Monday, January 26, 2015

I Didn't "Get" Them When I Was One -- Reading/Reviewing The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults (Jensen, Nutt)

I know! Stay Calm!  The world hasn't ended, just a two post weekend (well, technically it is Monday but I cant sleep making it still "my Sunday"), b/c the gratitude list had been a work in progress and because I finished up a book and figured I might as well review it while I'm awake (yes, not the best choice for sleep hygiene, but my sleep is a strange thing).

                                 The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults(image via

I'm fascinated by research into what makes human tick that lies at the intersection of psychology, sociology, and biology.  So, while among a slim number of readers who are neither parents nor teachers nor teens themselves, I was excited to read an advanced reader's copy supplied by the publisher, Harper.

The book includes a lot of science, something a prospective reader needs to know.  I could read and understand but not often remember the science from chapter to chapter.  Jensen begins with a general discussion of the teenage brain and much of what follows stems from the (relatively new) realization that teen brains are very much works in progress.  Jensen suggests many hallmarks of "typical teen" behavior stem from this fact, noting that the region that is still most underdeveloped is the frontal cortex which handles advanced decision making, including the ability to foresee the consequences of an action.  Jensen cites this evolving structure, which includes a rapid increase in brain connectivity, as the primary reason why teens act as they do and suggests social factors are largely secondary (as is the impact of hormones).  She also looks at the neurobiological consequences of certain behavior including drug/alcohol use.

After a general "primer" on neurobiology, Jensen hits a number of "hot" topics such as teens and the media (electronic and traditional), drugs and alcohol use, stress, mental illness, gender differences (ex. speed of development, use of different brain areas to accomplish tasks), and criminal behavior.  Each section discusses how teens behave and attempts to trace it to a biological root in the brain.  Throughout, Jensen also shares stories of her own teens, stories of teens she's been approached to help, and news/legal stories.

Overall, I enjoyed the read.  There's a lot in the book, including a lot of "stop and read outloud to share" facts/theories.  I did have a lot of trouble remembering certain details from chapter to chapter but the index in the complete version (mine is pre-sale reviewer's edition) might help.  Stories that connected/continued would also have been great ("we thought it was X, but then she did Y").  The pieces involving a parent contacting Jensen for help were among my favorite elements.  Jensen does share some general advice for parenting teens with a key point being repetition and general awareness of the teen's world.

A solid read for someone trying to understand a teen or just curious in general about the roots of behavior.  I read a fiction book at the same time since it could be a bit fact-dense for bedtime at points.  Parts dragged and some things were "missing" (i.e. teens and sex/sexuality).  3.5 stars, strongly want the half so rounding up on one site, down on the other full-stars-only review site.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

37 Years of Gratitude

No, it's not my birthday.  A blogger I admire, Melanie from Melanie in the Middle, recently posted 45 things that make her grateful, an idea she got from a woman who posted 42 in honor of her birthday age. I thought I'd take a stab. The number is based on age so i suppose i'll be honest and do the full 37.
  1. My husband -- for more reasons than I can say
  2. Friends -- I rarely see most of them, but simply knowing they exist and that when i do see them it will feel like not a moment had passedl
  3. My family  --  for many reasons but mostly for being an ever-present support network.
  4. Authors, publishers, and others who make books,especially those still making actual books (sales of hard-copy books are growing, at least in Australia) -- I've loved books since I was a young girl and refuse to make the e-transition.  More broadly, there's nothing quite like a book you can fall into and the odd feeling of fictitious friends.  Oddly, I find the best and worst are marked by the same difficulty finishing....the latter because it's hard to pick up, the former b/c you don't want to put it down and say goodbye.
  5. Our cat Smoky -- she came to us in a sad way and we're both terribly allergic (stock tip: Claritin D sales steady/growing in central PA),but she manages to make me/us smile everyday.  She shows so much love and is a pretty atypical gal.
  6. Our resting-in-peace frogs --  I am grateful for having had them in my life.  They really were my first pets in many ways since the fish aren't all that interactive
  7. Our two new frogs - Currently the size of nickels!
  8. The fishies -- Okay, they don't feel like the other pets, but they are soothing to watch and I've still shed tears when we lost some favorites.  
  9. Good TV -- Shows that pull you in.  From HGTV and Lifetime that provide mindless entertainment that make "treadmill time" pass to great dramas and comedies with characters that feel real and that often bring up issues that challenge my thought process.
  10. Wine - A good red not only makes my taste buds happy, but can unknot the muscles that tighten because they compensate for my "bad" spots.  
  11. Blankets - I'm totally a "Linus," dragging blankets everywhere including on longer car trips.
  12. Teddy Bill -- A gift from our first Valentine's, merely two weeks since we'd met.  I'm not sure that I've spent a night w/o him since, a kind nurse even had him resting on my bed when I awoke from my last surgery.  He's been squeezed hard or held lightly, depending on pain levels (when it gets too bad, i go from wanting to squeeze to all-but-limp.
  13. Sunshine - Its magic is under-appreciated...think sun shining through rustling needs and warming up your arms on those "just right" days
  14. My Y Class -- I was terrified to attend and scare out-of-my-mind to actually teach.  But it has been good for me both physically and mentally.
  15. Daisies - My favorite flower for its simple beauty.
  16. Daffodils - This one daffodil in my neighbor's yard mean spring has arrived,
  17. My treadmill - Okay, mine drives me nutty b/c it has broken multiple times, but it was one of the wisest purchases I've made
  18. Modern medicine - I wouldn't have survived in another age.  Also, while I feel very torn-up about them at times (I joke about them to hide it), pain meds really do make it possible for me to live at least something of a life.
  19. Alone time that can be shared -- There's a beauty to finding the person who you can feel alone with (even if it means I'm ending a sentence with a preposition since I like that wording).   It's an introvert thing...we recharge when we are alone, but I can also do so with my husband in the room
  20. Ice cream - Self-explanatory.
  21. Cheese - Same
  22. Jelly beans -- I'm an addict.
  23. Cereal -- Yeah, another addiction.  At least this one's fortified!!
  24. My books (as distinguished from books in general) -- The only things I hoard.  I'll lend them out to trusted friends, but I always ask for them back.  I'd love to be someone who donated used books so they can be loved again, but I love having my piled-high shelves!  
  25. Warm scarves -- Not a fashion statement, I just find it makes a huge difference when I wear my peacoat instead of my big puffer and I find wearing one (I only have one, basic wool scarf) oddly soothing.
  26. PJs - 'Nuff said.
  27. Scrubs - I still have some that my Dad grabbed for me and they make awesome PJ/lounge pants.
  28. Nice plates -- Ok, I may be struggling a bit!  Still, I love our coordinated white square plates and how clean the lines look in the cabinet.  I was tempted to photograph them when we first filled the shelves with the new ones.
  29. A warm house on a snow-filled day -- Too easy to forget that there are many without that luxury.
  30. The Tempurpedic mattress - The husband bought a feather topper but it's now doubled over on his side b/c I prefer the mattress itself (I suppose that's our low-tech Sleep Number system).  It has the perfect amount of give to it, esp important when you're frequently forced to spend the day there.  A worth-it splurge.
  31. The Inn -- The site of our lovely brunch wedding.  I fell in love when we drove up and have enjoyed several totally relaxing stays.  There are very expensive rooms but also totally reasonable ones.  While "perfect" is always an exaggeration, they nailed the "feel" for our wedding and I know future stays will be all the more special because of the memories.
  32. Kind neighbors -- They make a street into a neighborhood and I've been lucky to have some stars.  I call our neighborhood a "cup of sugar community" -- you could show up on many doorsteps and "borrow" a needed supply.
  33. A beautiful landscape -- The variety is too essential to this "item" to tie it down.  Rolling hills, changing leaves, a roaring ocean, perfect clouds, waterfalls...  And Central PA which is much more beautiful than people might imagine.  
  34. Naps -- I couldn't survive my life without them.  I don't always actually sleep, but lying down and being quiet is essential to surviving chronic pain.
  35. Hot showers -- Often the best part of my day!
  36. Laptops - They make the world so much more accessible for someone stuck in bed or at the table.  I can't picture being "tied" to a desktop.
  37. The online world -- I've found tremendous support online and people who really understand some of the difficult areas of my life.  I've found true friends, some of whom I've never seen in person but who have helped me through the hard moments and celebrated the good ones.  And I get to share my story in the hopes that it helps someone else which gives purpose to the pain.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Review: Bad Choices, Good Prose, and Relatable Women (Despite Some Un-Relatable Choices) -- Single, Carefree, Mellow: Stories by Katherine Heiny

A quick book review....

I'll start with the admission that this review is based on having read about 3/4 of the stories in the collection.  I misplaced this book while visiting family and it will be a while before I can finish, if at all.  Since it was kindly provided by the publisher for my honest review, I felt I should go ahead and review it at this juncture anyway, a decision made easier by the fact that it is a collection of stories so it isn't like a novel where the ending can color the whole experience.

Heiny's collection focuses on women and their romantic entanglements.  Most of the stories standalone, although one character's "relationship life" is revisited at several points in her life's journey.  It is important to note that few of the stories involve a simple/traditional relationship.  We see women cheating on their partners and women who know they are seeing a man who has a wife or significant other.  If that's going to be a roadblock, steer clear.

That said, I enjoyed these stories.  I rarely agreed with the choices made by the protagonists and I often found their relationship decisions fairly despicable.  Willingness to cheat is a pretty major character flaw in my book.  Yet, while I'm not sure I ever fully liked the protagonists, and while I can't imagine cheating myself, I found myself understanding many of them, even relating to parts of their stories.  The women's willingness to cheat could have been a roadblock, but Heiny manages to draw such real women that it wasn't the sole character trait we see.  That isn't to say the women come away having learned a lesson or that the stories look at the consequences of their choices.  Most of the stories are a momentary visit with women in love or women in lust (or at least "in like").  There's more humor than consequence.

Heiny's writing saves what could be an infuriating collection of moments in some other author's hands.  I enjoyed the stories, even if I didn't "like" the women in them all the time.  I felt ties to my own self, even if I can't imagine making the choices the women make.  The stories read quickly and easily and I think it is an easy collection to breeze through in a few days or to pick up between more serious fare for a quick palette-cleanse.  Not for everyone, but I'll give it a solid 4 of 5 stars.