Category Archives: Book Review

Children’s Books Featuring Simple Living

Here at Striving Stewardess, we talk a great deal about books for adults that feature simple living, minimalism, financial knowledge, and even books on chickens.

We haven’t really discussed books that are good reads for kids that encourage these ideas (though I haven’t yet learned of a good chicken book for kids!), but that does not mean such books do not exist!  Quite the contrary, children’s books that feature topics such as simple living are numerous, and serve as a great teaching tool for the littles in your life.  Here are a few to start with:

511mhgnbxwl-_sx367_bo1204203200_The American Girl Series/Anne of Green Gables/Little House books. Although each of these are a very different book series, all three encompass the “historical fiction” genre, and discuss encounters with simple living, minimalism, and even thrift.  I first became acquainted with the “Kirsten” character from American Girls as a first grader, and came to love the simple life lessons found in each book of the series.  Anne and Little House soon followed.  These would probably be best suited for those in elementary school, or older (as in the case of the Anne of Green Gables series).

51ugghaxdal-_sx370_bo1204203200_The Clown of God.  In this retelling of an old legend, Tomie dePaola reaches out to the picture book crowd, helping to teach youngsters that what matters are the gifts of yourself and your talents, not the fancier, earthly things.  This books seems especially well-suited for preschool age children and older.  Our son loves the illustrations in this book, and I love the religious undertones of the story as well.

The Bible (and many other religious texts).  I find it interesting that the common theme found among many religious books is the theme of simplicity (Jesus encouraging the rich man to give away his possessions, for starters). The great thing about books of faith is that there are different ways to present the material, from children’s Bibles, to religious instruction, that can be presented in an age-appropriate way.

I would love to hear what children’s books you know of that encourage simple living!



Joint Book Review: Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin

ymoylThe latest version of Your Money or Your Life has been updated from the book that Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez had written in the early 1990s. It details the 9 steps of the “financial independence” (FI) system.

Amanda’s Take

This was another worthwhile read for me, and should be on your “must read” list if you are looking to improve your relationship with money.

One of the key takeaways for me was something I already felt strongly about:  there are many non-monetary costs to working; they include less time for your family, working endless hours, and stress.  This certainly does not mean one should not work; rather it means one should be wiser about their expenditures and priorities.  The discussion on your real hourly wage is one everyone should stop and consider.

If you are looking for a book on money management that is a bit more in-depth and involved, Your Money or Your Life is worth a peek!

Ronnica’s Take

Reading Your Money or Your Life was inspiring. I like the idea of measuring money in the hours of “life energy” that you gave for that money. It was very eye-opening to realize that I work 62 hours a month for my rent.

The chapter that was most surprising to me was the chapter about finding a high-paying job. In contrast to most advice to find something that you find fulfilling, Robin encourages her readers to pursue paid employment that yields the highest pay while still “consistent with your health and integrity” (p. 233). By doing so, it allows you to focus the bulk of your time on activities that you most want to pursue.

I did step through the steps outlined in the book, but I couldn’t help but compare these steps to Dave Ramsey’s system, which I am more familiar with. Quite simply, I find Ramsey’s plan much simpler to work through.

However, what I think the FI system does better is frame financial principles in terms of life value. After all, money has no inherent value: its value is in its representation of the things that you can do with it for yourself and others.

Joint Book Review: Locally Laid by Lucie B. Amundsen

51QtHln5c0L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This month’s joint book review is Locally Laid:  How We Built a Plucky, Industry-changing Egg Farm-from Scratch by Lucie B. Amundsen.  Detailing the process of how the Amundsen family created and developed their vision of a humane and healthy chicken farm, Locally Laid also provides information on the industry, and demonstrates the importance of local businesses with both humor and passion.

Amanda’s Take

I picked up this book because it came highly recommended for being both informative and humorous.  That’s a win for me!

This book did turn out to be both informative and very funny.  It also had the added effect of inspiring me to never raise chickens–at least not on the scale of the Amundsen farm, Locally Laid.  I would rather spend my time and energy on something I am a little more motivated to work on; the closest I have ever come to chicken-raising is watching a friend’s small flock for a weekend, and while educational, it is also laborious and, well, dirty.

A more subtle theme in the book is what it takes to start a business from the ground up–and not surprisingly, it entails a lot.  I really admire the courage it took for the Amundsen family to leave all they had known and take the leap of faith in starting a chicken farm.  They started out not knowing a great deal about the birds, but they followed their passion (or, in the case of the author, her husband’s passion) and learned a lot along the way.

Check out this book for more insight into what it takes to start a business–especially one involving animals–and for a lot of laughs along the way.

Ronnica’s Take

Reading Locally Laid gave me a much more realistic view of what it would be like to raise my own chickens. I don’t know that I ever will, but it’s something that I consider when I dream of growing most of my own food. I’ve always been more comfortable with plants than animals, but I think it would be a good thing to stretch myself in this area…if I get some first-hand experience first.

I enjoyed this book as it was one example of someone seeing a problem in our food system and taking action. I buy the cheap eggs (when I buy them, which isn’t that often), but I can see the merits of supporting businesses like Locally Laid. I’ll be honest, knowing more about where my food comes from is something about which I’ve willing stayed ignorant, sadly.

Joint Book Review: Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan

gratitude diariesIn Gratitude Diaries, Janice Kaplan takes a time of personal uncertainty after a loss of a job and decides to focus on gratitude in her own life. She focuses on gratitude for an entire calendar year, with different emphases each month.

You know how Amanda and I love a good “year of _______” book.

Amanda’s Take

It should come as no surprise that this book appealed to me before I even cracked it open; as noted above, I thoroughly enjoy a “year of” book.

Upon finishing, this book served as a catalyst for implementing my own version of a gratitude journal.  When I am faithful about intentionally noting what I am grateful for–even if it doesn’t seem as though I have much to count among my blessings–I notice a spillover effect in the rest of my life.  I tend to be more positive overall.

Kaplan’s book was an entertaining and enlightening read for me.   I recommend it, especially for those like myself, who may need a nudge in the gratitude direction.

Ronnica’s Take

I wish I could say that gratitude is something that I was good at. Unfortunately, I spend way too much time focusing on all the things that I wish I had or wished were different.

I needed this reminder to be grateful for what I have and where I am. Truly, I have so much to be grateful for.

I enjoyed reading Kaplan’s journey through gratitude, especially how sad she was to see the year be over. We truly can change so much in our world by changing our attitude towards it.

While I think that gratitude is important, I want to focus more on who I should be grateful to. I’m not sure I would find much solace in gratitude as a concept without having an understanding of who is behind it all.

Joint Book Review: Affluenza by John De Graaf, David Wann, and Thomas H. Naylor

51kepAY4UfL._SX356_BO1,204,203,200_Affluenza:  The All-Consuming Epidemic by John de Graff, David Wann, and Thomas H.  Naylor gives an in-depth analysis of America’s consumption issue, and provides solutions for how best to address the problems such rampant consumption causes.

Amanda’s Take

I enjoyed reading Affluenza–it was equal parts disturbing and motivating to me.  The tidbits about society’s obsession with over-consumption and how that impacts the environment were particularly striking to me, and made me want to strive to be more cognizant of my environmental impact.  Since I place family in high importance, I was also struck by how much of a (negative) impact our current level of consumption have on American family life.

I read the second edition (as did Ronnica), but despite the dated information, I doubt the overall trend has changed.  The biggest takeaway for me was that we as a society consume far more than is healthy.

In an unusual twist, this book came out after two documentaries of similar names and content.  Since I enjoyed the book so much, I hope to check out the films in the near future.

Ronnica’s Take

Reading the 2005 edition of Affluenza makes me realize that this disease of over-consumption has been with us much too long.

I love the issues this book raised, but to be honest, I struggled through the book. I found the framing concept of the “affluenza” disease clever, but a bit cumbersome. I kept wanting the book to go deeper, but that’s just not what it was.

Still, Affluenza does a good job of linking together the disparate symptoms of our over-consumption and how it is harming us.

We can all benefit from examining our consumption, taking a step back and simply being thankful for what we already have.

Joint Book Review: How to Be Alive by Colin Beavan

how to be aliveIn How to Be Alive, Colin Beavan helps his readers to live their lives in accordance with their professed beliefs, with a goal of having a better life and a better world.

Amanda’s Take

I first became interested in this book because of my familiarity with Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man project.  Because I really enjoyed both the No Impact book and movie, I was excited to delve into a more recent project of his.

Much of what Beavan notes within the text is common sense, but certainly bears repeating, such as how small steps can and do make a difference in improving one’s quality of life.  I appreciated that the book went beyond the typical self-help realm, and actually tackled some bigger picture/beneficial-to-humanity topics, including social justice and service.

Although a bit on the lengthy side, How to Be Alive is a great book for those readers wanting more than the usual self-help fare.

Ronnica’s Take

I found a lot to like in this book, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I didn’t read it right on the heels of Living Forward, a book on the same subject that I found much more straightforward and inspiring (review to come).

Back to the book at hand. How to Be Alive almost felt like two books: one talking about living your values and another about how to live his values.

I really like the idea of practically working through what it would mean to live in accordance with your beliefs. This is something that I’m always circling back to. To that end, I think that this book is helpful. I also didn’t mind the values that Beavan was encouraging, and he has good suggestions. I just found the two combined to be a bit muddy. (But to be fair, I read the first third of this book while staying up all night traveling).

I did find this book inspiring in my journey to live true to the purpose I have been given.

“The question is not whether you can make a difference to the world and build a wonderful life for yourself while doing so. The question is, do you want to be the type of person who tries?” – p. 78

Joint Book Review: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

51KRmbqxakL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Arguably one of the most important books on environmentalism, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was a driving force in eliminating the use of the pesticide DDT, and was critical in spurring other environmental reforms.

Amanda’s Take

Having first read this book in a biology class in college over  decade ago, I was glad to have the opportunity to revisit this text.

Once again, I was struck by how relevant her words (written over fifty years ago) are to us still in 2016.  While DDT is no longer in use, a great many other abuses are done to the environment (both chemical and otherwise).  The need to solve problems in a sustainable fashion rings just as true now as it did in the mid-twentieth century.

What I appreciate most about this text is the fact that Carson backed up her poetic assertions with proof; she doesn’t just “allege.” I also appreciate that, because of this work, enough people began to question what they had been told, and so change became inevitable.  Why can’t change be spurred the same way, in 2016?

Silent Spring is a must-read for anyone with an investment in the environment…which, I would argue, is all of us.

Ronnica’s Take

I was so glad when Amanda suggested we read Silent Spring. I love to read books that have made an impact on history, and of course this one fits the bill. I’m really not sure why I had never read it before.

For this being a foundational book in the environmentalism movement, I expected that it would be more broad. However, it makes sense that a book about a specific problem with hard numbers and targeted examples. After all, it’s much easier to get people to demand action when you make it very clear to them what it will cost them if they do not.

I’m thankful for Carson and the work she did raising awareness about DDT. Her work isn’t done: we all have a part to play in leaving this world as better place than when we arrived.

Joint Book Review: The One-Page Financial Plan by Carl Richards

one-page financial planCarl Richards’ The One-Page Financial Plan is about what it sounds like: simplifying personal financial planning. Richards walks his readers through creating this very simple guide for their personal financial decisions.

Amanda’s Take

This was not my first experience with Carl Richards’ work; I am also familiar with his previous work, The Behavior Gap, and enjoyed it.  As such, I was eager to read what he had to say in Financial Plan.

I was not disappointed.  What I appreciated most was the over-arching theme of prioritization–a topic near and dear to my heart.  It is difficult to make a plan of any kind–financial or otherwise–without taking note of one’s goals and priorities (be it on one page of paper or ten).

This book would be especially helpful for those just starting out in life–specifically young adults.  As Ronnica will note in her portion of the review, there are plenty of diagrams to help illustrate the author’s point.  As an added bonus, the book is relatively short, which is something not all financial books can say.

Check out The One-Page Financial Plan for a good introduction (or reminder) on financial well-being.

Ronnica’s Take

I really enjoyed The One-Page Financial Plan. While I’ve had some formal training in budgeting and personal finances, this was the most useful book or training that I have.

Simply, Richards walks you through specifying the one most important reason why you are working on your finances, then takes you from there.

In specifying what financial goals that will help you achieve your bigger “why” I love that he walks you through determining which of those are most important to you. I think it’s rare if anyone has a set of financial goals that can all be accomplished to their fullest desires. We all have to prioritize, and this book provided a good framework to recognize that.

Another thing that stands out to me in this book was the multitude of simple diagrams. In this age of apps, memes and infographics, I think that this helps the book and it’s teachings “stick.”

If your finances need a tune up or an overhaul, I recommend checking out The One-Page Financial Plan.

Joint Book Review: Free by Mark Scandrette

61Iimn4GlcL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The appropriately titled Free:  Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most by Mark Scandrette focuses on several ways to better align your time and money (both of which are valuable resources) with your values.  Using a faith-based slant, the book discusses stewardship in great detail, making it a good read for “newbies” in particular.

Amanda’s Take

I’m going to be honest:  this book wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be.  Clearly I misread the summary on the back cover, because I thought it would be more memoir than workbook.  In that regard, I was a bit disappointed in what I found the book actually contained.

That said, as far as simplicity movement texts are concerned, I found Free to be in my top ten.  As Ronnica will note in her review below, this book would be ideal for a person new to the simplicity movement.  The exercises contained in the book encourage interaction and soul-searching, and provide ample guidance for those embarking on this path.

Take note:  if you follow the book’s advice to the letter, expect to take several weeks working through the book.  This is not a text that is conducive to skimming and putting into practice.

Ronnica’s Take

I think we can all agree with the subtitle of this book: “Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most.”

I did like how practical this book was, helping you apply the principals it taught. I also like that it touched on both time and money: the ideas of budgeting both are the very similar. They are both also areas that we struggle with selfishness and wastefulness.

I appreciate the emphasis of this book on aligning how you spend your resources with your values. This application of my ideals is where I struggle the most.

However, as someone who has spent well over a year considering this subject, I didn’t find that this book added much to this conversation. If this is a new focus for you, however, you may benefit from this book.

Joint Book Review: Enough is Enough by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill

enough is enoughThis month’s book review is of Enough is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill. In this book, the author’s propose replacing our “more” economy with one of “enough.” This principle is called the steady-state economy.

They also propose replace GDP with a measure called a “happy planet index” that takes into account life expectancy, subjective measures of happiness and ecological footprint to achieve it.

Amanda’s Take

Although I agree with the over-arching tenets of Enough is Enough  (“enough” is the new “more”, building a sustainable economy, etc.), I found myself doubting the practicality and feasibility of the authors’ proposed solutions.  While we can all take a stance in our day-to-day lives of making enough be enough, it seems that the solutions proposed by the authors would be better presented to governing bodies.

As Ronnica notes in her review below, the authors do state that it is simply impossible for all seven billion people on this planet to implement each of their solutions; as such, I would have preferred a more concentrated approach, tailored more to what an individual can do.  The solutions Dietz and O’Neill propose are doable, but only if entire governing bodies back them and aid in implementing them.

A prime example of this is found in Chapter 6–“Enough People:  Curbing Population.”  Certainly providing methods of birth control and promoting education among girls would aid in stemming the population boom in our world, but only with mass mobilization among every person on this planet…and even then there is no guarantee that everyone would go along with certain elements of the solution.

Overall, I found the book to be thought-provoking, if not always relevant to the ordinary person.

Ronnica’s Take

I have little training in economics, so I can’t really judge the merits of the theory espoused  in this book. However, I will comment on the foundation it’s built on.

I absolutely love the idea of pursuing “enough” instead of “more.” This begins with each and every one of us. I don’t know how to get 7 billion others to do the same thing (though some of them undoubtedly already are), but I can live my life (including my failures) openly in front of others. I can make better decisions and be an encouragement in the areas where I have influence.

The authors make an excellent point that it’s not possible for the entire world population to continue to pursue more forever without great peril to us all. And we’ve all seen the studies that we Americans are not necessarily happier than those who live in countries with less wealth.

One statistic mentioned is that once a country’s national income reaches $20,000, there is no additional happiness to be had from additional income. I think if we take a moment to reflect, we can all recognize that to be true.

May we all be content with “enough.”