I was dubious at first. It was Prime Day on Amazon and my wife spotted a deal there on something all her friends were raving about. It was something called an Instant Pot . The name and list of features she was rattling off sounded like one of those “As Seen On TV” things that only seem to work in the Infomercial. A combination pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, steamer with programable one-touch operation? Do sautéing beforehand right in the pot? It sounded way too good to be true. Especially because I’m the primary cook in the family…
“Perfectly cooked rice in 8-12 minutes? Just throw the rice and water in the pot, put the lid on, push a button, and walk away? Yeah, right!”
” Potatoes and Eggs for potato salad in minutes? Cooked in the same pot at the same time? Get outta’ here!”
“Perfectly cooked Refried Beans without soaking? Just set it and forget it? I’ll believe it when I see it!”
I mean, if this thing did even half the stuff people were claiming it did it would be worth it at double the price. Anything that saves me that much time in the kitchen and/or allows for quick and easy one pot meals is worth it’s weight in gold to me. So, we pulled the trigger and bought it.
I’ve cooked something at least three times a week in it since I got it and each time I’m just blown away. Just this afternoon I made Potato Salad for the first time with it using this recipe and was astonished yet again. Perfectly cooked potatoes and eggs in four minutes. FOUR! I love potato salad and with this I could make it for myself all the time. I’ve also made risotto in eight minutes and a red lentil stew in about 15 minutes.
Steal cut oatmeal. Homemade yogurt (yes, you can make yogurt with this thing). Chili’s and stews. I even made some tasty southern style cabbage that came out just like the stuff that takes hours on the stove in minutes. Seriously, this thing is legit!
What’s also nice is that portions don’t matter. You can cook a meal for one just as quickly and easily as a meal for six. That makes it perfect for anyone — single or not. I could easily see this being the perfect primary kitchen tool for a college dorm or small apartment. One could make fresh, easy, cheap, quick meals every day with this thing. The stainless steel liner makes for easy cleanup too.
It is rare that I jump on the latest gadget craze and walk away this impressed. It’s made me shamelessly brake out in happy dance around the kitchen several times since I got it. If you love to cook or hate to but would like to more often, give the Instant Pot your serious consideration.
Never Too Busy to Cure Clutter: Simplify Your Life One Minute at a Time by Erin Rooney Doland
This is a practical, actionable, and approachable book that is designed for people who have “lives”. So many other books in the space are written by 20 somethings with no kids and nothing but free time on their hands (I’m looking at you Ms. Kondo). But, for those of us with jobs and kids and schedules packed end-to-end, spending 15 minutes folding a t-shirt to sit on end is just not going to happen.
This book is different. The author understands a normal life because she herself has one that she juggles too. This book is written from that perspective and understanding. It’s the sort of thing that you can pick up, turn to just about any page, and find at least one easy organizing task to make your space a bit better using the time and energy you have at the moment. No matter if that is two hours or thirty seconds, there are dozens of tips and ideas to fit either. The idea that making just a little bit of progress is far more valuable and rewarding than making none at all. Also, it is a start — thirty seconds here and 15 minutes there can clean up and organize a whole room.
Seriously, get this book. If you even manage to do five small tasks it suggests it will be money well spent.
Toms Men’s Avalon Sneaker
I needed a nice slip on shoe to replace some slip-on Keen shoes I liked so much I literally wore them until they fell apart. I need slip ons for quick jaunts out of and around the house and, especially, for travel. I wanted something lightweight, comfortable, and easy to get on and off. They also needed to be good looking in a iety of situations — t-shirt and jeans but also maybe with a collared shirt and sport jacket. Ultimately, I was looking for a shoe that would satisfy my constant desire to pack light and go fast.
I seem to have found what I was looking for in Toms Men’s Avalon Sneaker. I’m really digging these. They fit the bill quite well. The fit is good and they look good without being too stuffy. I have a trip to New York City coming up and I can wait to take these on 20 block walks and see how the hold up. If first impressions are an indication I believe they’ll do great. I highly recommended them if you are in the market for something similar.
I didn’t read as much as I have in past years. While I feel a bit bad about that — and very much wish I had made time to read more — the fact is that the house rehab project as well as many other worthwhile, yet time-consuming, factors simply meant my focus was elsewhere. I hope that the coming year brings me more time to make reading the priority it has been in years past.
Here are the books I read this year in the order I read them with a short review of each.
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown — A wonderful book that explores the idea that living a whole hearted life means having the courage to love ourselves despite out shame about out imperfections. Great way to start the year.
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg — This is one of the writing books. One of those widely considered the gold standard of books on writing. For good reason, it is wonderful. This is actually my second time reading it. The first time, a couple of years ago, I did not highlight or mark it up for easy future perusal. I read through it again mainly for that purpose. I plan on visiting this book and browsing through at least once every year.
Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld — This was wonderful book. Two books, actually because… It is the story of an 18 year old debut YA novelist and each chapter about her is interspersed with the novel she write. So, you are reading two books at once, really. Sounds gimmicky but came together quite well. I’m not normally into YA but I highly recommend this one.
The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer — A must read for artists of all sorts. This is a delightful, and often very moving, combination of advice and personal memoir.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac — I’m trying to make it a personal goal to read more of the classics that, for one reason or another, I have missed. Reading this was near the top of that list. I’m glad I did because it is a classic for a reason. Kerouac has a voice all his own. It’s like reading improvisational jazz as interpreted by Woody Gutherie. It is at once relaxed and frantic.
The Circle by Dave Eggers — A ridiculous book, really. Contrived and clichéd in all of the worst ways. And, it went a long way towards finally convincing me that middle aged men are rarely good at writing young female characters. But I powered my way through. It makes its rather simple point about 20 pages in (i.e. Companies like Facebook and Google are evil and we should fear what they stand for) and then spends the rest of the book beating away at this thinly veiled point. I wouldn’t recommend it.
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson — This was a really fantastic book. The first 2/3rds of it follow the total destruction of earth following a mysterious event that causes the moon to explode and fracture. Humanity must find a way to survive and very few do. The final third happens 5000 years later. It’s a gripping story of survival, ingenuity, and human nature. My only warning is that, like many of Stephenson’s books, he can at times get a little bogged down in the weeds of technical detail. Fascinating if you are interested, easily skimable if not.
The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion by Elle Luna — Normally, when I read a non-fiction book I highlight key sentences and paragraphs to make it easy to find specific important thoughts skim through the book again in the future. It is rare that I will “dog ear” a page. Because, when I dog ear a while page it means everything on the page is important and not a single word is to be missed. I dog eared a lot of pages in this one. Several in a row in many cases. Unlike a lot of the “quit your job and follow your dreams” books, this one is rational, reasonable, and readily admits that jumping off such a cliff is not wise. Instead, it argues that if you can make the time to do the things you should do, you can make the time to do the things you must do. And it gives plenty of examples of those who have done just that. A particular favorite is composer Phillip Glass who continued to work as a plumber even as rave reviews of his work were being published in the New York Times. This is one of those books I now recommend to as many people as I can. Plus, it is beautifully illustrated. Worth getting for that alone.
Darkened Blade: A Fallen Blade Novel by Kelly McCullough — A fine wrap up of the series. Just as fun as all the rest. You should read them all (and look back at my past reviews of them if you’d like to know more).
Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable by Tim S. Grover — This book will either completely piss you off in the first few pages or completely resonate with you. It’s one of those books. For me, it not only resonated but I found myself compiling a list of others I know who needed to read it. I sent one as a gift to a friend only half way though. I knew they would see themselves in there like I did. Tim Grover is a personal training coach to many top athletes — especially in the NBA. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, and many other credit him with a large part of their success. His mission, taking players way past their perceived limits to be the very best. Not just the best in the game or the best playing today but the best of all time. He’s the best at what he does and he has the clients and results to back it up. He also makes no bones about that and gives zero fucks about what you think. He is arrogant, cocky, and tells it like he believes it is. In this book, he gets into the mindset and anecdotes of what it takes to play and live a life at that level, who has it (very few), who doesn’t (the vast majority). This is not a book that will teach you how to get there. This is not a how too guide. It will not teach you how to get into “the zone” and stay there. And, as he makes clear, if that’s what you want then you already don’t have what it takes so he can’t help you anyway. What it is is a litmus test. You will either recognize the qualities it takes to meet this kind of success or you will not. Very inspirational to the right person. Worthless hyperbole to most. But, some very interesting and entertaining anecdotes for the long time basketball fan.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel — Wow, this is a really wonderfully written book. Set both just prior and 20 years post-apocalyptic pandemic that wipes out most of earth’s population, it is a story of survival and hope. But not only in the ways one might expect from such fare. It’s really about relationship and connectedness and how even in the worst of times simply surviving is insufficient.
The Gypsy in Me: From Germany to Romania in Search of Youth, Truth, and Dad by Ted Simon — A wonderful account of one mans’ journey, mostly by foot, to trace his Eastern European roots. Along the way, he finds a deeper meaning of his own personal identity. Part travelogue, part memoir, with plenty of political and social inquiry, this book is a unique bird but an engaging read.
The Assured Expectation of Things Hoped For by Shawn Mihalik — A smart and beautiful coming-of-age story about a young woman growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness. This offers an interesting peek into a world many of us turn away when it comes to our doors. Shawn is a really good writer — especially in the shorter form of a novella.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald — The classic novel about a group of Long Island upper-crusters and one particular mysterious gentleman. The prose is beautiful and, at times, whimsical with a strong sense of time and place. At its heart, this is a novel about the stories we tell (and the ones that are told) about ourselves in an effort be strive to be better and how it keeps the world from being able it care about who we really are.
It’s Never Too Late: A Kids Book for Adults by Dallas Clayton — Full of wisdom and whimsy, it’s a short inspirational, “kids book” (i.e. with illustrations) meant for adults. Mainly about the value of time and living life to the fullest. This was a gift from my friend Garrick and it was timely and very sweet.
Books I’ve started…
(But have not yet finished.)
The Journals of Henry David Thoreau by Henry David Thoreau — I’m slowly working my way through this, the most reader friendly version of the original 7000 journal pages of one of my favorite writers and thinkers. At only 704 pages, it seems a breeze in comparison. This is something I pick up and read a bit more of when I’m between other books.
Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 by Eric Foner — This 750 page tome I’m reading as contextual research for a Big Book Project I’ve been (slowly) working on.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow: Books — This is the engaging and fascinating definitive biography of one of America’s most misunderstood founding fathers. Started reading it, in no small part, because it is the inspiration for the current Broadway musical of the same name (which my wife is obsessed with). We will be seeing the musical in March in New York City and, well, wanted to “read the book first”. Glad I am.
I wear a t-shirt almost every day. For me, it’s as essential a first layer as underwear. And, in the summer, it is sometimes my only top layer. So, for me, it is important that a t-shirt look great, be supper comfortable, fit very well, and also be ‘enough’ by itself when the day calls for it.
For a very long time, I couldn’t find just the right thing. Some models and brands came close in the fit and softness department but failed in others. Then, on a whim, I ordered a Buck Mason Crew Slub Tee when it was being offered by Need. They had them on sale and it looks like a good option so I thought, “What the heck, let’s give it a go.”
I’m so glad I did. It fits all of the qualifications I was looking for. This is the most comfortable, best fitting, most ‘tailored’ looking t-shirt I have ever worn. It’s like they were made just for me. They feel like silk against the skin. The rounded bottom hem makes them perfect for wearing tucked or untucked and gives them a classy look when worn untucked just by themselves. Plus, they layer very well not too thick to wear as an undershirt. I have since ordered several more in different colors from Buck Mason directly.
Buck Mason offers a neat deal where you can order up a package of three of these tees and return them for free if they don’t suit you. I could not recommend them more highly and it’s a great way to check them out.
The GORUCK Kit Bag 32L is the perfect weekender style bag for those looking for something with a utilitarian vibe and, like all GORUCK bags, one built to last a lifetime.
Sometimes, you don’t need to pack light and go fast. You don’t need the hands-free benefits of a ruck. You just need a decent bag to hold a few days worth of clothes and sundries to throw into the trunk of the car or overhead bin and get away for bit. This is the perfect bag for that.
In the photo above, I have it packed for a four day trip to our family cabin. As you can see, it looks great but it is also highly functional. Besides the pockets on the side there are two similarly sized zippered mesh pockets inside. There is another inside zippered pocket that can hold small documents like a passport or Field Notes notebook. But the main draw is the spacious main compartment. A couple of pair of jeans, a couple of pairs of shorts, a few t-shirts, a couple of long sleeves, socks, underwear, and my toiletry bag are all inside with a few miscellaneous items too. This thing can hold a fair amount of stuff and not appear like it is going to break at the seams. It’s made for action and abuse.
It’s a fair price at $85.00. But, GORUCK is currently selling a great bundle deal with the Kit 32L and the Tough Bag (formerly, the Brick Bag) for only $89.00. The Tough Bag makes a great stuff sack. I roll mine up empty, pack it, and then use it for stuffing my dirty clothes in when in the road. It’s an amazing bargain for both items.
Bottom line, if you are in the market for such a bag this deserves your consideration.
Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable by Tim S. Grover is a book that will either piss you off in the first few pages or completely resonate with you. It’s one of those books. For me, it not only resonated but I found myself compiling a list of others I know who needed to read it too. I even sent one as a gift to a friend only half way though. I knew they would see themselves in there like I did.
Tim Grover is a personal training coach to many top athletes — especially in the NBA. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, and many other of the game’s greatest players credit him with a large part of their success. His mission, taking players way past their perceived limits to be the very best. Not just the best in the game or the best playing today but the best of all time. He teaches them how to get into the zone and tap into the relentless and unstoppable potential that is inside us all. He’s the best at what he does and he has the clients and results to back it up. He also makes no bones about that and gives zero fucks about what you think. He is arrogant, cocky, confident, and tells it like he believes it is. Which may be off putting to many readers.
In this book, he gets into the mindset and anecdotes of what it takes to play and live a life at such a high level of excellence, who has that (very few), who doesn’t (the vast majority), and what mindset one needs. This is not a book that will teach you how to get there. This is not a how too guide. It will not teach you how to get into "the zone" and stay there. And, as he makes clear, if that’s what you want then you already don’t have what it takes so he can’t help you anyway. What it is is a litmus test. You will either recognize the qualities it takes to meet this kind of success inside of you already or you will not. It’s very inspirational to the right person or worthless hyperbole to those who don’t get it. But, at the least, you will finally be able to understand what makes a Jordan, Bryant, or Wade tick.
But, there’s also some very interesting and entertaining anecdotes for the long time basketball fan. He talks about specific moments in specific memorable games and provides insight and background to the action that only he and the player involved would know. So, even if you are not a fan of the message the author is delivering it’ll be a fun read for the NBA fan.
In short, The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion by Elle Luna is the best non-fiction book I’ve read in a long time.
Normally, when I read a non-fiction book I highlight key sentences and paragraphs to make it easy to find specific important thoughts so I can easily skim through the book again in the future. It is rare that I will "dog ear" a page. Because, when I dog ear a while page it means everything on the page is important and not a single word is to be missed.
If you look at the picture above you can easily tell by looking at the corner I dog eared a lot of pages reading this book. Several in a row in many cases. It’s that good.
Unlike a lot of the "quit your job and follow your dreams" books, this one is rational, reasonable, and readily admits that jumping off such a cliff is not wise. Instead, it argues that if you can make the time to do the things you should do, and we all seem to find the time to do those things that the world expects from us, you can make the time to do the things you must do. The mists being the things that you were born to do. The things that come from the core of who you are. The things that many of us push to the background for far too many reasons. That if you allow your must dos in, just a little, it will be a success no matter what because you will be allowing in the things that make you the very core of who you are.
The book gives plenty of examples of those who have done just that. A particular favorite is composer Phillip Glass who continued to work as a plumber even as rave reviews of his work were being published in the New York Times.
This is one of those books I now recommend to as many people as I can. Plus, as you may be able to tell from the photos it is beautifully illustrated. Worth getting for that alone. For this reason, you should make sure to get the hardcover. Especially since it is only a few cents more than the Kindle edition. Don’t cheat yourself out of beauty.
You should read The Crossroads of Should and Must. It’s worth your time.
I love pockets. I always have. It’s one of the few benefits to living in a place that offers the full benefits (and downsides) of all four seasons — it means for three of those I wear extra layers or jackets. Extra layers and jackets almost always include more pockets.
I’ve been a fan of SCOTTeVEST for a long time now. I have several of their items including the Travel Vest that started it all. The reason? SCOTTeVEST has perfected the art of building multiple pockets into their clothing without looking like clothes with a bunch of pockets. Functional clothing that looks great. For instance, the aforementioned vest has 24 pockets. Yet, fully loaded for travel, one would never guess I’m carrying so much stuff. In fact, it’s like having a third carry-on.
I recently came into possession of a SCOTTeVEST Hoodie. Like all of their products, it quickly became an instant favorite. It’s soft, comfortable, warm, has tons of nice touches, and, yes, there are loads of pockets. Ten pockets to be exact. Perfect for carrying my phone, notebooks, pens, keys, and all of the other sundry items I may want. I’ve had mine for a few weeks now and it has become my go-to wear for the strange and changing weather we’ve had as of late.
There are a couple of hand warmer pockets as there are with any hoodie but each of these conceal another pocket inside (one side has a largish “secret pocket” and the other a change pocket). On top of the hand warmer pockets are two “drop in” pockets with a snap closure. A smart placement because, when closed, one can barely tell there are pockets there at all. There are also two inside chest pockets that are each divided into two pouches (so, essentially, doubling that number to four). Another thoughtful detail I like is the thumbholes at the cuff for giving your hands a little extra warmth when needed.
All of the pockets are smartly placed so as to look like just any other regular hoodie you might wear. All of the construction and materials are high quality and built to last through a life of travel and adventure (not that I live one). I got mine in red and have gotten several complements on it whenever I wear it out. Even my wife has commented more than once how much she loves it on me.
Seriously, you should check out all that SCOTTeVEST makes. I am a long time customer and have never been dissatisfied. And, if you are in the market for a hoodie, this one should be on your radar for sure.
If you follow me on the social networks, by now you have heard me talk about DailyMuse. It was born out of an idea I floated on App.net for a web app that would send me daily, random, emails from a group of items I put into it. My friend Matthew Lang took up the challenge and built it. I like it a lot. But, let me tell you why I wanted it in the first place and how I put it to use.
A couple of years ago, I purchased a book and assessment test called StrenthsFinder 2.0 published by Gallup. Yes, the same Gallup that is known for polling data. The assessment is a series of questions designed to help you discover your core strengths. At the end of the assessment, a list and explanation of those strengths is given and they provide a personalized action plan to help you uncover and tap into those talents.
I had the thought that this series of actions would be better digested and reflected upon if I got one sent randomly via email to me daily. Almost like a daily devotional. But, I could not find a tool to do so. Now, thanks to Daily Muse, there is.
Once I started using it ( I was on the beta team) I thought it might be fun to also add Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies into the daily mix. So, I copied and pasted many of those in too.
Those are the two things I’m using it for so far but I can think of many others — daily exercise ideas, healthy snacks and recipes, writing prompts, study of scripture or philosophy, etc. Basically, anything that would be good to have a daily reminder for would be a good fit for this.
DailyMuse is free to try for 30 days and, if you like it, the price is a very fair $2 per month or $20 per year beyond that. Check it out.