Better Than Before

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, by Gretchen Rubin. Published in 2015. 320 pages.

I am in the process of re-establishing good habits that I allowed to waver over the past year, while also (and probably more importantly) working to let go of some bad habits. As I have been contemplating and making some pretty big changes of late, I stumbled upon this book in our local library. I was curious enough about the possible research and information to pick it up and give it a look.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the NYT best-selling book, The Happiness Project. I was not familiar with her work prior to stumbling upon this book. That’s a good thing. Had I been familiar with her claim to fame, I might have been inclined to skip picking up this book, which I found pretty insightful.

It wasn’t so much that Rubin broke any new ground here, as much as she put it all together in ways that made sense; to me at least. It is entirely possible that we are more open to and impressed by ideas that speak to where we are on a particular leg of life’s journey. However, even with that concession, I think this is a good book for anyone in the process of trying to establish new habits and break old ones.

The trick to breaking old habits, of course, is to replace them with something better and stick to that thing until it becomes a habit. What Rubin attempts to do here is assist her readers with identifying what strategies will work best for them as they embark on a new habit or attempt to break one.

There is, as there always are with these things, general standards offered by way of a quiz to help the reader categorize him or herself in ways that best narrow the strategies that will work for them.  In years past, I balked at these types of things mainly because the idea that I fit into a neat box offended my snowflake tendencies.

As I have grown older, however, I have come around to the conclusion that while none of us fit neatly into any particular category (an obsession with categories is unhealthy), human tendencies can indeed be roughly narrowed and quantified enough that we can all use some of this information to help us achieve the goals we wish to accomplish. What’s more, there isn’t anything innately wrong or ungodly about making allowance for the fact that we all have personalities within we much navigate as we set ourselves on solid paths in life. The problem comes in when we use this information as an excuse not to change we should rather than tools to help us change the things we need to address.

As I said at the beginning, this book isn’t groundbreaking. Since there is nothing new under the sun anyway, we could all save ourselves a lot of angst by understanding that people the saying the same things in what we perceive to be a new or more comprehensive way doesn’t make it new. It just means that they said it in a way we can identify with. Like Gretchen Rubin did.

You can read an excerpt of her book here.

What I figured out from this book:

  • Unlike my husband, and my father before him, it is not enough for me to be internally motivated to do better in an area of change course in another. I invariably run out of steam if I don’t set up the proper guardrails to keep me moving in the right direction. That reality doesn’t mean I’m a “bad Christian”, which is what I used to think.
  • I can use my husband’s (and to a lesser extent one of daughter’s) stronger internal push as a guardrail. For example, once I decided that potato chips with a side of tears are not the key to managing stress, I took a page from this book and said out loud, “I don’t eat chips.” If I pick up a bag, I can trust my husband to take it from me so as to help me not be a liar, which would make me a bad Christian.
  • Our kids saw a lot of themselves in the four archetypes. Even the 10-year-old rebel has shown some growth since we all took the opportunity to examine ourselves in light of some of the insights here
  • Habits are surprisingly tough, and habits are surprisingly fragile (p.160) I totally need to remember that. You’d think after a year of running faithfully and spending a crazy amount of money -at least for me- on a race, I’d turned into a runner for life. Didn’t happen, but the health gains I made as a runner were so startling that I am back at it, this time with the understanding of how fragile habits are.

What I didn’t like about the book:

  • Too much of it focused on eating and health issues when most people’s most entrenched habits are related to things other than diet and exercise. For instance, my hurdle at this point is managing my Internet time. Exercise and eating are quite frankly, secondary. I’m in decent health and my husband thinks I’m gorgeous even carrying 25 extra pounds. The mental and time drain lost online however…that’s worth addressing.
  • Given the time this book was written, I was surprised at the sparse amount of time given to some of the other things people deal with as habits.

The good far outweighed the bad, however, and even without specifically mentioning things like social media, smart phones, collecting clutter (NOT an issue of mine), mindless spending (also not an issue of mine) or other vices, the book’s tools are easily transferable to whatever one’s habit might be.

Grade: B

 

 

 

America’s Real First Thanksgiving

real-first-thanksgiving

America’s Real First Thanksgiving, by Robyn Gioia. Originally published in 2007. 48 pages.

I’m teaching a Florida history class to 4th and 5th graders this year and as Thanksgiving approaches, I thought it might be interesting to introduce the kids to what some historians consider the real first Thanksgiving, which took place on September 8, 1565. It was a feast celebrated between Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez and the Timucuan tribe in St. Augustine.

The significance of the nationally recognized Thanksgiving feast of 1621, led by William Bradford and Massasoit cannot and should not be downplayed, given that the British colonization of the New World laid the foundation for our country. However, no American history curriculum is complete without an exploration of Florida history, and for that reason, I found this book a valuable resource. I highly recommend it.

Grade: B+

It’s our family’s first holiday season without my father. As a result,  I’m reading very lightweight stuff right now, to temper the innate heaviness we all feel. We’re increasing extended family time, prayer, cultivating thanksgiving, and keeping the atmosphere devoid of heaviness. A few funny, fluffy, and even romantic books are in the review queue for the next couple of weeks. Consider yourselves warned.

Quotable Literary Quotes #3

This one is courtesy of the ever profound and straightforward Zora Neale Hurston. I have included it before in a review of one of her books but the thought has been pushed to the forefront of my thinking of late. It’s worth sharing:

“I did not know then, as I know now, that people are prone to build a statue of the kind of person it pleases them to be. And few people want to be forced to ask themselves, ‘What if there is no me like my statue?’”

This era of Pinterest, Snap chat, Facebook, Twitter, and blogs makes it all too tempting and all too easy to build statues which draw viewers to admire as well as those who spend inordinate amounts of energy looking for the crack in the statue. It creates a perpetual and vicious cycle.

Enter this bit of wisdom from Voddie Baucham, which blessed me greatly:

“Whatever is the worst thing you think about me, I know something worse about me. Whatever the worse thing is that you could say about me is almost surely not the worst thing about me. I could no doubt do you one better.”

Pause and think about that and what it really means. Freedom perhaps?

In the spirit of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, I would call this one alternately the “Must-Have-Others-Think-Well-of-Me” cure.

Have a great weekend!

The Lion’s Paw

lions-paw-book

The Lion’s Paw, by Rob White. Published in 1946. 243 pages.

12-year-old Penny and her 9-year-old brother Nick live in an orphanage on the east coast of Florida. Nick doesn’t much remember living anywhere else and Penny just barely remembers a life before they came there. They hate it, and Nick dreams of running away, but his sister is terrified at the prospect. The orphanage doesn’t like it when kids run away and those who try are almost always caught and made an example of. She tries to talk Nick out of it, but he is determined.

Penny can’t let her little brother run off on his own of course so they escape together, running towards the ocean, hoping to find a boat in which sail away. They determined to start a new life away from the orphanage, which they referred to as the “eganahpro”, because they only ever saw the word written backwards through the wrought iron gates which held them captive.

After Penny and Nick make a run for it  and set off on their adventure, they have the good fortune of running into 15-year-old Ben on the wharf. Ben not only has the boat that he inherited from his father (an WWII Navy lieutenant  presumed dead after a year MIA), but life has thrown him a curve ball inspiring him to run away from his uncle’s as well. The three children set sail together on an adventure far too big for children of their age and station, yet rise to the occasion.

This is an obscure book which once enjoyed a passionate following among Florida readers and educators in the 1960’s and 70’s, and then was out of print for a very long time. I only encountered it because I was looking for books specifically about Florida and Old Florida life. Re-entering the market in 2004, The Lion’s Paw is again enjoying a resurgence among those who know enough to seek it out.

Make no mistake however, this touching, fast paced novel is good reading no matter where you live,where you’re from, or how old you are. C.S. Lewis’ admonition about the timelessness -and age defying quality- of a well told story certainly fits here. Rob White hits all the right notes as the children wrestle with trying to out run the adults searching the seas for their masterfully disguised boat, battle against nature, and grapple with their out fears and uncertainties about the future they face on a journey bigger than themselves.

If you have kids who might like a great story of children on an adventure at sea, you should try and get your hands on a copy of Robb White’s The Lion’s Paw. It might also be a great idea to print a map of Florida’s Okeechobee Waterway to track the kids’ trip from one side of the Florida peninsula to the other.

Grade: A

Content advisory: Mayhem and adventure on the high seas, but nothing the average 9-year old can’t handle. Lots of nautical terminology which provides a good opportunity for the kids to do some research on what it all means.

 

 

No Good

no good

No Good, by John Hope. Published in 2014. 137 pages.

No Good is the title character of this short novel I was introduced to when the author gave a copy of it to my husband to add to our library. Despite the fact that it is fiction, it took several pages of reading before I stopped experiencing the internal cringe I felt every time one of Johnny’s parents called out to him, “No Good…”

The interesting dichotomy is that No Good’s parent clearly cared about him a great deal,  but the prevailing sensibilities of our day were virtually unheard of in the time, space, and socioeconomic station in which No Good and his family lived. The cover photo illustration (logic dictates this is No Good based on the author’s description) no doubt offers an indication of No Good’s and his family’s situation. Pancakes and sausage are a luxury to get excited about, and a bath is a once week dip in a wash tub filled and placed in the center of the kitchen.

Since the reconstruction of Japan is mentioned,  I’ll estimate the era as the late 1940’s in the then small town of Sanford, FL. Since the climax of the story centers around the  murder of a white boy in which a Negro man is the prime suspect, the irony of Sanford as the center of all the action was not lost on me. I wondered if this were coincidental or by design.

I approached this book initially assuming that it was one I could pass on to our 10-year-old to read but as I delved further into it, I decided that it is best reserved for the early teenage reader. Some of the themes, which would have been digestible for a poor, more world wise fifth grader in the 1940’s, are too much for the average 10-year-old to appreciate. While the book was a delight to read, I don’t  yet want to explain the meanings of “the claps” or “bear-lesk”. This brings me to a portion of the book which I found thoroughly amusing.

When No Good, his adoptive brother with a bombshell of a secret, and a neighborhood girl decide to take the bus across town to the negro jail and investigate whether their friend had indeed been arrested for the murder that had gripped the town, No Good finds himself explaining how he even knew where to find the negro jail in the first place:

“How you even know about this place?”

“I helped my Uncle Travis take some trash to the dump a while back, and he told me all about it. Said it used to be a house of bear-lesk until the cops made it a jail for Negros.”

“Bear-lesk?” Josh asked.

“Uncle Carl said it was like a full service hotel.” I explained. “First class, I reckon.”

“How come they built a hotel next to the dump?”Jeannie asked.

I shrugged. “Guess that’s why it’s a jail now.”

I like this book. I like the setting, the fact that the author chose a class of people and a way of life that is largely neglected by fiction writers.  I like that a book with such sensitive themes, written with young readers in mind, is done tastefully and yet without shrinking back or sugar coating.

It’s worth a look.

Grade: B

Content advisory: Race related themes and terminology, boyhood mayhem and the violence which sometimes accompanies it (or used to before we decided in our infinite wisdom that boys should be neutered). Brief reference to sexual relations between No Good’s parents. Again, matter of fact and tastefully presented.

 

 

 

 

First Day of (Home) School

Today, August 15 is our first official day of home school, and there were grand plans in the works that didn’t go off without a hitch. The facade of the home, home school and home school teacher which all run like well oiled machines bit the dust today- and hard.

It all started with the summer Olympics, which should have been an indicator to push school off for another week. We always stay up late watching them and allow the kids to do so as well. This led to the children sleeping in a little later than I had accounted for on my very tight and detailed schedule.

However, for reasons I still can’t articulate if I tried, I was determined to start school the same week as the traditional schools (both private and public) in our area. Yes. I know this violates one the supreme benefits of home schooling in the first place. Didn’t I just tell you that I don’t know why I did it this way?

In any event, despite the hour and a half delay, things did get started, topics were tackled, fun was had, and learning took place. The house? That’s another matter so I need to wrap this up and get to the laundry. But first, a few book notes.

This time of year usually opens the door for me to read more adult books that I had been putting off due to summer travel and activities, but not this fall. In addition to my own children, I am also teaching a literature based homeschool co-op class built around exploring Florida and its history. This means I’ll be reading more children’s books than is  typical for me read in late summer or early fall.

The great thing about building  a reading list for this type of class is this wonderful Florida based publishing house, which is a wealth of resources on the best books, both new and old, written about Florida, by Florida authors, and containing Florida history. Depending on where you are, you might want to see if your state has a similar unknown gem.

My list of books in anticipation of fall co-op is as follows:

  • The Lion’s Paw, by Robb White: First published in 1946, this book was the only *must read* book listed on every site I researched for good children’s books set in or based on Florida history.
  • The Missing Gator of Gumbo Limbo, by Jean Craighead George: Originally published in 1992, set in the Florida Everglades and categorized as an eco-mystery.
  • No Good, by John Hope: Originally published n 2014, a novel set in 1940’s Central Florida and chronicles the story a boy -can you imagine answering to “No good”?- and his foster brother. This one is too intense for 4/5 graders, but I’m reading it for my own enjoyment while hoping that this author will be a resource to draw on for our students later in the school year.

How are you guys preparing for the new school year? What are you reading? You know I’m always looking for book suggestions to add to the pile I hope to finish before I die.

 

 

 

 

 

Good Hair

good hair  Good Hair: for Colored Girls Who Considered Weave When the Chemicals Got too Rough,  by Lonnice Brittenum Bonner. Originally published in 1994.

One of the things that happens when you decide to live a healthier, more natural life is that you look at every aspect of what that means. Over the past decade or so black women started doing the “big chop” (cutting off chemically straightened hair and starting over with their natural texture of hair). I said back then that there was no way I was going to cut off my shoulder length hair and start over from scratch. This, even though the women in my family actually grow a pretty decent head of hair. Our daughter did her big chop in 2012 and went from 1 inch hair to this in about 3 years:

curly girl

She straightened it once for a formal event and it was slightly longer than shoulder length. Not bad for 3 years. Still, I was unconvinced, especially since the decision isn’t mine alone to make.

As I started working more and more towards optimum health, even putting myself through the torture of regular boot camp workouts, it seemed ridiculous to do all of this and continue to slather my scalp with harsh chemicals for the appearance of length and the expensive ease of styling. It’s unhealthy as well as unnatural.

I still haven’t taken the plunge, but I am inching closer to it and I started reading up on ways to get there without a “big chop”. My daughter was 17 when she did it and I am NOT 17. I need my hair.

I ran across Lonnice Bonner’s Good Hair in the library and since it’s a short book, I knew I could spend an hour reading on a subject that I probably already knew more than enough about. But I read it anyway.

The book contains Bonner’s journey towards wearing her natural hair in all its glory, starting with the all too familiar review of the things most black women remember from childhood. The hair tugging, hair straightening and tight corn rows we all grew up with which made us weary of our locks and sent us running to the nearest salon for a solution as soon as we were old enough and/or had the money. Whichever came first.

This author’s journey was much more perilous than mine to be sure. I’m conservative by nature with a husband who hates weaves and wigs so I have never been particularly adventurous when it comes to my hair.

However, I watched from the sidelines as many of my friends and relatives drifted from hot combs to Jeri curls to weaves and wigs and everything in between. Bonner’s journey was one I’d seen countless times before. She finally made peace with her hair, the hair God gave her, and it looks fantastic.

It isn’t great writing by any stretch, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to let other women know that even after all the damage and drama they have inflicted on themselves fighting against their hair, that they can make peace with it too.

Clearly this is not a book my most of my readership will have any need or inclination to read, but I read it, so I reviewed it.

Grade: C