Friday, November 27, 2015

After Alice - Gregory Maguire

I picked up this book at work for a couple of reasons.  First, I love Lewis Carroll and the Alice stories.  And secondly, because I am a fan of Wicked by Maguire.  So how could I go wrong?

According to the blurb on the book, this is the premise of the book...

When Alice toppled down the rabbit-hole 150 years ago, she found a Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But what of that world? How did 1860s Oxford react to Alice’s disappearance?
In this brilliant work of fiction, Gregory Maguire turns his dazzling imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings—and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll’s enduring tale. Ada, a friend of Alice’s mentioned briefly in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is off to visit her friend, but arrives a moment too late—and tumbles down the rabbit-hole herself.
Ada brings to Wonderland her own imperfect apprehension of cause and effect as she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and see her safely home from this surreal world below the world. If Eurydice can ever be returned to the arms of Orpheus, or Lazarus can be raised from the tomb, perhaps Alice can be returned to life. Either way, everything that happens next is “After Alice.”

The book follows the adventures of a friend of Alice, Ada, one afternoon.  Not only is the book "after Alice", but Ada is also after Alice, as in trying to find her.  Running from her nanny, Ada tumbles down the rabbit hole also and soon is experiencing many of the same characters Alice does.

In reading the book I felt I was reading Carroll.  In fact, this is a book I want to get on audio to hear the flow of words rather than read them.  And if a musical should be made from this book....I'm ok with it!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Better Than Before - Gretchen Rubin

I picked this book, Better than Before, up off the check-in cart at work, mainly because I had read Rubin's first two books about The Happiness Project.  And it languished on my 'to-read' shelf until it was almost time to go back to the library.  Then it was a race to read and absorb and, several pages of notes later, I finished.

"I should monitor whatever is essential to me. 
In that way, I ensure that my life reflects my values."

The first section deals with setting up yourself to succeed at the habits you are trying to establish.  Rubin recommends (1) Monitor, (2) Foundation, (3) Scheduling and (4) Accountability.

"How we schedule our days
is how we spend our lives." 

So much of what was in this first section dovetailed with what I am trying to set up for 2016 and really, my life.  She then goes into when would be the best time to begin a new habit.  Some of her suggestions are - 
  • First steps - one step of a project at a time (yes!)
  • Lightening Bolt - 'something' triggers you - big or small
  • Convenience - good habit/make it easier, bad habit/make it harder
  • "If/Then" strategy - "If I want X, then I need to do Y."
Then she goes into the 'exceptions' we tell ourselves we need to make which derails us from our purpose.

"A planned exception works best when it's made
for something memorable...A good test of a planned
exception is "How will I feel about the exception later."

Other 'loopholes' to our goals of a new habit are:
  • Moral - permission to do something 'bad' because we have been 'good'
  • Tomorrow - doing something 'bad' because tomorrow we will be 'good'
  • False Choice - can't do X because you are doing Y
  • Lack of Control - too hot or too cold, for example
  • Arranging to Fail - "...we make a change of seemingly harmless decisions that allow us covertly to engineer the very circumstances that we'll find irresistible."  For example, this doesn't count, I'm on vacation.
  • Questionable Assumptions - ie - going to work shortly, so I can't do X.
  • Concern for Others
  • Fake Self-Actualization - life is too short not to live a little
  • One-Coin - I haven't done project in so long-what's the point?  What's one more spoonful of sugar.
  • Strategy of Distraction - looking at Facebook rather than reading a book 
One of the most interesting things she says in the book is about 'Rewards or Finishing' and how they might actually be bad things.

"...striving toward a finish line, not building a habit."

"By finding my reward within the habit itself, with a reward that
takes me deeper into the habit."

"The reward for a good habit is the habit itself."

And I thought about my goal of losing weight.  So I lose weight.  But if I haven't changed my eating habits, then the weight will come right back.  I have to make my goal to eat better, more healthy and combine with exercise.  Then I have a good habit and the offshoot is weight loss and once I hit the weight I want, the habit continues, it doesn't stop because I've reached my goal.

Rubin also talks about 'rewards' in that "...a treat is a small pleasure or indulgence that we give to ourselves just because we want it."  We shouldn't be rewarding ourselves for 'doing' the habit or goal we are attempting to establish.

Some of the tips she gives to setting yourself up for success have been on my radar already.
  • Pairing - "...couple two activities, one that I need or want to do, and one that I don't particularly want to do, to get myself to accomplish them both."
I use this strategy already to a certain extent.  I will allow myself to work for a certain amount of time on a project I want, then I switch to something like doing the dishes, or another load of clothes, or cleaning a room.  Once the housework is done, then I can return to my 'play' for another amount of time.
  • Clarity - "The clearer I am about what I value, and what action I expect from myself - not what other people value, or expect from me - the more likely I am to stick to my habits."
This is my project in December, to see where I want to go and do.  To get 'my head on straight', so to speak.
  • Identity - Does the habit add to or take away from our identity.  "Our habits reflect our identity."
  • Other People - we pick up others' habits - good and bad.  So associate with those whose habits and values reflect my own.

"Those habits wouldn't make everyone happy,
but they make me very happy."

This is a book I wish I had lingered over a bit longer and will probably go back and reread a couple of times.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

My Pantry - Alice Waters

I fell in love with Alice Waters many years ago.  I own 2-3 of her earlier books and couldn't wait to get my hands on her latest book which includes illustrations by Fanny Singer (her daughter).

One thing about every book by Waters I pick up, I always feel very virtuous and compelled to make a trip to my local farmer's market.  Unfortunately, now that I'm in Montana, I don't have the extensive market which was available to me in North Carolina.  So I start haunting the local natural food store (where I have already ordered my Thanksgiving turkey from).  For the next few weeks, I will be eating better a'la Alice Waters.

This is a quick read as opposed to some of her earlier books.  I really enjoy the 'stories' behind the recipes which she includes, a very similar treatment as her other books.

My Pantry is just that, recipes for items she has in her pantry and which are staples for Waters.  While I am now considering sea salt/spice combinations to mix up and have on hand to make me use more spices in my cooking, I don't know that I will be making 10 liters of red wine vinegar.  Mainly because I don't drink enough wine and when I do, there's nothing left over!  But the chapter on making my own cheeses is interesting and might be used, as will be the Raspberry Syrup and Brandied Cherries.

At 144 pages, not a lot of really 'go-to' recipes, but a quick and interesting read none the less.

Note: "I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Q & A a Day for Creatives

Once again I was drawn to the fact this book is a journal and it's labeled 'for creatives'.  I'm creative, right? And I journal, too.  Ok, so far, so good.

So four years of daily sketches should be a fun idea.  And it is.

By Potter Style, Q&A a Day For Creatives is a fun book.  Each page is divided into four quadrants and a quick prompt or question is listed to the side.  There is a tiny "20__" in each quadrant so you can list the year you are drawing.  

Most of the prompts are fun.  For example, March 13 is "Compose an abstract drawing that depicts your bank account's current status." 

Some of the things I like about the book are the fact the dates are already listed for you.  All I have to do is fill in the year.  The block you have to draw in each day is about 3.5 X 3.5 inches.  Not too small and not too large to be intimidating or time consuming to fill.

Couple of things I would change.  The paper is not ink friendly.  If you use anything other than pen (ball point) or pencil, there is a definite chance of bleed through.  Also, the book could use a ribbon to help mark your stop on the current day.

I have been using the journal in the mornings to get the old 'creative juices' flowing for the day.  It's fun and at this point, the bleed through on the pages is a bit of an irritant, but not a deal breaker.  We will see down the road.  In fact, I will probably be doing a bit of mixed media, mini-collages in it as time goes by.

This is definitely a book I would purchase to give to another 'creative journal.'

Note: "I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."