Archives for Mentoring Book Reviews

Mentoring Book Reviews

The Specific Scent of Snakes


I have a friend named Laura who is very afraid of snakes.

She has a husband, two kids, and a Masters degree in Forestry and Wildlife Management.

Laura has been bitten by monkeys and rabbits and has faced down a whole room of Congresspeople without quailing.

But she becomes literally paralyzed with fear at the sight....or even the scent....of snakes.

Her full name is Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh, and I know about her fear of snakes not because she is my longtime friend, colleague, and mentor, but because I recently read her memoir, titled (wait for it) "The Specific Scent of Snakes."

While reading her memoir, I also learned about her life in rural Virginia, where she and her family lived in a house with (her words) "fallible electricity" and a party phone line, as well as a fairly eclectic assortment of animals including goats, rabbits, chickens, foxes, and, well, snakes.

I learned about her three heart-wrenching miscarriages - each losses that occurred long before she and I met, but which affected me perhaps even more deeply because of this.

I also learned how she began to make and sell her own soap and how, in the course of her healing process post-miscarriages, she came to adopt a baby son.

And I learned how amazingly good she became at denying the undeniable presence of snakes in her country home...until one day  when she finally met one of the household's scalier residents face to face. 
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Mentoring Book Reviews

13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do

About 12 months ago, I came across an intriguing Forbes post called "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do."

So of course I blogged about it here.

Then, just a few weeks ago, the post's author, Amy Morin, reached out to share some exciting news - her new book by the same name will be available on December 23rd!

This made me very happy for a few reasons:

a) She offered to send me a copy so I could share the book here (free books, yay!),

b) amidst the holiday stress, a reminder about how to stay mentally strong was welcome and timely,

c) the book greatly expands on each of the 13 points, explaining through stories and examples exactly how to avoid doing each of the 13 things (and replace them with mentally strong habits instead!)

Amy is a licensed clinical social worker, a researcher, a writer, but most of all she is a human being who has personally experienced how developing mental strength is a choice, and one that can be life-transforming.

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Animal Mentors

Oxytocin, Mirror Neurons, and Sentient Plant Life

In my last post, I introduced you to a great book called "Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond" by Meg Daley Olmert.

Of course, this book addresses the mutual benefits to humans and non-humans of making and maintaining close-knit cooperative bonds.

What I did not expect to encounter within its pages was evidence to support that plants can achieve the same.

I love plants. However, the feeling has never seemed particularly mutual.

Even my highest best intentions has not produced any surefire way to keep the plants in my household either green or alive. So imagine my surprise when I read the following:

Susan Dudley and Amanda File of McMaster University in Ontario found that plants, like humans and animals, are capable of social recognition. Plants actually recognize other plants that are related to them, and when they see another plant as kin, they refrain from competing with it for root territory. It is not known whether plants can extend any sort of social recognition to the humans who care for them, but James Cahill of the University of Alberta and his colleagues found that they do respond to human touch. 
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Animal Mentors

Why We are Made for Each Other


I just finished another great book - "Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond" by Meg Daley Olmert.

Given that it is Valentine's Day today, and my feathery sidekick and I are celebrating 13 (loud but) blissful years together, I thought the book would make for a perfect post.

The premise of "Made for Each Other" is simple: humans and animals have been bonded together for centuries - until now.

The last 100 years has dramatically changed our ability and need to be connected to our non-human helpmeets in practical ways (think farming, milking, construction).

As this bond slowly breaks down, it is changing us - and not for the better.

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Mentoring

Lessons on Self Defense from Desert Wildlife

I'm almost done reading "Divorce Among the Gulls: An Uncommon Look at Human Nature" by William Jordan (I previously wrote about this fascinating book in "Finding Our Niche and Defending It").

The book is as much about people as it is about animals....and as much about animals as it is about people.....which means it is holding my attention quite well overall (except for the part about cockroaches - my gag reflex required me to skip over that one).

But when I got to the chapter called "Distracting the Snake," I took a long pause to contemplate. Reason being, this chapter introduces a very plausible biologically-based theory for why human beings hurt the ones we love the most with the greatest frequency and the most lethal intent.

This was a question I have very much wanted to know the answer to for a great many years. So I read each word very, very slowwwwwlllllyyyyy.

Apparently, in college author Jordan had a literal "snake charmer" for a roommate. This odd and interesting fellow could turn snakes into cool scaly puppies, lying across his arms and even allowing total strangers to pass them around in a circle like party favors.

After Jordan witnessed Farley (the roommate's name) handling an eight-foot gopher snake in the middle of the steaming hot Mojave Desert, he just had to ask. "How do you do it? What's the secret to handling snakes?" 
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Mentoring

Body Image Mysteries: Why You “Feel Fat”

In my last post, I shared about a fascinating new book I'm reading called "The Body Has a Mind of Its Own" by Sandra & Matthew Blakeslee.

One of the reasons I got the book was because of a chapter called "Dueling Body Maps, or Why You Still Feel Fat After Losing Weight." I really, really, really wanted to know the answer to this question!

I still remember reading singer Jennifer Hudson's confession that, even after her dramatic weight loss, she still felt the same size on the inside. I thought she was very brave to admit this....and I could totally relate.

Given my own lengthy (although happily now concluded) battle with an eating disorder, I too have been many different sizes over the years, and it has always seemed that no matter what size I am (or how healthy I am at that size) when I go to shop for clothes I can't ever figure out what size I actually am. What is oddest, however, is that often I've found when I get larger, I still pick out smaller-sized clothes, and when I get smaller, I still pick out larger-sized clothes.

In these moments, it almost feels as if my mind is playing catch-up - it is slow to adjust to my body's alterations. And as it turns out, this is EXACTLY the phenomenon that is addressed in this chapter of the book!

The Blakeslees explain that the scientific reason for why this happens is due to the presence of two body maps - a body schema and body image. The book provides these helpful definitions for each map.

Body schema: a felt sense based on physical properties of your body.

Body image: stems from learned attitudes about your body. 
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Mentoring

The Body Has a Mind of Its Own

Yes, this is a great title for a book.

It also happens to be the title of a great book. :-)

Science writer Sandra Blakeslee and her son, Matthew, co-wrote "The Body Has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better" to help people understand how and why their bodies act and react the way they do from a biological brain-based perspective.

The Blakeslees' book not only explains why we can "sense" people watching us, what "personal space" is and how we develop a desire for it (and why), why some people "see auras" but most of us don't, why people who change their body weight sometimes have trouble "seeing" themselves in their new body (and thus often struggle with body image issues long after they have successfully met their personal health goals), and much more.

It is a very useful book - with one notable caveat. I love science, but my brain unfortunately doesn't share my passion. As such, it find it quite challenging to keep loads of brand new terminology such as "proprioceptors," "peripersonal space," "parietal lobes" (see - far too many new "p's" already!) all in place and properly categorized from chapter to chapter.

Yet still, the book is written in such a way that I can grasp the interesting basics even if I may miss a subtle nuance (or a few).
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Inspirational

Do You Flow?


The word "flow" first came into my life a year or so ago during a walk at the park.

A friend and I were talking about happiness - how to find it, how to know you have found it, how to make it stay.

He mentioned that for him, getting totally wrapped up in an activity - whether it is one he particularly thought he would enjoy or not - often feels so exhilarating it is indistinguishable from any other kind of happiness.

He said the name for this state is "flow."

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been reading a new book called "Sheepish." When I started reading the book, I expected to learn a lot about sheep...and wool....and sheep farmers.

I did not expect to learn about the originator of "flow" too.

So imagine my happy surprise when I flipped the page and read these words by author Catherine Friend:

If I start doing more things with my hands, whether that's woodworking or gardening or knitting or baking cookies, I might fall into the condition made famous by the psychologist with the impossible name, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly. That condition is "flow." It means becoming completely involved in an activity not for the sake of the outcome but for the sheer joy of it. It means feeling alive when we are fully in the groove of doing something. According to Csikszentmihaly, the path to greatest happiness lies not with mindless consuming but with challenging ourselves to experience or produce something new, becoming in the process more engaged, connected, and alive.

So, for instance, if I completely dive into reconciling my receipts in preparation for tax time, losing track of time (and my sanity) in the process, that could be considered a form of happiness.
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Emotions

You, Brave

So today is New Year's day.

Again.

In past years, this has traditionally been the day I run headlong towards the newly arriving year, eagerly anticipating a windfall of riches that - eerily - look exactly like all the things I feel the overrated departing year...
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Animal Mentors

Finding Our Niche (and Defending it)

I love how sometimes, when I am reading one book, that leads to another and then another book....and before I know it I am four or five books into a cycle I started about a completely different topic for a completely different reason.

Take "Divorce Among the Gulls: An Uncommon Look at Human Nature," for example.

This slim volume came to me courtesy of Elizabeth Gilbert's "Committed," a book about how humans date, mate, and (often, unfortunately) split.

Gilbert, on the verge of being forcefully hitched as she writes, uses "Committed" as a tool to research the crap out of marriage, hoping to find some kind of magical reassurance that hers (the second for both of them) won't suck. Or disappear. Or both.

In one chapter, she mentions how incompatibility is now thought to be at least partially biological. The example she cites is seagulls.

Other than the parrot - specifically the cockatiel - the seagull has to be my all-time top favorite bird. So of course I rushed right out to locate and acquire such essential reading.

I enjoyed the chapter on gulls immensely, but found the chapter on roof rats (scientifically, "Rattus rattus") even more illuminating.
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