Sunday, January 3, 2010

Just 20 minutes

The experts say that you should read to your children at least 20 minutes per day. But what about to yourself? I make lots of excuses...I spend time on the computer, I tutor, I work, I do chores, but I often run out of time to just read to myself. I even joined a book club of sorts to encourage myself to make time for my own reading. It's helped, but it hasn't led to the 20 minutes a day ritual (since I'm sure it's cheating to count reading to my son...which I do faithfully).

It's not like I don't love reading. I was an English major, for goodness sakes. I used to read upwards of 8-9 hours per day because I HAD to. But now it seems like such a luxury - one that always comes at the bottom of the list because it isn't "necessary". But, that mindset has to go! It IS necessary. It's mental fitness. Serenity.

So, at least 20 minutes...hopefully more...per day. That is the proposal. We'll call it the mental workout - and it's just as important as the physical kind.

In fact, we are fast becoming a functionally illiterate society. We have sent our jobs elsewhere and have almost lost our ability to be self-reliant, but are we also too ignorant to realize it because we have stopped reading? We, too often, let others tell us how it is - news anchors, movie producers, television stations. True, the printed word must be taken in with the same grain of salt as the spoken - but there is something to be said about actively getting your information rather than passively, following a path of your own choosing to get the answers you personally seek. It's called research...which does not include channel surfing as a viable search device.

And it isn't just about becoming's about enjoying what we read. Reading for fun. Instead of watching T.V. or surfing the net (and while we are on the topic...why do they call it "surfing"? That implies getting up off your butt and doing something active.)

But, what to read? Start with something simple...a magazine (The Sun) or a newspaper. Libraries usually have a periodicals room, so that's a great place to begin - or a local news stand. Or, if you already love to read...find a short book. There are lots that fit the theme of this blog - books about living greener, getting financially or physically fit, keeping things simple...simple cooking, simple decorating, you name it. So, pick one.

Or maybe a novel is more to your taste, or blogs? Read mine and then jump through several more (though I must say there is nothing quite like having a bound square of soft pages in your hands). For some, the Kindle is a good choice, but I just can't make myself take the leap. Snuggling up on the couch with a computer just isn't the same as cuddling up with a simple, old book. If you travel to and from work a lot, try an audio book - it isn't exactly the same as "reading", but it gets the same words in your brain and is a much more effective use of long commute times than listening to the radio (though NPR is a good station to check in on). Audio books can be had, for free, by the hundreds at the public library. Our library even offers a free download service where you can keep the book on your computer or MP3 device for a certain number of weeks.

Make it something you want to read. Something you enjoy. Not work. Not a manual or business document (unless you really enjoy that sort of thing). I'm talking "mind candy" here.

I once read a study on television and ADD/ADHD. The part that grabbed me wasn't that Americans (esp. children) watch too much T.V. (duh!) and that it may be leading to a higher incidence of these disorders. What got me was the section on sleep. I can't quite remember the exact stats, but it was something like this: if you watch T.V. within the hour before you go to bed, you are less likely to reach R.E.M. sleep during the night, thereby leading to restlessness at night and fatigue the next day. The study suggested calmer and quieter activities, such as reading, listening to music, or handicrafts by soft lamplight. So, there you go...reading may lead to better sleep at night.

So make it a habit...just 20 minutes (or, by all means, more!) And if you already do this...add 20 minutes in somewhere you normally wouldn't: in the morning to get yourself going, during lunch to calm your mind, after work to keep yourself from going right into "cleaning/cooking/catch-up" mode. Use it as a centering device...a transition period from one task to another.

Take the book with you everywhere. And place them all over your the bathroom, on the coffee your car. That way you will always be prepared to fill unused time that could potentially lead to boredom or frustration. I even use them as "decoration". Bookshelves lined with beautiful books, strategically piled books on tables, coffee table books filled with photographs...

Surround yourself with words - they are comforting and constant...even when the world is not.


Mike Vandeman said...

Last Child in the Woods ––
Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,
by Richard Louv
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
November 16, 2006

In this eloquent and comprehensive work, Louv makes a convincing case for ensuring that children (and adults) maintain access to pristine natural areas, and even, when those are not available, any bit of nature that we can preserve, such as vacant lots. I agree with him 100%. Just as we never really outgrow our need for our parents (and grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.), humanity has never outgrown, and can never outgrow, our need for the companionship and mutual benefits of other species.

But what strikes me most about this book is how Louv is able, in spite of 310 pages of text, to completely ignore the two most obvious problems with his thesis: (1) We want and need to have contact with other species, but neither we nor Louv bother to ask whether they want to have contact with us! In fact, most species of wildlife obviously do not like having humans around, and can thrive only if we leave them alone! Or they are able tolerate our presence, but only within certain limits. (2) We and Louv never ask what type of contact is appropriate! He includes fishing, hunting, building "forts", farming, ranching, and all other manner of recreation. Clearly, not all contact with nature leads to someone becoming an advocate and protector of wildlife. While one kid may see a beautiful area and decide to protect it, what's to stop another from seeing it and thinking of it as a great place to build a house or create a ski resort? Developers and industrialists must come from somewhere, and they no doubt played in the woods with the future environmentalists!

It is obvious, and not a particularly new idea, that we must experience wilderness in order to appreciate it. But it is equally true, though ("conveniently") never mentioned, that we need to stay out of nature, if the wildlife that live there are to survive. I discuss this issue thoroughly in the essay, "Wildlife Need Habitat Off-Limits to Humans!", at

It should also be obvious (but apparently isn't) that how we interact with nature determines how we think about it and how we learn to treat it. Remember, children don't learn so much what we tell them, but they learn very well what they see us do. Fishing, building "forts", mountain biking, and even berry-picking teach us that nature exists for us to exploit. Luckily, my fort-building career was cut short by a bee-sting! As I was about to cut down a tree to lay a third layer of logs on my little log cabin in the woods, I took one swing at the trunk with my axe, and immediately got a painful sting (there must have been a bee-hive in the tree) and ran away as fast as I could.

For the rest:

Melissa said...

Yes...I love this book! It is in my "Read This!" list, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has children, teaches...or just anyone! We are all children, after all, in need of direct contact with the healing properties of nature.

Thanks for the insightful review!

Melissa said...

Or rather, summary...