Friday, December 31, 2010

The Final Caldecott Book Review of 2010 (and the last book review for this blog)


Abraham Lincoln

One of the things I noticed, as I was reading these Caldecott Medal winners in relatively reverse chronological order, is that the older the book, the more likely there would be more text.  This book is mostly story, telling about the life of Abraham Lincoln without ever addressing his assassination.  There is a lot to commend this book but I confess being a bit put off by some of the images.  Written in a different time, the parts and pieces that may not be “politically correct” lend themselves to further discussion.  Still, it is wonderful to have a past President celebrated in such a clear and engaging manner.

And this is the last Caldecott Review for this year because my library doesn't have at least one book and I didn't go back and add the most recent winner.  I'll catch up in 2012.  For that reason alone, you'll want to read that other blog to see if I remember a year from now what I didn't finish now.  Feel free to remind me where I left off.

And because of the content for this one book, there is a lot of "further exploration" recommendations.  No apologies.  Some topics merit deeper exploration.

For Further Exploration

  • Look at a map and find the places where Abraham Lincoln lived–from Kentucky to Illinois to the White House.
  • Research “horn books” (there are images of Lincoln and his older sister carrying one to school).  
  • Bake some gingerbread men from scratch.  
  • This book lists several books Lincoln read as a young boy (the Bible, Pilgrim’s Progress, etc.).  If you are so inclined, why not read one or more of these books together?  
  • Lincoln worked hard to earn money so why not give your child a chance to earn some money?  Assign chores and a monetary value to the chores.  
  • Also, research the currency used in the US during the early 1800s.  
  • There are many different types of boats pictured throughout the book.  Look up the different types of boats and what they were used for, how they were built, etc.  Make a model of one or more.  
  • Talk about slavery, its history in United States and beyond.  For the older child, watch Roots and Ken Burns’ wonderful documentary The Civil War.
  • One of the stories shared is about a time Lincoln walked 3 miles to pay back some money.  Pack a picnic and take a 3 miles walk with your child.  Sit down and enjoy your picnic before making the walk back, thinking about Abraham Lincoln’s commitment to fairness.  
  • Research Black Hawk and the Sauk Native Americans.  For the older child, discuss the challenges that Native Americans faced after America was “discovered.”
  • Find some of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches in print (including, of course, the Gettysburg Address).
  • Using a blank map of the United States, color in the different states by which were in the Confederacy, which were in the Union, and which tried to remain neutral.  
  • For the older child, read more about Abraham Lincoln’s life.  While some of his personal tragedies are discussed in this book (his mother’s death, etc.), many are not discussed at all.  
  • Read Walt Whitman’s O Captain! My Captain! which is a tribute to Abraham Lincoln.
  • Pick another president from the country’s past and write a children’s book version of his life.  Illustrate it.

The Best American Short Stories of 2005 edited by Michael Chabon


The Best American Short Stories of 2005 edited by Michael Chabon is one of the fifteen books I chose to read or get rid of in 2010.  Although all of these stories are very good, some appealed to me more than others.

That is one of the reasons I enjoy reading an anthology such as this; it affords me the opportunity to sample new writers without committing to an entire novel.  A short story that engages me and makes me think or feel or think and feel is bound to make me seek out the author, especially if they have published a novel or two.

The challenge in putting together an anthology like this is to keep each story from conflicting too much with the next, of creating a sort of integrity hard to attain with such disparate authors and themes.  Chabon does a remarkable job of making this work.

The stories that stood out for me are:

The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face by Tom Perrotta
Eight Pieces for the Left Hand by J Robert Lennon
The Secret Goldfish by David Means
and
Justice Shiva Ram Murthy by Rishi Reddi

At the back of this book, a brief bio about the author is given plus the author’s explanation of how they came to be inspired to write the story.  I found this added feature fascinating because I am always curious about the creative process of other writers.  In the few paragraphs (one for each writer of a short story), I learned as much as the hundreds of droning pages of some other books.  Inspiration comes from anything, from anywhere.  Rough starts are made and then changed and then revised until, after much work, the final product is there before you.

For anyone wanting to meet new authors on the page, these best of anthologies are a worthy investment (or worth borrowing from the library anyway).  I definitely enjoyed this one and wouldn’t turn my back on another collection from this series if it were to come my way.  But not in 2011; not unless it is edited and written only by women, that is.

(An interesting aside.  There are 21 stories total, 7 written by women.  I chose only one written by a woman as a favorite.  Usually, I am more balanced but I wonder if I was slanted in this gender biased direction due to the balance already being skewed.  Earlier today I read a list of the most anticipated young adult novels of 2011.  The list was written by a young woman and every author on the list was also a woman.  On another list, a business man asked for book recommendations and every book mentioned thus far is written by a man.)



The Creative Process by Brewster Ghiselin

The Creative Process: Reflections on Inventions in the Arts and Sciences edited by Brewster Ghiselin is the sixth book in the Transformational Book Circle and the last one I chose to read.  Not because it is also the thickest but because I honestly couldn’t get into it.  I would pick it up, start reading a few of the essays, become bored, pick up something else to read.

This is the problem with anthologies–odds are you won’t find every piece–whether a short story, a poem, or a collection of essays–engaging.  I found so few of these pieces of any interest mostly because they are redundant.  How many times can you read about the creative process being a gradual experience where the seed of an idea slowly germinates, often coming to fruition in a moment of subconscious inspiration.  Do I really need to read more than 20 essays that pretty much say the same thing?  Inspiration, the idea, is the easy part and the rest is hard work.

I also thought that I would actually be inspired by some of the things I read.  Not in the least.  I found myself so bored by what was shared that I was no more inspired to be creative after I read than I was before I started.  That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading any of the essays.  Some were interesting enough but none were so stimulating that I found myself rushing to the page to express myself in poetry or even an expressive journal entry.  I truly wish it had been otherwise but there are other resources out there that can hopefully inspire me.  This one merely left me intellectually bored and creatively dulled.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Am Legend by Robert Matheson


I Am Legend by Robert Matheson, in this volume, is a novella compiled with ten other short stories by the author who made a name for himself writing for the Twilight Zone and Star Trek.  I had heard that the movie did not do justice to the novella and I have to say, I agree.  The movie is different in the typical Hollywood way, infusing the story with some pathos that simply doesn’t do the original story any justice.  Matheson’s original vision is far darker and the ending is more perverse.  No doubt, the graphic novel does the story more justice than the movie.

As for the ten short stories, they all have very typical and often predictable “surprise” endings.  It’s rather like reading episodes of the Twilight Zone without the cool music and resonant voice-over leading into and away from each story.  Some are good.  Some are just silly.  None of them is as good as the novella.  Unless you really really want to read the entire book, you can stop after reading the novella and move onto something else more interesting.  

More Caldecott Medal Books--Eight This Time!


Animals of the Bible

Pretty black and white illustrations and quotations from the King James Bible offer a variation on the picture Bible tradition with its emphasis on the stories that include animals, from Eve’s temptation by the serpent to the peaceful kingdom promised in Isaiah.  Definitely a book written for Christians, with Catholic overtones in the imagery.

For Further Exploration

  • Study each of the species mentioned in this book, how they live, their natural habitat, etc.
  • Make models of each of the different animals, using clay or even salt dough.
  • Read the same stories from a different picture Bible story book or from a different translation of the Bible.
  • Make your own picture Bible story book, copying sections of the Bible and illustrating them.

Prayer For a Child

Another clearly Christian book with adorable illustrations.

For Further Exploration

  • Find a poem and illustrate it line for line.
  • Have your child write a prayer poem, listing things in the room, home, etc. to be blessed.
  • Once a month, listen to your child’s prayers (if you are welcome) and write them down.  On a rainy day, have your child create a prayer journal with illustrations of prayers.  Especially note any that have been answered.
  • On your child’s birthday, write a prayer poem of your own for your child.  Over the years, collect these and, upon your child’s moving from your home, collect them into a scrapbook with photographs.
Many Moons

I think the version of this book I borrowed from the library is not the one that one the Caldecott Medal.  Darn.  I was oh so excited because this story is by James Thurber who has long been a favorite of mine.  What can I say?  I grew up with The New Yorker.

For Further Exploration
  • Watch the cycles of the moon through the month.  Perhaps have your child take a photograph or draw a picture of the moon.
  • Study the moon.  How far is it from the earth?  Several answers are suggested in the book but are any of them right?  What is the moon made of, really?  How large is it?  Etc.
  • Talk about the different people of the court and their roles in the kingdom.
  • What is a motley?  Look at different images of motley costumes.  
  • For the older child, study space exploration, watch documentaries about the moon landings, and movies about space exploration milestones (The Right Stuff, Apollo 13, etc.).
  • For the older child, watch King Lear and discuss the fool’s role in the play.  If your older child is interested, why not read the play as well?  
The Rooster Crows

What merit this book offers, lies in the American tradition.  Some traditional nursery rhymes mixed in with brief rhymes that are strictly “new world” come together with some illustrated, some not.

For Further Exploration
  • Study some of the symbolism of the different rhymes.
  • Choose some (or all) of the rhymes that are not illustrated and make an illustrated book of those rhymes.
I can’t really think of any more because I’ve never been overly fond of nursery rhymes.

They Were Strong and Good

I have misgivings about this book but I also like it very much.  The author shares his family tree, from maternal ancestors coming to America through slave owning on his paternal family’s side.  And therein lies the problem.  To say that they were strong and “good” throws into question the absolutely not good history of slavery.  Perhaps this book is best saved for an older child with whom one can discuss the ideas implied in owning a slave and what it means to be good.

For Further Exploration
  • Write down some of the stories you remember your parents telling you about your family.  Don’t worry about how accurate these stories are.  These stories will be lost or forgotten if not recorded so start sharing them now.
  • Discuss with your older child the history of slavery.  (For the still older child, you might want to look into the implications of “slavery” in child-prostitution and children soldiers.)
  • Create your own family tree, filling it out as far back as you can.  Make a copy for your child to continue building upon in later life.
The Little House

Here is a great example of how my memory simply doesn’t work.  I remembered this book about a little house in the country that becomes part of city as industrialization intrudes.  And how the owners of the house fight to keep it where it is, as it is, nestled there amongst the tall buildings.  Having grown up in Manhattan and seen how things changed so much in my own neighborhood(s), my memory created a story where most things change but there is this one haven of sameness.  My memory was wrong and that is not how the story ends.  Oops.

For Further Exploration
  • This book does a wonderful job of looking at time and how days turn into months which turn into seasons which turn into years.  Have your child tell your home’s story for one year.  What does your house (apartment, townhome, whatever) see from one day/week/month/season to the next?
  • Think about some of the things that were new when you were a child (remember walkmans?).  Discuss the idea of change, of how technology evolves.  
  • Throughout the book, you can see how the emotions of the little house change; discuss personification and make a list of other books or stories that include personification.
  • The illustrations in this book are evocative of folk-art traditions.  Look at other examples of folk-art paintings and drawings.  Have your child create a story, illustrated with folk-art-like drawings.

Mei Li

Cute book that brings to light gender roles in the context of Chinese culture during the 1930s.

For Further Exploration
  • Study about the Kitchen God and other Chinese New Year traditions.
  • If you live in an area where there is a Chinese community, why not attend a Chinese New Year celebration?  Bring ear plugs.  They can be noisy.
  • If you do not live in an area that has a “China Town” you can go out to dinner at a local restaurant or order take-out and enjoy an Americanized version of a Chinese meal.
  • Better yet, why not make your own Chinese dinner from scratch?  All that measuring and mixing will teach some real life skills.
  • For the older child, discuss gender roles in the book. 
Make Way for Ducklings

Another classic I remember from my childhood.  At least this one I remembered correctly, the details holding strong in spite of the passing of time.

For Further Exploration
  • Study mallard ducks, their habits, migration, etc.  Look at images of other species of ducks.  
  • This book mentions many landmarks in the Boston area.  Look at photographs of some of these locations and compare them with the drawings in the book. (There is also a statue that pays homage this book so look for photographs of this as well.)
  • Study the history of Boston from the indigenous people to the present times.  There is a long timeline of history to be explored.  How might the duck's experience been different if they had lived 100 years ago?  Or 300 years, even?  What about if the story had been written today?  What differences might there have been?  (Notice that the boys on the bikes are not wearing any protective gear, etc.)
  • Make a map tracing the route of the ducks using what you learned by studying Boston.
  • Take a walk around your neighborhood and make a list of some of the landmarks you see.  Now have your child write a story about your neighborhood from an animal's perspective. It might be a bunny trying to move from one back yard to another or a squirrel in search of the best place to find food for the winter.  
  • For the older child, watch March of the Penguins.  There are some scenes that may be too intense for younger children.  Discuss the differences in how the mallards are portrayed (personification) in the book and how the penguins are presented (naturalism) in the film.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Reiki Links

In this video, Jan Wheeler shares her holistic approach to her life which includes a daily Reiki practice.



For the full article click here.

Reconnecting with Reiki when you have been out of practice is discussed in this video:





Tuesday, December 28, 2010

We Had a White Christmas

Well, it wasn't quite covered in white. You could still see patches of dirt and such through the snow.  But the fact that it snowed at all, let alone enough to stick, and enough for Rei to make a couple of snow-things . . . that is just what you have to call a Christmas Miracle.



The Great Divorce by C S Lewis


The Great Divorce by C S Lewis seemed a natural choice after reading Richard Matheson’s What Dreams May Come.  Both deal with the soul’s experience after death but from different perspectives.  I remembered reading and very much liking this book and, for that reason, I dreaded rereading it because I wondered what I would think of it now.  I have already been disappointed with some of Lewis’ other writings up rereading, after all, and yet I wanted to give it one more try because I feel drawn to reread Julian of Norwich but am loathe to do it lest I turn from love to dislike.

So poor Lewis became my litmus test, if you will.  Before daring to profane my fond memories of Julian I went ahead and threw The Great Divorce under the bus and hoped I would come through to the other side still liking it.

And I do.  Whew!

In the allegorical tale, the narrator (Lewis himself) is in a dismal town where there is nothing but sadness.  He boards a bus, along with some other people, and they soon find themselves ascending to another place where there is light and beauty.  They themselves, however, remain insubstantial and moving around is painful.  On the bus and in the new place, Lewis participates in and is witness to various conversations that address different eschatological issues.

The story itself is obviously giving nods to other literary devices and figures.  Drawing on everyone from Dante to Bunyan, including directly or by reference other figures like George MacDonald (a sort of literary inspiration and mentor to Lewis) and Julian of Norwich (aha!), there is much to ponder and discuss in this rather slender volume.  The ending is a throw away, derivative at best and academically insulting at worst but the last chapter is so brief that it hardly outweighs the merit of the rest of the text.

Let me once again sigh with relief (whew!) that I still appreciate and like this book very much.  Now my fingers are crossed that, during 2011 when I am only reading books by women and am hoping to revisit Julian of Norwich, this appreciation does not begin and end with this book by Lewis.  One can most certainly hope . . .

Monday, December 27, 2010

blog blog blog blog blog blog blog


I’ve been struggling for a long time with the whole online presence thing and I notice very time I begin to stick my little head out from my shell, something comes up to remind me why I prefer not to be “out there.”  In spite of this, I made a commitment to keep a blog about my vertigo and living with vertigo.

The truth is, I haven’t done what I thought I would do with that blog.  It is factual and mostly impersonal.  In other words, it was emotionally safe.  Then a few weeks ago while the board members of the Wellness & Writing Connections organization were talking, I started thinking more deeply about the mission statement.
Wellness & Writing Connections provides a forum for the exchange of information about research, theory, practices and resources among people from diverse backgrounds and disciplines. The resulting interdisciplinary synergy supports individuals who write toward wholeness, affirming that an intentional practice of creating and composing in words and images contributes to physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Notice the last part: physical, mental, and spiritual health.  Here is where I was lingering, thinking about what each of these things means to me.

In a way, one could argue that this blog, the one in which this post is appearing, is mostly about my intellectual experience what with the book reviews dominating.  (Albeit, one could argue that the movie choices negate any hint of intellect whatsoever but let’s pretend my film choices are as interesting as my book choices.)  There are occasional posts about family or, recently, Christmas trees.

But it doesn’t meet any of those three standards of our mission: physical, mental, spiritual.  So let’s break this down a bit.

Physical

I have vertigo and am committed to writing about having vertigo, what this means in my life, etc.  However, when I think of physical, I don’t think about “meaning” so much as the “gross matter” of being; in other words, I think about my body.  I have a body blog in which I had hoped I would track my amazing discipline and weight loss success.  Last year did not see success. In fact, if the goal was to lose weight (and it was) then what my blog showed was the exact opposite.  Ouch!

I still saw some success there.  My tenacity.  My commitment.  I didn’t gain a pound or five or ten and just shrug it off.  I sat down and tried to figure out why.  I renewed my commitment to exercising, looked at other ways of losing weight, modified my diet, continued hoping, striving, researching.  And in 2011 there will be a renewed commitment to updating that blog regularly with an added component which I hope will make it more interesting to read and relevant to the reader.

Mental

Here is where I think I may be making some more changes.  I am considering moving all my reviews to a separate blog.  The title of this blog is Satia’s Journal and I just don’t think that an endless series of reviews qualifies as journaling.  And if I do that, what will happen here, in this blog?

Therein lies the crux of my dilemma because it goes against my locking myself in a shell.  So I am meditating on these things, the mission statement and my less than stellar past blogging experiences.  If I recognize that the other blog is mostly intellectual, an academic approach to writing and its benefits, and I move my reviews for other people’s writing to a different blog then that leaves this blog for . . . . what?

Spiritual 

Yes, a small voice said, “What about your spiritual life?”

What about it?  I am at a very distinct cross-roads with my spiritual path, so much so that I don’t know if one could be more diverse and even disparate.  I have always protected my spirituality in my online presence, assuming that anyone who was determined to know what I believed could get some sense of my spiritual growth from looking at my reading choices.  Yes, I realize that there is some conflict between one book in relation to another.  That is where I am spiritually–conflicted.

You know how sometimes you’ll be wondering “Should I or shouldn’t I?” and something or someone will come along and, without saying so, give you a resounding “Yes” or “No”?

That happened to me.  I had just finished reading Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life and I was considering how lovely it would be to explore compassion more fully, to dig into the idea of loving-kindness as taught in Buddhism, to meditate more fully on Quan Yin and Karuna, and maybe, just maybe, sharing some of these things in my blog, in this blog.

Then my mother and I talked yesterday, sharing about our perfectly lovely holidays and about the approaching new year.  She said she was sending me (and two of her friends) a book by Sharon Salzberg about loving kindness because this is something she wants to focus upon in the coming year and she thought that by enlisting others into reading the book along with her there would be an accountability.

Of course I could feel the confirmation of my own thoughts on dedicating 2011 to more than just reading women’s books and how synchronicity works in surprising and lovely (loving) ways.  Then she said it:

“And I thought this would give you something to journal about.” 

So there you go.  I don’t need a piano to fall on me to get the point.  If I am meditating on something in my heart and then a rather random convergence occurs and before I know it I am swept away.  Or, let’s be honest, it all falls flat. Others will resonate and affirm what I am thinking and jump into the pool with me only to jump back out, dry off, and walk away, leaving me alone, swimming aimlessly, trying to make sense of how I ended up here, of all places.

Like here, in this blog, writing about blogging.  How the hell did I end up here?

Well, that’s another story for another day.  In the meantime, we are here now and with 2011 just around the corner, now is as good a time as any to say that there are changes coming and I am going to try to share more deeply some of the things that are pressing on my heart.  The reviews will be moved to a new blog and I will be updating my body blog with information about vertigo.  The Reiki related content will remain here because that will probably be tied in with my meditation practice and other spiritual experiences.  However, it may shift over to the body blog.  We’ll see.  And my thoughts on writing and wellness, which I have not been putting into words very often lately, will begin showing up in my wellbeing blog.  There will be some confluence, no doubt and I would be surprised if some of what I write in one blog doesn’t inform the content of another.

Creativity

The three branches of health mentioned in the mission statement (physical, mental, spiritual) is a good basis of “what” I am focusing upon and the various blogs allow space for each without flooding one blog with too many posts.  If you want to know how I’m doing with my weight loss, if you want to encourage me by holding me accountable or sharing your own day-to-day (or week-to-week) experiences with exercise and food, etc., then you can read that blog and if you are curious about what I’m reading you can follow the review blog.

As I said, I’ll likely have some confluence, times of cross-posting or referring one post to another.  It is my intention that I will post a monthly summary of all blog posts here, perhaps on a separate page.  I would like to commit to that but I tend to forget things.  (Now that I’ve put it into writing, however, I will be less likely to forget and I invite you to send me a reminder.)  If I can remember to post summaries, it won’t be necessary to follow all the blogs.  You can pick and choose.  Want to know more about the latest research on writing, how narrative medicine and poetry therapy are being used to help heal, and about vertigo?  Then read this blog.  Want to commiserate on body issues, talk about menopause and self-image, curious to know how I live with vertigo and struggle to lose weight?  Read this blog.  Want to know what it is I recently read and what my thoughts are about this endless pile of books I have at hand or just want to see what I’ve been seeing lately?  Read this blog.

I’ve a feeling that all of this will result in something else altogether.  More poetry.  More creative writing.  What home will this writing find?  I’d rather not create a separate blog.  It’s possible I’ll add a page somewhere in this blog or another, where I share rough drafts or works in progress, to be rotated regularly.  Depending on the speed with which I write, this could be a monthly cycle or only a seasonal one.  Or it might be bi-weekly.  I just know from past experience that when I begin to explore things more deeply, other things are stirred, that one thing leads to another.

I know I am not along in this, that 2011 holds a great deal of promise for us all.  Change is inevitable and, for me and my blogging, there are many changes coming.  I hope to see you there or here or both.

If nothing else, I think I can honestly say that you won’t have to face more blog posts that are this long in the new year.  But I won’t promise.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Preparing In Advance Of A Reiki Session | Step By Step Tips

Preparing In Advance Of A Reiki Session | Step By Step Tips:
"Meditation represents a very appropriate method to get ready for a Reiki treatment."
Some good advice but the truth is Reiki will work whether you prepare or not. In an ideal world, meditation should infuse all aspects of one's life and preparing for a Reiki session by meditating first can only enhance the over all experience.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Five More Caldecott Medal Books

Frog Went A-Courtin'


I can't give this book a fair review.  I have a phobia about insects and there are a lot of insects in this book.  As a result, I found myself shuddering, closing the book, scratching at imaginary crawly things.  I simply didn't want to look at another page.  I suffered through to the end but anyone who has a phobia about insects would find this book disturbing.

For Further Exploration
  • For the parent and child who don't have my phobia, study the various types of animals and (blech) insects.  
  • This is not the first Caldecott winning book that was inspired by the lyrics of a folk-song.  For the musically inclined, learn this song and sing the lyrics or, as the author invites the reader to do at the end, write some of your own lyrics.
  • Write another version of this story, with different animals.  Or change the story so that the genders are different and the female animal approaches the male animal.  
Madeline's Rescue

I get excited when I reach a book I remember from my childhood but you can imagine  my surprise when I read it and remembered, at most, five pages of the story.  I remembered clearly how it began.  I remembered Madeline falling from the bridge.  And I remember one other image.  But that's it.  Oh well.  

For Further Exploration
  • This book takes place in Paris so why not find Paris on a map, look at photographs of the city.  See if you can find photographs that look similar to the images.
  • Learn some French words and phrases.  (Why not also read one of the Babar books?  These stories also take place in France.)
  • Study French cuisine, making a traditional French breakfast (baguette with jam, a croissant, hot chocolate) or buy a couple of French cheeses and enjoy them with some fruit (brie with grapes is especially delicious, munster with pear, neufchâtel spread on a bagel with fresh berries).  
Finders Keepers

I cannot recommend this book.  The illustrations are cute and the story starts off well but the two dogs resolve their problem through violence, a message I don't think I want my grandchildren to hear.  I suppose if you are put off by the violent resolution there is a moral lesson about the importance of sharing but I would have been happier without the violence.  







Cinderella

Another of the books I remember lovingly from my childhood.  I enjoyed reading this version and when I compare this book with Marcia Brown's other Caldecott winners (Shadow and Once a Mouse), I am especially delighted by this book.

For Further Exploration
  • There are variations on the Cinderella story you can share with your child.  Some are even Caldecott winners as well.  Seek out other similar stories, compare them and discuss the differences.
  • Read other books by Marcia Brown and look at the different styles of illustration, discussing how each story determines how the book should be illustrated, the use of different color palettes, etc.  
  • The next time you and your child(ren) sit down to write a story, think about the content and perhaps create an illustration style that compliments the story.
  • There are almost as many cinematic versions of the Cinderella tale as there are written versions.  Watch a few (like Cinderella or Cinderella or Ever After or Cinderella or The Slipper and the Rose.)  There are even more versions out there!
The Biggest Bear


I have understandably mixed feelings about this book.  Johnny is sad because his family is the only one that doesn't have a bear skin hanging up, evidence of some man's killing a bear in the nearby woods.  So Johnny goes out to kill a bear himself but he brings a bear cub home instead.  Awwww . . .

The bear cub grows up and eventually Johnny is left no choice but to leave the now grown bear cub in the woods.  Except, the bear keeps coming back so Johnny's father tells him what he must do.  Johnny takes his gun and the bear into the forest and . . .

That's right.  His father told him to kill the bear.

Now let me explain that I've worked with people who look at hunting season with nostalgia, a tradition handed down from generation to generation.  I grew up, however, in a culture where this was not only not typical but something upon which we frowned upon.  I see no game-manship in a man holding a rifle equipped with telescopic lens and large range shooting an animal that can't even get close enough to catch wind of him.  And unless it is a "clean shot," an oxymoron if ever I heard one, the animal suffers as a consequence of one man's idea of sport.

Therein lies the problem.  This is probably a perfectly delightful book for someone who's living in a community where animal hunting is a positive.  And I know about the whole population control idea, that the animals would starve unless we thin out the herd.  And yes, I am a hypocrite because I do eat meat.  That's my choice.  Just as it is my choice not to praise this book and to say that I would rather not have my granddaughter reading it.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Handmaid and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg

The Handmaid and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg is a retelling of the traditional Christian story of the birth of Jesus.  It begins before Mary and Joseph are betrothed and beyond the exile in Egypt.  I won’t say how much further because that would spoil things.

I have to say that of all the holiday themed books I read this year, this is my favorite.  More traditional and obviously infused with Christian ideas, the story makes iconic figures human.  Some Catholics may take offense that Mary does not remain a virgin after the birth of her son but Berg remains true to the viewpoint that Jesus was conceived supernaturally, as was John the Baptist and Mary herself.

The struggles the young couple face, the doubt Joseph has over Mary’s honesty and her own difficulty with being a submissive housewife are written in a way that makes them both believable and likeable.  The way the characters speak, however, is sometimes so formal and even elevated that they rarely sound natural.  It is a peculiar choice to have Joseph speak as though he were lecturing rather than lusting when you also read about how he has to pull away from Mary because his desire is stirring.  So if in action and thought they are human, in word and speech they are refined and constrained.  I suppose Berg was bearing her readers in mind and could only push the reality envelope so far.

All in all, I liked this book very much and anyone who is a fan of Elizabeth Berg and not put off by Christian tradition will probably find this book a perfectly pleasant one to read going into the holidays.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Rest of Our Trees

This is a picture of our trees.


The teddy bears were collected over years and when we had three small trees (one for each of the children), the bears filled in the space beneath the trees until Christmas eve when I would put out all of the gifts.  The one on the right is our official tree, a bit of a mess because there is no color coordination at all.  It's just a tree with every ornament Rob and I have acquired through the years.  And we've acquired some pretty funny ornaments, few of which belong together on the same tree.


This is a very blurry.  You see the two bears on the right?  Rob bought those this year because, clearly, we needed more bears.  We actually think they look more like New Year's Day bears because they are all dressed up in black and red velvet.  With silver trim and bows.


And this is Marc's tree.  His is the last of the small trees because he is the last to still be living at home.  And you can see the train tracks under the other tree.  Rob bought a train to go around the tree (which Bibi loves) and that is why now most of the bears are relegated to sit on the storage thing Rob bought for his legs only to discover that he was sitting lower on the couch and it wasn't as comfortable as he thought which is not unlike my realizing that this sentence is insanely long and breaking a lot of basic grammar rules so I should probably stop now.


And another blurry pictures, this one of the corner directly across from the tree.  And stockings.  We don't have a fire place so we just used the large doorway that goes from the kitchen into the great room.  Those three are Bibi's, Joe's, and Marc's.  There are three more on the other side.  Erin's and mine are the last to be hung because hers has stuff that you can recognize sticking out and mine . . . well, I'm not responsible for mine so I don't know when it will be filled.

And just for fun, here's a photo of Bibi opening a birthday present.  Her
birthday is on the 16th so it was just over a week ago.  This picture was taken before she decided that footies on her birthday simply would not do.  

That's Goobo (sp?) in the background and Erin is holding one of Bibi's gifts, a baby doll.  There are more birthday photos from our trip to Build-a-Bear.  I just have to slow down and share them.  But this photo was in the same batch as the tree ones soooo . . .

The Essential Alan Watts by Alan Watts (duh)


The Essential Alan Watts by Alan Watts is the final book of the Transformational Book Circle.  I have to backtrack and try to finish another book in the collection which I skipped because no matter how many times I try to start reading it, I simply get bored by it.

That is neither here nor there.  This book by Alan Watts is good, possibly even great, but as I have said before, the poor quality of the editing makes assessing the content difficult.  Watts’ writing style is dense, full of complex sentence structures that take up multiple lines of text.  When you have editing that either drops or changes words, it becomes all the more frustrating reaching the end of a sentence, knowing it doesn’t make sense, and wondering why.  Naturally, you go back and reread the sentence but there’s still something wrong and it takes two or more readings to realize where the problem lies and then a few moments to figure out what the problem is.  Should “is” be “it” or did someone just drop “that” altogether?

So once again, I think this is a really good book that suffers from how it is presented to the reader.  I can’t recommend this edition.

The audio cd from Bill Harris explains to the listener why he chose this book to be part of the Transformational Book Circle and Harris explains some of Watts’ teachings, commending Watts for having an innate ability to take complex ideas about Eastern philosophy and making them more accessible to the Western audience.  In a way Harris is doing the same for Watts so if Watts is “watering down” the teachings to make them easier to swallow then Harris is sort of watering down Watts to make him more comprehensible.  Unfortunately, thanks to the editing of this book’s publisher, it will take more than this cd to make some of the sentences comprehensible and every time a reader has to stop and reread a sentence, the flow of the teaching is lost.

Read another edition of this book.  The chapter on God is worth the time and effort.  Too bad the publishers didn’t think the book was worth a good editing.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Satia Chocolates | Peter West

Satia Chocolates | Peter West

I want one of these. Click the link. Read the sexy description. Oh my . . .



Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse


Siddhartha: An Indian Tale by Hermann Hesse is one of those books many people drop onto their “to be read” list because they hear it praised often but then few get around to reading.  I read a translation of this book ten years ago and, because it is a part of the Transformational Book Circle, I reread it in this new translation.

This novel is about a man’s search for spiritual meaning in his life and the different paths he takes to get to where he needs to be.  I can see why this book has been such an inspiration since its publication.  I can also see why so much depends on the quality of the translation because I don’t think that the edition I read is a particularly good translation.  It could, of course, simply be that the book is so poorly edited that the translation inevitably pales by comparison, dulling what would otherwise be a stellar text.  To be honest, I don’t think that’s the case.  Having read the book before but translated by a different author, I just don’t think that this translation has the same poetry or power.

The cd that comes along with this particular edition is a guided meditation, led by Gay Hendricks.  He asks a series of “wonder questions” with some odd music played in between, leaving the listener time to meditate upon each question.  The music made me want to move, as there was a gentle but clear beat.  I like to dance; what can I say?  Needless to say, I would have preferred silence.  I know some people are afraid of silence.  However, I can’t help thinking it would be nice to have more guided meditations that allow for silence as well as meditation.

The questions themselves are interesting and I think they would make wonderful journaling prompts, especially for anyone who is either at a personal crossroads or at a time of renewal.  With the New Year around the corner, I think that they would make an excellent beginning for exploring the changes I want to see in my life in 2011 but they would be just as effective as one approaches a birthday or something similar.

I have a feeling, however, that you do not have to buy the Transformational Book Circle edition with the bonus cd to find this guided meditation or something similar in some of his other writings and recordings.  He has been publishing books and cds for a long a while and I’d be surprised if these same questions aren’t available in some other format, especially given that this edition is (deservedly) out of print.

So in summary: good book in a bad translation with a cd that has an interesting guided meditation equals a rather mixed review over all.  Sorry I could be more decisive about how I felt over all.  Maybe next time.

(I would suggest, before buying a particular copy of this book, reading a few sample pages from different translations to see which you like the best.)

Five More Caldecott Medal Books


Song of the Swallows


A simple story about the migration of the swallows that come to San Juan Capistrano. The illustrations didn't blow me away and the story didn't either.

For Further Exploration
  • Study the migratory flight patterns of the swallows of Capistrano (or any other bird) and follow the migration on a map.
  • Learn the sounds of different bird songs, especially focusing on those types you can find in your own neighborhood.  See if you can't become familiar enough with the various bird songs that you recognize a bird by how it sounds.
  • Find an online bird-cam and watch a bird's nest, checking in occasionally to see how the nestlings are doing.
  • If you are musically inclined, learn the song included in the book and sing it for your family the next time there's a big family get together or record yourselves singing it.


The Big Snow 

Sweet book full of beautiful illustrations about how different animals respond to the oncoming of winter.  While some migrate, others hibernate.  Just a simple story.

For Further Exploration
  • Count the animals on the different pages, from geese to deer to rabbits.  Each page has a number of different animals on the page and early learners will have fun counting them. 
  • Write a story about what your family does whenever there is snow.  (If you live in a climate that rarely or never has snow, write about what your family does when it rains.)
  • Choose several animals (from the book or other wildlife) and study about their habits and whether or not they hibernate or live through the winter weather.
  • The Disney film, Bambi, has a lovely snowy day scene in it that children might enjoy watching.  For older children, read the novel Bambi aloud.  
  • For the older older child, if this was a favorite book when younger, why not read Watership Down or some of James Herriot’s books?  
  • Make a pine cone bird feeder by spreading natural peanut butter on the pine cone and then rolling it in bird seeds.  Hang these outside to help feed the animals during the colder months when food is harder to find.


White Snow, Bright Snow


I don't know if it's because of the story in the previous book or the lovely illustrations but this one was a disappointment.

For Further Exploration
  • Research some of the things mentioned that are no longer part of our common experience (mustard plaster, dunce cap, etc.).  
  • Cut out paper snowflakes.  I know I've suggested this before but I really love cutting out paper snowflakes.

The Little Island

I liked this book although I think that poor autumn and winter are not given their due.  I didn't love it, however.  I thought the insertion of the kitten was just weird.  I'd have rather read about all four seasons on the island.

For Further Exploration
  • Research the various species mentioned throughout the book.
  • Study the different types of animals and why a lobster sheds its shell, perhaps comparing this with how a kingfisher molts, etc.
  • Study the different types of land masses (island, ithmus, continent, plateau, etc.)
  • Why not write more about the island, making up what it is like in autumn and winter?  
  • Make a model or map of the little island.  On one of the pages, the island is described as having 7 trees and 17 bushes.  Use paper-mâché or modeling clay to make your own little island.  
  • Or make models of the different types of animals.
  • Why not also make a map of your neighborhood?  
The Egg Tree


This is a cute book but for parents who are avoiding the whole "Easter Rabbit" thing, you may not be thrilled with some of this book.  However, this is not an Easter bunny book.  This is a book about creating hollowed out eggs, decorating them, and using these to decorate a tree.

For Further Exploration

  • They make these pumps that make hollowing out an egg far easier than pricking holes and trying to blow the eggs clean.  Buy one of these and try dying some hollowed out eggs for yourself.  Then paint them.  
  • Learn about Pysanky, another traditional form of egg decoration.
  • Study the Easter and Spring traditions of different cultures--from Passover to May Day, etc.  
  • Write a story about your own family's holiday traditions.  Don't forget to illustrate your story!
  • I was unable to find a recipe for the rabbit shaped cookie with the egg cooked in it.  If you find one, please share it in the comments.  
  • If you have the space and the inclination, why not have a year-round holiday tree and change the decorations with the different holidays.  Preferably, decorate with homemade ornaments the child(ren) can make on rainy days.

Monday, December 20, 2010

QOTD



What should a woman never wear after the age of 30?
Diapers

Rob was flipping channels and stopped on some talk show with Diane Von Furstenberg and Amy Sedaris.  The two were asked the same question and I simply loved Sedaris' response:  diapers.  Furstenberg said that there was nothing that a woman couldn't wear at any age as long as it looked attractive.  Both answers are good but I guffawed when I heard "diapers."

I have to say, I agree.

The Christmas Shoes by Donna VanLiere

The Christmas Shoes by Donna VanLiere is exactly what I expect a Christmas book to be.  Sentimental and emotional, full of Christian references, with just enough schmaltz to bring a tear to the eye.

Am I saying that this is a good book?  Well, it's not bad.  Would I recommend it?  Probably not.  The story shifts between a first person and third person point-of-view, which was mostly effective.  But there is one first person part where the narrator leaves his family behind and yet the reader hears all about what happens while the narrator is not there.  I lambasted another writer for doing this and I won't forgive VanLiere for doing the same thing.  It's careless and lazy.  I can understand something like this in a rough draft or even through a phase or two of revision but an editor or a really good writer should have caught this rather glaring impossibility and corrected it.

So if you really can't get enough of Christmas, have watched all of the holiday movies and need something to fill the holiday void, you might find this little book a good choice.  It isn't as bad as some but it could have been better.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Gift by Cecelia Ahern


The Gift by Cecelia Ahern is another of the holiday novels I’ve decided to give a try this year.  This one, thankfully, is not a romance novel.  Rather, this is the story of a man who is choosing his career over his family.  His narcissism is shattered when he reaches out to a homeless man who spirals the single act of altruism into a potential life change.

The main story is told within a story frame and I could have lived without the frame story.  It is unnecessary.  In my mind, it give the author a platform from which to pontificate.  If you don’t trust the moral theme of your story to shine through then revise it, don’t shove a lesson down the reader’s throat.

To be honest, the story is predictable and anyone who can’t guess how this is going to end is choosing to pretend it isn’t obvious.  Obvious can still be well handled and I have to concede that Ahern does manage to tell a decent story adequately.  Not a brilliant story but if you want a bit of holiday fluff that isn’t completely tedious to read, this might be a good choice.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Proof is in the Pudding

I've been complaining about the poor quality of editing in the Transformational Book Circle books I've been reading.  Here is an example from their edition of Siddhartha: An Indian Tale by Hermann Hesse which is why it is hard to appreciate the quality of the story because the frustration I feel at the editing is obviously associated with the editing as I'm reading along.

Anyway.  Enough.  Here's an example and perhaps you will agree or disagree with me.


“And do you, sir, intent to continue travelling without clothes?”
“Ah, most of all I wouldn’t want to continue travelling at all. Most of all I would like you, ferryman, to give me an old loincloth and kept me with you as your assistant, or rather as your trainee, for I’ll have to learn first how to handle the boat.”
For a long time, the ferryman looked at the stranger, searching.
“Now I recognise you,” he finally said.  “At one time, you’ve slept in my hut, this was a long time ago, possibly more than twenty years ago, and you’ve been ferried across the river by me, and we parted like good friends.  Haven’t you’ve been a Samana?  I can’t think of your name any more.”  (93)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Biggest Loser Blitz

At some point in the past, a friend and I watched The Biggest Loser for an entire season. I’d heard from others that the show is inspiring, that they thought I would find it fun to watch, etc.  So I finally broke down and watched it.  Unfortunately, I think I chose a season that was not the nicest one.  I ended up disliking more than one of the people on the program.  In fact, the only people I came away liking were the trainers and two of the competitors.  Everyone else . . . well, it doesn’t matter.  I suffered through the season and vowed never again.

(I want to interject here that it is absolutely intentional that I am not mentioned which season I watched because I really don’t like how I felt about the people on the show and I would rather not be asked whom I liked, disliked, etc.  It’s my little secret.  Well, mine and Rob’s and my friend’s anyway.

I should also interject that this post is going to be insanely long.  Go get a cup of tea or something and settle in for the ride.  I'm sharing reviews but also some of my thoughts and experiences.)

But like I said, I liked the trainers so I borrowed Jillian Michaels’ book, Master Your Metabolism: The 3 Diet Secrets to Naturally Balancing Your Hormones for a Hot and Healthy Body! from the public library and I can’t say that I loved it.  It’s good information and if you don’t know about portion control and how your body works, this is a resource you may need.  I didn’t really find anything new as far as inspiring information or new habits I must adopt.  I wasn’t disappointed.  I just wasn't blown away.

Yes, I had hoped for more.  Still, the advice is balanced and is not generic.  She is aware that what is true for some is not true for all and it is the reader's responsibility to know their own body, listen to it, and see a physician, etc.

(Interestingly enough, the friend with whom I watched the show didn’t lose any weight during the time we were holding one another accountable.  Then again, neither did I.  We are no longer friends, I guess.  I had repeatedly said that we should not celebrate my losing a pound or two until I had reached a certain weight loss goal.  However, every time I lost a pound, even though he had seen me regain that same five pounds for months at this point, he’d be woohoo-ing and acting like it was a major gain.  There was other evidence of his lack of sincere support in that I would specifically say “I need this” or “I do not need that” and I would get the opposite.  So I told him the accountability was not working for me and we should probably just stop working together as weight loss partners.  And I never heard from him again.  Ummmm . . . really?  I said, “I don’t want to continue this part of our friendship” I didn’t say, “Fuck off you fat asshole.”  I guess he misunderstood.)

I subscribe to various newsletters via my email and one of them is always lauding The Biggest Loser.  I had also tried some samples of the workouts on my cable service’s On Demand feature.  I was disappointed with Bob Harper’s yoga workout, The Biggest Loser:  Weight Loss Yoga, because it was not how I like my yoga.  I found his instructions unclear at times and I would rather just do my own morning practice than his.  I also sampled Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred and was very impressed with how challenging she can make a 20 minute workout.  I was dripping sweat!  Wow!


I figured I’d go ahead and read one of the Biggest Loser books and found that my library had The Biggest Loser: 6 Weeks to a Healthier You.  Color me surprised but I really think this is a good book.  I didn’t like any of the recipes.  I didn’t try them all but what I did try nobody liked so that part of the book was a disappointment.  I skipped the beginning part because it featured past competitors sharing their inspiring stories.  I figured that if I didn’t follow them through a season of the show, I probably wouldn’t know enough about them from a couple of pages to find their story inspiring.  (Rather like those magazines that have the one page before and after story of someone who lost weight with a sidebar about how she did it.  I just don’t find these things motivating.)

The exercise plan is where this book takes off.  It is a good plan, very slowly moving from easy to more challenging.  You begin with 20 minutes of cardio and build up to more, adding a couple of minutes every day or so.  After a week, you add strength training, and it includes a day off.  Can’t do a full 20 minutes of cardio?  The plan allows you to break the 20 minutes into shorter walks building up to a full 20 minutes at one time.  Albeit, I do 45 mins on the bike almost every day so I didn’t need to build up at all.

Sprinkled in with the daily recommendations is a training tip or motivational quote or story.  The diet is also easy to follow, even if you don’t like the recipes in the book.

It’s good.  It’s colorful.  It’s sexy.  I liked it more than I thought I would.

(Since I seem to be sharing my personal stories in the midst of this blitz review, I may as well interject another.  When I ended the one accountability relationship I did reach out to several other people suggesting that we get together and go out for walks.  I encouraged Rob to get into the habit of exercising daily.  He’s complained about losing strength but he’s since stopped mentioning it because after several false starts he realizes that he either needs to shit or get off the pot.  I guess he’s decided to just say nothing rather than have me look at him and say, “Okay.  So tomorrow morning we’ll start, right?”

Anyway, long story not getting shorter, nobody took me up on the offer.  Oh well.  I’m still here.  And yesterday when I met with Kanika over IHOP pancakes, I threw down the gauntlet.  We’ll do the 30 Day Shred workout together.  Woohoo!  Yay team!)

And because I liked the book more than I had thought I would, I decided to give the show another shot.  This season, although I don’t like everyone I don’t utterly dislike anyone.  In fact, I feel far more compassionate towards some of the contenders than I would have anticipated.  One person who was voted off early in the program was especially heartbreaking for me and one of the stronger contenders for this season continues to touch my heart week after week.

Am I inspired, however?  Not really.  I feel more like a cheerleader.  Am I more motivated to exercise?  Not really.  I am more motivated, however, to learn more about the people on the show, or so it would seem because I decided to read Ali Vincent’s book Believe It Be It:  How Being the Biggest Loser Won Me Back My Life.  Vincent is the first woman to win on this show and her weight loss was remarkable.  She is also featured in a lot of the Biggest Loser merchandise.  She’s the spokesperson for the meal replacement shakes that are sold under the umbrella of the program and she is used as the model for the exercises recommended in 30 Day Jump Start.

Her experience on the show is insightful more than inspirational.  Anyone who has watched the show for even one season knows that the workouts are intense.  The truth is, they are extreme and not even remotely safe for someone to try to do at home.  Vincent says that the workouts with the trainers last 3 hours.  Then, there is more exercise, not including the challenges.  Apparently, while on the ranch these people exercise 6-8 hours daily.  Sometimes they exercise 10 hours in a single day.  Is it any wonder they lose so many pounds week after week?  It is ridiculous and blatantly unhealthy.  But this book isn’t meant to be a “how to” book.  It’s meant to inspire.  If Vincent can do it, you can do it too, apparently.

I wasn’t inspired.  Oops.  What’s more, I was flat out disappointed.  About halfway through the book, Vincent begins sharing her own intention to give back to the community.  Her journey of weight loss is merely the beginning and she tells her readers how she is continuing her commitment to health by creating an organization that will help young people, especially young women, to learn healthy ways of living, including nutrition and exercise information.  Inspired to do this after learning that many schools have been forced to remove physical fitness courses due to budget cuts, Vincent apparently was not inspired enough to do something many other authors do.

Why, if this cause is so near and dear to her heart, is she not contributing her profits from the sale of this book to her own organization?  Having recently read a book by a best-selling author who contributed all of his profits to an organization that is not his own, I fully expected Vincent would do the same.  Of course, she’s not a best-selling author but she’s making some money with her speaking engagements and this is her organization.  I just don’t get it.  It probably doesn’t help that I recently read a book by an author whose name is not on the best-seller list and all of her profits were donated to a good cause.  Even a poorly written novel donates money to a good cause.

So color me highly disappointed by Vincent’s choice not to donate all of her profits from this book to her own organization.  I’m assuming that her story will inspire others, even if it didn’t inspire me.

(Kanika and I are back on the 30 Day Shred bandwagon.  However, when we tried it before we were in such agony the next few days that we couldn’t even get through it more than 2-3 times a month.  Not quite what either of us expected or wanted, especially since it forced me to stop doing anything else more than once and I would rather exercise every day than work so hard one day that I have to take 3-4 days off because my knee is hurting me so badly that I can barely do anything at all.  Sort of defeats the purpose, overtraining one day and not exercising at all for the next few days.  But the 30 Day Shred workout is nicely divided into 3 circuits so I told Kanika that I would begin doing the first circuit and, when I could do it comfortably, the second circuit until I was finally able to do the full 20 minutes of the dvd.  I challenged her to join me.  She took me up on my challenge which means now I have to follow through.  Oops.)

In spite of my blatant disappointment in Ali Vincent’s book, I am a glutton for punishment and chose to borrow another Biggest Loser themed book.

For obvious reasons, I decided to avoid another memoir and just chose another of the official biggest loser books.  This one, The Biggest Loser 30-Day Jump Start which, like the six week program reviewed above, is full of inspirational stories, mixed in with recipes and exercise suggestions.  I like this book as much as the other.  All the same good things, like the exercises being offered at different levels (beginner, intermediate, advanced), a few recipes (I found more that I wanted to try in this book than in the other), and still more inspirational stories.


Okay.  So I skipped the stories because I didn't find the few I skimmed so inspiring.  (Or, rather, they inspired me not to bother skimming them altogether, which I am confidently going to say is not what the editors intended.)  But each chapter in this book focuses on a different health concern related to obesity, beginning with diabetes and moving through heart disease, high cholesterol, etc.


But if you've watched the show then odds are you've noticed that the Biggest Loser franchise is prone to product placement and this book is no less guilty of pushing their agenda than the rest.  Do you really need a Biggest Loser food scale?  I mean, seriously.  Do you?  I mean, maybe you want to buy a couple of the dvds but do you also need to buy their exercise equipment kit?  My guess is that, if I bothered to look, one could buy Biggest Loser clothing and towels and . . .


And it is insulting enough to the intelligence of your audience to have the contestants sit down and talk about how wonderful this chewing gum is while spouting off statistics.  I suggest that instead of only finding obese contestants the producers start looking for obese actors to be on the show.  Then at least the product placement moments wouldn't be so obvious.  They would at least sound more natural, even if they were still rather obvious.


Rob and I did watch this most recent season of the show and we honestly enjoyed it.  We didn't dislike any of the contestants and I noticed that there seemed to be less hostility between the players, that they were sincerely more supportive of one another, even through the finale where one player was applauding another one whom he thought had beat him for the home weight loss prize.  As Rob said, the nice thing about the show is that the person who wins does so because of what they do.  Admittedly, there is some game playing, some strategizing.  Some strong players get voted off towards the middle of the season because they are an obvious threat allowing some weaker players to stay on the ranch longer.  (Oh, and in case you missed the product placement, you too can go to the ranch for a holiday.  It's not the same ranch and you won't have Jillian yelling at you to do ten more minutes or have Bob gently urging you to give it ten more times, but you can go to a ranch and presumably lose some weight.  I haven't looked at the cost but I'd imagine it isn't cheap.  And how much longer before they start training people in different parts of the country so they can open new ranches where you, yes you, can lose weight like the people on the show do . . . after you buy some Biggest Loser protein powder, Laughing Cow cheese, and Extra sugar free gum, that is.  *sigh*)

Inspirational?  I admit that there were times I felt a deep compassion for the contestants.  For fun I pulled out my step and tried to do 500 steps since this was a challenge that actually caused one person to collapse.  I did it without collapsing and the next day didn't feel a great deal of tightness.

I think the show sets up ridiculous expectations and shows weight loss at its most vulgar.  I know that they aren't encouraging people to exercise until they throw up but it's hard not to watch and think, "If this is what it takes to lose weight then no wonder I'm not able to lose this weight."  The books give lip service to how the numbers we the viewers see are not realistic, warning that the contestants have access to 24/7 medical care, etc.

But you know, when the emotions are stirred, intellect flies out the window.  And the producers know this too.  So they inspire you (or, if you want to be brutally honest with yourself, they manipulate you) into feeling for or with the contestant and then, when you see them doing something you know is dangerous in any other context, the emotional connection over-rules the rational wisdom.  This is why intelligent people fall in love with someone who is clearly not a candidate for a healthy relationship and stay in the relationship long after every red flag has been raised and waved.

So is it any wonder this show is a success?  Seduce with emotions and then put people through a diet and exercise program that is not actually healthy and then put warning labels on your products about medical supervision and "don't try this at home, kids" but . . . just in case you do want to try this at home let's sell you as much as we can and get every penny out of you because the diet industry, as we all know, is worth billions.

The problem here is . . . do you buy Biggest Loser protein powder or Jillian Michaels' protein powder?  Or do you go to the ranch or join Jillian on a cruise?  Never fear, oh intrepid Biggest Loser watcher, she will be leaving the show after next season and you can just sit back and let Biggest Loser endorse their asses off while you, hopefully, are doing something to lose yours.

As for me and mine . . . I'm not buying any of the books and I doubt we'll watch another season.  Rob and I liked this past season but we both agree that what we liked is the camaraderie between the contestants, something I did not see in the previous season and which I suspect is the exception and not the rule.