Monday, September 28, 2009

Nonfiction Books For Grownups

These are books which have stood the test of time for me. They are books which I wish I had had when I first started to set up housekeeping for myself, when I moved away from home at eighteen years old. Actually, no, I wish I had started reading them when I was twelve, because by eighteen I would (hopefully) have been able to absorb the necessary lessons, and have some idea of what I was trying to do when I started in. Although, come to think of it, one of these books wasn't even written until I was in my mid-twenties (but it late is WAY better than never, in books as well as Bachelor's degrees).

As I wrote this post, I realized that the common thread among these books is that they make me feel like doing things that I know I should do, but which seem so boring and/or awful that I never quite find the time to get to them. For this reason, I consider the first two to be sort of like oatmeal pancakes of the nonfiction book world: difficult to get people to try, but most people are glad to come back for more once they've had a sample. The third has such an intriguing title that most people will read it with a little less "selling" on my part.

Organizing From the Inside Out, by Julie Morgenstern-- Ms. Morgenstern has a pretty good handle on the reasons why people have a hard time keeping their stuff organized, and she spends the first little chunk of the book helping you figure out where, exactly, your difficulty might lie. Examples might be that you grew up feeling a lack of abundance and can't stand to give/throw anything away (no reference to present company), or that you are simply living in a space that is too small for your stuff (REALLY no reference to present company). She then goes on to explain that organizing is a teachable skill, and proceeds to teach it.

She has a seven-step process for getting your stuff organized; the most valuable thing I got from this is that you sort first, THEN purge, so that you have a clear picture of what you're doing when you purge. She tells you to keep the parts of your current system that are working, even if they seem illogical. (Logic, in its perfect Platonic Form, does not live at your house. Or, if He or She does, then you can tell Logic to lay off so that you can actually organize, whether it makes Logical sense or not. The person it has to make sense for is the person who has to use the system.) The last part of the book is devoted to various spaces in your house and ideas on how to organize them.

I liked this book so much that not only have I read it several times, I have actually bought the thing, thus giving up some of my precious, hard-won space for it.

There is also a set of videos she did for PBS, which so far is available at all libraries I have ever checked at (two of 'em, but still, two for two isn't bad, right?).

You Don't Have to be Rich, by Joan Chatsky

I didn't actually get the premise of this book (meaning, the question she set out to answer in writing it) the first time that I read it, but the book itself was so great that I read it a second time. Which premise is: Joan Chatsky wanted to know about the relationship of money to happiness. Rather than pontificating about her own ideas (she is, after all, a professional and nationally known financial consultant) she actually went out and did research about how money and happiness go together (or not).

Most interesting/useful for me: we get most happiness from things we experience, rather than things we own; and there are ten financial habits which, when a family has at least seven of them, make a $25,000 a year difference in the financial happiness of the family. The three habits that come to mind off the top of my head are that you keep track of your cash; you pay your bills as they come in rather than all at once; and you keep a budget. And, yes, the answer to her original question is that you don't have to be rich to be financially happy, but it's a lot more interesting ans slightly more complicated than just that. And, again, she has research to back her up. Short of prophetic insight, I trust research a heck of a lot more than most other ways of getting to knowledge, so I really like this book. I also own it, because not only does it make me feel like keeping a budget, it just plain cheers me up to read it.

How to Hug a Porcupine: Dealing With Toxic and Difficult to Love Personalities, by John Lund

Disclaimer: John Lund was my very first Institute teacher that I had, my freshman year of college. He taught Isaiah. I loved that class. And I loved Brother Lund, who was both funny and kind and never once acted like I was too young to participate in a serious discussion about what Isaiah might mean. (But really, I mostly listened. The stories he told were quite wonderful.)

The basic premise of this book (according to me) is that you really aren't crazy: there really do exist people who are emotionally toxic to be around, and Dr. Lund gives you extremely practical tools for dealing with these people. What makes this OK (and not an excuse for a blame-fest) is his very matter-of-fact way of pointing out that toxicity rubs off easily, so a major part of dealing with toxic people has to do with becoming non-toxic yourself. Of course he's not dead on about how to deal with every single problem, but I do find that, similar to how You Don't Have to Be Rich makes me feel happy and excited about taking control of my financial life, How To Hug a Porcupine helps me feel happy and excited about becoming a more emotionally healthy, firm-yet-kind-boundaries kind of woman. I also LOVE For All Eternity, which Dr. Lund also wrote; I think that it may actually be better, but I haven't sat down and done a direct comparison.

I don't own this one yet. I would, indeed, like to. (Just letting you, the approximately half of my reading audience who might think about getting me a Christmas present (because you are close blood relatives), know.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Nana on the Train, Part I: The Cornflakes Episode

Edit: I realized that the first draft of this post violated my privacy policy, which is that NO ONE (except my Aunt Joyce and cousin Becky, who post under their real names anyway-- hi, guys!) gets called by their correct names on my blog unless I have their express permission. I have now edited out the name of the friend that Mom(/Nana) tried to drive to California with.

Nana was born in California and she grew up there, but about a year after she joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, she moved to Utah to go to school at BYU. Once she married Papa, they lived in Utah for a little while, but after that they moved up to Idaho, where most of Papa's family lived. Nana and Papa were pretty poor, so it was difficult for her to go to see her family as often as she wanted to.

One day, Nana was excited to find out that a friend of hers, Johanna Red, was planning to drive to California in her Volkswagen Beetle. Nana asked if she could come along. Sister Red said that of course she could! On the day they planned to leave, they started to drive from Blackfoot, where they lived, towards California. Unfortunately, just before they reached Pocatello (which was the first big city along the way--about 25 or 30 miles from Blackfoot), Sister Red forgot to shift in to high gear when she needed to, and the transmission in her car was damaged. Sister Red had a friend in Pocatello, so they drove to the friend's house; Sister Red was afraid to drive any further before the Beetle was checked out by a mechanic. (Remember, this was in the days before cell phones, so going somewhere in a maybe-broken car was a bigger deal than it would be now; you couldn't just call someone if you broke down at the side of the road.)

Sister Red called her husband, Ben, from the friend's house in Pocatello, to come get her. He came down from Blackfoot to get her and arrange to have the car fixed. Nana, however, still wanted to go see her family. She remembered that there was a special deal going on with Amtrak (the train company) and Kellog's Cornflakes. She called Amtrak from Sister Red's friend's house to find out what the details were. The deal was for reduced price tickets for children if you had a certain number of cupons from cornflakes boxes. Nana can't remember for sure, but she thinks that Auntie Weathercolour was about two years old at that time and that I, Auntie Cornelia, was a babe in arms (meaning, a baby small enough that she had to carry me everywhere). Nana found out from Amtrak that there was only one train per day that left from Pocatello to Salt Lake City, which was where she needed to go in order to get to California. That train was leaving in about an hour and a half from when Nana called, so Nana decided to hurry to get the things she needed to done in time!

Sister Red's friend drove Nana to the grocery store. Nana remembers buying six boxes of cornflakes and carefully cutting the coupons off the backs of the boxes. She didn't want to tear the inner liner that contained the cornflakes. She couldn't afford to just throw the boxes of cornflakes away, and she didn't want them to be stale when our family ate them. The friend loaned her some scissors (or it might have been a razor blade) so that she could do the job. Nana sent the cornflakes back to Blackfoot with Sister Red and her husband, who dropped them off at the Oak Street Apartments, which is where Nana and Papa lived. Nana says that they ate cornflakes from boxes that had holes in the backs of them for about a year after this happened.

By the time Nana was done getting the cornflakes boxes and cutting the coupons from them, there was only a little time left, so Sister Red's friend drove her over to the train station. Nana isn't sure how she juggled her luggage and two children, but she figures that she couldn't have had very much luggage, because they had been traveling in a Bug to start with.

I asked Nana: was it a good visit? And she said, Oh, yeah. The only trip she remembers that wasn't a good visit was right after Auntie Day was born, when she wanted to visit her grandmother. I will write that story another time.

This story somehow illustrates a kind of quintessential my-mom-ness, though I'm not quite sure exactly how. Maybe my siblings can help me track it down as they comment.

(When I asked her, Mom said that she thinks it's because she really wanted this thing, and she figured out how to do it in a way that they could afford. She thinks that she's probably pretty good at logistics.)

(To me, this story illustrates two things about my mom. First, she is very ingenious when it comes to finding ways to see her family, and particularly when she doesn't have a lot of money to accomplish her task. Second, Nana really likes coupons.)

What does it say to you about Nana?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Three things I've liked in the last couple of days

First, just for Sroon (who is always begging for vampire jellyfish stories), a jellyfish slide show over at BBC news. They really are quite lovely:

Next, a story about when things just work out (involving a Christmas card and potentially dishonest Polish postal workers):

And finally, a talk about creative genius and finding a little bit of mental space apart from creative work (it's a video, just so that you are prepared):