Sunday, November 29, 2009

fizzle

Another Nano, another no-go.

Nothing I pictured beforehand took fire, and I had only one day of a story whispering in my mind. I'm not ready to hang up my writer's cap quite yet, but if health issues don't clear up this coming year, I probably will give it up.

So apologies to my erstwhile Nano buddies, and congrats to those who soldiered through.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Three New Year's Resolutions for 2009

There remains forty brand-new as yet unused days in this year of 2009. Forty days to carry out some new year's resolutions before the New Year. Forty days to work a few tattered resolutions off my to-do list before they contaminate the list for 2010.

1. Do something with R-Ranch.
We own fee simple title (among 2,199 other people) to 5,119 acres (see link for amenities) on the Klamath River in northern California, and to drive there from here has been too much for us for several years. Sell? Quit claim title back to the ranch? Give it to someone who loves to hunt and fish?

2. Do something with vinyl record collection.
We own twenty linear inches of old records. Sell to used records shop? Toss? record on CDs and toss? Sell for $1,000,000 on eBay?

3. Do something with cityonahill.com.
We've owned an internet domain since 1996, but I haven't done any development on it in several years. What to do? Let it lapse? Sell to interested party? Remodel and develop new strategy?

Why do we keep things beyond their usefulness? Sentiment? Not wanting to admit that it didn't work or is no longer a true priority? Attached to things because they're associated with good memories?

There is only so much time in each day, only so many days in each lifetime - and what we cling to may get in the way of better possibilities. Time to do something!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Sensual Orgy of mind and ear

I went to the Friends of the Library semi-annual book sale today, hoping to pick up some good hard cover editions of Gabaldon's Outlander series, but came home instead with a book on bird song. Call it inspiration for Nano.

Listening to Maire Brennan sing Ilathair De (In God's Presence) while reading Why Birds Sing by David Rothenberg created a nearly mystical apex of delight in my brain today. (A mini-rant: disregard the low Amazon star rating for his book. Never trust a rating that is composed of many five and four star ratings and a few one-star spoilers with nothing in between - clearly the amalgam is not representative of most opinions.)

Visit his website to hear recordings of birds, and of duets between birds and people.

Who I'm going to Be for Halloween?

For Halloween tonight, I'm going to put on a long black wig, some turqoise jewelery and gold rings, and go as Diana Gabaldon.

For the next thirty days after that, I'd like to write like Diana Gabaldon, too. And if I were living in Canberra on November 18th, I'd most certainly want to be at her book signing.

I read all of her Lord John books this month, but her magnum opus, the Outlander series, will have to wait until December, until after Nano. Because I have no self-control, and if I start to read one of her books during November, I will be reading, not writing, the rest of the month.

Friday, October 30, 2009

No news but old news

Still losing weight on the world's slowest diet. Still working on health/fitness. Still fighting the S.A.D. effect -- cloudy days become the norm in mid-October here. Still trying to find a creative braincell as NanoWrimo looms - the day after tomorrow!

Wishing all my friends - virtual and otherwise, the very best of experiences with writing, Nano and otherwise.

And congrats to Jaye Patrick, who doesn't just talk the talk, she walks the walk, and has posted another free story story on Scribd. As one who has enjoyed her stories for several years I recommend taking a look.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Happy Birthday Bo, and Congrats Mr. President

Here is a link to President Obama's brief speech on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.

Malia walked into her parent's room and announced, "Daddy you won the Nobel Peace Prize and it's Bo's birthday!" (Bo is their dog.) Obama went on to observe it is good to have children to help you keep the world in perspective.

Here is a link to pictures of Bo, a black and white Portuguese water dog that was a gift from Teddy Kennedy, whose dog had puppies. I suspect that Bo is an example of the president's sense of humor, as Obama is also black and white.

Here is an excerpt from his speech:
"I know that throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes. And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action -- a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.

These challenges can't be met by any one leader or any one nation. And that's why my administration has worked to establish a new era of engagement in which all nations must take responsibility for the world we seek. We cannot tolerate a world in which nuclear weapons spread to more nations and in which the terror of a nuclear holocaust endangers more people. "


Obama has done more for nuclear disarmament than I was aware. It was his top priority in the Senate where two anti-proliferation bills that passed bear his name. In July he signed a landmark nuclear reduction pact treaty that he negotiated with Russia. I for one cannot object to a man who is working to prevent the earth being turned into nuclear toast.


I like Obama, I voted for him, and I think he is doing a good job - not perfect, but good. He is an idealist; he is not wealthy as many of our past presidents have been, and he is donating the one and half million dollar prize that goes with the Nobel award to various charities. That is really putting your money where your mouth is - I would surely be tempted to keep it!

There are many powerful forces arrayed against Barak Obama, from those whose racism and bigotry cannot see the man for the color of his skin, to those more sinister cabals who are viscerally opposed to his political agenda of a more democratic country and a more peaceful world. Power and profit are ancient motivations, and those who stand to lose either oppose Obama with all their cunning strength, using media ju-jitsu in their attempts to block him. If he is popular with ordinary people, they accuse him of behaving like a pop star, if he fails in some of his attempts to bring peace, they mock him as weak and powerless. But Obama is their worst nightmare, a man who can unite people across many divides of class, color and religion in the cause of a better world for our children.

The constant drizzle of mud from the media has had its effect, and some who should know better are skewing to adopt their message. I only ask - keep your eye on the ball and not on the announcer calling the plays! The man is what he does, and not what the carefully edited announcers say he does.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Just for Laughs (turn sound on)

Reboot

Reboot - that is what we do when our computers are hopelessly confused and coming up with the wrong answers - or no answers, and churning the same old same old.

So I needed a reboot this morning. Tried the weight machine yesterday - not for me, too awkward, configured for Goldibear, hard to reconfigure on the fly, etc.

And that was a good thing. This morning I did a reboot and picked up The RealAge Workout by Dr. Michael F. Roizen. We have several books on exercise, and I looked at the others, but this one is written for me and my needs. The first thing I discovered is that people in my shape (which is to say - no good shape at all), need to do basic stretches and lots of walking to rebuild "energy supply chain and contractile proteins" before beginning any kind of strength training. Well. I always was an impatient panda bear -impulsive, even.

It turns out strength training must wait until after 30 days of walking and even then, only core muscle groups for the first month. So if I had continued to pursue the weight machine and the areas I targeted, I would have either fallen short of my goal for lack of preparation, or possibly caused myself an injury as well. Patience has its rewards.

Today then is Day One of 30 doing 30 minutes of walking a day, broken down into no less than ten minute intervals. I don't even know if I can hit that target today, but if not, I can work up to it.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Revving Up and Falling Down

Revving up for NanoWriMo, I have decided on the genre (fantasy), and some of the characteristics for world building.

On the diet wars front, I replaced the dead battery in my Omron pedometer today, and started reading The Step Diet by Hill and Peters. And I selected the eleven weight routines that target my problem areas (waist, belly, upper arms and buns).

And then I fell down. After ten aggravating days on a weight loss plateau, I ate four ounces of pistachio gelato - and enjoyed every single teeny, tiny bite.

The weather, which has been warm and sunny nearly every day so far, turned cold and rainy today and for the near future. I can use a treadmill in the gym downstairs for walking. It is the lack of sunshine, the dark days, that affect me. Not a coincidence that falling off my diet is congruent with the beginning of our cloudy, rainy weather. Every winter I fantasize about running away to a warm, sunny island beach.

Probably won't happen this year, but someday... someday.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Writer's Cave furnished and waiting

Today Goldibear moved his weight work-out machine, and a large roll-top desk, so that I will have a nice quiet writer's cave, just in time for Nanowrimo'09. My laptop doesn't quite fit on the desk, so a little creative adjustment of the wood with a saw will be happening this weekend.

Not so long ago I mentioned yWriter2 on my list of essential tools for a writer. When I went to update it today, I was shocked to discover that Hal Spacejock is on version 5.1.1.5, and bless his heart, it is still a free download (donations optional).

Today a new/used copy of Roget's Super Thesaurus arrived - a bit dented but still a good deal for only $1.

At lunchtime, our son announced he is doing Nano this year.

Paperback Writer is handing out encouragement and answering questions for writers gearing up for Nano over on blog, and she gave some very good and welcome advice in answer to my question.

Altogether, the indicators are pointing to a super Nano season.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Get Ready! Get Set! NANO!

Or NANOWRIMO if you prefer the long version. I's almost that time of year again - National Novel Writing Month begins on November 1st.

Do you have a novel in you, just waiting to get written? The majority of people do - so why don't they all write a book? Thinking about writing often amounts to just a plot idea, figuring out the perfect title, and picturing the royalty checks rolling in ever after. And it is all those other hidden steps in between that keep most people from achieving their dream. People who actually write novels do what serious writers do: consider the all the parts to a novel that come after 'title' and 'plot bunny'. They write thousands of words, revise those words, edit those words -- and then start all over again. Because writing, like nearly everything else in life, takes practice to do well. And that is the stopper. How many people that want to write a novel are willing to practice?

That is where NaNoWriMo comes in. Here is chance to practice, and to finish with at least 50,000 words, all with the greatest bunch of cheerleaders and motivators I've ever seen collected in one place. It is easy to get discouraged, reading your own writing and seeing the difference between what you pictured doing and what you actually wrote. Fortunately, writing is a skill that improves with practice and with feedback and direction from people who are further along the road.

Internet sites such as Forward Motion provide online classes (free) and a community of writers who encourage each other and share information on everything from the best latest book on writing to lists of publishers and agents - who to go to and who to stay away from.

Only 37 days left to do plot outlines, character sketches, world building - or whatever you want that isn't actually writing your novel. Or you can do what I did my first NaNo, and just write like crazy and hope it will all come together by "The End". That worked out well until I was about two thirds of the way through, and then my historical novel took a science fiction turn that I hadn't really intended. This year, I want to have a plot outline, one made up of more than three sentences!

Goldibear is moving furniture so that I have a quiet, private nook for writing, and I just updated my personal page for NaNo'09. If you decide to do NaNo this year, please stop and say 'hi' to me there.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Learning to love Rutabagas

I never thought I would learn to love a diet consisting of baked rutabaga with apple, grated raw beets soaked in orange juice, baked fish on a bed of spinach, snacks of almonds and oranges, and other healthy dishes, but that is what I've been eating for the past six weeks.

And I have lost twelve pounds.

But my doctor and friends all tell me I'm looking healthier and younger, so it is a good thing. Dr. Randolph, in his book From Belly Fat to Belly Flat, postulates a theory that many fat people are simply estrogen dominant, and need to balance their hormones with the appropriate diet and supplements. After six weeks, I can't answer for other chubbies, but the results speak for themselves as to the cause of my fat belly, which is shrinking away nicely.

I have followed the recipes and food lists and supplements recommended in the book diligently. There is only one supplement I have used differently: Chitosan. Instead of starting with the 3,000 mg per day advised in the book, I started with one 500 mg capsule at dinner. After the first week, I added one 500 mg capsule at breakfast, and increasing by 500 mg steps until reaching 2,000 mg per day this week. The reason is that Chitosan has been known to have adverse affects on some people, and I wanted to give myself the best opportunity to adjust to it.

I dislike some of the recipes in the book, and have made my own choices using the food group lists and other guidelines. I have been careful to include MUFAs (monounsaturated fatty acids) in most menus. They are used in Dr. Randolph's book, and I found a detailed explanation and guide for using them in the Flat Belly Diet Pocket Guide by Liz Vaccariello (of Prevention magazine). It is no sacrifice - who wouldn't love to add dark chocolate, avocados, pecans, etc. to their daily diet? The secrets of what to pair them with, how much to use per serving, etc. are laid out in the Pocket Guide.

Although Vaccareillo's book, and also Ultra-Metabolism by Dr. Mark Hyman, recommend soy in various guises (edamame and other versions) I have to ignore that portion of their books because soy can aggravate low thyroid, (which Dr. Hyman acknowledges on pages 183-184). There are so many other good foods that is not a problem. Even McDonalds has menu items that agree with my diet plan these days.

The three things I have loved best about this diet is that I am never hungry, and I never have to gain back the weight, because this is a food plan I can follow the rest of my life. Also I don't have food cravings the way I used to, which makes it easier to stick to the menus.

A bonus is that my favorite clothes are still waiting for me in my closet and I'll be able to wear them by Christmas.

This is not an easy diet plan to follow. I made a computerized chart just to sort out the various recommended supplements and when and how much to take. The foods and recipes are not from your average gourmet restaurant.

With sufficient motivation, it is workable, and success is its own reward.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Writers are like the Postman

This has been the longest week, stretching out until there is no more snap left in it. There is a saying, "Through rain and snow, the mail must go through." I think writers are like the postman, and must keep writing through thick and thin, or through the virtual storms of life.

The Muse must not be so delicate that only summer days and warm breezes will inspire her to let go of her talent. Else how would the great - if sometimes rather dark - literature of the world be done? But writers must slog on through the buffets and breaks of living, and embrace more fervently their talent however small, as the chill of grief and winds of worry blow through.

The destination is greater than the trials of the journey. To have created something out of self, to have shaped and pummeled words and thoughts into story and prose, is to live generously. The more circumstances might flatten hope or comfort, the more urgent is the need to open wider the funnel of spark and flame, and pour with gleeful abandon thoughts into the cauldron, to boil down into plot and characters, purposefully releasing the Muse rather than clutching her tight.

Life may occasionally cause us to hold our breath, but sooner than later we must let go, and just breathe.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Led Astray by the Mother of Ducks

So I was cruising Marina's blog the other day, and she blames Glenda Larke. Granted, she did give fair warning - small print, up all night, burning eyes, but it sounded so enticing to read a whole new fantasy online I just ignored her cautions. Instead of staying far away from what might cause such discomfort, I rushed to see what would make Marina stay up all night!

The Last Stormlord, by Glenda Larke is indeed worth a little suffering. Not that I intend to suffer for the upcoming sequels, because I've seen that Larke is a writer I want in my permanent collection.

And I'm still waiting for Robin Hobbs Dragon Keeper: Volume One of the Rainwilds Chronicles to be released in the USA January 2010.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Aye, There Be Dragons

and they are circling and roaring around our house these two days past. Hear the dragons roaring! What be those dragon riders thinking, anyway?

I can hardly get anything done, what with them roaring loud enough to shake the crockery when they fly over the house so low and so fast. Oh, they are beautiful enough that I must drop everything and go stand on my balcony to watch them as they swoop and dive, flying their dragon maneuvers singly and in groups. Surely the old stories about dragons and their riders and the way they bespell mortal folk who look upon them are true. For didn't I marry a dragon rider myself so long ago?

Weeping, We Resolve

Weeping as I join through live-streaming in Ted Kennedy's funeral Mass, I resolve to follow his example and never quit. The forces of hate and bigotry are not as strong as the forces of love and forgiveness. His death renews my determination to support with all my strength the unfinished battles of his life, beginning with health care for all, not just the privileged few.

To know the man, and not the caricature painted by his political opposition, see these eulogies from his funeral Mass:
his son Ted Kennedy, Jr.
his son Patrick Kennedy

We will honor him not with flowers but with contributions to carry on the fight.

Monday, August 24, 2009

SHADOWLIGHT by Lynn Viehl - Early Review

Deeper into the world of the Darkyn. Wider views of their various talents and relationships. Fuller development of their beginnings and the threats to their survival. That is where Lynn is taking her loyal fans in Shadowlight - A Novel of the Kyndred, to be released October 6, 2009.

Although preceded by seven best-selling novels of the Darkyn, Lynn's latest supernatural romance/thriller is plenty strong enough to stand alone, with new characters and plot twists marking the existence of a more complex world of Darkyn than the one I already knew. The fast-paced plot picks up speed and heat as Min and Matthias battle first each other and then the most deadly enemy the Darkyn have ever yet known.

Rowan, their friend, sparkles so brightly in her scenes that she nearly steals their show. It is a good thing that Lynn has already written a book just for her, and I got to read the ten page preview today. Pre-order, here I go again - Dreamveil is scheduled for publication in June, 2010.

Meanwhile, I have Shadowlight to ponder, and to read at least once more, before then. Another five star from Lynn Viehl.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Disappearing Panda

Silver Transitions e-mailed me a lovely bunch of bamboo fresh from Australia this morning, along with a charming picture of pandas (to remind me of what I'm supposed to eat and to look like, I suppose). She'd heard I've been feeling crummy lately, but I think the spelling was altered over the water because truth is, I'm feeling more cranky than crummy. But then, pandas do get cranky when they don't get their bamboo (or so I've heard).

I have lost six panda pounds in the past nine days. Pandas are supposed to have nice, big, round bellies and mine is shrinking away practically as I watch. Perhaps it has something to do with a hormone - balancing diet I'm on (see From Belly Fat to Belly Flat by Dr. C. W. Randolph).

Every few years I stiffen my will to the breaking point and Do Something to lose the fat - successfully. I enjoy my un-panda-like body for a while, then Something Happens, stress like a ton of bricks falls on me, and the pounds rapidly reappear: magical transmogrification - I look like a panda again.

Dr. R claims that estrogen overload is common among women like me who have been on The Pill for decades, followed by hormone replacement therapy to get through the bumps of menopause. He calls for applying a special Mexican yam-derived hormone cream and eating foods proven to encourage hormone balance. Often the meals make me slightly nauseous - I miss my comforting bamboo - but there's nothing wrong with lots of cruciferous and root vegetables, spinach salads and baked fish, except that my body hardly recognizes it as food any more.

But it is hard to argue with success, and any plan that has me losing weight (while still eating normal amount of calories and not getting hungry) is a plan that I want to keep following.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Lovely Old Word of the Day

When I was in school, I loved sports of all kinds, was captain of our girls softball team, played tennis year round, and when I wasn't running, biking or swimming I was surfing. So I never thought of myself as a "geek", but geekdom lurked just under my skin, for I was a closet dictionary reader. Yes, I thought reading the unabridged dictionary was a form of entertainment.

Sometimes when I run across an especially lovely word, I bookmark it, and while I was cleaning up my bookmarked links today I ran across this lovely word from the year 1623:

ineluctable: not to be avoided, changed or resisted (see also inevitable)

As in: Visual evidence of the ineluctable physical progression of aging may be delayed or ameliorated, but it is ultimately inevitable.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ready - Set - RELAX!

That's right, relax. Saturday August 15 is National Relaxation Day. So when is the last time you relaxed? I mean really just relaxed, let go, stopped worrying - planning - doing, and r e l a x e d?

eHow, which will explain how to do almost anything (or in this case, almost nothing) has seven suggestions on how to celebrate National Relaxation Day. My favorite is #3: Spend the day in a place that is tranquil and relaxing. Suggested places: a lake, the beach, the mountains, or a quiet cafe. (Of course it is my favorite, I'm a panda.)

eHow rates the difficulty level of its instructions and good news! This one is rated easy. So no excuses - get ready - get set- relax!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Cold - Hot - Cold - Hot - Cold - Hot

The water in the pool was cold this morning, and the air was only sixty-five degrees. It felt like the ocean at San Diego in December. I entered the pool very slowly the first time, and my breathing became irregular as the water reached my chest. Once my leg started cramping, I left the pool for the hot tub - aahhhh. Hot. Just right.

After the hot water restored my body heat I left the hot tub for the pool, and entered the water at a fast but steady pace, descending the steps without a pause. I had the whole place to myself (who else is crazy enough to go swimming in a cold pool on a cold morning?). Part-way through my laps, I got a foot cramp, so back to the hot tub. MMmmmmm. The only thing better than a hot tub is a hot tub after a cold pool.

For my third time in the pool, I let the teenager inside me loose, and simply jumped into the deep end. Whoooh! Another lap, back to the hot tub and done. That was so much fun I might do it again tomorrow. Dr. Randolph in his latest book, From Belly Fat to Belly Flat, writes "if you are too busy to exercise every day, then every day you are busy dying". That was the last thing I read before my jaunt to the swimming pool.

Today I'm busy living.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

God must have had fun building the world

I think God had fun building the world, because we are made in his likeness, and mankind is a builder and a maker. Yesterday I started building a miniature garden in an old shallow wooden box. I want a Yin/Yang garden, and the white sand covers half of it now.


Today I collected darker sand, a variety of rocks and some miniature cactus and succulents. It will not be a genuine Sand and Stone garden, but I'm inspired by viewing the Sand and Stone garden in the area next to the tea house at Portland's authentic Japanese garden. My little garden is 25 inches by 17.5 inches and fits nicely on a table on our balcony.


A story in sand

Hints of actions past
or yet to come

Proof of life in feathers and stone

Monday, August 3, 2009

Recovered and Inspired

I had a drug reaction last month to a change in a prescription medication, but I'm feeling much better now. Well, you try hitting your head against a brick wall for a month and then stop. You'll suddenly feel much better too.

So I dropped in on Pecked by Ducks this morning and discovered le bon mot - the perfect thought at the perfect time. Marina writes with her usual wit and humor about the tools essential to a writer (in her case, a sharp knife at the top of the list). Reading her blog caused all the little neurons and synapses in my brain to start firing in sequence, and I came up with my own short list of essential tools for writers - or, at the very least, for this writer.

a working computer

NaNoWriMo - to encourage me to use the computer

Key Note - for a place on the computer to put all those brainstorms

ywriter2 - because it is very good, and it's by an Aussie

www.autocrit.com - it tells me the truth about ways in which my writing is deficient, and I'm encouraged me when I compare reports from now to previously.

sandbox, bubble bath or other alpha brain wave producing activity - to generate ideas to put to use with writing tools

I'm late with reviews for two books: The Rough Guide to Happiness by Dr. Nick Baylis and The Pursuit of Perfect by Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D. I've had a rough couple of months, but expect to complete my reviews this week, as I started both books when they arrived in May and look forward to finishing them, as both have interesting things to teach me.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Dewey and Me - a Book Review

"Find your place. Be happy with what you have. Treat everyone well. Live a good life. It isn't about material things; it's about love. And you can never anticipate love."

That, according to his Best Friend Vicki Myron, sums up the life philosophy of Dewey Readmore Books, the official cat of the municipal library in Spencer, Iowa. I had to quote Dewey because his philosophy and mine match so perfectly, if we had met I know we'd be best friends.

When I was a teenager, I asked my parents if I'd been adopted. They were shocked and surprised (and perhaps, after second thoughts, they wondered if someone had mixed up the babies in the hospital.) I never marched in step with my family, even when it looked like I was doing so, the inner me was in full-throttle rebellion. So even though I was not adopted, I identified immediately with Dewey, who was abandoned in a book drop one freezing cold Iowa night.

Dewey: the Small-town Library Cat Who Touched the World is not only about Dewey. It is about Vicki and her family, the Jipsons, and about the town of Spencer. Dewey struggles but remains loving and faithful to his duties and his loved ones all of his days, and the same might be said of the author and her town. They all surpass their beginnings and reach beyond their potential, over-comers and overachievers every one.

If you are looking for a true story that will make you laugh, make you cry and make you feel better about yourself, your life and your future, I recommend Dewey, a five hankie - er, I mean five star book that is sure to please even the curmudgeonly reader, much as the eponymous cat won over the patrons of the library.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

and Speaking of Happiness...

It is wonderful how once something grabs my attention, I start stumbling over it everywhere I look. Remember when you bought a new car, and suddenly you were seeing that model all over the place? What is marvelous is how our unconscious brain works so hard to give us what we ask for.

So now that I'm seeking to give my life a happiness tune-up, I find the elements of my research every day, even when I'm looking at other things.

I was on the Forward Motion writers forum yesterday, and there was a discussion of flow.

I was reading a political blog this morning, and there was a discussion of forgiveness.

At that point I tripped over the mother lode of happiness tune-ups at the Happiness Project Toolbox.

I'm s l o w l y working my through The Rough Guide to Happiness by Dr. Nick Baylis - slow because I need to meditate on the points he makes and connect them to my own life and decide how to implement them.

It is O.K. to be happy, and to want happiness. Happiness is not self-indulgence or narcissism, or ignoring the needy world. Happiness is not synonymous with pleasure, and wanting to be happy is not being a pleasure-seeker. Somewhere in my Calvinist background ancestors, I think happiness got a bad reputation. Let me be very plain: happiness is not "un-Christian" and it is not selfish.

I wish you a truly happy day, engaged with your inner self, and the people and the world around you. I hope you find something to do where you enter flow, and that you savor it later.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Pesky Inner Child

"Oh look - the pool's open!"
"Nothin' to do with us."
"But, but - I want to go swimming!"
"Too cold."
"See, there's people in the pool."
"We AREN'T going swimming."
"They're having fun."
"No."
"Remember floating in sunshine?"
"Can't go. We'd look silly in a swim suit."
"No one will notice us."
"It's too cold for swimming."
"Not anymore. Today will be 89F."
"All right. You win. We'll go this afternoon while everyone's at work."

My inner child skips in a circle chanting, "We're going swimming."
I mutter, "All our flab will show, and all the wrinkles and liver spots - "
"But it will be FUN!" chortles my inner child.

I smile.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Happiness - thoughtfully

Dr. Nick Baylis, author of the newly released book The Rough Guide to Happiness: Practical Steps for All-Round Well-Being, spreads his passion for living life to the fullest in his work as an experienced therapist, lecturer and columnist. He begins by explaining what happiness is not: it is not the definition given by Freud -the sum of our pleasures minus our pain. According to Baylis, pleasure and happiness are not the same.

Pleasure is a transitory state dependent on our physical sensations or emotions. Happiness is a deep rapport with life: with others, with nature, with our own conscious and sub-conscious.

I could read The Rough Guide to Happiness in one day - and then forget most of what I read. Instead, I'm approaching it as an opportunity to make changes in my own life, by embracing the ideas in his book one by one. Yesterday I went for the longest walk in a year, exploring the neighborhood around our apartment. It was not the bicycle ride I would have done in years past, but to do nothing because I can't do what I used to enjoy would be to quit the struggle to remain actively engaged with life. And it is a struggle most days, but that is no reason to give up.

There was a merry wedding in the park we passed by, with a horse-drawn carriage for the bridal party. In this recently-built neighborhood, the houses were architected in a style strongly reminiscent of old Portland, and the charming streets reminded me of days from my childhood. A bank of pale pink climbing roses wafted a scent that brought back the rose trellis in our back yard when I was in grade school.

Sights, sounds, smells, memory: engaged with my world, myself, a satisfying afternoon to save in my memory portfolio.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

1,263 pages

Yesterday I brought home Cyteen and Regenesis by C. J. Cherryh. Together they add up to one thousand, two hundred and sixty-three pages. I don't know what I was thinking. I have an audio book and another book to read and review, and Beggars in Spain to re-read for a Science Fiction group.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

On Grey Hair and Wrinkles

My husband and I both engaged in risky behavior when we were young: speeding cars, speeding jets, speeding boats, etc. We liked to go fast. We also did not think we'd live to be over thirty (that was old!) and we didn't plan for living long and well. Short lives but happy was practically our motto.

So now he is seventy and I'm getting there, and we really are quite perplexed to discover grey hair and wrinkles in the mirror. How did this happen to us? One day at a time, I suppose, but still, we aren't any older in our hearts.

Perspective changes though. On Monday at the periodontist, the hygienist, who I had assumed was newly out of high school and no more than twenty years old, told the dentist he just turned thirty. I nearly choked. Not only do I feel as if I'm walking around in a weird disguise like an 'old person', but really old people like thirty-year- olds are disguising themselves as high school kids. This just is not acceptable. I'm going to get out my belly-dance CD before I start really believing I'm as old as I look.

Don't Miss Your Life: a review

I requested "Don't Miss Your Life" from the Library Thing Early Reviewers group because of the word "Laughter" in the title. The book lives up to its title. I giggled. I tee-heed. I snorted. I laughed out loud. Then I laughed so hard that tears ran down my cheeks. I laughed so frequently while reading "Don't Miss Your Life" that my husband asked to borrow the book when I was done with it.

Charlene Baumbich lives up to her reputation for humor. Better yet, the "Grace" in the title is fully accessible, and especially in the last few chapters. I made notes all over the first three-fourths of my copy, but for the last fourth, I could only read and drink in the assurances that we all have been given the ability to live, love, laugh and share our gifts, however small, with others.

Baumbich relates hilarious stories from her own life that are very freeing, and I found it easy to relate to her. I know that the next time I want to give up and drop out, or the next time I trip and fall down, I will think of Charlene, and I will choose differently. Because how could I take myself too seriously or stay angry when I'm brimming over with grace, laughter and happiness? Oh, I'll still get mad or huffy, but I won't live there for long with the memories from "Don't Miss Your Life".

I didn't just read the book, I inhaled it, I wrote all over it, and I laughed, chuckled and giggled my way through it. I was sorry when I got to the last page. Guess I'll have to look up her back list - I'm addicted to humor now.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

It can be dangerous to read and eat at the same time

So here I was almost a quarter of the way through Don't Miss Your Life, and although I had smiles and one little giggle, I was no longer looking for the laugh out loud humor I thought I'd discover in this book.

Well! Now I see, this is a humorist of the kind that likes to sneak up on her prey. Just when I was sure it was safe to read while eating my dinner, she pounced. Suddenly I was trying not to choke, laughing out loud until tears ran down my face and my tummy muscles hurt. Laughing so hard my dinner drink spewed right back out.

Take heed, my web friends. Baumbich will kill you with laughter if you aren't careful. Don't eat while reading!

They are all barefoot!

Arrived today courtesy of LTER group: Don't Miss Your Life by Charlene Ann Baumbich - a very fast response from the publisher! The cover has me smiling already, because the pictures of ladies in dresses has a unique feature. They are all barefoot.

Baumbich writes about the intentional pursuit of life, even on occasions of death and suffering. Rather, especially on those occasions.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Happy News

Coming soon from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers group: Don't Miss Your Life: An Uncommon Guide to Living With Freedom, Laughter and Grace by Charlene Ann Baumbich. Release date for Baumbich's latest book is June 2nd. She has a backlist of five star best sellers, but is new to this reader, so I'm very excited to be chosen to review her new book.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

All Clear

If the definition of courage is doing something that terrifies you, then I'm much braver than I ever thought - over something most people take for granted, so it doesn't count. Good news, I have a very pretty colon, as colons go, and I will not ruin your day by telling the ugly details of preparation. As a funny consequence, seeing the periodontist next week looks easy by comparison.

So the moral of these appointments? Eat your fiber and floss your teeth.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Even a Panda Sometimes Needs a Colonoscopy

Tai Shan at our National Zoo underwent a colonoscopy earlier this month. I shouldn't complain about a mere sigmoidoscopy, so I won't. I printed a picture of Tai Shan being brave to inspire me. This is the third time I have agreed to schedule this procedure, and I won't cancel this time. I won't, won't won't....

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Alchemy of Stone - a review

Call it science fiction, steam punk, magical realism, fantasy or subversive feminist literature - whatever you call it, call The Alchemy of Stone good reading. The excellent and original quality of the story, the characters, the setting, the dialog would be enough to recommend this novel, but Ekaterina's deft handling of symbolism and fairy tale elements make it memorable, and a highly satisfying experience. This is a keeper.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Need a laugh? Baby Elephant Soccer

Our newest baby elephant at the Portland Zoo with his first ball.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Fit at 50 and Beyond - a Review

My Early Reviewers copy of Fit at 50 and Beyond, extruding a dozen colorful markers, creased along its thin spine on the front cover, stained with juice on the lower edge and stocked with gritty black and white photographs of people over 50 exercising, is not a pretty book. It is the kind of book that one lives with, not the kind that sits unread on the coffee table.

The text, like the rest of the book, is plain, straightforward and lacking any kind of gimmicks. I love it. At just 168 pages, Fit at 50 and Beyond is an exercise book on a diet - all facts and no puffery. This is a book for people who think Ms. Senior America is someone special, and she does in fact appear in some of the pictures.

I have fifteen books tagged "diet" in my library, but this one is unique. Dr. Gloth is not selling anything - not a sports drink, or special exercise equipment (one picture is of a man lifting a chair - "chair curls" - hah!). He is not pushing expensive pre-packaged diet food or memberships in anything. I felt throughout the book as if I could trust him to give me the unvarnished scientific facts of diet and exercise. For example, some books I have claim that all calories are equal. Now I understand that is an over-simplified approach. Dr. Goth explains how carbohydrates, fats and protein are metabolized differently in the body, and how that affects weight gain or loss.

He also gives tips such as the best time of day to exercise and why, and what to eat after exercising and why. I was born asking "Why?" and I like it that Dr. Gloth's explanations are clear and concise.

Dr. Gloth, like a good coach, includes all the effective diet and exercise pointers I am aware of, some that I didn't know before, and doesn't waste my time with silly alternatives. I wish someone had given me this book when I turned 50! But as he points out, it is never too late.

The main part of the book is devoted to exercise, with pictures and tips on good form and not causing yourself injury. There are short and sensible chapters on healthy eating, what to do to prevent a lapse in your program or if you have a lapse, how to maintain diet and exercise when traveling, and more.

Thanks to Rudy Speckamp, C.M.C. this handy little book includes recipes from an award-winning chef, at the end of chapters like a treat for your progress, and a whole chapter of them later in the book.

If you or someone you know is turning 50, this book would be a useful gift, but it could help any adult design their own effective diet and exercise program.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Rough Guide to Happiness - arrived today

The Rough Guide to Happiness by Dr. Nick Baylis arrived today, courtesy of the LT Early Reviewers group. I knew I would love this book when I found a picture of a baby elephant on page one. (How did they know baby elephants make me happy?)

Now if I can only complete and implement the wisdom in my three recent LTER books, I can be fit, perfect-not, and happy. Or at least less unfit, happy with being not-perfect, and working on optimizing my life opportunities.

Reviews to follow soon. Very soon. Just as soon as I finish this book on how to stop procrastinating.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Pursuing Perfect on audio CDs

The Pursuit of Perfect, an audio book, is more interesting than I expected it to be. Dr. Ben-Shahar alternates recent psychology findings with memorable vignettes from real life. I like the format because it helps me remember the principles of positive psychology, also called optimal living, better than studying abstract principles alone.

This is my first audio book, and it is a pleasure to not strain my eyes with reading. The windows CD player keeps track of my place on each CD, so I can stop in the middle of a CD and pick up at the right place again later.

Goldibear is listening to The Pursuit of Perfect each day also, so we can discuss the ideas in the book. I will review the book when we have finished all six of the Cds, in a week or so.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Pursuit of Perfect - arrived today

The Pursuit of Perfect by Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D. arrived today courtesy of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers group. It is in audio book format, seven hours on six CDs.

I am very excited about the opportunity to do this review. Dr. Ben-Shahar taught a course at Harvard University in the field of positive psychology, and has included exercises and meditations on the CD.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Ow. ow - ow - ow

Interesting little known fact about the elliptical exercise machine - the resistance can be set from low to high.

Now I know. (But I didn't know the day before yesterday, when I just hopped on a vacant machine in the gym downstairs. Although I wondered why I couldn't make my machine go as fast as the one my neighbor was using.)

So. It turns out my machine was set for 'up a steep hill'. My first time using it. Owww-www.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Happy Birthday to the Bard

Today is reported to be the 445th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth, and so it is proclaimed "talk like the Bard" day.

Brevity is the soul of wit.
(Hamlet, Act II, Scene II)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Stars Blue Yonder - Early Review

The Stars Blue Yonder by Sandra McDonald is third in a series that begins with The Outback Stars and is continued in The Stars Down Under. Tor Books schedules its release for July 21, 2009, and this review is based on an Advance Reader's copy.

Time travel is a well established theme in science fiction. H. G. Wells, sometimes called 'The father of Science Fiction', wrote his famous classic, The Time Machine, over a hundred years ago. He would probably appreciate the sophisticated twists in McDonald's premise on time travel, which dominates this book in the trilogy.

My preferences in science fiction are action and adventure, discovery and military, and alien culture. Personally, I do not enjoy encountering time travel in any literature, so I am not the best person to provide an unbiased review of a novel full of time travel. With that caveat, I will stipulate that McDonald's time travel premise is well done, and if I didn't have this personal quirk I'm certain I would have liked it more. Time travel was a minor consequence in the first two books, so I didn't see this coming.

In book three, McDonald develops relationships from the first two books, and I found the ending to be very satisfying from that perspective. I frequently had a sense of the kind of magical realism found in writing by Charles de Lint, for instance. But isn't that the case, when life suddenly goes sideways or upside-down (whether it is magical or science) that everything and everybody seems perfectly ordinary - until the unexpected bursts into the scene. In fact, I find real life to be just like that.

I greatly enjoy the fact that McDonald doesn't permit her characters to be stereo-typical heroes. They have aches and twinges and bruises and pratfalls. They make mistakes and have misapprehensions and fail themselves and each other. In other words, they muddle through, very much like real people tend to do. They seem just like people I might meet anywhere, and then they make the hard decisions and I understand they really are heroic, in a boy-next-door sort of way.

I don't usually write reviews that include story or plot summaries, which are available from the publisher's comments and at Amazon and elsewhere. I think there is a story-within-the-story here, and both story lines are resolved in book three to my satisfaction. Other story threads, of aboriginal myths and of the struggle of indigenous peoples also tie the three books together.

I am fascinated with Australia and its people, past and present, and these are the first science fiction books I've read that give the country and the people the main roles. For that reason alone I would recommend this series, and there is much more to appreciate as well. I can't think of another novel I've read, sf or otherwise, where the female protagonist is pregnant for most of the story. Considering how much time women spend being pregnant, that suddenly strikes me as a biased oversight, which I was greatly amused to see corrected in The Stars Blue Yonder.

An unusual and entertaining trilogy. Recommend.

A Beginning

I did ten minutes on the elliptical machine this afternoon, and my first real workout in too many years. Tomorrow - weight lifting with inspiration and instruction from Fit at 50 and Beyond. Friday, back to ellipticals, and so on.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Curious?

Finally! A book for people like me. People who grew up being told at least once a day "Curiosity killed the cat." People who who were born asking "Why?" and all the related questions - who, what where and when and how.

I've never met author Tom Kashdan, Ph.D., but I love him already. His book, Curious?, released today by Harper Collins, extols the virtues of curiosity. He includes a cautionary chapter on the kinds of curiosity that can become dangerous to peace of mind or body, but most of his new, 352 page book shows us how to use our normal human talent to increase our happiness.

If you are Curious?, you don't have to wait for your bookstore to order it: Amazon has the Kindle edition and Harper Collins offers an ebook in any format you might want. I don't need an act of Congress to declare my own holiday, and I'm marking April 21st as a day to celebrate being curious - Curiosity Day - a holiday for people like me.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Stars Blue Yonder - ARC arrived today

Book three from Sandra McDonald has a publication date of July 2009 - and she kindly sent me the ARC already. Her first two novels in this series made an indelible impression on my mind. I read over a hundred books a year, and many of them are science fiction, but the scenes and characters do not stick so clearly in my memory as Sandra's books have done. I'll post my review of this latest book as soon as I have read it. (dives back into the book)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Very Happy News

A message from the Early Reviewers group at LibraryThing.com tells me I've been tagged to review The Rough Guide to Happiness by Dr. Nick Baylis. Perhaps they are psychic and just knew I've been feeling stressed and depressed lately. Perhaps the algorithm that matches book requests with available books noticed I have fourteen books in my library tagged "happiness". Perhaps it is good karma.

Whatever the reason, I'm very happy to have the opportunity to The Rough Guide to Happiness. I hope some of it will rub off on me.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Fun Begins

Just arrived today, Advance Reader's Copy of -

Fit at 50 and Beyond: A Balanced Exercise and Nutrition Program, by Michael Gloth, M.D.

The first thing I noticed about this book is that the cover pictures are of people over fifty, and they all look like "real" people, not Hollywood models. Next, I looked at the black and white photos of people doing the exercises. They are all over fifty too. My favorite model is a woman in her 80s.

Now this, I think I can do.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Don't Sleep, There are Snakes - a Review

I rarely read books that I don't finish, and rarely publish reviews that are negative. The publisher of this book wrote such a glowing description that I was doubly disappointed after reading it.

I found this book so irritating that I just skimmed that last half of it. I have a life-long interest in the subjects, Amazonia and linguistics and anthropology, however both the poor writing style and author's unaccountable choices of what to tell, what to leave out, overcame my interest in the subjects.

There is no doubt in my mind that Daniel Everett's knowledge of a peculiar indigenous people's language and culture is unique and that his life among them in the world's most prolific and diverse biosphere was immensely interesting. I found his style of telling it flat, his prose meager, and his time line jumbled without any overriding sense of purpose. In the end, my experience of the book was extremely frustrating. It takes an unusual alchemist to turn the gold of such experiences into the leaden account in "Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes".

The book holds value for students of anthropology and linguistics, and I appreciate what I learned of the Piraha people. I just wish Everett had written a different book.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sleepless, reading The Beggars Trilogy

I've been an insomniac my entire life. When I was a toddler, my mother would put me down for a nap, and once she fell asleep, I would get up and play. When I was older, I was found sleep-walking. Life is just too intensely interesting to spend much of it laying down with my eyes shut. When I was made to stay in bed, I brought a flashlight with me so that I could read under the covers. So I was immediately intrigued by the concept in Beggars in Spain, of a society of Sleepless - people genetically engineered to be productive and awake 24/7.

Fifteen years after the first publication, Nancy Kress' Beggars in Spain, Beggars and Choosers, and Beggars Ride is still a mind-boggling rich tapestry of futuristic society, with deep characterizations, a plot that twists shockingly right up to the ending, and a piercingly accurate portrayal of thought processes and social dynamics.

The science is believable and has not yet been outdated, (at least not so far as this non-scientist could tell at any rate). It doesn't get in the way of the plot, and does generate musings on social and medical ethics.

Like Heinlein, Cherryh, and Orson Scott Card, Nancy Kress uses the contrast between familiar human society and alien society as a vehicle for raising the question of what, exactly, makes us human and what we value in a person or a society.

Beggars in Spain won a Nebula and a Hugo award. I give the trilogy my own highest honor: I'm keeping it on my bookshelf, because I will read it again.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Giving and Receiving

Today I took a box of paperbacks to the library to donate to Friends of the Library. I have read some of them many times, and it was time to share my old friends with other people who would love them too.

When I got home, I found a message on my Library Thing account: I will be getting an Advance Review copy of Fit at 50 and Beyond: A Balanced Exercise and Nutrition Program, by F. Michael Gloth. This is one book that I will be "field testing" before I review it, recipes, exercises, and all. I hope it arrives soon- our new apartment has a swimming pool....

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Sargaso Sea of our Stuff

I stopped losing my balance last Tuesday, and have decided the malady is not going to return (which is what it did when I had it years ago - I 'relapsed' and had it at least twice).

So I spent the past few days working doubly hard to accomplish all those things I couldn't get done when I was sick. We have one of the storage units half-empty and hope to finish moving the rest in the next couple weeks. It is beginning to seem as if we are merely stirring our stuff around, instead of winnowing and reducing the clutter - as if we are becalmed in a Sargaso Sea composed exclusively of all the stuff we ever bought and don't really need. Now there is a nightmare scenario of Karmic proportions for you.

I'm really beginning to regret that I didn't "just say no" to all that stuff before we bought it. Which is the point of that really great book by Dr. April Lane Benson: To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop. If only I had read it forty years ago! (Impossible of course since it was only published two months ago.) Well then, for all the rest of you - take advantage of her wisdom while you are young. (If you are not young, it is never too late to start.)

Out of all her good advice and excellent exercises, I think one simple rule would have saved us from at least ninety percent of our purchases: "use only cash, check or debit card". Yes, sadly, I am one who finds it all too easy to buy things I don't really need when using a credit card. Which is why I closed two credit accounts in the past two months, (yes, better late than never).

We still have boxes of books in storage, and no more room in the apartment, so we must choose which books get shelf space and which books get adopted. I'm down to my favorites - already gave away many boxes. I have packed a box of books to resell at Powell's three times - and unpacked it three times, putting the books (double-parked) back on our overcrowded book shelves. Oh, I am a ridiculous and sad example indeed!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Spinning Like a Top

My head, that is. Or at least, what it feels like when I move too suddenly. As a friend recently put it, all the discomfort of a carnival ride without the fun. Finishing week two of what appears to be an inner ear infection, which causes vertigo. I had this virus once about twenty-five years ago. No cure, just let it run its course.

This too shall pass.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Like a trip to the dentist only cheaper -

Take one (former) shopaholic. Give her a Ph.D. in psychology and ten years experience treating over-shopping. Publish her book about how to get free of the vast consumer conspiracy surrounding us, and you have Dr. April Lane Benson and her vital new book: To Buy or Not to Buy.

This is not a comfortable book for me to read. I find my behavior unmasked and as undeniable as my shoulder-length gray hair. Have I used shopping to feel better about myself? Yes. Have I used shopping to avoid confronting a situation I want to avoid? Yes. Have I used shopping as a weapon to express anger? Yes.

Sometimes to all of the above, and other questions in chapter one. Like a trip to the dentist, confronting my negative behavior and the psychology behind it can be painful, but also healing. I love this book, because there is healing in getting the rot out. Dr. Benson offers a way to find authentic happiness to replace the false esteem of keeping up with (or exceeding) the 'Joneses'. She points out the relentless consumerism driving our economy, with tentacles invading our conciousness through stores, malls, television, catalogs, Internet and even cell phone shopping. She uncovers the true cost of credit card purchases, and documents the ways invisible forces demand that we buy "more more more and now now now".

Knowledge is power. Self-knowledge is the power to change. To Buy or Not to Buy is a tool that can enable us to get free of our compulsive shopping. If you are confident that you don't have any shopping addictions, I challenge you to go to a bookstore and browse her book - consider the many ways we can fool ourselves into buying things to fill an emotional hole rather than a material need.

I recognized some of my buying patterns in her analysis, and also patterns of friends and relatives. Our materialistic society is even more insidious than I suspected. There is compassion and not condemnation in Dr. Benson's words. I recommend her book and I will be spending the next three months working through all the exercises. I have two pages of notes this morning, a start to the journal she recommends keeping.

There is no such thing as an insignificant cavity - as we all know, sooner or later it will destroy the tooth. I am going to be working on the occasional - but not insignificant - ways that I over-shop, and expect that the result will be good, even if the process is sometimes painful.

So what are ways that you over-shop? What are the things you buy to repair your mood, hold onto love, fit into society, feel in control - or *** ?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Grey or Grey - sad either way:

fog, mist, indistinct, dismal, pale, cloudy, gloomy, dull, hoary, and also ashen, drab, dusty, mousy, grizzled, smoky, somber.

All of which describes both the sky here this past week, and increasingly so, my mood as well.

This is the time of year I start daydreaming about running away to live on a sunny, tropical beach. That would not be a southern Australian beach right now, with their record-breaking heat wave last week amid highs over 113 degrees. I'm thinking Boca Raton, Florida, with a forecast of sunny and high in the 70's most of next week, and silky beach sand, tropical water both warm and clear. (Well, I can dream, can't I?)

There is a saying here in Oregon - "If you don't like the weather, no problem - just wait a few minutes and it will change."

So. I'm waaaaiting.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Went to the bookstore today - and

I need to sit down and read more of To Buy or Not to Buy by April Lane Benson, Ph.D. My compulsive shopping is mainly confined to books, and today is a prime example of my habits.

I wanted to return Weaving in the Peruvian Highlands by Alvarez and Davis, which is a lovely book but I realized I was not going to be using it with my loom. Instead, I wanted to get Lynn Viehl's latest Darkyn novel, Stay the Night, and also look at Belly Fat to Belly Flat by Dr. Randolph.

While I was pursing those books, Goldibear was browsing the sale table (buy two, get one free). He wanted to buy Apocalypse 2012 by Lawrence Joseph, so he offered me Dr. Brizendine's book, The Female Brain, to go with my "brain" collection (see list below) as an incentive, along with Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside by Katrina Firlik. If I bought those two books, his book would be 'free'. Fine with me.

At check-out, we ended up paying a little over $6 per book on the average, (with the Barnes & Noble member's discount, and subtracting $17.95 for the book I returned).

See? It is that kind of math that gets me into trouble.

Other books on the brain that I'll be reviewing here soon:
  • Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School
  • Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain
  • Your Brain: The Mising Manual
  • The Brain That changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science
  • The New Feminine Brain: Developing Your Intuitive Genius
  • A User's Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention, and the Four Theaters of the Brain
  • The Owner's Manual for the Brain: Everyday Applications from Mind-Brain Research
Although the last one on the list was published in 1994 (and the rest of the list is recently published), I'm going to be reviewing it first (next week). The Owner's Manual for the Brain: Everyday Applications from Mind-Brain Research presents instructions for improving everyday life in various specific scenarios - a detailed "how to" book with fascinating insights into the brain and noise, the brain and scents, etc.

Now if someone could just explain to me why books on the brain must have long titles with colons in the middle?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A True Story From Hell on Earth - Book Review

Emergency Sex and other Desperate Measures
by Cain, Postlewait and Thomson
published by Miramax in 2004

Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures (subtitled: A True Story From Hell on Earth) is not a long book, by my standards, but I didn't know if I could finish it. I couldn't put it down, and I couldn't keep on reading. I couldn't pick it up, and I couldn't stop until the end. It took me a week to finish it, but now I think I will never be finished with it.

What do you get if you take a doctor, a lawyer and recently divorced secretary and put them together in the middle of worst atrocities of the late twentieth century? No, that is not the start of a joke, it is how Emergency Sex came to be written by three of the most idealistic, courageous, tenacious, compassionate and brutally honest people I have ever encountered.

Not that they trumpet their virtues, indeed, the opposite. Ironically, in revealing what they perceive as their failings and faults, they reveal more than they know, and only their iron standards keep them from seeing what any reader can perceive - ordinary people in extraordinary situations doing the work of saints and angels while reviling themselves for not achieving better results.

They all worked for the United Nations, and between them, jointly or individually, worked in every hell that the '90's had to offer: Cambodia, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Rwanda, Liberia - if there was a place on earth where man's cruelty and inhumanity bloomed, the United Nations sent them there, to heal, to guard, to document the atrocities. In the process, they lose friends and companions in the violence, they lose their naivete, they lose their youth, and occasionally come close to losing their minds. But what civilized person could endure what they experienced and remain the same as before? I could not even read about it and remain the same.

Do not read this book if you want to be entertained and not think too deeply about our world today. Do not read this book if you want to keep the opinions you already have formed on the United Nations and the work they do.

The authors shed light on the proximate reasons for Srebrenica and other horror stories, but they leave it to the reader to form their own conclusions about what should have, could have been done instead. Like the stories they tell, my conclusions are layered and nuanced, but one thing I believe - we could not afford isolationism in the time of Wood Wilson, and we cannot afford it now.

We all live together on a small blue marble isolated in the vastness of empty space, and what affects one country affects all of us eventually, whether it is pollution and global warming or poisoning the air and water with ruthless manufacturing, or an arms race that spreads volatile weapons and death throughout the planet.

I like books with happy endings, and the lives of Andrew, Ken and Heidi prove that hope overcomes fear, compassion overcomes hate and truth is more powerful than lies. In this book, that will have to be a happy enough ending for me.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Newly Published - To Buy or Not to Buy

To Buy or Not to Buy by April Lane Benson, Ph.D.
Published December, 2008 by Trumpeter Books
ISBN: 978-1-95030-599--7

Just arrived by UPS, my Advance Reader's Edition of To Buy or Not Buy, and not a moment too soon.

Yes, I confess to finding myself in the compulsive shoppers symptoms. Do you see any of your habits in this list from the back cover?
  • Do you use shopping as a quick fix for the blues?
  • Do you spend more than you can afford?
  • Are some of your purchases unused or hidden?
  • Do you feel guilty or ashamed about this behavior?
  • Would your life be richer if you were shopping less?
  • Have your attempts to change been unsuccessful?

Much more than a list of symptoms, this is an "interactive guidebook for transformation, in which concepts, exercises and activities build on each other", written by an expert experienced in successfully identifying and treating the root causes of over-shopping.

As I work through this guidebook, I'll update you on my progress (or lack thereof).

I can tell the month is January, as I'm working my through three guides at once. I didn't bother to make any New Year's Resolutions this year - I just went straight for the solutions. Updates on I Can Make You Thin, and Moving Your Aging Parents, to come by the end of the month.

My oatmeal this morning needed some butter and brown sugar, as I was on the Internet too long and burned the bottom of the pan (or at least, that is my excuse, and I'm sticking to it).

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Encounter at a Bookstore

We traveled the short road to Barnes and Noble yesterday for the last of my Christmas books, Weaving Made Easy, published December 1, 2008. Ahh, perfect - just what I hoped for when I ordered it. The cash register sucks all but the final eighty-five cents out of my gift card, which is returned to me as two quarters, three dimes and a nickle. They fall quickly to the bottom of my nearly bottomless purse.

Wait - I just need to check on one more thing. Do they have I Can Make You Thin on the shelf? I'm certain it is a useless bit of puffery, but desperation can create a willing believer.

"Yes, it is back in stock", and the clerk nods to his associate, a very large man, who strides purposefully across the aisle. I follow with a hopeful smile.

"Here", he turns to me, holding a thin copy. "This is a very good book."

I lean slightly towards him and whisper, "Have you tried it?"

"I lost fifteen pounds in three and a half weeks", he admits with justifiable satisfaction.

My eyes widen in astonishment. I quirk my eyebrows at Goldibear, who patiently gets out his gift card and shepherds me towards the voracious cash register. Ah well, we can both use the book, and it comes with a CD which the very large man says is quite helpful.

This morning I added a celebratory dusting of cinnamon to my breakfast of inaugural oatmeal.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural Oatmeal

Inaugural oatmeal was my way of honoring the hope and commitment represented by today's inauguration of President Barack Obama.

In my small way, breakfast became my commitment to participate to the best of my ability in bringing change to America. One much needed change for America (and that includes moi, your favorite bear) is to work at being healthier and thinner! It is very difficult for panda bears to get thin, but oatmeal is a good start - oatmeal plain, no butter, brown sugar, milk or other calorie-laden additions - just plain oatmeal.

I leave it to younger, stronger and healthier bears to take on the major issues of the day - world peace, the economy - oatmeal is really all I can handle these days. So after a hearty breakfast I watched President Obama take the oath of office and listened to his speech (which brought tears to my eyes and shouts of assent from my throat). After the luncheon, Goldibear and I watched the inaugural parade with the President and First Lady (albeit on TV and not in their reviewing stand). We leaped to our feet with paws over our hearts and shouted "Semper Fi!" when the Marines marched by.

Hope is the watchword today - for the world, for our country and even for me - hope for change that will restore the good things that have been lost, renew what good things remain, and reinvigorate our hope to see new good things happening in the future.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

It is a Very Happy New Year!

Aadventure World Safari, Wakayama, Japan
Rauhin, a female panda born September 6, 2000 is 10 months old in this picture by AWS, which has the largest collection of giant pandas outside of China.

Volcanic Redux?

Shades of Mt. St. Helen! You may remember the event in Washington state on May 18, 1980 that took 1,314 feet off the top of the mountain. Triggered by a 5.1 magnitude earthquake beneath the mountain, the eruption was heard as far away as Bellingham, Washington, where we lived at the time. Newspaper accounts for weeks before the cataclysm speculated on the meaning of the three foot lateral bulge in the side of the mountain, a meaning which became horribly clear at the cost of 57 lives and over a billion dollars in damages.

If the earthquake swarms occurring in Yellowstone Park, an ancient caldera, are predictive of a volcanic eruption there, it could make the Mt. St. Helen eruption look like a mere popgun by comparison. The U.S. Geological Survey reports that Yellowstone is 40,000 years overdue for an eruption, (which if it should occur would result in Pandababy being permanently offline, as it would destroy several surrounding states). Of course, my blog (and the rest of me) being gone would be the least of the world's problems, as a nuclear winter of the kind unknown for millennium would test mankind's very survival as a species. A challenge of that magnitude puts all my little concerns in proper perspective. No worries, mate.

Chosen By a Horse - a memoir ( Book Review)

Chosen by a Horse ISBN 978-0-15-603117-2
by Susan Richards, published by Harcourt, Inc., copyright 2006
248 pages

Author Susan Richards deeply touched my heart with her memoir, originally published in 2006. Subtitled "How a broken horse fixed a broken heart", she tells the story of Lay Me Down, an abused race horse that she adopted, and how, in the process of healing the horse, the horse healed her.

I liked the matter-of-fact way Susan gradually reveals the emotional and physical abuse she suffered as a child, and the lack of self-pity in her narrative. She dwells not on her past but on the healing process and her life with her horses.

Richards makes no excuses for her alcoholic and promiscuous youth, nor for her divorce or her decade of anti-social isolation. She acknowledges the damage and focuses on her gradual recovery, driven by her love for her horses and in particular, the mare she rescued.

I avoid most memoirs of an abusive childhood or marriage. I dislike reading the details of someone else's pain, and too frequently, such books are riddled with excuses and blame. I marvel that Susan Richards manages to escape those traps, and consider it clear proof that her broken horse truly did fix her broken heart. Her story is upbeat but relentlessly honest, a combination irresistible to me.

Richards integrates her painful childhood, chaotic youth and angry adult years to reveal a charming, mature woman capable of deep friendship and compassion, love and generosity of spirit, but not a soft person, rather, a woman of strength and courage of the most rare kind - with the courage to face herself and her history, her feelings and hopes, with unflinching honesty and acceptance.

Books are my friends, have been my friends all my life. Chosen by a Horse is very good friend indeed, the kind that wears well and demonstrates qualities I want to imitate in my own life, the kind of friend that makes me a better person than I would be without them.