The 5 Choices by Kory Kogon, et al

The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity
The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity by Kory Kogon, Adam Merrill, and Leena Rinne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars (it will probably be more three stars in the long run, but I gave it an extra star because it exceeded my expectations)

Inevitably the first question people would ask me after I’d mention this book was, “Why are you reading this again?”

It’s an interesting question. Because as a homeschooling, not-gainfully-employed parent, I’m not really the target audience for a book from our friends at Franklin Covey.

Truth is, I started reading this book by accident.

I went online to buy myself a new Franklin Planner, a smaller, wire-bound weekly planner to carry me through mid-2016 that wouldn’t weigh me down like the ring-bound planner I’ve been toting around (or more often leaving at home because it’s so big and I’ve got enough to carry with me with two young children in tow). The style I liked was called “The 5 Choices” and the description said it included worksheets to help me implement The 5 Choices.

What the heck was The 5 Choices?

I looked up the book just to make sure I’d be able to use the planner even if I didn’t read the book. And now here I am.*

Originally, I wasn’t going to put this book on Goodreads or write about it on my blog. I unofficially swore off of self-help books, and while one could argue that this is more of a time-management book, it’s really self-help. Although I said I wasn’t going to read self-help books anymore, I figured that if I kept it a secret and didn’t log it and didn’t get it in actual, physical book form (I checked it out electronically from the library), then it didn’t really count.

It was a decent—if self-deceptive—plan that worked as long as I could keep myself from talking to anyone about the book.

But I couldn’t keep myself from talking about the book.

Because it’s a good book, or at least a book of good ideas arranged in an accessible format. There’s some repetition, some over-simplification (case-study Kiva pulled herself together pretty dramatically after reading The 5 Choices), and some big assumptions about the types of jobs people reading the book have, but I expect that sort of thing from the genre, and it didn’t bother me that much.

As a veteran of Franklin Covey programs from my days in the corporate world—and a devotee of Franklin Planners despite the ease of use and sync-ability of online calendars—I didn’t actually find much that’s new in The 5 Choices. There’s the familiar Time Matrix and the Four Quadrants and the Big Rocks and the terminology that sounds comforting in my head but makes people laugh when I say it out loud. But the information is arranged in such a way that it feels new, or at least in such a way that I could see ways to address energy and stress in my life that I didn’t before I read this particular book. It got me thinking in different directions.

And while it’s kind of cheesy, the suggestions for how to manage energy and reduce stress are good ones that I’m already applying to my daily life, like having the kids and me take walks or play outside for a few minutes between homeschool lessons that involve a lot of sitting still so we can get our brains up and moving again and not get burned out. I’m not sure yet whether these ideas will have staying power or make a big difference, but they’re small changes that feel empowering to me right now so it feels low-risk.

I was so relieved that there’s no Mission Statement assignment in The 5 Choices. Coming up with inspiring names for my Q2 Roles and thinking of what Extraordinary Outcomes for each role would look like almost overwhelmed me with cheesiness; Mission Statements would have pushed me over the edge.

It occurs to me that I don’t have a clue who else would find this book useful. I’m sure someone would, but would they have to have a background with the 7 Habits or other Franklin Covey ideas? Would others be willing to wade through the rah-rah cheerleading that peppers the book (and is concentrated in the first couple of chapters) to see the good stuff? I’m old enough to know that I have no idea what will resonate with other people, so while I found it helpful, I won’t venture to guess who else might like this book.

*And yes, I do see the irony that a Q3 rabbit hole led me to this book.

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Wordless: Stars

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Okra. August 2015.

Wordless: Fence

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Princeton, Massachusetts. 2015.

Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup

Here If You Need Me: A True Story
Here If You Need Me: A True Story by Kate Braestrup

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book—the memoir of a Unitarian Universalist chaplain for game wardens in Maine—was a quick read and just what I needed. It reminded me of my work as a doula, how most of it was just being there while my clients’ worlds changed completely. Read More

The Point of Vanishing by Howard Axelrod

The Point of Vanishing: A Memoir of Two Years in Solitude
The Point of Vanishing: A Memoir of Two Years in Solitude by Howard Axelrod

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book as an ARC through a LibraryThing giveaway. It doesn’t come out until September, and I’m kind of tickled to get to read it so early.

I initially entered the running for this book because it’s out of Beacon Press and because it’s about an escape similar to that which I’ve contemplated myself on many occasions. It was mostly—but not quite—what I expected.

For some reason, I thought it was going to be about an old guy going to the woods. I thought it would be about someone in his 60’s or maybe even 70’s, but instead Axelrod is only a few years older than I am, which I suppose some people would classify as “old,” but it wasn’t what I had in mind.

Then when I started reading and especially when I started to be drawn into the story, I kept worrying that maybe this guy is a jerk (only I didn’t use the word “jerk” in my head). Read More

Wordless: One Butterfly, Two Views

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Monarch butterfly, July 2015.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Dept. of Speculation
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dept. of Speculation is the August selection for the SBC online book club. To learn more about SBC or to join the conversation, visit the SBC page here at Imperfect Happiness or join our Goodreads Group.

The first half of this book is just delightful, with the anxiety and the angst and with the story told in little snippets. I relate to both the content and the scattered form. It’s like a pleasant reminiscence about early parenthood, and boy, isn’t it nice to be through those days? as the author and I sip from our respective glasses of wine.

And then comes the second half like a punch in the gut. Still a powerful way to tell a story, but it’s too real to be called “delightful.” It’s like one of my own nightmares put in book form.

Reading the second half reminded me of when I squirmed my way through the movie Before Midnight in which Julie Delpy argues with an awkwardly aging Ethan Hawke for two hours in a way that’s a little too familiar to me.

For the first time since I was in junior high, I’m reading contemporary books written for my age group—finally the GenX authors seem to be taking the place of the Boomers, perhaps because we’re finally entering midlife (or what used to be midlife since “midlife” is now supposed to be 60 or something as the Millennials and the Boomers conspire to squeeze us out of everything)—and although I’ve been eagerly anticipating this day, now I’m not sure that I want to read about the anxieties of those traversing with me the handful of years before and after 40. It’s too close. It gives me palpitations.

One of my favorite quotes from the book:

“But now it seems possible that the truth about getting older is that there are fewer and fewer things to make fun of until finally there is nothing you are sure you will never be.” (p 114)

Incidentally, this book would have been interesting told in little blog posts. I’m glad it’s a novel, but it would have worked as a serial blog, too.

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Running Lessons

I recently bought new running shoes. I knew mine were old because I had no memory of buying shoes after we moved from North Carolina, and we did that in late 2003. But then I looked under the tongue and saw that my shoes had, in fact, been manufactured in October 2002.

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I had been wearing—and trying to run in—nearly thirteen-year-old running shoes.

As my daughter noted, “Those shoes are older than me, Mommy!”

So, I bought new running shoes from a very competent salesman who I suspect was closer in age to my shoes than he was to my own age.

These new running shoes feel like a miracle.

Oh, my! The cushioning! The support!

I love to run in them, and so I’ve been running in them two or three times a week just because I love to run in them and because running in them means that I’m not responsible to anyone else for a half-hour or more at a stretch (I’m mapping longer and longer runs every time I go out).

In all of this running, I’ve noticed a curious thing. Our neighborhood is hilly, and when I’m running on a flat stretch or a slight decline, I think, “Man! I could run forever! I am so fit!” And when I’m running on an incline, I think, “Oh, no! I am so out of shape! Why am I even running right now?”

It feels harder to run uphill, so I must be less fit. It feels easier to run a little downhill (although not a lot downhill), so I must be more fit.

Of course, whether the road goes uphill or down does not at all influence my level of fitness, but that’s the first place my brain goes: it judges me based on external circumstances.

I wonder when else I’ve judged myself based on external factors, and because it’s what I do 24 hours a day, my thoughts inevitably turn to parenting.

I think about the time I was leading a La Leche League meeting about Gentle Guidance, and my three-year-old simply would not mind me at all. She was a holy terror, in fact, and although I was hugely pregnant—which is the only way I know how to be pregnant—I cut myself no slack. If I couldn’t get her to mind, I was apparently not qualified to speak about Gentle Guidance.

I think about the multiple times—the most recent just this morning—when my homeschooling session with my son has involved him refusing to even try to subtract nine from any other number and then bursting into tears and my barely avoiding (and sometimes not at all avoiding) yelling at him, because for Pete’s sake, I know he knows this. Why isn’t he even trying? And because I’m nearly yelling or actually yelling I think, “I totally suck at this. Why am I homeschooling my kids? What made me think I was qualified to do this?”

But now I’m thinking that each of these instances—and many others like them—are the parenting equivalent to running uphill. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, I wonder if I’ll make it. But how difficult it feels at that moment has practically no relation to how fit I am to do it.

Because today at Trader Joe’s, two women went out of their way to tell me how delightful my children are and how clearly they love one another and what a great job I’m doing.

Because yesterday when we were having dinner, my son declared to all assembled that he LOVES math, and when we were doing his facts practice sheet today—subtracting nines—he said, “I’m flying through these like they’re nothing!”

Those are the downhill moments, and they say just as much about how fit I am as a parent as the uphill moments, but they’re a heck of a lot more encouraging.

Back in my La Leche League days, I had a co-leader whose mantra was, “Never quit on your worst day.” I’ve heard many criticisms of this idea, but it continues to work for me. If things aren’t working, they won’t work on our best day. But even if we have a horrible day, that doesn’t mean things aren’t working overall. It just means we’re having a horrible day. Things may well work just fine tomorrow, but I’ll never find that out if I quit on the worst day.

So, although I’m years past my La Leche League days, I still take this lesson to heart. It keeps me running up those hills, smiling all the way at that voice that tries to convince me that because it’s difficult, I shouldn’t be doing it.

When do you hear that voice that tells you to throw in the towel because you’re just not good enough? Do you listen to the voice, or do you laugh at it and keep on keeping on?

Wordless: Meadow

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Wachusett Meadow, Princeton, Massachusetts, May 2015.

Bookends: July 2015

 

Between ordinary busy-ness and re-joining Netflix, not a lot of reading happened this month.

Well, that’s not really true. I read for my class, and I read to my kids, and I listened to kids’ audiobooks, but I got precious few books read from my personal reading list. I expected to be done with Uncle Tom’s Cabin long ago, but it’s been surprisingly challenging, subject-matter-wise. Poor Herodotus got no attention at all in July.

But, it’s August now, so let’s just look at the list and then put the past behind us. Onward!

July’s books…

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