In the Queue…

Today was a library run day. What started out as a quick trip to pick up a specific book, Thomas Sowell’s latest Discrimination and Disparities, ended with my checking out the Bible sized Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.

Friedan’s seminal work is one of those books that I’ve read a lot about, and read a lot of excerpts from, while never actually reading the book to take in the entirety of Friedan’s arguments and the conclusions she drew. I don’t expect the reading to soften my disdain for the havoc she unleashed along with Simone de Beauvoir, author of The Second Sex.

However, I have learned over the years that many of the most notoriously damaging social thinkers and commentators in recent history had their fingers on the pulse of a real problem. It was their prescriptions which were toxic and culturally destructive. So I am reading The Feminine Mystique, but not until I finish with Thomas Sowell. Priorities!

I am also in the final stages of reading through Hippies of the Religious Right by Preston Shires. This is, so far a highly enlightening book and one that I look forward to exploring here.  In other words, there is some heavy reading going on here at present, but not all of the reading is heavy.

I also just finished The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with my kids, who had to read it for school. Whimsical, funny, and astute, it was a fun read and the perfect counter balance to all the weightier philosophical, cultural, and religious writings that have occupied my reading time. Because Tom Sawyer is such a well known and widely read work, I have decided not to review it here, but I will offer one of my favorite quotes from it:

“He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it—namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is OBLIGED to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

Lastly, Advent is upon us, beginning on Sunday December 2, and after much research and exploration, we have rested on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s God is in a Manger as the devotional for this year. Reflecting as we commemorate the Advent of the Savior is important to us, and I am really looking forward to this devotional.

That’s what’s in my queue. Do tell:

What is in YOUR reading queue as the end of 2018 rushes upon us?

The Black Man’s Guide Out of Poverty

BM guide

The Black Man’s Guide Out of Poverty: for Black Men Who Demand Better, by Aaron Clarey, Kindle Edition. Published in 2015.

I ran across this book by accident doing tangentially related research, and decided to spend the $5 to purchase the Kindle edition. I was driven by curiosity more than an expectation that I’d find any new information in it, but I’m glad I took the time to give it a quick read. It is a very quick read.

Author Aaron Clarey says several things in his book with which I vehemently disagree. Those disagreements center mainly on the tenets of my Christian faith against his pretty strident stance of disbelief. However, because he makes it clear that this book is written with very clear and practical aims in mind, I made the decision early in to focus my attention on the steps he offers to black men which will lead them out of poverty, and to base my conclusions and review on whether or not his book does what he says it will do.

I can draw no other conclusion than yes, the lion’s share of the counsel Clarey offers here will help not only young black men, but any young men who would take the advice offered in it. I can speak to the veracity of his advice because much of it –though not all of it- is identical to the path my husband took on his journey to building a successful life and family. This is particularly true of the advice related to education and career choices.

Among the sage pieces of wisdom Clarey offers are things such as:

  • Don’t major in stupid degrees
  • Be suspicious of the education establishment while using it to your advantage
  • Stay out of debt
  • Budget
  • Live minimally
  • Critically gore the sacred cows which are taught in the black community to determine their value and level of truth
  • Be willing to abandon the tribalism and dysfunctional elements of black culture
  • Choose your wife (if you choose to marry) well
  • Don’t get a girl pregnant

There was a lot of sexual and dating advice in the book which many would find problematic at best, and misogynistic at worst. As a Christian, there was plenty there for me to take issue with. The frank talk regarding the nature of relationships, women, and the treacherous landscape created by the current marriage of sex and politics is not for the faint of heart nor clutchers of pearls. Clarey pulls no punches as he expresses his beliefs on those issues.

Conversely, there were elements in those sections that I couldn’t argue with. Even though they offended my sensibilities, the reality is that black men suffer a disproportionate amount of financial harm as a result of poor sexual and relationship choices. These self-inflicted injuries needed to be addressed in a direct and no nonsense fashion, and was also why this book was written for men, to men, by a man. I was just an eavesdropper passing by.

I appreciate that Clarey acknowledged something that isn’t acknowledged anywhere else in American culture in an obvious, unambiguous way. Namely, that for all the wailing and beating of the chest on behalf of so-called “marginalized” groups in this country, American black men are among the most marginalized people in our society. It’s not women, not black women (at least not when it comes to college and career opportunities), and it isn’t immigrants. It’s certainly not the sexually degenerate fluid, who are celebrated everywhere we look. Last I checked, being celebrated is the exact opposite of being marginalized, which underscores how poorly educated our populace is, despite the fact that we experience more schooling than any other generation in history. It’s why you’ll find more and more commentary on the nature of a true education in the archives here. Clarey, to his credit, and using what shouldn’t even be keen skills of observation, got that part exactly right.

There were some definite areas in this book that could stand improvement. Firstly, I think it would have benefited greatly by having a ruthless editor. While the conversational tone made it an easy-flowing read, it also made for frequent errors more suited to a ninth grade composition student than an educated, successful author and consultant. Subject-verb disagreement, which commonly goes unnoticed in conversations, stands out more starkly in black and white.

In the Kindle edition, the charts and statistics which bolstered the arguments presented were not always easy to access and zoom in on. Also, there was profanity which was distracting at times. The latter note is just one more indication that the book wasn’t written with a Christian woman in mind as its audience.

Taken in its entirety, the book does what Clarey’s title says it does: Gives black men the tools and guidance they need to rise above the pack and build a successful life. Because of that, I think it’s worth the time to read it and worth purchasing. This is particularly true for black men who are grappling with the common handicaps and setbacks of being raised in the inner city or from the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.

4 out of 5 stars.

 

On Beauty: Is Thanksgiving Worth The Money?

As I am currently in the kitchen slaving away over Thanksgiving preparations (yes, I note the irony), into my inbox comes Joshua Gibbs on why Thanksgiving is worth the expense and hassle:

Thanksgiving dinner is a repository of many hours, many dollars, much thought and preparation and inconvenience. Every man who has spent north of a hundred dollars on Thanksgiving— not to mention the hassle of bringing relatives in, finding enough chairs and place settings for everyone and decorating the table— has surely entertained the thought, “If everyone stayed home and just ordered a pizza, we could saved a bundle, and I might have spent that time and money fixing the shed.” In other words, what if he funneled all the money spent on useless things into useful things instead? After all, white bread, peanut butter, and frozen mixed vegetables will fill stomachs just the same as prime rib, but at a fraction of the cost. Of course, this same logic is used to construct purely functional buildings which treat the occupants as though they have no souls— buildings which ultimately inspire the bitterness and cynicism of the vandal. When the vandal spray paints graffiti on the side of an ugly he building, he is actually protesting, “This building is false. I do have a soul.” If we trade the uselessness of a beautiful meal for a purely functional one, for a meal which merely keeps us alive, what exactly are we living for? What are we staying alive to do? Life cannot give itself meaning. A wedding ring only has meaning if it stands for a marriage, something which transcends mere jewelry. If life itself is the wedding ring, what is the marriage it stands for?

Seeing as our Thanksgiving festivities this year went easily north of $200, two thoughts sprang to mind. The first is that I need to get in on Gibbs’ frugal Thanksgiving game. $100 would be a welcome hosting expense. Second is that as usual, he makes an excellent point.

Despite that 36 hours from now, the leftovers will be in containers, the serving ware will be washed and put away, and the house will look much as it did before extended family filed in and out, the memories will remain. The sense of family and connection to the same will be bolstered in ways that caused us to forget any spats or differences from earlier in the year, and the meaning of what transpired will overshadow the uselessness of it.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

 

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.

salt fat acid heat

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, by Samin Nosrat. Published in April, 2017. 480 pages.

It seems to me that the eve of the American holiday which centers almost exclusively on the idea of giving thanks for our food is the perfect occasion to review the best seller Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.

Because I have a laundry list of food related items on my checklist at this very moment, I’ll keep this short and sweet. This is an excellent book for novice cooks, because it lays out the best ways to use what Samin refers to as the four elements of cooking which, once understood, makes creating great food an attainable goal; even without a recipe to follow:

“Season food with the proper amount of salt at the proper moment; choose the optimal medium of fat to convey the flavor of your ingredients; balance and animate those ingredients with acid; apply the right type and quantity of heat for the proper amount of time—do all this and you will turn out vibrant and beautiful food, with or without a recipe.”

There wasn’t much here that I hadn’t figured out to some degree over my nearly 25 years as a wife and home cook. Nevertheless, I still learned a few tricks from this book. More than teaching me anything, it gave voice and cohesive expression to elements of cooking which I already knew and was using in my own cooking. I also really enjoyed the scientific approach and explanations of how certain elements, such as salt, interact with foods to produce the desired flavor:

The distribution of salt throughout food can be explained by osmosis and diffusion, two chemical processes powered by nature’s tendency to seek equilibrium, or the balanced concentration of solutes such as minerals and sugars on either side of a semipermeable membrane (or holey cell wall).

The combination of these scientific notes and the enthusiastic exuberance Samin expresses with respect to food and cooking, made for a very entertaining book. It’s worth a read.

And if you happen to have Netflix, the four episode series by the same name (Salt, Fat Acid, Heat), is well worth a look.

We are a cooking family making many memories and original concoctions in our kitchen. Because of that, we loved watching this show and concluded that Samin Nosrat is the kind of foodie we would all love to be friends with: One who actually cooks!

Have a blessed and enjoyable Thanksgiving. Laugh, cook, eat and enjoy your families.

5 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

No NaNoWriMo Update.

We’re slightly beyond the halfway point of November and it is painfully obvious to me that the goal of writing 30,000 words this month is on the fast track to being a failed effort. Life, in all its messiness and complexities, has thrown lob after lob, each one landing square in the middle of my ability to knuckle down and write.

My initial inclination is to resist the urge to absolve myself. I set a goal, I should have done whatever it took to reach it. That, however, is the antithesis of the life we are trying to live and model for our children. Rather than a slacking off due to minutiae masquerading as busyness, there were genuinely more pressing matters to attend to which made it nearly impossible for me to sit down and focus enough to write those 1000 words a day. That’s before I’ve paused to further put things in order to serve Thanksgiving dinner to my family five days from now.

Time for a revamped strategy which will, unfortunately, have to wait until after the New Year is underway. That’s a slightly disappointing prospect as I generally frown on using the New Year as the answer to beginning anew what should be easy enough to accomplish in at any time of the year.

One thing I will be trying to accomplish is devoting significant amounts of time to reading and research so that when I am ready to dive back into writing in a few weeks, I’ll be more prepared to power out some significant portions of writing. To that end, I’ll close with this prayer by Thomas Aquinas; Ante Studium. I will be drawing on its inspiration as I move forward with my project:

Ineffable Creator, Who out of the treasures of Your wisdom appointed treble hierarchies of Angels and set them in admirable order high above the heavens; Who disposed the diverse portions of the universe in such elegant array; Who are the true Fountain of Light and Wisdom, and the all-exceeding Source:  Be pleased to cast a beam of Your radiance upon the darkness of my mind, and dispel from me the double darkness of sin and ignorance in which I have been born.

You Who make eloquent the tongues of little children, instruct my tongue and pour upon my lips the grace of Your benediction.  Grant me penetration to understand, capacity to retain, method and ease in learning, subtlety in interpretation, and copious grace of expression.

Order the beginning, direct the progress, and perfect the conclusion of my work, You Who are true God and Man, Who live and reign forever and ever.  Amen.

Have a wonderful weekend! I hope to have a book review up early next week.

The Great 2018 Book Purge Update.

The purge is underway in earnest, and although I have given up counting exactly how many books were boxed and given away, I’d estimate roughly 75. Because I was more interested in freeing space and organization than acquiring new books to replace others, I simply transported the entire box to our nearest Goodwill donation center.

There are seasons when I am rich in both time and a desire for new book acquisitions. At those times I travel a little further to a quaint used bookstore that I enjoy, where they give me credit for my used books to be used towards books for sale in their inventory. This was not one of those seasons, so I didn’t do that today.

The thinning included a significant number of children’s books that our children have outgrown or lost interest in: Most of the Junie B. Jones collection, almost all of the Magic Treehouse series, and a stack of Little Golden Books as well. Because we do have young children here on occasion, I kept the children’s books which are undisputed classics, both for young visitors and for the children I hope our children will have some day in the not too distant future. Reading aloud to children is great fun, after all.

Among the children’s books with which I couldn’t part were Winnie the Pooh series, Goodnight Moon, a few Dr. Seuss classics, as well as a few beloved titles by Beatrix Potter. I often post C.S. Lewis’ quote regarding the timelessness of an engaging, well written story.

“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”

I agree heartily, as I have enjoyed numerous children’s books throughout my adult years, most recently Tom Sawyer.

The second group of books I purged rather ruthlessly were “theology” centered books which no longer dove tail with my understanding of faith the way they did back when I bought them. Fortunately, there weren’t many of those. Unfortunately, there were probably more than there should have been.

Then there were the homeschool books that I bought only to find they didn’t work for one reason or another. I considered saving them to sell at a couple of used curriculum sales in the spring, but that would mean keeping them until April or May. I might regret it later, but at this moment in time nothing less that removing these items from my sight would give me homemaking peace. So, out they went.

Lastly there were the books that I got rid of simply because I don’t anticipate I’ll ever re-read them. Many of those are books that I have reviewed in this space. Some of them I really enjoyed, but just don’t desire to read again. Others I never liked all that much, and some I finally had to accept that I was never going to read. I realized that I boxed up several books that have been reviewed here. Among them:

I had been getting into the habit lately of buying more books as our increasingly hectic schedule has made library runs less frequent. My goal as I enter the New Year is to reconnect with my habit of checking out most of the books I read from the library unless I can’t access them there.

The book purge is not 100% complete, but I am about 75% of the way there.

 

 

 

In which I wax political but not too much.

This is as political as I am willing to go here, but this tweet is both funny and true:

Given the current state of limbo surrounding the Florida senate race, I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw that. It seems as this is the normal course in every major race our state has voted in since the Great Electoral Fiasco of 2000.

What many of you may not realize is that we have a history of election upheaval here that reaches back much further.

Our illustrious electoral history started at least as far back as 1876, when Florida, via a back room deal, handed her electoral votes and the presidency to Rutherford B. Hayes.

Electoral shenannigans are as naturally Floridian as retention pond alligators and key lime pie.

Our love affair with magical nannies.

mary poppins

There was a nanny debate the other night in our house. No, we’re not considering getting a nanny! The debate centered upon which is the most magical magical Nanny. Is it Nanny McPhee  (originally Nurse Matilda) or Mary Poppins? After this post at Of Maria Antonia recently reminded me of the similarly delightful Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, I came away wondering about our love affair with magical nannies, and began Googling in an earnest search for others I may have forgotten.

Including the delightful dog Nanna in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan,  it was clear that the magical nanny trope extends beyond my original limited imagination of what a magical nanny is. She’s not only characterized by the possession of literal magical powers, but also has a magical effect on the entire family as she serves. The literary blog Slap Happy Larry outlines the general story arc of children’s books which employ the magical nanny trope:

  • The parents are colourless and unremarkable except for their utter cluelessness.
  • The nanny might be actually magic, or seems to work magic due to being a ‘child whisperer’
  • The children are highly spirited tricksters
  • The nanny sees right through the children and although she may have a harsh exterior, has a heart of gold
  • The children are at least upper middle class
  • Nanny stories of the old-fashioned kind, set in large houses, are probably from an earlier era such as the Edwardian
  • The plots tend to be episodic rather than dramatic, with each day bringing a new adventure which is over and solved by bedtime. But there is still a character arc whereby the children become better behaved (or more morally upstanding) by the end of the story.

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, an American story, necessarily demands a slightly different twist on the notion than we find in the the other renown stories, typically written by British authors. In contrast to Nurse Matilda, Mary Poppins, or even Nanna, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle doesn’t live with her charges. Instead, she is a kindly neighborhood lady whom all the children love and all the parents trust to know just the trick to rectify their children’s bad or detrimental behavior.

This short exploration doesn’t even begin to address the numerous nannies and nursemaids to be found in adult literature, who are far more likely to have a significant effect than magical powers. The unrefined but devoted Mrs. Wix from Henry James’ What Maisie Knew springs to mind here. I’m not sure I could even exhaust the list in a short post as short as this one. This leads  me to the question:

What is it about the magical nannies that grabs hold of our imaginations and makes us enjoy them so? I have my own hypothesis, but I’d much rather hear yours first!

 

 

 

 

Stretching Creative Limits

As I embark on this nonfiction version of the NaNoWriMo challenge, thoughts about stretching my creative limits are floating to the surface. The thoughts are so vivid and constant that I was reminded of a conversation I had with my gifted composition teacher in high school. At that time, they called gifted students “gifted”, a statement of aptitude, rather than the more palatable “AP” which indicates that the placement is chosen rather than endowed.

That morning, I realized I’d forgotten to write a short essay that was due. In a mad rush, I wrote it on the school bus and before class, had a fellow gifted English student read over it and tell me what he thought. He said it was “really good. I never would have known you wrote this on the bus in 20 minutes if you hadn’t told  me so.” Confident that I had an A (or at least a B), well in hand, I submitted the essay to my teacher with relieved confidence. It was a confidence that she decidedly shook in a good way, although it would be years before I understood or appreciated it.

She returned the paper with a C, and I was moved to question her, which was very uncharacteristic of me. When I questioned her assessment of my work she said that the essay was good, and had another student written it,  she would have given it an ‘A’.

However, over the course of the school year, she’d read enough of my writing to know that that paper could have easily (I’m not kidding!) “been written on the bus on your way to school, so it’s not an A paper for you”.  I still felt I’d been done wrong, but the prophetic accuracy with which she’d nailed my lack of effort sucked all of the wind from the sails of my argument.

I was reminded of that moment last night as I slogged along trying to get the 1000 words I’d committed to on “paper”. We had a minor plumbing emergency in out house this week on top of our usual busy schedule, which has hindered my creative energy. I found that I was more concerned with meeting the word quota than writing something really worth reading. The effort wasn’t a total waste however, as there are some insightful thoughts waiting to be made readable with attentive editing.

What I have learned this week was that it’s important to remember not to coast while doing this. I need to give it the same level of care that I give would give while making my husband’s favorite recipes, or to anything else I would give extra thought and care. The fact that words come easy to me means I need to stretch myself in ways that produce better results. I should and I must, because I can.

I will say though, that creativity and enthusiasm in the kitchen which produces results in 2 hours or less is far easier and often more enjoyable.

NaNoWriMo 2018 continues…

NaNoWriMo, but non-fiction?

It’s November, that month where many writers, would-be writers, never-will-be-writers, and bloggers who write about writing promote National Novel Writing Month. I enjoy good novels, and have been encouraged over the years that my gift for the written word should be shared in ways beyond online forums. Writing fiction however, has never interested me. My imagination just isn’t that great. When and if I ever accomplish my desire of publishing something others are willing to pay to read, it will have to be non-fiction.

My beloved, having supplied me with the tools  to transfer my “profound” ideas and insights to the written word, has once again encouraged me that anything I need, including time and space, he will make available so that I can fulfill this longing. The only thing comparable to being well-loved is being believed in. As an act of appreciation for his faith, I’m putting a  personal spin NaNoWriMo, committing to writing every day for next 30 days. Should all go according to plan 30,000 words will be transferred from my head, to the keyboard, and onto paper by years’ end.

Even as I type this, my mind is fighting: “You are hosting Thanksgiving for 20 people this year”, “You are teaching this semester and need to prep for the next”, and the perpetual nagging thought, “You have more important priorities to focus on as a wife and mother.”

The struggle of balancing duties with desires can be a never ending one. It’s so often why most people simply choose one or the other, duties or desires, and let the chips fall for better or worse. Because we really can’t do “it all”, but we can do some of it.

I have concluded that writing 1000 words a day is doable, and not an all-encompassing,  overly time consuming task. It is just enough to hone one’s craft, but not so much that it steals time best devoted to other things.

We’ll see how this goes.