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Summer Book Shout outs

It’s been somewhat boring — in a good way — around here lately, leaving me plenty of time for literary endeavors. Well, literary endeavors excluding updating my blog, which has been a bit abandoned lately.

I’m giving my brain as much rest as possible this week. Next week, I’ll be spending 7 straight days scoring Advanced Placement English exams. Yep, hand written — in pencil — high school essays. My brain needs to get ready.

In the meantime, I’ve found the perfect unwinding volunteer work. Last year, our campus opened a new student learning commons, which meant moving every single library book on campus. This year, we’ve expanded to two locations — one in Greenbelt, Maryland and one in Northern Virginia — since we acquired the academic programs of another Bible college. That college used all Dewey decimal system, and our library uses the Library of Congress system, so all the books from Maryland and Virginia have been shipped to our campus to be recataloged. I’ve helped out a few afternoons by stamping our name on the edges of the pages, putting on bookplates, and new barcodes. I haven’t advanced my skills to putting on spine labels or cataloging the books yet. However, after a hectic semester of making decisions and racing to keep up, I find the repetitive stamping of the books very therapeutic — dare I say even slightly addictive. I do give mass kudos though to our library staff since my volunteer work of stamping is I’m sure far less stressful than their task of making sure all the books are correctly processed and shipped out to their new homes before deadline.

I’ve also found time to read, read, read. Ah…the beauty of summer. So, I’ve got a few summer book shout-outs. I had to slide some Agatha Christie into the rotation. According to my recent book sale find gem….

Agatha Christie Chronologythe novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is what propelled Christie to fame after it became an “overnight sensation.” It’s not much fun to review mystery novels because if I say too much, I ruin it. You’ll never guess who did it, so go read it. That’s about all I can tell you.

Now What Do I DoI also snagged Now What Do I Do?: The Surprising Solution When Things Go Wrong by John Townsend at the book sale. In the book, he gives 7 steps that should guide what a person does when they face a problem — loss of a job, unhappy marriage, no marriage, rebellious kids…fill in the blank. The book is a ridiculously quick and easy read, and for me, it was an encouraging read. The past year and a half hasn’t been easy for me as I try to figure out what my 30s should look like. However, the encouraging part of the book is that I could put checkmarks or at least half check marks next to most of the steps that he outlines to face problems in a healthy way and to move forward. I underlined some helpful insights to bear in mind as I continue to move forward, but it also reminded me to be grateful to God for keeping me on a fairly steady path — often in spite of myself since I’ve gone through some pretty cranky hissy fits directed towards God over the past year and a half. And, since good community and wise counsel is part of staying the course, I was also reminded to be thankful for the network of people that were in my life to pad the fall when the bottom dropped out of my dreams.

The Other Wes MooreAnd, finally, in a nearly unprecedented move, I read another book sale book almost immediately after buying it instead of having it land in a que behind hundreds of other books. The Other Wes Moore has been on my book wish list for over a year, so I scooped it up. To use cliched review language, the book was riveting. Wes Moore and, uh, Wes Moore, both started life in Baltimore. Wes Moore, the author, traveled a rough road, but eventually became a Rhodes Scholar and a successful professional. He couldn’t make himself ignore though that another man with his same name from his same hometown wound up getting sentenced to prison for life after being involved in a robbery where a police officer was murdered. Moore interviewed the other Wes Moore and his friends and family. The book is a juxtaposition about how the two boys were affected by not having fathers to raise them, by the ways their mothers did (or didn’t) intervene in their schooling, by the pull and resistance of the drug culture around them, and by their ultimate decisions. The book was masterfully written and gave thought provoking insight into the value of mentoring, parenting and social capital within urban inner cities. This was a one-more-chapter book. I think I told myself that I’d only read “one more chapter” two or three times this afternoon — until I reached the end of the book. If any of my local friends want me to pass this one along to them, let me know. I don’t want it to languish on my bookshelf.

Finally, I discovered a charming British TV series from the 1970s to provide some background noise while I was organizing my Kindle. Free Kindle books are great. Letting several hundred free Kindle books indiscriminately download to a Kindle is not a great idea. It took several hours to sort them out. But I found the televised version of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small, and I’m enjoying it to the full extent of my nerdish delight. It’s much like the books, warm, homey, quaint, and amusing. I’ve found myself laughing at nearly every episode. If I have kiddos after they’re done watching an exhaustive collection of Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables, I’ll let them move onto this series.



Book Sale Adventures

Sunday was 1/2 price day at the library used book sale. I was going to resist, but I used the excuse of going to track down the last two book in the Cat Who… series for my grandma. And, what do you know? I found them. The other three on the stack….well, they’re for me. This series is my new grading favorite because they are such light reading, but at the same time, the pages are splashed with exquisite vocabulary.















Then, there is this stack of books that I justified because of the social justice class I’m teaching. I should get bonus points for finding Who Really Cares by Brooks since I added it to my Amazon wish list about a month ago after having a long discussion with my sister about the author and his ideas.





KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAHere’s the random books I picked up. It seems I had a wee bit o’ an Irish theme.

I picked up some fun books for my dad too, but I’m keeping them out of the limelight. It’d be a shame to give away part of Father’s Day. KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA






Then I found an Agatha Christie biography! I’m always on the Agatha Christie hunt at book sales. Seriously, the thrill of the hunt is so intense that one time I think Todd was gearing up to get my list of missing Christie books from me, so he could track them down. But, then he realized he’d be taking the fun out of the hunt for me. I thought that was a super romantic moment when he realized that. Yes, I’m a bit of an Agatha Christie nerd.


That is why it was particularly exciting to find not one, but….








KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAtwo Agatha Christie biographies. Apparently a fellow Agatha Christie lover was clearing out her collection. There was an Agatha Christie trivia book too, but since I’ve been exposed to the plot of And Then There Were None at least three times and still couldn’t tell you who did it if you asked me right now, I figured I could pass over the trivia.




KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI threw in a collection of 20th century mystery short stories, and the day was complete.

Oh, local library, I enjoy supporting you.


** P.S. Sorry for the funky spacing of pictures and text. I need to brush up on my blogging skills, but right now, it’s more important to go get my laundry that’s going to wrinkle.

The Vanishing Bees

Here’s a new one for the documentary round-up. Compared with the ones I’ve been watching lately about education and human trafficking, I thought this would be more lighthearted, easy-to-digest documentary. Wrong. The documentary was downright alarming because it wasn’t just about bees; it was about our environment and the precarious balance of it. I watched Food, Inc. a few months ago, and I highly recommend watching Vanishing of the Bees alongside it. Food, Inc. is helpful because it introduces viewers to the concept of factory farming. With that backdrop, Vanishing of the Bees was more alarming. It’s not in the viewer’s face with the piles of dead chickens and rivers of manure, a veritable gore-fest in Food, Inc. Instead, it’s a quiet, and perhaps more powerful, reminder that we live in a phenomenally designed ecosystem and that we need to be far more careful than we are about the ripple effects of what we do as we innovate our crop production techniques.

Here are two themes of which I’m becoming increasingly sensitive to as I learn more about our food system:’

  1. Mono, mono, mono — As production becomes key, we’ve introduced an industrial mindset to our farming practices. I’m not saying that small farms of the past would sustain the population today, so I’m not advocating for a return to 1900s style farming. But our consumption patterns are problematic. We should know that. This movie explains that in a push for production, we’ve built monocultures across the country, areas where only one crop exists. This disrupts the balance of nature, often detrimentally. It increases the severity of pest invasions and crowds out helpful co-existing crops and insects like bees that help with pollination. And the interventions to make these systems work often compound problems rather than solving them. The demand for bees and the disruption of nature means that now bees are trucked from Florida to California back to Florida then to the Northeast and then home again to Florida. Native bee populations are not sufficient to support pollination in these regions. Something seems off in this model, and it certainly doesn’t seem ecofriendly since the bees make their cross-country journey on tractor trailers.
  2. Manipulation.  – The bee breeding business is highly manipulated. Did you know that bees are artificially inseminated? I’m fully aware of the practice in the world of horses and pigs and dogs, but bees shocked me. More alarming than that though is the fact that the problem of bees going missing by the thousands has now been definitively linked to systemic pesticides used in fertilizers and genetically-altered crops. The bee keepers are finally seeing a connection. When they take their bees to pollinate a crop treated with these systemic pesticides, the bee keepers often face catastrophic loss of bees shortly after the bee hives are retrieved from those areas. Bees in France were disappearing under virtually the same conditions as bees are in the United States; the systemic pesticides were banned and within a year the bee population was making a significant comeback.

So, here’s what really gets me. This isn’t good journalism because I’m burying the lead, but here’s what happens to the bees. They feed on the plants containing the systemic pesticides, specifically those classes as neonicoinoids; they don’t die immediately because the dosages are not lethal. The bees take this pollen back to the hive where it is introduced into the systems of developing young. And, these are the young who just disappear one day. They leave and never make it back to their hives, abandoning all the young in their hive and their queen, which is the last word in bizarre in the bee world. The bees wind up with weakened immune systems and damaged nervous systems. Neonicotinoids do not affect humans in the same way that they affect bees by any stretch of the imagination. However, the substances in these pesticides did cause increased anxiety in adult rats.  And, though studies are only in the preliminary stages, there is some evidence that these substances have more impact on the rat brain in utero than was previously conjectured as scientists hypothesized about the affect of neonicotinoids on the brains of mammals.

So what?

I guess that’s the question it’s important to ask, or else I’m just venting here. The Environmental Protection Agency at this time is aware of the situation, but it only on the cusp of investigating these links. Unfortunately, the time period  for posting to their open call for comments on the issue expired in September 2012. You can track the progress of their investigations.

While that process unfolds, act local. The next time I need honey, I intend to buy it at farmers market or other organic source. Part of the reason for questionable beekeeping practices is because our market is currently flooded by honey from other countries that contains cheap additives. Honey producers in the United States cannot compete with the prices driven artificially low by these artificial fillers. I probably only buy honey once a year or every other year, but still, a drop in the bucket is a drop in the bucket.

I have no idea yet what to do about corn and wheat without getting super dramatic (not ready to go gluten free), but this is starting to come onto my radar as I realize how much of my diet is filled with these crops that have been genetically altered. I love me my bread, so this is something I need to sort through. I’m not going to panic and swear off of all bread, but the cheap wheat and corn based snack food I buy is looking less and less appealing these days.

And, finally, consider watching the documentary. If nothing else, the hour you spend should leave you with a greater appreciation of the delicate design of nature.

Some Movie Watchin’

You’d think from this post and my previous one that all I’m doing this summer is sitting around, watching movies, and then blogging about them. I can assure you that’s not true. I’ve been working on school work as well. It’s the projects like curtain making and painting that are suffering as a result of my streaming Netflix subscription. Maybe I should be reading my Kindle while I eat, so I don’t get sucked into a movie. Somehow it’s easier to stop a book at the end of a chapter instead of stopping a movie mid-point. At any rate, for better or for worse, I’ve noticed some things and learned some things as I’ve been watching movies.

First, I’m a dork. I think I might have mentioned that before one or two or eight times on this blog. My latest eccentric habit is fueled by the Miss Marple TV series on Netflix. Series is one of those obnoxious English words that is identical in singular and plural, so I have to make it clear that there are two Miss Marple series on Netflix. I watch the exact same mystery nearly back to back from each series to see how the clues are incorporated differently. I just discovered the habit, so I’m sure it will get even more fascinating when I get a chance to read the book right before I watch the movies. So far, in case anyone cares, the 2004 version won over the 1986 version when it came to The Murder at the Vicarage. The introduction of clues in 1986 was clunky and scenes that seemed rather tangential were drawn out ad nauseam. Plus, two characters were removed entirely, removing a plot twist that spiced up the end of the 2004 version. (P.S. As a little research bonus for this blog, I found the blog of a kindred spirit classic mystery fan. I’ll have to remember this blog when I’m putting together my next book sale wish list.)

Next, I went on to watch Mark of Love, a romantic comedy. I’ve been avoiding romantic comedies like the plague since the breakup in March. But, I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about dating again. I can’t mope around forever, and I know I want to share life with someone. However, it’s probably a wee bit too soon to start watching romantic comedies. This one outlines one man’s five progressive dating relationships, each one ending when he gets spooked about taking the relationship to the next level. **Spoiler alert** Through a process of discovery, he finds he shouldn’t have run from one of the women; she really was perfect for him, so he comes back to her in this super cute, corny way and is willing to mesh his life with hers, which was pretty good (if unrealistic) thinking on his part since she was ready to move on. I did laugh a few times along the way in the movie, but I think the producers wanted me to feel all gushy at the end rather than expressing a sarcastic, “Well, good for her — and him.”  Recent years have left me doubting the value of the romantic comedy genre as a whole, and for now, I know I still need to keep finding love on my own terms without these overly simplistic story lines to frustrate me.

And, the final stop on my eclectic movie spree (that didn’t all take place today) was Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey. I’d never really given much thought to who controls Elmo; really, I’m not sure if I would have said it was a man or a woman if I would have thought about it. Today, I found out that the man behind Elmo is Kevin Clash, a rather muscular, rather tall, black man. I could have seen him in a photo line-up of 10 people, and he might have been my very last pick for who I would have expected to provide the voice and character of Elmo. Ok, maybe my seventh or eighth pick since he is friendly looking, and there probably would have been some grouchy people in the other photos. All surprise aside, the documentary provides a sentimental glance into Clash’s tenacious following of a dream that started before he was 10 and show the importance of the mentors who guided him along the way. Aside from that story, I also have a newly found appreciation for what goes on behind the scenes ofSesame Street.

I’m hoping that next week’s posts look a little different. Perhaps they’ll include some pictures of curtains.

Extremely worth watching

Redbox texted me a free movie code, and since I thought condensing the writing center down to 9 boxes that now live in my office closet was a reasonable amount of work done for the day, I decided to take Redbox up on the offer. I wanted the new Sherlock Holmes movie – so bad, in fact, the I visited two Redboxes in search of it. But, I gave up after two tries and decided to get Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close since by the time I made my second attempt Deogi was in the car, and every additional stop would have given him opportunity to slather more slobber all over the car.

I read the book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close so many years ago that I can’t even remember for sure whether I read it or listened to the audiobook. I don’t remember my exact reaction to the book except for remembering it as melancholy and intriguing. The fact that I do remember the book with any type of fondness indicates it had to be at least decent  since I don’t remember every book I read. Given my foggy recollection of the book, my blog followers need to take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt, but if you know me, you’ll know how powerful I think the movie was when I do say it: this movie might be better than the book.

I don’t want to ruin the story because you will watch this movie, but to put it into a nutshell, the movie follows a young boy who lost his father in 9/11 as Oscar, a young boy, seeks closure and tries to find meaning in what happened, and as he sheds himself of his own secrets that he’s bottled up about that day. Oscar has many Aspberger-type tendencies, which give the story an analytical lens with plenty of opportunities for plot complexity. And, the acting was stellar. Oscar and his dad (Tom Hanks) only get to interact in the first 15 minutes or so of the movie, and that was enough to make my heart ache for this kid through the whole movie. And, if you’re a fan of Hope Floats, you’ll like how Sandra Bullock pulls off the role of grieving mother again…except this movie has more meat to the story because it’s not a romance movie.

I have to warn you though that I’m typing right now with itchy eyes and a slight headache because I exaggerate not when I say that I cried at least six times during the movie. I’m almost positive that I started crying more than that, but I lost count after six. The dinner napkin balled up in my hand wasn’t doing any good by the end of the movie because there wasn’t a dry spot on it. The ending is satisfyingly, beautiful way, powerful in its encapsulation of life — hurt and healing existing in tandem. Healing comes after we wade through hurt, and we’re never the same for it. We gain; we lose, and sometimes what’s gain and what’s loss is a mystery we can’t untangle.

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