Where everyone is named Martha

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Title: Founding Mothers

Date Completed: 1/30/10

Author(s): Cokie Roberts

Copyright: 2004, William Morrow

# pages: 282

Genre: History

ISBN: 0-06-009025-1

This book should be required reading in high school.  Cokie Roberts has written the history of the American Revolution through the eyes of the women who supported our Founding Fathers.  Although I found this angle interesting, the thing that I really enjoyed about the book was that it gave me a real feel for what it was like to live during the revolution.

I’ve read a lot of history books.  Every one I’ve read has been focused on the key players – which, of course, were all men.  A by-product of this focus is that we have learned a lot about both the battles and the politics of the very early years of the United States.  But, we’ve never learned a lot about the non-military, non-political life the people of the Revolutionary years led.  This is what I found most fascinating about the book.  Not to take away from the main purpose of the book, which I also found interesting and learned a lot from.

One funny fact that I learned from the book is how many Martha Washingtons there were.  It seems that every female child born immediately following the Revolution were named Martha Washington.

An interesting part of the culture in these early years was the very common practice of sending your children to live with other people in other cities.  The husband goes off to battle in Philadelphia.  The wife, who lives in Rhode Island, decides to spend the winter months (when the battles were on hold) in Philadelphia with her husband.  She sends her children to live with a friend in South Carolina for six months.  And, if the wife dies while on her trip, the kids just stay with the friend.  Potentially until they get married and start their own family.  The book had many examples of children and parents being separated for the majority of the child’s life.

There are also a lot of stories about how the women were really business owners (although they would never call themselves that) while their husbands were off at war, or in later years, off forming the new government.  In the decades that it took to gain our independence and set up our government, many of the men were living somewhere other than home.  While they were gone, it was up to the women to earn enough money to cover the expenses at home and the expenses incurred by their husbands.  These women were enterprising – something that I’ve really never seen in the books that I’ve read.  They set up import/export businesses, were responsible for identifying new markets for existing crops, and knew how to be as frugal as possible when necessary to make ends meet.

If you read this book, let me make one suggestion.  Keep a piece of paper near-by so that you can make a little family tree type chart.  About halfway through the book, I was wishing I had such a chart to keep track of all of the people.  It is hard to keep track of everyone when they are all named Martha!


Kinsey Millhone

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Title: H is for Homicide

Date Completed: 1/20/2010

Author(s): Sue Grafton

Copyright: 1991, Fawcett Columbine Books

# pages: 256

Genre: Fiction/Mystery

ISBN: 0-449-00063-X

I’ve been reading Sue Grafton’s ‘alphabet’ series for many years.  She just released ‘U’ this past fall, and I’m looking forward to reading it.  The problem is that my local library branch doesn’t have all of the letters of the alphabet, so I’m not able to just go in order.  And, as a result, I got to page 132 of this book before I realized that I’ve read it before!  I should have kept track from the beginning, but alas, I didn’t and now it is a crap shoot each time to remember which letters I’ve read.  Never fear…I finished the book.

The alphabet series is about Kinsey Millhone, a thirty-something private detective in the 1980s.  She is solving a case in each book – without the benefit of the internet or cell phones.  She uses good old fashioned detective work to solve her cases.

H is for Homicide is actually not a very good name, now that I think about it.  Although there is a homicide, it is really a very minor plot in the book.  The overall case involves Kinsey going undercover in an insurance fraud crime ring.  One of my favorite characters in this book is the dog – a pit bull.  He also has a minor part in the book, but I’m always partial to the canines!

If you’ve never read any of the alphabet series, I would recommend them to those of you who like the Private Investigator genre.  I’ve enjoyed all of the ones that I’ve read…just don’t ask me which ones those are!

Book 22 – Live Long and Prosper

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Title: Chasing Life

Date Completed: 1/14/2010

Author(s): Sanjay Gupta, MD

Copyright: 2007, Warner Wellness

# pages: 162

Genre: Health/Wellbeing

ISBN: 0-446-19498-0

 I picked up this book because it was on sale.  I didn’t know anything about it, but I am familiar with Sanajay Gupta, so I knew it would be focused on health.  I must say that I was pleasantly surprised.  The book looks at practical ways to increase your life-span.  However, the focus is on making sure that all of your years are active, productive years.  It doesn’t do you any good to live to be 100 if you spend the last 20 of those years unable to get out and enjoy life.

 Although there is nothing new and earth shattering in the book, I thought it was a unique approach to the topic.  If you want me to summarize the book for you, you should eat healthy, exercise, socialize, and not smoke.  See, nothing earth shattering.  But, what Gupta focuses on is the very practical information you should know about these topics.  For example, he takes some very common ‘urban legends’ and gets down to brass tacks.  For example, there is a section about using plastic in the microwave.  We’ve all heard that you shouldn’t use plastic when warming your food because of the chemicals that are released.  He talks about this in detail, including telling you when it is ok and when it isn’t.  Generally speaking, you don’t have to worry about it.

 There is a large section that discusses cancer and other medical issues that gets pretty technical.  There were a couple of pages where my eyes glazed over and I felt like I needed to go to medical school to get it.  But, the concepts still got through. 

 I enjoyed the book and think that it is a good, fast read if you are looking for some practical tips about how to improve your over all health.  There is something in this book for everyone.

Book 21 – Weekly Improvements

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Title: Life Makeovers

Date Completed: 1/9/2010

Author(s): Cheryl Richardson

Copyright: 2000, Broadway Books

# pages: 209

Genre: Personal Improvement

ISBN: 0-7679-0663-2

 This is at least the fourth time I’ve read this book.  I like to read it every so often to make sure that I’m staying on track and focusing on the right things.  Each chapter represents a week of the year, and gives you a different area to focus on improving.  The idea is that you take a year to read the book – implementing each idea each week.

 Because personal improvement is basically a hobby of mine, most of the 52 ideas are already things I’ve put into practice in my life.  However, I continue to re-read the book just to make sure I haven’t let something slip through the cracks.  We all know how easy it is to let life get in your way. 

 Each chapter starts with a discussion about the topic for that week.  This is where Cheryl explains the concept and gives her argument for why it is important for you to make this specific change in your life.  Then, there is an action step – where she gets to brass tacks and tells you what your assignment is.  Finally, there are resources that can help you with the specific topic being discussed.  Each chapter is only 3-4 pages long, so it is really an easy fast read when you are doing it one week at a time.

 The lesson for Week 6 is one that I am constantly struggling with, and I suspect a lot of you do too.  It is called ‘What’s Draining You?’ The concept behind this chapter is that there are a lot of things in our life that drain our energy, and if you would just take the time to deal with them once-and-for-all, you would have less stress and be more free to pursue the things that make you happy.  When you have something that you know needs to be done, but you put off doing it, you create a situation where you are constantly thinking about it and beating yourself up for not taking care of it.  These can be major life-altering things, but in more cases than not, they are just small things that grate at you.  You aren’t putting them off because they are going to change the course of your life.  Things like needing to organize your closet, making an appointment to have your cholesterol checked, taking your pants to the tailor to have the hem fixed, or reconciling your checkbook and cause an enormous amount of stress in your life.  When you take care of these energy-drainers, you free up the energy you were spending avoiding the task to put into other things that you want to do, but can’t ever find the time or energy to get to.

 For me, it is making phone calls.  Anything that requires me to make a phone call usually gets put-off and then becomes a stressor.  I can’t explain my adversity to the phone…it just is what it is (and I’m not willing to spend the money for therapy to determine why).  I always dread making a phone call.  And then, I stress out about the fact that something is on my ‘to-do’ list for weeks at a time, when all it would take to get it off the list is to pick up the phone.  Now, I can tell you that when I actually make the call, it is never as bad as I think it is going to be.  And the energy boost I get when the task is complete is great.  Now, excuse me, I need to get going.  I’ve got a phone call to make!

Calling all Sponsors!

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We are now ready to accept sponsors through our website at www.buildingabookshelf.org.   Click on Participate and you will see the sponsorship form at the bottom of the page.  Here is how it works:

You sign up to be a sponsor.  You can sponsor by the book, by the page, or by the month.  At the end of each month, I will send out a summary of the books I read for the month.  If you sponsored me for $2/book, then you would donate $2 for each book I read.  If I read 4 books in a month, you would donate $8. 

We’ll take the donations and put them to use building libraries in public locations where children can access the books.

Book 20 – Psych 101

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Title: Do One Thing Different

Date Completed: 1/3/2010

Author(s): Bill O’Hanlon

Copyright: 1999, William Morrow and Company

# pages: 198

Genre: Personal Improvement

 I haven’t read anything as close to a psychology book as this since Psychology 101 in college.  Based on the title, I didn’t expect it to be a book based on psychology, but it was interesting nonetheless. 

 This book is based on the branch of psychology called ‘solution-oriented therapy.’  The type of psychology you see on t.v. most, where the person sits on the couch and talks while the psychologist says ‘and how did that make you feel?’ is not solution-oriented therapy.  The traditional types of therapy have you analyze your past and why it may be making you do the things you do.  Solution-oriented therapy basically says: what difference does it make why you do the things you do.  Just do something different and you won’t do the things you do anymore.

 The idea is to look at the circumstances surrounding the thing that you do that you want to change.  Then, once you are conscious of what you do, you can change something about it.  Once you change something about it, the outcome will also change.  Everyone is familiar with Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same things over and over and expecting different outcomes.  Well – solution-based therapy says ‘hey dummy, stop doing the same thing over and over!’

 So, for example, if you are the type of person who can eat a whole bag of cookies in one sitting…next time you start to eat the cookies, walk out to your driveway and eat them out there.   Or, if you can’t bring yourself to do that…eat them with the opposite hand of the one that you naturally eat with.  The idea is to disrupt your natural pattern. 

 I thought this was a really interesting book with a lot of good examples of how to overcome issues (both big and small).  I think it will be fun to put some of them to use in my own life.  The good thing about this book and the approach that it outlines is that it isn’t just for big, hairy, life-altering issues.  It applies to even small things that are just really annoyances in your life.

Sometimes you get what you pay for!

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I downloaded a book to my Sony Reader last week.  It was free, and that is right in my price range.   Well, I tried, but I just can’t finish it.  There is nothing that I hate to do more than give up on a book that I’ve started.  But, I just can’t.  I was 20 pages in, and that was 15 more than I wanted to be.  It was fiction – and not anything that I’d heard of before.  It was poorly written, and a genre that I generally don’t like. 

But, don’t worry…I’m on to the next book.  It is one I know I’m going to like.  I’ve already read it 3 times.  And, it isn’t Harry Potter!

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