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A Best Ten Potpourri

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I’m horrible at “best of” lists. I have a tough time naming one favorite in any category let alone ten favorites. So, in effort to pull my weight as part of the Blogcritics community, I’ve put together a few of my favorite, if unrelated, things.

Best Parenting Advise Books

Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care
by Dr. Benjamin Spock

A practical, no-nonsense approach to the care and feeding of the child. No parental guilt here, no sir. If the baby’s crying non-stop and you’ve made sure he isn’t sick, and all his basic needs are met, it’s his fault, not yours.

by T. Berry Brazelton

More gentle and loving than Spock, but just as no-nonsense. Highly recommended.

Best Books to Read While Walking on a Treadmill

The Horatio Hornblower Series by C.S. Forester

The stories don’t require a lot of concentration, the print’s big enough to see easily from the distance demanded by the treadmill, and the plot’s riveting enough to make you forget how fast or how long you’ve been walking. I lost 2 to 3 pounds per book. Read them in the order they were written, beginning with
Beat to Quarters
. Or, if you prefer, start with
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower
and read them in the chronological order of Horatio Hornblower’s life.

Best Holiday Music of a Classical Bent – Thanksgiving to Easter

Home to Thanksgiving
by Paul Hillier, et. al.

A collection of pieces previously recorded by Paul Hillier and his group, Theater of Voices, as well as the group His Majesties Clerkes, this disc brings together songs of thanks and praise from the 11th century (monastic chant) to the 20th century (John Cage), but mostly from the early American 18th century psalmody tradition.

Santa Claus Symphony
by William Henry Fry

Written by the nation’s first music critic, champion of American music, and the first American to write symphonic music, Fry’s Santa Claus Symphony incorporates the familiar Adeste Fideles with the sounds of snowstorms, fighting angels, and sleigh bells to evoke the spirit of Christmas. The other pieces on the disc are worthwhile, too, especially the Niagra Symphony, which was written for a P.T. Barnum musical extravaganza and included eleven tympani drums to reproduce the Niagra Falls sound.

Handel’s Messiah
, Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, The Academy of Ancient Music, Christopher Hogwood

A beautiful rendition of Handel’s masterpiece, based on notes for the original 1754 performance at the Foundling Hospital and performed on period instruments. No overbearing chorus, no screechy sopranos. Heaven.

Bach’s St. Matthew Passion
, The Monteverdi Choir, The English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner

Bach’s family called this “the great Passion,” and under John Eliot Gardiner’s lead this version is easily the greatest of the great. Listen for one of the recurring themes that’s also a well-known Paul Simon tune.

Best Bellicose Women Biographies:

Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings
by Amy Kelly

Queen of England, Queen of France, mother to two kings, Crusader, patron of the arts, head of one of the most dysfunctional families in history, Eleanor of Aquitaine was a woman to be reckoned with, and Amy Kelly’s biography is a well-written account that avoids over-romanticizing its subject.

The Life of Elizabeth I
by Alison Weir

Dysfunctional family survivor (The Tudors made the Plantagenets seem like Ozzie and Harriet), and arguably one of the greatest women who ever lived, Alison Weir’s biography is a highly readable account of her life and times. No need for a background in English history to enjoy it.

Best Food Magazine

Cook’s Illustrated

From the basics of roasting a turkey to the best way to grill a hamburger ( make a depression in the center so it cooks up as a plateau rather than a mound), the Cook’s Illustrated magazine provides an informative, useful alternative to the standard food porn fare. Rather than sumptious, glossy photographs, and flowery prose, it has black and white photos and pencil drawing illustrations. The authors of the articles explain the testing processes and tastings that went into choosing the recommended recipes and techniques. Product recommendations are based on blinded trials and cover everything from electric knives to balsamic vinegars. The magazine accepts no advertising, so their recommendations are unbiased. Simply the best. (Also highly recommended – their How To Series of cookbooks.)

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