Thursday, May 30, 2013

Six Months Off - Hope Dlugozima, et. al.

I bought this a long time ago before I was laid off from my full time corporate job when I was burned out and looking for alternatives.  Be careful what you wish for!  It's touted as "the sabbatical book" with advice on how to get, plan, enjoy and return from a sabbatical.  I skimmed it again recently to see what advice might be applicable to my future retirement.

One suggestion that I took away was to look to do something that would have future value.  They recommend this for returning to work and I took it as thinking about doing something in retirement that would give back - to family, friends, my community.  And, of course, would have future value for the future me!  Taking care of my health more aggressively, doing meaningful things, not time killers.  Because of health issues in my past, I don't want to waste time watching TV or surfing the web, though I'm guilty on both accounts.

Another idea I liked was when they talked of traveling with your spouse or others.  They suggested taking turns traveling in each other's "style" so each person gets a chance to do things their way.  Freeways vs. backroads, hotels vs. campgrounds, fast food vs. restaurants are just a few examples.

Though some places may no longer be operating, there were several learning communities listed that looked interesting (Cummington Community of the Arts, MA; Cottages at Hedgebrook, WA; Foundation for Field Research, CA; Insight Meditation Society, MA; Desert House of Prayer, Cortaro, AZ [in my backyard!]; Ferry Beach Unitarian Camp, ME; Wrangell Mountains Wildlands, CA).  I enjoy the immersion in an experience with others (like my Grand Canyon river trip).

There was a whole chapter on negotiating that could be applied to any negotiation:
1) ask for everything
2) give up lowest priorities first
3) be a problem solver
4) don't sacrifice too much too soon
5) give yourself time to think
6) and negotiate to keep negotiating...all points I'd learned somewhere but worth repeating.

The author, Hope, went on to work on the WebMD website and now works on Mother Nature Network.
Guess those sabbaticals work!

Published: 1996   Read: May 2013 (again)  Genre: Non-fiction, self-help

Attracting Butterflies and Hummingbirds to Your Backyard - Sally Roth

In April I spent a week at one of my favorite getaways - John C Campbell Folk School.  I took a class on pollinators because I wanted to get outside each day.  This book was one of the ones recommended for the class.  Some take aways from the book:

Hummingbird feeder recipe - 1 part plain sugar (or superfine sugar) to 4 parts water.  Boil water first (duh, I was heating sugar up in cold water) and store any leftover in the refrigerator.

Saucers of stone water for butterflies - Use a clay plant saucer filled with river stones and gravel and cover just below top of stones with water.

Butterfly bait Mash 3-4 overripe banana in a bowl, then put in a bucket with 1 bottle of molasses or corn syrup and 1 pound of brown sugar.  Pour one bottle of beer over mixture.  Put in shade to ferment for a day or two then "paint" on a tree trunk or fence post near eye level or paint a trail around the year; re-paint when it dries up or stops attracting butterflies.

Does that sound just awful?  I have to try it, I'm thinking it will attract something other than butterflies!

Published: 2001  Read: April 2013  Genre: Non-fiction Gardening

Sunday, May 26, 2013

So Brave, Young, and Handsome - Leif Enger

I don't know what I expected when I got this book. For some reason I thought it was about war and soldiers.  Instead, its a tale of the West, maybe the 30's, when a one-hit author, Martin, leaves with a mysterious neighbor, Glendon, to redeem Glendon's past.  In their travels we learn about love and loss, regret and forgiveness.  Toward the end, Glendon observes:

"It's peculiar, to reach your destination.  You think you'll arrive and perform the thing you came for and depart in contentment.  Instead you get there and find distance still to go".

 Published: 2008  Read: May 2013  Genre: Fiction

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Olive Kitteridge - Elizabeth Strout

Finally, a wonderful read!  The story of the lives of people in a small town intersecting with the main character, Olive, is told as a collection of short stories.  I actually didn't realize that was the format until I'd almost finished the book, as the author weaves the lives of her characters together seamlessly.

Olive is all of us, in one way or another.  She has her good traits and her flaws and is aware of some and not others.  She is kind and boorish, listener and lecturer, loving and mean-spirited.

One story referenced the poet John Berryman, who I'd not heard of and quoted a line "...or all my life I'll suffer from your anger" that I liked.

Olive is so hopeful despite her misgivings of other people.  When she's invited to help her son and his wife she "...felt something she had not expected to feel again: a sudden surging greediness for life.  She remembered what hope was...that inner churning that moves you forward, plows you through life...forward to a place new, and where she was needed.  She was asked to be part of her son's life."

It is a story of how we are all our lives are interconnected.

Published: 2008  Read: May 2013  Genre: Fiction

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

It's Fine By Me - Per Peterson

I picked this up at the library because I'd read the author's other book, "Out Stealing Horses".  This was a strange little story and in the end, I didn't enjoy it very much.  The writing was restrained to the point where there's never a release.  It's the story of a young boy struggling to get by in life and deal with the relationship with his father.  Early on the book, "Martin Eden" by Jack London is recommended to him to understand "what it takes to toil and sweat for the things you want" and he does toil mightily trying to be grown up when he's still a kid.

Published: 1992  Read: May 2013  Genre: Fiction

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Great Influenza - John Barry

Sub-title: The epic story of the deadliest plague in history

My good friend Katherine recommended this after seeing I'd read another of this author's books, Rising Tide.  It's the story of the 1918-1920 flu pandemic that killed an estimated 50 million people and possibly as many as 100 million people worldwide.

The author weaves the evolution of modern medicine in America and the politics of enforced patriotism during World War I to set the stage for the devastation of the disease.

In the late 1890's, medicine in America was finally emerging from the dark ages.  John Hopkins Medical School was founded and medicine began to have standards for education levels and training, rising to the level of a true scientific discipline.  The early medical scientists and researchers were pioneers in virology.

The author explains how the influenza virus attacks the body and why it is so deadly and constantly requires the development of new vaccines.  In the pandemic, it was particularly lethal to young adults (18-30) because their immune systems launched massive attacks against the virus that left debris in the lungs leading to pneumonia and death.

He also portrays the political climate leading up to America getting into WWI.  President Wilson was adamant that this was a righteous war and there would be no dissent.  Young men were drafted and trained on an enormous scale, leading to crowding and dispersion that was the perfect petri dish for spreading the flu.

Once again, Barry paints a picture of the time and place before revealing the event.  The virus eventually weakens as it is passed along and after a time subsides.  It is quite possible that a new pandemic could occur  again in the world.

Published: 2004  Read: May 2013  Genre: History

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Open Heart - Elie Wiesel

This is a very short story of the author's experience of open heart surgery at 82 years old.  He is of course,the renowned author of "Night", his story of surviving the Nazi death camps.  Having recently read Proof of Heaven about near-death experience, I was intrigued to read of Wiesel's.

His anxiety before going into surgery and fear that he may not see his wife and son again, that he may die is palatable.  I have had several surgeries yet I don't remember thinking I would not be waking up shortly and would experience a quick recovery.  His perspective at 82 is a lesson.

He explains that before being anesthetized,  before "giving up his soul", if he has no time to prepare, a Jew must recite a short prayer and he stops the doctor to say one to himself beforehand.  He is surprised that he is afraid of death, after all he has experienced in life. He reflects that "I learned that, sadly, when the body becomes a prisoner of its pain, a pill or an injection is more helpful than the most brilliant philosophical idea."

He is deeply grateful when he learns the surgery went well in recovery.  He's deep love for his son who is at his side reminds him of the scripture "you shall chose life" and reflects on his life as he recuperates in the hospital.  He questions if he has done all he could with his life, in his writings, his teachings and the humanitarian foundation he founded.  He reflects that his body is still teaching him things about himself .  He reiterates that "I still believe in man in spite of man".

Finally, he asks "is it possible to come so close to the end without something essential changing in us?  Has my perception of death changed?" and answers, "yes" and then admits they he has remained much the same.  He still chooses gratitude over anger and "goes on breathing from prayer to prayer".

I found this reflection much more meaningful than that of the neurologist in Proof of Heaven because it reaffirms a faith chosen every day, despite reasons not to, rather than one adopted in crisis.

Published: 2012   Read: May 2013   Genre: Memoir

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Weird Sisters - Eleanor Brown

Oh, this was a fun book!  I ran out of reading material on a trip home from North Carolina a couple of weeks ago and picked this up in the airport, seeing as I'm the oldest of four sisters, I figured I'd relate.  It was a good read.  Three sisters return home, each with their own issues.  Their father is a Shakespeare scholar and the book is peppered with quotes that fit the story.  They are all avid readers in their 30's who have difficulty communicating with each other face to face and sharing their life struggles.  I really enjoyed the way the author weaves in the Shakespeare references (the girls' names are Rosalind (Rose), Bianca (Bean) and Cordelia (Cordy)).   A great distraction for a plane ride home next to the bathroom with a baby and a 4 year old and their mother in the seats beside me!

Published: 2011  Read: April 2013  Genre: Fiction

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Proof of Heaven - Eben Alexander, MD

subtitle: A neurosurgeon's journey into the afterlife.

I read this for one of my reading groups.  It's the story of a doctor who gets ill and almost dies and experiences the afterlife.  This author has credentials in spades as he is a highly educated and experienced neurosurgeon.  In the end this gets a little weird and the terminology just sounds hokey, but to his credit he admits this.  Reading it makes me wonder what the stories are in other (non-Christian) cultures for near-death experiences.  I'm curious why he quit Harvard and moved to Virginia.

p. 117 - Physical life is characterized by defensiveness, whereas spiritual life is just the opposite.

p. 153 - Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century, 2007.

p. 162  must be willing to give up what I am in order to become what I will be.  Albert Einstein

p. 170 Not only was my journey about love but it was also about who we are and how connected we all are - the very meaning of all existence.  You are loved. resource is his website.

p. 181 reading list - Ring, Kenneth and Sharon Cooper.  Mindsight: Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences in the Blind.  1999.  I'd be interested in reading this as my father is blind.

Published: 2012  Read: April 2013  Genre: Memoir

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Mourner's Dance - Katherine Ashenburg

Subtitle:  What we do when people die

This is a somber book that the author researched and wrote after her daughter's 25 year old fiance was killed in a car accident.  Since knowing about something makes it less frightening to me, I've read several books on death and dying.

The author explores the history of how western civilization, primarily, has mourned.  She discusses grief symbology, burial practices, mourning attire, and some of the old practices in the 1800-1900's of the grieving.   Some examples:

-- gravestones had carvings of skulls that evolved to add wings and then to have the skulls turn into cherub faces
-- Forest Lawn in Los Angeles was patterned after Mount Hope in Boston and Mount Auburn cemeteries which were the first of the cemeteries designed for visiting as a landscaped attraction.
-- men's grief is typically "instrumental" while women's is intuitive; that is men "do" something in response to grief where women will release their feelings.
-- The term "widow's peak" to describe a "V" shaped growth of hair at the top of the forehead originated from the pointed bonnets worn in mourning from Mary Stuart's time through the death of George VII.
-- Post mortem paintings and photos, jewelry, and quilts were ways of mourners to remember the deceased.

The author used the reactions of her daughter and her fiance's parents to illustrate some of her points.  I couldn't help but wonder how they felt about being discussed in her book.

Published: 2002   Read: April 2013   Genre: Non-fiction