Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Musing Mondays

MusingMondaysWhat are you reading right now?
What do you think of it?
Why did you chose it?

About every three or four weeks, my hormones impact my life. My body aches and my moods fluctuate. Just as bad, my spiritual life suffers too. All three of those reasons are why Jump off the Hormone Swing by Lorraine Pintus was a personal purchase for me.

Jump off the Hormone Swing is divided into three parts:

  • Physical Symptoms
  • Mental/Mood Symptoms
  • Spiritual Symptoms

Each section starts with a checklist and contains five chapters. The chapters contain medical explanations, personal anecdotes, lots of lists, and several charts. There are also short prayers at the end of each chapter.

I read Jump off the Hormone Swing in a single evening. As soon as I finished, I made some changes to my life. First, I tried to start viewing PMS as a normal part of my life. In other words, it’s something that I have to contend with, but it’s also something that can enhance my life. With these truths in mind, I installed a software program to track my cycles. This way, I can better prepare for the highs and lows of my cycle.

After that, I made other changes too. To help with my physical symptoms, I altered my diet by adding more fruit, vegetables, and protein. At the same time, I reduced my white flour and my sugar intake. I began allowing myself to take more naps, sit more often to listen to music, and even installed some brain games on my computer. Water, snacks, heating pads, and warm baths have also become a greater part of my life. There are other suggestions too, some of which had already been part of my life, and others of which I have yet to work into my lifestyle.

To help with the mental symptoms, I began to incorporate more reflection time in my life. Part of this involves an attitude adjustment. For example, there are attitudes that can make PMS worse such as the belief that a woman’s cycle is a curse or that we’re too busy to listen to our bodies when PMS hits. As for the tension busters suggested, a few useful ones included: create something, get a massage or make-over, or pop some vitamins. A challenging chapter for me revolved around the idea that one needs to learn to control one’s thoughts and words. Of all times in a woman’s life, PMS tends to set off the careless words, tirades, and even curses. Just because my hormones are making me feel insane, does not give me an excuse to be unkind.

To help with the spiritual symptoms, one might again need to make an attitude adjustment. For me, I had to start battling negative thoughts with spiritual truths instead of just trying to struggle through my emotions on my own. In doing this, Pintus says one will win the PMS battle, believe one has value, and even accept God loves hormonal women. She also lists ten disciplines to practice. Some such as journaling, studying the Bible, practicing solitude, and serving others had already been part of my life. Others…. well, let’s just say, I’m working on adding them!

After I finished reading Jump off the Hormone Swing, I asked my husband if I could share highlights with him. If I’m going to manage PMS, it’s something we’ll need to work on together. Jump off the Hormone Swing is also a great guide for those who are both younger or older than me. Pintus covers how hormones impacts young, middle-aged, and menopausal women.

I bought Jump off the Hormone Swing sight unseen, based simply on reviews. I’m happy with my purchase. Whether you experience hormone fluctuations yourself or know someone who does, this is a comfortable and informative read.

MusingMondaysWhat are you reading right now?
What do you think of it?
Why did you chose it?

The top shelf of my bedroom bookcase contains mostly books recommended to me by my husband. Number one on his list of loans to me was The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman. Andy is a fan of crime novels. He thought The Blessing Way might have particular appeal to me, because of its multicultural landscape.

My first question to Andy was about authenticity: Hillerman is Caucasian, but his main character is a Navajo cop whose beat is the Navajo Reservation. Hillerman is known for the cultural details he provides about his subjects. But are they accurate? A brief online confirms that they are, including the book’s title. The Blessing Way refers to one half of the major Navajo song ceremonial complexes, the other half being the Enemy Way. The song cycles recount the elaborate Navajo creation story. Hillerman has acknowledged his debt to a series of mystery novels by the British-born Australian author Arthur W. Upfield. That author’s novels featured a half-aboriginal Australian hero who worked with deep understanding of tribal traditions, much as Hillerman’s characters do. Finally, Hillerman has also received many awards recognizing the authenticity of his novels: American Indian Ambassador, Silver Spur, and Navajo Tribe Special Friend.

Assured of the authenticity, I settled to read The Blessing Way. A victim is found with a mouth full of sand in an isolated spot. The crime scene is devoid of tracks or any other clues. In his investigation, Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn finds himself torn between belief in a real murderer and a supernatural killer. Being used to novels that are told from a single viewpoint, the first few chapters proved a struggle. Once I figured out all the speakers, however, the unique culture and the weird mystery riveted me. Besides the investigation itself, I most enjoyed the storyline involving an anthropologist friend of Leaphorn who returned to the reservation to continue his witchcraft research and Miss Leon who is looking for her scientist boyfriend. This latter storyline involves threats, flights on foot and by vehicle, and an eventual capture. By this point, I was unable to put the book down and read straight to the last page despite the late hour.

Hillerman’s first book with Harper & Row was The Blessing Way, published in 1970. After that, he wrote many more novels, most featuring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police. Sadly, Hillerman died in 2008. Should you became a fan, though, eighteen books are awaiting you!

MusingMondaysWhat are you reading right now?
What do you think of it?
Why did you chose it?

I’ve checked out C.S. Lewis Letters to Children from the library so many times that I finally put it on my wish list. Edited by Lyle Dorset and Marjorie Mead, it contains a forward by Lewis’ stepson Douglas Gresham, a short biography, and about one hundred pages of select letters written by Lewis to children. With the exception of correspondence exchanged with his godchild Sarah, Lewis primarily wrote to adult readers until the first of his Narnia books. The first of the Narnia books appeared in 1950. From that time until his death in 1963, Lewis also wrote an abundance of letters to children.

CSLewisFrom the biography, I learned that Lewis was born in Ireland. His father was a lawyer and his mother was a mathematician. He had one brother. There are several amusing anecdotes shared, which revealed unexpected sides to Lewis’ personality, such as in his fourth year he declared his name to be Jack. Lewis was so determined about this change that he came to be known as Jack to his family and friends for the rest of his life. Otherwise, many of the details are those which I knew from more extensive biographies. For example, Lewis hated boarding school, loved nature, and along with his brother created an imaginary country which is viewed as the inspiration to Narnia. His father was reserved and not a great source of support. Also, his mom’s death in 1908 impacted him for the rest of his life. Although I have read various accounts of Lewis, this is the first time I realized that Lewis died in his sixties.

The letters are first of all quite varied. The letters are often ones of praise for his Narnia books and requests of course for more of them, but also about special events, favorite books, health issues, and writing advice. What also struck me about the letters is how seriously Lewis treated children. While he often talked with them about lighter matters such as rabbits in the garden, he also inquired of them their opinions about his novels and about other creative ventures. One girl he complimented on the cards she sent and then asked how she obtained such a pure gold on them. Moreover, he responded quite openly to questions about morals and beliefs. For example, to his godchild, Lewis gave the advice there are only three things anyone ever need to do. Lewis also wrote about Holy Communion, angels, the spelling of Christmas, prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and Aslan.

From the letters, I also learned a few other tidbits about Lewis. A sampling is below. For the rest you’ll just have to check out your copy of C.S. Lewis Letters to Children!

  • Lewis described himself as tall, fat, bald, red-faced, double-chinned, black-haired with a deep voice and glasses to read.
  • The Lewis household took in many children who were evacuated from London during German air raids. Lewis later began The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe with an evacuation of the Pevensie children.
  • Lewis viewed himself as messy and unhandy. For that reason, he felt tempted to ink and create prints from a gift his godchild Sarah sent him.
  • He loved mice. There were lots in his room at college, but he never set up a trap.
  • He also loved horses. While he himself couldn’t ride them, he loved the sight and sound and smell and feel of them so much, he preferred them to cars.
  • The first of winter always excited Lewis. It makes him want adventures.
  • Lewis wrote the first three Narnia books without any ideas of sequels.
  • He didn’t view himself capable of writing poems or plays.
  • E. Nesbit influenced Lewis in how he wrote fantasy stories.
  • Till We Have Faces was the book of his which Lewis felt most proud.

On Friday, I’ll review Boxen by C.S. Lewis. During a time when influenza was ravaging many families, the Lewis brothers were forced to stay indoors and entertain themselves with books. Influenced by Beatrix Potter’s animals, C.S. Lewis wrote about Animal-Land, complete with details about its economics, politics/government, and history, as well as illustrations of buildings and characters. The world of Boxen was created when Jack’s stories about Animal-Land and Warren’s stories about India were brought together. The stories were published posthumously as Boxen: The Imaginary World of the Young C. S. Lewis. My dad gave me my copy this past year for my birthday and I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts. Save the date: December 26!

MusingMondaysWhat are you reading right now?
What do you think of it?
Why did you chose it?

In case you didn’t notice the byline, I must warn you that what you are reading was not written by Allison. It is written instead by me, Andy, her husband. Proceed at your own risk.

I told Allison earlier today that writers must overcome many obstacles. I should know — often the obstacle is me. And today I was one obstacle too many.

Allison likes to fill her life to the brim. No, that’s not quite true. It’s not that she wants to be busy, it’s that she has so many interests, and she just can’t say no to any of them. If she’s not working on her novel, she’s reading books and reviewing them for this blog. If she’s not reading or writing, she’s trying to make the world a better place for pets, either by writing articles for rescue groups or by helping care for feral cats. And of course there’s her job — but Allison isn’t content to just put in the hours that are required of her, so she also has an after-school writing club. Between you and me, I think she likes writing. Her days are a flurry of teaching, reading, writing, organizing, and more. She just never stops. The world is a better place because of her drive and passion. She’s truly a remarkable person.

But even truly remarkable people can’t always handle everything that life throws at them, and so, because today I was one of those unwelcome projectiles, I offered to write this post for her while she’s at her dentist appointment. My idea was that she would tell me as much as possible about her current read on our drive home, and I would tell all of you. She thought that was worth trying, and so as soon as she closed the passenger door the floodgates opened.

Allison’s current read is Little by Little, the autobiography of Jean Little. That’s a lot of “littles”. If you’re a regular visitor to Allison’s blog, you know that Allison has a lot of interests and/or passions. Just a few of them are: authors (duh!), Canada, and special needs. Hence her love of this book.

JeanLittleJean Little, is a Canadian author who was legally blind from birth, whose life experiences have inspired her to write several children’s books about characters with disabilities. What Allison likes about Little’s books is that while her characters have disabilities, the disabilities are not the focus of the stories.

Allison shared a couple of anecdotes about how Little became interested in writing. The first involved Jean being late for school, and being afraid to write her name on the board as punishment, and using a made-up tale to explain her lateness as a diversionary tactic. It worked, she wasn’t punished, and she began to learn the power of words. I forget the second anecdote, but I’m sure Allison will tell you about it.

Allison couldn’t help crying when she related a story about Little’s father, who had been extremely supportive of her writing. Little was writing something for publication, and her father sent her a book that he thought would be of help to her, and during a phone call he asked her if the book was helping and she said that he would have to decide for himself when he read the published article. But her father was soon hospitalized, and he died before he could read the article. Something like that. This hit Allison so strongly because it reminds her of her own need to share her writing with her father, who has been so supportive to her in everything she does.

There’s so much more that Allison wants to tell you about this book. She left me her notes, but there’s just no way I could do them justice. Allison read the book, I didn’t. But I know Allison will pop in here when she can and add her own thoughts to this post. You really should bookmark this page and check back in a day or two to read what she has to say.

MusingMondaysWhat are you reading right now?
What do you think of it?
Why did you chose it?

Maverick Cats, subtitled Encounters with Feral Cats, by Ellen Berkeley contains a balance of personal stories and researched facts. The cat portraits are varied, while the informational sections cover a wide range of topics. It’s a book I recommend for anyone interested in animal welfare, especially that of our undomesticated cats.

Over the years, Ellen and her husband had seen the paw prints of many cats, but rarely had they seen any of the cats themselves. Mama Cat changed all this and sparked the couple’s interest in feral cats. She was a white and gray cat who showed up on their steps, came around for weeks, and then left after the birth of her babies. After Mama Cat, six other cats visited the couple in Vermont. Each with their own unique personalities. And each with lessons to teach the couple.

For example, there was another mother cat. Turtle showed up one day with her kittens and maintained regular vigilance over them. Yet both of her young ones went missing within days. Berkeley wondered if they should have taken the kittens inside.

Then there was Sylvester, who resembled the cartoon cat both in its appearance and his pushy personality, and who developed thyroid issues. Sylvester seemed interested in making their place a home, but he also seemed intent on driving away every other cat. The couple wondered for a long time about their choice to not keep but instead  to relocate him.

There were other cats too. One they didn’t know long enough to name. He showed up one day, limping, and collapsed in their driveway. Such can be the harshness of life for the feral cat. The feral cat’s life might also be like that of Herbert, who enjoyed the couple’s lap but never felt comfortable staying indoors. One day he disappeared for good, but sometimes they would spot him, still alive. And finally a feral cat’s life can be like that of Turtle, who eventually moved inside. At the time of the publication of Maverick Cats, Turtle had made the couple’s home a permanent one.

Anyone who loves cats will treasure these touching stories. For those involved in animal welfare, there is also much to learn from the supplementary sections about feral cat life.

In her first chapter, Berkeley overviews how the issue of feral cats is complex. She notes that we have feral swine, sheep, horses, goats, donkeys, cattle, camels, and even human. On this basis, the common consensus is that feral means wild, but how does one apply that to feral cats? Are feral cats the free-rangers found on farms, half-domesticated, strays, or untamed? And how do cats become feral? Are they born in the wild, abandoned by humans, or…?  Berkeley even covers where we can find feral cats, including inhospitable places such as deserts and the Antarctica. Finally, she talks about why there is a growing interest in feral cats, which goes beyond cats ladies, extending to the humane society because of an animal surplus, and also scientists because of the effect of feral colonies on an ecological system.

In total, Berkeley covers eight topics of relevance to feral cats, all of which are well-researched. As part of writing Maverick Cats, Berkeley interviewed cat experts, read pet magazines and animal welfare newsletters, searched books about pets, and even browsed professional journals. For any in the field, the results of her research are fascinating, informative, and obviously reliable. Below are just a few tidbits which stood out to me:

  • Mortality: The guess is that its 42 in the first two months of a kitten’s life. After that, if a wild cat survives past the age of three, it’s a rough life with many of them dying from starvation, illness, predation, poisoning, or weather. At the same time, the feral cat is a “healthy and natural hunter with an adjustable appetite, and it can always turn to man for food and shelter”.
  • Territoriality:  One of the fictions, Berkeley notes, is about animals living in the wild is that they are free to roam at will or to settle at random. The opposite is true. Animals tend to restrict themselves to well-defined territories and will defend these according to rules for their species, their sex, and their age. Feral cats are no exception. Since 1963, the use of radio tracking has revolutionized wildlife studies, including that of feral cats. One discovery is males will often travel much farther than females.
  • Reproduction: Feral cats will breed whether or not there is a reliable food source. However, puberty often comes later for those cats which live on their own, perhaps at age one. Social factors may inhibit growth of a cat colony in some places, while in other places there are equal numbers of male and female, and in some places there might be millions of feral cats. The suggestion is that a colony survives because just as many cats which die as there are ones which live.
  • Predation: All cats ARE carnivores and predators. Multiple analyses of the stomachs of feral cats shows content to range from : mammals, birds (mostly game not song—which might get eaten in greater abundance by blue jays), carrion, garbage, rodents, and insects. Some researchers contend that cats actually aren’t good bird hunters, their springing often only after the bird has flown. As a result, mostly they catch old, young, or sick birds. Feral cats can also be used to control unwanted populations of rodents.
  • Danger: Diseases which feral cats  could spread are actually of minimal threat. For example, only 3% of all cases of rabies in North America come from feral cats. (In contrast, 10% comes from bats.) A parasitical infection known as toxoplasmosis can provide risk to an unborn child, but most often this threat arises from the domesticated cat. Cat-scratch is rare, because feral cats would typically prefer to flee humans. As for the plague, it can wipe out a colony but it never gets passed onto humans. The bottom line, Berkeley believes, is people are more dangerous to feral cats than feral cats to people.
  • Togetherness: Cats used to be viewed as independent creatures with no social life. Now at least when it comes to ferals, they’re known to form groups, inbreed, and develop long-term relationships with one another. As with cats in general, much research remains to be done.

Maverick Cats by Ellen Berkeley is a book I read for personal reasons. In 2006, a stray cat showed up at my door. She lived me with for eight years until dying of kidney and heart failure, among other complications. Since Lucy’s death, my interest in animal rescue has evolved to focus on feral cats. Maverick Cats has successfully whetted my appetite to know even more about these controversial creatures.

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