Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sugar Snow

When I looked out the window early this morning, I thought of Little House in the Big Woods. Remember when they were surprised by a late spring snowstorm and he told Laura it was a 'sugar snow?' She tasted the snow and it didn't taste like sugar, so she didn't know what he meant. Later she learned it was good for tapping the maple trees for sap to make syrup.

I almost wish I had a maple tree to tap for syrup - if it weren't for all the work it takes to make syrup out of the sap.

It's so pretty, isn't it? Much prettier when you can sit with a cup of hot tea and look out the picture window in the living room. A little more annoying when you don't have to get to worship team rehearsal with four children by 6:45 a.m. (I'll admit - I was about 20 minutes late.)

We lost power for a few minutes, one of which when I was pulling out of the garage into an unshoveled driveway of at least 6" of snow. I didn't realize that was the reason why the remote wasn't working - so I jumped out of the van to see if I could close it from inside the garage.

Did I mention that Glen asked me to clean up the boots last week? He told me it was safe to put them away for the season. Famous last words!

Let's just say I attempted to get out of the driveway at least four times before we finally made it to the street, and my foray into the drive netted me wet feet.

It was still beautiful after church - driving through the streets of snow-covered trees. Later this afternoon, the sun came out and the snow started falling and melting like crazy. I imagine it'll be gone tomorrow. I'm glad I took a few short moments this morning to enjoy the beauty before it was gone.

Now I am ready for spring!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

March Madness

I never really paid attention to college basketball until I married Glen. I knew my dad filled out one of those bracket-thingy's in the paper at some point in March and that those games were on all the time. Honestly, I was thankful when it was over!

After Glen and I married, I realized - a little - what it meant to be married to a true-blood Hoosier. Glen doesn't just fill out a bracket. He tapes the selection show and watches it live (except this year), with his own bracket pages printed from the computer so he can fill out the match-ups as they're being announced.

The passion! The commitment!

Just for fun, I thought that year I'd fill out a bracket and see how I did in making my picks compared to the college basketball guru.

Let's just say, I rocked and a tradition was born in our home that March of 1995.

It wasn't until 2003 that Glen actually beat me. He likes to point out that he has picked the National Champion three of the last six years (I think it is - I'm sure he'll correct me if I'm wrong), so my reign as the bracket winner is over. We'll see.

Now, our children are in on the fun. I print out a bracket form for each of them, and they each make their picks. Nathaniel always shows his partiality for Floria by picking a Florida team to make it all the way - which actually worked out well for him when Florida won the National Championship (Glen could tell you the year.)

This year, Isaac & Lydia chose American to go far, "After all, we ARE Americans," they both told me, separately. And both chose Temple to do well too, "because, well, it's a temple Mom."

It's fun to see them make their picks, and see how well they do. The one who picks the most games correctly gets bragging rights for the year. Anna's doing well right now, because this year I explained what those little numbers next to the school names mean. Since two of the four regions have the top four seeds playing each other in the Sweet Sixteen, Anna picked those regions perfectly.

I will point out that as of right now, I have picked the most games correctly in our family. Anna and Glen are tied for second place, and poor Nathaniel lost his National Champion in the first round when Florida State lost to Wisconsin. Hum, perhaps you stick a little closer to our current home, son.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Longevity Factor

I caught the beginning of Oprah last night - Dr. Oz was on talking about living longer, even to 120. It was after 11pm, so I didn't watch much of it - but I did see the first segment on living longer by restricting calorie intake.

I wasn't surprised to hear about that, because I had read about it in a book I recently picked up at the library, The Longevity Factor: How Resveratrol and Red Wine Activate Genes for a Longer and Healthier Life by Joseph Maroon, M.D.

Dr. Maroon had tried that strategy himself, but decided it was entirely too restrictive to actually enjoy the life he would be living longer. (Umm, yeah!)

Before I go any further writing about this book, I have to make a full disclosure. First, I picked up this book because Shaklee recently introduced a resveratrol product called Vivix, and I thought reviewing this book might give me an excuse to talk about it (which it will). Second, I really just skimmed this book.

When I picked it up, I was afraid it would be a rather dry book, focused on scientific studies and full of medical jargon. For the most part, that was true. It is full of interesting ideas, and I did learn a lot, but I could not read every word. If you're a scientist or a science buff, I'm sure this book would hold your interest more than it did mine.

However, I am glad that I picked it up. I learned quite a bit from it, and was encouraged by some of Dr. Maroon's statements. A bit of background for you: Dr. Maroon is a world-renowned neurosugeon and has been the team neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers for the past 25 years - just a few tidbits from his bio on the back flap of the book. He's also a triathlete.

First, a warning if you are one who holds to creation science: the first part of the book is quite heavy on evolutionary biology and the history of genetic research. Ironically, Chapter 1 opens with excerpts from Genesis chapter 1 of the Bible. Honestly, I mostly skipped this part of the book.

Maroon introduces an interesting idea which I hadn't really thought about until the past few years. On pages 21-22, he talks about the difference between chronological and physiological age. "chronological age - the number of years you've lived - doesn't necessarily correlate with physiological age." I've noticed it on a personal level. We had neighbors in Florida who I thought were at least 10 to 15 years older than Glen and I. Imagine my shock to discover they were actually 5 years younger than us! Their physiological age was much older than their chronological age. Then again, my grandmother at 88 acted much younger than her age - her church friends were always shocked at how old she was. (She's slowed down a lot since then, but at age 91, still lives at home.)

Maroon's example is quite impressive - on pg 22 he has a picture of one of his patients, professional wrestler Bruno Sammartino. If all you do is pick up this book and look at the picture, it's worth it. It's a picture of Sammartino at age 27 next to a picture of him at 70. Except for less hair, they look remarkably the same. It's amazing to see what is possible of we care for ourselves.

My other favorite part of the book is Part II: The Australian Extract. It tells the story of Peter Voigt - a biochemist turned businessman who bought a vineyard. His practical story of a struggling vineyard, working to find a use for what he felt was the excess waste of grape skins & seeds after making wine, and his success against many odds was riveting. I think it was the only part of the book I read in its entirety.

This is becoming too long already, so let me just lift out some of my favorite quotes from Dr. Maroon for you to ponder:

pg 76 "With time and experience, however, I have come to realize the importance of preventive medicine. How much better it would be to prevent disease and improve health in later life rather than to prolong, at time, misery, and even dying. How much better it would be to help people stay in relatively good health until death came."

pg 278 "Unfortunately, all too physicians and health-care practitioners devote much time to preventive medicine. They are rewarded financially for fixing people's health after it breaks down, not for maintenance. Similarly, the profits of pharmaceutical companies are dependent on age-related diseases rather than on their prevention..."

Exactly Dr. Maroon! Two of my main reasons why I like Shaklee so much - focus on preventing disease and improving health and doing both in harmony with nature.

One thing that I didn't expect to find in Dr. Maroon's book was recipes. However, there are a bunch of them - several of which look good enough that I'm going to copy them down before I return the book. I could explain why he includes recipes, but that would include words like 'xeno factor' and 'polyphenol' - so I'll let you read it for yourself.

And, so that you know, on page 193, Dr. Maroon talks briefly about Shaklee's resveratrol product, Vivix. Which isn't really a resveratrol product as much as it is a "Mixed Polyphenol Product" - as Dr. Maroon calls it. He doesn't give his opinion whether he likes it or not, just gives the facts. It's the only 'Mixed Polyphenol Product' in the book, so I'd say it's pretty unique.

Bottom line: if you're wondering what all the hype about resveratrol is about, this book explains it very well. It's worth a read if you're a scientist or science buff, and certainly worth a quick read-through if you're not.

(And a quick apology - I didn't expect this post on The Longevity Factor to be quite so long. OK, couldn't resist the pun!)

Swimming Lessons & Shaklee

Generous grandparents gave my children swim lessons for Christmas. Some (Lydia) were more excited than others (Nathaniel), but nevertheless, on Thursday afternoons you’ll find us at the pool.

The great thing about swim lessons is the locker room. (OK - after the great thing of learning the important life skill of swimming.) The club we go to has a family locker room with private showering rooms with shampoo, conditioner & body wash available in the showers. This is great because I get to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. Swim lessons, followed by showers. Cross that off my list!

The first time we went, I asked Nathaniel if he’d washed his hair. “Of course Mom!”

“But did you use shampoo?” I felt was the necessary follow-up question to my 10-year-old.

“Oh. No, I didn’t.”

“And why not?”

“Because they didn’t have Shaklee shampoo and I wasn’t sure if it was safe.”

Can you believe that he’s listening to me? (Me: “What we wash our hair with gets into our bodies, so let’s make sure it’s something safe. Let’s use Shaklee’s brand.”)

Wanting to avoid extremes, I told him, “Once a week, for the limited time we are taking swim lessons, it’s OK to wash your hair using their shampoo.”

We’re in week three of lessons, and you know what? We brought our Shaklee Pro Santé shampoo & conditioner to the club. I realized that, free or not, safe or not safe, the club’s shampoo was not cleaning their hair as well as the Pro Santé shampoo.

Shaklee’s Pro Santé hair system cleans safely, without stripping your hair of its natural oil balance. And, as Shaklee scientists are always thinking about the health of your body, the products contain Shaklee’s patented Scalp Health Complex – a unique combination of 10 vitamins, minerals & herbs that nourish your scalp (which in turn makes your hair healthier).

I love the Nourishing Scalp Treatment. It’s a liquid full of nutrients that I put on my scalp after I get out of the shower. Then I quickly massage it in. I’ve noticed that I’m shedding much less hair, and several years ago, when I first started using it, my hairdresser noticed that I had new hair growth around my temples. (How cool is that?)

And you know Shaklee – they have all this data and clinical trials that say, “Hey this stuff really works. Look at how much it reduces hair loss & damage, increases the diameter of the hair, & improves its strength and elasticity.” (If you’d like to see that kind of info, you can find it here.)

I say, it keeps my hair clean and feeling great and my kids’ hair clean too. My skeptical husband said he’d “try that stuff out,” and switched to Pro Santé Purifying Shampoo. That was three years ago. (I think he likes it!)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sweet Little Lucy

Most Tuesday mornings, my kids and I are privileged to watch sweet little Lucy, the daughter of a good friend. Lucy comes to our house while my friend attends Bible Study Fellowship with her son. We've all become quite attached to little Lucy - she's talking now and has quit taking her morning naps, so we get to enjoy her more now than when she first started coming.

Anna is in charge of collecting Lucy from her mom when she comes in the morning because I'm usually reading to Lydia and Isaac. After we're done with school, Lydia is in charge of playing with Lucy while I read to Nathaniel and Anna. Lydia loves being in charge. She finds dolls and purses for Lucy to carry and when it's warm enough, Lydia takes Lucy outside to play in the yard and go down the slide. They're cute together.

This morning, she ran to the piano when Anna started practicing. Anna didn't mind at all. (Her attitude would have been completely different had it been anyone else joining her on the piano!)

We all enjoy Lucy - we'll miss her this summer, and next year she'll be old enough to go to BSF. I know she'll win hearts there too.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Made to Stick

Last year I read an article in US News and World Report about Chip and Dan Heath, brothers who wrote a book together called Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. I enjoyed the article so much, I tore it out of the magazine to remind myself to read the book.

Of course, I didn't remember it until I spotted the book on the shelf behind the registers at the bookstore mentioned in the previous post. I was thrilled to find it available at my local library.

Now that I've finished it, I wished I had bought a copy at the bookstore so I could highlight it. Actually, I think it will go on my 'books-to-own' list because they have a really cool 'cheat sheet' (or Clif Notes) at the end of the book.

So what is this book about, and why is it so interesting to me? Well, it's a book about communicating ideas. Some might think that it's a book for marketers, which it kind of is, but it's more than that. It's really for anyone who wants to communicate ideas - from teachers to preachers, from parents to marketers, and anyone in between.

I think I knew quite a few of the principles the Heath brothers share in this book. However, the book gives me a big picture and a great outline for making ideas stick and communicating effectively. And, as an added bonus, this book is easy to read - even though Chip Heath is a professor at Stanford University. They've done a good job of creating a book that 'sticks.'

So, what exactly makes ideas stick?
Ideas must be simple
Ideas must be unexpected
Ideas must be concrete
Ideas must be credible
Ideas must be emotional
Ideas must be communicated in stories

Actually, ideas don't NEED to be all of the above, but the more categories checked off, the better chance of people remembering it. And, what's the point of communicating ideas if people don't remember them?

Sprinkled throughout the book are "Clinics," where the Heaths share real-life circumstances and how the principles they discuss makes a difference.

For example, did you know that the slogan "Don't Mess with Texas" started as an anti-littering campaign? That's one sticky idea that grew to have a life of its own.

Of course, you can't have a book about sticky ideas without plenty of stories of Nordstrom's customer service (like the ones from my sister's blog), which this one does. But the Heaths include plenty of other stories, including ones from a high school journalism class, from the World Bank, from a non-profit seminar in Florida (among plenty of others).

One of the most important ideas the authors discuss in the book is the "Curse of Knowledge." It's hard for us to imagine not knowing what it is we know, so it's hard for us to communicate in ways that people without our knowledge base can understand. "You know things that others don't know, and you can't remember what it was like not to know those things. So when you get around to sharing the Answer, you'll tend to communicate as if your audience were you." (pg 245)

"This book is filled with normal people facing normal problems who did amazing things simply by applying these principles (even if they weren't aware that they were doing it). ... Their names aren't sticky, but their stories are." (pg 251)

Made to Stick is a practical tool for normal people who need to communicate ideas and want people to remember those ideas. Put it on your list!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The 10 Big Lies about America

A couple of months ago I was in a bookstore with my girlfriend. She was looking for a workbook for her son, and I was enjoying browsing without the kids. As she was checking out, I glanced over the shelves behind the registers and exclaimed, "I see at least three books here I want to read!" I quickly memorized the titles, wrote them down when I got home and looked for them at my local library.

I've recently just finished the first one - The 10 Big Lies about America: Combating Destructive Distortions about our Nation by Michael Medved. How could you not be interested in a book with that title? In fact, my husband picked it up and started reading it and occasionally fought over who's turn it was to read it!

Turns out - it's good. Quite intellectual, well-documented - not really a book that you would pick up for a quick read before bed. I will, if I remember (!), add this book to my children's high school American history course.

In case you're curious - here's a list of the lies Michael Medved refutes in this book:

1. "America was founded on genocide against Native Americans"
2. "The United States is uniquely guilty for the crime of slavery, and based its wealth on stolen African labor."
3. "The founders intended a secular, not Christian, nation."
4. "America has always been a multicultural society, strengthened by diversity."
5. "The power of big business hurts the country and oppresses the people."
6. "Government programs offer the only remedy for economic downturns and poverty."
7. "America is an imperialist nation and a constant threat to world peace."
8. "The two-party system is broken, and we urgently need a viable third party."
9. "A war on the middle class means less comfort and opportunity for the average American."
10. "America is in the midst of an irreversible moral decline."

The topic that most interested me was number 9 - the 'war on the middle class.' What really sparked my interest in that topic was the book I read last year titled (Not) Keeping Up with Our Parents (which I wrote about in December's post "An Emotional Month of Reading"). In that book, Nan Mooney interviews people like her, struggling to keep up with her parents standard of living from her childhood. Some would say it supports the fact that the middle class is disappearing from our society.

Medved's response to the 'war on the middle class' is only 22 pages long, but pretty convincing. On pg 211 he quotes a May 7, 2007 USA Today headline, " 'Gas or Gamble? Economy Forces Some to Choose.' " The article profiles Carlos Bueno, a 32-year-old father of three who works for a utility company. In the article, he says he's going to have to cancel his family's trip to gamble and their annual trip to the Dominican Republic.

Medved's response: "It's easy to feel sympathetic toward presumably hardworking family men such as Mr. Bueno, but if a 32-year-old utility company employee could previously afford three annual casino trips (costing, he said, $1,500) plus yearly vacations with his wife and three kids to the Caribbean, then how "harsh" could the economy really be?"

Granted - the economy is a lot worse now than when he was writing this book - but still. My husband and I could not have afforded such vacations even when the economy was at it's best. Not that we would chose to spend our money that way.

Medved's main point is that people have lost perspective on how much we (as a country and economy) have gained over the past century or so. We have luxuries that even the very wealthy couldn't even dream of then - indoor plumbing, electricity, telephones, various appliances, etc. During times of economic hardship we have to tighten our belts, cancel vacations and gain some historical perspective(my words, not his). Medved says, "[M]ost members of the real middle class are too smart, and too busy counting blessings and seizing opportunities, to believe the lie that they are losers." (pg 231)

Medved ends his book with some observations about our "Abnormal Nation." "Lies about America proliferate precisely because no one shrugs off the United States as a nation like any other, with the usual mix of strengths, flaws, and eccentricities. Americans have always claimed more for ourselves ("the land of the free and home of the brave"), and those claims have produced inevitable polarization." (pg 258)

"If a Spaniard or a Swede won't acknowledge how much he has benefited from the Unites states and its world leadership for ideals of liberty, free markets, and self-government, he's shallow and stupid. But if a citizen of this favored land can't appreciate his own prodigious good fortune, his limitless opportunities as an American, then it's a case of willful ignorance and ingratitude." (pg 259)

Quite honestly, I am proud to be an American. Thanks Mr. Medved for reminding me of that fact.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

House Lust

When looking at a picture of my house with its '70's siding, you may not be surprised to hear that I recently picked up a book entitled House Lust, America's Obsession with Our Homes by Daniel McGinn. I've had some serious cases of house lust in the past, particularly when my family of six was squeezed into a 1,000-square-foot townhouse.

When we were in that townhouse, we had cable TV, and I loved to watch HGTV. All those do-it-yourself shows with beautiful results, House Hunters - following home buyers who had a budget I could only dream of - oh, the envy I felt! Which is why I realized I needed to just STOP WATCHING. Oh, it was hard, but helped me to be content where I was instead of envying those poor folks who couldn't find a house with both a media room AND a pool.

In 2005, we found the house we currently live in, saw it's potential and moved. It's about 1800 square feet - the biggest house in which we've ever lived - but I'm already feeling squeezed. The bedrooms are small, we don't have a family room, and not even half the basement is a full basement. Oh, I am starting to feel some house envy again!

I noticed the trend of envying other people's houses in my own life, but I was a little surprised that McGinn had enough material with which to write an entire book. He does, however, and an interesting one at that.

In House Lust, McGinn chronicles his own compulsion with his house, and introduces us to families from different parts of the United States and their manifestations of house envy. From 9,000-square-foot homes in Maryland to buying vacation homes in Florida, McGinn explores different housing trends in different parts of the country. I did notice that the Midwest was rather left out of the craze, perhaps because we're not given to such extremes as the coasts? (Wishful thinking, I'm sure!)

Unfortunately, McGinn was writing his book just before the housing bubble burst, so it feels a bit like 'old news.' It's still very interesting though - and he addresses the housing bust briefly in his epilogue. I think he's right - Americans will keep obsessing about their homes - perhaps differently now than three or five years ago.

Personally, I've put aside the dream of adding a second floor to my house (although it would work well - and add so much more space). Instead, my husband and I are focusing on one small project at a time - a new front door is first on the list, then adding a shower to our bathroom. And I'm learning - a continuous process - to be content where I am today instead of dreaming how much better life would be in a bigger house.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

To Cut or Not to Cut?

I am reminded again that I have an almost eleven-year-old. Who is not just an extension of me or his father, but his own person with his own opinions. Like what to do with his hair.

His dad and I have harped on his hair often enough that his little sister is starting to harp too. She's constantly telling him he needs a haircut.

Nathaniel, instead, wants just his bangs cut. I say, if we cut your hair, we're going to CUT your hair. Anna threatens to braid it, Daddy threatens to put it in a ponytail. I occasionally take out the clippers and wave them in the air threateningly. (Honestly, though, I don't want to clean up the mass of hair that would end up on my floor if I actually used them. Don't tell Nathaniel.)

He says he'll get his hair cut after his birthday. Which is soon enough that I think I can stand waiting. The main issue is basketball. He's constantly running down the court with his chin in the air, trying to see around his hair. He claims he doesn't. Ya, right. Unfortunately, basketball is over before his birthday.

Well, it is HIS hair. Guess I have to give it up.