Friday, May 21, 2010

For Whatever it's Worth

For some reason, even though I read a lot of books, I haven't blogged about them. I do love to read and have had time to read a lot more lately than at other periods of my life (unless you count prepping cases for class as reading). It's a lot of fun and certainly an indulgence for me. My books of choice tend to be novels, and I venture into non-fiction rather infrequently. One of the reasons for that is that I don't usually finish non-fiction books. They tend to be redundant. So, once I've gotten the gist, I often get bored and move on to something with a plot.

However, I have recently happened onto several non-fiction books that I greatly enjoyed. I enjoyed them so much, in fact, that I recommend them to you, if you are looking for something to read. They are, in my opinion, worth the time. And I guess that's a lot, coming from me, because I'm not afraid to put books down if I'm not enjoying them. I do it with some frequency (even to novels). Life is too short, and my to-read list is WAY too long. And now, thanks to me, your to-read list can be even longer.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
I was recently at the library looking for books to help me in a communication workshop I sort of fell into teaching, and there sat this book. It's the classic, right? The original book on how to be a good salesman. I checked it out on a whim, thinking it would be funny to flip through as a basic reference. Instead, however, I ended up reading almost all of the "how to win friends" part and basing my entire presentation off of this book. It's very good. It draws you right in, is very entertaining, and isn't full of tricks or slimy recommendations on how to manipulate people. In fact, if I had to sum it all up, I might say that its most important recommendation is to be sincere. And I think Carnegie's advice is excellent. Great book with great advice on dealing with people. I have to give two caveats though. First, I actually only read the "how to win friends part," so I'm not exactly certain how his advice is on influencing people. And second, I think the book would be better titled "how to win acquaintances who think you're a great person." Forming true friendships requires more sharing of yourself and just a deeper relationship than Carnegie leads you through. This book can help you gain a lot of potential friends, but I think the next step is up to you (or some other book).

The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by David Kessler
On that same fateful trip to the library, I noticed this book on the "new" shelf and picked it up on even more of a whim. And, to be honest, when I picked it up and for the first half of the book, I thought it was about something a little different. It's a great book for anyone who has ever wondered why you can't eat just two or three potato chips and then move on. Or why every time you drive past Krispy Kreme, you really really really want to go in and get a doughnut, or twelve. If you've never felt that way, you might not like it so much. But it's a fascinating read. It's written by the former head of the FDA and is very insightful into our psychology as well as the food industry. It will change the way you think about food. It may also cause you to think twice about anything you eat that is prepared or processed (not because those things are bad, necessarily, but just because he explains more about them). I will say that the abundant descriptions of tantalizing food in this book succeeded in making me hungry more than once. So don't read it just before you go grocery shopping.

Freakonomics by Steven D. Leavitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Okay, in all fairness, I listened to this one on CD while driving around town. I've discovered that I spend a lot of hours driving around town. And now that I'm spending those hours listening to books, I talk to my mom on the phone quite a bit less. Oops. Anyway, I've always meant to read this, since I majored in economics and have heard it's interesting. Indeed it is, though random and somewhat pointless, well not pointless so much as lacking in overall message (kind of like this sentence). However, the chapter on the futility of being an over-worried parent came on a day when I really needed it, and the bit about incentives is extremely insightful and applicable to many situations in life. It was nice to flex a part of my brain that hasn't had as much to do for the past few years, and there are many great anecdotes, including a summary of a book I read and enjoyed last year (Gang Leader for a Day*). If you like random statistics or interesting trivia, this is a great book for you.

*I recommend this one too. Good insight into what gang life is really like and the true face of poverty. And I think it's funny to discover that these two authors are friends. I mean, look at the complete titles of their books. It's clear that either their minds or the minds of their publishers (or is that publisher?) function in pretty much the same way. And while we're on THAT subject, who decided that all book jackets should be white? I had to laugh when I put down The End of Overeating, with its white cover, and noticed a nearly identical jacket on the next book I picked up, Eat, Pray, Love (I'm only halfway through and the jury is still out on this one, but let's just say that had a good friend not recommended it very highly I would probably have put it back on the shelf by now).

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Time Flies When You're Having Fun!

My how quickly a year goes by. I can hardly believe the changes this past year brought.
Our tiny baby is growing in to a little girl, from a helpless bundle of joy to an almost standing, always squirming bundle of smiles. This post is full of collages, but it truly is quite a feat to distill an entire year of parenthood into just one manageable blog post (not that I won't try).

We've had a wonderful year of family time.
I know families come in all shapes and sizes, but it is fun to feel like a stereotypical family, hanging out together. And the more time we spend together, the more we seem to enjoy it.

A year of trying to capture everything cute and/or funny.
Composing this post has made me realize the ridiculous volume of photos we've taken this year. But it has also brought back a lot of fun memories, like Virginia clapping for herself the day she ripped all my magazines apart, learning to hold a spoon, and discovering that the tupperware drawer is just the right height.

A year of mutual admiration.
And self-admiration. Virginia's favorite thing in the world, next to her books, is mirrors. A book with a mirror in it is pure nirvana. Needless to say, she was pretty thrilled about both going to the bean and sitting in front of the three panel mirror at the store. That was so exciting I took a video of her bliss (I'm so dedicated to my still photography that it's actually the only time I've ever videoed anything--had to figure how to make the camera do it first).

A year of sharing our joy with family and friends.
These are pictures of Virginia's baby blessing, the day Scout and Atticus finally got together, and Scout with her great-grandmothers (including the original Virginia).

A year of sleep, sometimes more than others.
You'll notice these pictures stop when she's about four months old. She stopped sleeping wherever and through whatever, but I still miss when she would lay on my knees and just sleep there.

A year of food, in many forms and locations.
From bottles and tubes to spoons and hands, everywhere from the side of the road to the Cheesecake Factory.

A year of reading.
We've made a lot of progress here too. The pictures are in color, some of the pages are made of paper rather than cardboard, and she's even willing to read some Eric Carle books (though not all of them and not always). Our little Scout remains a discerning reader. She has favorites, and shoves everything else aside. But sometimes, when she thinks I'm not watching, she pulls out the new material to give it a look and perhaps approve it for future read-alouds.

What a wonderful year of cuddling and kissing and loving and learning. Oh how we love our baby girl!

Virginia's Birthday: A Story of Celebration

A certain member of our family recently turned one. To commemorate the occasion, in addition to a rather sappy, reminiscent post (which is on its way) we share with you an account of how she celebrated, in mostly pictures, with only a few words--just the way the birthday girl prefers her stories.

In anticipation of presents, Virginia tried out her "surprised" face for her father.
She put on a party dress, so everyone would know it was her special day.
The presents started to pile up.
So she started trying to figure out how to get them open.
That was confusing, so we moved on to the important stuff....

The food!

Yep, she was pretty excited, because at this point all she'd seen was the usual vegetables in her little orange bowl.

What? You interrupted my vegetables for this?!

Oh wait, there's fire.
Ooh, fire.

Really not sure about this part.

It feels...squishy.

Okay...I'll try it.
Nope, don't like it. Not even if you cut it in pieces.

But she did get frosting all over that hand she's running through her hair.

And now, it's all over her hair.

Mom, please stop trying to feed me this strange chocolate stuff. I just don't think I like it.

Is that...a camera...?

Better act excited!

Notice the only place there is no cake, inside her mouth.

Yah! Cake!!!!

One bath later...a very calm, dignified birthday celebration continues.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Thoughts on Prepared Parenting

Upon becoming parents,you want to have three sheets for your baby's crib. Why, you ask? One plus a backup should be fine, right? Wrong. After two weeks without "incident," you may decide that you might as well go ahead and change the crib sheet for the sake of being sanitary. And it will inevitably be on that day that an incident will occur (sometimes within minutes of the sanitary change), necessitating another clean sheet. This is to say nothing of the days with multiple "incidents." You ALWAYS want to have a clean sheet available.

These are the days I'm glad many pairs of pajamas come with more than one set of bottoms. If you enjoy doing laundry, parenthood may be just the thing for you.

Family Outing

One lovely afternoon, we decided to take a little family outing to Olbrich Botanical Gardens, one of Madison's wonderful, affordable attractions. We had a relaxing afternoon, strolling through the gardens, though I was surprised that life didn't seem to be in bloom quite as abundantly in the gardens as elsewhere in Madison. Nevertheless, we enjoyed ourselves, and James and Virginia were very patient with my need to photograph everything.

The birds were out.

The plants were beautiful.

Predictably, Scout was not content with a merely visual experience.
And, of course, I had to capture more images of the Thai Pavillion