When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air
by Paul Kalanithi


Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir

Summary: Paul Kalanithi was a determined, fiercely smart man that had a fascination with life, philosophy, literature and medicine.  These interests led him to study at Stanford and into neurosurgery.  Medicine gave him the what and the how and literature offered the why.  However, in his final months before completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Kalanithi discovers he has terminal cancer at the age of thirty-six.  This memoir gives Kalanithi the platform to share with the reader his reason for pursuing neuroscience as his profession and how it aided him in learning to fully live at the end of his life.

There is one concrete, undeniable truth that unites every human being on the earth: no one is immortal and one day, we all will face our own mortality.  Though this is a universal truth, most people do not like to talk about it.

But Dr. Paul Kalanithi was intrigued, even entranced by the human brain as well as finding the meaning of life.  He felt like there seemed to be a connection between the human brain and finding meaning in the world we live in.  “I had come to see language as an almost supernatural force, existing between people, bringing our brains, shielded in centimeter-thick skulls, into communion.”

“Like my own patients, I had to face my mortality and try to understand what made my life worth living…Torn between being a doctor and a patient, delving into medical science and and turning back to literature for answers, I struggled, while facing my own death, to rebuild my old life–or perhaps find a new one.”

While discussing this with my book club, someone brought up the truth that Paul changed from being the medical expert in the field of neuroscience to an expert in being a patient heading towards death.  He could explain in medical terms all that was happening, but then he began to experience them.  “It occurred to me that my relationship with statistics suddenly changed when I became one.”

Paul’s pursuit of truth and meaning within the realms of science and literature were fascinating to observe.  His brilliance comes through in his writing, but it is his genuine and authentic humanity that is captivating in the pages.  His honesty and humility about his own mortality are set like a plate in front of you and you cannot escape acknowledging the question he set out to answer: knowing death is imminent, how do you truly live?

My rating: 5 stars

For other book reviews, click here.

What are some ways you focus on truly living in your own life?  Is there anyone in your life that has challenged you to live your life more fully?

Roasted Butternut Squash and Brussell Sprouts

Happy Thanksgiving Week everyone!  Wishing you lots of mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing and pie.  Lots of pie.

I feel a bit like I have been shoved into the holiday season, but I’m excited nonetheless.  There is nothing that gets me more into the holiday spirit than seeing twinkle lights and a holiday movie.  This weekend was raining, and grey and the kids we all were stir crazy.  So, we took the kids to see the animated movie “The Star”.  It was really cute and had a great soundtrack.  It had a heavy dose of star power too: Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Kelly Clarkson, Tracy Morgan, and Kristin Chenoweth and many more.  Highly recommended, particularly those with little ones to entertain.

Our family always had the same foods for Thanksgiving.  (If you’re wondering, turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, fresh green beans, cranberry sauce and stuffing).  It feels strange when we don’t have those foods but when I got married, it was fun to see how other families celebrate.  When we bought our first home, we wanted another excuse to celebrate with both of our families so we hosted a pre-Thanksgiving party at our house.  We loved getting our two families together, and I loved having an opportunity to try new dishes we otherwise wouldn’t have tried.

This recipe came from trying to brainstorm fun new ways to incorporate vegetables into this celebration of family.  It is a great addition to your Thanksgiving table because you roast it in the oven early and then you can serve just warm or at room temperature.

Cut Butternut Squash

First, do yourself a favor and buy peeled and chopped butternut squash.  It isn’t terrible to do yourself but during Thanksgiving week, you’ll want to.  Costco is where I bought mine, but you can also find it at Trader Joe’s and maybe even your local grocery store.  One note, be sure to use shortly after you buy, though, as this spoils fairly quickly if it is already peeled and cubed.  Lay on a cookie sheet (if you want even simpler, line your cookie sheet with foil).

Then trim the bottoms off your brussell sprouts and cut in half.  Don’t worry if some of the leaves come off, those are my favorite crispy bites in the whole pan!  Brussell sprouts get such a bad wrap!  They are delicious when roasted and crispy and I love the different textures in this dish.

Next, pour olive oil all over the veggies and toss to coat.  Generously season with kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper.  These distinctions are important because there aren’t many ingredients and it is in those simpler dishes that every ingredient counts.

Roast the vegetables at 425 degrees for 25-30 minutes, tossing once so they roast evenly.  With 10 minutes left on the timer, add pecans to the pan to toast along with the vegetables.  Finally, pour into serving dish, add dried cherries and top with feta cheese.  Toss lightly so feta cheese softens a bit.  Serve immediately or at room temperature.

This dish is a nice change up from your typical side dish for Thanksgiving.  I hope you and your families are blessed with wonderful family, longtime friends and fantastic food.  Roasted Butternut Squash and Brussell Sprouts is a wonderful addition to anyone’s holiday table.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Roasted Butternut Squash and Brussell Sprouts
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  • 2 lb. Brussell sprouts, trimmed and cut in half
  • 2 lb. butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 3/4 c. pecans
  • 3/4 c. dried cherries
  • 5 oz. crumbled feta cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line cookie sheet with foil for easy clean-up.
  2. Trim Brussell sprouts and cut in half. Combine with the butternut squash on an even layer on a cookie sheet. If they are too crowded, consider using two cookie sheets.
  3. Pour olive oil over the vegetables and toss lightly so they are coated evenly. Season liberally with kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes, tossing once to cook evenly.
  4. About 10 minutes before vegetables are done, add the pecans to roast with the vegetables in the oven.
  5. Pour all veggies into a serving dish and add the cherries and feta cheese. Toss lightly to soften the cheese. Taste for seasoning. Serve immediately or at room temperature.


If you would like a brighter color, consider adding dried cranberries instead of dried cherries. This is also delicious with a drizzle of white balsamic vinegar at the end.


What is your favorite meal on your Thanksgiving table?  What do you look forward to most on the special day?

Wine-Braised Chuck Roast

Your life will never be the same.

(I told you I have a flair for the dramatic, right?)

Our family has a tradition every fall to celebrate the change of the seasons by having a special Family Night.  Once we are well into the school year and people are gearing up for pumpkin season, my kids see our local farm set out hundreds of pumpkins for sale.  We drive by often so their anticipation starts when they see the farm setting out displays.

After a comforting meal, we head to the pumpkin patch to select pumpkins for the holiday and finally return home to watch Charlie Brown’s The Great Pumpkin.  Once the candles are lit and pumpkins set out, we are ready to celebrate that Fall is here!

To set the stage, I like to make something warming and quintessentially Fall.  Starting this meal early in the day allows it to simmer on the stove for hours while at the same time making your home smell glorious and cozy.  Thankfully it is pretty simple to make.

First, heat a large cast iron pan or pot to medium-high heat and add oil.  (This pan is my favorite for this meal because it handles high heat well.)  While the oil heats, cut a large chuck roast into big chunks.  Liberally salt and pepper the meat and when pan is very hot, add meat carefully.  Sear the meat on both sides getting a good golden crust, then remove meat from the pan.

Add carrot, celery and shallot to the oil, season with salt and pepper again and saute until tender (6-8 minutes).

Sprinkle on flour and cook one minute more.  Pour in wine, beef broth and water and bring to a boil.

Return meat to pot with vegetables and broth and reduce temperature to a low simmer.  Cover pot and and simmer for 2-2 1/2 hours.  Then remove meat and shred.  If liquid has not thickened enough, turn up the heat and simmer until reduced.  Return beef and add peas.  Simmer another 5-7 minutes until peas are warm and beef has soaked up some of the gravy.

About 30 minutes before beef is finished, start boiling peeled and chopped Idaho potatoes for mashed potatoes.  Serve over the best mashed potatoes and sprinkle with fresh parsley for a fresh finish.


Wine-Braised Chuck Roast
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  • 2-3 lb. chuck roast, cut into big chunks
  • 2 T. vegetable oil
  • 2 lg. carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 2 T. flour
  • 2 c. red wine
  • 15 oz. low sodium beef broth
  • 3/4 c. water
  • 1 1/2 c. frozen peas
  • fresh parsley (optional)


  1. Heat high heat pan on the stove to medium-high heat with oil. Season beef liberally with salt and pepper.
  2. When oil is hot, add beef carefully, searing both sides until golden crusts form. Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Add vegetables to the oil, season with salt and pepper and saute until they are tender, about 6-8 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle in flour and coat the vegetables, cooking one more minute. Pour in wine, beef broth and water and bring to a boil.
  5. Add beef back to the pot, turn heat down to medium-low to simmer and then cover. Simmer for 2-2 1/2 hours.
  6. (About 30 minutes before roast is done, start boiling peeled and chopped potatoes for mashed potatoes if you desire.)
  7. Remove beef from pot carefully to shred. If liquid in pot isn't thickened, turn up heat and simmer until reduced. Return shredded beef and add frozen peas. Simmer until peas are warm and beef has soaked up some of the juices.
  8. Serve over mashed potatoes and sprinkle with fresh parsley.

Check out other recipes here!

What is your ultimate comfort food?  What food signifies Fall to you?

Every Last Lie

Every Last Lie
by Mary Kubica


Genre: Fiction, Thriller

Summary: Clara Solberg is waiting at home with her newborn son for her daughter and husband to return from errands when she hears a knock at her front door.  “There has been an accident,” the police officer says.  Clara’s life falls apart when she hears of her husband’s death but is puzzled when learning her daughter has survived without a scratch.
In the weeks that follow the accident, her daughter Maisie begins having night terrors and talking about “the bad man” that makes Clara believe something else might have happened to her husband.  When Clara starts to ask questions, she finds answers she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear.  But she must keep pressing to find the truth about what…or who…killed her husband.

I was headed on a vacation with my husband for five days.  Alone.  Without packing snacks and toys and a plethora of amusements for toddlers.  It was just going to be the two of us, my book and the beach.

But, therein lies the problem.  What book do I choose?  The decision nearly paralyzes me because I have so many books I want to read.  (To see what I mean, check out my Goodreads profile.  It is so overwhelming, but at the same time, what a delightful problem to have, right?)  In the end, I often choose a thriller in this situation.  The purpose of it being to drive the storyline forward at a pretty quick clip so I knew (hoped) I wouldn’t be bored.

Kubica is definitely a rising star (already risen?) in the thriller genre.  I love that she is local for me (her suburb is right next door to my suburb in Chicago) so she often uses local highways or familiar settings which is fun and adds to the creepy factor.  Also, her format is interesting.  The story follows two characters, Clara the wife in present time and Nick, the husband in the weeks leading up to the accident.  She used this same format in another novel of hers called The Good Girl.  Kubica does a nice job of weaving the two stories together while spinning the web into a cohesive story.

Without giving away too much, Kubica does do a nice job of throwing you off the truth by keeping you guessing.  Her characters are believable and though you might not make some decisions that the character’s do, she writes them in a way that you can sympathize with them.  Though I prefer to have all loose ends tied up at the end of a novel, some might enjoy the ambiguity of this ending.  If you are looking for a fast-paced thriller that will keep the pages turning, be sure to check out Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica!

My rating: 3 stars

To read more book reviews, click here.

What are some of your favorite thrillers?  What makes a good thriller for you?

Creature Comforts: November (Gift Guide!)

Hello, everyone and Happy November!  I hope you all survived trick-or-treating and are gearing up for Thanksgiving.  I know I have been a bit quiet lately, but I have a whopper of a post today!

Since the holidays are coming whether we are ready or not, I thought I would share my first GIFT GUIDE with you all.  If you click the link below each picture, it will take you directly to the item.  Don’t forget Black Friday (or Cyber Monday!) might change a lot of these prices but it never hurts to know ahead of time what to look for.  I hope you find this list helpful and maybe find something to add to your own wish list!  Happy Shopping!


Battat B. - BUILD-A-JIGS ROADSTER Toy- Moving Wheels, Perfect for Building Hand & Eye Coordination, Power Drill & 3 Bits add to the Fun
 These are so fun!  Not only does your child have the tools (power drill–batteries included!) to assemble it, but they can take it apart and start over!  Options are airplane, roadster, dump truck, parts are interchangeable with other sets and has moving parts when structure is complete.  I also like that the parts aren’t too small. (Ages 3 and up).

Melissa and Doug Build-a-sandwich (felt)
These are great for so many ages.  The felt material is great for younger ages but the possibilities are great with bigger kids too.  I’ve been amazed at the HOURS my kids have played with this set.  Also really like the wooden set as well!  (Ages 3 and up)
Melissa & Doug Alphabet Express Jumbo Jigsaw Floor Puzzle (27 pcs, 10 feet long)
Melissa and Doug Alphabet Train Floor Puzzle
This puzzle is great because it is so big but also for the amount of animals included!  My kids loved learning their letters and animals this way.  Melissa & Doug products are always great for an educational component, but also durability.  The extra thick pieces were great for little hands.  (Ages 3 and up)

Personalized Wooden Name Stools
We received this for our first born as a baby gift from my husband’s company.  Not only is it solid wood, sturdy and durable, it is hand crafted and you could even carve a special message in the bottom for the recipient.  I know someone who gives this to every baby so they can reach to wash hands and brush their teeth.  Such a great and thoughtful gift!  Comes in pastels or primary colors, natural wood or painted white.  (Any age)

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Micro Mini Deluxe Scooter
These scooters are amazing.  When your kids want to move and they just aren’t big enough yet for a “big kid bike”, get this.  We got this for my kids when they turned two.  It doesn’t take long for them to learn and when they do they suddenly feel like the coolest kid on the block.  My son got his at Christmas and rode his in the unfinished basement and garage all winter.  By Summer, he was so fast I had to tell him to slow down!  The adjustable bar grows with them and comes in a TON of colors.  (Ages 2 and up)

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Nutcase-Little Nutty Kids Helmet
If your kids will be tearing through the neighborhood on bikes or scooters, be sure to get them a good helmet.  We LOVE these.  I love the fact that they come with a dial fit system and three different sized interior pads to grow with them.  We expect our kids to wear these for years.  You order based on a couple simple measurements and come in a variety of colors and patterns.  The best part?  The clasp is a magnet!  No more clipping your chin or hair and it is easy to release the clasp.

Kindle Fire Kids Tablet

Full feature 7″ tablet (case included!) with 8 hours battery life.  Two year guarantee, if it is broken for any reason, they will replace it for FREE!  No questions asked!  Access to 15,000 apps, games, videos, books and educational content from PBS Kids, Disney and others.  You can also set the timer so it shuts off when you want their screen time to end.  (Ages 3+)


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The Power of When
You know I have to recommend some books!  Great for those interested in productivity and getting the most out of their day.  Check out full review here.

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This is Where You Belong

You know I had to put this one in!  This book was the inspiration behind my entire Create Community series on the blog.  An excellent, fast read that is very thought provoking.

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Tears of Dark Water

This was a fantastic fictional novel written by an attorney, activist and world traveler.  This book follows wealthy father and son on a sailing trip around the world in hopes of repairing their relationship.  What they didn’t anticipate was being captured by Somali pirates while at sea.  The story follows Daniel and Quentin Parker, the leader of the Somali pirates and the lead hostage negotiator.  Tense, riveting and deeply thought provoking, this would be a great read when you want to get lost in a book.

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Treehut Wood Watch
These are so beautiful.  They are completely made of 100% real wood (this one is walnut and ebony) with no chemicals or paints.  Offers a very unique, yet stylish look.

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North Face Denali men’s coat

People often ask me how we survive with winters here in Chicago.  Usually I answer, “A really good coat.”  Not only do you see them all over Chicagoland, they are everywhere because they are good.  Live in a place that sees colder temps?  This is totally worth every penny.

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Carhart Insulated Waterproof Gloves

There is a reason this brand has been around forever.  I bought these for my husband for shoveling the driveway and building snowmen in the front yard with the kids.  He said they were so warm for his hands, at times, they even got hot!  The quality is great and you can never go wrong having one pair of great gloves.


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The Turquoise Table

Those of you who have read here for any length of time know how much I adored this book.  Beautiful cover and beautiful message, this would cover so many bases for women in your life.  Part book, part inspirational project, part recipes, this book will appeal to many different personalities.  Read my full review here.

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When Breath Becomes Air

This incredibly poignant and powerful book follows the life of neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi.  It was in his last months of residency that he discovered he in fact had cancer.  This book is his memoir, grappling with the question of how to die with honor and yet fighting to answer what makes life worth living.  Beautiful and hopeful.

tarte Energy Noir Clay Palette

The colors in this palette are beautiful and I love the simplicity of all you need in one compact.  tarte is known for their great color pigmentation (some compare it to MAC quality) though it is also lauded among people who value natural skincare.

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Luxury Plush Robe

When it gets cold outside, I just want to snuggle up in something luxurious and warm.  This is what I want to wear on Christmas morning drinking coffee while my kids tear through gifts.  I love that it has pockets too!

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Kate Spade Jingle All the Way Appetizer plates

I am completely a sucker for all things Christmas, particularly snowflakes.  These sweet little appetizer plates are great for your next dinner party and are even dishwasher safe!  They even have glasses to go with them!  However, if Christmas isn’t your thing, these lemon appetizer plates are equally as delightful.

Cuisinart FP-12N Elite Collection Food Processor, White
Cuisinart 12-cup Food Processor

When your personal food processor gets a crack from lots of wear and tear, you start to dream about the ultimate in all food processors: Cuisinart.  Between making my own baby food for three kids and gallons of homemade salsa, mine is getting tired.  If anyone in my family has read this far, this is what I want.  Pretty please!

Hopefully this Gift Guide is helpful in your shopping.  What are some of your suggestions for gifts?  What is on YOUR wish list?

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Bars

Everyone on the planet (except a few people) seem to go bananas over PSL’s.  If you have been living under a rock and don’t know what that is, it is the Pumpkin Spiced Latte from Starbucks.  I can do pumpkin!  I can!  (As seen here.)  But in my coffee??  Um, sorry, no thanks.

Sometimes I like to bring people back to the beauty and perfection of apples in the fall.  When I walk through the grocery store, their scent wafts toward me and you might see me grabbing bags and bags of them.  They are the perfect portable snack, sweet, crisp.  Buuuut, they might be even better in Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Bars.

Fresh apple gives a very fun texture to these bars, as does the oatmeal.  Cinnamon chips add a fun twist and butter, well, just makes everything better.

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a 9 x 13 pan with sprayed aluminum foil.  Add flour, oats, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg to a large bowl.  Cut in softened butter until mixed, crumbly and butter is about the size of peas.  (I like this pastry cutter!)

Pour half of the mixture into the pan and press down lightly to form the crust.  Next, lay the apple slices over top of the crust.

Finally, add cinnamon chips to remaining crumble mixture and pour over the top of the apples.  You do not need to press down.  Pour melted butter over top and bake for 30 minutes.  Cool completely before serving.  Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Bars are wonderful for a treat, breakfast (because…oatmeal, fruit,  right??) and they aren’t half bad with a scoop of ice cream (they get even better if possible).  See how versatile?!? Try adding this to your holiday baking this year, you won’t regret it!

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Bars
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  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 1/2 c. old fashioned oats
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. nutmeg
  • 1 c. butter, softened and 1/4 c. butter, melted
  • 1/4 c. cinnamon chips
  • 2 large apples, sliced thin (Granny Smith preferred)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 9 x 13 baking dish with foil that has been sprayed.
  2. In a large bowl, add flour, oats, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix well before cutting in softened butter until butter resembles the size of peas.
  3. Core, peel and slice two apples very thin.
  4. Pour half the oat mixture into the bottom of the pan and lightly press down. Layer the apples on top.
  5. Finally, add cinnamon chips to the remaining oat mixture and pour over the apples. You do not need to press down. Drizzle melted butter over the top and bake for 30 minutes until top is golden.
  6. Cool completely before serving plain or with a scoop of ice cream.

If you would like to check out more recipes, please click here.