Three Books: Interesting True-Life Characters

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America (Larson) – This book is about The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, and centers on the lives of two men—one, the master architect of the fair, who built and created magnificent things and, the other, a serial killer who wantonly destroyed life and tore apart the worlds of his victims and their families.  The book alternated between the two and, let’s face it, I found myself racing through the architect’s story to find out what happened next with the sociopathic murderer and his victims.  I will say that, by the end of the book, I found both parts to be equally interesting.  The Chicago World’s Fair was truly an incredible phenomenon that changed world’s impressions of the U.S., and definitely Chicago, and it also showcased new inventions that left lifelong impressions on people who attended the fair, including fantastic displays of electric lights, commonplace things like shredded wheat, and the wildly popuchicago fairlar Ferris Wheel.  I thought the juxtaposition of the killer and the architect had a powerful effect.  As I said above, one man created and one destroyed.  Also, as the author himself states in the back of the book, he was intrigued how pride fueled all of the main players in this story.  It’s a very interesting book, and also a very dark book.  The first and final murders are the only ones that are written about in detail and were difficult to read.  The victims were unassuming, helpless people who fell prey to the worst kind of horrific evil.  If you can stomach it, this book is worth reading and fascinating.

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey (Millard) – I enjoyed Millard’s book about James Garfield a lot.  So when I learned she wrote one about Theodore Roosevelt’s post-presidential journey exploring unchartered territory on the Amazon, I was eager to read it.  Millard does a great job sifting through a mound of historical details and painting a vivid picture of a cross section of history.  I really was intrigued to learn more about the character and personality of Roosevelt and what it would have been like to navigate a hostile, unexplored, virtually unknown jungle.  In an age where one can whip out her smart phone and instantly view a satellite image of any part of the world she wants, it is especially intriguing to think about.  The descriptions of the jungle, river and exotic wildlife were very interesting to me.  Millard also vividly portrays the desperation, humanity and fortitude of the men as they encounter one setback after another.  This book is a worthwhile read.

The Theory of Everything (Hawking) – This book consists of three lectures given by the famed English physicist, Stephen Hawking.  Sometimes when I see an interesting movie preview, I look to see if there’s a book.  Well, The Theory of Everything movie is apparently based on Hawking’s ex-wife’s memoir, not the book with the same title.  Oh well!  Once I started reading these lectures, they held my interest, though I don’t pretend that I could entirely wrap my layperson’s mind around everything that was presented.  I did find it interesting that Hawking, although an atheist, leaves room for a Creator in his theories.  Hawking’s black hole theories boggle my mind, and it was fascinating to read about how our universe is not static, and the fact that there may well be many more universes beyond our own.  The point is that there is still so much more to discover.  We are indeed finite in our understanding, but I was intrigued to read from a man who has spent many years thinking and asking questions about our universe. 




Bacon Inspiration

Kevin and I aren’t big gift people.  We rarely exchange gifts at holidays, except for something small at Christmas.  We would much rather share a new or fun experience, than gifts.

Having said that, every year when Valentine’s rolls around, Kevin does get me flowers.  Apparently I have a very bad memory, because I’m always so surprised by this, when they arrive at the front door!  It’s sweet, thoughtful, and romantic.  It’s also great because February in Indiana is such a dreary time of year and a splash of colorful flowers on my counter definitely helps to lift the mood.

Even though, in my mind, my relationship with my husband is a huge priority, let’s face it: All day I’m constantly reacting to, and putting out fires—thankfully figurative fires—that the kids have created.  This leaves a bedraggled, tired lady (me) who greets her husband every night when he comes home from work, often handing him a job or two as soon as he walks in the door.

Kevin jokingly asks me if I’m glad he’s home because I’m glad to be able to spend time with him, or if I’m just glad that another adult is around to help deal with the chaos.

The answer to that question is: “Yes and yes!”

So, when my Valentine’s flowers arrived on my doorstep, I was seized with inspiration.  This year I decided to make a fun bouquet gift for him.  I knew he would not expect that since we rarely exchange gifts, ever.

Since Kevin is currently avoiding processed food, that eliminated a lot of options.  Candy bar bouquet?  That would never do. The kids would end up eating it, instead of him.  What food does he love?  Protein.  It would definitely have to involve either steak or bacon.  So, I Googled “protein bouquet” and saw some really creative ideas, but one that instantly caught my eye: A bacon bouquet.

Do you realize how easy it is to make a bacon bouquet?  All you do is go to WalMart and buy a bouquet of silk roses for $3, and a pound of bacon.  Then you roll up the bacon and stick toothpicks into each roll to keep it in place. Then, bake the bacon, remove the silk flowers and insert the bacon rolls onto each stem in the silk flowers’ place.  Whala, you have a bacon bouquet.

Here are more detailed instructions but it seriously was so easy.  It took maybe two minutes to assemble after the bacon was cooked.

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Kevin was incredulous.  Not only did it fool him because he thought the bacon was really rosebuds when he first saw it, but he couldn’t even believe that he would get to eat a whole pound of bacon all by himself.

It’s really hard to show Kevin how important he is to me because of the demands the kids make on my time and energy.   Thank God for bacon, the internet, and a little inspiration.  Thank God, especially, for a man who loves me and our kids, and understands.  Maybe we will make it through!

The Ever-Elusive Perfect Learning Environment

I have started blogging for a new homeschooling blog.  In our family, we use a hybrid private school/home education program for our kids, and I myself was homeschooled, so it’s a subject that is near to my heart and also something I have wrestled with a lot!  I have definitely seen the pros and cons and love many things about homeschooling.  My goal in writing posts for this homeschooling blog is to just keep it real.  It’s hard some days, especially with toddlers underfoot!

I will share these posts on this blog, from time to time!  But, if you are interested in this topic, check out HSLDA’s blog and subscribe to their RSS feed.  HSLDA is a great organization!

Here is one of my first posts: The Ever-Elusive Perfect Learning Environment.


The Giver Series

the giverWould you exchange beauty and the freedom to think and feel and love, for a pain-free, convenient, nicely ordered existence?  That is the question The Giver aroused to the surface of my thoughts.

At the end of last year, I was happily surprised to stumble across and read The Giver by Lois Lowry.  I’m not a huge sci-fi / fantasy genre person.  But The Giver really moved me.  I instantly empathized with 12-year-old Jonas, and was caught up in the details of his life in a futuristic, authoritarian society portrayed unforgettably by the author.

As I wrote in my year-end review of 2014 books, everything is pre-determined in Jonas’ world.  There is no color.  Everything that exists is utilitarian. There is no freedom to express emotions and feelings, except within a pre-approved framework.  But everyone is happy because they don’t know anything else, there is heavy propaganda, and everything makes “sense.”   Then, something rare and unexpected happens.  Jonas is selected to become the next Receiver.  He doesn’t know what this means until he starts his apprenticeship with the The Giver, who has a library of old memories of beautiful, and often painful things, that have been erased from society.

As Jonas receives the memories of beautiful things, like hills and snow and family togetherness, and Christmas, he starts to break free and question all of the conformity.  Then he discovers a dark secret that threatens someone he loves, and involves the betrayal of one of his family members.  Once he sets his course, he understands that there will be no turning back.

This book is thought-provoking and beautiful to the very end.  So it was with great eagerness that I began the second book in this four-book series, Gathering Blue.

It took me a while to adjust my expectations about what I thought the second book should entail.  Rather than pick up where the first book left off, Lowry changes the setting and characters to portray a completely different type of authoritarian society, one that is much more primitive, yet equally oppressive.  Each book has a strong, gifted young person who thinks independently and outside the framework of his/her society.  Gathering Blue was okay, but not as compelling.  I wanted to hear more of Jonas’ story, so I was a little disappointed.

But, I kept reading the series because I was intrigued enough to see where Lowry was going with her plot.

The third book, The Messenger, links the first two communities in the first and second books, and involves a third community, that provides refuge to people fleeing tyrannical governments and looking for a safe haven.

The fourth and final book of the series, The Son, ties together all the lose ends.  This book returns us to the community portrayed in The Giver, to introduce us to one of the birth moms in that community.  In that society her only function is to produce children.  She is not given the responsibility/ privilege to raise her own children.  That is for someone else.  But once the information slips that she has given birth to a son, her maternal instincts flare up and compel her to figure out who exactly her son is.  In the end, she is faced with an extreme decision, to give up something priceless, in order to see her son and know that he is well.  The whole focus on maternal love is absolutely lovely.  I thought the author painted beautiful word pictures when she described the mother-child connection and the great lengths a mother will go to reach her child, be with her child, and make sure her child is okay and happy.

Some parts of the plot in The Son seemed a little convenient at times, but in the end, I felt like it was a good and satisfying wrap-up to a thought-provoking series.

Down Time

IMG_7264 (1)I am here to report that flying on an airplane sans kids is just as fabulous as I remembered it to be.  Thanks to a friend who owns a condo in Breckenridge and grandparents who flew from California to watch our kids, Kevin and I were able to Get Out of Dodge for four days.  Four whole days!

There are many things that everyone but young parents could potentially take for granted.  Slowly eating trail mix with the man you love in an airport terminal is a luxury.  Let me tell ya!  Even better is: drinking a cinnamon dulce latte at the airport, with the man you love.  After I ordered it, the barrista smiled and handed it to me like it was a custom-made gift.  It was.  Here’s the thing.  I had time to just sit there and not worry about anything.  I didn’t have twenty things either racing through my mind or whizzing past to distract me.  I had time to notice that the whipped cream on top looked like a sea of white waves and I had time to notice the fragrant cinnamon spice smell.  These things are quiet sensations that get railroaded when you’re busy.  I love being a mom.  I love being a mom AND I really needed this break!!

We talked about renting a car but the friend with the condo said, “Don’t do that!  Just take my Jeep, parked near the airport.”  When we saw the Jeep, it was totally awesome!  It was a rustic old Jeep with mud-caked tires, a jagged horizontal crack across the windshield, a soft top, and not much shock absorption.  A perfect mountain vehicle!  I told Kevin, “This is infinitely more fun than getting a sterile, perfumed, boring ol’ rental car from Avis or Hertz!”

We enjoyed the town, the skiing (getting to take the highest lift in North America), the panoramic mountains, the historic town nestled in the valley, the slower pace, the breathtaking snow-capped scenery, the international snow-sculpture contest, the bonfires sprinkled around town … basically all of it.  But the quiet, slow moments were probably my favorite.

Now we are back home, to this wonderful life that I appreciate even more when I have a chance to get away and gain perspective.  It’s busy, even when we try to slow down and enjoy family time.  We pass each other in the halls many days.  But there was Breckenridge, Colorado.  Four days of Breckenridge.  I’m grateful.