The Great "How-To" On Reading Comprehension (or how to read when you have no time)

The TV is back on the wall. Shame.  But I avoided a useless ER trip, so Yay?   

how to read fast comprehension help tips

I did fork out a fair chunk of change to be told my child is full of crap...literally full of crap, but hey, you win some, you lose some.  The TV rode in (magically transformed from dragon to knight on a white horse) to rescue Jim who had to work from home while I took the aforementioned kid to the Dr (with what I thought was appendicitis, but turned out to be an impacted colon). Thankfully it's nothing a bottle of magnesium and caution tape around the bathroom can't fix. 

I also added another boy to the brood for the week, which has worked out well (most notably it turned up the notch on hilarious conversations overheard and the amount of food consumed), but suffice it to say there isn't a lot of extra time for me to read the growing pile of books next to my bed.

Like any good (mostly) millennial worth her salt, I have read books on how to read books.  And my book stacks have baby book stacks.  So if your life is as crazy as mine and your Amazon and library lists are equally out of control, here is the cliff notes version of what some recent experts say and my own experience with their advice.

1. Books have grammar and not the punctuation kind. 

Thomas Foster talks about this in his "How To Read Literature Like A College Professor", but you also see it if you read blogs written by publishers, editors, and agents.  There is a grammar and structure to how the whole "written with words" world works (say that five times fast) and if you understand it, then your reading speed and comprehension automatically picks up speed because you can proverbially pick the cross-titch off the frame and look at the backside. It also sorta lets you see the motivations and humanity behind the author (for better or worse). I recommend reading the aforementioned book, as well as "Save the Cat" and any book on how to write non-fiction. 

My takeaway: Take a few books and really think about the structure and behind-the-scenes systems that go into making a book, and you'll find subsequent books are easier and faster to grasp. 

2. Speed reading may be pseudoscience, but it helps with the boring stuff. 

Tim Ferriss is the most recent hawker of speed reading, but he is by no means the first.  None of the methods truly work (for science or me) because they focus on the physiology of how your eyes and retina work. BUT I did find I could read super boring stuff a lot better without my eyes glazing over and my mind wandering. I do pause a lot as I think through things...especially difficult concepts or ones I'm unfamiliar with, so I don't think I'm the best candidate and a college student would find the theories more useful.  There's a nice summary of the basic speed reading strategies here.   

My takeaway: I think speed reading is a bit like being told spinach will make you strong like Popeye. It won't, but it's still good for you. The neuroscience peeps are undecided on speed reading, but I find it useful nonetheless. 

3. Write A Review and don't say "Love it" or "It Sucks". 

One of the best ways to transfer information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory is to be able to articulate to someone what you learned.  Even more important, doing something physiological and slow after you've done something mental and fast, is insanely beneficial for your brain and its ability to process, build connections, and operate smoothly.  Thus writing review accomplishes both of those things while also providing a good "reason" to do so (vs just writing it in a journal for the pure exercise of it).  In the book "Thinking Fast And Slow" Dr. Daniel Kahneman shows how our brains adapted to take in information a certain way and make instant judgments on it.  Slow thinking is harder, more meticulous and apparently more rational.  

My takeaway: Pick up a pen.  While fast reading and processing in this hectic age of information is a necessary and laudable skill, any way you can get yourself to also exercise and use "slow" thinking, will help concepts stick better and serve as a cautionary safety net.  

In case none of those are helpful, here are the honorable mentions (in no particular order):
Read lots of books at once
It's ok if some books take a few days and others take years
Figure out the central premise of each book by reading the contents and footnotes first
Realize that non-fiction can be more fictitious than fiction
Find books you think you'll disagree with, and read them anyway


And that's it, I'm off to disinfect the toilet and pay my library fines...we'll see if I actually remember any of this in a week. 

The 80/20 Beauty Rule

You know what sounds like a fabulous idea?  Taking economics and turning it into a (likely untrue) hypothesis about how to stay beautiful.  

“The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity)[1] states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes”

If I had a nickel for every time I heard “...the 80/20 rule…” in a podcast, I would have enough money to buy myself a bottle of gel polish (or half a sheet of jamberry).   So it was only a matter of time before the light bulb went on and I realized what a gold mine this term was.  Mostly in validating...exonerating (?) my extremely complicated beauty regime.  //cough cough//

So here goes…


Your beauty products should work for you, not vice versa.  

If you’re spending 45 min doing your hair, but you live in a climate where it takes less than 3 hours before it looks worse than when you started… then the 80/20 rule is here to save your life (or at the very least give your more time in your day).  Currently, the trending beauty wisdom revolves around specific tips, but everyone is different, so the 80/20 rule is a system wide perspective vs a detailed one.  Pick the hairstyles, hair colors, makeup etc based on the intersection between your personal values and effectiveness.  Your body knows this even if you don’t, so listen to it.  Also, if you find yourself always skipping over a certain eyeshadow or mascara or lipstick, but you keep thinking you’ll still wear it?  Toss it or put it in a separate bag reserved for costume parties and small children.  You’ll have fun scrubbing off of the walls at some future point.

I ignored this to my detriment last week when I spent an obscene amount of time beating my hair into submission for a family portrait the beach.   Poseidon in all his fury wrecked havoc on my wanna-be Repunzelness in less than five minutes. may have been a record breaking 30 seconds, but I was in denial.  

Which leads me to my next point.  

It’s ok to have long hair that you only wear down when the President comes to town.

 Maybe this is dumb, but it was an epiphany to me.  It’s ok to have long hair you wear up 80% of the time.  Historically/anthropologically etc this wasn’t so unusual (You wouldn’t want to get suckered into weaving gold or anything because you forgot to put your cap on), but these days it seems like you need to defend long hair otherwise the temptation and pressure to cut it off gleams like shiny green grass on the other side of the fence.  So in case you needed an excuse for keeping your hair long even if you normally keep it in a ponytail or messy bun: It’s just the magic 80/20 rule at work.   

Only abuse your body occasionally

I love high heels, feel comfortable in high heels and would wear them all of the time if I didn’t live barefoot 80% of the time (are you catching a theme?).  I've noticed though, that feet tend to take on the shape of whatever shoe you force it to live in.  They’re like an old married couple where they gradually look and act so much like each other, they start to resemble each other. So don’t wear the same shoes all of the time unless you like pointy shaped feet with bunions.  Mix it up, go barefoot or wear something something structurally healthy.  And then wear killer high fashion whenever you feel like it...make that 20% count.  You win. Your feet win. Everybody wins. The same goes with your skin.  It's hard to keep your skin happy when you're constantly slathering it with dozens of products containing everything from ground wart hog eyelashes to the dw off the newborn skin of an endangered Colombian newt.  So you end up with the same dilemma: use organic makeup that costs twice as much (and you're pretty sure is just campfire soot mixed up with coconut oil) or feel guilty for ruining the environment and polluting your body's biggest organ (your SKIN! in case you missed the memo).  But feel guilty and stress out no longer.  With the 80/20 rule, feel free to go minimal and satiating most of the time and pull out the polyjuice potion for the 20%.  Ensure your face lasts a good 30 years longer.  Make your 20% work for you.   


(The 80/20 rule is one of those things you see everywhere once you know about it, so feel free to enlighten me.   I'm sure there are many more shortcuts to add.)    


Maybe being a medieval peasant wouldn't be so bad...

We just recently switched to a once a month grocery shopping budget and I feel a bit like a 17th century sea captain stocking a giant barquentine.  Granted my chicken these days comes pre-neck-wrung and sometimes even precooked by Squire Costco, but the modern trade off means I don’t spend my days tearing my hair out getting enough food for my family, instead I tear my hair out trying to make sure they’re literate and well educated.    

For kicks and giggles I added up our monthly food consumption:

58 lbs of Grains

186 lbs of Dairy

63 lbs of Meat

83 lbs Vegetables

61 lbs Fruit

9 lbs Fat

Total- 460 lbs of food

Which came out to be 2.5 lbs of food per person in our family (per day). That seemed like a tremendous amount of food to me, but according to the national health statistics the average American eats 4.5 lbs of food per day. However since we aren’t wasting away I have to assume we make up the rest in eating abroad. Also, that number is the mean average for our family, some of us consume far less...or more than others (Jamie...cough...Jamie).  

According to the FOA, the world average is 4 lbs/day, which is why America is a bit on the hefty size.  It’s intuitively obvious that height averages increase when there’s a max amount of minerals and nutrients being absorbed...but interestingly if you go too far over onto the obesity side of the graph, average height starts dropping again.   A lot of research suggests this is not because fat makes you short, but that the high processed diet making you fat, also makes it difficult for your gut to absorb any minerals and nutrients from your food.  

In further randomness, the average prosperous peasant in the Middle Ages ate 2-3 lbs of bread a day, 8 oz of meat/dairy and 3 pints of beer.   


I fully endorse this being the next new diet craze after the Paleo one dies fact I may be already on it.    


13 Years Of Marriage, Tips And Thank You

The old adage “show don’t tell” is true about more than just writing books. In the crumbling basilicas that constitute modern marriage, it feels a bit counter intuitive to husband-brag since it’s no indication of merit or happiness...and in fact tends to be evidence towards the opposite.  

But if there is one day of the year you’re allowed to be sappy, it’s your anniversary, right?  So here’s me putting it out there: Jim is my rock, the better half and if I’m the family’s entertainment, he’s the king smiling benevolently from the head table. I know they say not to get married as young as we did (19 and 22), and perhaps our pocketbooks would be a bit more lined if we had taken the more culturally normal route, but from the comfortable perch of my 30’s I can’t help but think we really lucked out.  


I also hope we’re less than a quarter of the way through our total number of anniversaries, but since 13 is such a nice unpropitious number… here are my unconventional top tips.  Ask me again in 13 years and I’ll probably be advocating striped socks knit from horny goat weed, and marriage counseling from a Jedi.

1. Get your husband a motorcycle.  

On a scale between Pararescue Officer in Afghanistan and Midwestern Dental Hygienist, motorcycles are just enough over on the dangerous side to be provocative.  Every time Jim is more than ten minutes late, I’m sure he’s dead on the side of the road somewhere.  It makes for some very heartfelt homecomings in what could otherwise be your standard corporate guy coming home to his stressed out wife.  Plus, it doesn’t hurt to be swept off your feet every day by a bearded man wearing black leather and big boots.


2. Go to bed angry

I’m pretty sure the whole “Never Go To Bed Angry” marriage advice was made up by a vindictive woman as a way of tormenting worn out men.   By all means “don’t let the sun go down on your wrath” but take that to mean, “deal with thyself” instead of dredging up every little thing wrong with your marriage at 11 pm.   Take a chill pill, realize you may in fact be perpetuating the problem and deal with it the next day if it’s still bothering you in the morning.


3. Don’t go on dates

...Or “date” your spouse or have weekly “date nights” or whatever the new soup du jour is (unless it’s one of those pay by the hour motels which would be far more worthwhile for the parents of small lock picking experts). Jim would probably disagree with me on this one, as he’s a big fan of dragging me out of the house for some one on one time, and maybe he’s right...but honestly the best “dates” are mindset adjustments and you can be anywhere for those.  Be fun, be attractive. Live, laugh and tease.  If however you find yourself on a date in a semi comatose state of exhaustion, I like The Book Of Questions or Battle of the Sexes as a way to resist the urge to full phone zombie.  

Do those three things and I promise you’ll have a long and fortuitous marriage….no money back guarantee.  ;-)

As I sit here though and reminisce about what we were doing 13 years ago (me chasing coyotes at 6am, Jim sleeping in and eating omelettes), I realize I made a huge mistake.  At 19 I was too young and ignorant to realize what monumental amounts of work and effort go into weddings.  For awhile I went through a stage of thinking weddings with all the foppery and accoutrements were a bunch of materialistic ridiculousness, but I’ve come full circle.  It’s not only beautiful and timeless, it’s also a testament to the sheer magnitude of biological and sociological proof of the importance of marriage.  

So thank you to the people who spent hours moving chairs, setting up tables and navigating logistics, and to the friends and sisters who stayed up into the wee hours weaving hemp necklaces and folding programs. Gratefulness to the mothers who coordinated vast amounts of family and food, and to cousins who captured visions and turned water, shears and stems into creations of beauty.   It makes me catch my breath to think how much work, love, time and sacrifice went into this day 13 years ago, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.  Truly. Thank you.  Hopefully I’ve returned the favor or will return the favor someday. :)  Cheers!

Maybe You Really Are An Extrovert

I hate making phone calls. I know I’m not alone in this, so maybe it’s a manifestation of my generation or gender, but I usually have to pull out some really underdeveloped list making skills and write down...with a giant purple crayon... on an actual scrap of paper that may or may not be a piece of junk mail:




And then I don’t let myself do anything fun like wash the dishes or chip mold out of the toilet bowl until it’s done.   

So yesterday, I was on hold with the kid’s charter school after being transferred to four different people, and of course...of course as soon as I heard someone say, “Hello this is Sarah, how can I help you?” my four year old shoved a can of grapefruit La Croix onto my lap and said, “Open another beer for me please!” with a nice belch just in case the meaning wasn’t super clear for the nice ambassador of government education on the other side of the phone. She laughed as I fumbled over a desperate explanation and assurance it was sparkling water my nefarious offspring was referring to, but when I got off the phone I slid down my chair in a puddle of introvertedness.  

Of course if you’ve ever met me, introvert is probably not what you were thinking which begs the question. What is introversion and extroversion?  

Most people have heard Introvert/Extrovert commonly defined by the question “Where do you get your energy from?”. Extroverts get their energy from being around people, introverts get their energy from being alone, right?   

I disagree. (otherwise this blog entry would be very short, and where is the fun in that?)

I think it would be more accurate to say extroverts feed off of people-energy. (and apparently have completely different brain patterns) 

...but good luck getting them there in the first place...getting them to stay...or trying to talk to their cranky selves once you get them home.   My husband is a Ron Swanson type introvert, and as such he often drags me kicking and screaming to social gatherings where he throws me in the deep end like it’s a proverbial swimming pool and I have to sink or start talking to people.  Of course he stands over in the corner and surveys the masses while I partake in all of that amazing energy harvesting extroverts are supposed to be receiving.  But when we get home, guess who’s the drained one?  Mr. I-don’t-give-a-**** who feels exactly the same post party as pre party, or his convivial wife who has face planted on the sofa and is replaying every awkward thing she did or said that evening?  Mmmhmmm.  

(tangential note:I know we sound like loads of fun to invite places, but I swear we’re not as weird as I’m making us’s just the introverted part of me taking over the keyboard).  

A lot of introversion vs extroversion can be explained by an understanding of functions. An INFJ can appear pretty extroverted in public because of their overarching social intuitiveness. And an ENFP (like me) can feel introverted because of their secondary introverted feeling function. But for the sake of argument, let’s hypothesize a lot of other extroverted types feel like introverts these days thanks to social media.   I mean, think about it.  For hundreds of years extroverts have been living in small communities and plowing their field just like everyone else.  So the whole “get your energy from people” thing makes more sense when you’re milking Bessy at 4 a.m. and thinking about how amazing market day is going to be.   If it’s the 21st century though, it’s literally market day twenty-four seven and you’re probably extroverted up to your eyeballs before you even walk out the door.  Extroversion is like a starfish, and if all of the little suction cup thingies are already being filled by instagram, facebook, twitter, your blog subscriptions...drudge… huffpo...cnn etc then eventually you run out of things you can hang onto. Then when you read something called “10 signs you’re a misunderstood introvert” you suddenly realize you related to all of them a little too much!  

Depending on what scientific journal you read.  Extroverts account for anywhere between 50-74% of the population.  However if internet memes, articles and blogs are any indication, the percentage is more like 97% introvert 3% extrovert these days.  Everyone and their mother thinks they’re an introvert.  But statistics don’t lie (har har), so either a lot of people think they’re introverts when they’re really not, or the internet killed off enormous numbers of extroverts.

Not that it really matters in the end.   I personally hold two contradictory positions.  1) If they think they’re an introvert then there is some nugget of truthfulness there that suggests you should listen wisely.  2) If they act like an extrovert but think they’re an introvert, then there is some nugget of truthfulness there that suggests you listen wisely.  


And to all of my fellow inwardly-stressed-out extroverts.  I feel ya.


3 Logical Fallacies And Why They're Good

There is literally no one less qualified to talk about this than me, but since that’s actually kind of the point… I’ll carry on and hope Aristotle doesn’t roll over in his grave.

A long time ago someone observed the way humans argue about things (the kind that wasn't entirely comprised of stabbing them or something). This person waxed eloquent with a pen for a very long time and dubbed it "Rhetoric" i.e. "How to convince someone Trump is Hitler by saying "I can't even....<emoticon> <emoticon>" (I kid, I kid, that's obviously only one example). 

There are two sorts of Rhetoric, external and internal.  External is boring, so moving on…

Internal Rhetoric is where it’s at. It’s the Rembrandt of persuasion, the beauty of The Colbert Report and pretty much the gas station that fuels Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (my exact age can probably be deduced Sherlock Holmes style from that sentence). Under this internal rhetoric is a whole bunch of important stuff like charisma and logic but zooming way in there is fallacy (which sounds vaguely dirty and probably has some etymological correlation). Fallacies get a bad rap these days and it’s such a bummer. Instead of thinking of fallacies as bad logic (which it is), think of it as shortcut to winning! Logic is like bringing a knife to a can only use knives if everyone else is.     

For your perusal, here are the three best ones to use during this election season. All sides, including my own bastardized side use it, so I’ll try to be fair. 

Ad Hominem

The two presidential candidates aren’t even the guiltiest of this and you see it mostly in comment threads when things get heated. I think the reason is actually biological. When someone encounters views they consider dangerous the first instinct is to do the philosophical version of curling up in the fetal position and yelling “LIONS AND TIGERS AND BEARS!”. If you feel your chest start to tighten up and your blood start to pound in your ears as you can’t believe the rubbish someone is posting this is a warning sign you might be about to launch an ad hominem attack.  


Correlation does not imply causation

This is a personal favorite and I find myself using it all of the time. In my defense I think humans are infinitely suspicious creatures and it’s second nature to see connecting strands. Often times those connecting strands might even be correct! I vote everyone puts their correlative/causation opinions in a big jar and bury them in a time capsule. In twenty years take them all out and see which ones Father Time has fulfilled with missing pieces and see if there is a pattern on who had the more right correlations. I think this is what Solomon would do.  



Straw man fallacies are more of a team sport. It typically happens when you’ve split a concept into two sides (Vaccines are bad/good...public school is bad/good…immigration is bad/good). This sets the stage for the strawman catapult which is a projectile you launch into the enemy camp with the word “seems” loaded on it. Anytime you see someone say “it seems like…” you can rest soothingly in the knowledge you’re about to get taken out by a strawman attack. Related to this is calling a position “hate” or arguing for “love”. Both are abstract concepts with a multitude of interpretations, but they carry strong emotional weight so it’s an easy way to take the opposing side down.  And it’s understandable, humans like to win. If we didn’t, we would have died out a long time ago. No one wants to be on the losing side, and no one wants to look foolish so we all hope we’ve picked, if not the winning side, then at least the righteous side.  


Of course the number of fallacies are like stars in the sky, and this list barely scratches the surface, but knowledge is power and all that. My rule of thumb is this: If the person is waving the white flag of reason, then by all means bench the fallacies and discourse accordingly. But if the battle lines are drawn and everyone has shown up with rhetoric, then it’s not only a waste, it’s counterproductive to use anything dialectic, so let it go and let your fallacies fly.  



Multitask Your Way To A Skinnier You

Every now and then I get into a hardcore debate with someone who thinks Myers Briggs is scientific rubbish.  I don’t mind.  Life is multiple choice that way, the other options for conflict include theology, politics or parenting and after you’ve been in a few nuclear showdowns about baby led weaning vs. rice cereal at 3 months ( that are so passive aggressive any eavesdropping man would have mistaken the napalm as showers of lily blossoms) you find joy in discussing whether or not sixteen personality types force 7.4 billion people into a box or not.  

Multitasking is another thing that’s scientific rubbish these days.  But I would argue (regarding this and Myers Briggs) that it all depends on your perspective and definitions.   

Sometimes I feel like  a terrible female.  I know I’m supposed to love yoga, small dogs and world travel, but I prefer to practice pàisdean (gaelic for “children”, i.e. muscle suavity obtained by chasing four active little boys around all day), I only like dogs large enough to eat bad guys, and would happily claim a plot of earth with my husband and swear fealty to it.   When my beloved little sister asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding...across the country, I immediately started charting “how much do I love thee” on an x y axis.  After much denial, head-in-the-sanding, and throwing my phone at outrageous ticket prices I summoned the strength of my inner viking ancestors and sallied forth on a metal coffin with no leg room and eight dollar drinks.    

Unfortunately I don’t have a phobia of flying or germs or anything conveniently treated with valium.  I prefer to pack my demons with me in their more tangible form.   Small children you have to trundle along to your destination without a) them killing themselves, b) someone else wringing their neck c) you doing all of the above.   J being the wiser half, decided he had work requirements that kept him at home.  

But on to the secret cure-all workout.

  1. Fly a budget airline that doles even water out with all the stinginess of a desert crossing nomad.   Pack all of your belongings into carry-on.  

  2. Bring a lap child.  Make sure your connections are too tight to gate-check a stroller.

  3. Sabotage the weather so those short connections turn into multi-hour delays.  

  4. Release the toddler into a busy airport and follow it.

What this will gain you (besides a cardio and functional strength workout that rivals Crossfit) .  

This is where the multi-tasking comes in.  At the end of three hours you will have…

  1. Memorized the floor plan of every concourse.  This is helpful if there is a mass shooting as you are on a first name basis with all of the emergency exits your child tried to go through.  It is also helpful for your career as a virtual signpost, pointing bedraggled travelers to their port in the storm.  

  2. You will have an in depth comprehensive analysis on what the current fashion trends are and who should and should not wear them.  

  3. You will start to see patterns of human behavior.  Like creepy men smile and look side to side a lot, and attractive men stare straight ahead like a predator. I doesn’t entirely make sense and surprised me too.  Normal looking people have facial expressions that are totally neutral and they too were once a toddler who cut their teeth terrorizing every square inch of the place.  Also, grandmas of every nationality like to give out candy and treats.  I can only assume this is how the Hansel and Gretel story originated.

I was worried I would come back from the south ten lbs heavier from a steady diet of biscuits and beer, but instead I’m slimmer and wiser.   The nervous twitch, and tick bites are barely noticeable at all.