Capturing Every Day Life by Jane Goodrich

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capturing every day life

Jane Goodrich is a NYC-based newborn and child photographer. And a dang good one at that. She has written this guide to capturing photos of kids in every day life situations. The tag line is “the no-nonsense, cheese-free, read-while-they-nap, easy-as-pie guide to taking top-notch, world class photos of your kids.”

Yep, that about sums it up.

It’s a great first book for anyone who is interested in learning to take his/her camera off automatic mode and harness the full creative power that DSLR cameras offer. Jane shares simple definitions to complex terms and really explains the basics in an unintimidating way. She also gives practical suggestions for making the most of a photo shoot or just capturing the moment at hand.

The book is awesome. Several months ago, I started taking photography classes and often walked away more confused than I had been when I went into the class. Of course, good photography requires lots of practice. But, ahem, in order to practice, you must understand some basic concepts. Photography is all about capturing light – and you can do that several ways – via the available light, the shutter speed, the ISO, the aperture, and flash.

Did I lose you? Then pick up Jane’s book. You’ll understand the terms and will be able to apply them to taking your own great pictures. She gives the best explanation of ISO that I’ve ever heard (that’s on page 15).

Jane also has a fantastic blog where she shares lots of interesting articles and tips. You can find that here.

When I received the request to review Jane’s book, I wrote to her and told her how excited I was to read it and explained that I am a complete novice budding photographer. She wrote back and said, “if you have any questions, just let me know.”

So, I did. And she helped me understand what was happening differently when I took these two pictures and how to avoid it from happening again. As you can see, the first picture is hazy and the crab nearly gets lost. What? You didn’t see a crab – look at photo 2.

13_08_08_sunrise and pepper_EllenWeeren_0227

 Ah, there he is…13_08_08_sunrise and pepper_EllenWeeren_0324

She also gave me permission to just claim the first photograph was a result of artistic interpretation. Yes, you can see why I love her already.

Jane also has a new book out called “Where is Charlie’s Nose.” (I haven’t read this one yet, but if it’s anything like Capturing Every Day Life, it’s bound to be really good.)

where is charlie's nose

I thoroughly enjoyed Capturing Every Day Life by Jane Goodrich and highly recommend it to anyone who is intimidated by that knob at the top of his/her camera.

Spirit of the Wolf by Linda Star Wolf with Casey Piscitelli….

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Merging the world of the wolf with Shamanism, authors (and mother/son team) Linda Star Wolf and Casey Piscitelli join with artist Antonia Neshev to introduce the power of lupine energy.

The artwork alone is amazing. And this book would make an excellent gift for anyone with an affinity for wolves. Neshev earned international acclaim when the artwork on the cover of this book appeared on a t-shirt.

The teachings and inspirations in the book will appeal to those who believe in the spirituality of nature and its ability to help humans move forward peacefully in their own lives.

There are several of Samuel Briedenbach’s teachings sprinkled throughout the book as well. He is a scientific Shaman who believes in a spiritual DNA connection with nature and animals.

The essence of The Spirit Wolf seems to be captured in its quotes from Art Berg:

The difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer

and William Blake:

What is now proved, was once only imagin’d.

The authors and artist share their own knowledge and experience to help everyone connect with their inner wolf. This book won’t be for everyone, but for those who believe (or want to believe) in the power of lupine, it will be especially poignant.

The book is on sale at Amazon for $13.46 and you can buy it here.

Drinking Diaries (an anthology)…………..

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The tag line under the title of Drinking Diaries reads “Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up”.  And they do with brutal honestly and reflection.

I bought this book because Jane Friedman has an essay in it. She’s very well known in the world o’ writing and her essays appear on quite a few websites I read regularly. In one essay titled Finding and Longing for Community, Jane comes across as quiet, academic, and maybe even reserved. Of course, I don’t know Jane, but she seems so down to earth and grounded. She is certainly successful in the writing world. So, the fact that she has a drinking story intrigued me. And her essay is intriguing – and quite revealing.

As are all the essays.

I am not really sure how to describe this book. It’s great that it’s an anthology because, not unlike drinking, it’s best served in small doses. The stories are heavy and heart-breaking and real. There is humor sprinkled here and there like an olive adorning a potent cocktail.

If drinking has been a part of your life in any way – even via its absence – I think you will be glad you read these stories. You might also start to see your own drinking in a different way.

A lot of the stories come from the perspective of daughters who were affected by drinking parents. If you are a parent, it’s interesting to see drinking through a child’s lens. If you had a parent who drank (or drinks), the stories might feel pretty raw.

In a very general way, this books feels like an AL-ANON meeting (the support group for those who love an addict). It’s just a simple sharing of stories and experiences without too much judgement. And it’s a great place to start a discussion about drinking in our lives and what affect it really has on those we love and those who love us.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot……

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art from www.amazon.com

This non-fiction story is about the life of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman who died from cervical cancer in the early 1950s.

While Henrietta was undergoing treatment for her cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. George Gey  (a researcher) obtained some of her cells – without her knowledge or consent. Those cells were the first human cells to remain “alive” outside of the human body. Sadly, Henrietta died – but miraculously, her cells live on even today.

And the study of those cells has led to amazing advancements in medicine, including the polio vaccine, various cancer treatments, and so much more.

Normally, I read a book with my eyes wide open – but this book I read with my mouth wide open. I simply could not believe the liberties that doctors were allowed (and by the by, still are allowed) to take with human tissues. No consent necessary. Even if they will profit from it.

And it’s not just taking samples – it’s testing. While doctors and researchers were dissecting and analyzing cells outside of Henrietta’s body, other doctors were conducting research – including injecting cancer cells into their patients – without asking permission or forgiveness.

Rebecca Skloot does a lovely job of introducing us to the Lacks family and sharing their journey with us.

It was by complete accident that the Lacks children even learned that Henrietta’s cells were taken from her and being used all over the world. The cells were named HeLa cells (the first two letters of Henrietta’s first and last names). And they have not profited in any way from their discovery or continued sale – even though they struggle to pay their own medical bills.

This book sounded a little intimidating to me because of the science/research tilt – but Rebecca explains everything so easily that even I (a mere English major) can understand it.

The Lacks family saga saddened me tremendously. In a land where these types of things just aren’t supposed to happen, they simply do happen.

The bottom line for me is – please use my discarded tissue for research if it will help other people, but you really should ask me first if it’s okay. And if you are going to make millions on my tissue, please share at least some of those profits. Yes, thank you.

This is an amazing story and I think you will be very glad you read it!

You can purchase it on Amazon here.

And NPR did a story here.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott……

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by Anne LamottAnne Lamott is a (pretty well-known) writer and she writes this book to encourage others to write. She doesn’t even demand that writers write better – at least not at first. She just wants us to write.

It’s wonderful.

It’s funny in unexpected ways. Many times I read a line and thought, a second later, “now that was funny”. Anne Lamott writes with a humor that is natural and seeps into her words. I love her conversational tone and her advice is fabulous.

In Bird by Bird, she gives us permission to write a “shitty” first draft – because we must. We must get something down on paper and then fine-tune it. She reassures us that she knows no-one who can write perfectly the first time. Well, she admits to knowing one person who can do it – but she doesn’t like her very much.

The gist of her message is that we should take our writing bit by bit. Anne shares the story of her brother writing a paper for a school project. He waited until the last minute, of course, and was overwhelmed by tackling the whole world of birds at once. Her father simply said to him, “take it bird by bird”. He encouraged his son to write in little bits. That’s great advice for life, too, by the way.  One thing at a time.

Readers also get insights into plot, character development, jealousy, and tons ‘o writing stuff. There is a lot to learn between the pages but it never feels like a text book. Anne shares her knowledge through stories and examples that really “show, instead of tell”.

Even if you hope to never pick up a pencil again, you can enjoy this book.

This is another book that I will give as a gift to friends. It’s all sorts of yummy!

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore

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(There is always the chance that a any book discussion might reveal too much about an unread story – if you haven’t read the book and want to, you might want to wait to read what is written here – just in case. This disclaimer doesn’t matter so much in this review because from the very beginning of this book, we know that one Wes Moore becomes a Rhodes Scholar and another Wes Moore is sentenced to spend the rest of his life in jail. But I will discuss details from the book, just so you know.)

This is a story about two men, both named Wes Moore who live just a few streets away from each other in Baltimore, Maryland. They both grow up relatively poor, without fathers, in less than ideal neighborhoods. One Wes Moore goes on to become a Rhodes Scholar, a decorated veteran, White House Fellow, world traveler, and a successful writer/businessman. The other Wes Moore lands in jail, convicted of murder and sentenced to confinement for life.

Of course the questions  beg, “How could this happen? What was the difference?”

I won’t say that this is the most eloquent story that I have read but it is perhaps one of the most important.  I don’t think I have ever felt the full weight of my parenting responsibilities as strongly as when I turned the last page.

This book is about Wes Moore and his literary twin but it also about their mothers – the decisions they did and didn’t make. It is about what they did and didn’t do because they wanted desperately to believe in their sons. And it is about what they refused to believe or were too tired to believe, ultimately understanding that their children were not innocent bystanders in their own destinies.

The author of this book is the success story – he beat the odds. But some might argue the odds were in his favor. He had parents who had gone to college and expected him to go to college. He had tremendous support from his grandparents and his mother was willing to work her arse off to make sure her son went to a school that offered him a chance to succeed. And finally, he accepted that a life without fear was a life worth working for. He doesn’t look over his shoulder to make sure the shadows of his mistakes don’t eat him alive.

I would also argue that it was critical that his mother refused to believe that her son could do no wrong. She watched for warning signs and paid attention to them. When Wes seemed to be getting lost in the streets, his mother shipped him off to military school. This decision infuriated Wes and he tried hard to distance himself from his mom. That is a tremendous sacrifice. She risked losing her relationship with him in order to save him.

We don’t learn a lot about the other Wes Moore’s mother but we did hear that she ignored some pretty significant warning signs (and even real evidence) about her son and drug activity.

The tragedy in this story is that the other Wes Moore did try to turn his life around. He entered a work training program and sought legitimate employment. But the draw of life on the streets with his older brother proved too alluring. The other Wes Moore claims he was not at the robbery when a police officer was shot but the jury decided otherwise. He will spend the rest of his life in jail. The shadows of his mistakes will sleep under him and taunt him at night.

In this time of Presidential elections and debates, the argument over “right to life/freedom of choice” cannot help but surface. What this book shows is that we must must distract ourselves from the rhetoric and turn instead to the reality of it all. We must shift the focus from judgment and blame to education and support. And I do not mean just financial support. We are very busy demanding that young girls not get pregnant in the first place, but we are hesitant to support sex education. And once the babies are born, we literally cut the umbilical cord and send them home with parents who are just children themselves.

It is a vicious cycle of ill-equipped parents raising children who will become ill-equipped parents at often very young ages. Of course, wealthy parents make horrible choices too. Their denial and ignorance is simply more gracefully coupled with the resources that allow access to lawyers, treatment, support, and forgiveness.

I wish this book had contained more of the other Wes Moore’s stories. The author interviewed him extensively and I missed hearing more from him.

What I did really like is that this book was written from a journalistic standpoint. The author did a great job of writing without judgment, apologies, or excuses. He tells the story that is and leaves the reader to determine why.

Several colleges are giving this book to their incoming freshmen so that they can weigh the importance of the choices they make. I would argue that doctors should be giving this book to new parents when they have their first sonogram so that they can weigh the importance of the choices they make.

The words on the back of the jacket seem to capture the essence of the story best, “The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”

The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life by Nava Atlas…….

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“But through it all, they wrote.” 

That line is the opening sentence on the book trailer for YouTube and that is the beauty of the stories in The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life by Nava Atlas.

This book captures why women have continued to write against tremendous odds for centuries. It is a celebration of the way 12 amazing women captured words with a pen, pencil, or quill and poetically spread them across pages.

The authors spotlighted are…

Lousia May Alcott
Jane Austen
Charlotte Brontë
Willa Cather
Enda Ferber
Madeleine L’Engle
L.M. Montgomery
Anaïs Nin
George Sand
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Edith Wharton
Virginia Woolf

The author is not only fabulous with her own words and insights, but she is an amazing illustrator as well. The pages spill over with wonderful stories decorated with amazing art. It is clear that a lot of research went into getting this book right – the stories are drawn from diaries, journals, memoirs, and good old-fashioned letters. They give us the gift of so many lessons – struggling but not giving up, doubting and not doubting, and exceeding our own expectations.

I will end this review by simply saying that I love this book so much that I have already purchased it as a gift for a friend. And she loves it too!

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz…….

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(There is always the chance that a any book discussion might reveal too much about an unread story – if you haven’t read the book and want to, you might want to wait to read what is written here – just in case.)

The Four Agreements is not a new book. In fact, it debuted 15 years ago and has been on the New York Times Bestsellers List for over 7 years. The author is celebrating the book’s fifteen-year anniversary by publishing an illustrated version. And it is lovely.

This book would be a wonderful gift for anyone on your gift list this season. The pages are beautifully illustrated and even their colors are soothing. The message of the book is timeless. Don Miguel Ruiz encourages us to make four agreements with ourselves so that we can each find peace and live joyfully. He calls his book “a practical guide to personal freedom.”

The book is based on the teachings of the ancient Toltecs of southern Mexico who were known as the women and men of knowledge. The lessons in the book are actually quite simple and as I read the words, I kept thinking, “well, yes, that makes perfect sense. I should start doing that. right. now.”

The author reminds us of fundamental truths that can change our perspective and increase our satisfaction with our lives. Perspective is everything. He encourages us to stay away from gossip, which he poetically calls poison, and not to worry so much about what others think of us. He reminds us that very often what people think of us is truly just a reflection of how they view themselves.

Don Miguel Ruiz spells out the agreements right on the inside of the cover of the book – so I don’t think I am revealing a secret when I share them with you. They are:

  1. Be Impeccable with Your Word
  2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
  3. Don’t Make Assumptions
  4. Always Do Your Best (and here he reminds us that our best is different under different circumstances – he in not encouraging perfection, just sincere effort)

The gentle ideas in the book are so basic but are also easy to slip away from.

Honestly, there were a few places in the book where I felt like I was reading in circles. But I think that is because the ideas are so important and simple that the author wanted to stretch them out for emphasis. I will absolutely re-read this book periodically to remind myself to keep things in perspective and to not take things personally. And, seriously, this book would make a fantastic gift.