Thursday, May 25, 2017

Recent Non-fiction Reading

My reading usually tends heavily toward fiction; I enjoy the mental/emotional escape provided by mystery and romance (not to be confused with "erotic") novels. I read 12-15 books a month, on average; and during the first 5 months of 2017 I have read 8 or 10 very interesting and varied non-fiction books in addition to my usual novels. I will list, and briefly review, some of the best here. I ordered most of these through the public library and had to wait until they were fetched from other branches and made available here at the Sara Hightower Regional Library.

Late in February I re-read The Grace Awakening by Charles Swindoll.  I believe this makes my 4th reading of this one.  Swindoll reminds Christians that the God of the universe has given us an amazing, revolutionary gift of grace and freedom and that our lives can (and should) be lived without the legalistic adherence to religious tenets that many people assume are necessary for Christian living.  

In March I read The Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall.  From the blurb: "Meet Denver, a man raised under plantation-style slavery in Louisiana in the 1960s; a man who escaped, hopping a train to wander, homeless, for eighteen years on the streets of Dallas, Texas. No longer a slave, Denver's life was still hopeless—until God moved. First came a godly woman who prayed, listened, and obeyed. And then came her husband, Ron, an international arts dealer at home in a world of Armani-suited millionaires. And then they all came together.   But slavery takes many forms. Deborah discovers that she has cancer. In the face of possible death, she charges her husband to rescue Denver. Who will be saved, and who will be lost? What is the future for these unlikely three? What is God doing?  Same Kind of Different As Me is the emotional tale of their story: a telling of pain and laughter, doubt and tears, dug out between the bondages of this earth and the free possibility of heaven. No reader or listener will ever forget it. "  While this book was poorly written (as far as sentence/paragraph structure and writing conventions are concerned), it is an enthralling read.  

In April I read Hillbilly Ellegy:  A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance.  My sister, Janice Shaw Crouse, suggested this read for me. This book is a powerful memoir and study of the dissatisfaction and despair of America's working class whites. particularly  in the Southeastern part of the country) in the early 21st century. The loss of the hope of the American Dream for a large part of society is poorly understood by most American politicians.

In April I also read The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters by Tom Nichols.  I found this one particularly interesting as it deals with a topic that is already very dear to me as a person who values education and logical thinking. The author examines and expounds on how the rise of the internet and other technology has made information more easily-accessible than ever before. He points out that this has had the positive effect of equalizing access to knowledge.  The important point here is that it also has "lowered the bar on what depth of knowledge is required to consider oneself an 'expert.' A cult of anti-expertise sentiment has coincided with anti-intellectualism, resulting in massively viral yet poorly informed debates ... This surge in intellectual egalitarianism has altered the landscape of debates-all voices are equal, and 'fact' is a subjective term. " (quotes from the blurb) 

At the end of April I began reading American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard.  I believe this one was recommended by my long-time internet friend, Norma Bruce.  This is a very thought-provoking, but generally subjective, overview of the "nations" that make up the North American continent.   Something in me rejects the idea of so neatly pigeonholing groups of people and making generalizations about their characteristics, attitudes, and motivations; but Woodard shows here how the history of the different cultures that make up the continent have worked together - or not- throughout our history, and he illustrates and explains why "American" values vary sharply from one region to another.

Early in May I read Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. I believe that this was also a recommendation by Norma Bruce.  This is a hard book to read because death and dying are hard topics to think about; however, it is an important read and one I highly recommend (since death is an event assured to be in each of our futures.) Each of us is mortal. In our medically advanced world today, most of us will face weeks, months, or even years in declining health with increasingly invasive medical intervention. Almost ALL of us will face this scenario with a loved one. How much invasive medial intervention is helpful or desirable and where that treatment should stop are topics of importance to consider. When time becomes short, what is most important to you? How can you best achieve the remaining goals of your life? The real issue at that time are not how to prolong life but how to make each day -- until the very end -- the best day possible. In order to do that, one must give some advance thought and have some early discussion with loved ones about our individual life goals and about what it means to be human and mortal. The time to do that is while our health/life/treatment/manner of death are still negotiable.  The book  is well-written, thought-provoking, and helpful.

Two of my granddaughters and a niece have been accepted to attend Jacksonville State University in Alabama next Fall.  I checked out The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon  because they are each required to read it before the Freshman Orientation.   The book is written in the voice of a 15-year-old autistic boy. The author shows amazing insight into the thoughts, emotions, and understandings of the autistic mind.  The book was fascinating in structure as well as in content.  As a teacher of writing, I found it interesting in that the book itself is presented as a writing project of the character's.  It is a short and quick read. 

In May, I ordered Peenemunde to Canaveral by Dieter K. Huzel when I found out that it was written by the grandfather of my new nephew-by-marriage.   It is an autobiographical account of the development of rocket science beginning in Peenemunde, Germany before and during WWII through the launching of the Redstone missile from Cape Canaveral in 1953.  If I'd had more background understanding of rocketry, I would have enjoyed this book more; but it was well-written and interesting even so.  

 I would highly recommend every one of these, for each of which I've written brief reviews on Goodreads.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Lemon Legend (also known as Lemon Fluff Freeze)

This has been Steve's favorite recipe for most of his life. Here's the recipe as I received it:

3 eggs, separated
5 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 Cup sugar
1/2 pint cream
graham cracker crumbs.

Now, the truth:
I usually quadruple the recipe, and I use Cool Whip instead of whipping cream. This is an easy recipe, but it messes up the entire kitchen - lots of bowls and utensils.

Here are the quadruple amounts and directions:

1 dozen eggs, separated
1 1/4 Cups lemon juice
2 Cups sugar
36 ounces Cool Whip, thawed
about 1/2 box of graham cracker crumbs


  • Beat the yolks until they are thick. Add the lemon juice.
  • Beat the whites until they are stiff.  Add the sugar.
  • Fold the two mixtures together.
  • Fold in Cool Whip - this takes a lot of folding.
  • Sprinkle crumbs in the bottom of two 9X12 pans.
  • Spread the lemon mixture on top of crumbs.
  • Sprinkle more crumbs on top.
  • Cover and Freeze.
  • To serve, cut in squares.  
This keeps a long time covered tightly in the freezer.  


Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Loving Advice from Those Who Are Traveling Ahead of You

Recently I posted the following request on Facebook:

I have a question for my FB friends over age 40: What one thing have you learned from you years of life experience would you most like to pass on to younger people you love and care for? I'd really like to read the wisdom you have gained from life.

Young people, listen and learn. Here are some of the responses:

  • Life is too short to major on the minors. Pick your battles and which hills you are willing to die on. You will enjoy life much more if you do.

  • With people who are important to me, I'd rather be friends than be right.

  • Living a biblical lifestyle is its own reward; life and relationships just work better when lived within those parameters.

  • I'd have to compartmentalize a bit: Career/Work: I've never been much of a joiner, but learned that committees, boards, task forces, appointments, memberships, etc. are critical. I've never really learned to enjoy them, but they are very necessary to get ahead, or even run in place. Personal Life: Honesty is its own reward. Family: No one in a nursing home ever says, I wish I'd spent more time at the office.

  • Pay attention to the moments -- favorite quote -- Life is not the breath you take, but the moments that take your breath away. If you look around you every day - there will be something to take your breath away.

  • Life is astonishingly short! That 90 year old person was once 10, 15, 18... and the time since then seems very short from their perspective. Time actually moves faster the older you are (I wrote a paper on this when I was in 9th or 10th grade "proving" that time moves faster as you progress through life - prompted by something I heard my parents say - it has turned out to be disturbingly true). So much of what this world tells us is important is trivial. And so much that this world tells us is trivial is of the utmost importance! Make a conscious decision who you want to be. Don't just float through life on the winds of chance. Chance may find the easy road, but it won't find a very fulfilling one. Learn to think critically, and don't accept easy explanations. When you are facing something you need to do that is very difficult or uncomfortable, remember that once you have done it, it will be in the past, then you will have already accomplished it, and in retrospect, it probably will not have been as bad as you feared. If there is healing that needs to be done, the process will have begun.And most importantly, there really is a God. What we do on this earth (in the short time we have), really does matter. Prayer isn't a drive up window where you place an order and and your wish appears. Instead it is how you build and develop your relationship with your heavenly Father. You can't build any sort of relationship on this earth if you never speak to the other person - how could you develop your relationship with God if you don't speak with (and much more importantly listen to) him? I've had two instances in my life where prayer was clearly answered, and they changed my life! They also taught me that prayer isn't for me to necessarily have my wishes granted, it's to open me to what God has to say to me, and at least sometimes, to re-enforce in me that He is there, and can affect my life. I could go on (and on, and on... --after all, there is SO much they need to know!), but I won't!


Thank you, Diane, Norma, Tersi, Jan, Jane, and David. I appreciate the interesting and inspiring commentary. The old expression that "youth is wasted on the young" seems so true as we gain life experience but lose physical strength and stamina through aging. It breaks my heart sometimes that the life-lessons learned through hard times have to be learned over and over by new generations.

Path and Sundial (Watercolors) Daily Art and Writing 05-03-2017




Monday, May 01, 2017

Field Flowers (Acrylics) Daily Art and Writing 05-01-2017


Welcome to the beautiful month of May!



"What is so sweet and dear

As a prosperous morn in May,
The confident prime of the day,
And the dauntless youth of the year,
When nothing that asks for bliss,
Asking aright, is denied,
And half of the world a bridegroom is,
And half of the world a bride?"
-  William Watson, Ode in May, 1880

*****************************************************

"The world's favorite season is the spring. 
All things seem possible in May."

-  Edwin Way Teale


******

"The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
a cloud come over the sunlit arch,
And wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March."
-  Robert Frost 


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Gerber Daisy (Acrylics) Daily Art and Writing 04-27-17







"The Earth Laughs in Flowers.
-  Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Daisies have a special place in my heart.  The bridesmaids at our wedding carried small white wicker baskets filled with white daisies.  I painted my daisies today in a deep crimson as I contemplated the poem "Hamatreya" by Ralph Waldo Emerson.  A line that sticks in my mind from that poem - "Earth laughs in flowers."  The red daisy in today's painting is reflecting back the laughter of the Earth.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Butterfly (Acrylics) Daily Art and Writing 04-25-2017

As the caterpillar metamorphoses from drab caterpillar to colorful butterfly, as Jesus went from the tomb to the glory of heaven, I, too, will obtain new life and beauty if I stay true to my calling and destiny.




"It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by.  How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment?  For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone.  That is where the writer scores over his fellows:  he catches the changes of his mind on the hop."  ~Vita Sackville-West



The common and unattractive caterpillar becomes a colorful butterfly by persevering though slow and painful changes.



Monday, April 24, 2017

Polka Dot Plant (Acrylics) Daily Art and Writing 04-24-2017


This Polka Dot Plant (Hypoestes Phyllostachya) grows in in a pretty little pot my Mother gave me.  She doesn't remember where she got the little pot, but she's had it for years.  The actual pot has two pretty loop handles on the sides, which I was reluctant to attempt to paint.  Since the pot is so small (about 6 inches tall and with a 4-inch diameter), I rest it on a small cloth-covered pedestal atop a side table in full sun and in full view of my reading chair.