what I am reading

My 2019 new year goal was to read a biography of each of our U. S. Presidents, in chronological order. It’s July and I am up to our fifth President, James Monroe. I was sidetracked along the way. So, let me share with you what I have been reading.

birdandbooks

I am an avid reader. Always have been. Reading books has saved my life. But I digress…more about that in another post.

books thoughts

Bruce is a prolific reader and we love to talk with each other about what we read.

bigbadbruce

We get the Sunday New York Times. Bruce reads it. I only read the Magazine and do the crossword puzzle. It takes me until Thursday and I complete about 95%, with Bruce’s help.  Freddy helps, too.

freddy and the nyt crossword puzzle

We buy The West Springfield Record, our local newspaper at the corner store, every Thursday. This week’s edition has a long article about one of my favorite authors, Gladys Taber, a sort of native daughter of West Springfield. She wrote more than 50 books and wrote popular magazine columns in The Ladies Home Journal and Family Circle. I have read about 20 of her books. They are memoirs or journals of her life, raising her daughter, working as a journalist, creating a rural life in Connecticut, away from NYC, with her friend and her children. She wrote in a lyrical way about nature, love, loss, housekeeping, pets, children. She died in 1980 and her books are out of print. Search for her books in libraries as I did.  Check out Gladys Taber; you will not be disappointed.

We get lots of magazines. The New Yorker is my all-time favorite. My nephew and his wife give us a subscription for a Christmas gift every year. Bloomberg Business is an easy way to keep up about what’s going on in the markets and the economies around the world. Yoga is inspiring. Catholic TV magazine. We are not Catholic, but we watch the mass each evening and the magazine let’s us know which priest is serving~we have our favorites. This Old House gives practical advise. Simple has good recipes as does Shape. Better Homes and Gardens and Country Living for recipes and decorating. Birds and Bloom, a gift from Bruce’s sister, filled with great photos and tips for attracting birds to your backyard.

taste and see

We also get Poetry, a monthly. I don’t read poetry; I don’t get it. Bruce does. And, we get The Daily Word.  It is a small booklet filled with biblical passages and an uplifting message for each day of the month.

We go to the town library about once a week and take out a cookbook or two for inspiration, even though we have lots of cookbooks.

kitchen hutch

In January, I started my presidential journey with His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis.

george washington

Next up, our second President,  John Adams by John Ferling was a great read and especially interesting as he was from Massachusetts. His relationship with Thomas Jefferson was played out in this book as well as in American Sphinx about Jefferson by Joseph J. Ellis.  Jefferson was full of contradictions; an absolutely fascinating read.  Our fourth President, James Madison, by Richard Brookhiser, was an easy read.

In these books, I learned about the forming of our nation, the particularly genius minds of the time, how intractable differences were worked out [relationship with Britain, states rights versus federal government, central bank] or ignored [slavery], diplomacy, the conditions which led to the Revolutionary War. I learned about the formation of our two party system and the beginnings of the Democrat and Republican parties. Madison was quite a political animal, I mean, strategist. He assembled one of our nation’s first political parties, the Republicans, who became today’s Democrats.

I am up to our fifth President, James Monroe, another Southerner. He was not a very interesting person nor President from what the historians say and there are only a couple books written about him and they are not well written, lacking and biased.  I have chosen to read James Monroe: The American Presidents Series: The 5th President, 1817-1825 by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. and Gary Hart. It was written in 2005.  Monroe is known primarily for two things: being the last of the southern, Virginian dynasty, following Washington, Jefferson and Madison and for issuing the Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine, written by John Quincy Adams, is a statement of principles that the western hemisphere was to be considered closed to European intervention.  I look forward to reading it and getting back on track. I estimate I will be reading the American presidents for the next few years.

freddyglobes

This is how I got off track in the Spring. It is my habit to read a spiritual book during Lenten season. In the past I have read Keep a True Lent by Charles Fillmore and The Week That Changed the World by Ernest C. Wilson. I highly recommend these books for reading any time of the year. This year I choose, regrettably, The Real Christ by Bernadette Roberts. It is 620 pages and it took me forever to read. I hated it, every single page, but I kept on reading it til the bitter end, because that’s the kind of person I am.  This is what the synopsis says:  “The Real Christ is simply the E=MC of theology, unfolding the deepest mysteries of the Trinity with profound clarity. This is a must read book for anyone who has struggled with remaining a Christian or grown frustrated with the banality of what seems to be the “Jesus industry” of corporate Christianity.”

WTF??? Had I read that, I never would have started this book. I wasted my time on this awful book. What more can I say? Except that I still felt the need to fulfill my yearly Lenten habit of reading a spiritual book. So, I read The Forty-Day Fast: A Spiritual Journey to Eliminate Toxic Words From Your Life by Tim Cameron. This book was a mere 258 pages. The premise of the book is that when you eliminate negative words [judgment, sarcasm, negativity, complaining and gossip] from your mouth, your heart will change and ‘ye shall be transformed’.  Definitely sound advise…I may need a refresher.

what you say

I saw an interview on PBS with a writer, Glory Edim, about the importance of telling stories about women of color. She edited Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves.  Of course, I had to read it.This is a beautifully curated collection of stories by and about women of color.

Book well read black girl

Next, PBS aired “Les Miserables”. I watched it and recalled fond memories of when my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Smith, read this book, by Victor Hugo, to us each Friday afternoon. So, I decided to read it. All 1070 pages of it. Truly considered one of the greatest novels of the world, I enjoyed the universal moral theme of redemption, but did not enjoy slogging through French history and the French Revolution[s]. You can see how my mind gets caught going down these mazes….

Next up…While trying to find a good book about James Monroe to read, [remember my original goal] I started The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin. It’s a Harvard Classic, don’t you know? Here’s a description:

When HMS Beagle sailed out of Devonport on 27 December 1831, Charles Darwin was twenty-two and setting off on the voyage of a lifetime. His journal, here reprinted in a shortened form, shows a naturalist making patient observations concerning geology, natural history, people, places and events. Volcanoes in the Galapagos, the Gossamer spider of Patagonia and the Australasian coral reefs – all are to be found in these extraordinary writings. The insights made here were to set in motion the intellectual currents that led to the most controversial book of the Victorian age: The Origin of Species.

I am still reading it, haven’t finished it, yet. We are now at Tahiti; I trust we will be ending our trip soon.

But in the meantime….We were watching PBS Newshour and heard an interview with Arthur C. Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute talking about his latest book, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt. It sounded so interesting I was compelled to read it. I found this book refreshingly challenging and for me it echoes back to our founding fathers and the way they acted and dealt with conflict. Brooks’ premise is that we should not try to agree more; disagreement and competition are secrets to excellence. He offers suggestions for bridging divides and mending relationships, rather than feeling contempt and demonizing our enemies. I recommend this book to all of us who want to work towards a better civil discourse with our brothers and sisters.

And then, lastly, on Saturday, July 6th, I was at the West Springfield Public Library with my Nepali friends, when I saw an intriguing title:  How to Raise Successful People:  Simple Lessons for Radical Results by Ester Wojcicki. 336 pages.  I am not a parent; I don’t have children. Yet, I am a grandmother [to Bruce’s daughter’s children], I volunteer in the 3rd grade at a local school, and I am a friend to 3 Nepali children. I want to be the best role model I can be. This book is about bringing out the best in people based on the values of trust, respect, independence, collaboration, and kindness [TRICK]. I recommend it as “a must read” for parents, teachers, managers and anyone who wants to have a positive effect on the development of others.

bella2

So, there you have it friends. That’s what I have been reading. Tell me what you have been reading.

susan at epic bookstore

 

 

When was the last time you learned something new?

“When was the last time you learned something new?” was a question I used to ask candidates interviewing for positions when I was working in Human Resources. It was amazing to me how many people were stumped by this question. It was not my intention to stump anyone; rather, I was seeking out  people who have a zest for learning, are open-minded, can change their minds when presented with new information. The Vice Presidents and CEOs that I supported insisted on these qualities in the people we brought on board.

I  love learning new things and having my mind-set challenged by contrarian views. This week I was so challenged.

 

Prashna asked me if I could  provide transportation to West Springfield High School to one of her 4th grade classmates who is also in the band. The Elementary School band is performing at the West Springfield High School. Prashna is in the school band; she plays the trombone. “Sure, no problem”, I say.

I picked up the young girl at the house that Prashna directs me to. Her Mom comes outside. I get out of the car and introduce myself, assuming that the Mom must be concerned about the person who is driving her daughter to and from the school for the evening performance. I also give the Mom my business card so she knows my name and has my telephone numbers and somehow I think it makes me seem more legit.

She doesn’t give me her telephone number which would be more practical, should some situation emerge regarding her daughter. I don’t even know her last name.

She is Muslim, wearing the traditional dress and head covering. She is petite and quite beautiful. She seems stressed and explains that her husband works many hours and at night. He works at a restaurant. I ask if she has other children. Yes, an infant and a three year old, one of whom has Down’s Syndrome. She takes my hand and we say good-bye.

Zmrda is a lovely 10 year old girl. She is well-spoken and poised. She too wears the traditional head covering of Muslim women.

zmrda

Later, Prashna asked if I can provide transportation for Zmrda, if she gets accepted in the GOTR program.

Girls On The Run is an after-school program for girls that focuses on fitness through educating them and preparing them for a lifetime of self respect and healthy living. The ultimate goal of GOTR  “is to provide the girls with tools and resources that develop their ability to think critically–a skill that will serve them well for a lifetime.”

Prashna gotr

Prashna let me know that Zmrda was accepted into the GOTR program. I contacted the school coordinator and let her know that I would be providing  Zmrda transportation from school to home and asked if the proper clearance was given by the parents so as to avoid any problems when I pick up Zmrda  later in the afternoon.

Ms. O’Brien returned my call and said “yes” the form had stated “Mrs. Susan” [that’s what Prashna and Zmrda call me] as the ‘responsible party’.  Ms. O’Brien wanted to be sure that meant me and she had confirmed it with Zmrda’s Dad by telephone.

I enjoy seeing the girls two afternoons a week. They have become friends and listening to their conversation is always enlivening.

This past Tuesday, I brought Freddy along for the ride as I would not be making any other stops along the way. [On Thursdays, I bring Prashna to Girl Scouts meetings, after we drop off Zrmrda.]  As Prashna is approaching my car, she sees Freddy and Freddy sees her and they both are very excited.

Freddy in the car

As the two girls tumble into the car, Prashna tells Zmrda Freddy’s name and says that he is a good dog and says how much she likes him. She is petting him and Freddy is wagging his tail uncontrollably. Zmrda sits back and says her Mother does not allow her to touch a dog. I ask why and she says “because dogs are dirty and they have germs.”

Uh-oh, did Freddy hear that?

freddysaywhat

“Say what?”

Islam forbids Muslims to keep dogs, and the punishment for that is that the one who does that loses one or two qiraats from his hasanaat (good deeds) each day. An exception has been made in the case of keeping dogs for hunting, guarding livestock, and guarding crops.

Most Muslim scholars agree that in Islam the saliva of a dog is ritually impure and that contact with a dog’s saliva requires one to wash seven times. This ruling comes from the hadith:

The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “If a dog licks the vessel of any one of you, let him throw away whatever was in it and wash it seven times.”

Prashna’s response to the situation was: “Zmrda, pet him and then you can wash your hands and your Mom won’t know what you did.”

Yes, she did say that and I did admonish her for it.

The Nepalis have their own rituals about cleanliness, washing, food and what one can and cannot do with their right and left hands.

I am uncomfortable with beliefs, superstitions, traditions, and rituals that have no basis in what is True. I know I am wandering into dangerous territory here. It just doesn’t sit well with me that parents let their child get into a car with a woman they do not know, yet the same child cannot pet the women’s dog. Which, the stranger woman or the dog, poses the gravest potential danger?

I heard a commentator on television the other day say that “it’s not that Trump doesn’t know anything, it’s that he doesn’t learn anything new and he is not open to learning anything new.”

Religions need to question and revise their man-made interpretations of Truth as new knowledge and insight unfold. Religious dogma cannot remain steeped in the past with all of its cultural backlog and baggage, if it is to be meaningful and relevant to today’s generation.

“Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy, the mad daughter of a wise mother. These daughters have too long dominated the earth.” Voltaire

Jesus, the Nazarene, reminded the Pharisees and the high priests of the day that their religious practices on cleanliness missed the mark when he was asked “Why do your disciples break the traditions of the elders?  They don’t wash their hands before they eat.”

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?”

Jesus then taught the people, saying “it is not what you touch or put in your body that defiles it; for what you put in your mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body. Rather it is “the emissions of your hearts, your thoughts, words and deeds that cause you to be unclean. But eating with unwashed hands does not make you unclean.” Matthew 15

Petting, touching or kissing a dog does not make you unclean.

freddyatearthdayfair

To read about Prashna and my involvement with a Nepali family, read a previous story:

https://storiesaboutsusan.com/2017/09/18/how-did-this-start/