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More summer book shout-outs

I haven’t made any sewing advances to show off, so today seems to be the ideal time to give two summer book shout outs.

Moon Over ManifestMy first shout out goes to the children’s book Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. Vanderpool won the 2011 Newbery Medal with this work, and it was an award well received. The prose was stunning; as a word lover, I was salivating over Vanderpool’s literary cadence and pleasantly surprised at the range of vocabulary that she used — some of it sweetly Southern. If I ever have kiddos someday, this book is going to rank right up with Anne of Green Gables as a tool to ingrain them with words that we don’t use often enough anymore. As beautiful as the prose was, the story was equally if not more so. Vanderpool weaves a tale of regrets and acceptance and what we suffer when we can’t find the secure love that we want more than anything else in the whole world. I listened to the book in audio version from my library, and the narrator did a phenomenal job bringing the story to life, so I’d recommend listening to it if you don’t have time to read it. I just put Vanderpool’s more recent novel Navigating Early on my book wish list, and I’m looking forward to reading more from her.

SwayMy other shout out goes to Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman. I scored it used on my trip to Nashville and then realized the library had the audio version, so I downloaded that and got to quilting and furniture painting with the hard copy nearby in case I wanted to highlight anything. If you’re only interested in reading one book about how we make decisions, I’d still direct you to How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer, but Sway was worth reading as well, and it’s a pretty short read.

The book has no biblical underpinnings, but as I was listening, I found myself pondering the meaning of Mathew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Brafman and Brafman take readers to Switzerland in 1993 when the government was trying to identify a town that was willing to become a nuclear waste repository. The first town hall meeting held near the site of the proposed repository consisted of merely informing the townspeople about the proposal and the government’s backing of it. The residents were asked if they would agree to allow their town to become a repository for nuclear waste, and 50.8 percent responded that they would be willing — possibly as an act of goodwill towards their native home.

Now, I think 50.8% is a pretty high number considering that nuclear waste was at stake. Obviously though that leaves about 50% of the population as unhappy campers, so researchers descended on the community to see if they could convince more residents to let the town be used as a nuclear waste repository. They thought that offering individuals the equivalent of about $2,175 a year would increase public support. It didn’t. Now, only 24.6% of residents approved.

Why the switch in support ratings? Brafman and Brafman cite a National Institutes of Health study as a possible explanation. NIH researchers monitored the brain activity of individuals playing video games. The researchers discovered that entirely different parts of the brains lit up depending on whether the individuals were playing to win money for themselves or to win money for a charity. Brafman and Brafman conclude, “It’s as if we have two ‘engines’ running in our brains that can’t operate simultaneously. We can approach a task either altruistically or from a self-interested perspective. The two different engines run on different fuels and also need different amounts of those fuels to fire up. It doesn’t take much to fuel the altruism center: all you need is the sense that you’re helping someone or making a positive impact. But the pleasure center seems to need a lot more.”

As I reflect on Matthew 6, I know that there are many people who give to others without any commitment to God motivating them, but for those who do serve because they believe that God has commissioned them to do so, I think these studies are fascinating. I’d always just thought that trying to serve money would distract me from serving God, hence the biblical warning against it. It turns out that it seems this dichotomy is hard wired into my brain. I can’t have a dual focus to my intents, and since serving people is tough — very tough as I’ve discovered while trying to help someone get back on her feet over the past couple of weeks — I think it was nice of God to design the part of the brain that responds to altruistic acts to be more sensitive to stimuli. A little service appears to go a long way.

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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.

 

Daisy Baby – gaining momentum

Whew! It is so hot here today.  I don’t have the air conditioner installed in my bedroom yet, and I probably would have been fine for the night, but the dog woke me up in the middle of the night panting as if he had just run a mile. I had to get up and hunt down a fan for him, but I’m going to hold off on installing the air conditioner since temperatures are supposed to drop dramatically over the weekend, which is fine with me.

I thought today’s post would be a celebration of my first quilting design wall. Sure, it wasn’t much to look at last night when I attached the $2 vinyl backed  tablecloth to the wall. I couldn’t use thumb tacks to put up the tablecloth because the plaster seems to be made out of steel and titanium on that wall, so I settled for painter’s tape. That was a terrible idea. The whole “design wall” fell down in the middle of the night and scattered the blocks that I had arranged to my satisfaction. So, now, the table cloth is draped across my dining room table, and I’m brainstorming a new location for a design wall.

Meanwhile, I am happy with how my Daisy Baby quilt is shaping up. I want to get some piecing of it done tonight while listening to Heat Wave. Yes, I gave into the morbid curiosity to listen to the book spawned by the TV show Castle.

Daisy Baby Quilt layout

It’s doubtful I’ll get far on the quilt tonight since today I went to a gigantic library book sale. I told myself not to go this year. I told myself to just read the books I have on my shelves and in my Kindle. Then, I told myself to just go and look for quilting books and some books from the The Cat Who mystery series. I swear though that if thousands of books are gathered at half price, they act as a magnetic force on some strange part of my being. Four hours later after scouring about 15% of the riches of the book sale, I emerged with an uber heavy box of books. Yes, there are some Cat Who books and some quilting books in there. But, guess what else? I found a comprehensive chronology of Agatha Christie books. Woo hoo! I had just been thinking this morning that I needed to print a fresh list of her books off the computer because mine is all marked up (and I didn’t have it with me this morning, so I hope I didn’t pass up the last few books that I need to complete my collection). The chronology is probably more trustworthy than the Wikipedia one, and it offers some interesting tidbits and plot synopses (perfect for me since I always forget what the books are about and could use a memory prod at times). The woman checking me out says she owns all but two Agatha Christie books — ones that were published in England. And, she told me to read the Cat Who books in order because they are funnier that way, which is my plan. Ah…books sales. It’s where kindred spirits meet. I actually took the plunge and put my name on the volunteer list. The book sale always happens right after the semester ends, so I’m not 100% sure I’ll be able to participate, but volunteering would probably let me bump shoulders with some interesting people.

While there, I “splurged” and bought The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates for $2.50 since it was on my book wish list. Now I’m trying to decide whether to start it or an Agatha Christie novel next. First I have to finish Kristen Lavransdatter: The Wreath before it becomes one of those books that languishes with the last chapter or two left unread. I also “splurged” $2 for Advertising in America: The First 200 Years because I’m a little bit of a sucker for coffee table books even if I don’t have a coffee table.

Do you know what I think would be fun? It would be amazing to not have to make any money while running a used bookstore (so I wouldn’t have to worry about online retailers squashing me). And, in this little bookstore, I would curate a section of coffee table books for $10 or less just because it would be so stinkin’ fun to gather them. Maybe I’d even refinish and sell coffee tables. And, maybe I’d also see how many complete Agatha Christie sets I could collect and sell. First, I should get my life organized by reading Organizing for the Creative Person, one of my 25 cent steals. I hope if my sister is reading this, she is proud. I struggle in the organization category. Maybe it’s because I’ve been trying to learn organization from non-creative people. Who knows?

My sister probably would just tell me though that organizing would be easier if I’d just stop bringing books home. But, I’m going to try to distribute batch one to appropriate locations right now. Then, I can bring in batch two from the car after I mow the lawn. Where has the day gone?

I’m gonna marry a werewolf

I was just browsing my email featuring free Kindle books for the day, and one of the descriptions reminded me to blog about an article from The Atlantic that’s been in the blogging queue. First, let me explain why I’m reading The Atlantic. Once upon a time someone challenged me to subscribe to and read one new magazine a year, a magazine completely outside what I’d normally read. So, while my perennial favorite Better Homes and Gardens continues to roll in each month, I decided this year to get Relevant and The AtlanticBoth take me into pop culture frequently, an area where I’m a complete dunce, so it’s been an eye opening journey.

The free book I found shall remain nameless because I’m going to be snarky about it, and even if I’m not totally following the rule to not say anything if I don’t have anything nice to say, I’ll at least not specifically call out the author. Here’s the plot summary.

A ghost is haunting an English teacher. The ghost realizes a boy in the English teacher’s class can see her. Said ghost develops an attraction for the boy, and the two overcome the awkward obstacle of him having a body and her not so much to become lovers.

Ok, here’s where I get snarky. That’s weird. And, alarming. Did I mention weird? I mean, I know English class can be uncomfortable sometimes, but let’s not get carried away.

Christopher Orr, in his fascinating essay “Why Are Romantic Comedies So Bad?” aptly explains this nauseating trend of  weird — vampires hooking up with humans and, well, I don’t know what else. I checked out recent NY Time best sellers fiction list to see what else is going on. Apparently shape shifters are rescuing packs of werewolves, and a woman is convinced that vampires do exist after all when she’s kidnapped by one who is psychopathic. Lovely, remind me to double check the front door lock tonight.

Orr explains that these unlikely matches occur because taboos in our culture that once had to be overcome in a good love story have either been diminished or eliminated. For example, he points out the Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks’ desperate journey to meet one another in Sleepless in Seattle would’ve lost a considerable amount of plot tension if they’d had just Skyped each other. While I personally think the Orr might be looking through slightly rose-tinted glasses to say that race and socioeconomic taboos no longer pose an obstacle to love, I do concur that they don’t create blockbusters. And, so we move on to the taboos of humans marrying creatures from other worlds or yank in the stereotypes of slobbish men or free spirited women who must be wooed to normalcy by relationships.

Orr also conjectures, and I found this particularly interesting in light of where I was reading the article, that romantic comedies have lost their appeal because it’s not all that unusual for the first five minutes of the film to show us the couple having sex. It’s true right; I go to a movie today, and I’m never quite sure if the opening credits are going to be plastered across someone’s naked backside. He implores, “There was a time when carnal knowledge was the (implied) endpoint of the romantic comedy; today, it’s just as likely to be the opening premise….Where’s a film to go when the ‘happy ending’ takes place at the beginning?”

This wrangling of where sex plays out in a relationship certainly is an interesting feature of the culture. After all, those of us watching Rick Castle and Kate Beckett of Castle or Jim and Pam of The Office were willing to watch for seasons and seasons of relationship tension. We may have been shouting at the TV, “kiss her” or “tell her how you feel.” But, I doubt many of us would have enjoyed the shows nearly as much had the characters shacked up in the first season. As a matter of fact, both shows struggled a bit to regain their equilibrium once the characters did become sexually involved.

As I’ve mulled over Orr’s article, I’ve been reminded that many of us seemed to enjoy our movies more when the filmmakers embraced the truth that a well-told story is a beautiful story and when we realized that sometimes the most potent passion lies in the wait rather than impetuous exploits.

Anderson’s quilt

By the end of last week, I craved quiet time, so I passed up a night out on Friday to settle in at the dining room table Friday night. It was a definite mental health booster to create something over the weekend. The feel of a warm, soft quilt was soothing as I let it run through my hands again and again, machine quilting it. And my thirst for good words was satisfied too as I was listening to the audio version of Before Green Gables, the prequel to Anne of Green Gables. Get your hands on the book even if you are a grown-up Anne of Green Gables fan; the author exquisitely reproduces Lucy Maud Montgomery’s writing style to pull it off.

Anyway, back to the quilt reveal. It was inspired by this modern monogrammed quilt. I didn’t follow the tutorial measurements exactly, but I liked this simple design to showcase an elephant print that caught my eye during one of my meandering trips to Joanne Fabrics. Plus, I thought the design was a good fit for my friend Becca, who loves to knit and lives in an old, restored log cabin built in the 1800s but who also enjoys a modern tinge to life and home.

The project started with some hand applique. I knew from working on little Adam’s quilt that I am not good enough with my machine yet to applique with it. A kindred spirit (can you sense the Green Gables influence?) quilter at work reminded me of the freezer paper technique for hand applique, but I wasn’t sure how to pull the freezer paper out from inside some of the letters after they were sewed down. I found this helpful tutorial that showed me how to put the freezer paper on the outside of the letters. I think if I were doing simple shapes, I’d rather have the freezer paper inside to give me an edge to snuggle the fabric up to while stitching, but for this project, the technique was helpful.

Close up of A

I machine quilted right along the inside edge of the letters with coordinating thread to try to secure any areas where my applique stitching had weaknesses. If you look closely at some of the wild quilting lines, you’ll be able to see why I’m not in control of my machine enough to machine applique just yet. I’ll get there.

 

 

 

Anderson darker monogramHere’s the full monogram, and this shows my quilting pattern. Since I wanted a modern look, I kept it very simple. I sewed a few straight lines across the bottom of the quilt around the monogram, and then I took my quilting ruler and just eyeballed roughly diagonal stripes around the rest of the quilt. I didn’t worry about spacing them exactly even.

 

 

Anderson quiltHere’s the quilt when it was all finished. I wanted simple edges. Originally, the plan was to make the binding out of the elephant fabric until I realized that I would tear my hair out if I tried to get that pattern matched reasonably well. I cringed at the thought of putting on a bias tape that didn’t match the gray. Plus, a bias binding felt more traditional than I wanted to make the quilt. So, pillowcase binding turned out to be the perfect solution. What a simple technique. I’m definitely adding it to my repertoire for the future.

Anderson finished quiltI love, love, love how the fabric colors tied together. I owe my mom (not a quilter or sewer by anyone’s stretch of the imagination) a huge shout-out for wandering around Joanne’s with me for a looooong time. And, after all that wandering, I selected two solid colors. Sometimes I just have to rule out the complicated options before landing on something simple.

 

 

Anderson on quiltAnd, here’s Anderson checking out his new quilt. I thought it was pretty great of him to be wearing a coordinating sleeper when I arrived with his present. Such a cutie, and he’s growing so fast. He’ll outgrow the quilt before I have time to blink twice.

 

Work, work, work

Tonight, I’m reading Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development. ( By the way, I was sorely disappointed to discover while tracking down that link that I’m reading the original publication and not the 2011 update…. I’ll need to get our librarians to order the new version).

Bryant Myers’ core thesis is that poverty is a result of corrupted relationships between God, self, others, and creation. As a result he sees the gospel as beneficial for not only individuals but also systems. Those two sentences definitely don’t do his work justice, but they give enough background for tonight’s post.

Myers’ thoughts on the way that work has been corrupted by the fall stuck out to me with these three points being my top take aways:

  1. “Instead of a way of using our gifts for ourselves and others, work has been corrupted. It can be toilsome and frustrating.”  I see this played out on both sides of the fence all around me. I know people who slog to work in the morning and can’t wait until they get out in the evening. Their job is a means by which to pay the bills, but while sustaining a material life, the job seems to be sucking the life out of them. Then, I know people who can’t seem to leave work; they’re passionate and see great value in what they do. Certainly I would not go so far as to say that they never get frustrated in their work, and I would not advocate a life’s habit of never leaving work, but for some of these individuals going beyond the 40 hour work weeks seems sustainable because their work is life giving. I think all of this sticks out to me because I’ve wrestled much lately with what the next thirty years of my life will look like. On the one hand, I want to serve God, yield to where He wants me. On the other hand, I wonder why he keeps coaxing me towards administrative tasks, which I often find more life draining than giving. I think it’s worth bearing in mind that God originally created work to by wholesome and a good.
  2. “Work has become..an idolatry whereby one makes a name for oneself. For the poor, this distorted work is often not available and the poor are vilified as ‘not productive.” I’m only two classes into the semester, and already I’ve talked with students about how things are not always as they seem and about various ways of perceiving the world We (middle class Americans) are often quick to judge people as lazy without investigating systemic injustices that are complicating the matter. As a class, we’ve also touched briefly on how the middle class standard is not necessarily deserving of the near perfect label often assigned to it. And, these discussions get complicated because indeed there are people who are lazy, and indeed some elements of the American dream are good. But, in this world of work and achievement, surface answers are not sufficient. I’m glad that so far the students are engaging with those complications the best they know how.
  3. “The product of work is seen as human property, no longer belonging to God. Claims of ownership are privatized and made an absolute, ignoring the claim of God on all things in creation or the transcendent responsibility each has for the well-being of the larger community. Worse, those who create wealth use that wealth to influence the laws and the economic, political, and cultural system to protect their advantage.” I think this insight gets at the heart of one of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered as I’ve prepared to teach this course. Pre-prep time, I would have had the knee jerk reaction of screaming communism or at least socialism in response to the phrase “transcendent responsibility each has for the well-being of the larger community.” However, my reaction is now different. Don’t misread this as me saying that I’m supportive of communism or socialism, but I do think far too little discussion is taking place about our individualistic culture and its me, myself, and I mindset. We lose much in the sense of responsibility to community. I’m quite good at vehemently denouncing greedy CEOs who took their companies down in flames, but I’m not nearly as good at looking at the balance in my checkbook and deciding how much of it goes to me and how much of it is freed up to be used by God to enhance the lives of others.

There’s no fancy conclusion to wrap all of these thoughts up. The topic is messy, and my brain is fatigued, so that is all for now. At the danger of getting ridiculously addicted, I’m going to go watch my first ever episode of Downton Abbey, so I can wind the day down.

 

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