Yesterday I completed my 95 by 65 Goal #57: Finish chronological Bible reading plan. Ever since I read a review copy of The Chronological Guide to the Bible (five years ago), I've wanted to read the Bible through in the approximate order of the events. There isn't complete agreement among scholars on the details of the order, but "approximate" is good enough for me. I've made various stabs at the project over the years, and even put the information from the Guide onto a bookmark—actually a set of bookmarks—to help me jump from place to place in my Bible correctly. It shouldn't have been that hard, but flipping back and forth and keeping track of where I was and where I was going next was just enough of a pain that my efforts kept petering out. Pitiful, I know, but the point of this post is not to talk about my failures, but my success at last.
What turned the tide was the YouVersion Bible app on my phone. They have a gazillion reading plans, most of which are not interesting to me, but one of them is set up to lead the reader through the entire Bible, chronologically, in one year. I owe a lot of thanks to our friend Christina S., who first introduced me to YouVersion, because I found this plan to be great!
The plan does all the work—except, of course, for the reading itself. Every day they send a notification to your phone: click on the notification and it takes you right to the plan. Click on the next day's reading and boom, there you are, at the right place in the Bible of your choice (they have lots to choose from). The end of one reading takes you directly to the next, until you've completed all the chapters for that day. You get a nice little congratulatory note, then close the app. Repeat every day for a year. Or, if you fall behind at any point, there's a catch-up function that shifts the plan dates for you. I took advantage of that once, in the beginning, but once I got the habit established, I found it easy to keep up. Really, the app makes it simple—easy enough that even in especially busy times I managed to squeeze the reading in. Because, as I said, it was right there, waiting for me. The folks at YouVersion, though I doubt they've ever heard of Glenn Doman, remind me of his saying that one of the secrets of the success of his educational and therapeutic programs is, "we arrange for the child to win." The YouVersion app arranged for me to win, and I did.
I loved the chronological path through the Bible, especially seeing how various events fit together, and reading one after the other the passages that are parallel but not identical. I came through the process with a much stronger feeling of the integrity of the Bible as the record of real people living their lives in the context of real history and culture, and of God revealed: gradually and progressively, though still imperfectly, through that record. Perhaps the feeling was stronger because of the contrast I experienced while reading through the Qur'an at the same time.
The chronological plan was so enjoyable that I'm sure I'll do it again, but at the moment I feel it's better to mix things up a bit. I'm sticking with the YouVersion app and their plans, however. Today I started a 30-day reading of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), one that covers every word but weaves together the events from the different books. As I said, I'm not interested in most of the YouVersion plans—many of them are "devotional," with more to read than just the Bible. Scholarly commentary I would be interested in, but just some random person's thoughts? Not so much. Yet there are still some plans with straight Scripture to try out, and the chronological plan to return to. I'm thrilled that the YouVersion people have arranged for this child to win.
On a radio interview the other day, I heard a woman say an extraordinary thing: I don't believe in sin.
Her statement was received as casually as it was tossed out, but I have been thinking about it ever since. It reminds me of the billboard that used to greet me as I entered the highway near here: God is not angry. That message was sponsored by a church, and I understand where they're coming from. When your parents are mad, do you like to spend time with them, or do you prefer to lie low? My first reaction, however, was that if God isn't angry about some of the things his creatures are doing to each other, he has no business being God.
Oh, if only declaring that we don't believe in sin would make it go away! I wanted to grab the woman by the scruff of the neck and force her to face the victims of child abuse, human trafficking, Mexican drug lords, Joseph Kony, Stalin, ISIS ... and tell me again that she doesn't believe in sin. If there is no sin, would she even be right to feel aggrieved that I had grabbed her by the scruff of the neck?
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy; The Penderwicks on Gardam Street; The Penderwicks at Point Mouette; and The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2005, 2008, 2011, and 2015)
Many thanks to our daughter, who knows what her mother likes, for recommending this series to me. She called it a cross between Swallows and Amazons and The Saturdays, and that's a reasonable characterization.
Even as a child I preferred books written before my own time, and it's only gotten worse. I've read some good, recent children's books, but many are downright awful and few if any measure up to those from the past that have survived the filter of history. The Penderwicks series, I'm happy to say, is a wonderful exception.
My primary objection to modern books—my defnition of modern reaches back into the 1960's, at least—is that they want to be, well, modern. Like many miserable church youth groups, they attempt to be relevant by embracing the worst of the world rather than providing hope and a better vision.
The Penderwick world is a modern one, and hardly free of modern troubles: death, divorce, desertion, and depression all touch the lives of this family, as well as other troubles not beginning with "d." But none of these overwhelms the story, being swallowed up by family strength and loyalty, loving and reliable parents who are in turn loved and depended upon, and siblings who appreciate and care for one another. By hope and a vision of what family life can and should be.
Another thing I value in these books is that the children have serious interests—from writing to sports to music to science—that are appreciated and supported. That's a rare trait, and one way in which they remind me of The Saturdays.
There are things in the books I personally don't care for, e.g. children in daycare, and too much romance for my taste—though the latter is handled well, I'll admit. But overall, these are good books. And fun, too. Heather knew well the things that I would especially enjoy, such as certain book references, and the music teacher who enjoins, "you must choose a teacher who won't make you do that awful belting everyone is being taught these days."
When my daughter's family gave this book to me last Christmas, my son-in-law included this explanation: Because everyone should have a complete Eric Schultz collection. Two years earlier they had given me King Philip's War, Eric's first book. (Which I apparently have not yet reviewed, or that link would be mine, instead of Amazon's.) Do you think I should tell them about his latest, Food Foolish?1
I finished reading Weathermakers to the World last night, just in time to review it for today, the 113th anniversary of Willis Carrier's great invention2 (You can read several excerpts from the book by following that link.) Air conditioning, it turns out, is about a lot more than helping one through a July heat wave—though it does that admirably, for which I'm grateful.
On July 17, 1902, a young research engineer initialed a set of mechanical drawings designed to solve a production problem at the Sackett & Wilhelms Lithography and Printing Company in Brooklyn, New York. ... This new design was different—so novel, in fact, that it would not only help to solve a problem that had long plagued printers, but would one day launch a company and create an entire industry essential to global productivity and personal comfort.
Weathermakers to the World was written for Carrier, the corporation, and doesn't pretend to be unbiased. You won't find here the complaints of disgruntled employees, or any suggestion that Carrier's work is anything other than an unmitigated blessing. What you will find is an advanced coffee table book crafted by a historian with a true love for his subject. Actually, it's not so much a book as a portable museum exhibit. If I occasionally wished for a higher word to picture ratio, well, I do that in museums, too. But I love museums, and am usually as attracted to the design of the exhibit as to its content.
I grew up an air conditioning snob. I lived in the northeast, and there A/C was for wimps. Rich wimps. The two weeks out of the year where it didn't cool down enough to make the day bearable? They build character! My thoughts on that subject are for another post, but I'll just say that what Florida didn't teach me about the value of climate control, Weathermakers to the World did.
Air conditioning wasn't invented to make people comfortable, but to control humidity in a printing plant, thereby greatly increasing quality and productivity. That increase is the real story of Carrier and his invention. (Or rather inventions, plural, because the history of the company is also a history of adaptation and improvement.) I vaguely knew that air conditioning made possible the growth of the American South, but I had no idea what a difference climate control made to the economy everywhere. How it changed everything from movie theaters to chocolate making to deep mining to precision manufacturing. How during World War II large stores such as Macy's and Sears donated their air conditioning systems to companies producing necessary war materials, boosting both the quantity and the quality of their output, quite possibly shortening the length of the war. That "clean" was at first as much a feature of air conditioned systems as "cool": the first train cars to benefit from A/C were dining cars, and passengers were delighted not only by the comfort but that flecks of soot no longer decorated their food. That Carrier's invention revolutionized museums, allowing them to conserve art and artifacts while keeping them accessible to the public. That hospital patients would benefit almost as much from a more comfortable environment as from their treatment.
Even in hospitals, however, the personal benefits of air conditioning were surprisingly slow to come. Three quarters of a century after Willis Carrier initialed those drawings, the hospital where I worked still lacked climate control in many of its wings. The only reason we had the benefit of A/C—and that from inadequate and persnickety units—was that our computers would not work without it. Carrier himself realized the comfort potential early on, but how slow businesses were to realize that people, as well as machines, are more productive under comfortable working conditions! Not that I can fault them: it took me a long time to shed my own A/C snobbery.
Finally, too, I understand why The Occasional CEO (the author's personal blog) occasionally complains about people who think innovation is coming up with a new iPhone app. Willis Carrier was an inventor, an innovator, an entrepreneur who created a product useful in almost every human endeavor, and built a still-successful company and an entire industry around it. Now that's the kind of innovation we need more of. And lest our daughters, in their faithful and sometimes frustrating careers at home, miss the importance of their work in nurturing such innovation, here's what Willis Carrier had to say (thanks, Eric, for including this story):
"One day my mother started to question me regarding fractions, which we were then taking up and working according to rule. She found that my idea of fractions was one number written over another, with a line between. In other words, I had no perception of the concrete significance of the fraction; in fact, I have seen college men who didn't have it either. She then proceeded at once, and with much skill, as I now realize, to demonstrate the principles of fractions with an apple, divided in various ways. As a result, my whole idea of numbers was illuminated and fractions became a very interesting game or puzzle."
This lesson, Carrier would later say, was "the most important thing that ever happened to me." It taught him that solving problems by rules and rote contributed little to genuine understanding. ... In later years, when asked how he had solved problems that had stumped so many others, Dr. Carrier was apt to smile and say, "I just reduce them to a pot of apples."
Reading Weathermakers to the World is like taking a leisurely walk through a museum of technology. My kind of museum, that is: one with an eye-catching design, and more words than push-buttons. If you can't read the book yourself, you can see some good excerpts, as well as a short video, at WillisCarrier.com.
And I note that The Occasional CEO has published a post in honor of this day. I forced myself to write this review before reading it, but you can find some additional interesting links there.
1Update: No need! Food Foolish is being supplied from another generous source, and I'm looking forward to reading it.
*The timing was entirely coincidental. If I'd known, I'd have finished the book earlier, to give myself more time to write the review.
Tremendous Trifles by G. K. Chesterton (Sheed and Ward, 1909)
This was a Christmas gift back in 2013. (Thanks, DSTB!) Despite my love of Chesterton's writings, it fell into the black hole that is my over-stuffed bookshelf, the bookshelf that takes up most of the back wall of my office, the bookshelf that inspired 95 by 65 goal #63, "Read 26 existing but as yet unread books from my bookshelves." Thanks to that goal, Tremendous Trifles re-emerged.
This series of essays from the very early years of the 20th century were the result of Chesterton's brilliant mind looking in unusual, sometimes bizarre, ways at things and events that most people would ignore—if they noticed them at all. The writings are somewhat dated, but I notice it primarily in missing out on some of the jokes; the ideas are still fresh, fascinating, and yes, sometimes bizarre.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this real, physical, odor-of-old-libraries book, but if you wish, you can read Tremendous Trifles for free, at Project Gutenberg. (Most of Chesterton's works are now in the public domain.) Here are a few quotations to whet your appetite. (More)
I'm still pleased with the progress I'm making toward my 95 by 65 goals, though what remains to be done in two years is intimidating. I've completed 14 goals in the first six months, an average of 2.3/month, which is behind the needed average of 3.17/month. I console myself that I've made significant progress toward several other goals, but with the sobering reminder that many of the more time-consuming and difficult goals have not yet been touched.
I still love the 95 by 65 idea, or 101 Things in 1001 Days (which was my inspiration), or any form of setting goals over time. It helps me keep track of what I've done, it helps me organize what I do, and it helps me focus my efforts. It also shows me where other people are "on my team," and gives me a much-needed boost in directions I might otherwise neglect. I feel somewhat ridiculous about the last: I shouldn't need encouragement to respond with enthusiasm when my husband suggests we try a new restaurant, or when friends from out of state (or country) invite us to visit them. But it turns out that for me, "it's on the list" has enormous power to counteract the nagging voices of "it's too expensive," "I don't have time for that," "it's too much work," and "there are more urgent tasks that demand my attention." Maybe all of those naysaying voices are correct—one reason it's important to populate one's list with care—but I love that the list liberates me to enjoy the activities, enthusiastically and without feeling guilty.
Completed In Progress
- To Live
- Create 95 by 65 list—Completed 1/24/15
- Create the Leon Project—Completed 1/12/15
- Create/tweak/finalize/codify 60 family recipes
- Develop and sustain a system for making bread regularly
- Develop and sustain a system for making yoghurt regularly
- Experiment with making kefir
- Finish Janet's birthday 2009 recipe book
- Go through all recipe books, digitizing what looks good, getting rid of all but essentials/favorites
- Complete a biking challenge (details to come)
- Complete a swimming challenge (details to come)
- Complete a walking challenge (details to come)
- Design 5 Life Playground stations
- Develop a stretching plan and execute at least 3x/week for a month
- Execute 50 pushups nonstop on the higher bar at the park—I've been stuck at 10 for quite a while due to injury
- Find a GPS distance tracker that works for me
- Practice deliberate relaxation twice a day for a month—Completed 5/16/15. This is worth keeping. I lost the habit during my month in Switzerland, but don't anticipate any problems picking it up again, now that I feel the value of it.
- Reach my desired weight goal
- Run nonstop 3 times around the park trail then participate in a 5K race (any speed)—I'm making good progress here, having reached the 3 times around interim goal on 5/30/15. But I'm not quite ready for the 5K, not only because the park circuit is not quite a mile, but because I need to build back up after scaling back (but not eliminating!) while I was in Switzerland.
- Declutter and organize phone
- Declutter blog template files
- Declutter computer
- Declutter garage
- Declutter marked items in Janet's room
- Declutter my office
- Declutter our filing cabinets (with Porter)
- Declutter sewing supplies
- Develop a quick system for travel prep and packing
- Recycle collected ink cartridges—I know this looks easy, but I'm trying to do it in a way that I use the credit I get for recycling them. I miss the easy 1 cartridge = 1 ream of paper days!
- Research and purchase food processor—Completed 1/30/15. I need to use it more, but I like it. Very nice for making pie crust, as I learned from Heather.
- Set up identification system for files to grab in an emergency
- Create another goal-oriented project for when this one is over
- Create an herb garden
- Get a working back porch sink
- Attend 15 live performances (e.g. music, drama, lectures)—60% done
- Convert our Christmas card system to postal + e-mail
- Refrain from negative speech for 1 day. Do this 30 times. (Since sometimes negative things must be said, this will include recasting negative things in a neutral or positive tone.)
- Share at least 20 meals with others (home or restaurant, but not counting multi-day visits or shared meals already in place)—65% done
- Try at least 5 new restaurants—Completed 4/10/15. Clearly I set this goal 'way too low, since I'm up to 9 so far and anticipate many more.
- Visit Universal/IoA four times—Completed 5/15/15. Dr. Doom's Fear Fall, fish & chips and butterbeer! No need to renew the annual passes anytime soon, but it was fun while they lasted.
- Watch NCIS LA from the beginning—We're up to Season 4 (2012)
- Watch Unbroken—Completed 4/24/15. Worth watching, though it doesn't do justice to the book.
- Join in the choir trip to Austria
- Visit a country I've never been to
- Visit a state I've never been to—Completed 4/9/15. Missouri (St. Louis). Great visit with NM&B. New museums, new restaurants, and a genealogy breakthrough.
- Visit with all immediate family members at least once per year (I changed "visit" to "visit with"; it doesn't have to be at their homes)—I've completed all but 4 so far for 2015, including the international visit.
- Visit Arizona
- Visit either Costa Rica or the Gambia
- Visit King Arthur Flour—Completed 2/12/15
- Keep up a 10 posts/month blogging schedule for 20 months (not necessarily consecutive)—Modified from "two posts/week" to make record keeping easier. 30% done
- Send at least 4 care packages to each of our freshman nephews
- Write an encouraging note each month to someone other than family—6/6 so far. This turns out to be one of the more challenging goals, not because it's hard to write the notes, but because I have to remember before the end of each month. I didn't give myself any leeway with this one.
- Write at least 10 letters to political officeholders—Only one so far...I need to get on this.
- Write at least 5 notes of encouragement to each nephew
- Write at least 75 physical letters to children/grandchildren—10 so far
- Join Google+—I have an invitation; I just need to do it...
- Join Twitter—Completed 2/9/15. I don't use it much, but enjoy checking the feed now and then, and even used it to send one of the encouraging notes (goal #51).
- Finish chronological Bible reading plan—Almost there; 94% done.
- Start and complete other daily Bible reading plans
- Achieve 40,000 duolingo points (average 1,000/month, split between French and German)—I'm 'way ahead of schedule on this one, 64% complete
- Listen to all of Pimsleur German I—Completed 5/30/15. I recently acquired German II, so I'll move on to that when I get it converted to a form I can listen to on my phone.
- Complete George MacDonald reading plan (50 books, 14 completed in 2014)—52% done
- Read 130 books (new or old, print or audio, any level)—29% done
- Read 26 existing but as yet unread books from my bookshevles—12% done. This is so much harder than you'd think, because there are so many new, interesting books that come to my attention.
- Read The History of the Renaissance World
- Read the Koran—Completed 4/14/15
- Complete 100 Great Courses lectures (Measured by lecture rather than course because some courses are longer than others, and so I can count free lectures they sometimes offer.)—46% done
- Experience all 37 of Shakespeare's plays (attend, watch, and/or read)—16% done
- Make 30 museum visits—23% done
- Set and attain BrainHQ goal
- Set and attain Khan Academy goal
- Set and attain Memrise goal
- Set and attain Sporcle goal
- Copy LPs to CDs
- Copy tapes to CDs—Porter is working on this
- Convert WRL memorial PPT to video
- Complete conversion of bits PPTs to videos
- Create 20 new GTC shows
- Create a form of GTC independent of YouTube and useable offline
- Create scent bits
- Make new family bits (was just "for Heather," but now Janet needs some, too)
- Print bit back labels for Heather
- Clean up, expand, and document the lines I currently have in my tree
- Enter unentered genealogy data
- Publish revised editions of Honor Enough volumes 1-4
- Rocket boost genealogy work by end of January 2015 (40 hours of work in segments of 1 or more hours, over 2 weeks)—Completed 2/1/15. Unfortunately, I haven't done much since....
- Update Phoebe's Quilt and print in "final" form
- Create one photo album with Picaboo
- Digitize photos
- Digitize slides
- Organize photos 2007-2011 (subgroups 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010)
- Organize photos 2012-2016 (subgroups 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)
- Research and purchase scanner suitable for prints and slides
- Rocket boost photo work (40 hours of work in segments of 1 or more hours, over 2 weeks)
- Make (at least) 2 baby blankets—Completed 5/14/15. Two grandbabies! Hooray!
To Leave a Legacy
Eleonora Margaret Stücklin
Born Sunday, June 21, 2015, 11:01 a.m.
Weight: 8 pounds, 1 ounce
Length: 20 inches
There are five syllables in her first name; think Italian. Our you could do what her family does, and call her Ellie. Janet has posted Ellie's birth story on her own blog, and you can find more details there. I'll add here a few from my point of view.
This was the first time we'd only planned a four-week stay for my visit; previously we'd allowed two weeks before and four weeks after the due date. So I was getting rather nervous as my final week approached. But I think it all worked out well, and don't regret having had three weeks before the birth, as I believe it helped Janet get some much-needed preparatory rest; she was exhausted when I arrived, and doing much better when the day finally came. It was also great to have the time to be part of the family and focus on the older kids, who will remember my visit a lot more than Ellie will.
I hardly know how to classify Janet's labor for Ellie. Was it long? I don't even know when it started, as she went through a few days of "this may be it, no, yes, no, maybe." Was it short? All I know is that the end came very quickly.
My duties were easy, as the kids—my primary responsibility—were sound asleep by the time the midwife arrived. In the interest of keeping the crowd down, however, I mostly stayed out of the bedroom, but kept my ears on the alert, and occasionally peeked in through the doorway. Suddenly I heard the kind of moaning that means labor is getting serious, followed only minutes later by the sound of pushing! I was through the door in a trice, in time to see the bursting of the amniotic sac and a firehose gush of fluid flying straight at the midwife. Then Ellie's head appeared, followed swiftly by the rest of her. A beautiful baby! A baby girl! And then came the most amazing placenta I've ever seen. (I've been present for the birth of 12. This was a two-pound hunk of meat with not a hint of the calcifications that indicate the placenta is aging. Despite coming a week after her purported due date, Ellie was not late.)
Even more amazing was the reaction of Ellie's brothers and sister the next day. From the beginning, the three of them—who have themselves an incredible, "best friend" sibling relationship—have doted on their new sister, competing for the privilege of holding her, covering her with kisses and hugs, professing their love, showing their concern. Long may their joy remain!
What a great Father's Day present for both Daddy and Dad-o!
My photo editing experiences are 'way below novice, having made do with Windows (Office) Photo Editor, Picasa, Irfanview, and Paint all these years. However, most of the 90s decade of my 95 by 65 project involves photo work, so it's about time I upgraded to some good photo editing software. In particular, I want to be able to work with my photos without losing data: Picasa, for example, does some nice things, but degrades the image every time I use it.
I am finding the Adobe Photoshop CC (Photoshop/Lightroom) subscription attractive at $10/month. I'm sure I don't need all the fancy stuff, and the cost would really add up over a matter of years, but for getting my feet wet it seems reasonable—and it would be several months before reaching the cost of Photoshop Elements.
I've read reviews of several other programs, but am not convinced they are worth the cost. Except for GIMP, of course, which is always an option, though when I tried it years ago I found it not as user-friendly as I had hoped—i.e. I didn't get anywhere with it. Adobe still seems to be the gold standard.
What do you think, Faithful Readers?
I was out of the country for 30 days, and so much changed while I was gone that I sometimes wonder what country I returned to. I'm grateful for days like today, for small towns like Geneva, Florida, and for people like the members of the Greater Geneval Grande Award Marching Band (GGGAMB), which assembles once a year for the town's Independence Day parade. I am so sick of (and sickened by) the strident, angry voices that exacerbate and exaggerate our differences, and refuse to see the humanity of anyone who disagrees. But this is the America I know and love: where diversity enriches rather than divides, and our widely differing political and social views in no way hinder our friendship, our celebration, or our working together in common cause.
On a different note, I'm grateful to our friend Greg D., who taught me that neither the band nor the celebration should be the focus of our performance, but the audience: the people—the individual men, women, and children—who have come to hear us. From him I learned to interact with the crowd as we march along: to break ranks, claiming exhaustion, and invite children in the crowd to help me out by crashing my cymbals together.
(Note: I prefer to be an equal-opportunity entertainer, but wise discrimination is important: I don't want to scare anyone, but to invite them to have fun, and I have become pretty good at choosing my targets accordingly. Sadly, there is a clear gender divide: boys tend to be thrilled, and girls reluctant.)
Perhaps it's that focus on pleasing the audience that won me my totally-unsought honor this year. After our post-parade concert, I was recognized by the master of ceremonies as the "most animated" performer. It's true that my cymbal technique would never be allowed in a real band! Porter said I did all right in my interview, but I now have a greater degree of sympathy for politicians who must speak "off the cuff" and answer questions for which they are not prepared. It's so very easy to think of the answer you should have given, five seconds after the answer you did give has left your lips. When asked, "How long have you been playing the cymbals?" I hesitated and replied, "It's a secret"—because I had no idea. That was okay, because it made people laugh, but what I wish I had said was, "I've been playing with some of these wonderful folks for twenty-two years!" I knew that number because Heather was thirteen when she got us involved with the World's Worst Marching Band, from which the GGGAMB eventually evolved. (I looked it up after I got home: I first joined, or rather became, the cymbal section only a year after our family joined the band. Twenty-one years? Really?)
At that point, Tony, our faithful and intrepid—wild and crazy—director for all those years, grabbed the microphone and announced that I was also the grandmother of ten, evoking a final round of cheers.
We came together with old friends and new; we had fun; we performed a service for an entire town; and we made people smile and cheer. We didn't save the world, but it was a good day. Thank you, GGGAMB, and Geneva, Florida, for reminding me that the America I love is still alive and active.
UPDATE: As Richard, our awesome without-whom-this-would-not-happen organizer, put it when he posted the following on Facebook, "For those with a high pain threshold, here's a video of our entire concert, courtesy of the Community Church of God." It's 15 minutes long. WARNING: it's all quite safe for grandchildren, but children are at great risk of being embarrased by their mother's, um, award-winning performance and acceptance speech. It's great to grow old and leave inhibitions behind!
For a month my diet consisted largely of as much as I wanted of the following: bread, cheese, butter, jam, pasta, potatoes, pastries, and chocolate. If you've ever eaten Swiss bread, you know why that tops the list. And maybe it wasn't quite as much as I wanted in the pastry department, but that was largely a matter of timing, i.e. getting to the store before the best choices ran out. Sure, we ate a few other things, but bread and cheese really is a Swiss staple, and when I'm in town I never waste the opportunity.
While I was there, my exercise regimen was reduced from three times per week to three times per month.
I came home five pounds lighter than when I left.
I am so over the anti-carbohydrate hype.
Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels by Kenneth E. Bailey (IVP Academic, 2008)
I cannot remember where I learned about this book—though it seems like the kind of book Peter V. might have recommended—but its description intrigued me enough to put it in my Amazon cart. The order arrived with other, more attractive books, however, so it went on a bookshelf instead of being read immediately. And there it stayed for five years, almost to the day.
This year, however, the title popped up again, on my son-in-law's Amazon wish list. What better way to work on 95 by 65 item #63 (Read 26 existing but as yet unread books from my bookshelves), than to read it myself, bring it to Switzerland with me, and give it to him for his approaching birthday. It was a bit of a challenge to complete the 443 pages in time, even with a transatlantic flight, but I did complete it (though not this review) before making the return trip.
Was it worth the time? Yes, even though most of the reading came at the cost of much-needed sleep, life with three (and then four) grandchildren under the age of five leaving few free moments for sustained attention to anything else. The grandchildren, naturally, were more rewarding, but that's not the book's fault.
Was it all I had hoped for? Not close, I'm afraid. Don't get me wrong: there's a lot of value there. The book starts off with a splash of great promise in the author's argument, based on his knowledge of present and historical Middle Eastern culture, that Jesus was not born in a barn, or even a cave, behind an overflowing inn—despite each location having long tradition behind it—but in a private home, where the traditional guest quarters were already filled. A baby born in the home's main room could have been conveniently laid in the mangers that served the livestock housed in the lower-level end of the room.
The author's cultural knowledge also brings new light to several New Testament stories, such as Zacchaeus' repentance speech:
The moment comes ... when Zacchaeus, who has been reclining with Jesus and the other guests, stands to give his formal response. In traditional Middle Eastern style, he exaggerates in order to demonstrate his sincerity and pledges to give away 50 percent of his assets. Then he says he will pay back fourfold anyone he has cheated. If all the money he has ever collected unjustly from the community over the years amounts to 13 percent of his remaining assets, he cannot fulfill this pledge No one expects him to do so.... In good village fashion...Zacchaeus affirms his sincerity by exaggeration. If he does not exaggerate, the crowd will think he means the opposite.
Math may not be the author's strong point, but you get the idea. And here's the backstory of the miraculous catch of fish in Luke 5:
The Sea of Galilee drops off into deep water close to the shore, and in most areas is too dangerous for swimming. Casting can be done standing in the water or from a boat. Drag fishing, with a long net and two boats, was also practiced.... These two types of fishing can be done during the day. But all fishermen working Gennesaret know that most successful fishing takes place at night and primarily near the shore where fresh water feeds into the lake.... The very idea that a landlubber from the highlands of Nazareth, who has never wet a line, should presume to tell a seasoned fishing captain what to do is preposterous. The fish can see and avoid the nets during the day, but they feed at night. The order to launch into the deeps in broad daylight is ridiculous.
And of Jesus' conversation with the woman at the well in John 4:
He breaks the social taboo against talking to a woman, particularly in an uninhabited place with no witnesses. Throughout forty years of life in the Middle East I have never crossed this social boundary line. In village society, a strange man does not even make eye contact with a woman in a public place.
If the whole book were like this, I'd be sorry I promised to give it away. But despite repeatedly, and correctly, pressing the point that our 21st century viewpoints distort what we see in these 1st century stories, it's clear that the author allows his own opinions to influence his interpretations. He's also so very convinced that his interpretations are the correct ones, and too often speaks this assurance over what clearly are speculations.
While it's good to know how radically Jesus departed from the customs of his time in his interactions with women, I'm not convinced that promoting gender equality was Jesus' primary purpose in these encounters, though that seems to be the author's view.
Bailey's opinions intrude frequently, unnecessarily, and at times offensively.
History is replete with examples of one ethnic community displacing another. To accomplish such a goal the aggressors usually feel the need to demean those they are brutalizing. Words such as savages, vermin, and now terrorists ring down the centuries.
His apparent problem with labelling those who commit organized acts of terror as "terrorists" is gratuitously offensive. The provocation distracts from his point while adding nothing to it. So too with his bias against the modern state of Israel, which crops up now and then.
Although my next complaint is admittedly petty, it's like fingernails on a blackboard to me when Bailey uses outdated slang, such as "head trip," and overused phrases meant to sound Biblical which aren't, like "speaking truth to power."
For all that, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes is worth reading. In addition to giving cultural insights, Bailey unlocks the rhetorical style and structure of many of the Biblical stories. I'm not sure how much this actually adds to understanding, but it's interesting, and not at all obvious to the casual, English-speaking reader.
The ... challenge is to realize the historical nature of the Word of God. The Bible for Christians is not just the Word of God. Rather, it is the Word of God spoken through people in history. Those people and that history cannot be ignored without missing the speaker or writer's intentions and creating our own substitutes for them. Historical interpretation is the key to unlocking the vault that contains the gold of theological meaning.... It is helpful to note that this is true of all significant literature.
There were Sandra Boynton books around when our children were young, but they were new, and we mostly missed them. When our nephews later introduced them to us, I wasn't all that impressed. Very few books directed at children impress me. But in the last month I have become a fan.
Specifically, of Blue Hat, Green Hat and But Not the Hippopotamus. Daniel (22 months) wants them read over and over and over and over and over ... but I've yet to grow weary of them. It helps that they're short, but it's mostly his enthusiasm that keeps me going. He can very nearly read them to himself, thanks to the repetition within the books as well as the repeated readings. He gleefully fills in "Oops!" and "Hippopotamus" in the appropriate places, and tonight, after I refused to read any more, I heard him "reading" several pages of the latter book to himself. "Should stay? Should go?" and with the greatest expression. Such fun.
So, a very belated thank you, Ms. Boynton!
Joseph wanted to go to the grocery store, and made his own shopping list. (Click to enlarge.)
He did not have enough money to make the purchases, especially in the quantities he wanted, but I told him I'd gladly pay for one package of butter, so we went off eagerly to the store. Grandmotherly hearts—and appealing grandchild eyes—being what they are, the plan escalated a bit.
While Janet and the others did their own shopping, Joseph and I started filling his little cart. He found at least one of everything on his list (milk, pizza, oranges, bread, butter, orange juice, apple juice, peanut butter, and water), and I added several other items of interest to me (e.g. Swiss chocolate half off).
At checkout, he put his items on the belt, and got out his purse. He handed the lady his widow's mite—all he had. I slipped her a 50-franc bill; she smiled, and handed the change to Joseph. His eyes opened wide, as the change was a bit over six francs, about twice the sum he had started with, and monumental compared with his weekly allowance.
One hundred percent return on investment, and a cart full of food, too. Even I might learn to like shopping under those circumstances.
Grandparents sometimes have luxuries unavailable to parents, the greatest of which may be time. Not that I've ever felt free from the pressure of too much I want to do and not enough time in which to do it, but both time and the lack thereof are relative.
Vivienne wanted to go for a walk with Grandma, and she particularly likes it when I let her take the lead. We started out along familiar paths, stopping for a while at a favorite playground. But there was a somewhat aggressive boy there, so exploration soon became more attractive again.
We hiked past a mall and the local equivalent of Wal-Mart. (I hope I don't offend anyone with that comparison, but it's a large store that carries a great variety of items at comparatively reasonable prices.) As we passed, she expressed her regret that the stores were all closed. Here most businesses are closed on Sundays, a practice widespread when I was young but now limited at home primarily to Chick-fil-A restaurants. While I admit to doing my share of business on Sundays, part of me misses those times and the natural respite from day-to-day consumerism and busy-ness.
End of digression. Vivienne was content enough to window-shop in the garden center, which was visible from the sidewalk. Moving on, we crossed the street to an intriguing path that spiraled down towards a tunnel. Where would it lead? It was dark and lonely, seemingly abandoned: the underground part of a parking garage, empty because the stores were closed. A little scary, too, so we happily returned to the sun-lit lands, up a set of stairs and on our way.
On our way where? We found ourselves in a neighborhood of apartment buildings, complete with tempting playgrounds. Tempting, but in the end resistible—the intrepid walker pressed on. At last we came to the only intersection where Vivienne asked me to decide if we should go left or right. Less adventuresome, knowing that going out requires an eventual return, and cognizant of approaching suppertime, I chose to "close the loop."
Vivienne had other ideas, however, immediately executing a hairpin turn and heading off towards the ... train station! Through the tunnel, under the tracks, and up to the platform. We looked around for a while, but no trains came. Go back as we had come? Certainly not! We had to find another way across the tracks. Which we did, going still further on before we could turn around.
After that the return was fairly straightforward, with just one foray into a business center that I would have avoided had I been the leader. That was the point at which I first blessed having no need to hurry: at worst we would have to call home to say we'd be late for supper. For it was then that Vivienne decided she had had enough walking and wanted to be carried. I wasn't surprised—we'd been walking quite a while, and she is not that much past her third birthday. Nevertheless, I reminded her that we'd discussed a couple of times the importance of not going so far that we'd run out of energy for the return trip. So I waited, and Vivienne sat on the ground until she had recovered enough energy to walk, which she did when she was ready, without fuss or complaint.
We were almost within eyeshot of home when she sat down again, and took off both her socks and shoes. She did not ask to be carried, but apparently her feet needed some air. I completely understand. After about 15 minutes—and a few smiles and nods from passersby—she calmly put her socks and shoes back on, stood up, and we continued on our way.
Not, alas, as quickly as I—tired myself and still mindful of supper time—would have wished. It took a long time to cross the bridge. It's only over a road, but that was fascinating enough to Vivienne, and she careened as many times as possible between the side of the walkway with the precipitous drop and the side right next to the bus lane. The guard rails are sturdy and sufficient, but I was notably happier when we finally reached the end of the bridge. The rest of the trip was uneventful, though by no means speedy, as we stopped to smell at least 50 roses in the home stretch.
We had had a great adventure together, and still made it home for supper.
My airplane dinner was very good, as airplane dinners go, so I don't mean to complain. But I couldn't help noticing that the first ingredient on a wedge of cheese labeled "Swiss cheese" was cheddar. Swiss cheese was there, too, several items later—after water. What's particularly odd is that of all the amazing cheeses readily available here in Switzerland, chedder is not one of them.
And then there was this bottle of Alpine Spring water, "bottled at the source"...
... in Tennessee.
As I sit here, typing away at the edge of the Alps themselves, I can assure you beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are nowhere near Tennessee.
If our laws concerning product labelling allow this, why should I trust any label at all?