Category Archives: Books

How to Become a Straight A Student by Cal Newport

How To Become a Straight-A Student~Review

If you know someone heading off to college in the fall, “How to Become a Straight-A Student” by Cal Newport is a great resource. The sub-title (“The Unconventional Strategies Real College Stuents Use to Score High While Studying Less”) is true.

The book is full of practical strategies that I’ve never heard before and wish I had known when I went to college and law school.

Luke, the one starting college in the fall, is a good student and thrives under the accountability and structure of a schedule and assignments. He’s a little anxious about adjusting to the academics and managing his own time, along with all the other changes that college life brings.

I heard Cal Newport on a podcast discussing his new book “Deep Work“. He also briefly mentioned his first book (Straight A Student) which is a practical playbook dissecting and describing how top college students organize their time and study effectively without stressing out.

He mentioned one effective study technique as an example and I knew the book would help Luke.

Newport’s simple time management system, which he describes in the first chapter, is worth the price of the book.

If you implement it correctly, the simple system should only take 5-10 minutes a day of planning.

I’ll summarize it here but Newport gives a few clear examples to illustrate how effective it can be to minimize anxiety.

It requires a calendar (digital or physical) to record important dates and events. You’ll also need a piece of paper or something portable to jot the daily tasks on and things that come up during the day.

The calendar serves as the master schedule which you’ll consult each morning for 5-10 minutes to create your portable “to-do” list.

As the day goes on, you can check off or reschedule the to-dos, you’ll also record any new assignments or important dates on this portable note (sheet of notebook paper works fine). So, when your professor announces the date of a quiz at the end of class, if you jot it down on your sheet, you won’t risk forgetting if you don’t get back to your room until later in the day. It’s an easy way to make sure important things aren’t overlooked and you don’t have to rely on your memory.

A couple of thoughts: forming a habit of consulting the master calendar, taking a few minutes each morning at the beginning of the day and jotting down notes as the day goes on might be the hardest part of this system. Definitely, its success relies on forming a few new habits. Second, as you continue, you’ll get better at judging what you can accomplish in a day. Again, this will come with practice.

I’m anxious for Luke to try this time management system on his busy but not stressful summer schedule a few weeks before school starts so he understands the basics and gets into the habit.

The book also offers anti-procrastination strategies, time-saving study tactics, note-taking tips and a lot of other practical information that’s realistic and executable.

I’m confident that if Luke implements even a few of the strategies, it will minimize his anxiety and help him navigate a more demanding academic schedule.

If it’s appropriate, I’ll write about the other parts of the book in separate posts.

Bilateral Patellar Tendon Rupture~Recovery Pt. 2

bilateral patellar tendon surgery

*This post may contain affiliat links. If you make a purchase through one of the links, I receive a commission at no additional cost to you. My opinions or suggestions about the equipment or products are based on our experience and are my own.

In first post of this series, I wrote about what to expect in the first 2 weeks or so after bilateral patellar tendon surgery.

This is a rare injury and there isn’t much about it on the internet except medical journal articles about how rare it is.

I’m writing about the recovery in parts so the posts don’t get too long. To give you an idea without the suspense, Mark was walking with crutches (unlocked to 30 degrees) by week 10. Three months out, he is driving and walking up and down stairs (stiffly and relying a lot on railings). Neither of us could picture it even 6 weeks post-op.

Weeks 2-6

If you recall from the first post, Mark had a visit with the surgeon one week after surgery to remove the surgical bandages over his incisions. The following week, the staples were removed.

During the second visit, the surgeon taught me how to do Mark’s therapy for the next 4 weeks. First was moving his kneecap around to inhibit or break up scar tissue (mobs). #yuk.

My other job was bending his legs one at a time. “Bending” is an overstatement. The first few times, each leg probably didn’t bend more than 5-10 degrees. If you can imagine a tight rubber band connecting his quad to his knee cap but less flexible.  Before each of these sessions, I would move his knee cap around. Like I said…yuk.

The key with the bending is that Mark wasn’t supposed to flex his quads at all. I learned later that flexing the quad naturally pulls the knee cap up which I guess could have interfered with the repair and complete healing.

So, this all sounds doable except when you consider that while I was working my magic on one leg, his other was locked in extension and had to be supported straight out in front of him.

Once again, that chair and ottoman was a lifesaver.

I basically moved from one side of the ottoman to the other. The leg I wasn’t working on would rest on the inside edge of the ottoman (which was pushed up against the front edge of the chair but pushed out to the side opposite the leg I was working on. It was tight because I would be wedged right agains it so the other leg was a close to in line with Mark’s hips as possible (not flared out).

And the slooooooow process began. The first time we tried, I was scared to death to drop his foot or move it to quickly. I sat on a low stool in front of him, cradling his heel and calf in my hands. This was hard on my back but the consistency paid off.

The left knee was (and still is) 15-20 degrees behind the right and a lot more stiff but we saw slow, steady progress in each leg by sticking to 10-12 reps, holding for 10 seconds. We did this 3x per day religiously and I think it made a big difference when he was ready to work with a therapist at a facility.

A couple of tips for bending therapy:

  1. We used a sliding board across the front edge of the chair to create a flat, level surface and some support under the knee/thigh we were working on. Otherwise, I felt like the give of the chair cushion allowed Mark’s leg to go lower instead of the tendon or muscles stretching.
  2. As Mark’s flexibility increased, he had to sit on stiff cushions to get high enough to allow the leg to bend without touching the floor.
  3. Mark had to scoot as far to the side of the chair of the leg we were bending to give me enough room to sit next to the ottoman where his braced leg was resting. The goal was to do the exercises while his leg was straight out in front of him.
  4. It is no easy task to relax the quads during either motion (down or up). The idea is passive movement on Mark’s part.

Care and Comfort

Pain was not an issue in this period. Sleep was difficult since he was still locked in braces at this point.

Mark was more amenable to visits from friends and family and awake most of the day in the chair. The weather was still pretty nice and he would read the paper on the porch for an hour. Still housebound except for doc visits.


Remembering True Honor and Courage after Election 2016

WWII Veteran Walter J. Phillips

1st Lt. Walter J. Phillips

Mark and I have referred to Walt’s experience of surviving a plane crash during WWII many times these past 3 months as Mark has recovered from his injury.

In some ways, it’s helped Mark to remember his dad’s courage and the extreme conditions in the first 24 hours after the crash (before the morphine).

Remember a hero today.

The Search for College Scholarships

college scholarships

[This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of the links, I receive a commission at no additional cost to you. My review of the books in this post are my own opinions].

I’m in “find-money-for-college” mode.

Since Luke committed to Cleveland State University, he’s been preparing to take the SAT again and I’ve been doing research on scholarships to minimize the amount he’ll have to borrow.

In this post, I’ll discuss three resources that I’m using to organize the search.

First, I bought two inexpensive ebooks that offer a systematic approach to searching and applying for scholarships. Both are quick reads and have similar strategies, so either would be helpful.

“The Scholarship System” by Jocelyn Paonita

The author provides a step-by-step approach to find money, organize your search, plan and write effective essays and other tips and strategies. The book includes worksheets to help you plan along the way and to minimize repetition and back-tracking.


“Confessions of a Scholarship Winner” by Kristina Ellis


Ellis has an interesting story. Although she was eligible for scholarships that don’t apply to many students (immigrant parent, father passed away, low-income household) her approach is very similar to Paonita’s.

Both authors insist that students can qualify for scholarships regardless of grades, class rank or SAT scores. Both Ellis and Paonita give practical advice about how to make an application stand-out and highlight a student’s interests and attributes even if they don’t seem significant.

For example, Paonita suggests using certain power words in the essay and Ellis suggests opening an essay with a story instead of repeating the question as a thesis statement.

“The Ultimate Scholarship Book 2017” by Gen and Kelly Tanabe


I bought this book after reviewing an outdated version at our local library. Some amazon reviewers complained about how it’s organized (for example, all state-specific scholarships are in one section rather than separated by state). I was able to skim the descriptions fairly quickly to eliminate scholarships that don’t apply and note ones for which Luke might qualify.

Now that I have a list, I’ll organize them on a spreadsheet (as suggested by The Scholarship System) and include application deadlines, scholarship amounts and other basic information.

I discovered a few things while reviewing the scholarships in this book. First, many scholarships are available to undergraduate students, graduate students, even PhD.s. Other scholarships target younger students so it’s a useful resource for many years and it’s clear that a student should continue to pursue scholarships throughout his college and grad school years.

The other thing I noticed is that there are dozens of scholarships for female engineers, amateur and HAM radio operators, students interested in food service/hospitality/travel industry, to name a few.

I found at least 20 scholarships for which Luke is eligible. In a future post, I’ll write about the application process and how we prioritized our efforts.

Curing Heartburn Naturally


Kate has suffered from chronic, sometimes unbearable, heartburn for nearly 3 years. I’m guessing the sudden onset was hormonal and chemical. As my most adventurous eater, it’s been depressing for both of us.

I talked to her pediatrician about trying to alleviate symptoms with food. When I mentioned avoiding gluten as an experiment, she dismissed that with a speech about gluten-free being a popular fad and how gluten-free only helps people with Chron’s disease or IBS. And anyway, even a trace of gluten in the manufacturing process could trigger symptoms in the truly allergic. In short, the doc discouraged us from trying this. She rattled off the typical list of trigger foods (spicy, tomotoes, carbonated beverages-Kate doesn’t drink those, etc.) and suggested that Kate avoid those. Since Kate was down to eating eggs, potatoes and antacids and still was experiencing symptoms, the pediatrician agreed to order some tests.

Kate was scoped (no evidence of damage or distress), poked, prescribed Nexium, Zantac supplemented with Gaviscon and Tums and tried to manage as best she could for the next 2 years.

A friend told me that her teenage daughter noticed improvement in her heartburn symptoms after going gluten-free so it sparked my interest in that route again.

I turned to Amazon and found “The 30 Day Heartburn Solution” by Craig Fear. The reviews were encouraging. (I’ve never seen a book on Amazon with no 1 or 2 star reviews). Most reviews are from long-time heartburn and acid reflux sufferers who were pain-free after implementing the plan laid out in the book. Craig Fear wrote the book after curing his own chronic heartburn.

Fear designed an incremental plan to stop acid reflux through nutrition, basically avoiding the typical Western diet. It’s well-researched and explains why antacids (prescribed and OTC) contribute to the problem and are problematic long-term. The book is well-organized and thorough and lists all the foods you can eat under the plan. Approved foods include meats, dairy (if tolerated), eggs, nuts and seeds, vegetables and fruit and berries less frequently.

Kate noticed significant improvement just a couple of days into the plan. The first 2 weeks of the plan calls for eliminating all grains. Her willingness to try new foods in order to keep from feeling like a starved rabbit helped her get through the first couple of weeks.

After two weeks of grain-free, you can reintroduce non-gluten grains (corn, rice, oats, etc.). During this stage, you’re also encouraged to eat cultured and fermented foods to restore the natural acidity and health of the digestive system.

Cultured foods without added sugar are hard to find (sugar can be inflammatory and throw off the ph balance of the gut). Fermented foods in the grocery store (sauerkraut and pickled things) are packaged under high heat (which kills most of the beneficial bacteria). I found a simple recipe for sauerkraut that’s delicious and plan to try some other fermented vegetables. The cultured foods are a little trickier but we’ll track some down.

It’s hard to tell whether sticking to the plan 100% for a while would completely cure Kate (restore her digestive tract to allow her to enjoy any food any time~or even problematic foods occassionally without suffering). At her age, I feel like she’s old enough to decide whether to eat a certain food and suffer the consequences. Even when she eats a food that triggers symptoms, they are milder and short-lived.

One thing I learned is that we automatically blamed foods like spaghetti, pizza and tacos on the tomatoes or spice for Kate’s heartburn after eating them. There’s as good a chance that the culprit was the noodles or flour tortilla in those cases. Since some form of grain (usually gluten) is a part of nearly every meal, and in our mind, those foods are bland when served plain, I never considered that they were causing the problem.

One unexpected benefit that I noticed after Kate was on the plan for a couple of months was a decrease in the severity of PMS symptoms. When I pointed it out, she thought so too.

I highly recommend “The 30 Day Heartburn Solution” if you or someone you know suffers from chronic heartburn or acid reflux disease. It’s worth a try.


Notice: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through a link, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks for supporting the blog and I hope the book helps.


Maybe It’s Time to Question Our Sacred Cows

This TED talk by Mike Rowe is graphic but you can handle it. Rowe is the host of “Dirty Jobs” on the Discovery channel and he’s committed to bringing dignity to work by showing some of the most dangerous and well, dirty jobs.

He wonders whether we’ve declared war on work and suggests that we question platitudes like “follow your passion”.

Since enrollment in trade schools continually decreases, he wonders whether there will be enough skilled workers to fill the jobs needed to rebuild the country’s infrastructure.

The mike rowe WORKS foundation promotes hard work and supports skilled trades through a trade school scholarship program. Rowe also wrote a book to promote the trades and to raise money for the foundation scholarships. “Profoundly Disconnected” was only available on the foundation website when it was published but that button takes you to the eBay auction page. Amazon’s prices seem to be more reasonable so I included it here. If you find out that the book is available somewhere that would benefit the foundation, please let me know so I can change the link.


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through a link, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks.

7 Deadly Sins of Speech

I loved this presentation by sound expert (who knew there was such a thing?), Julian Treasure. It’s entertaining and practical.

Even if you don’t plan to give a public talk in the near future, this information applies to every day communication skills.

I could summarize the sins, but they’re much more effective coming from Treasure.


I haven’t read his book “Sound Business“, but I probably should since I think I suffer from a curmudgeonly sound-sensitivity as I get older. Sort of the opposite of hearing loss. The presentation was so useful that I’m guessing the book has some suggestions on how to  optimize environments through sound (or no sound-which is what I would prefer).


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through a link, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Write 29 Days

It’s Sunday again. Enjoying a day with my family. You all can wait for a great TED talk.

Nobody’s perfect. I missed last Sunday, too. So, it will be #write29days for me.

By all means, check out some other inspiring, practical, heartbreaking, heartwarming, silly, intimidating and otherwise brilliant posts from bloggers who are undoubtedly more consistent and dedicated than I am.

Enjoy the last few hours of your weekend!

John Wooden’s Definition of Success and Other Life Lessons

John Wooden's definition of success

In honor of the former official start of the NCAA basketball season (Midnight Madness and all that), I present Coach Wooden.

Sure, this chat is almost 20 minutes long but I could sit and listen to him all day. Grab a hot cup of something and gather round.

I can’t imagine any student or player who had contact with John Wooden failing to live up to his potential. He’s just that clear and sensible.

Coach Wooden shares simple insights but as all great leaders do, you have no doubt that he lived these principles.

He’s written a few books. Mark owns “Wooden” and recommends it to just about all of his students (and usually gifts it to students who graduate).


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through a link, I receive a small commission and I thank you. You can always open a new window, go to amazon and search the title without clicking the link in this post and make a purchase outside of the affiliation….or grab it from the library 🙂

Touch As An Antidote to Loneliness

This particular TED talk has personal implications for me.

As I mentioned in this post about my aunt’s improved health since she came to live with us, loneliness is as serious a health risk as smoking and obesity.

Helena Backlund Wasling, a leading researcher in the science and benefits of touch explains how soft touch activates parts of the brain that control emotion. It’s a key element in reducing stress, forming relationships and connecting with people.