Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Lemon Sorbet for the Reader

August 10, 2014 Leave a comment

It’s that feeling when, after finishing a very good book, I can’t find another book that interests me as much as the one I just finished. I wander through the shelves of the library searching for a title or book cover to jump out at me. Or maybe I search online for an ebook. Often, however, and disappointingly so, nothing compares to the previous book. In this case, the culprit was Stefan Zweig’s “The Post Office Girl.” Although a bit slow at the beginning, the story of the unfortunate Christine drew me in expertly, literature in beautiful form.

So now what?

That’s where the lemon sorbet comes in. I’m not eating it; I’m reading it. The next book acts as sorbet in a multi-course meal–the palate cleanser. The palate cleanser removes lingering flavors from previous courses so that the following courses can be enjoyed without compromise. After I finish the palate cleanser, I will be in the frame of mind to surrender to a new story. I will have a fresh perspective.

The palate cleanser is a light story that’s as different from The Post Office Girl as possible. No graceful literary language. No deftly complex themes or characters. It does have a few funny lines and because I am getting to know and like the characters, it has been keeping me awake late at night–oh, the hours I spend reading. Well, no one said the palate cleanser has to be unpleasant. Lemon sorbet, anyone?

Categories: Books Tags: ,

Weekly Photo Challenge: Lunchtime

March 15, 2013 Leave a comment

The quickest hour of the workday is lunchtime. Even if the morning seemed to crawl from one minute to the next at an alarmingly slow pace, the lunch hour is virtually guaranteed to make up for it. On the days when I don’t have a meeting or errands to run, I nuke my homemade lunch and sit at my desk reading and checking the news on Facebook, Twitter and online newspapers–sometimes simultaneously. Hey, the lunch hour is only so long, so I have to attempt to multitask.

Lunchtime at desk - tofu and rice and a salad (cookies later!)

Lunchtime at desk – tofu and rice and a salad (cookies later!)

The book on success principles is still perched on my desk’s bookshelf, waiting to give sage advice:

Principle #9 – Success Leaves Clues. What does that mean? Well, here’s a clue–actually, the answer. At that moment, when the feeling of admiration–or envy–crosses my brain and I think, “I would like to do that”, why not find a way to do it? Find a book, manual, website, teacher or mentor that will help the idea become a reality. Chances are, whatever I aspire to do has been done before (nothing new under the sun and all that). Tap into that resource and get going. Success leaves clues. Seek and ask.

Principle #10 – Release the Brakes. The “brakes” keep us secure and warm in our comfort zones. The trouble is, there’s no growth in a comfort zone (that’s what makes it comfortable). There’s a sad but effective illustration in the book, The Success Principles: How to Get From Where You are to Where You Want to Be. From their earliest days, some (not the wild ones, of course) baby elephants are trained to be confined in a very small space. The trainer ties its leg with a rope to a wooden post which confines the baby elephant to its comfort zone. Because the rope is stronger than the baby elephant can pull, he learns to stay in the defined area.

Eventually, that baby elephant will grow to the two-ton, vegetarian giant that we see in zoos who could easily snap a rope to shreds, but does he? No. Why not? Training. From the time he was a baby elephant, he was trained to stay in small space, a habit he keeps well into adulthood. Sad, huh? We do this to ourselves all the time: I can’t do that. I tried that before and it didn’t work (testing the rope). Or worse, it didn’t work for so-and-so; it won’t work for me. Ah, the comfort of growth-killing beliefs. The good news is that we can affirm what we want, create new internal images of having, doing or being what we want and change our behavior.

Principle #11 – See What You Want, Get What You See. The one-word synopsis of this principle is visualization. We have heard that term before. It can be conceptual–allowing your mind to create a mental picture of creating the goal, like imagining doing a great job of giving a presentation. It can be tangible such as finding or drawing actual pictures of what you want, such as keeping a picture of your dream house handy. It may sound crazy or unrealistic, but if a person can’t visualize the goal, how can it be achieved?

Having used up the final minutes of my lunch hour, I clean off my desk of the newspaper, books, notepaper, lunch debris and close down Google and reach for the stack of work awaiting my undivided attention. Three more hours until the workday is officially finished? Bring it.

If I Tell Him How I Feel, He’ll Leave Me

January 17, 2013 Leave a comment

If I could wake up tomorrow with one special ability, I would want the ability to speak easily to others. Not only the gift of language to speak to anyone with no language barrier but also to communicate with others no matter the situation.

Many people think they cannot talk about certain subjects because of the potential reaction of the other person or they fear not being understood or that they will say the wrong thing. The solution, they decide, is not to say what is on their mind even at the risk of damaging the relationship through extended silence, wrong conclusions or physical distance. Family members, co-workers and business associates all suffer from strained communication at times and feel held hostage by their own inability to express themselves in a way that is respectful, clear and non threatening. I often hear people say things like:

“I didn’t say anything because I knew it would come out all wrong.”

“I had to walk away because it wasn’t the right time to talk about that.”

“If I tell him how I feel, he’ll leave me.”

To all of the head nodders out there, I disagree. Perhaps, maybe, two percent of the time, it may not be the right time to speak up because the receiver is not in the right frame of mind to process your message. The trouble is, the longer we wait to have the difficult conversation, the harder it may be to bring it up again. In some instances, not having the conversation can be more damaging or even tragic than the actual discussion that needs to take place:

• talking to your kids about drugs or sex versus intervention or an unplanned pregnancy

• approaching a family member about his signs of depression versus a suicide attempt

• calling off a wedding versus an unhealthy marriage or a bitter divorce

All meaningful relationships encounter occasions that call for high-stakes conversations. These conversations have been happening—or not happening—since the beginning of man’s existence. Consider this exchange:

Nathan: Let me tell you a story. There were two men in one city—one rich, the other, poor. The rich man had many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb. The poor man took good care of it, even fed it from his own table.

David: Go on. Tell me more.

Nathan: Well, one day a traveler came to the city and stayed with the rich man. When dinner time came, instead of taking a lamb from his own flock for the feast—remember, he owned lots of sheep and wouldn’t miss one—the rich man stole the poor man’s one and only lamb, killed and prepared it and served it to his guest.

David: That scoundrel! What kind of man would do such a thing? He ought to pay for it, fourfold even!

Nathan: You are the man.

Life is messy, and sometimes we have to talk about it. The writers of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, define crucial conversations as those when (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong. The conversation between King David and the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12:1-9) had all of the elements of a crucial conversation with the added element that, if a prophet angered a king back in those days, it could be ‘off with his head’! Early in the book (page 3, second edition), the authors make this assertion:

“If you know how to handle crucial conversations, you can effectively hold tough conversations about virtually any topic.”

So, what is the first principle of dialogue? How can we ensure we won’t say something now that we will regret later? Start with Heart. Motive. Decide what you really want and stay focused on that goal.

King David and Nathan had a long relationship of friendship and mutual respect, and Nathan was loathe to damage their relationship, even in the face of a delicate, serious situation. The stakes were high, yet Nathan did not back away from the conversation that needed to take place. He began with the right motive and stayed focused. Dialogue skills can be learned, and it is possible to hold difficult conversations in a way that maintains the relationship—or even improves it—and results in a workable conclusion, even if the parties agree to disagree. No slamming doors. No silent treatment. No hard stares across the dinner table. Is this possible? The writers of Crucial Conversations assure that it is.

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler (

The Dickens Dilemma

Is it pathetic that I’m over forty and haven’t read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens? After all, just how did I manage to graduate from high school without that literary trophy under my belt? I imagine it’s no reflection on my English teachers. Left to my own devices to choose a book for a book report, I would have no doubt chosen an easier read like One Fat Summer by Robert Lipsyte over any classic. Time can be forgiving, and Masterpiece Theater an enabler. Like the proverbial moth to a flame, I was drawn to the movie adaptation of Great Expectations shown recently. Sadly, I caught only the second part, so I have to backtrack to complete the story. I decided to skip the Sparks Notes and wield my semi-neglected, like-new library card and check out the book, hoping to pump some culture into my brain cells.

If the task of procuring the book is any indication of my anticipated journey though Dickens’ London, I may as well pull out a comic book right now. Seriously, what self-respecting library doesn’t have a copy of Great Expectations in its main circulation?

“What does ‘Media: Mobile Library’ mean?” I asked the librarian, expecting him to yak, yak, yak, then point me to the proper section of the library so I could be on my way and enjoy the rest of my lunch hour.

Apparently it means that the library’s one copy of Great Expectations lives in the mobile library unit. In order to get it, I would have to make a reservation, and wait until it makes its way back to the physical library. How long that would take, no one can say for certain. When I realized he was serious, I simply thanked him and left. What other classics are on tour? Just in case I watch Pride and Prejudice next week.

Until now, reading the book was just an idea. Tell me I can’t and it becomes a mission. I trotted down to the nearest bookstore, determined to do exactly what I had been trying to avoid—buy the book. The first store (yes, I said ‘first’), had the book BUT it was one of those two-for-one deals that I wasn’t prepared accept. Amazon’s ‘Frequently Bought Together’ is obviously rubbing off, but I wasn’t in the mood to purchase ‘Tale of Two Cities’ just because it was attached to Great Expectations for $26.00, especially when I had planned to get the book for free. I had difficulty even finding the classics section in the second store (my third stop, in case you’re counting). A calm store clerk came to my rescue and located Pip’s story. Lest you think I’m completely inept, just know she had to look it up in the store’s computer inventory to find it. How’s that for digging for buried treasure!

In the end, Dickens’ tale set me back $16, as opposed to $0, and a lunch hour for a copy that is about the size of an index card with print that is probably going to force me to wear my glasses. I anticipate many nights with Great Expectations as my bedtime story and plan to enjoy every minute.

Part Two – Watching the Movie

What is the saying about the best-laid plans? While I watched Part Two of Great Expectations on PBS and I became very curious about one particular character. Miss Havisham. In the movie version, Miss Havisham raised Estella to be part of a revenge plot to punish someone else for the hurt she felt after being betrayed by her fiancé. Estella became a lovely but cold and distant young woman. Miss Havisham had planned it. What she did not plan, however, was that Estella would be cold and distant toward her, too. Estella told her mother that she had become exactly what she had raised her to be. No exceptions.

Do you remember the 70s/80s television show, Fantasy Island, where guests would get what they wished for but it never seemed to turn out the way they had imagined? Causing us to shake our heads, “That’s not what I meant.” Forgetting that there is a little thing out there known as individuality. The literal application of our desires can derail any well-laid or well-meaning outcome. I guess that is what Mr. Roarke tried to teach everyone who came on de plane! De plane!

The lesson? People are messy. They don’t move like chess pieces at another’s whim or design. Once they start thinking and feeling for themselves, watch out. My hope is that I learn this lesson before I set myself on fire.

Book Club Sisters

September 18, 2011 2 comments

Sunday afternoon. Sitting in a circle of women. Talking about homelessness, forgiveness, prejudice and other bits of life. No, it’s not a group therapy session. There’s no overpriced, vaguely helpful psychologist asking, “So, how did that make you feel?” Just a group of ladies with at least one other thing in common: books. I like my book club meetings. Even though I enjoy reading, sometimes I need a bit of a push. A deadline. Sunday, 18th of September, at 3:30 pm. Having finished the assigned book over a week ago, I was ready for the discussion.

Our book: Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. What’s interesting about book clubs, for the uninitiated, is the interaction among members. Twelve women read one book and how many perspectives do you think surface? Of course, that’s the fun of it. A couple of us had a challenge getting into the book. Frankly, halfway through the first chapter I already thought I wouldn’t finish the book. I haven’t missed a book club meeting yet, so I had a sick day coming. Things picked up in the second chapter. From then on I enjoyed a story about an unusual friendship and a role model. A true story that has been around for a while (2006), Same Kind of Different as Me, motivates its readers to look inside themselves and identify the gifts we can use to help others. These gifts need not be extraordinary. Debbie Hall’s gifts of charity and hospitality shone through the book (a true story). She made a difference in one man’s life and ultimately left a love-inspired legacy to her family and community.

I have been trying to decide how to pass this book on so that the next reader might enjoy and be inspired by it as much as I have been, but why stop at just one person? If you’re looking for a read that won’t waste your time, load Same Kind of Different as Me onto your Kindle or Nook (or grab the good old-fashioned paper version) and settle into your favorite reading spot. Beware: you’ll want to discuss those Reader’s Guide questions with someone.

Let Me Buy Something

August 9, 2011 1 comment

I’m not your average shop-til-you-drop female. I admit, I don’t love it. Shopping falls in the category of necessity much like having one’s car serviced or taking the dog to the vet. It’s not as painful as, say, a root canal, but there are so many variables that can make the experience unpleasant that I avoid shopping until a genuine, unavoidable need arises. Today was such a day, but since it involved a bookstore, I wasn’t completely averse by the prospect. The need: pick up my next book club book. Browsing through book shelves is much more palatable than trying to snag a bargain at a clothing store. No sizes to dread or lines to the dressing room. No need to match colors or accessorize.

I walked purposefully to the book store during my lunch hour, ignoring the many clothing store mannequins showing off stylish summer dresses, tops, and purses as I breeze by. My plan is to pick up the book club selection first then search for another book I’m interested in, Lisa See’s “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel”. The balance on my gift card will cover most of the first book, so buying a second is a possibility. If I still have time, I will linger a while to look for interesting titles for the future.

Several copies of “Same Kind of Different as Me” by Ron Hall and Denver Moore are reserved for my book club, and the sales clerk finds it quickly. She immediately proceeds to the cash register and rings up the sale–$22.95, without telling me the price first, asking if there would be anything else, or even acknowledging my presence for that matter. What’s her rush? I’m the one on my lunch hour. Where’s her salesmanship? Rather than fuss, I go along with the transaction. After I purchase the book, I find “Snow Flower” and check the price for a future visit to the store–$20.75. Today’s sale could have been worth $43.70 instead of only half that much except for the shortsightedness of the sales clerk who thinks she’s just there to ring up numbers on a machine, rather than sell merchandise.

So here are a few tips from a customer that could possibly add a bit of cash in your cash register next time, Miss In-A-Rush-to-Wait-for-the-Next-Customer:

1. Assume the customer didn’t come into your store for just that one item. Browsing is allowed, even encouraged. Ever heard of impulse spending? In this economy, your store sure would appreciate it.

2. Make eye contact, smile and drop hints. Tell me you’ll hold my purchase until I have finished shopping. If I am in the mood to browse, I’ll say “thank you” and wander around. If I’m already late getting back to work, I’ll start fishing for my wallet and say “I’m finished”.

3. Chat with customers, not friends. This should be obvious, but customers need attention. A shop full of BFFs is a turnoff. It possibly means errors at the checkout, incorrect information, and general unprofessionalism. Nor do customers need to hear gripes and complaints about horrible bosses. Customers will go across the street if it means the salespeople at your competitor’s store will actually provide good service.

One more thing, Amazon has the Kindle; Barnes and Noble has the Nook. What do you have? That walk-in customer that needs some face-to-face service who still holds a book in her hands rather than an electronic device. I may be old fashioned, but we’re in this together.

Talking to Little Girls Should be More Than Fluff and Pretty Words

Just when I thought I could use some e-retail therapy, I realized, I’m too serious to buy anything on impulse—even a book.

Stimulate her mind

It began with an innocent moment of surfing to one of my ‘favorites’, a guilty-pleasure site, I like online newspapers, because I can see what’s going on in the world and be green about it. Although I find the main headline obnoxiously large—the fewer the words, the bigger and more obnoxious, some of the Huffington Post bloggers are knowledgeable, witty, or at any rate, able to make me stop and think about another point of view, whether I agree or not. Recently, I ran across Lisa Bloom’s article, How to Talk to Little Girls. Should be interesting, I thought. Occasionally, I fall victim to having a short attention span, which was triggered close to the beginning of the article. Ms. Bloom referred to her book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World. Too intrigued by the title to resist, I admit it, I clicked onto the link.

The Amazon page showed the “Look Inside!” feature that I hoped to find. Of course, I had to look. If I were ever to write a book, it would have had a title very close to Ms. Bloom’s book, perched in the same section of the bookstore. I imagine it would be written as a response to the constant bombardment against intelligence, values and talents that women possess by those who would rather see a woman fantasize over the pages of a fashion magazine than read Outliers on her Kindle. Jumping to the table of contents I scan the chapter titles and pick one to get a feel for the book. I already think I’m going to order it. Ms. Bloom had me chuckling during my initial peek inside the pages—then I saw it.

“Sixty-eight percent of Republicans don’t believe in evolution, a scientific principle widely proven since the nineteenth century and replicated daily in the plant and animal kingdom.”


Widely proven principle?

Replicated daily?

Well, if you’re going to attempt to convince people that they evolved from apes or amoebas or whatever other lower-life form you choose, then don’t be surprised when they “dumb down” to eventually return to their roots. Stop fighting it and learn to like bananas. I might just be curious enough to buy the book to find out what she says in the chapter, Reclaiming the Brains God Gave Ya. So . . . what God are we talking about? Those of us in the percentages who don’t believe in evolution and who aren’t Republicans actually believe God created mankind. I’m starting to feel confused and woozy already. Hopefully, I won’t be stuck in the same category as, say, Dan Quayle, who is so openly taunted in the book for his political and general gaffes that will live in infamy.

The longer I spend on the planet, the more I am faced with defending my values and beliefs, either privately or publicly, now that I’m old enough not to be swayed what other people think about my lack of political correctness, my ‘old fashionedness’ or traditionalism. It is what it is.

Recently I was in the midst of women who assert the meaningfulness of astrology, that we’re all God, that our children chose us before they were born—times when I struggle to find commonalities with women who have opposing beliefs to mine. There’s so much of today’s world that I have to peel off and cast aside while I try to connect human to human. But then, I’m serious about everything, which is what makes me unique and somewhat difficult.

At the end of it all, however, it’s through the exchange of ideas that I learn where other people are “coming from”. The trick is not to dismiss the person with the idea or opinion. While creationists and evolutionists disagree on how we got here, we can agree that, since we are sharing Earth space, one priority must be to teach and emulate what a strong, confident woman looks like. When does that role modeling begin—in her teen years? No way. By that time, she’s already a fan of America’s Next Top Model. Even though it may be easier to chat about Banks over Keats, which pays the greater dividends?

Perhaps Lisa Bloom won’t “Friend” me on Facebook, but we can find congruities as women who believe we have much more to offer the world than our bodies. We’re all trying to navigate around this big, blue marble and how better to find our purpose than to lose ourselves in empowering girls to stay smart in a dumbed-down world.

The arrow is hovering over the one-click-ordering button . . .

Categories: Books Tags: , , , ,