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Five Classic Books That Every Woman Should Read

If you are ever looking for some quality reading, here are some tried and true choices which you certainly won’t regret.

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Charles Dickens

Hard Times

One of the shorter of Dickens’s novels, Hard Times follows the lives of people trying to find happiness in the rapidly-changing industrial society of Victorian-era Coketown. School, marriage, death, labor strikes—it’s all here.

Why Every Woman Should Read It:

This book illustrates the dangers of taking a materialistic outlook. There is more to life than monetary success or Mr. Gradgrind’s “facts,” and making decisions solely based on statistics and bank statements is going to yield nothing but misery and hypocrisy. The character of Sissy Jupe embodies a more realistic and functional outlook on life, understanding that there is a reality beneath the surface, and that feelings and emotions are legitimate parts of the human experience.

C. S. Lewis

Till We Have Faces

This retelling of the ancient myth of Cupid and Psyche adds complexity and interest to the story. The main character, Orual, the ugly older sister of the divinely beautiful Psyche, loves her deeply and is troubled when the god of the Mountain takes her for his bride. She convinces Psyche that she must look at the face of her lover, despite his telling her she must not. Psyche does, and is cast out, to wander as an exile. Orual is struck with remorse, and bottles up her feelings inside herself, and when her father dies, rules the kingdom wisely and well. She lives as queen, trying to forget the past until finally, as an old woman, she learns what she has been and done, and gains true knowledge before her death.

Why Every Woman Should Read It:

Far more complex and nuanced than the original tale as we received it from the ancient Romans, C. S. Lewis’s version of this story encourages readers to take a long hard look at their own hearts and their own love. Orual loves Psyche and loves deeply, thinking herself good and noble in her love. But through the course of the story she comes to realize that her love turns easily to hatred, and that she destroys that which she thinks she loves most. Only by discovering what is lacking in her love, and what she actually looked for when she thought she was seeking other’s good, will she finally find happiness and peace.

Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen’s most popular book, Pride and Prejudice, is a classic love story in which two happy couples get married at the end, presumably poised to live happily ever after. But there’s more to it than that.

Why Every Woman Should Read It:

Jane Austen wasn’t just a talented writer who could keep people entertained. She also had a keen understanding of what people are like. In Pride and Prejudice, she skillfully presents all kinds of women (and men). In her witty and graceful manner, she points out all the different ways that we make ourselves miserable in life by choosing superficial attractions like a pretty face, or a large bank balance, over deeper qualities like respect and integrity. While most of the characters serve as examples of mistakes one can make, Jane and Lizzy Bennet stand as characters of integrity who are willing to take the time to think for themselves, and who value what is genuinely worthwhile.

L. M. Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables

In L. M. Montgomery’s beloved story, the talkative and imaginative red-headed orphan, Anne Shirley, is adopted by two old people who hadn’t wanted her at all—they’d wanted a boy to help with the farm work, but Anne had been sent instead. She struggles to conform herself to their strict notions of propriety, learning a great deal in the process, and perhaps teaching them even more.

Why Every Woman Should Read It:

While the story of red-headed Anne Shirley is heartwarming, and amusing, it is also an excellent coming-of-age story. Anne begins the story with a load of preconceived notions stuffing her romantic little head. She learns that many of her ideas are false, and many of her prejudices unfounded, but she always remains true to her vision of what the world should be. She also gains self-esteem and confidence through the various trials she encounters, learns that what she fears might not be so bad after all, and ends the book as a poised and mature young lady.

William Shakespeare

King Lear

In William Shakespeare’s classic retelling of the age-old myth, old King Lear decides to divide his kingdom up among his three daughters, demanding from each that she tell him how much she loves him. The first two give extravagant and outrageous expressions of love, and receive handsome territories. The last, Cordelia, refuses to lower herself to this sort of flattery, and is sent off with nothing. As soon as the King has divided his kingdom, his daughters begin plotting against him, and eventually, through their jealousy and greed, set the entire kingdom at war.

Why Every Woman Should Read It:

Everyone should read some Shakespeare in their lives, and King Lear is a particularly powerful play, showing in vivid realism the effects of foolish and loveless lives. Lear’s two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, are women who love no one but their own ambition. Their lack of love of their father tears the kingdom apart and drives Lear out into a literal storm. Their lack of love for their husbands destroys their marriages, and their lack of love for each other leads them to murder and suicide. Cordelia, on the other hand, loves her father truly. Her love for him, however, is more enlightened than he is, and she refuses to tell absurd lies merely to please him. Instead, while her sisters proclaim their utmost adoration for Lear, only to drive him out when he becomes inconvenient, she says merely that she loves him as any daughter should—and later sacrifices herself in her efforts to save his body and his mind.

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Why Women Should Read Fiction

“I haven’t picked up a book since college. I don’t have time to read anymore. If I read anything it’s going to be something useful…”
How many times have you heard (or said) one of these things?

A lot of women are very busy. Full-time outside jobs, taking care of children, running a household, whatever it is; when every second counts, reading a book will likely seem like a waste of time. But is it?

Studies show that far from being a waste of time, reading, and particularly reading fiction, actually has many benefits, some of which you might not expect.

Language Skills

Okay, yes, you probably would expect that reading literature improves your language skills, but wouldn’t any reading do the same? One study about reading and vocabulary levels indicates “that while increasing your reading matters, increasing your reading of fiction, specifically, matters equally as much.”

Having a larger vocabulary is beneficial in many ways. It makes it possible to understand a greater number of conversations more easily, and it also makes it easier to learn other languages, like French, Latin and Spanish.Also, knowing more words will help you at least sound smarter, and may even allow you to think more clearly. Being able to express your ideas in different words can make your thoughts more distinct, and will allow your ideas to be less limited by your ability to express them.

Theory of Mind

Even more important than language skills, though related to them, is the ability to think. Theory of Mind is the ability to understand that others know different things and think differently from you. Imagine that you assumed that all people knew your likes and dislikes, past experiences, etc. This is what lacking a theory of mind means. With this attitude, you would be perpetually offended, because whenever someone else did something that you found irritating, you would believe that it was a deliberate act to annoy you. This attitude would make good relationships impossible.

Fiction is particularly helpful in developing theory of mind, because the author opens a door into the minds of the characters. In literature with a first-person narrator, you continually drink in the thoughts and outlook of one character and see how that character responds to the surrounding people and events. The narrator may respond in ways completely alien to you, and may have a totally different set of beliefs and experienceswhich helps you understand that there are other ways of viewing the world. Books with an omniscient narrator are even better, as they show how different characters view the same event differently, or act based on different information.

If you were able to meet dozens of people, and not only meet them, but come to know them deeply and comprehend their motivations and thought-processes, you would become a very mature and understanding person. But this is unlikely. Most people know only a few others very well, and the people that they do know tend to be similar to them. Through fiction, however, we come to know not only the minds of fictional characters, we also find a window into the mind of the authors. This knowledge can be especially useful in maintaining relationships. For instance, if men and women think differently, reading books written by men or about men may help you better understand your brother, your boyfriend, or your husband.

Sense of Community

Reading fiction, especially the great books like Homer and Shakespeare, can help you feel connected to a larger community of humans, both living and dead. Reading classic literature puts you in contact, not only with others in today’s world who have read those books, but also to the millenia of others who have written and read them. You will begin to share the ideas and ideals of generations of men and women—ideals of goodness, truth, beauty, and honor. This sense of connectedness can bring a joy unlike any other.

It is encouraging, too, to know that there were people who shared these ideals, who valued these things and expected them of their fellow humans. The courage of Antigone, willing to defy the whole world in order to show her brother’s body the honor it deserved; the constancy and resourcefulness of Penelope, who waits for her husband and is not afraid to impose standards on the many suitors who seek her hand, thinking her husband dead; the humor and daring of Portia, willing to argue a case in the court of law to assure that both justice and mercy are served—all these and thousands of others can be members of your circle of friends. And who wouldn’t want friends like that? Knowing that others have valued and honored these actions, and thought that it was possible that humans would act in these ways, may make you more willing to apply standards in your own life, and expect more of the people you choose as friends.

The greatest literature of any culture will embody certain ideals which humans naturally desire—loyalty in love and friendship, courage in defending the innocent, the desire for greatness and honor—ideas which are all but eradicated from public life today. If you wish more from your life and from your relationships than what is depicted in the media today, if you wish to rise above the material condition of life, read good books. The more of these books you read, the more you will realize that there is a community of minds, a culture of which you can be a part.

Stress Relief and Enjoyment

Sitting down to read a book is also enjoyable. And incidentally, one of the finest methods of relieving stress. Reading demands your attention and dispels the patterns of stressful thought that were clouding your mind. So, even if reading a book takes time away from whatever important things you were doing, it’s possible that it will actually increase your productivity, as well as improving your life.

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What’s Involved in What We Wear

Have you ever looked into your closet and wondered what to wear for some occasion or other? Have you ever agonized over what to wear to your friend’s wedding? To your job interview? Or even just what you’re going to put on when you get up in the morning?

Sometimes the choice is easy—if you have a uniform at work, then you don’t have to worry about what to wear, or if your job has special clothing requirements, your options will be limited and therefore the choice will be easier. If you’re a nurse, you’re going to wear scrubs. Like them or not, they are what you wear to work, and the choice is relatively easy.

But this doesn’t help with the problem of your friend’s wedding, or your day off. So, how to decide what to wear?

Some people are so oppressed by this question that they make uniforms for themselves, so that they never have to decide what to wear. Others constantly buy new clothes so that they can always have something new to wear, or something that will fit each new occasion. Some people hire image consultants to tell them what to wear.

But why are clothes so difficult? On the face of it, it doesn’t seem like it should be so hard… it’s just clothes, right?

Wrong. Clothes are more important that we might think, and serve many purposes, which is why it can be so hard to decide on the right clothes for the occasion.

The right clothes will protect your body, enhance your appearance, and control your own and others’ perceptions about you. Trying to find clothes that look nice would be hard enough, but even that’s not all there is. Even if you look your best wearing a prom dress, that probably won’t be your first choice for a job interview.

In every society clothes have been used to represent status. Whether it is the Native American chief who wears eagle feathers to distinguish himself from the more lowly warriors, or the nobility in renaissance France or England who were by law the only ones allowed certain types of decorations, clothing has always represented social class.

Clothes control others’ perceptions

Some clothes communicate very clear messages. Militaries, sports teams, and other organizations use special uniforms to indicate both to their own members and to others that they are part of a team. Other clothes, like lab coats, are used to indicate that their wearers are members of a particular profession.

We also see certain types of clothes as being more professional than others. The straighter, solid color skirt is more professional than a pair of jeans or frilly patterned skirt, and a buttoned shirt and blazer combination is certainly more professional than a T-shirt.

The business suit is almost a class indicator. People who wear well-fitting business suits tend to look successful and competent to others. Many studies have shown that people make decisions about people based on what they wear. Even small details can make a difference. One study, described in Psychology Today, asked participants to rate a woman who they were told was a “senior manager” on “intelligence, confidence, trustworthiness, responsibility, authority, and organisation.” All they had to go on was her clothes, seen for five seconds or less. “People rated the senior manager less favourably when her dress style was more ‘provocative’, and more favourably when dressed more conservatively (longer skirt, buttoned up blouse).… The clothing in the ‘provocative’ condition was still very conservative in style and look – it was not a short skirt and a revealing blouse, but a skirt slightly above the knee and one button on the blouse undone.”

But shouldn’t people be able to see beyond our clothes? It seems like the answer should be yes, but a considerable body of evidence proves that we often can’t even see beyond our own clothes.

Control our own perceptions of self

Every girl, I think, has experienced the feeling of confidence that comes from wearing an outfit that is “just right.” You feel great all day, and you’re confident and able to go meet new people. You feel like you are projecting the image you want to project.

But what is involved in that “just right” outfit? Well, as it turns out, a lot.

First of all, it needs to fit, and to be of a style that you perceive as looking good on you.

Second, it has to fit the social occasion. That yellow dress might fit you well and look fantastic on you at a wedding, but you’ll probably feel awkward if you go to a funeral in it. You’ll probably prefer something else for just about any job interview as well.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, does the woman you want to be wear those clothes?

You’ve maybe heard the saying, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” This is more like, “dress like the person you want to be.”

The New York Times published an article about a study in which people were given an attention-demanding task.One group was handed white coats which they were told were doctor’s lab coats, and another group was given identical white coats which were identified as “painter’s coats.” The result was that “If you wear a white coat that you believe belongs to a doctor, your ability to pay attention increases sharply. But if you wear the same white coat believing it belongs to a painter, you will show no such improvement.”

“It has long been known that ‘clothing affects how other people perceive us as well as how we think about ourselves,’ Dr. Galinsky said.”

So, before you buy that outfit, you might want to ask yourself, Will this outfit make me feel like the person I want to be? And will others treat me like the person I want to be?

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Three Friends Every Girl Needs

Like Anne of Green Gables, all of us are, whether or not we admit it, looking for “kindred spirits.” Everyone wants to have friends. It is one of the deepest human desires, and its fulfillment can mean the difference between happiness and misery. In fact, according to the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkely, “The upshot of 50 years of happiness research is that the quantity and quality of a person’s social connections—friendships, relationships with family members, closeness to neighbors, etc.—is so closely related to well-being and personal happiness the two can practically be equated. People with many friendships are less likely to experience sadness, loneliness, low self-esteem, and problems with eating and sleeping.”

The New York Times reports that the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has written that, “Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity,”

This implies that not only will friendship make you happier, it will also do more for your health than dieting and exercise. So, the best thing you can do for your health, both mental and physical, is to go out and make some friends.

But how to know what sort of friends to make? Some people say that their “friends” bring them down, and make it harder for them to make good decisions. Sometimes “friends” get people into drugs or gangs, while other so-called friends are simply there to use you. These are not real friends. A real friend is one who wants the best for you, who genuinely cares about you, and would be sad if something bad happened to you.

Having real friends of various sorts can make your life more fun, more fulfilling, and can also provide you with a valuable safety net, protecting you from dangers as widely varied as depression and financial setbacks.

Fortunately, friends come in all shapes and sizes, and can be any age. They also come in various types, and every girl needs at least one of each of these three types.

The Buddy

The buddy is the one you first think about when you think of a friend.

She’s the one you call if you’re sad, the one you hang out with wherever, the one you go to the movies with. You go shopping together, and when you get married, she’s the one you’ll want to be the maid of honor. If you’re lucky, she’s your roommate.

She’s the one you share ideas with, the one you tell your dreams, the one you laugh with.

A good buddy must:

  • Live reasonably nearby, or at least be available to talk frequently.

  • Be able to keep secrets.

  • Be enjoyable, and enjoy your company.

  • Know how to make you laugh at yourself.

  • Like some of the same activities that you do.

It’s important for every girl to have at least one buddy.

The Big Sister

The Big Sister is a more experienced woman that you can go to for advice.

The Big Sister doesn’t have to be an older sister. She can be a cousin, an aunt, your buddy’s mom, or the old lady who lives down the street. She doesn’t have to be related to you at all, or even be older than you. What she does need is to

  • keep your secrets.

  • know more about (at least some part of) life than you do.

  • be someone you can feel comfortable asking awkward questions.

  • be kind.

The Big Brother

The Big Brother is a male friend who has no romantic or sexual intentions toward you.

If you’re lucky, you have an actual brother who fills this position in your life. Sometimes a cousin or friend can do it too. This is the person you call when you want a male opinion without a personal bias. He might also be the one you call when you need to move your furniture, are afraid someone broke into your apartment, or if you need advice buying a present for a boyfriend. He’s also helpful for chasing away unwanted attention from other men, if you happen to need help with that.

A Big Brother will ideally:

  • Care about you in a brotherly way.

  • Be strong.

  • Be level-headed and patient.

Each of these friends plays an important role in making a girl’s life happier and more fulfilling, and giving her a wider understanding and experience. Each of them is worth the time it takes to either find one or become one.

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Seven Reasons You Should Be Using Cast Iron in Your Kitchen

Cast iron is making a comeback. No longer is the cast iron pan just some mysterious blackened old thing you saw at your grandmother’s house, or at the old neighbor’s estate sale. A cast iron skillet is an important part of any well-equipped modern kitchen. Here’s a few reasons why.

It’s like having a grill in your kitchen

Cast iron takes awhile to heat up, but once it’s hot, it’s very hot. A cast iron skillet is an economical alternative to having a flat-top grill permanently installed in your kitchen.

The thickness of a cast-iron skillet allows it to store up a lot of thermal energy from the burner, and so throwing meat into a pre-heated pan doesn’t cool it down much. The pan stays hot even after the meat is seared on one side. This lets you get the scrumptious seared look on both sides of your meat, without having to leave your own kitchen or spend a fortune on home improvement and difficult to maintain grill surfaces.

It’s also ideal for grilling vegetables. All you have to do is preheat a few teaspoons of your favorite cooking oil in the bottom of the skillet, and throw your sliced fresh vegetables in. The hot pan stays hot after the vegetables are added, and so instead of the boring, soggy, or burnt vegetables that you might get from a thinner pan, With just a little stirring, you’ll be able to serve deliciously caramelized ones, in just a few minutes.

It’s healthier than non-stick pans

While some of the concerns about non-stick pans are thought to have been overstated, (according to the FDA, the chips of Teflon that flake off an old or poorly maintained pan won’t actually poison you, but just pass through your body harmlessly) it is generally agreed that overheated Teflon pans do release harmful vapors when heated over 500 degrees.

Cast iron, on the other hand, does not have flouride compounds involved in its construction, and so can be heated to higher temperatures safely. About the worst thing that’s going to come off your cast iron pan if you make it too hot, is a little smoke from the oil it was seasoned with. If you have a jumpy smoke detector, it could be a nuisance, but it isn’t likely to cause any health problems.

It can be used in oven or stove top

Some recipes call for starting on the stove top, and finishing in the oven. Most skillets have insulated handles, however, and these don’t hold up well to oven temperatures, however nice they are for holding onto while in use on the range, and conversely, most baking dishes for the oven will crack or burn the food if put directly over a flame or heating coil. Cast iron, however, has neither of these disadvantages.

It’s great for pancakes

Pancakes are one of the more wonderful things in life, but they require either an oiled, or somewhat non-stick surface. They also need a hot surface, so you might want to think twice about using your Teflon pan. Besides, pancakes are best turned with a good metal spatula, and metal implements shorten the life of your non-stick pan. If you have a flat top grill in your kitchen, you’re all set, but let’s face it. Most of us don’t, and (we don’t have the space for one either) Once again, the cast iron skillet can come to your rescue. A properly seasoned pan, especially one that is nice and hot, is nearly non-stick. (I do still use a small non-stick pan for making omelets, but omelets are a special case.) And you can use your metal spatula with reckless abandon, because it’s not going to hurt your pan. Which leads to the next reason:

It’s practically indestructible

There’s a reason why cast-iron pans have been around for so long. It’s partly because once there is a cast-iron pan, it’s going to be around for awhile, and some people even say they are better the older they are.

There’s only a few things that can permanently damage your pan. One of them is dropping it onto a hard surface. This can sometimes crack a cast-iron skillet. It’s not too great for any of your other kitchen tools either.

Other things that would ruin your pan for good:

Heating it up really hot in a bonfire, and then throwing cold water on it.

Leaving it in the rain and sun for several years until it rusted through.

Pouring hydrochloric acid into it and letting it sit for awhile.

As none of these are things that are likely to happen by accident, except dropping it, your pan should be a pretty safe investment.

What is a bit more fragile is the “seasoning” or thin coating of polymerized oil that builds up on a pan that is used frequently. Most new cast-iron iron pans you can buy today come “preseasoned” but the seasoning will improve considerably with time and proper use.

To properly care for the seasoning of your pan, it is recommended that you don’t let it soak in water, and don’t simmer acidic things, like tomato sauce, in the pan.

Even if you do damage your pan’s seasoning, however, it’s not too hard to reseason it. Lodge, a distributor of cast-iron cooking tools, recommends oiling your pan and baking it upside down on the top rack for an hour at 400 degrees F.

Regular care of your pan is simple as well- wipe it out, scrubbing with water, or without to get any food that might be stuck on. When the inside of the pan is clean, simply dry it and rub some oil over the inside to keep it from rusting.

It looks cool

Another reason to use cast-iron is just the way it looks. It’s got a sort of vintage feel to it, and it’s sort of cool to think that you’re cooking with the same sort of pan as some of the pioneers on the Oregon trail. Who knows, if you got your pan at an estate sale, or from your grandmother, maybe it’s even the same pan!

It can be part of your workout program

Who doesn’t want to develop a little more arm strength? With a twelve inch pan weighing in at over eight pounds, just ordinary cooking can help you develop wrist strength and tone your biceps. Just remember to use both hands so as to have symmetrical development.

Gluten free corn bread!

And finally, my favorite reason for using cast-iron pans. I love corn bread, especially with chili. But most cornbread is only half corn, and some aren’t even that! The rest of the flour is usually wheat based, and for someone who can’t eat wheat because of allergies, or someone who is going gluten free to lose weight or for other reasons, this is highly inconvenient.

But Joy of Cooking, a wonderful cookbook, has a recipe that calls for only corn meal. And, you might be asking, what does this have to do with cast iron? Well, corn-only bread, if cooked in a standard pan, collapses and becomes a dense and unpalatable mess at the bottom of the pan. This is because there is no gluten present to maintain the structure when baking powder makes gas bubbles in the batter. Instead, the gas bubbles escape entirely, leaving behind a solid mass which cooks into something resembling a rubbery brick.

The alternative? Preheat a cast iron pan in a 400 degrees F with butter or other shortening in it for ten minutes. Pour the batter in quickly and replace in the oven. The pan’s heat will cook enough of the batter to trap the air inside, and allow for a fluffy but gluten free corn bread which is inexpensive and delicious.

Ingredients, in case you want to try it:

1 3/4 cups cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt
Whisk until foamy in another bowl:
2 large eggs
Whisk in:
1 1/2 to 2 cups buttermilk
Add to the dry ingredients and whisk just until blended. Remove the skillet from the oven and add:
1 tablespoon bacon fat, lard, oil, or vegetable shortening