Sunday, September 28, 2014

Why I'm Not Counting Under the Tuscan Sun

I had high hopes for Frances Mayes book Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy.  It came highly recommended from a life coach who claimed this book was the inspiration for her life coaching business.  I was also planned on counting it as my Italy selection for my travel the world in books reading challenge.

What is Under the Tuscan Sun about?
The book begins with Mayes and her husband purchasing an abandoned villa in Italy after falling in love with the area while on vacation.  At the time, they lived and taught in San Francisco.  This book chronicles their three year journey renovating this home and experiences living there during summer and winter breaks.  

My Thoughts:
Mayes is an incredible food writer (she is one of the writers mentioned in Dianne Jacob's book Will Write for Food that intimidated me so much).  Her descriptions of the food, flora and even the smells of the countryside are so exquisite the reader can easily feel as if they are traveling with her.  After a while though, I became bored with the book and didn’t think I was getting a real sense of Italy or what it was like to live there. Sure Mayes touches on Italy’s history, the siestas, the late dinner hour, her difficulty grasping the language and Italian’s crazy driving habits, but mostly she skips from chapter to chapter sharing recipes, drinking wine and furnishing her home. I kept waiting for that life changing aha moment the life coach spoke of, but for me it never happened.

I did like this quote about why she chose Italy over returning to her roots in the south:
But I kept remembering that any time I’ve stepped in my own footprints again, I haven’t felt renewed. (pg. 19)
Despite all of Mayes descriptive writings I couldn’t quite picture what her home and its renovations looked like – this was probably attributed to the fact I was now skimming over those sections. The Italian characters she wrote about were not memorable and I had difficulty keeping them straight except for the polish workers which were easy to identify because she referred to them as such. By the end of the book I had become annoyed with Mayes, her shopping trips and her renovation overruns.  I began to wonder where she was getting all of her money, not that I was envious; I just could no longer relate and didn't want to.

Bottom Line:
I probably should have skipped this book and watched the movie instead which I’ve heard has a completely different plot. All in all, I can’t recommend this book and am not counting it for my travel the world in book’s Italy selection. I think I can do better.

Have you read this book, if so what were your thoughts?  Do you have a nonfiction book recommendation that takes place in Italy?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Life Coach Interview: Q & A with Siobhan Sudberry

Welcome to another edition of the savvy career interview.  Today we have Siobhan Sudberry, a professional life coach, who shares her be free journey:

What is your career history?
I’ve worked in Corporate America for 15 + years, and held many roles; Mortgage Underwriter, Senior Credit Analyst and Advertising Sales Rep just to name a few. I have a BA in Business Information Systems and MBA in Marketing Communications. I’ve been coaching for about 5 years and recently decided to pursue it full time.

How did you decide to become a life coach? This is a good question… I’ve been coaching in my spare time for about 5 years or so while working full time.

I’ve always been a very optimistic, positive, encouraging and motivating person. If someone would say to me that they want to achieve a goal, I immediately start asking the “right” questions and hold them accountable to what they said they wanted to pursue.

While working in Corporate America, I was feeling unfulfilled and unhappy, so when I was laid off due to a permanent site closure, I jumped at the opportunity to fulfill my passion and purpose full time.

What kind of experience and preparation helped you the most?
I read a lot! So I’m reading all I can as it relates to coaching, self-development and entrepreneurship. I’ve also taken courses and seminars related to my business.

Would you recommend this same path to someone starting out today? Why or why not?
Honestly, I recommend that people pursue whatever they are passionate about in life. If that’s life coaching great, if not find out what you’re passionate about and do that. I’m a firm believer that we were all put on earth to fulfill a greater purpose in life and it’s up to us to figure out what that is and live it.   

What do you like best about your work?
I love that I’m living out my purpose in life, that I am helping women all over the world discover and fulfill their passion and ultimately be free. I love that I am working for myself and defining my own success.

What is your biggest headache?
Honestly, I have no headaches. I am truly having fun and enjoying my life.

What are the important personal qualities or abilities necessary for a person to be a successful life coach?
I think in order to be a successful life coach you have to be able to ask the right questions and help your client dig deeper. You have to challenge your client to get out of their comfort zone and be open to another way of thinking.

How many hours do you work each week?
Wow… a lot. LOL! I honestly have no idea, but I work a lot on my business.

What do you wish you would have known before becoming a life coach?
I wish I would’ve pursued my passion sooner in life. I wish I would have understood that I am good enough and I truly have a gift to inspire others.

Are there any books you suggest reading, training courses that would be beneficial or professional organizations aspiring life coaches should consider joining?
Read all you can. Not necessarily life coaching specific but any self-help and business related book. You should always be perfecting your craft.

Favorite books:

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson

How much can a life coach expect to earn?
A life coach income can vary depending on what type of services you offer. The income is limitless, but you have to be willing to do the work to get your desired income.  

Are there any scams, pitfalls or phony opportunities to watch out for?
So far I haven’t experienced any of the above-mentioned, but I’ll keep my eyes open.

If someone is considering hiring a life coach what should they be looking for?
A life coach should…

Hold you accountable

Challenge you to get out of your comfort zone

Provide you with tools, support and resources

Inspire and encourage you to be better

Motivate you to get started and take action
Is there anything else you would like readers to know about yourself or your career?
I am truly walking in my purpose, which is to inspire, motivate and encourage women like me to pursue their passion in life. Continue to follow my journey on being free…

Where can we find you?
Website =

Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest @befreeproject

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Why I Need to Continue Making Women Count

In 2011, after reading a couple of books that discussed how far women have come and also how far we have to go I made it my 2011 blog goal to Make Women Count.

My goals were to write about:

- Women counting for more than their beauty. Explore our cultures preoccupation with weight and beauty.

- Highlighting women who are making a difference.

- Give practical advice on how women can achieve their full potential.

- Read and review books emphasizing strong women or women who have discovered their passion. Study these women as role models and analyze what made them strong.

-Answer women’s questions on work and finance issues.

-Continue to get a clue about health and beauty products. Currently, there seems to be a product or procedure that will fix just about anything. I plan to continue researching what products are genuine and which are scams.

After a year of writing posts covering topics such as shadism, the gender wealth gap and sexual harassment the year ended on a low note when I found myself guilty of gender bias. I had automatically and wrongly assumed the woman I was introduced to was the subordinate while the man she was with was the manager. After this incident I lost the enthusiasm for my project and despite vowing to continue it in 2012 I went in a different direction.

While reading Jenny Nordberg’s book The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in AfghanistanI couldn’t help but be reminded my former project.

After the Taliban regime was removed, the new Afghan government mandated a minimum of 25 percent of parliament seats be held by females. Azita, a woman Nordberg features in this book, is one of these females. In their almost five years in office, she and the other women rarely speak during sessions and if they do are ridiculed and cut off. In Azita’s reasoning:
it is better to exist on the inside, where she at least has a vote than to only shout about women’s rights from outside the barricades, where few but the foreign press might listen. Her own brand of resistance is slightly different. For instance, she never misses an opportunity to be on camera. The young and spirited Kabul press corps, much of which operates with foreign aid money, often ask Azita to comment on parliamentary negotiations and she always accepts. She prefers to be interviewed on the lawn outside, as the plenum usually disrupts in angry murmurs and complains at the sight of a video camera, although photography is indeed allowed. Azita never confronts colleagues who argue women should not appear on television, but to her that is exactly the point. If a young boy or girl somewhere in Afghanistan catches a glimpse of a woman on television, and an elected politician at that, it has some small value. To show them that at least she exists. That she is a possibility. (Pgs. 56-57)

As we go about our lives it is easy to not think about those who live in other parts of the world and what they are experiencing. I am aware women in Afghanistan have it rough and were treated as second class citizens under the Taliban, but I didn’t realize progress for women has seen little change since 2001. Sure in Kabul and some of the major cities more women are seen on the streets and more girls attend school. Outside of these areas though burkas are still commonplace and women rarely venture out without their husbands, marriages are forced, honor killings are not unusual, rape victims go to jail or are forced to marry their rapists and daughters are used as currency to settle disputes or pay off debts. Daughters are so undervalued that some families are forced to dress their girls as boys. The reasons for this vary from needing a son to work outside of the home to requiring a son to improve the family's standing in the community.

Changing this culture is not going to be an easy. Power in Afghanistan has long been held by men who control property and women are considered property. I applaud women like Azita who do what little they can to improve the lives of all. If I can spend a year reading and writing in an attempt to  make women count then at the end of the year still succumb to a gender bias can you imagine what those trying to promote woman’s equality in Afghanistan are up against?

As I continue my quest to reinvent my life in my 52nd year perhaps I need to consider bringing back my making women count project. I may not be able to actually make women count or even eliminate all of my own deeply ingrained gender biases, but hopefully I can help show others the possibility of change.

This post was inspired by The Underground Girls of Kabul by journalist Jenny Nordberg, who discovers a secret Afghani practice where girls are dressed and raised as boys. Join From Left to Write on September 16th as we discuss The Underground Girls of Kabul. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate

Friday, September 12, 2014

Author Interview: Krista Bremer

Welcome to Day 12 of our Travel the World in Books Readathon! Today we are delighted to welcome Krista Bremer author of  My Accidental Jihad.

Since My Accidental Jihad is one of the books I selected to read for my travel the world in nonfiction books reading challenge I jumped at the chance to learn more about Krista Bremer:

1.    Introduce yourself and your book to us.
My name is Krista Bremer, and I’m a writer as well as the associate publisher for The Sun, a North Carolina-based literary magazine. My memoir, My Accidental Jihad, is about my bicultural family (my husband is a Libyan-born Muslim.) It seems to me that all marriages are bicultural; no matter who we marry, we have to negotiate different assumptions about home and family  - and we have to navigate those times when our mate seems impossibly foreign. This book is about intimacy and about the search for home.  It’s also about overcoming prejudice and discovering what we as a human family have in common.
2. Describe your path to becoming a writer. Give our aspiring writers one tip to achieving their writing dreams.
I have been writing for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t begin to publish my work until I was about 30 years old. At that time, at a writing workshop, I shared a piece I had written and the instructor insisted I submit it to a magazine for publication. That became my first published essay.  Several years later, my essay “My Accidental Jihad” won the Pushcart Prize – and not long after that, I won the Rona Jaffe Award, which is a $30,000 prize awarded to six emerging American women writers each year.  That award set me on my path to finding an agent and selling a book contract.
My advice to aspiring writers is simply to write.  Don’t wait for conditions to be perfect. If you are working a fulltime job or if you have small children, as I did while I was writing this book, steal whatever time you can. Even half an hour makes a difference. If you continue to put down words each day, the work will accumulate, and your writing will improve.
3.    How and why did you pick the location(s) of your book?
Because it’s a memoir, that decision was determined by my experience. The first section of the book, called Homeland Insecurity, takes place in California and North Carolina. The second section, Foreigners, takes place in Libya. The third section of the book, Homecoming, takes place in North Carolina.
4. Did you spend time in the countries your book is set in? Give us examples of customs or something you found interesting about the culture you experienced.
The middle section of my book takes place in Libya, where I met my in-laws and relatives for the first time when I visited in 2005. When I arrived, I sort of pitied my female relatives because their lives seemed to revolve in such a tight orbit around their families and faith. They’d never be able to do certain things I enjoyed: jog down the street in shorts, have their own credit card, fly alone to a city they’d never seen before. To my surprise, I discovered they were also rich in ways I was impoverished. They enjoyed so much family and community support, and the women enjoyed such intimacy with one another. I realized when I was there how much my life in the U.S. was lacking in these aspects – how lonely I was trying to raise a family while working fulltime and living far from my relatives.  
5. What is your favorite place that you visited, either personally or professionally?
The prophet’s mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia, is unlike any other place in the world.  The building is exquisite, and as a pilgrimage site for Muslims from all over the world, it has a tangible quality of peace and love. One can practically tast it in the air, like salt water on an ocean breeze.
Also - the Roman ruins in Sabrata, Libya, which overlook the Mediterranean sea, are just unbelievable. 
6. Where are your bucket list travel destinations?
Right now I want to make sure my children to see the exquisite natural beauty of this country: Zion, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone.
7. Where would you most like to write about?
I believe that intention matters a great deal when we write. It’s not enough to just be entertaining; I want my work to be an offering, to give readers something enriching. So I hope to write about my experience honestly, with courage and integrity, in a way that helps readers to reflect on their own lives and discover something about themselves.
8. What book are you working on now and where does it take place?
I have a project that is so new I don’t want to jinx it by talking about it.  It is another work of nonfiction, so it takes place in the United States as well as places I have visited, like Saudi Arabia and Libya. 

Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate

Monday, September 01, 2014

Travel the World in Books Readathon Kickoff

Recently Tanya of Mom's Small Victories, Becca of Lost in Books and I got together and created The Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge. Our goal is to travel the world from the comfort of own homes and learn about different cultures through books. In addition to expanding our horizons, we would like to show publishers that #WeNeedDiverseBooks to promote cultural understanding and diversity in our reading. 

For my travel the world in books challenge I plan to read 50 nonfiction books that take place in 50 different countries other than my own over the next five years. My ultimate goal would be to create a list of nonfiction books similar to this one Flavorwire posted recommending one book for each of America's 50 states.

To complement the travel the world in books challenge, we are hosting the:

Travel the World in Books Readathon which begins today and goes through September 14th.

The readathon requirements are simple; read book(s) set in another country or by author(s) from another country. Read for your own pleasure or learning, read with your kids or both. You can sign up here.

We have a lot of fun activities planned including author interviews, book giveaways, mini-challenges, Facebook and Twitter chats. Note I will be co-hosting the twitter chat Wednesday, September 10, 2014 9-10pm EST Use the #TraveltheWorldinBooksRAT hashtag.  Here is the complete readathon event schedule.

My goal for the readathon is to read and write one book review - I doubt I will find time to finish more than one. The books I’ve selected for the readathon are:

Scott Anderson's Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East:
I read a review in early summer stating this book would help readers understand the origins of the current state of the modern Middle east. Considering everything that is happening there I thought this would make a great first read for the Travel the World in Books challenge.  Unfortunately, it has been a slow read. I've been reading this one since July and still have 200 pages to go.  Hopefully I can finish it during the readathon.

Frances Mayes book Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy:
Life coach Ann Daly describes this book as a Do-Over memoir. More specifically, it’s a “woman’s midlife-Do-Over!-in-a-home-and-garden memoir.” Since this book takes place in Italy I chose it for my second read.  I doubt this one will make it onto my epic nonfiction reading list for Italy, but it is an enjoyable read and will probably be the one book I finish and review for the readathon.

Jenny Nordberg's book The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan:
I signed up to read this one for the From Left to Write Book Club's September read.  This looks like a great nonfiction read for Afghanistan.  Since book club posts are due mid-September, I will be spending a good chunk of the readathon reading this one.

I also have on hand Krista Bremer's book My Accidental Jihadwhich covers her own life do-over and travels to Libya and Susan Jane Gilman's memoir Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven about her backpacking trip to China in 1986. I doubt I will find time to get to either of these during the readathon, but hopefully I can finish them in September.

Have you read a great nonfiction book that will help me discover another country?  I'm always looking for additional recommendations for my challenge.

Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate