Monday, May 26, 2008

Practically Perfect In Every Way

I just finished Practically Perfect in Every Way by Jennifer Niesslein, who happens to be the editor and co-creator of of Brain, Child. Niesslein wrote the book while conducting a series of what she calls experiments, with the goal of being happier. She breaks her life into compartments, such as home, marriage, parenting, finances, etc. and reads self-help books to try and improve her life in each area. I am not a stranger to self-help books, especially of the parenting variety, so I can understand believing that a book or an expert is going to be able to give you all the answers you need to "fix" your life.

Niesslein writes with a lot of humor and is very smart to boot, but I think part of what makes her book so interesting is how honest she is about her life. She is not afraid to admit her shortcomings and gives her readers not just the jist of each book, but how it affected her. I do think the book was a little long and started to drag towards the end, but it finished strong. What has stuck out in my mind the most about this book, is how Niesslein says that self-help can really make you focus too much on yourself and get stuck in your own head way too often. If this book has a message, it is that happiness is not found in focusing on yourself, but in contributing to the greater good.

Out of the 30 or more books and websites that Niesslein describes in her book, there are two I want to read: Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman and When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner. I want to read Authentic Happiness, because I feel like happiness is a very slippery thing and I want to learn how to hold on to it a little better. In Practically Perfect, Niesslein describes how Seligman describes the difference between pleasure and gratifcation, which I found very intriguing. I think Kushner's book might actually help me to deal with some of the questions I have had about spirutuality and faith. I will try and take Niesslein's advice though, and not get too wrapped up in my own introspection to pay attention to what is going on around me.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Biggest Bed in the World

The Biggest Bed in the World by Lindsay Camp and Jonathan Langley. Sorry no link because this book is out of print. I paid 20 dollars on for it. This book is great. It is about a family that has a baby who sleeps in their bed instead of his crib, then they add like 5 more kids to the family. All along the way the dad gets or makes a bigger bed. Everyone sleeps in the same bed. Until the Dad has enough and instead of making a bigger bed he kicks all the kids out, (not in a bad, mean way) and goes back to the small queen size bed he used to have. The dad is having trouble getting good sleep and so everyone starts sleeping in their own bed and then... the bed feels empty and the dad STILL can't sleep. So they all move back into mom and dad's bed which is now once again the smaller version. Very sweet. And they all get good sleep.

As a parent who parents alternatively it is really nice to have books like this that reinforce our beliefs. I say it that way because I know some people reading this may see this as just using propaganda to support our decisions. Actually, this isn't too far off base. I was thinking the other day about all the moms who I hear complain that they feel like they are villianized for not breastfeeding, I live in a very conservative corner of Ohio. And while I do see some criticism there, about choosing not to breastfeed a newborn, I think that the messages we send our kids about bottles, cribs, regular schooling are very subliminal but strong. Using the breastfeeding example I do agree that their is a very vocal voice saying you should breastfeed for the first 6 mos to a year. But, I think the louder voice says you are bad if you do not use bottles in some way and if you breastfeed beyond a year. This voice is mostly through images and cultural portrayals. I sort of touched on this on the other children's book I reviewed. So yes, I am using this propaganda to my advantage. It is important to me that my kids feel normal. Right now we really need to find some children's books on homeschooling! This book does normalize co sleeping, or sleep sharing, or the Family Bed.

When we choose books for our children I think we are looking for images that support what we say. That help kids see what they live in action. In our house books have helped us with potty training and sharing. So it is nice to have some of these alternative books about being a family like us.

(By the way, I am not condemning any parenting. I think each family is unique and needs to use the best strategies in their house. We are very left of center in how we parent but by no ways do I think we are right! We are just doing what is best for us as parents and our personalities and how we intersect our particular children.)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bee Season

I read this book during finals week. A little diversion. It was good because it was compelling enough to want to read when I needed a break but not a stay up all night and not be able to study the next day compelling. The family in this book is so messed up I can not even begin. Most of the dysfunction is close enough to home that you feel good that it isn't that bad in your life but just enough uncomfortable that you can identify. The plot is basically that a little girl who has been written off as ordinary ends up exhibiting a remarkable talent for spelling during spelling bee season. I really felt like the little girl was a heroine. She seems to be the only one tuned in to those around her and not completely self absorbed that she can't reach out to other people in her family. This in itself is sad because at her age kids are basically supposed to be self absorbed. Throughout the book she makes adult decisions with childlike reasoning. I remember doing a lot of that in a very different way growing up and really connected with her on that front. When I rated this book on good reads I only could give it three stars. I hesitated. I wanted to give it four stars. It is painful to read though, so I had to stop at three. One of the greatest things about this book is the writing. In the beginning the author gives you enough of a background story that you really know the characters. They are fully developed and she lets you in on their childhoods without giving you and extra 300 pages! Also, there were some phrases that really caught me. I liked the way they were written and how they contributed to the story. I find the older I get the more important writing is to me. I used to be able to read a bunch of John Grisham and such but, lately I need solid stories and writing not just the same watered down story and a shot of adrenaline (sorry Mag!) This book has actually been made into a movie. But, as your English teacher always told you read the book first. I can not attest to the movie, based on the trailers I felt that it didn't match the book. It looks to me that the movie focuses on the father whereas the book focuses on the daughter.

Favorite Quotes:
Page 54:
"As far as Eliza can remember, this is the first time she has ever held both parents' hands at once. She swings her arms back and forth, penduluming them the way she's seen happy children do on Kodak commercials."

Page 192:
"What felt like possibility has soured into awkwardness, the weight of unexploded conversations too much for the moment to bear. Saul clasps his son in a hug. It was the hug meant for words unspoken, a hug which, in their absence, feels staged."

What next, well I have Life of Pi out from the library and I am also tempted to join the online Mindless Book Club and read their selections. May's book is Eating Heaven. Happy Reading!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ma! There's Nothing to Do Here! by Barbara Park

Mag and I have decided that we are going to review both children's and adult books, and the intersection of parenting books as well. Actually Mag suggested it and I thought...I don't think I will ever put a review for a kids book on there. But, here I am, doing just that. I was looking for the book Playful Parenting at the bookstore when I came across this book. We are planning to have a baby in July or late June. I guess we are a little more than planning since we are 31 weeks pregnant. Anyway, the babe in waiting is posterior, so I feel tons of kicks, punches and other such things on the outside of my belly. So when I saw this title I had to stand there and read it. Knowing I would not be buying it. (Ha! Ha!) I am very choosy about the books that come into our house. Especially about babies and such. My daughter received a lot of big sister books after her brother was born and most of them have had to be secretly smuggled out of the house after a few weeks. The things is our babes don't come home from the hospital they come out at home, they don't get bottles or pacifiers from big sis, they get exclusively breastfed by mom, they don't sleep in cribs, they sleep with us. God Bless all of you that can take the time to fill up bottles, want to birth in hospital, those of you that have the energy to get out of bed to feed. That is what most of my friends do. I am just too lazy and we also feel that these things work for our family (they may or may not work for you.) Anyway, the images in most books center around bottles, cribs and pacis. So I have trouble with filling my kids with those pictures. So I assumed this book would give me a smile but I wouldn't leave with it. I was surprised when there were only three pics including these things and they weren't affiliated with the baby, at one point the baby does ask for a crib among shampoo and other things. They were more in the background very small, out of scale. So I bought it.

I liked this book because it the baby talks about all the stuff it can't wait to do when it has escaped. Like swing from monkey bars or paddle a canoe. In the end the baby decides to just wait until it is time. What I like about this book is that it gets the kids and mom excited about all the stuff the baby will learn to do. I creates a bit of expectation. It also is funny to me as a mama in gestation. I am able to avoid the things that most books have that make my kids feel different. (Believe me a four year old picks up on this.)

My favorite part comes at the end: "So, Ma, here's the plan. Let's rest while we can. I'll stay in here longer- get bigger, grow stronger. Then ready...set...YAY! I'll be comin to play! Well, that's it I guess. I've got your address. Kiss Pop for me, please...And give him a squeeze. I'll meet him soon, maybe! I LOVE YOU, Your Baby"

Our favorite book is Welcome With Love. this book is from a child's perspective about the home birth of his new sibling. Very accurate and very helpful in preparing your 2 year old for a home birth.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Expecting Adam

Expecting Adam by Martha Beck is a memoir of the author's pregnancy with her son. She finds out about halfway through her pregnancy that her son is going to be born with Down Syndrome. Beck and her husband are both P.h.D students at Harvard at the time and shock all their professors, peers and the staff at the student medical center with their decision to keep their baby. Beck is very clear that she is pro-choice, but states that for many reasons that she can't explain, she just couldn't abort this baby.
Throughout the book, Beck describes how she felt the presence of supernatural beings helping her through her pregnancy, particularly when she was very sick and lonely or facing extreme criticism for her choice to keep her baby. I can't say that I've every felt a divine presence holding my hand or anything like that, but I have felt like there were regular people that reached out to me under the guidance of God. Once when I was in college I got locked out of my house while my husband was out of town and had to hitchhike 10-miles to my sister-in-law's apartment (she was a student too and didn't have a car at the time). I had tried calling a cab, but our sleepy little college town didn't have taxis running in the summer. Anyway, while I began walking on the shoulder of the highway, I began praying that a woman would stop and pick me up. Within a couple of minutes a young woman did in fact stop for me. She said that she normally would never pick up a hitchhiker, but a voice inside her head told her to. Beck says there is no difference between human love and divine love and that "any person who acts out of love is acting for God."
I have a 21-month-old daughter who has special needs, and while her condition is nothing like Down Syndrome, reading this book made me face how I am feeling about my daughter's difficulties (she has loose tendons in her ankles that have prevented her from learning to walk) and was actually therapeutic. The friend that loaned me the book highlighted this quote, which I would like to share: "I am always perversely happy to hear that a friend has been knocked upside the head by some unpleasant event. I am not glad they've experienced pain, but I am profoundly grateful for the down-to-earth compassion that merges only when people face their pain and absorb it into the fabric of their lives."
I could go on and on about all the different things this book made me think about, like abortion and genetic testing to name a few, but I'll just leave it at saying it was a very though provoking book. I would recommend this book to others, but not to anyone who is currently pregnant.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Hi my (pen) name is Meg and I live in Ohio. I am a mom and a student. I love to read. For me reading is something that helps to keep me sane and helps me feel normal. I notice that when my life starts to feel crazy that I have not been taking the time to read. In my past reading has also been like therapy. The book that comes to mind most in this area is Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (I hated the movie though.) I don't have the best relationship with my mom and this book helped me see her more as a person and move past some of my issues with her. My mom is a lot like the mom in this book. I also find that reading is an escape from mothering and everyday life. Peace like a River is one of the best books I have read. See the sidebar for more favorites. Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors. I also like Tracy Chevalier, the Harry Potter Series, and memoirs and some classics. When I was younger my favorite book was The Crucible, yes I know it is a play, but I read it over and over.
Mag (also a pen name) and I live on opposite sides of the country and this blog is a place for us to review some of the books we are reading. So, pull up a chair and a book and say hello! And please feel free to suggest your favorite books! Right now I am currently reading Playful Parenting, but reading non fiction is just not doing it so I need to find a good fiction book or memoir to double team!
Hi, Mag here. I live in Washington, the state not DC. I like to think of myself as a professional mother. I am interested in art and writing and also spend a lot of my energy helping with my children's co-op preschool. I've been an avid reader since I was in third grade and my teacher recommended the Little House on the Prairie books. I used to read pretty much soley fiction, until I met Meg and she recommended some great non-fiction books like Nickel and Dimed. Most of the non-fiction I read now is either related to parenting or education. I also like memoirs quite a bit, especially ones I can relate to. Last night I finished Expecting Adam and I am in the middle of Operating Instructions and Practically Perfect In Every Way. One of my all-time favorite books is Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flag--I have reread it several times when I was in need of a good laugh.
I am really excited about having a blog dedicated to books and hope to get to know others that are as passionate about reading as Meg and I are. So, like Meg said, introduce yourselves and tell us what you are reading!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Siblings Without Rivalry

I finished reading Siblings Without Rivalry a few weeks ago, but for some reason didn't get around to writing a review of it. I read it for the parenting book club that I attend. It was a really easy read and had lots of examples that the authors took from parenting seminars that they taught. There were several pieces of advice that have stuck with me since reading it and that I am trying to follow:
1) Not taking sides in an argument between siblings
2) Helping children solve their own disagreements
3) Emphasizing teamwork, not competion among siblings
4) Not casting children into roles within the family
5) Valuing each child fo their uniqueness
Some of this stuff may seem like it is for people with older children than mine, but I want to take a proactive approach on this issue. I would rather be educated early on so that I can prevent as much sibling rivalry as possible. I want my children to be good friends and I hope this is not too much to ask for. I don't want them to see the other one as their competion for attention, love, etc.
This book also made me realize that it is not too late to develop a closer relationship with my brother. The authors describe how many of the people in their workshop ended up having revelations about their own relationships with their siblings and went on to try and repair those relationships. My brother and I are five years apart and have totally different interests and have never really been close. However, I think if I just made more of an effort to stay in contact, we could be closer than we are now. Especially since we share the bond of both being parents now.