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Every Lent for several years now I pick a religious book to read. Near the end of 2017, my husband and I watched the G.K. Chesterton video that is a part of Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism series. As a result, my husband decided to read Orthodoxy over the Christmas holiday. So, I thought I’d give Chesterton a try. But instead of reading Orthodoxy I decided to read Heretics because Orthodoxy is a reaction to the reaction against Heretics. I figured if I wanted to understand Orthodoxy I should read Heretics first.

At first, when I began reading this book the following Shakespearean quote from Hamlet came to mind: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Just as Hamlet is pointing out how little the most educated people can explain, so Chesterton does the same about those who seek to explain “everything” but fail to mention God and His teachings. But, by the end, I wasn’t so sure that this was his purpose.

Chesterton starts out refuting the philosophies of his contemporaries: Rudyard Kipling, Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, and Oscar Wilde to name a few. The sections that I found most interesting were about Walter Pater, who believed in enjoying the moment for the moment’s sake; Fitzgerald’s translation of Omar Khayyam’s “Rubaiyat,” in which Chesterton contrasts the wine in the poem with the wine in the Gospels, i.e. Jesus’s blood; and Louis Dickenson, paganism vs. Christianity. If paganism, which predated Christianity, is the ideal which leads to a full life and a satisfied humanity, why did Christianity come along? If humanity truly was living the ideal life as pagans, why would they want to live a life less than the ideal as Christians?

Chesterton writes to a contemporary audience, his contemporaries. Throughout reading this book I wished that in the beginning there would’ve been a section titled “Prerequisites” that listed the knowledge one must have before reading this book. I feel that I would’ve gotten more out of it if I had known more about the people, philosophies and political climate of his day. His writing style also makes this book difficult to read. He tends to go off on tangents. One minute he will be talking about one thing and the next he’s on to another subject altogether and on and on within the same chapter. I found this to be quite a hindrance to understanding what his ultimate argument or conclusion really was. At about halfway through or maybe two-thirds, it’s difficult to tell on a Kindle, it felt as though he was doing more whining than trying to disprove arguments from the so-called heretics. This became quite exasperating. The last sections of the book dealt heavily with politics. Chapter XVIII, when first reading it, I thought Chesterton was anti-American, mentioning America as a dying nation, and pro-England in his praise. But by the end, it seemed as though he was anti-England also. I found this quite confusing.

I gave this book two stars (out of 5) not because I don’t believe it has some merit, but because I personally didn’t find it particularly enlightening, enjoyable, or readable. His style of writing turned me off. If he does have something profound to say, for me it’s quite hidden among his hard-to-follow style of writing. Judging from the comments on Goodreads and the fact that G.K. Chesterton is one of the most influential writers of the late 19th and early 20th century, I realize my views are in the minority. I doubt I’ll want to read anything by Chesterton again, including his fictional stories since I have been told they too employ the same writing style he used for his non-fiction works.

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In this post I’m going to share my thoughts about two books I recently read: Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie and Traveling Light Deluxe Edition by Max Lucado.

Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
After getting past the first chapter, which I found boring and slow, I enjoyed the book quite a bit. It kept my interest as I tried to figure out who the killer was. I’m not a great detective like Ms. Marple, so my attempts were unsuccessful, although, in the end, it all seemed rather obvious who the culprit was.

Traveling Light Deluxe Edition by Max Lucado
The author of this book goes through Psalm 23 line by line and shows readers that the advice in this psalm can help them to travel light through life without

“…the suitcase of guilt. A sack of discontent…a duffel bag of weariness on one shoulder and a hanging bag of grief on the other…a backpack of doubt, an overnight bag of loneliness, and a trunk of fear.” — Kindle edition, locations 157-60

I bought this book specifically because of the chapters about “The Burden of Worry” and “The Burden of Fear.” Worry and fear both contribute to anxiety. I ended up reading the first half of this book twice. I started it, then life got in the way and I couldn’t find the time to finish it. By the time I found the time to finish it I had forgotten what I read previously so I started from the beginning again. I’m glad I did because I think I got more out of it the second time I read it.

As I was reading, I realized that I carry around more baggage than I thought. Besides worry and fear, I also carry the burden of self-reliance (chapter 3), the burden of discontent (chapter 4), and the burden of doubt (chapter 17).

“The Lord is my shepherd…” That’s how Psalm 23 starts. As a city girl (or I should say suburban girl) I know what a shepherd is from looking it up in the dictionary: “a person who tends sheep” (p. 1147, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition). Until reading this book I never really thought much about what went into tending sheep. The author describes in detail what shepherds do for their sheep to take care of them and relates that to how the Lord takes care of us. After reading this book, I have a new-found appreciation for all that shepherds do for their flocks and, importantly, a new-found appreciation for all that the Lord does and the promises He makes in Psalm 23.

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Happy New Year to all my readers! In years past I’ve waited until the end of the year to post my thoughts about the books I’ve read in the past year. In 2018 I thought I’d do something different by posting my thoughts about the books I’ve read in individual blog posts throughout the year.

As regular readers of my year-end posts will recall, not all of my thoughts about a book warrant a full blog post. Sometimes I feel that there isn’t much to say about a book. In these cases, I may include the review as an addition to a longer blog post, post my thoughts on this website’s page titled “Reading List” above, or eliminate the review altogether. I’ll decide what I think is best on a case-by-case basis.

Now on to my thoughts about The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., by Washington Irving.

My father died a bit more than 24 years ago. Among his personal effects were two books. One was a book of poetry and the other was a well-worn copy of The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, by Washington Irving. Why did he keep these books? I will never know for sure since I didn’t find these books until after he died, therefore I couldn’t ask him. My father was not the poetry reading type as far as I know, so I can’t even speculate as to why he kept that book.

The well-worn copy of The Sketch-Book has scribblings in it along with my father’s name, one of his childhood nicknames, and the address of the house he lived in as a child, written in his own handwriting on the inside front cover. From this, I speculated that this was probably one of his school books. My father mentioned Rip Van Winkle several times when I was growing up so maybe that was one of his favorite stories. One of the stories in The Sketch-Book is “Rip Van Winkle,” so I thought that maybe he kept the book because it contained this story.

As I started reading the book, I wondered what grade my father was in when this would’ve been required reading, which would then give me insight into what sort of reader my father was in his childhood. I already knew he read very well as an adult. The date of the copyright would’ve given me a clue, except that the title page and copyright page is missing from this copy, as is the table of contents I would later learn. A colleague at work suggested that I do a Google image search to see if I can find out the copyright date that way. So, before Christmas 2017 I did just that and found this listing on eBay. This book on eBay looks like it’s in a much better condition than my copy, but judging from the cover and the first page of the book, the one with the picture of the author, I can say with confidence that it is identical to my copy. I was amazed to find out that the (presumed) copyright date is 1898!

My father was born in 1910, and judging from the reading level of these stories, my father would not be able to read this book with any understanding until he was at least 10 years old. So, I concluded that since the presumed copyright is at least 22 years before my father was likely to pick up this book and read it, there is the distinct possibility that this book was originally my grandfather’s (my grandmother did not speak or read English). If this was the case, my grandfather most likely passed this book down to my father when he was old enough to read it. And, if that’s the case, that’s probably the real reason my father kept the book all those years. Maybe my grandfather even read to his children from this book and that’s how my father first learned about Rip Van Winkle?

This is all speculation, of course. From the beginning, this book was special to me because it belonged to my father. Finding out that this book could’ve belonged to my grandfather, who may have then passed it down to my father makes it even more special to me.

The book itself is a two-volume travelogue and collection of essays from the time the author spent in England. The two most famous stories in the collection are “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The most famous essay, in my opinion, is “John Bull,” the personification of England.

Most of the stories and essays I found interesting, except for “Little Britain,” a story about a neighborhood in the center of London, which bored me. “The Pride of the Village,” about lost love, appealed to my romantic side.

I found “The Art of Book-Making” interesting, appealing to my bookish nature. The author describes his experience of visiting the reading-room of the British Library. His imagination runs wild while watching authors research ancient works so that they can use that knowledge in their own creations. But, judging from the author’s choice of words, it seems as though he has contempt for those who do such a thing.

“The Mutability of Literature” is another story that intrigued me even more than “The Art of Book-Making”. In this case, the library he explores seems to be more of a “literary catacomb, where authors, like mummies, are piously entombed, and left to blacken and moulder in dusty oblivion.” (page 198, volume 1) The author then goes on to lament about all the work authors have put in to create these books. “And all for what? to occupy an inch of dusty shelf, —to have the title of their works read now and then in a future age…and in another age to be lost, even to remembrance.” (page 199, volume 1) In this story too, the author’s imagination runs wild and one of the books wakes up and begins to talk. The book and the author then debate the pros and cons of keeping books intact for display on shelves vs. having them circulate among the masses, having them eventually fall apart, and turn to dust. The book’s point of view (as is mine): “Books were written to give pleasure and to be enjoyed…” (page 200, volume 1)

Overall, I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars and I would recommend that anyone who loves books should read “The Mutability of Literature” if they get the chance.

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Although 2017 has not yet come to an end, due to scheduling conflicts (namely, no time to finish the book I am currently reading, Sketchbook by Washington Irving, before the year comes to an end) I decided to post my year-end book reflections a bit early. For those of you new to this blog, I am continuing with a tradition I started 4 years ago, below you’ll find my reviews of books that I have read in the past year, written shortly after I have read the books (or listened to them if they are audiobooks). The first two books I actually read while I was off on Christmas break in 2016, but I chose to include them here because I had already posted my Year 2016 Reflections before finishing them.

Cat in an Alphabet Endgame by Carole Nelson Douglas
This is the last book in the Midnight Louie Alphabet series of mysteries. I finished this book in less than three days, so that gives you some idea as to how interested I was in the story. While I did enjoy reading it, there were several things about this last installment in the series that I did not like.

First, the typos. The author addresses the typo situation in the acknowledgments, so at least she realizes they are there. I don’t remember so many typos in earlier books in the series so I’m not sure what happened this time around, but they do disrupt the flow of the story. Second, the solving of the cases seemed rushed to me. I understand that all the loose ends had to be wrapped up in this book, but it was difficult to follow how the characters arrived at the conclusions that they did in order to solve the cases. And third, the last chapter. What was that? I thought it would have made for a more meaningful/satisfying ending if the book would have ended with the second to last chapter and Louie’s adventure with his collar. I don’t understand why the author chose to end the series as she did, except that maybe that last chapter was an intro to a future Midnight Louie book. After all, the author did say that the alphabet series is ending, and not Midnight Louie’s adventures.

On the plus side, I was happy to read that Temple chose a modest wedding dress to wear. No strapless gown for her! I was also glad to read that Max, Sean, the Kinsellas, and the Kellys are one big happy family again thanks to the help of Temple and Matt.

Overall I would give this book 3 1/2 stars. I think that overall the positives outweigh the negatives, but it’s not one of my favorites in the series.

Simplify by Joshua Becker
This is the second book that I’ve read by Joshua Becker, that is if you can call listening to an audiobook reading. The first book (the audiobook) was actually a newer one called The More of Less (see my 2016 Reflections for my review). I was interested in reading Simplify for two reasons: (1) I’ve had an ongoing resolution for several years now to declutter and simplify my life and (2) I follow Joshua Becker’s blog Becoming Minimalist.

I would call this e-book more of a booklet. It’s quite short and can be read in a matter of hours, but this book is not meant to be read cover to cover in one sitting. It’s meant to be a manual about how to implement rational minimalism. Becker defines rational minimalism in terms of 5 attributes, but I would say that it really boils down to the first:

It is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.– [Kindle, Location 141-46]

This principle extends beyond physical clutter into other “cluttered” areas of our lives too. Becker emphasizes that minimalism is not a one size fits all endeavor. He advocates finding “a style of minimalism that works for you. One that is not cumbersome, but freeing based on your values, desires, passions, and rational thinking.” [Kindle, Location 166-68] He also warns that your particular definition of minimalism that’s right for you will change as you go through the process and as life circumstances change.

In all, this book presents seven principles of how to achieve a minimalist lifestyle. He doesn’t go into too much depth on each principle/suggestion but does offer practical tips. I think because of the way Becker approaches minimalism, it’s easier for people to follow his advice and suggestions than it would be to follow the advice of someone who advocates living with 100 things or implementing Project 333. Also, because his approach extends beyond just the physical clutter and offers advice for simplifying your whole life I think his techniques offer a better chance for success on the road to rational minimalism.

Personally, most of the suggestions in the book are good reminders to keep me on track with my decluttering. Where I am now in my journey, I think I got more out of Becker’s book The More of Less than I did with Simplify, but for people contemplating decluttering or beginning their journey to a more simplified life, I think reading this book and following its advice is a good place to start.

April Morning by Howard Fast

We had made a mistake. We were stupid people. We were provincial people. But over and above everything, we were civilized people, which was the core of everything. We were going to argue with the British and talk them out of whatever they intended. We knew we could do that. We were the most reasonable, talkative people in all probabilities that the world had ever seen, and we knew we could win an argument with the British hands down. Why, no one on our side had even thought of firing a gun, because when you came right down to it, we didn’t like guns and did not believe in them. Yes, we drilled on the common and had all sorts of fine notions about defending our rights and our liberties, but that didn’t change our attitude about guns and killing. That British Major Pitcairn on his champing horse knew exactly what we were and how we thought. He knew it better than we knew it ourselves. — page 103, Adam Cooper reflecting after the British attacked his fellow citizens on the common.

This book is a re-read for me. For as long as I can remember April Morning has been on my bookshelf, not this particular edition I read this year, though. I don’t even know how the one I originally had, along with Howard Fast’s The Immigrants came to be on my bookshelf. They aren’t novels that little children would read. Perhaps my father brought them home from the store he used to work at thinking that they would be useful for my education someday. According to my aunt, he gave my cousin several books from there. So perhaps. When I moved out of my childhood home I donated my copy of April Morning but kept The Immigrants, probably because I had read the former but not the latter. Years later I bought the copy I currently have from a used book sale intending to read it again but it ended up being one that sat on my bookshelf for years before I did. Several years ago I finally got around to reading The Immigrants and liked it. Not enough to want to read the rest of the books in the series, but I liked it nonetheless. I liked how the characters seemed like real people. I also, especially, liked how Howard Fast paints a picture with his writing, how he tells a story. April Morning has these qualities also. The novel is a fictionalized account of April 18-19, 1775 and the Battle of Lexington in the Revolutionary War as told by a 15-year-old from Lexington, Adam Cooper. It’s a coming of age story in the midst of war. A warning to any readers: the author’s descriptions of the battles are graphic. While this book has been taught in middle and high schools, probably due to the age of the protagonist/narrator, I think it would appeal to adults also. Personally, I would give this book four out of five stars.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Bantam Classic edition, translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett)

Note: Contains some spoilers.

This was another of my books that had been sitting on my bookshelf since at least college (approximately 20 years or so). I bought the book figuring that any well-read person ought to read this book. Periodically this book is referenced in articles and sometimes even on TV. In fact, it was referenced on a rerun of The Joey Bishop Show I watched recently.

This book took me several months to plod through. That should give you some idea of how I felt about this book. The themes of redemption following suffering and intellectualism leading to psychological imprisonment seem to not be realized until the Epilogue. Does Raskolnikov suffer? Yes, throughout the book. We are made painfully aware of this throughout. But, redemption seems to only come at the very end and in a rushed way. No gradual build-up. No slow revelation. Just in the last 10 or so pages is all this revealed to the reader and to the character.

The entire book is dark, from the oppressive heat of St. Petersburg to the way the characters live, to the plot itself. There seems to be nothing but suffering in the lives of these characters. Attitudes towards suffering by some of the characters, which is revealed about half-way through, plays an integral role in the revelations at the end.

Somehow, even though the main character, Raskolnikov, committed two senseless murders, I still felt sorry for him, cared about him, which is a credit to the author. This most likely was because, despite the horrific crime, which we are at first led to believe he committed because of his life circumstances, Raskolnikov is not pure evil. He is constantly doing selfless acts of kindness. But, when we find out the true reason for his crime and that his views on the matter do not change when he is in prison, I just found him detestable. His redemption seemed out of place to me. In my mind, true redemption cannot take place until he admits what he did was wrong on all levels and admits that his thinking that led him to commit such a crime is misguided. I didn’t get the sense that he did that.

“Why does my action strike them as so horrible?” he said to himself. “Is it because it was a crime? What is meant by crime? My conscience is at rest. Of course it is a legal crime, of course the letter of the law was broken and blood was shed. Well, punish me for the letter of the law…and that’s enough. Of course, in that case many of the benefactors of mankind who snatched power for themselves instead of inheriting it ought to have been punished at their first steps. But those men succeeded and so they were right, and I didn’t, and so I had no right to have taken that step.”

It was only in that that he recognized his criminality, only in the fact that he had been unsuccessful and had confessed it. — page 467

I suppose that the delirious dreams he had while he was sick and feverish in prison were what finally made him realize the error of his ways, that intellectualism without moral considerations is a fallacy, and that’s what made his redemption possible. But the way that played out in the novel seemed so contrived to me, especially since this all happened in the last three pages of the book when finally there were warm, sunny Spring days and Raskolnikov’s rebirth of a sort coincided with Easter. I suppose this could be considered poetic and is partially why this novel is considered one of the best ever written, but I personally didn’t care for that ending.

As I said previously, it took me several months to read this novel. While the translation/language was not “heavy,” so to speak, at times I felt as though the translation changed the tone at various spots — from that of a classic novel to that of a gangster movie. Did Dostoyevsky really mean to use the Russian equivalent of that type of slang in this book? The change in tone startled me a bit when I read those passages. Overall, I found it better to read one chapter (at least) per sitting. Anything less didn’t allow me to get immersed in the plot and I found it more difficult to remember what I read. Am I glad I read this book? Yes. Would I voluntarily read it again? No. Frankly, I found the book to be boring overall although it did have its interesting moments, like the interactions between Porfiry and Raskolnikov. I’m passing this book on to the local library book sale.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (audiobook)
I’ve been wanting to read this book since 2009, but I never got around to actually buying the book or checking it out of the library. A few months ago I was looking through a flyer from our local theater and saw that the National Theatre production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was going to be in town in April. Since my wedding anniversary is also in April, I decided to get tickets for me and my husband. Although I would’ve still liked to have read the book before going to see the play, it wasn’t looking like that would be the case. I was busy reading another book (Crime and Punishment, see review above) and I don’t like to read more than one novel at a time. Then unexpectedly, I came across the audiobook version and decided to check it out. I was hooked from the very beginning. The audiobook is about 5 1/2 hours long, and if I didn’t have other responsibilities, I think I would’ve sat and listened to it in one sitting. It’s quite an inventive book, in my opinion, to tell the story from an autistic boy’s point of view. While I guessed early on who killed the dog, I was still drawn into the story because ultimately it’s not about the dog at all, but about Christopher’s journey uncovering the truth about his family, and what happens once that truth comes to light.

Cat to the Dogs by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
This is the 5th book in the Joe Grey series of cozy mysteries, and the 5th in the series that my husband and I read together. Not much I can say about this book. It’s an enjoyable cozy mystery. It’s the first book in which we’re introduced to a kitten who has the same mysterious quality of being able to talk as Joe Grey and Dulcie do. Perhaps that’s why she is shunned by the rest of the feral clowder because they can sense that she is not a cat like they are? The little kitten even helps to solve the murder and helps the police get the goods on the murderer. It took my husband and me quite a long time to finish this book, but if someone would read by themselves, I think it would be quite a quick read. I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Resisting Happiness by Matthew Kelley
Every Lent I try to pick out at least one religious or spiritual book to read. This year I was thinking of re-reading Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly, the book that was used for Dynamic Catholic’s The Best Lent Ever program last year. Although the Best Lent Ever series this year used a different book, Resisting Happiness, to accompany its videos, I wasn’t sure I wanted to buy this year’s book. Then the Deacon at the church I go to announced that the parish would be giving each family a free copy of Resisting Happiness so I decided to again do Dynamic Catholic’s The Best Lent Ever program. Unlike the more in-depth questions at the end of each chapter of Rediscover Jesus, this book gave short, practical advice that a person can put into practice to help him or her overcome what Matthew Kelly calls Resistance, which is whatever keeps us from doing what we know we should be doing in order to become “the-best-version-of-ourselves,” the person that God knows we can be and wants us to be. Some of the advice involves inner reflection (reflect on your image of God). Some of the advice involves prayer (ask God for his advice). Some of the advice involves action (go to Reconciliation). Not all of this advice will work for everyone, and frankly, if one would follow all of his advice, there would be no time left for work, spending time with family, sleep, etc. which is not very practical. I think this book is meant to give people several ideas about how to help them overcome whatever is stopping them from opening their lives up to God’s will, overcome what’s making them resist happiness since true happiness comes only when we do God’s will. After all, God put us on this earth for a reason and it is only in doing what we are meant to be doing that we find true happiness. Not all of the advice will work for everyone, but I think there are enough practical tips and thought-provoking chapters that nearly everyone can find at least one thing that will work for them. One of the chapters that I found particularly thought-provoking was “Are You a Pilgrim or a Tourist?”

Tourists want everything to go exactly as they have planned and imagined it. They rush around from one place to another making sure they cram everything in. They are constantly buying souvenirs and knickknacks, many of which they look at when they get home and wonder, “What was I thinking?” Tourists get upset if there are delays. They demand prompt attention and service to their every need and desire. They focus on themselves, often shoving past others to get where they want to go. Tourists go sightseeing. Tourists count the cost.

Pilgrims are very different. They look for signs. If a flight gets delayed or canceled, they ask, “What is God trying to say to me?” Pilgrims are not concerned with seeing and doing everything, just the things they feel called to see and do. They are not obsessed with shopping. They are aware of the needs of others. Pilgrims go looking for meaning. Pilgrims count their blessings. — Kelly, Matthew, Resisting Happiness, pages 147-148.

I’m the type of person who tries to be in control, who tries to plan for every contingency, and who gets anxious when things don’t go as planned (or worries that things aren’t going to go as planned). When I think about approaching life as a pilgrim instead of as a tourist, I can see how much less stressful it must be. Will I be able to put that into practice in all aspects of my life? I don’t know. But I can certainly try…

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
An inspirational true story about a teenager, William Kamkwamba, in Malawi who overcame obstacles in his life, including famine, to go on to build a windmill from spare parts in a junkyard with the intention of bettering the life in his family, his village, and eventually all of Malawi. What makes this even more remarkable to me is that this all would not be possible except for some donated books in the village library and Kamkwamba’s drive to keep up with his studies on his own (while he started secondary school twice, his parents could not afford the fees to keep him in school). All of Kamkwamba’s knowledge about windmills, electricity, and physics was self-taught. This story starts out with Kamkwamba in Primary School and follows him through the years of drought and hardship, through his building of the windmill and wiring of his family’s house for electricity, through his TED talk in Tanzania and the opportunities that followed and ending with him attending the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“My fellow students and I talk about creating a new kind of Africa, a place of leaders instead of victims, a home of innovation rather than charity. I hope this story finds its way to our brothers and sisters out there who are trying to elevate themselves and their communities, but who may feel discouraged by their poor situation. I want them to know they’re not alone. By working together, we can help remove this burden of bad luck from their backs, just as I did, and use it to build a better future” — William Kamkwamba, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, Kindle edition, Locations 4144-4149

While this wasn’t my favorite book, I’m glad that I read it. Besides telling Kamkwamba’s story, he also paints a picture of life in Malawi, and specifically in his village and on the family farm. In retrospect, I wish I would’ve known more about electricity and physics before reading this book because Kamkwamba does go into some detail when he describes putting together the windmill and wiring the house. But overall, the lack of that knowledge did not hinder my interest in the story. Personally, I would give this book 3 1/2 to 4 stars.

Who Am I This Time? by Kurt Vonnegut
I heard about this story from a fellow commenter on YouTube. CBS posted a video from the TV show, Scorpion, in which Walter and Paige tell each other that they are in love with each other. One of the commenters mentioned that there is a precedent for a relationship like Walter and Paige’s in the Kurt Vonnegut short story Who Am I Now?. Since I am obsessed with Scorpion, a big fan of Walter and Paige and their relationship, and like to read, I checked it out. Thankfully Google Books had a pdf copy online to read, so I read it on my lunch hour. It’s a delightful love story about a shy, awkward hardware clerk who is a genius actor and his leading lady who without him can’t act at all. Together on stage, they give a spectacular performance and she falls in love (though I suspect he too fell in love but was too shy to show his feelings). Luckily, she had an idea to use plays and acting to get him past his shyness and awkwardness so they could spend time together and express their love for each other… and the rest is history.

Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn
In the Fall of 2016, my husband and I took the Alpha Course that was offered at the church we attend. My husband, being a non-Catholic, wanted to learn more about the Catholic faith. Unfortunately, the Alpha Course is more about generic Christianity rather than a course in Catholic theology. At the end of the course, each student was given a copy of this book. The book is about the conversion to Catholicism of the author, an anti-Catholic Presbyterian minister (Scott) and his wife (Kimberly). Scott is now a Catholic lay theologian, author, professor, and Christian apologist. Each chapter of the book is split between Scott’s perspective and Kimberly’s.

Several things stood out for me in this book (warning, spoilers):

1. The more Scott studied scripture, the more questions he had about his own religion and the more that he found that “the Roman Catholic Church that [he] opposed seemed to be coming up with the right answers on one thing after another, much to [his] shock and dismay. After a number of instances, it got to be chilling.” (page 46). At the same time, he found his own religion lacking: “…liturgy and the sacraments were not the things we studied. They weren’t in our background; they weren’t what we read in the text; they weren’t things we were open to. But going through the Letter to the Hebrews and the Gospel of John made me see that liturgy and the sacraments were an essential part of God’s family life.” (page 45).

2. Kimberly was not as open to the Catholic perspective as Scott was. The more Scott studied and came to believe what the Catholic Church taught, the more Kimberly feared for what all this meant for her family, what all this meant for her as a faithful Presbyterian. Although earlier she had come to believe in the Catholic view of birth control after much study, she, at first, wanted nothing to do with Scott’s new-found Catholic faith. Kimberley at this point went through a dark night of the soul. And, yet, she trusted in the Lord so much during this time. Despite a spiritual distance between them, despite feeling deeply betrayed and abandoned when Scott came to her to ask that he be released from his promise to wait five years before he converted, she still released him from that promise after praying about it. She knew that she should not stand in the way of his obedience to the Lord, even if that obedience meant there would be more distance between them. Kimberly wrote that at that point their marriage “was in the midst of the greatest challenge we had ever had.” (page 95).

3. “Lord, I’ll go wherever you want me to go, do whatever you want me to do, say whatever you want me to say, and give away whatever you want me to give away.” (page 115).

For thirty days I prayed every day, “God, give me the grace to pray that prayer.” I was so afraid that by praying that prayer, it would seal my fate—I would have to throw away my brain, forget my heart and follow Scott like a moron into the Catholic Church.

Finally, I was ready to pray that prayer, trusting God with the consequences. What I found was, I was the one who had made the cage, and, instead of locking it, the Lord opened the door to set me free. My heart leapt. Now I was free to begin to want to study and to probe, to begin to explore things with a measure of joy once again. Now I could say, Okay, God, it isn’t the way I planned my life, but your dreams are good enough for me. What do you want to do in my heart? in my marriage? in our family? I wanted to know. (page 116)

On a personal level, I wish I had as much enthusiasm for praying the Rosary as Scott does and I wish I had as much enthusiasm for the Catholic faith as the Hahn’s do. This book has inspired me to read the Bible more and study the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Scott also recommended reading The Documents of Vatican II. I don’t know if I’ll get around to doing that, but perhaps once I make reading the first two a habit some of that enthusiasm that I had back when I entered fully into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 20 years ago will return.

Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich
I rescued this book from my in-laws’ book recycling pile when they were preparing to move. For a while now I had been wanting to read a Stephanie Plum novel to see what all the hype is about (#1 New York Times Bestseller), but I really didn’t want to buy one of the books in case I didn’t like it. Also, I hadn’t yet gotten around to checking one out of the library.

This book is silly, hilarious, and dirty. It’s that third part that turned me off. That and I just did not care about the characters, although they did kind of grow on me as the book progressed. Maybe if I would’ve started reading the series at book #1, instead of book #20, I would feel differently about the characters and Stephanie’s relationships with Morelli and Ranger. I didn’t like that at all, but maybe if I knew more about how they both ended up as Stephanie’s romantic interests I would feel differently about that too.

This book will be donated to the library book sale and unless I get another Stephanie Plum novel for free, I won’t be reading another in the series. And even then I might think twice.

Ordeal by Innocence by Agatha Christie
I bought this ebook on deep discount and I’m glad I did. On the one hand, I’m glad I was able to read another Agatha Christie novel; on the other hand, I didn’t enjoy reading it. The plot was somewhat interesting although also somewhat predictable at times. The characters themselves were not that interesting to me. It has been a long time since I read an Agatha Christie novel, so I can’t really compare this to others she has written, but after reading this novel, I thought to myself that this is certainly not up to the usual standards of a great author such as Christie. That being said, the belated search for justice and peace for a man’s family actually bringing just the opposite I found interesting.

The Riddles of Hillgate by Zoey and Claire Kane
This is book 1 in the Z&C Mystery series. It’s a quick read that, in my opinion, ends quite abruptly. The story kept me interested, however, I didn’t care for the mother and daughter duo who are the main characters in this book, and have the same name as the authors. I would give this book three stars. A cozy mystery that’s a fun, quick read.

Maple Syrup Murder by Grace Lemon
This is the third book in the Oh Fudge! Mystery series. I started out reading the third book because I was looking for a cozy mystery a while back and Amazon offered it with a deep discount at the time. Interestingly enough, at the end of this ebook, there is an offer to get the first book in the series for free, if you subscribe to the mailing list. I thought it a small price to pay for a free book in a series in which I liked one of the books, so I signed up. I don’t know if the offer is still available as of this writing though.

As I said, I enjoyed this mystery. It’s a fast-paced read that can be read in a few hours. I thought the part where the main character, Ida Noe, suddenly puts two and two together to solve the murder seemed a bit abrupt. The later scene at the library when she’s trying to find proof for her theory kept the reader in the dark until the end, but that was a good thing because it kept me interested to read until the end. I also thought it cute how the police found out what Ida knew. That was a nice touch. Another nice touch was to include several recipes at the end of the book, including Ida’s Maple Bacon Fudge, which is mentioned several times in the book. Ida owns the fudge shop in Cider Island, the city where this mystery takes place. Overall, I’d give this book 3 1/2 to 4 stars.

Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith
Many years ago a co-worker recommended the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series of books to me. Back in 2009, I Netflixed the TV show to see what it was all about. I fell in love with the characters’ lives and became interested in the plot lines. It’s too bad that a nice show like that lasted only one season.

After seeing the show, I checked out the audiobook version of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, the first book in the series, and enjoyed it. It was my intention to eventually read all the books in the series, and I still want to do that, so when I saw Blue Shoes and Happiness in our neighborhood’s Little Free Library I knew that was the book I wanted to check out.

[Warning: Spoilers]
I read through most of this book twice. The first time I read it only every few days and eventually I noticed that I was forgetting much of what I read. I was off from work for the 4th of July so I decided that I would spend much of the day reading out on the porch, starting back at the beginning of the book. This is the seventh book in the series. So much has happened in the lives of Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi since the first book. Although I would recommend reading the series in order, this book can also stand on its own. That being said I don’t think a reader can get the full extent of how charming this series and its characters are by reading just this book, although as always Alexander McCall Smith does paint a wonderful picture of Botswana through the eyes of Mma Ramotswe. The cases the detectives have to solve in this book are not fully solved in my opinion — no one goes to jail, at least no one the readers see — so it’s a bit different than your typical crime/detective story I think. And for me, that’s a bit unsatisfying. Us readers are left to assume that the doctor is disciplined in some way. We know that the blackmailer will stop blackmailing Mma Tsau, but what about the other person (or people) she’s blackmailing? And as for Mma Tsau, is she still stealing food at the university to give to her husband? If so, shouldn’t something be done about it? Also, the case in Mokolodi, that came to a tragic end. I was surprised how hard I took the death, especially since it was of a fictional character in a work of fiction.

These books have several philosophical reflections by Mma Ramotswe. These are a few quotes from this book that particularly spoke to me:

“It was all very well sitting there on her verandah thinking about the problems of others, but it was getting late in the afternoon and there were things to do. In the kitchen, at the back of the house, there was a packet of green beans that needed to be washed and chopped. There was a pumpkin that was not going to cook itself. There were onions to be put in a pan of boiling water and cooked until soft. That was part of being a woman, she thought; one never reached the end. Even if one could sit down and drink a cup of bush tea, or even two cups, one always knew that at the end of the tea somebody was waiting for something.” (page 12-13)

“To use strong language, she thought, was a sign of bad temper and lack of concern for others. Such people were not clever or bold simply because they used such language; each time they opened their mouths they proclaimed I am a person who is poor in words.” (page 95)

“…it was always difficult for Mma Ramotswe not to feel sympathy for another, however objectionable his conduct might be, however flawed his character, simply because she understood, at the most intuitive, profound level what it was to be a human being, which is not easy. Everybody, she felt, could do evil, so easily; could be weak, so easily; could be selfish, so easily. This meant that she could understand–and did–which was not the same thing as condoning–which she did not–or taking the view–which she did not–that one should not judge others. Of course one could judge others, and Mma Ramotswe used the standards of the old Botswana morality to make these judgments. But there was nothing in the old Botswana morality which said that one could not forgive those who were weak; indeed, there was much in the old Botswana morality that was very specifically about forgiveness. One should not hold a grudge against another, it said, because to harbour grudges was to disturb the social peace, the bond between people.” (page 97)

“‘Well, that’s the important thing, isn’t it, Mma? To feel happiness, and then to remember it.’

‘I think you’re right,’ said Mma Makutsi. Happiness was an elusive thing. It had something to do with having beautiful shoes, sometimes; but it was about so much else. About a country. About a people. About having friends like this.” (page 217)

“Mma Ramotswe leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. She knew that there were places where the world was always green and lush, where water had meant nothing because it was always there, where the cattle were never thin and listless; she knew that. But she did not want to live in such a place because it would not be Botswana, or at least not her part of Botswana… She had been happy for those people, because they had water all about them, but she had not felt that it was her place, which was in the south, in the dry south. No, she would never exchange what she had for something else. She would never want to be anything but Mma Ramotswe, of Gabarone, wife of Mr J.L.B. Matekoni of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, and daughter of the late Obed Ramotswe… God had given her gifts, she thought.” (pages 219-220)

“…’It is important just to be able to sit and think.’

Mma Potokwane agreed with that. ‘I often tell the orphans not to spend all their time working,’ she said. ‘It is quite unnatural to work like that. There should be some time for work and some for play.’

‘And some for sitting and watching the sun go up and down,’ said Mma Ramotswe. ‘And some time for listening to the cattle bells in the bush.'” (page 226)

I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy charming stories and charming characters. Although I would recommend readers read the series from the beginning, if an opportunity presents itself to read this book out of order, I would recommend the reader not pass up that opportunity to do so.

Grace Under Pressure by Julie Hyzy
I rescued this book from the book recycling pile when my in-laws were preparing to move. This is a charming cozy mystery, the first in the Manor House Mystery series, that left a smile on my face at the end. However, while this book does provide lots of background for the main character, Grace, it fails to provide a sense of place for the story itself (i.e. where in America? mid-west? east coast?) I’m not sure if I want to read more books in the Manor House Mystery series, but I am curious how the relationship between Jack and Grace develops. I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

The Complete Peanuts: 1950 to 2000 by Charles Schulz
This book’s content is different than the others in the Complete Peanuts series. The other books contain, in order, the Sunday and daily comic strips that were published in newspapers from 1950 to 2000. This book contains cartoons, comics, and stories that show the Peanuts characters or precursors to them that were published in various formats: cartoons for the Saturday Evening Post, comic book stories that were drawn by Schulz himself (not collaborators as most of the comic books of the 1950s and 1960s were), advertisements, storybooks, and spot-drawings focusing on Snoopy.

I found this book quite interesting, seeing the Peanuts characters in other than a comic strip. Before reading this book I didn’t know that Schulz didn’t draw most of the strips for the comic books of the 1950s and 1960s. The afterword by Jean Schulz, Charles Schulz’s wife, was also an interesting read. She talks about what Charles Schulz was like personally. Reading that he used to like to ask people off-the-wall questions to make them think, or ask questions that might be considered by some too probing, or that he always turned the conversation toward others rather than himself made sense to me. He was a storyteller and so liked to hear about other people’s lives (their stories) and through his storytelling he liked to make people think of deeper questions often. My favorite sections of this book were the reprints of the 1984 book Things I’ve Had to Learn Over and Over and Over (Plus a Few Minor Discoveries)1 and the 1981 book Things I Learned After It Was Too Late (And Other Minor Truths).2 My favorite advice/words of wisdom/observations:

“A hug is better than all the theology in the world.”1 page 190
“You can’t discuss something with someone whose arguments are too narrow.”1 page 193
“Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It’s already tomorrow in Australia.”1 page 201
“Never neglect writing letters of appreciation to someone who has been good to you.”1 page 206
“To avoid getting sick while traveling, be careful what you eat, and stay home.”1 page 209
“Be thankful and drink a toast to the man who invented the roof.”1 page 211
I can think of one person who must’ve read this book and taken this quote to heart: “And when all else fails, blame it on the media.”1 page 211

“There’s a lot more to life than not watching TV.”2 page 215 (I’m a Scorpion and Murdoch Mysteries addict fan.)
“Feet are always mad about something.”2 page 220
“Never lie in bed at night asking yourself questions you can’t answer.”2 page 224
“Life is easier if you only dread one day at a time.”2 page 225
“It’s impossible to be gloomy when you’re sitting behind a marshmallow.”2 page 230

Billy Budd and Typee by Herman Melville (Introduction by Maxwell Geisman

[Warning: Spoilers]

This book was my cousin’s when he was in high school. When he moved out of his parents’ house, he left this book (and others) in his room. After my father died, I moved into his old room and when I moved out my aunt offered me the books he left, but I hadn’t gotten around to reading this particular book until nearly 17 years after I moved out.

The introduction to this volume is informative as an in-depth analysis of Billy Budd and explains why these two titles are compiled in this one book.

Reading Billy Budd is an exasperating endeavor. After about 40 pages, the story is written more like a story, but before that, the story is interrupted by digressions that are supposed to add background and a sense of the times the characters are living in. However, I found the digressions to be long-winded and distracting. The story is written to be like a narrative of a true event, as evidenced by the last 3 chapters, but there really isn’t much to the story itself and, in my opinion, it could’ve been told in half the amount of space. Also, Melville’s referencing what he had written previously in the text is annoying. On the plus side, there were quite a few footnotes in this volume to explain the now obscure historical and literary references.

Typee is the second story in this volume. This book is about the adventures of two sailors, Tom and Toby, whose ship is anchored near one of the Marquesas islands. They decide to take off and live on the island for a few days after they and several shipmates are given leave for the day. After some unexpected obstacles, they early on run into the Typees, one of three tribes on the island and the one rumored to be the most fierce. This book chronicles their adventures as captives, and later their separate escapes several months later. This is written as though Tom, after having returned home, is giving an account of what he has actually experienced during his time on the Marquesas islands.

Personally, I found this book boring. The descriptions were bland. I could not get a picture in my mind of the island or its inhabitants. The author does provide descriptions for some of the foods, but the more interesting descriptions would’ve been the practices of the islanders (savages the author calls them, but then goes on several times in the book to compare them to “civilized” people back home and the civilized do not always come out in a favorable light in these comparisons). However, the author does not explain why the savages do what they do, why their religious practices are the way they are, why some practices are taboo, etc. All through the book, I kept asking “why” and the author never answers, which made me less and less interested in the story. Also, the ending seemed totally out of the blue. There were two factions of Typees: one that wanted to keep Tom captive and another that wanted him to go back to the ship so he could go home. Throughout the earlier part of the book, all the Typees seemed to agree to keep him captive. Again, the author does not offer an explanation as to why either (a) some of the Typees had a change of heart or (b) if they always felt that way, what made them take a stand now against those that wanted to keep him captive. Again, more questions than answers.

After the main story is concluded, there is a sequel, “The Story of Toby,” that answers what happened to Toby after he left the Typee village in order to get help for an ailing Tom. At the end of this section, there is this: “He always thought of me as dead — and I had every reason to suppose that he too was no more; but a strange meeting was in store for us, one which made Toby’s heart all the lighter.” Yet, the next and last section, titled “Appendix,” speaks of the author’s time in Honolulu after escaping the Marquesas. This is written presumably to bring to light the truth to what the author describes as a gross misrepresentation of “events which occurred upon the arrival of Lord George Paulet at Oahu.” But, nowhere in this narrative is Toby spoken of. So again, more questions: what of this strange meeting between Tom and Toby? An account of that would’ve probably been more interesting to read than what is actually written in the Appendix.

Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom
Mitch Albom is one of my favorite authors, but despite that I had not read this book, published in 1997, until this year. I saw this book in our neighborhood’s Little Free Library so I traded the book Grace Under Pressure for Tuesdays With Morrie.

This book is a conversation between Albom and a professor he had back in college, a professor he had grown close to, considering him a friend and mentor (he called him “coach”). Despite saying he’ll keep in touch after he graduated college, Albom never did and life went on. Then one night he was channel surfing and came across Nightline’s Ted Koppel interviewing Morrie Schwartz, Albom’s old professor, friend and mentor who now was suffering from ALS. That led to Albom reconnecting with Morrie and having a one-on-one conversation about the meaning of life, Albom flying out to visit every Tuesday for many weeks until Morrie’s death.

The reader may find this book sad as he or she reads about Morrie’s deteriorating health. But at the same time, the reader may also find hope and gratitude for Albom and Morrie spending this time together so that Morrie could impart his wisdom not only on Albom but on all who read this book.

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” — Henry James (page 79)

There are so many passages in this book that touched me. I’ve bookmarked so many pages so that I could go back and re-read them. Part of me wants to keep this book forever and part of me wants to put it back in the Little Free Library so that others will be able to learn from its wisdom. I do believe I will do the latter, but not before presenting here some of the passages that spoke to me in some way.

Albom wrote out a list of topics he wanted to discuss with Morrie, topics that confuse many people and topics that hundreds of self-help books still do not seem to offer adequate answers to. Albom was hoping that Morrie could provide clarity. The list included: Death, Fear, Aging, Greed, Marriage, Family, Society, Forgiveness, and A meaningful life.

None of the quotes below gives a complete picture of the conversation at hand. Despite what some reviewers I have read have written, this book cannot be whittled down to quick little sound bites. This book is more than pockets of wisdom; it shows a redeveloping close relationship between two people, even though one of the two is at the same time slipping away. I would recommend this book to everyone, even to those who think books like these are not “their thing.” I would guess that most people who read this book will be changed by it in some positive way.

The phone rang yet again and Morrie asked his helper, Connie, to get it. She had been jotting the callers’ names in Morrie’s small black appointment book. Friends. Meditation teachers. A discussion group. Someone who wanted to photograph him for a magazine. It was clear I was not the only one interested in visiting my old professor—the “Nightline” appearance had made him something of a celebrity—but I was impressed with, perhaps even a bit envious of, all the friends that Morrie seemed to have. I thought about the “buddies” that circled my orbit back in college. Where had they gone? (page 32)

I envied the quality of Morrie’s time even as I lamented its diminishing supply. Why did we bother with all the distractions we did? Back home, the O.J. Simpson trial was in full swing, and there were people who surrendered their entire lunch hours watching it, then taped the rest so they could watch more at night. They didn’t know O.J. Simpson. They didn’t know anyone involved in the case. Yet they gave up days and weeks of their lives, addicted to someone else’s drama.

Morrie…had developed his own culture—long before he got sick…He read books to find new ideas for his classes, visited with colleagues, kept up with old students, wrote letters to distant friends. He took more time eating and looking at nature and wasted no time in front of TV sitcoms or “Movies of the Week.” He had created a cocoon of human activities—conversation, interaction, affection—and it filled his life like an overflowing soup bowl. (pages 42-43)

[Note: although I think creating a “cocoon of human activities” is a worthwhile pursuit, and I sometimes think I want this in my life, I’m still not ready to give up watching the “Murdoch Mysteries” and “Scorpion” TV shows, and in the case of “Scorpion” blogging about it and carrying on online conversations about its characters and plotlines.]

“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”

His voice dropped to a whisper. “Let it come in. We think we don’t deserve love, we think if we let it in we’ll become too soft. But a wise man named Levine said it right. He said, “Love is the only rational act.” (page 52)

…”even I don’t know what ‘spiritual development’ really means. But I do know we’re deficient in some way. We are too involved in materialistic things and they don’t satisfy us. The loving relationships we have, the universe around us, we take these things for granted.” (page 84)

“The fact is, there is no foundation, no secure ground, upon which people may stand today if it isn’t the family. It’s become quite clear to me as I’ve been sick. If you don’t have the support and love and caring and concern that you get from a family, you don’t have much at all. Love is so supremely important. As our great poet Auden said, ‘Love each other or perish.'”

“Say I was divorced, or living alone, or had no children. This disease—what I’m going through—would be so much harder. I’m not sure I could do it. Sure people would come visit, friends, associates, but it’s not the same as having someone who will not leave….” (pages 91-92)

“…If you hold back on the emotions—if you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them—you can never get to being detached, you’re too busy being afraid. You’re afraid of the pain, you’re afraid of the grief. You’re afraid of the vulnerability that loving entails.

“But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, over your head even, you experience them fully and completely. You know what pain is. You know what love is. You know what grief is. And only then can you say, ‘All right. I have experienced that emotion. I recognize that emotion. Now I need to detach from that emotion for a moment.'” (page 104)

[Note: I wonder if this experiencing and detachment works for anxiety?]

…if aging were so valuable, why do people always say, “Oh, if I were young again.”…

He smiled. “You know what that reflects? Unsatisfied lives. Unfulfilled lives. Lives that haven’t found meaning. Because if you’ve found meaning in your life, you don’t want to go back. You want to go forward. You want to see more, do more. (page 118)

“Remember what I said about finding a meaningful life? … Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” (page 127)

Upon reflection, while all of these tidbits of advice are wonderful, one thing that no one ever gives advice on is how to do these things. More specifically, how to make friendships that last. In the past, I’ve written letters and emails to reconnect with relatives and old friends. I’ve also gotten involved in my community in the past. But none of this has led to a “cocoon of human activity” or closer relationships with relatives or close friendships. I’m thankful for the friends that I do have, even if we’re not as close as we once were. I’m also thankful for my husband, who without him, I would have no close friend or family at all. Having a “cocoon of human activity” and friends and family around you are important, especially as you get closer to the end of your life. But, how can this happen when no one wants to reciprocate your attempts at friendship or any other type of relationship for that matter? A question that seems to not have any answers, unfortunately.

To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon
This latest, and alas final, book in the Mitford series takes place over several months and is split evenly over life in Mitford and life at Meadowgate. Although the book starts out with a death, overall, this last book in the series is about new beginnings, the most obvious one being Dooley, Lace, and Jack’s as a family.

Although I realize that Ms. Karon has to write about Dooley and Lace’s life, especially since their wedding was such a big part — OK, the whole part — of the last book, Come Rain or Come Shine, I will have to confess that I don’t like that storyline as much as any storyline with Father Tim, Cynthia, and the residents in the town of Mitford. That being said, Lace and Dooley’s surprise announcement at Jack’s name day celebration had me smiling from ear to ear.

It’s my belief that certain books come into our lives at the just right time, whether it be the story itself or a quote within that story that will impact our lives in some way if we let it. One morning I was reading this book before it was time for me to leave for a medical appointment. The appointment was routine; most people wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but I was anxious. Then at the last minute before I had to close the book and head off to my appointment I read this:

“He embraced her and decided to say what Peggy used to tell him all those years ago—when he had a skinned knee or another wound from his father, or when he was about to have three teeth yanked out at one go:

‘Everything’s going to be all right. Everything…is going to be all right.’ (page 223)

Coincidence? Divine intervention? Thank you Father Tim.

And thank you Ms. Karon for writing a series of books in which the characters seem like friends and the town of Mitford feels like home.

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[Note: Normally I wait to publish my thoughts about the books that I read in a certain year until my year-end “My Bookshelf…” post. But, as I finished writing this reflection I realized that I didn’t want this reflection to get lost among the multiple pages of that post.]

Mitch Albom is one of my favorite authors, but despite that, I had not read this book, published in 1997, until this year. I saw this book in our neighborhood’s Little Free Library so I traded the book Grace Under Pressure for Tuesdays With Morrie.

This book is a conversation between Albom and a professor he had back in college, a professor he had grown close to, considering him a friend and mentor (he called him “coach”). Despite saying he’ll keep in touch after he graduated college, Albom never did and life went on. Then one night he was channel surfing and came across Nightline’s Ted Koppel interviewing Morrie Schwartz, Albom’s old professor, friend and mentor who now was suffering from ALS. That led to Albom reconnecting with Morrie and having a one-on-one conversation about the meaning of life, Albom flying out to visit every Tuesday for many weeks until Morrie’s death.

The reader may find this book sad as he or she reads about Morrie’s deteriorating health. But at the same time, the reader may also find hope and gratitude for Albom and Morrie spending this time together so that Morrie could impart his wisdom not only on Albom but on all who read this book.

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” — Henry James (page 79)

There are so many passages in this book that touched me. I’ve bookmarked many pages so that I could go back and re-read them. Part of me wants to keep this book forever and part of me wants to put it back in the Little Free Library so that others will be able to learn from its wisdom. I do believe I will do the latter, but not before presenting here some of the passages that spoke to me in some way.

Albom wrote out a list of topics he wanted to discuss with Morrie, topics that confuse many people and topics that hundreds of self-help books still do not seem to offer adequate answers to. Albom was hoping that Morrie could provide clarity. The list included: Death, Fear, Aging, Greed, Marriage, Family, Society, Forgiveness, and A meaningful life.

None of the quotes below gives a complete picture of the conversation at hand. Despite what some reviewers I have read have written, this book cannot be whittled down to quick little sound bites. This book is more than pockets of wisdom; it shows a redeveloping close relationship between two people, even though one of the two is at the same time slipping away. I would recommend this book to everyone, even to those who think books like these are not “their thing.” I would guess that most people who read this book will be changed by it in some positive way.

The phone rang yet again and Morrie asked his helper, Connie, to get it. She had been jotting the callers’ names in Morrie’s small black appointment book. Friends. Meditation teachers. A discussion group. Someone who wanted to photograph him for a magazine. It was clear I was not the only one interested in visiting my old professor—the “Nightline” appearance had made him something of a celebrity—but I was impressed with, perhaps even a bit envious of, all the friends that Morrie seemed to have. I thought about the “buddies” that circled my orbit back in college. Where had they gone? (page 32)

I envied the quality of Morrie’s time even as I lamented its diminishing supply. Why did we bother with all the distractions we did? Back home, the O.J. Simpson trial was in full swing, and there were people who surrendered their entire lunch hours watching it, then taped the rest so they could watch more at night. They didn’t know O.J. Simpson. They didn’t know anyone involved in the case. Yet they gave up days and weeks of their lives, addicted to someone else’s drama.

Morrie…had developed his own culture—long before he got sick…He read books to find new ideas for his classes, visited with colleagues, kept up with old students, wrote letters to distant friends. He took more time eating and looking at nature and wasted no time in front of TV sitcoms or “Movies of the Week.” He had created a cocoon of human activities—conversation, interaction, affection—and it filled his life like an overflowing soup bowl. (pages 42-43)

Although I think creating a “cocoon of human activities” is a worthwhile pursuit, and I sometimes think I want this in my life, I’m still not ready to give up watching the “Murdoch Mysteries” and “Scorpion” TV shows, and in the case of “Scorpion” blogging about it and carrying on online conversations about its characters and plotlines.

“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”

His voice dropped to a whisper. “Let it come in. We think we don’t deserve love, we think if we let it in we’ll become too soft. But a wise man named Levine said it right. He said, “Love is the only rational act.” (page 52)

…”even I don’t know what ‘spiritual development’ really means. But I do know we’re deficient in some way. We are too involved in materialistic things and they don’t satisfy us. The loving relationships we have, the universe around us, we take these things for granted.” (page 84)

“The fact is, there is no foundation, no secure ground, upon which people may stand today if it isn’t the family. It’s become quite clear to me as I’ve been sick. If you don’t have the support and love and caring and concern that you get from a family, you don’t have much at all. Love is so supremely important. As our great poet Auden said, ‘Love each other or perish.'”

“Say I was divorced, or living alone, or had no children. This disease—what I’m going through—would be so much harder. I’m not sure I could do it. Sure people would come visit, friends, associates, but it’s not the same as having someone who will not leave….” (pages 91-92)

“…If you hold back on the emotions—if you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them—you can never get to being detached, you’re too busy being afraid. You’re afraid of the pain, you’re afraid of the grief. You’re afraid of the vulnerability that loving entails.

“But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, over your head even, you experience them fully and completely. You know what pain is. You know what love is. You know what grief is. And only then can you say, ‘All right. I have experienced that emotion. I recognize that emotion. Now I need to detach from that emotion for a moment.'” (page 104)

I wonder if this experiencing and detachment work for anxiety?

…if aging were so valuable, why do people always say, “Oh, if I were young again.”…

He smiled. “You know what that reflects? Unsatisfied lives. Unfulfilled lives. Lives that haven’t found meaning. Because if you’ve found meaning in your life, you don’t want to go back. You want to go forward. You want to see more, do more. (page 118)

“Remember what I said about finding a meaningful life? … Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” (page 127)

Upon reflection, while all of these tidbits of advice are wonderful, one thing that no one ever gives advice on is how to do these things. More specifically, how to make friendships that last. In the past, I’ve written letters and emails to reconnect with relatives and old friends. I’ve also gotten involved in my community in the past. But none of this has led to a “cocoon of human activity” or closer relationships with relatives or close friendships. I’m thankful for the friends that I do have, even if we’re not as close as we once were. I’m also thankful for my husband, who without him, I would have no close friend or close family at all. Having a “cocoon of human activity” and friends and family around you are important, especially as you get closer to the end of your life. But, how can this happen when no one wants to reciprocate your attempts at friendship or any other type of relationship for that matter? A question that seems to not have any answers, unfortunately.

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Another year has gone by with another list of books to review. This tradition started two years ago with the post called My Bookshelf — Year 2014 Reflections. Here are the books that I’ve read in 2016 and my thoughts on them shortly after I’ve read them.

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
Another thought-provoking book by Malcolm Gladwell. He shows that in many cases conventional wisdom isn’t actually wise and that what normally thought of as advantages may actually, in some cases, be disadvantages, and vice versa. The David and Goliath story got me thinking about my own life in 2016. How can I find the advantages in what many, including me, might see as disadvantages in my life? Still thinking about that.

The other stories had me enthralled. The last story about the Vietnam War had me shaking my head in disbelief, but also wondering if there are parallels in our government’s war on terror.

Cat in a Topaz Tango by Carole Nelson Douglas
Another enjoyable Midnight Louis read. The target of the killer and his motives came as a surprise to me. I’m glad Max is getting wisps of memories back. And, I enjoyed the tidbits of info at the end. I liked that Midnight Louis had a part in solving the crime and catching the criminal and in helping to keep Matt safe from deadly harm. To me, Midnight Louis seemed more people-like in this book than in the previous ones for some reason I can’t explain. I also liked his new love interest Topaz.

Cat in an Ultramarine Scheme by Carole Nelson Douglas
I’m continuing with the Midnight Louis series so that I can catch up before the next (and I believe last) book comes out this summer. This book was difficult to follow, with several pieces in the story seemingly linked in some way, but nothing explicitly explained yet. I’m hoping things will get clearer in subsequent books. The murder in this book was solved quite abruptly, which I didn’t much care for. There was a surprise in the next “chapter” in the IRA storyline and a surprise ending to the book that will create complications for Temple in upcoming books.

Cat in a Vegas Gold Vendetta by Carole Nelson Douglas
I think this book will be one of my favorites in the series. Max is back but his memory is still hazy. Temple had her first case as a PI. Matt, Max, and Temple working together to piece together the new information about Kitty the Cutter and the Synth. This book was another in the series that I couldn’t put down. In the end, the two cases were tied together in an interesting way. I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series.

Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly
I bought this book as part of the Best Lent Ever series by Dynamic Catholic. Although not required reading, it helped to expand on the daily video reflections with mini-readings (from the book) that I got in my email each day of Lent. This book is quite rich in information. Not all of the reflections struck a cord with me, but many did. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a more in-depth study of Catholicism from a personal perspective — How can I become the person God wants me to be? I’ll probably go back and re-read some of the chapters and reflect some more. I’m not the type of person who can reflect on a topic for just a few minutes or even an hour and leave it at that. And, the topics are something we should all think about all year, not just during Lent.

Cat in a White Tie and Tails by Carole Nelson Douglas
I’m not sure what to say about this book. The white tie and tails figure into many of the different plot lines. Some of the previous murders have been solved, but not with enough proof to go to the police, so they’re still unsolved as far as Lieutenant Molina is concerned. Not to mention, the alleged killer has been murdered. There are still many open murder cases and questions. For the most part, I was lukewarm toward this book. But, it’s worth reading to the end. I was surprised by the ending. I look forward to seeing how the plot continues in the next book, Cat in an Alien X-Ray.

[Postscript: now that I’ve read a bit into the next book and thought about it, I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised at how this book ended. After all, Matt is an ex-priest but remained Catholic, so his attitude toward Kathleen is consistent, especially after finding out Kathleen’s past.]

Cat in an Alien X-Ray by Carole Nelson Douglas
I’m not sure what I can say about this book either. It took me a while to read it. Not because it was difficult. It’s just that I seem to have always found something else to read rather than pick up this book. Maybe that statement right there says it all. I didn’t dislike it, but it’s not one of my favorites in the series.

Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, From Missiles to the Moon, by Nathalia Holt

When Macie hired new women she had often told them, “In this job you need to look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man, and work like a dog.” — from page 256

This was a library book. I heard about it on NPR. This is a fascinating look at the women (human) computers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) from the beginning back in the 1940s up to the present day. Although, with the advent of reliable electronic computers, the women went on to become computer programmers, engineers, Mission Design managers, and in some cases led their own teams on explorations of the universe (Sylvia Miller became a manager in the Mars exploration program). All encouraged in their studies by the women’s supervisors Macie Roberts and later Helen Ling. Barbara Paulson, who was also there from the beginning, is also talked about quite a bit, among several others.

This should be required reading for all parents of daughters and should be taught about in schools. Growing up, the only women in history I was taught about (that I can remember) were Sojourner Truth and Rosa Parks. While I was never discouraged from going into certain fields (well, except into teaching), I never learned about women in the sciences (other than Marie Curie… then again, I learned about Marie Curie from my father, not from school). I haven’t set foot in a classroom in decades, so maybe things are different now. If not, I think that history classes should do more to teach about the contributions women have made to all aspects of society.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about the early days of JPL and the human computers. I would have to caution that although not required to enjoy the book, it would help if a person had a bit of understanding about elementary scientific concepts and the space program. I think I would’ve gotten more out of it if I had. Regardless, now that I’ve read this book, someday I’d like to read more about the early days of NASA and the space program.

Cat in a Yellow Spotlight by Carole Nelson Douglas
Another good book in the Midnight Louis series. For some reason, I liked this book better than some of the previous ones. I thought maybe since the series is winding down, more of the past unsolved murders would be solved, but that was not the case. The plot was interesting, as were the characters and the sleuthing animals. Nose E makes another appearance. An interesting connection between a member of the band at the center of the plot and a regular character in the series. I liked how the book ended, relieved that a character that I’d grown attached to was not a bad person.

The Complete Peanuts, 1999 to 2000 by Charles Schulz
The final book in the series that contains the Peanuts comic strips. This book also has a bonus: the complete “Lil Folks” panels that were a precursor to the Peanuts strips. I have to say that I like the Peanuts comic strips better than “Lil Folks”, but some were amusing. I’m glad the publisher decided to include the collection here. As always, I enjoyed this installment of The Complete Peanuts very much.

The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks
When picking out books to take on vacation, there are two authors that I seek out the most: Debbie Macomber and Nicholas Sparks. I took The Lucky One on my trip to upstate New York in June. I started the book on a Saturday and finished it on Tuesday afternoon. Besides being a quick read (even though it was nearly 400 pages), it was an interesting read. I liked that the story was told from many different perspectives. I also liked how the information was revealed to the reader and to the characters themselves. I liked the contrast between Logan and Keith as well. I’m not quite sure how I feel about the ending. I think Beth is a better woman than I because I’m not sure I would have the attitude she has at the end considering all that happened. But, then again, maybe with time providing the perspective I would. All-in-all this was another enjoyable read from Nicholas Sparks.

Cat in the Dark by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
This is the 4th book in the Joe Grey mystery series. This book took Dan and me awhile to get through. The Joe Grey mystery series is the latest book series we’ve chosen to read to each other…well, I’ve been doing all the reading ever since Dan’s voice has become permanently hoarse. Anyway… for some reason I didn’t like this book as much as the previous ones. It was an enjoyable read overall. A good cozy mystery to curl up with. But I think it would’ve been better if we would’ve read a little bit each day rather than stretching it out over months. I found the plot and characters quite forgettable. I’m hoping the next book in the series is more engaging.

Cat in a Zebra Zoot Suit by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Another enjoyable book in this mystery series. And although this series is wrapping up with the next book that’s supposed to come out in August, this book left its readers with more cliffhangers and mystery. Hopefully, everything will be wrapped up in the end. I only gave this four stars because there were a lot of typos that distracted from the flow of the prose. Also, at one point when Matt and Temple were visiting her relatives, the author chose to describe sauerkraut in such a way that it made it seem as though Matt didn’t know what sauerkraut was. It is totally unbelievable to me that a man who grew up in a Polish household wouldn’t know what it was. Trust me. I’m half Polish and I grew up with the Polish side of my family. Polacks know what sauerkraut is.

The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom
I enjoyed reading this book as I have the other Mitch Albom books that I’ve read over the years. I could sympathize with the main characters and got into the story waiting for the time when all the characters’ stories would come together. It had a very poignant lesson. We’re only given so many days on this earth for a reason and we are put on this earth for a reason. We must learn what is truly important and live our limited number of days accordingly. I have a tendency to live in the future, thinking about (sometimes being anxious about) what needs doing tomorrow, next week, next year, etc. Rarely do I stop and just be in the moment and appreciate the here and now. I need to focus more on the here and now before it’s too late. Another part of my life that I thought about when reading this book: recently I ended a volunteer position with our homeowner’s association. After about a year in the job, I realized that life is too short to bother with what the homeowner’s association sees as important. Its priorities are not mine. I wanted to spend my time on things that are important to me so when my term ended, I decided to not seek election (I was previously chosen to fill a vacancy). I give this book 4 out of 5 stars because at times this book was hard to follow, not surprisingly because the story is played out on a nonlinear timeline.

Death in the Castle by Pearl S. Buck
The tragic story of a man haunted by his past, especially secrets in his past. This book was a re-read for me. It has been on my bookshelf for as long as I can remember. I decided to re-read it to see if I still liked the story. I do, so it’ll stay on my bookshelf.

The More of Less by Joshua Becker (audiobook)
Sometimes when I’m working I like to have something on in the background to distract me from my tendency to daydream and lose focus. I chose this book from our local library (through hoopladigital.com) because I follow Joshua Becker’s blog. I’m not necessarily looking to become a minimalist, but I’ve been trying to declutter for years. One stumbling block to my attempts to declutter has been paper clutter. I was hoping that by listening to this book, (a) I would get encouragement to stay on my decluttering path and (b) that Becker would offer some fresh insights into how to declutter paper. None of the websites I’ve looked at offer anything remotely helpful to me. They just regurgitate the same things like keep tax returns for 7 years, keep your birth certificate forever, etc. I know all that. It’s the non-essential papers I want to know how to declutter. What I liked about Becker’s approach is that he doesn’t see minimalism as the end; it’s the means to living a more fulfilling life. He starts out asking the question: what do you want to do with your free time once you have decluttered. He believes that our stuff not only takes up space but also takes up our time. By asking this question of ourselves, I think it’s a good way to keep on track with our decluttering. As for his take on paper decluttering (the non-essential papers) he suggests we ask ourselves three questions: Why do I keep the paper? What do I need to keep? How am I going to keep paper clutter under control? Reflecting on our clutter, why we keep it, and what our goals in life are, I think is a good way to stay focused when decluttering more difficult items in our homes. I haven’t yet put this method into practice, so I don’t know if this will truly work, but I like the idea of reflecting on why we do what we do and always keeping our eye on the end goals we have set for ourselves. Just a warning for those of you who are not religious or not Christian, Joshua Becker talks from a Christian perspective and the last chapter is all about using your newly freed time to help others in the community rather than focusing your time on selfish goals.

Old Fashioned by Rene Gutteridge (audiobook)
A well-written Christian romance novel. I saw the movie version about a year before I listened to this audiobook. I loved the movie. If I had to rate the movie I would give it 10 stars out of 5 (no, that’s not a typo; that’s just how much I love this movie). The book is nearly identical to the movie. There are a few scenes in the book that aren’t in the movie and some things are portrayed differently, but that’s understandable considering movies are a visual medium and books are a written medium. The scenes left out are minor, in my opinion, and the reasons for putting them in the book, possibly to add humor, but also to flesh out a couple of characters, are portrayed in other ways in the movie. Thankfully they are left out of the movie because I didn’t like them in the book (the scenes with Cozy and tee tee…ugh!). But, despite these odd, awkward scenes, I still give this book 5 out of 5 stars. I still think the book is worth reading, especially if you haven’t seen the movie. (In fact, the only reason I listened to this audiobook from the library is because they no longer had the movie available.) That being said, I think that the movie is a much better way of experiencing this particular story.

Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths
I heard about this book on NPR (I think) and it seemed interesting, so I checked it out of the library. The premise of using computer science algorithms to make our everyday decision-making better is an interesting one, but this book was not as interesting as the concept. I lost interest in the book fairly early on.

There were a few parts of the book that I liked better than the others. The chapters about sorting, caching, and scheduling appealed to me mainly because I’m on a multi-year quest to declutter my stuff and my life. Recently I got a new laptop, so in the process of transferring things over I had to confront the messiness of my email folders, namely my inbox. Currently, there are over 500 emails in my old email inbox. One of the things on my to-do list is to sort/declutter this mess. But, according to the authors of the book, it may be better to not sort it. The time spent sorting may in the long run not help in speeding up future searching since the search feature in the email program is pretty robust. In the meantime, a bunch of time has been wasted on a task with little benefit. I’m not sure if I agree with this. Certainly, sorting emails with receipts needed for tax purposes is worth the extra sorting. Looking in one folder for all needed receipts is much less time-consuming than trying to search through a mountain of emails especially if one forgets precisely what one has bought over the year (i.e. a search term may not be easily thought of to track down all necessary emails)

The authors’ take on procrastination was interesting: “procrastinators are acting (optimally!) to reduce as quickly as possible the number of outstanding tasks on their minds. It’s not that they have a bad strategy for getting things done; they have a great strategy for the wrong metric.” (p. 112) Early in my marriage often I would get frustrated because my priorities for things that needed getting done around the house were different than my husband’s. Turns out, according to this, we each were measuring the success of getting things done with different metrics.

I found the discussion of the marshmallow test fascinating. In the early 1970s, preschoolers, individually, were put in a room with a single marshmallow on a plate. The adult told the child that he or she would get another marshmallow if they did not eat the first marshmallow before the adult came back. The researchers followed up with the kids later in life and found that those who did not eat the marshmallow were more successful in their lives than those who did, thereby concluding that those who have a natural tendency to delay gratification will be more successful. But this experiment recently was tweaked by researchers at the University of Rochester. Before the marshmallow experiment was even mentioned, preschoolers were told to work on an art project but they were given crummy supplies. They were told that they would get better supplies when the adult came back in a few minutes. Half of the time the adult came back with better supplies; half the time the adult came back with nothing. Then these same kids were subjected to the marshmallow test. The kids in the second group were more likely to eat the first marshmallow. Therefore, the original marshmallow test may not actually test a kid’s natural willpower to delay gratification. What it could actually be testing is whether the kid believes that adults are dependable or not and would do what they told them they would do. So, success later in life may not totally be related to the child’s ability to delay gratification, it could be related to whether or not in early life children have reliable, trustworthy parents and caregivers.

Then there is this quote on page 182 that had me thinking about a TV show I saw recently, of all things:

Recent work in computer science has shown that there are cases where randomized algorithms can produce good approximate answers to difficult questions faster than all known deterministic algorithms. And while they do not always guarantee the optimal solutions, randomized algorithms can get surprisingly close to them in a fraction of the time, just by strategically flipping a few coins while their deterministic cousins sweat it out.

This quote reminded me of Dirk Gently (in the first season of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency TV show on BBC America) explaining his methods (I’m paraphrasing here): I go along then I get horribly lost. Then I find someone who looks like they know where they’re going and follow them. I don’t end up where I wanted to go, but I always end up where I need to be.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for years, perhaps decades. It’s one of my “ought to” books, meaning if I want to be considered learned, I have to read this book, or so my thinking was when I bought the book (probably at a library book sale). Most recently I wanted to read it because I wanted to know the actual story and not just the first line of the story. It took me quite a few months to read this book. I had a difficult time understanding what it was about from the beginning. The language used isn’t exactly plain-spoken English. Because of this I decided to follow along with online CliffsNotes to help me out. I also checked out an audiobook from the library in hopes that the narration would help me make heads or tales out of what I had read up to that point (through most of Book 2). The audiobook version helped quite a bit, especially in distinguishing one character from the other. I stopped referring to the CliffsNotes after the first book. Once I got to Book 2, reading was much easier. The third book is also fairly easy to read and the action is much faster. Despite this, I found the book quite boring overall. Except for the fact that the Manettes, their friends, and relations seemed like good people and I wanted all to be well in the end (a happily ever after), I didn’t care about the characters (although I did feel sorry for Sydney Cotton). I found Lucie to be overly dramatic and, hence, annoying. Dickens’ endless descriptions of the bloodiness of the Revolution was exasperating. Ultimately it’s a story of good vs. evil. It also speaks to justice—what is justice for wrongs done? The aristocracy was evil (callous) as evidenced by the Monseigneur. But the way the peasants meted out justice for wrongs done to them was evil (callous) too. The aristocracy didn’t treat the peasants as human beings and the peasants didn’t treat the aristocracy, or anyone associated with it, as human either during the Revolution. Seems like Dickens is saying that that was inevitable due to the way the aristocracy treated the peasants before the Revolution. In the end, I’m glad I read the book so now I know what it’s about. But this book is getting passed on to the library book sale. Hopefully whoever buys it will find the story much more engaging than I did.

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This past Lent, as I do every Lent, I went about doing an examination of conscience in preparation for the sacrament of reconciliation. One of the ways that I do this is to review a printout that I have of the Ten Commandments that also has more specific offenses relating to each Commandment. Whenever I get to “Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother”, I usually tend to skip this one. My mother died almost 42 years ago; my father a little over 22 years ago so I figured this didn’t apply to me.

This year, as I was reading the chapter “Dancing for Joy” in the book Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly, as part of the Best Lent Ever program, my mind began to wander.

 

The more we close the gap between the life we are living today and the life Jesus invites us to live through the Gospels, the more we will experience that joy.

So what stops us from closing the gap and dancing for joy?

— Kelly, Matthew. Rediscover Jesus [Kindle edition], Locations 1525-29

As my mind wandered, I realized that “Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother” did apply to me. More specifically, “Honor Thy Father”. Some time after my father died, he appeared to me in a dream. He was glowing, similar to how angels are pictured to be in old paintings, although with much more light. In this dream he spoke to me. He said “Hold His hand and test the waters.”

Anyone who knew my father would know that he never spoke like that in real life. His last words to me in real life were “have a good time.” I knew this meant that he knew he was dying. He wanted to let me know that now it’s time to live my life. Since I was a teenager (he had his first stroke when I was 13), I put my life on hold to take care of him. Now, at 23, it was time to live the life I was meant to live.

“Hold His hand and test the waters” I’m sure refers to the time when Jesus told Peter to come to him, but in order to do so Peter had to walk on water. As long as Peter kept his focus on Jesus he was able to do the seemingly impossible. As soon as Peter got frightened and turned his focus away from Jesus, he began to drown.

 

When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.

— Sir Winston Churchill

By letting my anxiety take over and not trusting in God, I’m betraying what was essentially the last words my father spoke to me — the last wish my father had for me, and what God, the Father, wants for me. Letting my anxiety take over and not trusting in God prevents me from being the person God intended me to be and in all likelihood prevents me from fulfilling whatever purpose God intended for my life. And, as Matthew Kelly says, it also prevents me from feeling the joy that God intended.

So, how would I answer the question posed earlier: “So what stops me from closing the gap and dancing for joy?” I’d say my anxiety. But how do I let go and let God? So far, the only answer I get is “Just do it.” Unfortunately, it’s not that simple when dealing with chronic anxiety. Logically I know that I shouldn’t feel anxious when I do, but logic doesn’t make my anxiety go away. I need some other method of dealing with it.

I always say that books are put into our lives at just the right time. When I was pondering the questions above, I couldn’t find anything specific in the Rediscover Jesus book to help, but a non-Catholic book that I read before Lent did resonate with me. I highlighted several passages in Harnessing Your Emotions by Andrew Wommack. Perhaps I will review those again. Taken as a whole, perhaps both of these books along with prayer and scripture reading, talking to God, and listening in the quiet moments will help.

For months before my jaw surgery several years ago I would have panic attacks, then a day before the surgery, without me doing anything differently, a great peace came over me. I just knew everything was going to be OK. I’ve never forgotten that feeling. I want to feel that peace again in all that I do. I pray that God shows me the way if it is His will.

 

Where will your adventure take you and how will you go forth? Will you be like Peter, hedging your bet and looking at the storm-tossed waves? Or will you choose to see only the outstretched hand of Jesus?

–Kelly, Matthew. Rediscover Jesus [Kindle edition], Locations 1994-97

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