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.