Saturday, September 26, 2020

Get a Smile, Give a Smile

Living in the country, we've had our share of mailbox woes. Kids sometimes play mailbox baseball. Most of the time, however, we lose our mailbox to the snow plows. When we first moved here John posed the problem to a handyman who used to tackle odd jobs for us. I don't believe he ran his idea by us first. He simply erected a large pole around the mailbox. It was an embarrassing eye-sore that we removed.

If only we'd hired someone creative. I passed this mailbox man the other day and it brought a huge smile to my face:

What a way to solve the problem! I did some research. Turns out this little invention is the brain child of Floridian Scott Gerber (see this article on a welding magazine site). He calls his tubular creations "tube dudes" and they not only hold mailboxes but also serve other functions (besides simply spreading cheer). If you are interested, you can place an order at Tube Dude. Products range from my favorite, the mini sitting and reading (for $350), to an elaborate snailfish mailbox ($2,500). If money dropped from the sky, I'd happily spend a thousand dollars or so to bring smiles to my neighbors' faces.

I do have an effortless way you can give a smile today. My son's internship employer, Morning Dove Therapeutic Riding Center, has been selected for the 2020 Breeders Crown Charity Challenge. You can go to the Harrah's Hoosier Park Racing and Casino page to cast a vote for Julia (her selected charity is Morning Dove). The facility is a peaceful oasis (I get computer work done outdoors next to the horse pastures while Trevor cleans stalls). They provide great therapy riding for individuals with disabilities. If you watch the WTHR 13 morning news someday this week, you might even see Trevor working in the background. They came to the ranch to shoot video footage this past week. Please give a smile by casting your vote today!

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Book Review: The Next Great Paulie Fink

I often return to authors whose books have made it to my top ten countdown at the end of the year. In 2017, one of my favorite middle grade books was Ali Benjamin's The Thing About Jellyfish. It is a debut novel I still highly recommended! Noting the author's name, I snagged The Next Great Paulie Fink off the shelves. It took a while to get into this one, but it was another excellent example of writing sure to appeal to more than just middle-schoolers.

Typical middle school angst with a unique twist: Caitlyn Breen is the new girl at school. Her primary difficulty isn't in being new, but rather in feeling like she cannot replace the individual the other students were expecting to walk through the door, Paulie Fink. So where is Paulie Fink? Who was Paulie Fink? Why does he have such a dramatic following? If she can't fill his shoes, then who can?

Benjamin has a knack for including scientific and philosophical tid-bits surreptitiously. I'm sure young people don't even realize how much they are learning in the process. Initially it wasn't compelling enough because I didn't care about the unknown Paulie Fink. But, it was well-worth slogging through the preparation for not only the big reveal but also for the heart of the conflict when the protagonist realizes she doesn't want to leave her difficult new home. As Caitlyn discovers who she is in this crazy equation, she also discovers much about the difficulties of fully knowing another individual. So, amid discussions about Greek philosophers and tending to kindergartners and goats, a bigger picture develops. I finished the book with the rare tender feeling I get in my chest when a book triggers deeper thought and emotional truth than I expected. This book is an excellent follow-up to Benjamin's debut smash.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Book Review: The Gift of Forgiveness

If you want a reminder to count your blessings, just step into someone else's shoes a time or two and you will recognize your gifts anew. That's what happened when I completed Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt's book, The Gift of Forgiveness: Inspiring Stories from Those Who Have Overcome the Unforgivable. With each story in this book, my personal woes shrunk by comparison. I have so much to thank God for, yet too often I allow little things to impede articulating my gratitude.

Kidnapping, murder, rape, suicide. These are truly harrowing examples of obstacles others face. Although I don't think my personal attitudes about forgiveness shifted, the book reinforced the need for forgiveness. Basically, resentment is a soul-sucker. You remain imprisoned, clinging to your perspective. Far better to forgive offenses and move on, throwing the key to that prison away. As the author pointed out, the gift of forgiveness is not something you give the offender, but rather something you give yourself to obtain freedom from the burden.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Book Review: Ripley's Believe It or Not! Sideshow and Other Carnival Curiosities

This brand new colorful coffee-table book came in at my library just as I was finishing the audio book on the life of Robert L. Ripley. The photography is stunning and the stories are fascinating. Why are we drawn with such intensity to stories of the unusual, the different, the unlikely? I felt sorry for several of these individuals who certainly didn't ask to be born with the unique traits that made them freaks in society. Several were exploited shamelessly, uprooted from their homes, fleeced of any earnings, and held as prisoners so others could view their eccentricities. Yet, how can I condemn others as I sit enthralled reading their stories? What drives our curiosity? Moreover, what drives some of these individuals to alter themselves on purpose or pursue the unusual with such vigor? Most of the modern examples in this book feature people who create personas of odd and eccentric skills or appearance. Even though I don't want to admit it, I'm still deeply intrigued.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Book Review: A Curious Man

Winston Churchill was a courageous, inspiring man. Robert "Believe-it-or-Not!" Ripley was a curious, intriguing man. Both became household names. Neal Thompson's biography of Ripley's life presents this man who went from a socially awkward youth to a flamboyant and intense adult. He outlines how Ripley chanced upon his brand (the strange and unbelievable in life) and pursued it with passion.

While this audio book was fascinating and full of interesting tid-bits about an unusual life, I felt sorry for this driven and compulsive man. His life was filled with continuous pursuit of the shallow: fame, women, booze, and travel. He relentlessly collected items and information to share with the world. He seemed self-absorbed. Not exactly a likeable individual. Yet, I was curious enough to want more information about this peculiar man, because I checked out another book about Ripley shortly after finishing this one. If you're interested in biography, you will certainly find more inspiration from Erik Larson's book on Churchill. But, if you like the odd-ball and quirky, this biography is full of bizarre details of a crazy collector of the absurd.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Book Review: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone - Highly Recommend

This was a June book club selection, but since I haven't been attending meetings (oh, despised Zoom!) I didn't worry about reading it on schedule. Good thing, since my library's hold list was long. I'm so glad I didn't let the hype keep me away. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, perhaps, because I have experience with therapy. During our marital separation we both went to individual appointments, a joint marital appointment, and I joined group therapy (if vulnerability doesn't frighten you, try group therapy - hardest emotional thing I've ever done).

Lori Gottlieb offers so much in this power-packed non-fiction book that reads like fiction. In Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed, Gottlieb opens her own veins and the veins of some of her patients (conglomerate portrayals so as to not pin-point one particular client and share their details). By the end of the book, I felt like I knew the author and her clients intimately. I cried for their pain and I laughed at their humor. I fell in love with the quirky individuals walking through her therapy door.

At once both educational (explanations of terms, outlines of theories, etc.) and entertaining (these are well-written stories of diverse lives), this book hones in on what it means to struggle with personality patterns, default perspectives, emotional baggage, and reactionary tendencies. I learned unfamiliar words (Ultracrepdarianism is the habit of giving opinions and advice on matters outside one's knowledge or competence. Hmm, know anyone like that? I do. Although, my husband says you could easily use the word "officious.") I appreciated the author's presentation of Prochaska's transtheoretical model of behavior change (TTM). Since I would love to change my prodigal son's behavior, I paid special attention to her descriptions of pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance stages. A brief stint of therapy didn't convince him to change. I'd love to figure out how to lead him to do his own persuading about the desired changes.

As for the stories, they tugged on my heartstrings. I wept for the man who felt responsible for the accident that killed his son. I cheered for the suicidal woman to invest more in her life. Even the young alcoholic girl pulled me into her story. Moreover, the terminally ill client kept alive the desire to conquer individual hang-ups and make the most of every gifted day. If you've never set foot in a therapist's office, this has to be the best introduction to the process you could find and not nearly as intimidating as walking through the door and divulging your own intimate secrets and struggles. This book reminded me, again, that therapy is well-worth the difficult investment. Being human is fraught with conflict, but avenues for growth are always available.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Book Review: Katie Up and Down the Hall

Because of an unpleasant experience with a large, overly playful dog in my early years, I developed a hesitant response to dog ownership. Then, to further it along, we adopted a rambunctious goldendoodle named Harley (never grew to like his name, yet never changed it). Harley was so beyond my ability to train and discipline (not unlike some children I know - wink). But, I must say, having had our shichon Toby for almost 3 years now, I can fully understand how a dog can burrow in and capture your heart.

Katie Up and Down the Hall tells the story of Glenn Plaskin's experience with his cocker spaniel. Living alone, he relished the thought of a dog's companionship. He never expected the way his little puppy would widen his world. A chance encounter with a dog-loving couple, Arthur and Pearl, down the hall leads to a happy second home for Katie. She wanders back and forth between the two apartments. Pearl and Arthur fall in love with Katie and Glenn appreciates their gracious dog-sitting offer. Drawn into the apartment by Katie, Glenn begins to look upon this elderly couple as a surrogate set of grandparents. Not long after, John and his toddler Ryan move into an apartment on the hall, and the circle widens. Through it all, the love of a dog cements these individuals together. They endure illness, career shifts, depression, death, and a tragic terrorist attack.

Plaskin's writing is effortless and captivating. I forgot there was an author because I was so absorbed in the story (those are always the best audio experiences because my treadmill miles fly by). What a beloved dog! What a gift of friendship she opened for them! Almost made me want to live in an apartment, so my cute Toby could cement a family of friends for me. It was intriguing to hear an insider's look at the 9/11 aftermath. I don't know why, but I never thought about the upheaval it must have caused for nearby residents. Dog-lovers will love this delightful tale of canine companionship and connection. But my words won't persuade you nearly as much as this seductive trailer for the book: