Health Update

Figured it was worth sharing an update on my general health.  I’ve always been a bit large, at least from Middle School on. It’s not news to me, but I knew something needed to change. Hitting the gym helped, but never for long. Tried a couple of different diets and those tended not to last too long, either. I just like food too much. I decided to join in a Weight Loss challenge on Board Game Geek and participated loosely, though never having a lot of huge changes. Someone posted a quick note that those in the challenge should watch the “Fat Head” documentary and perhaps look into low-carb/high-fat diets.  I figured I had nothing to lose so pulled up the video and watched it.

Tom Naughton is a bit cheesy and the video tends to be a bit over the top, but it got me really thinking about the premise. In a nutshell, Tom set out to disprove the findings of Supersize Me by eating nothing but fast food for a month. The difference is that he tended to ditch the breads, didn’t eat fries at all, skipped desserts, and did not drink sugary sodas.  At the end of the month his blood pressure and weight had dropped and his overall health markers had improved.  Of course, I had to read up more on this as is my habit to read until I can avoid taking action.  Eventually my wife challenged me about when I would start and I just dove in. I would still eat fast food, but burgers as a lettuce wrap or “sub in a bowl” or tacos sans shell/tortilla.  Chips are right out, as were potatoes. My favorite Coke Classic was out, replaced by water, tea, and Coke Zero.

I had done enough reading and stockpiling of recipes from some great sites such as www.ruled.me, www.ketodietapp.com, and others. I knew I could make “Fat Head” pizza dough, topped with a low-carb sauce, cheese, and other things. I could still make baked treats with sweeteners. I could add in Fat Bombs and healthy fats to my meals. Yes, my eating habits changed as I would now pass on the chips at the Tex-Mex places and order bunless burgers with no fries.  I still get some funny responses when ordering a burger, but not too many.  I’ll order some steak and grilled veggies or ask for chicken parm made with sauteed chicken instead of breaded chicken.  Overall, it hasn’t been hard to stick to the new way of eating. I find I don’t really miss the sweets too much and rarely miss the chips and breads.

Results? Well, the first month I dropped 10-15 pounds, but that was likely mostly water weight. Also after that first month, I was able to halve my medicines. Since starting I’ve lost 50 pounds overall, with another 30-50 to go. That’s just from diet changes. My clothes are loose – enough that I know I’ll need new ones soon. I know there are differences as others have commented on the changes, but it’s hard to see when it’s a slow progression.

Still, I’ve learned a lot since starting and this is a way of eating that I can maintain. With the benefits of getting back to an ideal weight for my size, eliminating medicines, and having a bit more energy, I don’t see a reason to return to my old ways.  I love pizza, nachos, tortillas, and breads – just not enough to want to go back to taking meds and buying larger clothes.

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Book Review: Witch Wraith by Terry Brooks

imageWitch Wraith by Terry Brooks is the latest in the Shannara series, started many years ago with the Sword of Shannara. This is the third and final book in the “Dark Legacy of Shannara” trilogy and continues the adventures of the Ohmsfords, Druids, residents of the Four Lands, and the Demons in their battles.

The story opens with Railing Ohmsford searching for his long lost relative Grianne Ohmsford, formerly head of the Druid order and prior to that the Ilse Witch. The problem now is that Railing has been warned not to search for Grianne as it will not end the way anyone expects.

The quest to heal the Ellcrys and drive back the demons continues with Arlingfant and Aphenglow Elessedil elves of the royal family. They fight against all sorts of enemies trying to stop them, demon and human. If the tree is not reborn, the demons will come out of the Forbidding and destroy everything.

Finally Railing’s brother Redden is trying to find his way home from inside the Forbidding and do whatever it takes to put a stop to the impending demon invasion. He has unlikely allies including some minor demons inside the forbidding.

As with many of Terry Brooks’ Shannara books, we are kept on edge throughout the trilogy wondering how, or even if, the heroes will come through to the end. We’re reasonably sure that the Ellcrys will be reborn, but never quite sure how. Who will survive until the end? How will the demons be defeated? All I can say is that the ending is not quite what you’d expect if you’ve ever read Terry’s Shannara books in the past.

 

My Take: I’m a big fan of Terry’s Shannara books. There’s something refreshing in knowing that good will win out in the end and joining in the journey as the heroes grow, realize their strengths, and triumph over evil. That being said, this trilogy is appropriately named the “Dark Legacy”. The stories have definitely taken a darker turn with more deaths of main characters, tragic turnings, and human failings. I’ll spoil this a little bit saying that good still wins in the end, but with an ending that is sad for long-time readers.

I liked the book, as I do all of this series, but I hope to see less darkness in future Shannara novels. I look forward to what happens next in the Four Lands, and really hope that some form of peace or growth could come in future stories. If you’ve read any of Terry’s books you don’t need my review to know that you want to read this one. If you’ve never read any of his books, this is not the one with which to start. Go back to The Sword of Shannara and read them in publication order until you get here. You’ll appreciate it all the more.

 

Disclaimer: I was provided with this book by the publisher with no expectations on their part. The opinions expressed are my own and were not influenced by anyone else.

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Book Review: The Accidental Time Traveller by Janis Mackay

Accidental Time TravellerThe Accidental Time Traveller by Janis Mackay tells the story of a young man named Saul who has become frustrated with his life in Scotland. He is sent out to the store by his mom and you can hear his frustration as the story opens and his mom is preoccupied with the twins. We follow Saul’s train of thought as he avoids bullies, makes his way to the store, and helps a strangely dressed girl avoid an accident. At this point we’re introduced to our accidental time traveller, Agatha Black.

Saul decides he’ll try to hide Agatha because nobody will understand her and he’s also a little afraid to be seen helping a girl. Agatha asks to be shown around the town and reminisces about how much things have changed. Saul takes her to his gang’s hideout and asks her to stay there while he heads home. At this point we learn that Saul has the option to enter a “Young Historians” contest for Scottish history. (a little foreshadowing) Saul wants to win the competition to buy a brand new bike. Saul goes about his normal routine at home, taking some extra food along the way so he can bring it to Agatha.

Saul and Agatha grow to be friends and Saul learns more about Scotland in the past. He hatches a plan to pass Agatha off as a boy so “he” can join his gang and attend school. Saul also tries to learn more about Agatha’s trip through time to help her return to her own time. Along the way, we see how Agatha looks at the world from her 200 years in the past and how Saul sees his world through new eyes.

We watch Saul grow a little bit through his adventure with Agatha. He thinks of himself a little less, gains some confidence, and gains an unexpected friend in Agatha. Does he succeed in helping Agatha return to her own time? Does Saul win the History prize and get his new bike? Janis Mackay tells a great story to answer all of those questions.

My Take: This was a great read for young adults and adults as well. I would have no problem giving this to my 5th grader to read and I think it would be appreciated. I enjoyed Saul’s story, though was initially put off by his negative attitude. As I got to know Saul, I saw that change and appreciated the story more. I think this is a good read for its target audience and can recommend it.

 

Disclaimer: I was provided with this book by the publisher with no expectations on their part. The opinions expressed are my own and were not influenced by anyone else.

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Book Review: Fix-It and Forget-It Holiday Main Dishes and Sides by Phyllis Pellman Good

 

imageFix-It and Forget-It Holiday Main Dishes and Sides by Phyllis Pellman Good is a collection of recipes for the holidays that you cook in your crockpot or slow cooker. This collection of 50 recipes is distilled from a larger collection of 600 recipes published in an earlier book for Christmas. That does not make this book less valuable. It distills the original down to something a little more manageable.

As with all of these Fix It & Forget It books, the recipes are pretty basic with few pictures. The book is divided into two sections: Main Dishes and Sides. The main dishes contain recipes for beef, chicken, turkey, ham, and a handful of other main ingredients. The sides range from beans, corn, yams, and squash to stuffing and potatoes. All recipes include estimates for prep time, cook time, and ideal cooker size. They are laid out logically in order of ingredients, preparation steps, cook time, and tips appropriate to the recipe. The tips section at the end of the book shares some non-cooking tips from the readers for the holiday season.

My thoughts: If you find yourself wanting to prep some main dishes and sides for the holidays, this would be a great resource. You can put your slow cookers to use to prepare some great meals and sides to please your family and guests. I came across several recipes that I want to try, including one almost dessert-like side for Scalloped Pineapple.

 

Disclaimer: I was provided with a preview copy of this book with no expectations on anyone’s part. The opinions expressed are my own and were not influenced by anyone else.

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Book Review: Matt Monroe and the Secret Society by Edward Torba

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Matt Monroe and the Secret Society by Edward Torba starts off with Matt in a field watching lights rise above the field. Turns out that’s a dream, though. Matt runs off to take care of mowing the lawn of a local dentist. We learn that Matt has an older brother, Josh, who is very popular. Matt’s best friend is Zach, an out of shape young man who is very loyal to his friends. Dr. Steel, the dentist asks if there’s still a secret society that meets in town. Matt is surprised, but we learn that the society has been going for some time. It’s time for Matt and Zach to be initiated into the society soon and they’re slightly nervous about it.

As the story unfolds, Matt finds some mysterious wooden tablets and a ring. The adults in town convene a meeting and we meet the rest of the friends of Matt and Josh. It turns out that there is a larger secret society – of Dentists. They have worked to protect the world for some time against an evil fairy who wants to eliminate all of mankind. It’s now fallen on Matt to stop the villain and save the world or die trying.

Matt sets off with his friends and Josh and his friends. Along the way, we learn that the Tooth Fairy is actually real and in charge of fighting for humanity. The secret society of dentists was formed to help humans partner with the fairy world and maintain the balance. Will Matt save the world? Will his friends survive the quest or fall along the way as Matt reads in a prophecy?

My Take: Overall, I enjoyed the book. While the idea of a Tooth Fairy and secret society of dentists does tend to stretch disbelief quite a bit, it works well for the story. There were a couple of minor twists in the story that work well for this YA novel. The dental references seemed silly at times, but the story underneath was enjoyable. The story flowed pretty well from the beginning through to the end and I think that it could be a decent read for its target age range.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a preview copy of this book with no explanations on the part of the publisher. The opinions expressed are my own and were not influenced by anyone else.

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Book Review: The Berenstain Bears Easter Magic by Stan & Jan Berenstain

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The Berenstain Bears Easter Magic by Stan & Jan Berenstain is an early reader book originally printed in 1997. It’s targeted at families with young kids to help them learn to read. The artwork is typical Berenstain Bears, which means that everything is well drawn and the characters are expressive.

As this is an early reader book, it has a rhyming style so every two lines rhyme and follow the same meter. The story starts with the onset of Spring, but quickly leads into a visit from the Easter Bunny and candy. As always, the authors leave with a quick message. In this case, the message is not to eat too much candy.

My Take: It’s an early reader book. If you like the Berenstain Bears and tend to celebrate Easter with bunnies and candy, it could be useful to assist your younger children with reading. It’s not going to be a deep read by any means. It’s short and could make for a quick bedtime read. Personally, we don’t celebrate bunnies at Easter so this isn’t going to be in my “must buy” list, but I realize that it could appeal to others.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a preview copy of this book with no expectations on the part of the publisher. The opinions expressed are my own and were not influenced by anyone else.

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Book Review: Simon’s Cat in Kitten Chaos by Simon Tofield

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Simon’s Cat in Kitten Chaos by Simon Tofield is the latest collection of drawings by Simon Tofield outlining the lives of cats, kittens, other animals, and their owners. If you’ve never watched one of his videos, you owe it to yourself to watch one on Youtube. If you have ever watched cats playing around, you’ll recognize quite a few of their antics.

This collection of drawings opens with Simon finding a box outside and bringing it into his home, passing by his cat. The cat is begging for food, as is pretty normal for cats. Simon gets a bowl of food ready, much to his cat’s delight. However, he’s trying to coax an animal out of this box – the kitten. The kitten comes out, eats the food, and we see the ongoing relationship between the cat and the kitten. At times they are friends, at times they’re at odds.

Some of the comics remind me of the old Spy vs Spy comics where they constantly try to one-up the other. Others just show cute drawings of the animals going about their daily business. We see shots of the cats crawling in and out of various small places, climbing, scratching, eating, chasing animals, and generally being cats. All of the drawings make up mini stories told without words. We end the book with Simon showing, in brief, how to draw some of the animals he uses in his works.

My Take: I have enjoyed Simon’s Cat for some time on YouTube and never realized that he had books compiling his artwork. His books are just as entertaining as his videos. Having owned a cat before these drawings hit really close to the truth. I chuckled while looking at the drawings and really enjoyed the book. I plan to seek out more of Simon’s compilations now that I know they’re available. You should definitely check out Simon’s YouTube channel and check out his books. The introduction of the kitten really makes the animal antics even more interesting.

Disclaimer: I was given a preview copy of this book with no expectations on the part of the publisher. The opinions expressed are my own and were not influenced by anyone else.

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