to finish. Why was it so hard? It’s so typical of what happens after foreign aid runs out or the program founders move on. Its why development projects are rarely sustained unless they are started by the citizens themselves–not by folks dropping in as volunteers or missionaries or foreign aid workers. The Lower River by Paul Theroux.





Noor is estranged from her doctor-husband and decides to take their all-American daughter, Lily, back to Tehran to be with her dying father. Culture clashes, sweet family times, coming of age moments, and a frightening look at life in a religious police state make this a very compelling story. The Last Days of Cafe Leila by Donia Bijan (see my full review here).




Dating and texting in Saudi Arabia? Kind of like the Duggar girls doing a wet t-shirt contest at Spring Break in Cancun! This book is written as a series of exchanges posted to friends in an internet chat room (anyone still use those?). This is a fascinating and not too overly fictionalized account of young adult life for upper class Saudi girls. It was written in Arabic and banned in Saudi Arabia. I enjoyed every minute of it. Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsnea.


factory girls


Ever wonder who the people are making all that stuff we buy from China? Here’s your answer. Factory Girls is the only nonfiction entry this week. It tells the story of girls from rural homes coming into the new manufacturing cities to get factory jobs and have freedom the likes of which Chinese women have never enjoyed before. Very interesting book and it has been it has even been assigned as that “one book” all students are supposed to read before entering some college (sorry, I can’t recall which college or colleges0. It is very interesting reading. Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang. [To check out more assigned pre-college reading, see this post on What the Class of 2020 Was Assigned).




Top 5 Wednesday is a Group you can join on Goodreads. You can post lists on your blog each week or do a video blog and post it on YouTube. Join the fun!

Review: Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch



Herman Koch has fast become a favorite of mine. The Diner and Summer House With Swimming Pool are as amazing as this novel. And, believe me, Dear Mr. M is an amazing book! Koch is the master of multiple viewpoints, of unreliable narrators, of is it or isn’t it? He makes you squirm, he makes you sweat, he keeps you on the edge of your seat. He doesn’t let you go to sleep because he makes you want to know how it all ends.

The Story

A celebrated writer with a much younger wife writes a novel based on a real-life story. But, this being a Koch story, there is so much more to it. The story of the high school history teacher who disappears after an affair with a student isn’t as simple as it seems. Nor are the student’s group of friends as innocent as their age might suggest. And the writer’s own world is flawed and twisted in its own ways as well.

What I Loved

Aside from Koch’s expertly rendered twists and turns, its his humor that I love. His comments on high school, [many, but not all] high school teachers and, especially on my own profession–librarians, are so spot on I’m still laughing–and planning a new haircut!! The phrase “I can’t even…” gives you an indication of what this book says in black humor about the publishing industry. Koch uses this kind of humor in each book. The book is shot thru with humor of such a laser-like cutting-edge and sharp tone that the other reason I can never put his books down is to get to the next dose–the next victim of his humor.

This story was all over the place emotionally. From young love to nearly immoral-stalking-sexual-pedator-behvior-pervy-teacher, cunning young mean girl, twisted- candid-cameraman-wanna-be and a lot else added in for good measure, this one covers even more ground than Summer House With Swimming Pool did. [Although he’s too old, Jeremy Irons with his long history of playing pervy types would have been good as the teacher.] Though much is hinted at there is nothing terribly sexual described–this is an emotional thriller, not a sexual romp.

I listened to the audio version and the reader was exactly right. A reader makes or breaks an audio book and this one was just plain “right” for the part.

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch

My review of  Summer House With Swimming Pool.

Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: A Novel by Gail Honeyman



I cannot believe this is a debut! Wow! Wow! Wow!

The Story:

Eleanor Oliphant has endured a lot of trauma in her life. Now, stop! Don’t run away! This is NOT an Oprah book! I promise. No dead babies. No incest. But very real trauma that is handled in an amazing way.You won’t need therapy after reading it, I promise.

Eleanor lives in the same flat she move to when she started at college, works at the same job she got after college and is now about 30 years old.  She prefers real writing to texting. She eats the same pasta and the same lunch and does the same things all the time.  And one night each week she has a conversation with her mother. Then she meets IT co-worker Raymond.

Eleanor is a classic introverted loner, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t need or want love, physical affection, relationships and even a soul mate. It doesn’t mean she won’t or can’t change–or that she needs to change everything. But when anyone spends too much time alone they build up walls around their heart. In Eleanor’s case it is understandable.

Eleanor is a good person, the kind that often gets overlooked. Raymond is the classic good guy. But he’s the kind that often gets overlooked. They are not George and Amal in looks. They are not brilliant or incredibly creative. They are just good, honest people, doing rather boring ordinary jobs in the dull, ordinary, back office of a company that creates image. But when an elderly man needs help, they are the ones on the scene who do the right thing. And go on doing the right thing. And, gradually something amazing happens.

What I Loved:

I loved that all of this was told with grace and humanity and almost no cliches. I loved that there were no magic potions, no waving of magic wands, no white charger. I loved that two ordinary people whose lives nearly any reader can picture and feel, did the right thing and kept on doing it. I love that Eleanor, in spite of everything, kept going. She found solace in earning a very demanding degree. She took pride in her work in a very dull, repetitive, but necessary job. She ignored the looks and the behind-the- hand  comments. If ever #shepersevered applied to a woman, it applied and applies to Eleanor.

Most of all  I loved that she did something I once had to do–she looked at what others did and adopted what worked regardless of what her family had done. In today’s parlance, she broke the cycle. I cheered her. I wanted to hug her. More people in general need to respond like Eleanor. More people need to be there for others like Eleanor and Raymond were for Sammy. It helps. It costs nothing.



What I Didn’t Like:

There was nothing I even-didn’t-sort-of-almost-not-really-like. It’s a great book. I was pleased to see it’s already a big movie deal with Reece Witherspoon (not the one I would have chosen but….)

Now, someone please tell me there will be a sequel. I need a sequel. I’m screaming for a sequel. #Sequelrequired. This is easily one of the best books this year.


Lesson: Take the cheese slices.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Susan Honeyman


Review: Hitler’s Forgotten Children


We are all horrified by memories of the Nazis and the systematic way they killed off the Jews and others they didn’t want in their dreamed of new world of Aryan Purity. But how many know there was a plan to systematically increase the number of Aryans thru kidnapping?

Ingrid’s story is one that has long been swept under the rug. Although her personal story was actually part of the later trials at Nuremberg, most of the world knows little of the Lebensborn Program, as it was known,  beyond the prurient gossip of mythical SS “Stud Farms” for “breeding” more Aryan babies. Lebensborn had two components. Unwed mothers who could prove their racial suitability, and that of the father, where taken in to be cared for and to give birth in Lebensborn children’s homes. The program’s second component had a far more sinister way of increasing the Aryan population–kidnapping, child theft, child trafficking. Whatever you want to call it it involved rounding up children in a a “conquered” area and Nazi racial specialists examining the children. Those who fit the physical profile of desired appearance were taken away for Germanization in one or more of the Lebensborn Centers before being adopted by suitable Nazi families. This was Ingrid’s case.

New names, new identity, and possibly even a prominent Nazi as a “godfather” awaited. Some were even “baptized” in a ritual that put Hitler as God and the SS as his disciples, in a horrifying reworking of the Catholic and Christian sacrament of baptism. The gift to the child was often the traditional silver baby’s cup with a message from the prominent Nazi godfather engraved. No birth certificate was available for the child though. A special document stood in its place. Which was all well and good until May 1945.

After the war, some children were returned to their parents, others simply joined the sea of displaced persons (refugees as we call them today) and a few stayed with their German foster parents. Like Ingrid, all had difficulty reconciling who they thought they were with who they were born to be. As they became aware of their secret identity–mostly as adults and often in middle age or later when foster parents died and they discovered secreted documents, some then set out to find their true identities, their birth families and the rest of their story. Only to be met with closed doors and unhelpful bureaucrats.

Thru chance, Ingrid was contacted much later in life, by the German Red Cross wanting to know if she wanted information on her background. The majority of the book is on her perplexing search for the truth. On her own she acquired little helpful information. Eventually she found a specialist who helped her to find her origins. DNA testing, at that time a very new thing, was helpful as well.

My feelings on the book

As an adoptive Mom I was horrified. I thought of all the checks and balances in the adoption process I’d had to endure. I thought of those powerless mothers in areas conquered by the Nazis told to bring their children for “medical exams” and then not given their child back. Horrific. I thought, too, of the older children caught up in this. They were punished for speaking any language but German, for insisting on their rightful name or for asking about their real families. I can’t say that I sympathized with the Nazi parents–the men,  at least had a good idea what was going on in spite of the stories of dead soldier fathers and dead mothers the child arrived with. But I did wonder about the mothers who had cared for these children. Did they resent the children or did they truly hold to the letter of the agreement to love them as their own?

And the children themselves–especially those taken as babies or toddlers–what of them and their feelings? All were indoctrinated at best, brainwashed at worst, into the Nazi philosophy. How could they then find out that they were not really German–not really what had been held up as “best?” And, to then be sent “back” (in some cases) to the family who had grieved for them but who now were people they’d been taught to look down on or even hate? For most, the indoctrination had to start all over again–but in the opposite direction. How could anyone come out of this sane and even close to whole?


What led me to this book



World War II is topic I can never read enough on. Women’s issues are among my interests.  A few years ago I came across a sale book for Kindle, Someone Called Eva (my review). It is a fictionalized account of one girl’s journey thru the Lebensborn program. Written for middle grade children it was still very compelling to me. It made all this horror real.





This is not a book I can honestly “rate.” The writing is ho-hum, but that really doesn’t matter here. This is a very innocent yet damaged person telling her own story. It is a part of the historical record of Nazi atrocities.

Review: My Italian Bulldozer


I love Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and his 44 Scotland Street series. New entries into these two series are fixtures in my commuting year. Listening to them on my way to work is like commuting with old friends. I haven’t tried his stand-alone books though. And, what a shame that is is My Italian Bulldozer is any indication! This is a “road trip” unlike any other. But, just like in his series, AMS has populated his story with people you wish you knew.




The Story

Paul Stuart, a food writer, is gently reminded by his editor that he is a little behind on his newest book. Paul, still in the aftermath of the break-up of his live-in relationship girlfriend who has thrown him over, without warning, for her personal trainer, decides to go out to Italy and do some research for his book.  He arrives on a local holiday and finds no vehicles to rent except, you guessed it, an up-to-date bulldozer that can travel at a decent speed and lumber around corners.


What I Loved

Alexander McCall Smith knows people. He “gets” them. This is his big strength as a writer. In this short novel he introduces us to a cast of characters that warm our hearts and leave us wishing we were on the trip for real. Paul’s journey was to expand his research on the foodie delights of the area, but he had no idea when he set out that he would find such incredible fare–or such amazing people to educate him on it all.

What I Didn’t Like

I disliked nothing. Not a thing. It’s pure AMS from heartbreaking start to lovely finish. I suppose if you were brand new to this author, you could knit-pick about things. But as a veteran of two of his series, I know that it’s best to just smile and go along with it all. This book is meant to be a fun little escape. Don’t question reality too closely.

My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith


Quite a Ride!

3.75 Stars





This would make a delightful movie in the tradition of Hugh Grant’s The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain. I’m not sure what age Paul was supposed to be–he could be any age really. I think Hugh Bonneville would be very nice as Paul in the movie version. And, it would be really fun to see Elizabeth McGovern as the America.







Six Degrees of Separation: Picnic at Hanging Rock







I have not read Picnic at Hanging Rock and know about it only what the blurb on Amazon told me. Since I have a dear friend who promotes her nation’s literary classics on her blog, A Peaceful Day, I am now hanging my head in shame! From the movie version stills I gather I’d enjoy it. I’ll add it to my To Read list and hope I get to it soon.







The book cover in the Amazon link may be different than those pictured here.

I do not make any money off of links. They are just for your convenience.


My Chain….



A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute






One of my few full 5 Star rated read,  A Town Like Alice is another Australian classic. It was made into a television series many years ago and shown on PBS Masterpiece Theater (as it was called then). I saw parts of it. I’ve read the book twice and love it more each time. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute


Cloudstreet by Tim Winton






Cloudstreet is always on those lists of great modern novels. I’ve had it on my To Read list since it came out. I really should read it because I’m sure I’ll love it. Cloudstreet by Tim Winton


The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes






Since I have great-great grandparents who went out to Australia and failed before ending up in Indiana, I’ve intended to read this book for years and years. Another one I should probably just pick up and start reading already! The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes.


The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion





The Rosie Project is a contemporary Australian novel that is just plain fun. No other reason to include it. It’s fun. Read it. You’ll laugh. The Rosie Project by Grameme Simsion.






The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough






I cannot tell a lie on books! This is also an all-time favorite. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read it. Meggie and Ralph–one of my gateway older man, younger women couples. They came into my life right after Scarlett and Rhett. I used to own a copy of the miniseries on VHS. Why you ask? Richard Chamberlain. (She swoons just remembering him in that bespoke soutane!) The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough.







Because who hasn’t thought of moving to Australia on a bad day?? Alexander…..Very Bad Day by Judith Virost. Did you know in the Australian version of the book he wants to move to Timbuktu?


Want to Join In?

I’m off to check out the other chains in this month’s Six Degrees of Separation before I go read a lot about Australia! How about you? Want to read them? Or join in next month? Here’s the link to the rules. And here is the link to July’s posts.



What if… Diana at 50 and Beyond

NOTE: This post originally appeared June 29, 2011 on my old blog. It has been updated.


Of all the “what if'” articles, blog posts and novels, I think a June 2011 issue of Newsweek magazine does the best job in guessing what would have become of Princess Diana had she lived to see her 5oth birthday [which is this Friday].

Here are some of my own guesses–some the same, or nearly the same, a few different from Newsweek’s. As readers of this blog know I was not a fan of the late Princess. I found her vapid, self-serving and other uncomplimentary things. I did not, however, accept that everything wrong with her was her fault. So, here goes:

Continue reading “What if… Diana at 50 and Beyond”

Childhood Memories: What I Begged for at the Grocery Store

To view a photo credit, click the linked phrase “photo credit” (or other linked words).


Photo credit

My childhood began when JFK was president and passed uneventfully thru LBJ, Nixon, Ford and Carter. I was a Freshman in college when Regan was elected. My mother cooked from scratch. She might give in and buy a cake mix or bottled salad dressing, but that was about it. When we went grocery shopping she often had one of these in her hands to keep track of the total.


Photo Credit

My brother, about four years older than me, was often the more persuasive child when it came extras at the grocery store. I understand he tells that story differently, wrongly thinking I was somehow usually the winner. Memories can be tricky.

In the Cereal Aisle



Photo Credits: Post Cereal   Quaker  General Mills

It’s not true that all 60s kids grew up on cereal for breakfast. We certainly didn’t. It might be set out on Saturday morning so we could serve ourselves while Mom and Dad slept in, but it was rare to have a bowl of cereal before school. One big problem was that, like all 60s kids, we believed the commercials. Most cereal tasted then, and tastes now, like crap. Or milk. It tastes a lot like milk. Since milk had to be covered up to get it past my lips this probably is why I have not minded missing out on this cultural norm. I do like some cereal dry as a snack and did back then, too. I recall begging for Kaboom when it came out. It tasted exactly the way a cardboard vitamin pill should taste. I think my grandfather got stuck finishing that box. Poor man.

Yet another problem was my brother preferred things like Rice Crispies (with bananas–gag!) or Crispy Critters (yes, children, that pejorative label comes from a very humble breakfast cereal) and I wanted Alapa-bits. They were exactly the same cereal in different shapes. Both tasted exactly like the box. But they looked FUN. Like Alphabet soup. Same soup, but with more expensive macaroni.

Understandably, we wanted to try the newest kinds or those with the coolest prizes. I recall Sugar Crisp had a “record” [that’s “vinyl” to you whippersnappers] on the box once. Very cool. We had a habit of dumping out the cereal into a Dutch oven or mixing bowl, retrieving the prize and then never wanting to eat the cereal again. Maddening kids!


But the Holy Grail of cereal was the little individual serving boxes. Boy were those rare in our house! And, always there was something gross like Raisin Bran in the package.

Photo credit



Photo Credits left and right

Elsewhere in the store

Cool Deserts



Photo credits  Royal  Hunts   Jello

Pudding and Jello loomed large in any 60’s kid’s meal plan. These three were possibly the coolest of the products. I longed for those little snack pack cans!! Nope, I got a Tupperware with the kind my Mom made at home. I remember the pure joy when she started buying the instant mix kind–no think “skin” (“scum”) on the top to make me gag! I think I did get the canned pudding ONCE. It was as horrible and stingy a serving as Mom had said, but like any kid I merely gloated over how great it was.

Shakeapudd’n went to my other Grandpa’s house with me. This man had fought in World War II from the beginning to the end. All over North Africa and Europe. I’m pretty sure Shakeapudd’n was among the things he fought to protect me from. He just sat there trying not to laugh as I ate it and it failed to live up to expectations.

1-2-3’s we had several times. I’m guessing my Dad must have actually liked it. That’s usually what it took.

Iconic Snacks of the Era



Photo credits: Space Food Sticks and Jiffy Pop

Surprisingly, even though they tasted like erasers, my Mom allowed Space Food Sticks. Go figure! Jiffy Pop was another matter. I got to take one to my Great Aunt’s. Once. That was enough. Yet, Jiffy Pop was the one product that lived up to the hype. It was great. I even bought it once for my kids. But it did nothing for them. The microwavable bags were much cooler to them.

Milk Flavoring Products



Photo Credits: Nestle  PDQ   Bosco

Bosco! My goodness how many days did a DREAM of Bosco! We had to make due with Nestle’s Quik (or, if there was a store brand version then that was what we got). Bosco, like it’s cousin Hershey’s Syrup, could be used up in a single day. Mom knew better than to buy that! If it was on sale, she would buy us PDQ. It dissolved quicker. It also came in a vomit-inducing Egg Nog flavor that I promise you never darkened our door step! Bosco, was once sold by afternoon talk show legend Phil Donahue, when he was a neighbor of bestselling humor writer, Erma Bombeck. How cool is that? [Phil who? I’m so old…..]

The Dairy Aisle



Photo credit: Nabisco and Kraft

My mouth is watering just looking at the bright orange goodness on this page!!!  One problem: my Dad sold REAL cheese for a living and sold it for Kraft’s biggest competitor. We got real blue cheese, real cheddar and stuff like that. Velveeta, individually wrapped slices and, naturally, the goodness depicted here were clearly VERBOTEN. But I think my Mom may secretly have liked this stuff too because once in a while she’d let me get this and some good crackers. The kind of stuff we’d enjoy with the Afternoon movie in the summer or when staying up till midnight to see reruns of Upstairs, Downstairs when I was teen.

Want More Childhood Memories?

Thank you for taking this long trip down memory lane with me. If you enjoy Childhood Memory posts, then check out my friend Susan’s Blog, Girls In White Dresses. Most Fridays she features a Childhood Memory of her own. You can read more of my own Childhood Memory Posts here:

The Toys I Wanted, But Never Got

Red Shoes


Girl Scout Christmas Crafts

Book Plates and Library Stuff

Family Affairs and Meeting “Cissy”

The Horse Years

School Literature Books

Childhood Favorite Books

Review: The Last Days of Cafe Leila by Donia Bijan



Noor is estranged from her doctor-husband and decides to take their all-American daughter, Lily, back to Tehran to be with her dying father. Culture clashes, sweet family times, coming of age moments, and a frightening look at life in a religious police state make this a very compelling story.

What I Liked:

[Noor] had imagined Americans as being insular but instead found them to be restless dreamers, earnest and intent on shaping and changing an imperfect world, while she, at seventeen, didn’t expect much, didn’t think she had it in her to ever take on anything so ambitious. (p. 126)

The story goes back and forth through Noor’s life, her mother’s death, her father putting her on a plane with her brother and giving them freedom in America, meeting her husband, and then coming back to Iran.

I loved Noor and her father’s relationship. I cried reading about her mother. Lily brought to mind all the young teacher volunteers training with my technical volunteer group in Peace Corps years ago. She has that normal American problem of not being able to accept that everywhere isn’t like America and that everyone doesn’t think about things the way Americans do. I adored the trip to the pool with Karim! So utterly American! I laughed at their naive bravery and cheered them on.

Lily would not admit it, but a part of her was beginning to appreciate the freedom that came with captivity. Freedom from peers. After two months of isolation, not worrying about what to wear or what anyone thought of her, not having a public profile or being surrounded by people who had known you all your life and were full of expectation, she was discovering what it was like to have an independent thought. (pp. 170-171).

What I Didn’t Like:

“Didn’t like” is way, way too strong. It was the pace that was hardest for me. This story moves at an Old World pace at first. That’s a minor problem. It’s as though the reader is becoming acclimatized to Iran just as Lily is. My brain adjusted itself to analog pace, to black and white, to Third World bank queue time. Then the story became so compelling.


4 out of 5 Stars

This is a sweet, book with a few horrifying moments. I studied the fall of the Shah and more Iranian history in college–I was prepared for the horrors. Others may not be.

The Last Days of Cafe Leila: A Novel by Donia Bijan.





You can read my review of the author’s non-fiction memoir, Maman’s Homesick Pie on my old blog here, or see it on Amazon by clicking the linked book title.