Sunday, October 15, 2017

"The Mindful Vegan"




The heart of the book is as its subtitle indicates: "A 30-Day Plan For Finding Health, Balance, Peace, And Happiness." This is very different, Muelrath writes, than serial dieting. "Micromanaging and analyzing every bite and obsessing over body weight and size mask underlying stress, anxiety, and not-good-enough syndrome."

Those who endeavor to practice vegan living face their own ingrained habits (such as compulsive snacking) as well as pressures from family and the wider culture. These stressors often provoke unhealthy defensive reactions. Enter mindfulness, which "gets to the roots of your challenges around food--whether it's refurbishing old habits, employing self-regulation of emotions, or becoming more at ease and grounded in vegan living."

The key is that mindfulness "expands that moment between stimulus and reactivity. You gain new access to the choice of where to place your attention, rather than having your attention taken hostage by reactive thoughts and emotions. Once you open the door to the possibilities of choice, you can more freely choose your responses."

Muelrath notes that mindfulness (with roots in Vipassana or Insight Meditation) is non-sectarian. In the 30-day plan she introduces the awareness techniques gently (a one-minute meditation on the first day, two minutes on the second, and so on, with free audio versions on the book's website). The author also provides a dozen recipes (including "Berry Good Ice Cream") and additional resources.

Once a practice of meditation is established, Muelrath brings in the vegan perspective (emphasizing personal health and environmental care) and, in honest yet encouraging discussions, takes up "wandering minds," "moods and foods," "cravings," "addictions," and more.

With these new practices, one just might forget, as Muelrath did, about that chocolate stash in the cupboard. That, she says, is real freedom.

Lani Muelrath is scheduled to be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman on Nancy's Bookshelf, Friday, November 3 on mynspr.org (KCHO 91.7 FM) at 10:00 a.m.


Sunday, October 08, 2017

"London Spirits: Short Stories"



Rob Burton, Professor of English at Chico State University, was born near London and grew up in England. In his latest book he revisits familiar haunts by means of unconventional narrators, women and men from the afterlife who played a part in London's history.

"London Spirits: Short Stories" ($10.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle) is a series of fourteen enchanting tales (grouped into "Now," "Then," and "Now And Then") wherein sung and unsung voices are heard again.

In "Die Into Life," there is Fran in the present day who receives a call asking her to meet an old friend from her wild University of London days. "She put the phone down and looked around the kitchen at the symbols of a twenty-year marriage: pots hanging obediently on their hooks, cheery family snapshots on the refrigerator door, …." If she goes, will she return?

Yet even in the "now" there are words from the past that strike Fran deeply, and Burton's craft suggests that rather than history being a settled affair, it still has the power to surprise us, like art. "That's how art happens sometimes," a burping man named Puggy tells Mark in "The Knowledge. "You don't intend it to be a certain way but it assumes its own identity and takes its own course. It's quite magical, eh?"

In "The Purest Ecstasy," Virginia Woolf recalls "the daily practice of writing. Mysterious voices, bidden and unbidden, called to me." Sherlock Holmes solves "The Curious Case of Miss Irene Adler," and plumbers Phillip Clark and Tom Crapper, flushed with success, explain the "Westminster shudder" of the seventeenth-century.

The Celtic warrior-queen Boadicea speaks in the final story which gives its name to the book. She led a revolt against the Roman invaders in AD 60 or so for love of Londinium, and now her spirit says: "O fog-shrouded city, drizzle-dazzled town, metropolis of mud and thick materialism, what can I, your guiding spirit, say that has not already been said about these two thousand years of history? … What is the shape of your historical narrative?"

The funny-piercing answer throws a little shade on those who would forget what came before.


Sunday, October 01, 2017

"A Deadly Wandering"



A terrifying highway accident in Utah in September eleven years ago left two rocket scientists dead. It was caused by nineteen-year-old Reggie Shaw veering into the wrong lane; Shaw survived, physically unscathed, but the answer to the central question--was he texting at the time?--would not come easily.

Matt Richtel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter, based in San Francisco, traces the ripple effects of the accident in a deeply reported, and deeply affecting, book, "A Deadly Wandering" ($15.99 in paperback from William Morrow; also for Amazon Kindle). It's subtitled "A Mystery, A Landmark Investigation, And The Astonishing Science Of Attention In The Digital Age." The reader comes to know family members, those in the judicial system, lawmakers, and attention researchers in a story so emotionally compelling one cannot look away.

"A Deadly Wandering" is the Book In Common for Chico State University (csuchico.edu/bic) and Butte College (butte.edu/bic), and the larger community. Author Matt Richtel will be speaking at Chico State's Laxson Auditorium Tuesday, October 24 at 7:30 p.m. Adults $20, Seniors $18, youth and students are free. Tickets can be obtained through Chico Performances (chicoperformances.com).

There is much for the heart in this story, but also for the mind. "There is a tension going on inside the brain," Richtel writes. "It is a tug-of-war between two different aspects of the attention system. … Top-down attention is what we use to direct our focus, say, on a work project … or when driving on the road. … Bottom-up attention is … what allows our attention to be captured instantly, without our control, say, by the sound of our name … or the ring of the phone. Bottom-up attention operates unconsciously, automatically, driven by sensory stimulus and contextual cues."

You can have your hands on the wheel and be looking straight ahead at the road, but your mind may be focused on texting. Research indicates it may take ten or fifteen seconds for your mind to regain focus on the road--far longer than anyone had thought previously.

It's not easy to keep the right focus. As Richtel suggests, our cell phones have become akin to slot machines and users to compulsive gamblers.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

"Theologians And Philosophers Using Social Media: Advice, Tips, And Testimonials"



Thomas Jay Oord (thomasjayoord.com) teaches at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, and is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene. He's also a prolific user of social media and notes that, referencing Marshall McLuhan, "the medium is the message": as we use Facebook, Facebook (in ways we perhaps don't fully understand) uses us. As McLuhan also noted, "the medium is the massage."

In an effort to understand how his scholar and ministerial friends get a grip on social media, he asked 91of them to write about their social media practices. The result is a breezy compendium of good advice focusing on the how.

"Theologians And Philosophers Using Social Media: Advice, Tips, And Testimonials" ($29.95 in paperback from SacraSage Press; also for Amazon Kindle) includes a chapter by Chico theologian and writer Greg Cootsona (gregcootsona.com).

Cootsona teaches religious studies at Chico State University, served as associate pastor for adult discipleship in New York and Chico, and is directing a multi-year grant project through Fuller Seminary called "Science For Students And Emerging Young Adults." His book, "Mere Science And Christian Faith: Bridging The Divide With Emerging Adults," is scheduled to be published soon by InterVarsity Press.

"Social media," he writes, "also brings with it several surprises. The first is a shocking level of incivility. … The second is how much I have to learn about how it is truly the way we communicate today, and yet, how much I have to learn in effectively employing social media." The keys, he says, are not to use polarizing language, recognize that there are many more readers than trolls, "create a strategy and goals with your social media use," and "post in the service of what you are convinced the listening public needs to hear."

Public theologian Brian McLaren (brianmclaren.net) warns against feeding the trolls; Professor of Science and Religion Karl Giberson (karlgiberson.com) notes that "a public intellectual needs to have a thick skin"; and Helen De Cruz (helendecruz.net), a philosopher of religion and philosopher of cognitive science, reminds social media users to "try to have fun and don't overthink it."

It's all great fun and a real tweet.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

"First Blush: North State Writers 2017 Anthology"




North State Writers (northstatewriters.com), a chartered member of the California Writers Club, has published "First Blush: North State Writers 2017 Anthology" ($13.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle). Twenty writers contributed thirty-eight short pieces and poems, with the cover by master illustrator Steve Ferchaud.

The book begins with T.B. O'Neill's "The Court Martial of Darren Sweet," an unsettling tale of the Vietnam War. "Now, understand," the narrator says, "I'm completely out of my comfort zone here." Part of the delight of the anthology is watching writers stretch, exploring new themes or coming at familiar ones from different directions. Cathy Chase offers a Hmong narrator in "The Flight To The Mekong River"; Joan Goodreau characterizes her son's diagnosis of autism as a tornado in "The Eye Of The Storm"; in "The Parade," William Douglas writes, "Late Sunday night, Billy and Allen stole an elephant."

In "Stroke Of A Pen" N.J. Hanson types a twisted tale of horror, and Mary Jensen offers a vehicular confession; Thatcher C. Nalley explores mental illness in "Pray Tell," and Steven J. Thompson poetizes in "White Or Red, Darling?" Michael Richards writes of home, and Vietnam.

Gail Stone has a racing tale featuring a 1970 split bumper orange Super Sport Camaro; her mother, Carol J. Gray, remembers "The Glass Roof" and her Rose Marie Reid bathing suit; Andrea Lavoy Wagner, in the poem "Fists," observes "Violence creates victims/ but it also creates conquerors." Linda Sue Forrister has an "October Epiphany," Margie Yee Webb writes of "Cat Mulan," N.L. Brumbaugh explores the King Tut Exhibit; and Eric Miller tells us "Wife Trumps Husband At Christmas" (if you want a new weed-eater, read this first).

Cara Gubbins writes of manatees in "The Release," Dan Irving offers a non-fiction biography of Yukon explorer James Foster Scott; Kathleen T. Hiatt tells the tale of a horrible car accident in "Sibling Rivalry"; Ken Young provides the first chapter of the second book in his "King's Frog Hunter" high fantasy trilogy.

"In the gloom of the Dudoon Bog," Young writes, "a lone rider weaved carefully between stagnant ponds, searching for a safe trail." In this anthology, the trails are rarely safe.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"The Birds Of Bidwell Park: Expanded Edition"



"When you try to identify birds," writes Roger Lederer, renowned ornithologist and Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences at Chico State University, "you have to look at them in a new way. There is typically no one characteristic that distinguishes one bird from another; it's a set of characteristics. … All birds have feathers, beaks, scaled legs, tails, and wings. But the variation in those parts, plus the coloration and patterning of the feathers, makes each species unique and most are easy to identify."

What better place to practice this "new way of seeing" than within Chico's jewel, an enduring legacy of John and Annie Bidwell. To that end, Lederer and artist-wife Carol Burr, Professor Emerita of English at Chico State, have updated their classic guide. "The Birds Of Bidwell Park: Expanded Edition" ($19.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing) adds five species to bring the total to 91.

The book is available locally at Bird In Hand, Made In Chico, ABC Books, Bidwell Mansion visitor's center, C Bar D Feed And Seed, and also at the Snow Goose Festival January 24-28, 2018.

The guide contains Burr's pen and colored-pencil illustrations, a map of the park, and brief tutorials on the parts of a bird and how to get the most out of birdwatching. Each page devotes itself to a species, with information on seasonal viewing and where in the park the bird is most commonly seen.

I learned of the new edition of the book through email (not a tweet), with the author noting the additions: Phainopepla ("shining robe"), Eurasian Collared Dove (their call sounds like "cuk-COO-cook"), Great Egret, Nashville Warbler (seen in the park "on their migration from Southern Texas" and elsewhere), Downy Woodpecker ("the smallest of all North American woodpeckers"). "The Eurasian Collared Dove," Lederer observes, "has become quite common even though there were none in Chico when the first edition of this book came out in 2010."

Lederer recommends beginners "go out in the field with folks who know the birds. If you don't have a friend who does, contact the local Altacal Audubon Society or Big Chico Creek Nature Center."

Get the book, then go and look.


Sunday, September 03, 2017

"Open Your Studio: Nine Steps To A Successful Art Event"



Melinda Cootsona (melindacootsona.com) is a Bay Area painter and art teacher with family in Chico. Over the years she's gained experience in hosting or participating in Open Studio events; that's where the public is invited to meet the artist, see the artist's domain, and view and purchase selected works. But there's much more to it than putting out a sign that says "the artist is in!"

Cootsona has distilled her advice into a no-nonsense manual that guides the artist into the business side of things. "Open Your Studio: Nine Steps To A Successful Art Event" ($14.95 in paperback from RedDot Press; also for Amazon Kindle) "is a step-by-step guide written to encourage artists to participate in Open Studios."

It's timely help--and motivation--for those preparing for the 30th annual Chico Art Center Open Studios Art Tour (OSAT) October 21-22 and October 28-29. There's a preview exhibition October 6-29, a reception, and more (see facebook.com/CACOSAT2017).

What Cootsona wants to do is demystify the "commerce" side of art. "Selling your own art," she writes, "can be done successfully without 'selling out' or compromising your integrity."

What should the artist show? "Put your best/favorite pieces at one end and arrange them down to your least favorite. Try to be objective in looking at the quality" and then "show only your best work."

"It will hang on someone's wall and they will remember you when they see it. How much they like the art determines if they'll return. So, if you need to eliminate some of your pieces because you don't feel they are as strong, do it!" Make sure the presentation is "cohesive"; eliminate those works that don't seem to "fit" with the others.

The chapters on pricing are worth the cost of admission. Key ideas: "Never price a work according to your own emotional attachment to it"; "always be consistent with your pricing, no matter what your medium"; and "discounting your work cheapens it."

Cootsona gets into some nitty-gritty details but reminds artists to "create what you want to create and what speaks to you … people will see passion in your work."

And they will be moved.