What Are Your Core Values?

You just get to pick TWO!

I’ve been reading Dare to Lead, a book by my favorite self-help author, Brené Brown (it’s the book I reviewed the horrible workbook for back in March). It was my suggestion for our work book club at Planview. What’s annoying is that I keep leaving the book in Austin, so I hadn’t been able to keep up, but I finally remembered to bring the book back with me last time I went, so I was able to read the correct chapter for today’s meeting.

I sure am glad I did, too, because some of the things she has us thinking about in the “Living Our Values” section helped me focus on not only how to effectively deal with coworkers, but also how to deal with the people around us during this pandemic.

Brown stresses that it’s important to know what your personal core values are, because they will affect how you make decisions, work with others, and treat yourself. And you only get to have TWO of them (though she lets you pick sub-values, too). I already had a set of guiding principles I live by:

  • Treat others how you’d like to be treated
  • Assume good intentions
  • Love yourself

But, I’d never chosen a mere two words to be my core values. So, this was an interesting exercise to me. I ended up with these:


Making a difference

Kindness was easy. I have always tried my best to be kind, and feel unsettled and weird if I realize I’m not being kind (usually it’s when I find myself being judgmental, and I have to snap out of it).

Here are the value choices I had to select from. Oops, no one can read this list on their phones. Here’s a link to the list on Brown’s website.

I had a little harder time figuring out that making a difference was the correct second value. I thought about my past career choices, both paid and volunteer, and I easily saw that what tied them all together was that I wanted to somehow make life easier for others and/or make a genuine contribution to society with what I did. I’ve helped build educational databases, taught college students, helped mothers breastfeed, gave organizations and individuals websites to spread their messages, written documentation and made e-learning for software companies, etc. In all of these, I’ve been wanting to make a difference to people.

When the time came to do our book club meeting, the three of us who’d made choices of values had all chosen kindness as one of them. I guess I’m not as original as I thought, or people who choose kindness tend to join book clubs! I really enjoyed talking to the other three women who were able to attend today, and am almost glad it was a small group, because we were able to share in meaningful ways. Thanks, Zoom meetings!

Other parts of the little chapter I read hit me very close to home, too. Brown included a discussion of keeping this in mind when you are providing feedback:

“…everyone is going the best they can.”

p. 215

It helps me with the judgmentalism I need to worry about so much in myself. And it’s my core belief that I need to assume good intentions. And like Brown’s husband Steve pointed out, even if it’s not true, things sure work out better if you just go ahead and make that assumption.

Hmm, can you try to do that with people on the other side of the mask wearing issue? Of the other political party? I find that to be a very interesting exercise, and one that I wish I could share further. It’s not that, “Oh, why can’t everyone just get along,” plea. It’s more of a, “Where are the people I disagree with coming from, and can I use that information to better understand them, or to talk to them productively?”

The kindness art I have on my bulletin board.

I’d really like to talk with more people about these core values and how they inform our lives, and these really helpful attitudes toward other people. Feedback is welcome!

Book Report: What It’s Like to Be a Bird

What a joy it has been to read What It’s Like to Be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing–What Birds Are Doing and Why, written and illustrated by David Allen Sibley (as I said to Anita, yes, THAT Sibley). The man responsible for the many Sibley field guides has just published this labor of love, a large-format book with beautiful, often life-size illustrations.

book cover of what it's like to be a bird
It’s a big, beautiful book.

The accompanying text is organized in a fun and interesting way, where slowly but surely, you’re able to learn all about how birds “work,” mentally and physically. I learned something new on nearly every page, and I thought I knew quite a bit about birds! There are many fascinating diagrams of how birds fly, digest food, lay eggs, and so much more, too.

It’s fun to learn the difference between birds whose eggs hatch fully able to get around and do things (precocial), like chickens, and birds whose eggs hatch all naked and vulnerable (altricial), like purple martins (photo below is from a Master Naturalist blog post I just sent out, by my friend Donna).

newborn purple martins
These little dudes can’t do much other than open their mouths and ask for food.
a page from a book
A sample page, showing how pelicans catch fish. It’s not how you imagined, I’m guessing, unless you’re an ornithologist.

I spent a long time just looking at the illustrations, and plan to keep the book out on the coffee table, so I can leaf through it when I need some inspiration. I can see many other uses for the book. It would be fun to share with younger folks, who can look at the pictures while an adult tells them how birds sing or how a woodpecker keeps from getting concussions while pecking. If I had grandchildren, that’s what I’d do!

Now, this isn’t a comprehensive guide to the birds of North America. Sibley chose common birds seen throughout the region as exemplars of various bird traits, though he did do his best to show examples of each type of bird, from water birds to songbirds. If you want ALL the birds, buy one of his guides. But to learn how birds “tick” from an educated lay person’s point of view AND enjoy some amazing artwork, you cannot go wrong with What It’s Like to Be a Bird.

Book Review: The Nature of Texas

A review of a field guide to the nature of Texas, suitable for beginning naturalists

Here’s a new book that some of you who live in Texas might want to order. It’s a field guide called The Nature of Texas: An Introduction to Familiar Plants, Animals and Outstanding Natural Attractions, by James Kavanagh and illustrated by Raymond Leung.

The cover of the book, The Nature of Texas
Any book with an armadillo on it is a book I like!

This isn’t one of those huge compendiums of every single living organism in the state; instead, it highlights plants and animals that an average person with an interest in the nature in Texas might run into. The descriptions are brief and in lay terms, and the illustrations are really lovely (good job, Raymond Leung).

It’s a bit too basic of a book for me to carry around, but I could easily imagine giving it to a teenager or older child who’s going camping and wants to know what they might find out there, or someone who just moved to Texas and wants a nice overview. It would be fun to put on the bedside table for your out-of-state visitors, or on the coffee table of your rental property.

an open page of a book, with information about fish
An example of the text and illustrations.

The back of the book has two handy features. One is a brief list of interesting places to go to see the natural wonders of Texas, with clear maps. The other is a series of checklists you can use to mark off wildlife and native plants that you see in your travels. That would be a fun family project (though I’d have to add a bunch of things, like more owls).

I do recommend The Nature of Texas, just for the beautiful illustrations alone. And the introductory essay, “But a Watch in the Night,” written by James Rettie in 1948 is a real treasure, too. It’s a great reminder of how little time humans have actually been present and messing around with our planet.

Quick Enneagram Update

As I talked about recently, I have been looking into the Enneagram to see what insights it could give me into how I could function better as a person and interact with others.

Two of the types came close to describing me, 2 (helper) and 9 (peacemaker). I eventually decided I was a 9 after realizing how strongly my urge to keep peace around me had affected my life (not always positively).

I broke down and spent the twelve dollars to take the official test, the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI). That test identifies how your responses to a series of questions match each type. I found the results interesting:

Enneagram Type Score
Type 2, The Helper 28
Type 9, The Peacemaker 24
Type 4, The Individualist 18
Type 7, The Enthusiast 17
Type 5, The Investigator 14
Type 6, The Loyalist 13
Type 3, The Achiever 12
Type 1, The Reformer 10
Type 8, The Challenger 8

The two I’d self identified were the two highest, by far. The results commentary said: “Your primary Enneagram personality type is most likely the highest of these scores, and almost certainly among the highest two or three.”

I’m still going with 9, but with a lot of 2. I don’t know if the standard version “allows” being mixed with two types, but, there ya go, I gotta be me. The two types on either side of you are supposed to be your “wings” to draw from. Note that those were the two least identified with me (and 8 is my spouse’s type, oh my).

Reflecting on how Type 2 people tend to want to rescue others, form large groups of friends, and focus on helping, I do see that I have been that way, but more in the past. It may be that I am moving from Type 2 to Type 9 as I get older. A lot of the things Type 2 people do are just not me, while pretty much everything in Type 9 hits home with a bang.

Just knowing how I tend to react to things has helped me explain how I am to others, and has already made communication easier in my family. So, I’m grateful for that. If you want to take the test yourself, here’s the link.


Anyway, I read a couple more of the most recent books on the Enneagram, so I may as well tell you what I thought of them.

The cover of The Honest Enneagram, by Sarajane Case.
Another blogger writes a book.

The Honest Enneagram, by Sarajane Case, is an introductory level book that uses “normal” language to help people understand how to apply knowledge of their type to their lives. It didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, but you sure get the idea that Sarajane is a kind person who wants to help everyone be their best. I gave the book to Kathleen to look over and share with Chris, because it’s a nice intro. It’s also a really pretty book.

If you know your type, this is interesting for sure.

The other book I got was The Enneagram for Relationships: Transform Your Connections with Friends, Family, Colleagues, and in Love, by Ashton Whitmoyer-Ober. Ashton is another person who just oozes concern for people. I am getting a bit more new information out of this one, especially about others (like my son and spouse). It’s really helpful, because this book gives you ideas for how to let people you love know you care for them, and how to best communicate with them. That’s useful information. I got some good ideas for how to communicate with a lot of people I know, at work, as friends, and as family members. I will use this one as a reference for a long time, I’m sure.

Both these books are available on Kindle for not much money at all, so check them out if you’re interested. I have one more book to read, then I’ll move on, since I may have found a new spiritual path!

What’s been bringing YOU insight? Are you using this time of being close to home to look inside yourself like I have been doing?

Pampered Chickens? Nah. (Book Report)

I was a little worried that we are pampering the chickens and guineas. For example, I wandered out into the woods today to make more perches and shade for the chickens.

Hedy and Hedley are on the new perch.

And Chris made a new shelf and perch for the guineas. They have really grown since we got them!

The perch in front and the shelf in back. They still haven’t figured them out.

I feel much better now, though. I got two books of chicken projects at Tractor Supply, and they had some of the most indulgent yet cute projects imaginable. One has 40 projects; one has 50. I guess their editors had the same idea.

One of the authors, Lisa Steele, who is apparently a big chicken blogger,* puts curtains on all her hens’ nest boxes, because some are shy. Lordy. And she makes them salves and feeds them herbs. And builds many adorable hen swings.

We only got to have our shelf because Chris added chicken wire to the top of our cage so we can’t get out.

I did enjoy the projects in both books (Janet Garman is a little more serious but also obviously LOVES chickens) and got some good ideas, like making a low perch for the Jersey Giants. Right now Hedy loves it the most, followed by Henley and Bruce. The young hens do love all the new things. They still like to play.

We love our new perch, say Hedy and Henley.

Oh! I forgot to share that last night I let Ginger and Bertie run around and chase grasshoppers for a while. Lee and I were mighty entertained. Those gals are good! Even Clarence came out and caught some. I got them all back in pretty easily once they had their fill.

I hope we can let them out more often. As long as the big dogs are inside, they’re fine. Vlassic and Gracie just watch like we do!

Nope. Our chickens aren’t pampered. Just fun.

*Like I can talk. I’m a not-big sort of ranching sort of venting blogger.

Book Report: The Enneagram of Belonging

A couple of days ago, I mentioned that I was reading a book on the Enneagram and that I’d gotten some helpful insight in it. I had a lot of time last night to read, so I finished The Enneagram of Belonging: A Compassionate Journey of Self-Acceptance, by Christopher L. Heurtz.

A Little Background

I’ve always been a sucker for personality tests, astrology, and other ways of categorizing people’s personalities or figuring out what makes people tick. I love archetypes, too, as evidenced by how much I enjoy tarot. I have always liked to meditate and I do a lot of reading about self-help topics and ways to lead me to get along with others better, enjoy life, and love myself. I am very aware that some of the science (if there is any) behind these kinds of things is suspect or non-existent. I happily coexist with my cognitive dissonance, and take what works from the things I explore and leave what doesn’t work behind.

When I first read about the Enneagram, back in its earlier days, I didn’t see any science in there at all and a lot of mysticism. It reminded me a lot of numerology, which I also had a hard time with (but who knows, numbers may very well have effects on us).

I picked this book up, though, because I’d heard there has been a lot of work in the Enneagram community, and a couple of friends were very enthusiastic. Plus, seeing the words “compassionate” and “self-acceptance” in the subtitle made it sound like the book would fit in with all the work I’ve done on self-love. And Brene Brown wrote the introduction!

On to the Book

I ended up getting a lot of ideas and insights, and a lot of it I credit to the author. Heuertz is very good at making the complexities of the Enneagram make sense and is very careful to make clear that the spiritual aspect of the system are way more important than identifying your type and buying a t-shirt with your number on it. (Nonetheless, I am adopting the sloth as my official mascot since my type’s main passion is sloth.)

Continue reading “Book Report: The Enneagram of Belonging”

Book Review: Unintended Consequences (and why you should write your memoirs)

This is a different type of book review. For one thing, you can’t buy the book anywhere; I was lucky enough to receive a copy from the author.

The book comes with a free bookmark Doug and Mary made for their COVID-postponed anniversary party.

You see, Unintended Consequences, by F. Douglas Martin, is a collection of stories of the life of one of my friends from my old church. He had been sharing stories from his life on Facebook for months, and I found myself eagerly anticipating each new post from Doug. I just loved the cast of characters who went through his life, the stories of his upbringing, and tales from his fascinating career working with fish around the world. Yep. Fish. It’s fascinating, and not just to other scientists or amateur naturalists!

Apparently, I was not the only one who loved his tales, so his friends and family finally convinced him to put the stories together in a book. His wife, Mary Hengstebeck, took on the task of compiling the MANY stories, putting them in some kind of order, and adding photographs and clip-art illustrations for each story. That was some kind of job!

Sure, the book’s obviously self published, and because it’s a collection of separate stories, there’s some repetition, but that doesn’t detract from the joy of reading the tales of the amazing stuff Doug got away with doing as a child, the hilarious folks he worked with in his life, and the love story between him and Mary.

It’s just the story of a normal person’s life, but I love it. I’m still reading it, but since I read the original stories, I feel competent to say the whole book is a pleasure, and a wonderful distraction from the news of the world right now.

What This Means for YOU

Doug is just a well-educated guy who tells good stories, not a famous celebrity or politician. Still, his memoirs are a joy to read. In the past couple of days, I’ve tried to convince a couple of my friends who have led interesting lives that their stories deserve to be preserved and shared.

This katydid would not go in my memoirs, but it’s an interesting photo.

Both said that no one would care about their stories. Well, Doug probably thought his wife and children would be the only ones who would read his. Really, sharing the stories of our lives is valuable. Future historians will be happy to find details about how people actually lived in the 20th and 21st centuries, and family, friends, and interested others WILL like reading it, especially if you can write well and have lots of interesting photos.

Here’s Doug doing research at Hornsby Bend. I didn’t get permission, since this review is a surprise. But it was public on Facebook.

I know LOTS of people who fit this category. Maybe YOU are one. And even if you aren’t the greatest writer on earth, you probably know someone who can review your writing and clean it up a bit. Honest. I want to read your story.

Mine’s here on the blog.

Book Report: Bunny Bunny

This book is a follow-up to the memoir of Alan Zweibel that I posted last week. In that book, Zweibel talked about a little book he wrote about his late best friend, Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer at a very young age. He said the whole book was dialog that just came to him after she passed away. I was interested.

The cover was put together by Zweibel’s wife and an artist they commissioned for the painting.

So, I set out to get a copy. That was harder than it might have been, because Bunny Bunny: Gilda Radner: A Sort of Love Story (a book with TWO colons) is out of print, having passed its prime in 1994, I guess. Luckily I selected a reputable vendor of used books and got a copy in pretty good shape for just $7.

Once again. Zweibel made me laugh a lot, but I was also touched by the little stories he chose to tell. It’s a wonderful tribute to an amazing friendship. I had to read some passages aloud to the family, so they could enjoy them, too.

I got a real kick out of the illustrations, as well. They are simple line drawings by the artistically impaired author, but they are also really sweet and convey the essence of the stories perfectly.

Here, they have taken a taxi in New York City. I left in a snippet of dialog to show you the format.

So, I’m pretty sure none of you are going to go out and buy this book, but if you want to borrow it from me, see me after people can meet up more easily!

Mexican hats!

Enjoy some flowers. They’re left over from yesterday’s photo expedition.

Book Report: Leave Only Footprints

Tell ya what, this sheltering in place stuff has really helped me get a lot more books read. Last night I finished the latest of my series of “hot off the presses” books (the next few will be older books). Today’s recommended reading is Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey through Every National Park, by Conor Knighton. When I saw this one in “new books,” it looked just right for a nature-lover like me, so I had to get it.

Look at those big trees!

The book is written by Conor Knighton, who wrote it about a year-long contract he got from CBS television to visit all the US National Parks and report back. He had nothing to lose, thanks to just going through a bad breakup, so off he went, accompanied often by a Mexican-born photojournalist, Efrain Robles, whose perspective is often heard in the book as well.

Knighton was in his 30s during the journey, and I found it refreshing and a little off-putting at the same time to hear about what he saw from the perspective of a younger writer. I realized at some point that nearly all the nature books I’ve been reading have been by people at the ends of their careers who are sharing their vast knowledge of their topics. Here I got the perspective of someone looking at the National Parks with the fresh eyes of someone out to gain that knowledge. I really appreciate getting the chance to learn how Knighton and Robles experienced the parks, and to realize how different their experiences are from mine (there is so much about finding dates on Tinder in the book, which I realize I know nothing about).

There are some things about the book that you’d either like or get irritated by. One is how he presents the parks. Rather than go through his journey in the order he saw them, Knighton groups his encounters by themes. Thus, in one chapter he might talk about a park he visited in the summer and one he saw in the winter, or parks miles and miles away. I would have liked the organization better if his transitions weren’t so sudden. I also found some of the transitions somewhat awkward, like the editor told him he needed to put a transition sentence HERE and he did. On the other hand, talking about parks with volcanoes all at the same time makes sense, as do a lot of the other groupings.

There are photos from almost all the parks Knighton visited. It’s a nice variety of scenery and people pictures.

Another thing I didn’t like was that for some of the parks I really didn’t get much of a sense about what they were like. Occasionally we get more of “how Conor was feeling that day” than what the park was like. But, the poor guy was going through a lot, so I don’t blame him for reflecting.

Some of the most interesting parts of the book were the encounters with Park Rangers, people in the towns near (or in) parks, and people from so many different cultures that are part of the greater US. I loved learning about the people in Alaska, New Guinea, the Virgin Islands, etc., as well as the perspective of black park employees and full-time RV-ers. I guess I’m a sucker for learning about what makes people tick, and I got a lot of new information in Leave Only Footprints.

Of course, Knighton also shares the history of the National Park movement and those who inspired it. You can’t help but enjoy a good John Muir quote or two.

If you are itching to go somewhere, anywhere, right about now, you’ll get a lot of vicarious travel out of this book, and you’re guaranteed to learn a great deal about the amazing variety of landscapes and seascapes in the USA. You’ll want to go visit a park as soon as you can…and the good news is that many other countries also are a part of the National Park movement, so you can go wherever you live!

Anyone want to share their favorite National Park experiences? I’d like to hear them. I haven’t been to many, but I was glad to hear that White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, which I have visited more than once, became a National Park in 2019!

Book Report: Laugh Lines

Believe it or not, I don’t spend all my time getting pissy about people’s online behavior. I actually spent much of this weekend laughing aloud, because I read the new memoir, Laugh Lines: My Life Helping Funny People Be Funnier, by the great Alan Zweibel. Who? I didn’t realize I was such a comedy nerd until I figured out I was the only person I knew around here who was excited that this book came out. I’d been a fan since I was in my late teens.

Those teeth look too good to be true. They remind me of how he said an old comedian he wrote jokes for had fake teeth the size of porcelain tiles.

Zweibel was one of the original Saturday Night Live writers, and I have followed his career ever since. He is one funny, funny man. And he sure has run into a lot of funny, funny people in his life.

I had a great time reading about his start as a deli meat cutter/joke writer for the last of the Borscht Belt comics, how he made the big time writing for SNL, and of course, his ups and downs in the years since.

Some of the best parts of the book are about his friendships and comedic partnerships. His best friend was Gilda Radner (and he wrote what I hear is a beautiful book about her, called Bunny Bunny, which I just ordered). Much of their story had me laughing aloud. He was very honest about his relationship with Garry Shandling, which had very big highs and lows. And learning more about Billy Crystal, another favorite comic of mine, was another highlight.

Here he is, proving he worked for Saturday Night Live.

At times, Zweibel’s incessant name dropping got on my nerves. It was like I was playing a game of How Much Comedy History Do You Know? I’m glad that he often described what a person was known for in parentheses, and I admit to having little moments of glee when I already knew a comedy name. You do end up with the impression that the world of comics and their agents is a very small one, or at least was for a long time.

His casual mentions of just dropping by a Knicks game, getting let in to Broadway shows, or playing tennis with the cronies came off a little elitist, but I probably do that stuff inadvertently myself, on a smaller scale. He probably views those things as normal parts of life, since everyone he knows has a house in Hawaii with a famous comic/movie director (Rob Reiner, or was it Carl; all that family are in the book).

I think Zweibel redeems himself, though, with the respect and high regard he places on the people who came before him, who taught him and all the comedians his age so much. He also seems to feel honored to be able to share his experiences with younger comics. I honestly think he’s a nice guy who lucked out and got famous, and handled it as well as he could, being a regular human being and all. His love for his wife and kids also are refreshing to read about – his wife, Robin, seems as funny and genuinely nice as he does.

From the Bottom Drawer of: Alan Zweibel: The Prize, The Ride Home, Sexting with Alan Dershowitz by [Alan Zweibel]

If you like the history of comedy in the US, and understand enough Yiddish and Jewish culture to be able to follow a Henny Youngman joke, you’ll get a real kick out of this book. And you’ll have a few old and new jokes to tell your friends.

By the way, there’s a free Kindle version of a few comedy stories by Zweibel that you might enjoy: From the Bottom Drawer of: Alan Zweibel: The Prize, The Ride Home, Sexting with Alan Dershowitz