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  1. Book Review: The Germ Files

    February 28, 2016 by Diane

    The Germ Files

    Jason Tetro spent fifteen years researching microbiology at the University of Ottawa, so he’s a germ expert. Or a hypochondriac. Being an expert hypochondriac myself, I opened this book with some trepidation after reading the bold red type on the back cover: “SOME GERMS ARE OUT TO GET US.”

    Yikes.

    I plunged bravely onward, opening the book at random to a page about honey. With its proteins, antioxidants, minerals, fructose, glucose, sucrose and fermented antimicrobials, raw honey can attack bacteria known to cause cavities. Sweet! But wait, that’s not all. Once swallowed, it prevents heartburn and damage to the stomach wall from acid production. How cool is that! And just how does honey manage these miraculous feats? Because in it’s raw form (that’s unpasteurized, folks), it’s fermented, containing several good bacteria and their byproducts.

    Byproducts? Oh, geez. I don’t want to know.

    Flipping to another page, I discovered that Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, two species of probiotics, not only help you digest food, they release a plethora of vitamins and minerals in the gut, help prevent the onset of the trots, and…check this out…keep us calm. And oh, by the way, they seek out and destroy bacteria “known to cause rotting and human infection.”

    “GET ME A BOTTLE!” I hollered to no one in particular. And then this caught my eye:

    Where do the people who produce probiotics for consumption find their bacteria? Well, in milk or some fermented material…maybe.

    Or human feces.

    Wait! What!?

    Specifically, baby feces. What better subject for gathering specimens than an infant with its gut full of strong bacterial species.

    Feeling woozy yet?

    Fear not. After all the testing in the laboratory to see if said feces bacteria can survive stomach acid, bile, and loss of oxygen, and have the ability to cling to human cells in the digestive track while dueling with potential pathogens and not harming its human host in the process, those who remain victorious are used for probiotic development. The end result is far, far removed from that sweet little baby’s behind.

    Whew.

    This book is filled with fascinating tidbits. From hygiene to beauty products, health, food, diet, childcare and yes, even sex, the author does a bang-up job of explaining how germs impact us for the good or ill, where they come from, how they live (and die), how they protect us, and how to avoid their harm. And he does so in a highly readable, entertaining yet informative fashion.

    If you want to live in harmony with those 137 trillion freeloaders that you’re harboring, read this book.


  2. Book Review: The Secret to Peak Productivity

    February 7, 2016 by Diane

    The Secret to Peak Productivity

    If there’s a secret to peak productivity, I want to know what it is, because I’m overwhelmed by all the things I want to do, need to do, and would do if I had the time. So when I saw this book in the library, I snatched it and scurried home.

    The secret? A Productivity Pyramid based on a version of Maslow’s Pyramid. Who’s Maslow? The brainiac who spelled out the five levels to self-actualization, numero uno being our basic needs. Until those are met, we can’t move up the pyramid.

    The Productivity Pyramid works the same way. Until we master the first four levels, we can’t reach the fifth, the realm of possibility. And what are those five levels? Read on.

    Level 1: Physical Organization

    Are you a clutter bug? If so, you might not be as productive or relaxed as you could be if you had easy access to what you need when you need it, and a clear space for clear thinking. Luckily, I’m obsessive about neatness, so this step I’ve conquered. But if you’re not a neat-freak like me, have no fear: you can use the three T’s to sort the mess:

    • To toss: stuff you don’t need. Like greasy fast-food wrappers and expired coupons.
    • To do: stuff you need to take action on. Like…bills.
    • To keep: all that important stuff you need to file away. Like your 2001 tax return.

     

    Level 2: Electronic Organization

    Are you overwhelmed by emails? Yeah, me too. What to do? The author suggests setting up electronic files to sort your emails into, which is highly appealing to those of us with OCD. Just make sure that all those filed emails aren’t piling up like invisible clutter. Also, limit the number of times you check your email, no matter how addicting it is to check. Three times, tops, should do it. I’ll add one more tip: unsubscribe to all those newsletters that you don’t have time to read. Like the one about how to submit queries to agents, when you haven’t even started writing your novel.

    Level 3: Time Management

    Here’s the step I want to master.  How does one get a handle on managing time? By utilizing the three P’s:

    • Plan: all the stuff you want, need, and have to work on. Of course, this could take a shit-load of time if you have a never-ending to-do list.
    • Prioritize: decide what’s most important, then next, and so on. Surfing the web probably doesn’t qualify as # 1, 2 and 3. Contrary to what you and I might think, we don’t need to know everything about everything on the internet, now.
    • Perform: commit to doing all that stuff, starting with the most important. Hint: it’s not Twitter.

     

    Level 4: Activity-Goal Alignment

    Here’s some interesting questions: Is whatever you’re doing, or adding to your to-do lists, or spending your time on, in alignment with your goals? Do you even know your goals? Hmm. This is another step I could brush up on.

    Level 5: Possibility

    More questions: What do you want to do or be? What’s the big picture of your life? Well… um…hmm. Time for the five E’s:

    • Enjoy: spend time doing what you loved to do but stopped doing. Sleeping doesn’t count.
    • Engage: spend time with people, friends, family, community. Yep, that means socializing, my fellow introverts.
    • Enable: spend time taking care of your health, home, and welfare. Get out of that chair for the love of God.
    • Evolve: spend time taking whatever you currently enjoy doing to the next level. That doesn’t mean more chocolate.
    • Explore: spend time seeking out new challenges. Yes, that means (gulp) stepping outside of your comfort zone.

     

    Now, you might be thinking: all of these action steps are well and good, but who’s got the time to do them? Just reading about the T’s and P’s and E’s makes my head spin.

    Well, I discovered one more tidbit of wisdom in the book. And it’s on the last page.

    Are you ready?

    Drum roll, please…

    Stop saying: “I don’t have the time.” Instead, say: “I had more important tasks on my list,” or “I have other priorities.” So that you’re living in the world of choice management, rather than time management.

    And that, my friends, is the biggest secret of all.


  3. Book Review: Habits of a Happy Brain

    January 27, 2016 by Diane

    I thought I’d start including book reviews on my site while I’m still off fishing. Here’s my most recent. Let me know if you like this feature!

    Habits of a Happy Brain

    I’ve read several books on rewiring the brain to overcome anxiety and depression by changing our thoughts, and goodness knows there’s a plethora of books on happiness. So I was pleased to discover a new angle on both subjects because frankly, I’m stressed, and I would love to have those feel-good chemicals zipping around my body instead of the cortisol and adrenaline that I manufacture in Costco proportions.

    Imagine how delighted I was to discover that I can train my brain to switch on those happy chemicals and increase my feeling of well-being. What a nifty trick! I was eager to find out how.

    To begin with, the brain, I learned, has a big job to do: ensuring my survival. Which it seems to be doing rather seriously, ringing all those alarm bells 24/7. But when it sees something good for me, it shoots out those feel-good chemicals: dopamine, endorphin, oxytocin, and serotonin. Yay! The problem is, they don’t last long. Boo. They fizzle out and turn off. Pfft. Gone. And once again, my mammalian brain is back to scanning the environment for danger. Which it finds. Daily. In the news. On the radio. In the mirror. In my imagination.

    So how do I keep more of those feel-good chemicals active? Thankfully, this book explains the process. The author takes the reader through an explanation of how and why the mammal brain works the way it does, why it creates unhappiness, how new experiences stimulate the happy guys, and how to rewire the brain through 45 days of new habits.

    Wait, 45 days? I thought it only took 21 days to learn a new habit.

    Well, apparently 45 days is the required amount of time to boost these chemicals, so 45 days it is.

    But first, I need to know which of the good guys I’m lacking. Is it dopamine, that rewards me when I get what I need? Is it endorphin, that allows me to ignore pain? Is it oxytocin, that enables me to trust others and find safety in companionship? Or is it serotonin, motivating me to get respect?

    Well, let’s face it, I want more than 38 subscribers to my blog. And more than two retweets on my tweets. But isn’t that just an ego thing? Or is it a lack of serotonin?

    And yeah, I feel lonely, even though I’m around people every day. So maybe oxytocin is what I need.

    And I’m definitely aware of every twinge in my body, so it’s clear my endorphins aren’t doing their job.

    And I don’t always get what I need, or at least I don’t feel like I always get what I need, or have the time to achieve all that I want, so is lack of dopamine the culprit? Or greed?

    The good news is, once I figure out which happy chemicals I’m short on, I can use the tools in this book to balance and easily access all four. How cool is that!

    My take? If  you struggle with anxiety or depression and want to feel more in control of your happiness, this is a book you might want to read. I also recommend it to ye who are fascinated by neuroscience and how to rewire the brain. Uh, that would be me.