Brainy Books that Will Blow Your Mind

You know you’ve reached the epitome of nerdom when you’re at a party and someone asks you about your favourite non-fiction books and you start babbling about the fascinating world of neuroscience. (Just for the record this did not happen to me; it happened to a friend of mine. Cough cough.) It’s essentially the last frontier of the human body: we know less about our brains than any other body part. (Except for maybe the appendix. Has anyone figured that one out yet?)

Don’t take my word for it though- take Michio Kaku’s. His popular neuroscience books take complex scientific concepts and frames them in a way that the rest of us mortals can understand. My favourite, The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance and Empower the Mind answers the more fun questions of the field; for example, do humans really have the capacity to move things with their mind? (You’ll have to read his books for yourself to find the answer.)

For the more ambitious reader, Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read by Stanislas Dahaene chronicles every little nanosecond the brain takes to process the written word. After you read about the effort that it takes for your brain to recognize, understand and memorize letters, you’ll never look at reading the same way again. (Read slowly; this one left me a little cross-eyed.)

After learning about the memory championships (yes, there is such a thing), journalist Joshua Foer dug deeper into the why and how of what we remember and how we can better train our memories using long-forgotten techniques once used to learn entire religious manuscripts. The resulting book is called Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything– part memoir, part history lesson, part how-to book. Even if you’re not a neuroscience nerd like me, you’ll appreciate this one. Some of the techniques from the book that I’ve tried have actually worked really well!

While I certainly haven’t learned how to move things with my mind, master speed reading, or memorize the order of an entire deck of 52 cards, reading these books still gave me a better understanding and a new appreciation of how our efficiently and intricately brains work. But like I said, don’t just take this nerd’s word for it.

Psst- wanna see which books have previously graced my bookshelves? Click here. Want even more fun reading recommendations? I’ve got some for you here. Don’t forget to find me on Goodreads so we can snoop each other’s bookshelves and dish about our favourites.

10 Memorable Gifts for Family and Friends

One thing we don’t talk about often enough is that Christmas is a time of remembrance, a chance to share and create your own new memories and traditions. In a world where the holidays seem to be the only chance to truly make time for the people you care about, it seems more important than ever to uphold this sense of togetherness.

One of the ways you can celebrate the people you love is by giving them a meaningful gift that commemorates your relationship. Here are some ideas for memorable gifts that I’ve given, received, or heard about throughout the years.

(1) When we graduated from high school, one of my friends gave each of the girls in our group a picture commemorating a vacation we had taken together the summer before our senior year of high school. She personalized them with inside jokes and funny memories she shared with each of us using a Sharpie and a wooden frame. It was so simple, yet so special, and I still have it to this day.

(2) One of my favorite Internet trends is seeing all the people re-creating old childhood photos as a way of marking a special occasion. Getting a family portrait done at Christmas is one way of sharing memories with family and friends, but I happen to think that adding your own humorous flair makes the idea even more special. (Check out this site for some inspiration.)

(3) Can’t decide on just one photo? Commemorate a special event, trip or person by putting together a mini-scrapbook as a gift, or create your own professional-looking photo book using a service like Blurb or Shutterfly. I did this for my sister for her birthday a couple of years ago and it’s still one of my favorite gifts I’ve ever given.

(4) The only thing that a bookworm loves more than books is books about books, which is why I created a personalized reading journal for a friend of mine one year for Christmas. A big part of our friendship consisted of raiding each other’s bookshelves, talking about what we’ve read, and looking for what titles to pick up next. Using a blank notebook I created lists of virtually every category I thought would be of interest and included quotations from some of his favorite novels. Plus, there was still lots of space left over for his own thoughts, doodles and notes. I ended up liking it so much I wish someone had made one for me!

(5) If bacon is more your thing than books, consider taking the book list idea and fill a notebook with favorite recipes, or lists or favorite wines or restaurants or try. I’ve carried a recipe binder for twelve years now filled with the food my family and friends love. Some of the recipes from there have made their way to other people’s recipe binders, too. Don’t limit yourself to just a binder either- recipe cards, notebooks, duo-tangs or even your own self-published version could all work.

(6) All that work it takes to create a book can be daunting to some people. A time capsule is a great way of sharing memories that cuts down on the time and effort put into designing a book. For example, if there’s been a new addition to your family this year, get each of your relatives to write a letter to be opened at a later date to commemorate baby’s first Christmas. Some families turn this into a yearly tradition by gifting children their own dated ornaments, or instead create a ritual like buying seasonal pajamas each year to be open and worn on Christmas Eve.

(7) Put your kids to work by getting them working on their own Christmas projects for family and friends. My co-worker’s daughter painted portraits on canvas for all of the friends of the family one year; the portrait she painted of our other co-worker and the beautiful message she included with it brought me to tears. She also made me this awesome re-creation of my dog, Gemma, using Perler beads. (I love how she kind of looks like the Pink Power Ranger.)

(8) Can’t turn your kids into a Christmas craft-making factory? Make your life easier by re-purposing their artwork to make unique gifts for family and friends. Spoonflower is a great tool to turn your kids drawings into fabric, wallpaper or gift wrap, and sites like Society6, Café Press and Zazzle allow you to upload any image and print it onto apparel and accessories like iPhone cases, beach towels and tote bags. (And more! Honestly, none of these sites paid me to say that.)

(9) You don’t really have to feel guilty about re-gifting something you know that someone else has been coveting. One of my best book buddies unloaded a huge stack of books on me one Christmas because she knew how badly I wanted to catch up on the series we were both reading. Sure, I know it was something she already had but the fact that she wanted to pass them on to me so I could enjoy them as well was worth way more than the money she could have spent. Just throw in a gift card to your favorite local coffee shop and you’ve set the recipient up for a lovely afternoon.

(10) At the end of the day I think one of the nicest gifts you can give is your time. When I look back at my holiday memories, I remember the experiences more than anything-going skating with my friends, my Uncle taking my sister and I to The Nutcracker ballet, dancing around the Christmas tree with my fellow members of Toronto’s Swedish community. If you really want to do something memorable as a gift this holiday season, do something together. I guarantee it will be more meaningful than anything that can be bought in a store.

Happy memory-making!

B

KBwB-Flower-50Holiday celebrations can be fun, but only if you can ensure that things go smoothly. While there are never any guarantees when it comes to social gatherings, there are still plenty of ways to get your holiday game on. Click here to read more of them, or click here or here to read about some of the other best practices I’ve been trying to put into my place in my life.

The Legend of the Book of Yum

kbb_book_of_yum

When I went away to university it was the first time I had been away from home. I wasn’t sure what to expect: would I love the freedom? Would I totally freak out? Either way I knew that I was going to be really homesick.

My solution was The Book of Yum and it started out as kind of a joke between my university friends and I.

In anticipation of missing my mom’s cooking, I painstakingly wrote out some of our family’s favorite recipes in a small black binder, organized using homemade construction paper dividers. Also included were some helpful cooking hints for myself on how to make the basics; for example, tips on making rice nice and fluffy, and how to make your basic white sauce. I was reluctant to call it a recipe binder because it felt more like a compendium of my mother’s advice, and a piece of my family’s culinary history. So I called it “The Book of Yum”, made some dorky labels for it and took it to college with me.

Anyone who has had roommates knows that it’s hard to keep a secret from them, so it didn’t take long before people started to take note of the little binder I was always toting into the kitchen with me. Maybe it was the colorful labels, or the fact that no one I knew had completed a similar project.

Mostly I think The Book of Yum caught people’s attention because I was one of the few people in my group of friends that could actually cook. And bake.

This was the start of a whole new college culinary adventure. While a lot of kids were out partying you could often find me at home with my roommates attempting to develop a garnish for fish, bake a pie from scratch, or experiment with a foreign food. (Ok, maybe I found some time for partying too.)

In some ways, it was my college years that fostered my love of cooking and food. I tried every kind of food, in every kind of restaurant in town and I always had a hungry mouth nearby willing to try whatever it was I was making that day. It was a time of firsts: my first pastry dough, my first experiment with phyllo, and my first roast.

It was also during these years that I discovered how cooking for others felt like a gift more to myself than a gift for them. Nothing gave me more pleasure than watching my friends enjoy something I had created and nothing made me appreciate food more than the act of making it myself.

More than anything, though, The Book of Yum was a way for me to honor my family; both my love for them and the traditions that we build and maintain.

I still have it too, even though it’s expanded to accommodate my expanded culinary horizons. Even though that little black binder has transformed, it still opens a floodgate of sense memories as soon as I lift the cover. No matter how successful I end up being in my writing career, I’ll still consider one of my favorite books that I’ve written.

You may not know it, but you’ve read part of The Book of Yum too! If you were looking at it now, you’d recognize these Chocolate Brownies, these Butterscotch Brownies, these Banana Muffins, these Chocolate Banana Cookies, these Sugar Cookies, these Maple Syrup Muffins, this Apple Pie and this Zucchini Bread. I hope you enjoyed them as much as my family and friends have!

KBwB-BFlower-50I’d love to hear about your own recipe collection. Which childhood recipes do you still include in your repertoire? Email me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com or comment below. I’d love to try one out!

I try out a new recipe every two weeks or so and blog about the results, so if you need even more baking inspiration, you can find the complete list in alphabetical order here.