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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What I've been reading...

Walking the Bible...

Bruce Feiler's inspiring story of how he retraced the steps and revisited the sites in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). Feiler was Jewish (ethnically, not religiously) when he began his journey, but it doesn't take him long to be affected by the land and its inherent spirituality.

He also learns quickly that many of the sites mentioned in the Bible can't be pinpointed, despite traditional identifications that are associated with some of the locations. He then learns that this does not really matter. You can still learn the lesson, become emotionally connected and have a fantastic experience even if you're not standing on the exact spot that Moses was found by the Nile.

I don't agree with all of his opinions, but he has a lot of valuable insights and draws connections I've never noticed in these familiar stories. He also ignited an interest in me of visiting the area, so that trip is going on the good ol' bucket list.

Part of the reason I enjoyed it so much, too, is that I've been reading the Bible in 90 days with my church, so I was reading through the books as I was reading Feiler's commentary on them. {That challenge is another post for another day.}

Meanwhile, I was excited to see there is a PBS-produced DVD and, from his website, that Feiler has written several other books. The joy continues! Yippee!

Also, don't forget to enter my January giveaway if you're interested. I'll choose the winner on Monday.

Monday, January 25, 2010

January Giveaway

OK, this is my first one, so I'm kind of easing into the giveaway game here. :)

We'll keep it simple. Just leave a comment if you want to win. I'll do a randomizer thingy, and I'll announce the winner next Monday.

What will you win?
  • Gifts of War by Mackenzie Ford (starting off with a book I won a few months ago)
  • A bookmark, made lovingly by your friends at NorrisCreations :)
  • Joe T. Garcia's salsa, a Fort Worth favorite
  • And a few other little gifts thrown in for good measure

Good luck!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chris Dreams Big

Chris Dreams Big by Chris Dudley and Chris Love-Dudley

NBA player Chris Dudley has taken a shot at writing a children's book. {sorry...pun intended}

Chris Dreams Big tells Dudley's story of his struggle with juvenile diabetes. He shows kids how he worked through his challenges and decided to keep playing basketball. It's an encouraging picture book with fantastic illustrations by Karl Edwards.

My favorite part is when he shows how big his hands and feet grew. Actual sizes are included in the book in cool two-page spreads. And, I'm not gonna lie, I measured mine against his. It was cool.

It was a fun book with a great message, and it's always nice to see a sports figure stepping up to be a role model for kids. For more information about Dudley, you can check out his website.

How to Train a Rock

How to Train a Rock by Paul Steven Stone

This collection of "short insights and fiction flights" reads much like your average local weekly newspaper column...written by your better-than-average local newspaper writer.

Paul Steven Stone is insightful, thought-provoking and witty, and he effectively uses the length of his columns (for lack of a better term) to tell a story or just to produce a quick laugh.

He has included short stories like Pretty White Gloves, telling you just enough of one man's day to make you wonder what will happen to him as the story ends.

His tongue sits in silence behind crusted chapped lips and chattering teeth while half-shut eyes follow pedestrians fleeing from the bitter cold and his outstretched cup.

Then there are the sales pitches.

If you or anyone you know has been wrongfully murdered, been born with an unfair handicap...or been victimized by an act of may be in line for a huge financial settlement.

The other 50 or so columns also include wit and sentiment, politics and even a little religion. They're easy to read not only because they're short, but also because they're just plain good.

For more information about Stone or his writing, check out his blog.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Winter Gardens

Another of our resolutions this year is to continue to take advantage of DFW attractions. We did a pretty good job of getting out and around the metroplex last year, but we want to step it up this year. And do a better job of documenting it. :)

One of our favorite places is the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. But we've always been there in the spring/early summer. This year, I want to see it during all four seasons.

It was definitely more brown and gray during the winter but still really lovely...and quiet...

There were a few bursts of color...

And one lone leaf hanging on this tree...

I got trapped by some of the tangled vines...

And we continued the silliness with the stones that looked like a footpath...

I couldn't resist getting a couple of shots of other people who were enjoying the serenity as well. Jason had to look the other way because he didn't approve. I say it's public property. ;)

This tree looked perfect for climbing, but I refrained. I did forget where we were and picked a dandelion. {Just one!}

Tree hugger. :)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Three New Year Changes...and one to grow on

Happy {belated} New Year! I hope 2010 is off to a great start for everyone.

With the New Year, I'm making a few changes around the ol' blog. Three, to be precise.

1. Let's start with the happiest. Giveaways. :) I've been inspired by several of you who do regular giveaways on your blogs, so I'm going to be doing one a month here in 2010. More specifics to come on this (especially since we're almost halfway through January), but each giveaway will include a book and a few other fun items.

2. Writing Mondays. My husband (who is in his last semester of his master's program--yippee!) will have a class on Monday nights in the spring. I was thrilled with this opportunity of three solid hours of introvert time, and my mind started racing through the possibilities of what I could do with my solo Monday nights: chick flicks, shopping sprees, sleep (tempting, that one). But I kept coming back to writing. I'm not sure what form this writing will take--creative, freelance, random musings--or if I'll be sharing all of it here (especially the creative stuff...*blush*). But I will be writing something on Mondays. And blogging doesn't count. ;)

3. I'm cutting back on review books....sort of. For almost two years now, I've been thrilled to receive books from publishers in exchange for reviewing them on the blog. I've discovered some wonderful new authors and titles, but it's time for a change. Reviewing is starting to feel more like a job than a pleasure. I really want to continue recommending and discussing books with you all, but I don't want to continue to "hire out" to do this. I still have quite a stack of to-review books, so my new policy won't take effect immediately. I'm also still willing to hear from and accept books from publishers; it just won't be nearly as frequent as it has been.

So, that's it. Oh, the one to grow on! I turned 30 last month (groan), so one of my corny New Year's resolutions was to visit 30 libraries this year. {The corny stuff...that's just how I roll.} I'll be charting my progress in a little list over to the right and blogging about the more interesting ones.

Here's a picture of me in front of the door to a library that's connected to a coffee shop. The door is painted to look like the coffee shop on the other side. {Brilliant}

Two down...28 to go.

Destination: Health

OK, first up on the New Year's destinations is my health. When you're officially an old folk, you have to think about such things. ;)

Working out and dieting are no longer just about getting skinny (although it's often a nice perk). It's sobering to realize that, thanks to heart disease and cancer, my two grandfathers didn't make it out of their 30s (or much may have been in his early 40s, but I can't remember for sure...still scary).

So I've been taking a look at what we eat and why we eat it. During the last year, we've already cut out a lot of meat and a lot of sodium, and, conversely, we've pumped up the fruits and veggies. We've also been trying to eat more locally grown food. Mostly just be more purposeful about our meals.

All of these good efforts came to a crashing halt in December. Between parties, leftovers, gifts and traveling, we ended up eating just about whatever we wanted. And I didn't work out. At all. For the whole month. Now I'm feeling the effects (and, boy, do I see them)!

It's amazing to me how much maintenance is required in grown-up life: houses, cars, dogs, computers, even pianos...they're not just purchased and forever enjoyed in that original state. Oil changes, shots, software upgrades, tuning...things like this have to be constantly maintained. And, of course, our bodies are no different.

So we're getting back to maintaining our healthy living.

Here are a few of our associated goals:
  • Don't blow it on special occasions. Enjoy birthdays, anniversaries, weekends ;) ...but still make responsible choices.
  • Work out six days a week. I had a great first week of January, but it's been a bit more difficult this week since Jason wasn't in school. When he's home, it's tempting for me to go straight home from work and have dinner instead of working out first. And it's reallyreallyreally hard for me to get back out after dinner and hit the treadmill.
  • Even though it's not all about being skinny, I still have some inches I'm wanting to shave off. (We don't have scales, so I think in terms of inches rather than pounds.) In keeping with this whole accountability thing, I've put a hokey little picture over to the right, so you can watch my progress.
  • Floss every night. Finally, an easy one that is actually going quite well. :)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Adventures of Snip in Oregon

The Adventures of Snip in Oregon by Betty Moir

Snip is a big, black-and-white, shaggy dog who loves to tag along on his family's adventures. His adventures are not extraordinary, but they are special to him and to the three children who accompany him.

Snip's stories are well-told and sweet--perfect for small children. And I thought it was a great idea to use both drawings and vintage photographs as illustrations in the book. I do wish there had been illustrations on every page, especially considering the audience.

Snip might not become as well-known as Harry the Dirty Dog or even Poor Puppy (Bad Kitty's frenemy), but he will give you and your children a smile and a soft spot in your heart.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Reason #324 of Why We're Not Sure About Having Kids

Jason and I had fried chicken for supper Sunday night.

Monday morning, I securely bagged and tied up the garbage (or so I thought), but Fred attacked and helped himself to the leftovers.

Then last night, the chicken attacked him right back.

He was up sick at midnight, whining and dancing around and asking to go out. I only halfway emerged into consciousness, so Jason took one for the team and took him outside to let him do his business. But the interruption still disturbed my sleep, which makes me angrier than just about anything else in the world. (I can't help that I like my sleep.) :)

The whining and dancing started again at 3 a.m., but neither one of us woke as easily. So Fred started pawing at my leg, then my arm, then resorted to head-butting me. (Poor guy...he really was sick.)

But at the head-butt point, I had had enough. I looked at him and screamed, "GAH...JUST POOP IN THE FLOOR."

That's when Jason sighed, got up again and took him out...again.

At least I took the 5 a.m. outing.

I think I would be OK to have kids if I could also get a guarantee that they would immediately sleep through the night. On the other hand, I think kids might be worth the lost sleep if they're as funny as Fred. After his Monday morning feast, he brought the remains of a chicken breast into the bedroom, dropped them right beside Jason's pillow and grinned. Hilarious.

The Fun Minute Manager

The Fun Minute Manager by Bob Pike, Robert Ford and John Newstrom.

Bob's office is no fun. Sure, he likes his work and the people he manages, but there is a pervading atmosphere of grouchiness. After observing the more positive workplace experiences of friends and hearing a motivational speaker discuss making work more fun, Bob decides to make some changes.

Written in a novel format (a little more fun that way), The Fun Minute Manager still works in plenty of research, situations different managers might face and potential pitfalls. The writers also include helpful insights at the end of each chapter.

Since becoming a manager two years ago, I've read as much as I can about management, but this is the first book I've seen specifically geared toward how to create a more fun environment at work. And, despite a few campy moments, the book has me sold on the idea!

It's a great resource for managers and will now have a home on my professional development shelf.

Monday, January 11, 2010

New Year's Destinations

My great-aunt (and mentor) and I were recently wishing each other a happy new year and discussing resolutions. She mentioned that she doesn't really make resolutions but instead prefers to think of destinations--places she'd like for her life to go in the next year. {See why she's my mentor?}

I do like making resolutions and feeling as if I have a fresh start each January, but I think I like the idea of life destinations even better...especially now that I've turned *sigh* 30. I really am starting to make my peace with it, but I still don't like the idea of being 30. Sounds so grown-up, no?

Anyway, I did this a little bit last year and made some improvements. But I needed to refocus, take stock of last year's goals and set some more destinations for this 30th year.

So I'll be talking about some of these during this year, maybe being a bit more introspective than I normally am, and hoping for some accountability via the ol' blog. This is a little new for me, but I'm opening up--feel free to make suggestions or criticisms (constructive ones, please), or just read along.

I've broken the 30 destinations down into six main categories (because that's just how I roll):

  • Spirituality
  • Responsibility
  • Creativity
  • Relationships
  • Physical
  • Fun
Confession--I really wanted them all to have -ity endings, but it felt a little forced. ;)

I will say things are off to a lovely (but not perfect) start; although, I'm not going to dive in any further today (too sleepy). But there's a little preview of what's coming.

Happy 2010 (I'm a twenty-ten-er, btw...not two-thousand-ten).

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Passeggiata: Strolling Through Italy

Passeggiata: Strolling Through Italy by G. G. Husak

My first and only visit to Italy came when I was 16 years old. A group of my high school friends and I (led by a couple of very brave teachers) did a whirlwind tour, hitting Milan, Florence, Venice, Rome, Naples and Sorrento in about two weeks.

It was an amazing trip, an opportunity for which I'm incredibly thankful, but I have only vague impressions of memories--few concrete moments, scenes and places I can firmly recall, even when I browse through my scrapbook of the visit.

Contrastingly, G.G. Husak and her husband have been making annual pilgrimages to Italy for more than 15 years. Their trips are more focused, less whirlwind, more thoughtful and, it seems, more memorable, judging from the level of detail in her book.

Husak takes her title from the Italian tradition of the passeggiata, "a community experience that takes place before and sometimes after dinner...the evening ritual of strolling walks."

And her book is, indeed, a stroll through their passeggiata-style travels.

We were learning to apply the spirit of the passeggiata to all of our traveling. Rather than focusing on goals and activity, we started to enjoy ourselves more as we learned to pay more attention to the life that was always going on around us.

She takes her time describing scenes, impressions, cities, art. It is a somewhat slow-paced book, but this is not a bad thing. One of the themes of the book is Italy's different, slower-paced rhythms of life. To rush through the descriptions or condense their travels into fewer pages (the book is about 350) would somehow seem inappropriate.

She describes the simple joys of soaking in the afternoon sun while sitting on church steps or people-watching in a crowded piazza. We read about their hikes to small, mountaintop towns and their pleasure at learning to navigate Italy's transit systems. And, through it all, you find the Italian way of life.

They simply enjoy the companionship of bonding with their community, understanding that the most important part of a social experience is not the show or the food or the music, but the people.

In the book, Husak quietly teaches without being didactic. Her humor is quiet as well, more likely to produce a chuckle than a full-out laugh. This, too, fits her setting.

After a while we began to really notice what quiet is, what an amazing change being in a truly quiet environment is and how seldom, if ever, we experience it...gradually, in Venice, we let ourselves go in the quietness of the back alleyways of the neighborhoods and relaxed into the gentle silence.

Passeggiata is well-written, charming and somehow familiar, as if a favorite aunt were describing her latest vacation. And, perhaps most importantly, it makes me want to return to Italy. Only this time, I would go passeggiata-style, where I can enjoy the walk as much as the destination.

Meanwhile, for Husak's American thoughts, you can find her at Bringing Italy Home.

Other favorite quotes...

We learned...that a double means twin beds and for a double bed we need a "matrimoniale," a bed for married couples. It's a musical word, and I liked hearing this expression at this stage of our journey. It reinforced the idea of marriage as sharing a way of living. And it also explained why whenever I asked for a double room we always got twin beds.

From our first trips, I have known that our versions of Italy, our sense of the place and of its people, is colored by a romantic notion. This is after all our Italy, not an objective view based on factual research or authentic cultural experience justified by having lived there for years. We are not Italians and not experts on their culture, but only on our subjective experience of it. But our experiences have formed in us consistent impressions.

Fewer options keep life simpler and encourage a more mindful enjoyment of one's choice.

We become Italian in spirit and in heart, and less our individual selves, as we happily merge with the culture and enjoy the energy of the present moment. We become one or two among the many in the flow of humanity in the streets and through history. Not just in the crowds walking along the streets but the long passeggiata of the past to the present, the ancients to modern life.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

In December, we...

oohed and aahed over downtown Fort Worth...

did not take a $30 carriage ride...

(I assume the ghost ride was the same price...)

hung out with good friends...{My best pal Shelley and I got a better pic, but I like the ghosty look of this one, too}...

went home to Alabama for my 30th...

and celebrated where an adult can be a kid...

{Sorry about the bird there in that last photo...Jason photoshopped it for me, but I can't find the edited one.}

In December, we also...

got Fred a blowout...{It's hard to tell from this picture, but he was super fluff--almost like a show puppy. I was so proud.}

visited our sweet home Tuscaloosa...

discovered a charming coffee shop (the Faithful Cup in Sheffield for you Shoals folks)...

enjoyed playing with Santa Bichon...
{He also got a Snuggie...hilarious.}
got this fun little thing...

had a white Christmas...
{What, you can't see the flurries? How about in this one?}
{Me neither. That's why I finally resigned to taking this...}
{It was still cool to see snow on Christmas...even though it didn't stick. :)}
and ate. A lot. A lot a lot. Between holiday parties, birthday freebies (like this one at Baskin Robbins) and the trip home, I'm pretty sure I picked up my holiday five...or ten.

More to come on fixing that problem in future posts. Along with thoughts on my 30th.
Meanwhile, how's the New Year treating you so far?

Read from the beginning...