Wednesday, January 27, 2016

First They Killed My Father

From Mrs. Diane Ashline

Saint Michael’s College gives out scholarships each year to a couple Juniors who are college bound.  Along with the scholarship, they also give a book, First They Killed My Father, written by Loung Ung. A recipient of this book, who holds a very special place in my heart, suggested this unforgettable story.  
This book is a nonfiction work that was written in retrospect by Loung Ung.  Ung tells the story beginning as a five year old.  The story takes place in Cambodia during the horrific times under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.  Loung Ung grew up in a middle class family for her first few years.  She and her large family then had to endure many movements to maintain their safety, and then lived in poverty, sometimes searching for enough food for survival. As a very young child, Loung witnessed the death of many through horrific human war crimes, disease, famine, and even her family splitting apart.  After 20 months of hiding, Loung’s father, a former government employee, was taken and killed. A short time later the family had to split up due to the Kymer Rouge coming after families of the men they had killed.  Many children had to pretend they were orphans and lived in a children’s work camp so entire families would not be murdered. Loung’s mother kept the youngest child because she was so young, but unfortunately, they also faced murder. Fortunately, the remaining Ung family members met up and traveled in hopes of finding  some extended family members. With luck on their side, they found some relatives and hope was brought to their broken world.
First They Killed My Father, details many horrific crimes against humanity. It is sometimes very hard to believe that people can be treated so badly but in fact it has happened way too often. This story is just one of many that expose the hardships that many people around the world have endured.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up - Another Perspective

January 25, 2016

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
by- Marie Kondo

Submitted by: Diane Harrigan

I’m not sure if I’m breaking the rules, but I actually listened to this book on Audible, while “tyding up” not really, I was folding laundry. Podcasts & audio-books are my favorite things to listen to while doing housework.

I was anxious to read this book as it had received so much publicity. I really like the idea of a minimalist lifestyle. However, 3 children and many pets later our home has become quite cluttered. I love organizational books. I love the definition of STUFF by another author Marla Cilley, better known as “Flylady,” Steals Time Used For Fun. I’m afraid I still have Mr. Trombley’s Peter Walsh books. Enough rambling, back to the book at hand.

The author spent a great deal of her young life organizing. I believe she finally realized having less is more. She states most people want you to declutter a little at a time, however this system usually fails, because they never get to experience living without all of their “stuff.” She also states once you start living this way, you will like it so much, you will never let your life become cluttered again. She also believes you should store like items together, or you forget all about them. For example, don’t store season clothes, keep them in your closet or you’ll forget you have them. Like many minimalists, she believe you should only keep things that bring you joy. Sort through all like items at the same time. So, gather your clothes from coat closets the cellar, attic, etc. because you’re only going to sort through them once.

I found it a bit odd, thanking my clothes, etc. for their service before I blessed someone else with them. Overall, I think the book had some very valuable point & would recommend it. However, why not borrow it from the library so it doesn’t clutter up your house :)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

All I Did Was Ask - Terry Gross

I have to admit - I have an "aural" crush on Terry Gross. Whenever I hear "This is Fresh Air" I feel like everything will be OK. If you are not a fan of Terry or her show this book will still be interesting for many people. 

Quick rundown on her and the show (from my highly biased opinion) - she is hands down one of the best interviewers anywhere. When she talks to her guests you get an immediate sense that she did her homework. She is not just trying to get through a conversation. She has put in the time necessary to ask good questions. She asks the questions we might like to ask and more. Her program really seems like a great conversation. There are no "gotcha" moments here. She lets people tell their story. But she is not a push over either. She has something sorely lacking in many of today's interview shows - civility. You can tell she does not always agree with the people she speaks with but she lets them speak. This is not a yelling match. No one is trying to one-up the other here. Good conversation with interesting people. Imagine that.

Onto the book - this is a collection of some of her thousands of interviews with some biographical moments and candid memories. The people highlighted here have left their imprint on our culture in many ways. Even though I know many of the people she spotlights here I learned quite a bit about everyone. As I said - I love her voice. As I read the parts where she is asking questions or introducing the segments, I can hear her voice in my head. This is a great book if you only want to read a few minutes a night. The interviews are mostly short and succinct. Sometimes I read just one or two, sometimes I plow through the connected interviews. There is an effort to keep the book flowing by putting actors and authors who worked together back to back. There is an emphasis on the movie "Taxi Driver" at the end of the first half of the book.

This book is like her show. For me that means it was a comforting read. Just like listening to her show is for me. Truth be told I hate it hate it when the show comes on there is a guest host. I like the guest hosts but - and I cannot stress this enough - her voice just calms me for some reason. I think I will pull up an old show right now. I wonder if she can sing? Maybe I could get her to just read some books to me? Somethings are best left unexplained - my fascination with her voice is one of them I guess.

Again - I would share this book with you but it is on my Kindle. I picked it up during a sale a while ago. If you like to read I highly suggest checking Amazon often for their sales. Sometimes I add 5-6 books for under $10. Of course that means I have dozens of books to read now though.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Most Evil Men and Women in History

Over vacation, I took a trip to California and happened upon a book in the house that we had rented amidst the redwoods.  I would qualify this book as "pop history;" in other words, a historical book which can be read rather easily and without too much depth.  Since I have also been slowly making my way through Winston Churchill's epic multi-book description of WWII, I thought something light but dorky would be a good move, and I was not disappointed.

The book is called "The Most Evil Men and Women in History," by Miranda Twiss.  If you are at all curious who made the list, the book discussed the following in small, very readable vignettes:

Caligula, Nero, Attila the Hun, King John, Torquemada, Vlad Dracula, Francisco Pizarro, Bloody Mary, Ivan the Terrible, Elizabeth Bathory, Rasputin, Jozef Stalin,  Adolf Hitler,  Ilse Koch, Pol Pot, Idi Amin.

While this list is certainly debatable (no Genghis Khan! no Dr. Mengele!  no Justin Bieber!  ), I still enjoyed learning little tidbits about some of the most abhorrent individuals to ever walk this Earth.  Of all the many terrible things these individuals did, I was particularly disgusted by the work of Ivan the Terrible and Elizabeth Bathory (mostly because I was already quite aware of how awful the other characters were).  Bathory topped the list for most creative and disgusting form of torture when she had some poor sod sewn into the body of a freshly killed horse while still breathing!  The other stories were pretty bizarre and unbelievable too.

Perhaps this book isn't the best first entry from me for the January Wellness initiative, but hey... it is what it is.  If you are looking to be entertained, read about history, and zone out to a totally non-committal type book, this could be the one.  After all, it is currently on sale used on Amazon for the whopping price of (insert drum roll)... 1 cent!  " Holy capitalism, Batman!"

Tim Seymour

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

10% Happier - Dan Harris

I have to admit that the only thing I knew about Dan Harris before reading this book was that he was the guy on Good Morning America who looked a bit upset at participating in the fluff pieces that are part of the morning shows. It always seemed to me that he wanted to just do the news. That is all I knew about him.

I have been looking for different books to read recently and I am also a little cheap sometimes. I always scour the sales at for Kindle books. I have hundreds that I have picked up for free or at least around $2.00. The full title of Harris' book intrigued me:

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True Story

I posted it really big because the title actually screamed out to me like that when I read it. was only $1.99 at the time. I read it in just a few hours (not all at once, but over three nights). I enjoy his straightforward style. He pulled no punches. He wrote about his drug addiction, his pettiness, the vanity of television personalities and so much more. But he wrote it from his vantage point. He owned his beliefs and behaviors. Well,,,he does now. For a while he was a mess but he did not realize it. Part of his job with ABC lead him to file religious and spiritual stories. He met once famous author/spiritual guru who just seemed to good to be true. He researched that person, and then the person who inspired him, and so on. He spent many hours reading and listening to people who seemed to have the answers the questions Harris did not know he had. 

He was lost in life. He tried nearly everything to find his way, including spending ten days at a meditation retreat, He struggled with his faith and beliefs, He wrote frankly about the times he felt like he was being conned. He was as harsh on himself and the people with whom he spoke. It appears to me like he genuinely wanted to figure something out. But here is the kicker - and the reason I like this book so much. He did not find the cure-all answers. He did not find the magic bullet or poison. He does not claim to have any answers. Instead he discovered that if he works hard on the techniques ht learned (meditation) that he can improve his happiness by 10% and that is pretty good. If keeps in improving by 10% he might actually be happy - but then again the journey was what helped him the most (my opinion). This one book made me seek out similar books. I will write about those in time. For now I can recommend this for anyone looking for some answers to some questions. It is frank, inspiring, informative and it might make you a percentage happier for reading it. It did for me. I will work on the math of it all sometime. 

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

I am not a neat freak. My office at home would prove that. However when the clutter gets out of hand I do get a little cranky. I try to keep my space at school clean. I move it around often and reorganize and clean it quite often. But again - I am not a neat freak. I just want to be more organized.

Over the years I became a fan of Peter Walsh and his organizational skills. I have his books. I checked him out whenever he was on TV. I learned quite a bit. But I am still not overly neat and tidy.

In my quest to get better about many aspects of my life I decided to tackle something a bit more tangible than other issues. I stumbled upon "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo. I read her book (on my kindle so I cannot share it - sorry) and it has given me inspiration to get more tidy. Not clean - not organized - tidy. I use that word because if you read her book you will see the word tidy so much you might want to scream. The difference between her method and many others is sometimes referred to as radical or controversial. But her book is so sweet and charming that I was sucked in immediately. I started small (which is not her method) and cleaned the bedroom at home. I cleaned out my clothes using her discarding philosophy and folded them all again using her techniques. Oddly enough it felt great while I was doing it and the spaces look so much better.
What I am really supposed to do is a major tidying effort. All the clothes at once, not one room. Then all the books, not just one space. She outlines an ambitious and fairly scary plan for tacking your home all at once. I am not sure that I can do it.

Perhaps the part of the book that has turned some people off is her use of the phrase "spark joy". Her belief here is that when you touch something you own ask yourself if it sparks joy. If not - get rid of it. She thanks her possessions for serving her well. She actually thanks her daily bag for serving her well and doing it's job. Just as I was about to quit reading I became entranced with her writing. She is really talking about being mindful about your possessions - about taking care of your things. She claims that the way you care for your possessions is a reflection of the way you care for yourself.
I have since read many bad reviews about some of her ideas. Some people love their cluttered life and believe she is a little over the top. I question why those people read the book in the first place. Do a bit of research about her. There are YouTube videos where she shows how to fold clothes. There are many pins on Pinterest with tips and tricks. You might not even need to read the book, but I recommend it for her quiet wisdom and dignity. There is something old fashioned about her approach to keeping a tidy home and therefore a tidy life.

Yes, it is hard with families and significant others who are not on board. Yes it will be hard to follow her plan (I do not think I can do it) but the mindfulness I took away from her words are what will guide me as I begin to tidy up my home/life.

She has a new book out right now. I am referencing her first book here.
Let me know about your experience with getting tidy.