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In the language of flowers, lily of the valley signifies the return to happiness.

It’s about time.

I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.  The first of these came as a terrible shock, and like anything that changes you forever, split my life into halves: Before and After.

-Jacob Portman (Ransom Riggs)

Reeling from the mysterious events surrounding his grandfather’s tragic death, 16-year-old Jacob Portman sets off to learn more about of his grandfather’s  life, the strange photographs he kept, and the fanciful stories he told about them. Jacob’s journey takes him to an abandoned orphanage on a remote island where a secret world hides beneath the ruins of the bombed-out wreckage.

We cling to our fairy tales until the price for believing them becomes too high.

–Jacob Portman

As soon as I turned the last page of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children on Sunday afternoon, I ran to the bookstore to buy the next book in the series. This is Ransom Riggs’s first novel and it is  riveting. Riggs has woven a story around the strange and creepy vintage photographs he collected from flea markets over the years, some of which are published in the book as characters and scenes. The pictures alone are worth the book’s cover price.

Though categorized as “young-adult fiction,” consider yourself forewarned, there is a significant amount of dark and violent topics touched on in the pages, including the Holocaust, bomb raids, murder, animal slaughter, animation of the dead, and slightly less scary non-human monsters of the sharp teeth and tentacled sort. In fact, there was a certain point, about mid-way through, when it began giving me nightmares, so maybe it’s not the best bedtime story. But it is a story worth reading.

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

A young friend recently introduced me to this book, which is required reading in a local high school curriculum.  I was really not in the mood to read this sort of thing at the time, but once I started it, I was hooked. Drawing from sources in neuroscience, philosophy, history, and literature, Carr proposes that technology steadily alters our patterns of thinking. Our use of the Internet in particular is rewiring our brains in the areas of working memory, long-term memory, attention, and comprehension.  In a nutshell, the process goes something like this: with the abundance of information in hypertext links, posts, updates, emails, ads, crawls, and flippers, and various other pings, and dings that we’re multitasking,  our  concentration becomes fragmented, which overloads working memory, which causes information to not be processed deeply enough to find its way into long-term memory, which interferes with comprehension. So our brains get really busy and excited when immersed in electronic media, but not  in a way that promotes contemplation and comprehension.  Sustained attention is necessary to forge those deeper links.

The chapter on memory was my favorite — well-researched and simply explained.  The ideas raise all sorts of interesting questions.  What are the long-term consequences of outsourcing our cognition to machines – on an individual and societal level?

Will habitual use of electronic media, particularly among children, erode the desire, or even the ability, to develop sustained attention? Being in schools and classrooms across districts everyday of the week I see more and more “smart” technology being implemented in classrooms at earlier and earlier ages.  Given the hand-brain-cognition connection (see Levin’s book The Hand for a comprehensive review of that topic) do preschoolers really need to have more iPads instead of 3-dimensional toys to manipulate with their hands? What are the gains and are they worth the cost?

Shimmy Mob donation class 2016

Buried beneath warm blankets, in the quiet shifting shadows just before sunrise, there arises an urgent need to share…

Me: Ostriches look like they have a lot of pent up anger with no adequate means to express it.

Him: That’s what you’re thinking?

 

Make a spark, break the dark
Find a light with me
Who we are chasing stars
Won’t you dance with me?

“Lose It”
Downtown we let it go
Sunset high and our bodies low
Blood rush in the hazy glow
My hands, your bones

 Loose up we break the scene
One step deep as you fall to me
Heart clap, we skip a beat
Count one two three

And don’t you stop the music
Get into it
Won’t you dance with me?

Find a place and lose it
You can do it
Won’t you dance with me?

Move your feet and feel it in the space between
You gotta give yourself a moment, let your body be
We gotta lose it
We gotta lose it

Lose it
Lose it
Lose it
We gotta lose it
Lose it
Lose it
Lose it
We gotta lose it

Your name I’ll never know
As we get down in the world below
Caught up in an overflow
My hands, your bones

Wide eyed, you look at me
Set on fire in a silver dream
Spin round you can feel the breeze
Count one, two, three

And don’t you stop the music
Get into it
Won’t you dance with me?

Find a place and lose it
You can do it
Won’t you dance with me?

Move your feet and feel it in the space between
You gotta give yourself a moment, let your body be
We gotta lose it
We gotta lose it

Lose it
Lose it
Lose it
We gotta lose it
Lose it
Lose it
Lose it
We gotta lose it

Make a spark, break the dark
Find a light with me
Who we are from the start
Won’t you dance with me?

Make a spark, break the dark
Find a light with me
Who we are chasing stars
Won’t you dance with me?
Won’t you dance with me?

And don’t you stop the music
Get into it
Won’t you dance with me?

Find a place and lose it
You can do it
Won’t you dance with me?

Move your feet and feel it in the space between
You gotta give yourself a moment, let your body be
We gotta lose it
We gotta lose it

Lose it
Lose it
Lose it
We gotta lose it
Lose it
Lose it
Lose it
We gotta lose it

Lose it
Lose it
Lose it
We gotta lose it
Lose it
Lose it
Lose it
We gotta lose it

Move your feet and feel it in the space between
You gotta give yourself a moment, let your body be
We gotta lose it
We gotta lose it

2015…WTF?  I have never been so glad to leave a year behind me in all my life.  I wish I could say I came out of it all stronger or braver or with more compassion or wisdom or something. But right now in reflection of the year as a whole, “WTF?” is all I got.

December started out pretty rough, but the last two weeks were a wonderful balance between alone time and family time. There was plenty of time to recap the year and to chart the course for 2016.  I made good progress on all the resolutions.  I’ll spare you the boring stats. You’re welcome.

 

 

Back in July we got a couple of new hens.

Hobbit (left) was named for the feathered feet.  Chicken Little (right) was named for her catastrophic reactions to treats being dropped on her head.  By “treats” I mean spinach stems or strawberry caps – nothing at all that should cause a concussion or “end of the world” behavior.   Hobbit would *always* be the first to snatch up the treat. This would instantly send Chicken Little into “the sky is falling” mode, in which she would chase Hobbit around the cage in a panic, all the while peeping frantically. Hobbit wouldn’t even eat the snack at first, preferring instead to run around with it taunting Chicken Little.  If I dropped another treat in for Chicken Little, Hobbit would drop the first treat, snatch up the second treat and take off running with it.  Rather than taking Hobbit’s discarded treat, Chicken Little would act like it didn’t exist at all and continue her incessant peeping and chasing.

The silly little birds grew and grew and it quickly became evident that they were nothing like the dignified Myrtle, Pearl, and Gertrude, or even crazy Freebird. These two chicks were friendly and more than a little nuts. They’d practically jump in our pockets each time we opened the door to their cage.

At some point Chicken Little stopped growing, but Hobbit kept getting bigger and then began developing iridescent greenish black feathers like a peacock.  I was in denial for a long time even though the evidence was before my eyes.  The day after Christmas when we opened the back door to let Moon Pie out for her morning routine, our little Hobbit announced to the world his manhood with a “COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO!!”

Hobbit

Hobbit demanding a close-up and Chicken Little in the background

The links I’ve included in the titles refer back to previous blog entries on the books or topics.

 

1. The Storyteller, Jodi Picoult

There are at least three stories embedded in The Storyteller: The individual and interwoven stories of Sage, a baker, and her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. There’s also an intriguing fairytale interlaid between the two.  On the whole, it’s masterfully written — an intricate work that is simultaneously beautiful and horrific. It’s hard to leave a Picoult novel without feeling jarred.

2. Plain Truth, Jodi Picoult

A newborn baby is found dead in a barn in an Amish community. Jarring already, and that’s just the beginning. A secret teen-age pregnancy, lawyers, cops, and…ghosts? …and ghost hunters?  Somehow it all seems plausible.

I did not like the ending. I saw it coming and I did not want to go there, but we went anyway.  Oh well.  I still loved the Amish world.  I could live there, sans the murder, drama, and ghosts.

3. The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins

Dawkins describes at length all the irrationality inherent in the belief in God and warns of the danger of such beliefs. I enjoyed reading the science in this book, not so much the theology.  The haughty “voice” he writes in is a bit distracting, especially when he’s unnecessarily churlish, which he so often is. He could dial it down a notch and still get his points across.

 

4. Push Comes to Shove, Twyla Tharp

A life devoted to dance —  I got to live vicariously through Twyla’s autobiography.  It was an engaging and fun read.

5. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic was fluffy and sweet like cotton candy. It was the complete antithesis to Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art.  I prefer Gilbert’s metaphors to describe her relationship with  creativity  better than Pressfield’s. I’ll take the fairies and magic version any day over the bleeding and tortured artist-warrior.

 

6. Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much, Tony Crabbe

I’ve had a lot of busy in the last year, so I definitely needed the tips and reminders on how to deal with it. Specifically, the shift to managing attention instead of time was good advice. Also, I needed the reminder to “practice the pause.”

 

7. The Art of Doing Nothing: Simple Ways to Make Time for Yourself,  Veronique Vienne

This book was a gift from El-D.  He knows me so well.:) Again, another good reminder.

 

8. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain

Gee, notice a theme in the last three books?  Yeah, I read this one at the least quiet time in my entire life. Cain taught me why introversion is my superpower and why I need to appreciate that gift and protect it. Lesson learned.

 

9. Gabriel’s Inferno, Sylvia Reynard

I didn’t particularly like this book. I am not a fan of the romance genre. Both the heroine and the hero annoyed me. The professor-student love affair was creepy. However, there was a superficial smattering of Dante stuff embedded in the story that interested me and kept me reading.

 

10. The Inferno, Dante Alighieri

I figured I’d just go to the source himself – Dante – to see what the fuss was about.  This read was research for a choreography composed earlier this year.

11. Whatever After: Bad Hair Day, Sarah Mylnowki

This the fifth book in a series, but the first one that I’ve read. Each book centers on a different fairytale that gets thoroughly messed up after a brother and sister enter the fairytale world through a magic mirror. This particular book was Rapunzel’s story.

I read it over the summer with a couple young friends. Cute, safe kid-lit.

 

12. Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Saenz

This is a young adult novel that features a coming-of-age love story with homosexual themes. It has received a lot of awards, which is baffling and which probably has more to do with the zeitgeist than the story’s merit.  It wasn’t terrible. But it also wasn’t great, especially considering the next book I read…

13. everyday, David Levithan

Everyday was also intended for the young adult audience. It handled gender and identity issues in a very intelligent and creative way. I loved the story and finished it nearly in one marathon sitting. I would have given the awards to this one personally.

 



14. Naked, David Sedaris

David Sedaris, hysterical as always.

15. Furiously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things, Jenny Lawson

Another memoir from the author of Let’s Pretend this Never Happened. This one focuses on dealing with mental illness.  It was a quick read.

16. The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project is a memoir chronicling a year’s worth of resolutions that Rubin made to create more happiness into her life. It was aggravating and inspiring in equal measure.  After reading it I finally got around to setting up my 2015 resolutions/goals (in July). I’ve been tracking progress on these goals on a daily basis and summarizing the results monthly. OCD, I know. Earlier this week I read that people who write down their goals are nine times more likely to accomplish them than people who do not.  I can attest that writing out my goals down has helped, but a system of tracking them has been even more beneficial.  So, in the final analysis, this was probably one of the more life-changing books I read this year.

 

17. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell uses stories, examples, and data to uncover the strengths hidden inside what appear to be disadvantages. Chapter 5 alone is worth the price of the book.  It details the life and work of Emil “Jay” Freireich, a physician who helped develop a successful treatment for  Leukemia.

18. Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage it Takes to Create a  Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit, Parker Palmer

It’s become my habit to read at least one Parker Palmer book a year to renew my faith in myself and in humanity. He never disappoints.

19. Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, Piper Kerman

Another memoir. Aside from the backstory, it’s quite different from the Orange TV series. Piper is front and center in the book.  The other women steal the show on TV. Both good in their own way.

 

20. The Circle, Dave Eggers

The Circle is a story about the unimaginable evil lurking in dark corners of the world’s most powerful Internet company. It was so very different from Dave Eggers’ memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.  The writing style was very dry and on the surface the story seemed shallow, but underneath it was scary as hell. I highly recommend this one.

 

21. The Midnight Witch, Paula Brackston

I rang in October with some witchy reading.  All three of Brackston’s books were perfect for the month. The Midnight Witch is about a secret coven of necromancers who mingle in high society of Edwardian England. The young Head Witch, Lilith, who governs the coven creates all sorts of drama when she falls in love with a mere mortal.

22. The Winter Witch, Paula Brackston

Morgana is our witch in this story. She doesn’t speak, which makes her all the more endearing. She is married off to a man she just met and is whisked away to live at his home. There’s a powerful old  witch there who has her own agenda for Morgana’s husband and his land.

23. The Witch’s Daughter, Paula Brackston

The story of the hedge witch Elizabeth spans nearly 400 years.  A mean old warlock has been stalking her for centuries. I won’t tell you why.

24. Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life, Judith Hanson Lasater

This year’s reading list was heavy with dark themes and I really needed to end the year on a positive note. This was a good book for that. Each chapter was devoted to practical application of yogic philosophy, with topics like Compassion, Truth, Love, Patience, Relaxation, and Courage. Lots to work on here.

 

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