Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Mindfullness for Beginners, Jon Kaba-Zinn

I listened to the audio of this for the 2016 Reading Challenge "A Self Help Book"

I've always had a mild curiosity about the practice of meditation-since it seems to be recommended by philosophers as well as religious leaders.

Listening to this felt like he wasn't reading the text, but giving it in a way he would if I were attending a conference session about meditation. I feel like I understand the concepts better.

I am not good at meditating. There were some meditation exercises and I couldn't help but do something to keep my hands a little busy while listening to the exercise on some of them. I have a hard time setting aside time to do "nothing" even though it is "something".

One thing that HAS helped me a little is that I always have trouble falling asleep at night. Partly because I have a hard time clearing my mind. So I've been trying to use meditation to help me fall asleep faster and so far it's worked more often than not.

There was also enough humor to keep things going. Like the time when the section on focusing on breathing came up, he said that he was going to be "making the wild assumption that if you are listening to this exercise you are already breathing". I really laughed at that :-)

Definitely informative, insightful, and well put together. Narrated extremely well.

The War That Saved My Life, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Sometimes you feel like if you've read one WWII English Evacuee story you've read them all. But this one did not feel like that! Add Ada to this mix. A very special girl born with a clubbed foot tha was never addressed in her infancy. She can only crawl around. Her single mother (her father is dead) never allows her outside. Only her younger brother Jamie (I listened to this as an audio, so I'm not sure if it was spelled traditionally or not) is allowed outside or to go to school. Ada is kept in isolation. She was not supposed to be a refuge, but she loves her brother so much that when he is to be sent away, she decides to go with him.

Some parts of this book were really, really difficult to read. Ada's mother is so incredibly abusive. Both physically and emotionally. She has convinced Ada that she isn't worth anything. That she couldn't be loved. Yet, Ada still has enough self determination to make certain things happen for herself; like what she needed to do in order to evacuate with her brother.

Both children are so ragged that none of the volunteer families chose Ada and Jamie. So the lady in charge takes them to the home of a single lady, Susan, who is still grieving the loss of her best friend and roommate, Becky. She protests saying she's not good with children, that she didn't want children. But everyone must "do their part" so she tries her best. She discovers that these children don't know the simplest things-they've never seen a tablecloth, they've never had bed sheets or dressing gowns. They've never even tried many of the vegetables she has to offer them. She says she's not a nice person, but she IS kind. And Ada finds herself so confused by words she's never heard and doesn't know the meaning of. She wonders that Susan says she's not nice, but they never go to bed hungry and Susan doesn't hit them. In a time and age when child abuse and emotional trauma are not understood, Susan seems to intuit what Ada needs (and doesn't need), when to push and when to pull back, in order for Ada to be able to act like a child and even learn. The thing she tells Ada that takes Ada a while to fully believe is "Your brain is a long way from your foot". Ada has been told that she's stupid and shameful and not able to learn because of her clubbed foot. Susan breaks this notion insisting that her clubbed foot has nothing to do with her capacity to learn and develop academically.

This was a beautiful story of "who saved who"? Did Susan save Ada? Yes. Did Ada save Susan (from her grief and solitude and withdrawn ways)? Yes. We can save ourselves when we reach out to help one another.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Princess Academy, Shannon Hale

I listened to this on audio book because it was available on overdrive and it was on a list of books I had written down for my older daughter to read. I really enjoyed it-it was a Full Cast Audio, which means that every character (including the narrator) had their own voice over. There were also singing parts to it which were interesting.

Like "The Rent Collector" it is amazing to surmise what a bit of intelligence and education can do to improve the life of an entire community. Mt. Escol (I'm only guessing on spellings here) is a hard, mountain life. Most people work in the quarry and have developed a sort of non-verbal communication through contact with the Linder Rock. Miri is really small for her age and has never been allowed to work in the quarry. She feels this makes her useless, though she doesn't learn the true reason her father forbids it until late through the story. She lives with her father and sister. Her mother died shortly after her birth.

One day, a man comes to Mt. Escol and announces that the country's priests have divined that the future bride of the prince resides there. Because they are so far removed from the main territory of Danlund, they have sent a tutor (Olana) to train the girls in proper everything and it's called the Princess Academy and every elegible girl goes. Ages 11 or 12 up to younger than the prince, since he's not allowed to marry anyone older than he-even if it's only a few months.

At first things are horrible, and of course, Miri is a natural leader when it has nothing to do with quarry work, eventually she is able to use the things Olana is teaching in order to broker better conditions. When she learns about commerce and just how much Linder is worth-and compares that to her knowledge of what the traders have been SAYING it's worth, they are able to then improve their trade conditions, which in return improve conditions in the community all around.

The ending was.......interesting......there is a major plot twist (although I had suspected some things along the way). And the possible plot hole was filled in, but it still left me feeling a little off. I guess it's a series so we'll see how things go if I read more.

I would definitely recommend this to my daughter, it teaches diplomacy, quick thinking, how to get along, how to give people a chance, the value of studying hard, the pay offs of hard work, and all sorts of other good traits. It was very enjoyable and I think it is great for middle readers. Solid 4 stars.