Torrance Public Library Summer Reading Program


TPL at the Wilson Park Farmers Market 6-1-13While strolling through the Wilson Park Farmers Market today, I came across one of my favorite things.  No, not okra, free books!  The Torrance Public Library set up a booth in the center of the Farmers Market to promote their Summer Reading Programs.  The Summer Reading Program starts on June 21.  The Summer Reading Rrogram is not only for kids.  There is even a program for adults.  Read books and win prizes.  More on the Summer Reading Program coming soon.

The Friends of the Torrance Library were there too.  Friends of the TPL 6-1-13 2
Friends of the TPL 6-1-13The Friends of the Torrance Library had set up a table where they were giving away free books for kids and free cookbooks.
  I picked up an easy reading kids book to send to my friend who teaches at the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona.

 

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Review: The Hidden Hand of God – Remarkable Answered Prayers


The Hidden Hand of God I just finished reading a wonderful book, The Hidden Hand of God – a selection of true stories of prayers answered from Guideposts Magazine. Reading through these stories takes me back thirty seven years to the summer I discovered the real Jesus. I’d been sick that summer and was recovering at the home of an elderly church lady who had been a lifelong subscriber to Guideposts Magazine. While I was recovering, my heavenly prescription was to read one whole issue of Guideposts, one chapter of the New Testament and pray before going to sleep. Many of the stories in this book seemed familiar to me. It is very encouraging and inspiring to read these stories. That summer these stories taught me to hope that my Heaveny Father would also listen to my prayers and answer them. Reading them now they remind me of the many personal experiences I have had over the years of answered prayers. What do you think? Does God answer prayers? Has He answered any of your prayers? Post a comment with your stories or questions.

Pelicans and the Principles of Freedom


I like watching birds.  That’s not the same as bird-watching.  Just watching birds.  I’ve always been fascinated by birds in flight.  When I’m walking or running along the Strand I keep my eyes open for birds. Typically I see pigeons, a couple of crows, some pelicans and seagulls  There’s always bunch of seagulls hanging out near the Redondo Beach Pier. Most are just standing on the beach, looking our to sea. There are always a few picking at trash in the parking lot, chasing each other and bickering over some choice morsel.

I read Jonathan Livingston Seagull when I was a teenager and even saw the movie in the theater when it was released.

 

But like Johnathan, ordinary seagulls don’t inspire me.  I like to watch the pelicans in flight. On land pelicans are awkward, ugly creatures. A friend of mine, who is a fisherman and surfer says he hates pelicans.  They are always trying to steal his bait.  If they catch the bait, you have a heck of a time reeling it in and getting the hook out of its beak.

But in flight pelicans are transformed into something entirely different. They can soar endlessly with only an occasional flap of their wings.  They usually fly in formation, one behind the other, just to the side of the leader’s wingtips.

Early in the morning the Santa Monica Bay is often still and smooth as glass, reflecting the pale blue of the dawn sky.  When the water is like this the pelicans skim along just inches above the water.  I’ve often wondered why they do this and how they can stay in the air so effortlessly.

Another favorite flying technique is wave hopping.  As a wave rolls in the line of pelicans form up and skim along just inches above the wave.  As they skim along the length of the wave they angle in slightly toward the beach, riding on the cushion of air pushed up by the swell. As the wave starts to break they flap two or three times and glide out to the next wave that is just beginning to swell.

Pelicans understand the natural laws governing their environment, like the laws of aerodynamics.  Whether they learned from inborn instinct, following examples, or their own experience, somehow they know and this allows them to survive and thrive.  It’s when they stray from the natural environment that they know that they run into trouble.

When a pelican tries to snag an easy meal by stealing my friend’s bait, they get snagged instead. When they stray from the laws that they know they lose their freedom and suffer the indignity of losing their freedom of flight and suffering the pain of having the hook extracted from their beak or gullet.

People are kind of the same way.  If we stick to the right principles, life goes smoothly. When we stray from what is right we can get ourselves in trouble. The challenge is to know what is right.

Physical laws like gravity are pretty obvious.  You can’t say that you don’t believe in gravity.  Whether you believe in it or not, it will still have the same effect. If you trip on something, you will fall down. There are the scientific laws of the physical world: physics, chemistry, and biology.  There are the laws of mathematics: algebra, geometry and calculus.

Then there are traffic laws.  If you drive responsibly, obeying the traffic laws, stopping for red lights, drive the speed limit and don’t drive drunk, you are free to drive all over town.  But if you decide not to obey or believe in the traffic laws, “Red lights don’t apply to me!” Sooner or later you will get a ticket or have an accident. Then you will lose your freedom  because your car is totaled, you get injured or end up in jail.

There are other types of laws, societal mores, emotional and relational principles.  If you learn these principles and follow them you will enjoy freedom, peace and loving relationships.  Many of these are laid out in familiar and ancient scriptures.

The Bible teaches in the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Very good advice.

There is usually reciprocity in these spiritual principles, meaning what you give is what you get.

Judge not lest ye be judged.  
The measure you give will be the measure you receive.
You reap what you sow.

Even common sense says, “What goes around, comes around.”

Just like gravity, these principles rule our lives even if we decide not to believe in them or follow their wisdom.

Even Freedom follows certain principles.  I have tried to illustrate the first of these in this blog post.

The Principles of Freedom are:

(1) There is only freedom within the Principle (Physical and Natural Laws).

(2) There is no freedom without human responsibility (consequences, good or bad).
Our primary responsibility is to learn the principles and apply them in our daily lives. Dad always told me when teaching me to drive, “Ignorance of the Law is no excuse.” These principles are always in action, whether we understand them and whether we believe in them or not.  Ignorance of the Law is no excuse.

(3) There is no freedom without good results. (The Pursuit of Happiness)  If you act “freely” and experience bad consequences, or cause harm to others, that is not true freedom.

In this blog post I tried to illustrate the first principle of freedom, Freedom within the Principle.  In future blog posts I will tackle the other principles of freedom.

I welcome your comments and questions.

Thank You Notes as a Spiritual Practice


What kind of writer are you?  Do you prefer pen and paper, writing longhand or is typing easier for you?  Are you an extroverted writer that shares with everyone or an introverted writer who keeps it private?  I’m a pen and paper writer.  It doesn’t really seem like writing without the tactile experience of the ink flowing onto the paper.  I’ve also been a very private writer, hardly ever sharing with others.

Writing in a journal has been my primary form of spiritual practice for years.  It’s personal and intimate, but something that I don’t share.  Blogging has caused me to consider how my writing is received by others, real readers.  Does my writing really express what I mean? Only real readers can say.

 The Art of the Handwritten Note

I used to write a lot of handwritten letters, but over the years I got out of practice with advent of email. I was reminded of this when I discovered The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication by Margaret Shepherd.  This quick read inspired me to revive my practice of writing personal notes in my own handwriting.  I am normally not a very goal oriented person, but I set a goal for myself to write two or three notes each day.  This challenged me to be more observant, and look for opportunities to express my appreciation to coworkers, friends and even strangers.

Many books and articles on gratitude recommend writing down five or ten things per day that you are grateful for.  I even read one article that suggested making a list of one hundred different things that you are grateful for.  This stretches your concepts beyond the usual default things on the list, like spouse, kids, yummy food and sunshine.

It is one thing to write your gratitude list late at night alone in your room or in the privacy of your journal. No one will ever see it (unless you have a snoop in the house) so you don’t have to sweat the penmanship, grammar or spelling.  It can even be in a personal shorthand.

It is quite another thing to write out a thank you note that you are going mail to someone.  You want the recipient be able to read your handwriting, understand your grammar and spelling. You want them to feel appreciated.  You want to make their day.  
Thank you notes are the simplest notes to write.  As a recently diagnosed Celiac patient, I started writing thank you notes to considerate and helpful wait-staff at restaurants with gluten-free selections on their menus.  It’s like saying grace after the meal.

Synchronistically, while starting on this grateful journey, I ran across Almost Home, a cute story of a homeless sixth grader about Sugar Mae Cole and her adopted dog.  The author, Joan Bauer, won a Newbery Honor Medal for an earlier novel, Hope Was Here.  This is a story with epistolary elements that spice it up and give this serious subject quite a bit of humor.  I have a thing for epistolary literature (blog post to follow). The story is sprinkled with poems, homework assignments, emails and thank you notes.  She also describes a thank you note game, that inspired this post.

I’m not going to spoil your fun and let the cat out of the bag by describing the game.  I’ll let you dig for this nugget of gold on your own.  The description of the game encouraged me to redouble my efforts to find reasons to send thank you notes.  Sugar Mae even finds ways to send thank you notes with a twist by finding unique ways to thank people for negative experiences.

That’s where I received my epiphany on the thank you note as a spiritual practice.  It is a quite a challenge to find the silver lining in a difficult situation or a negative interaction. Expressing it gracefully with the sincere intention to turn the situation around and brighten someone’s day isn’t easy.  It requires mindfulness, intention and prayer.  Writing the note, and sending it, is where the spiritual rubber of gratitude practice meets the rough road of daily life.

If you want to get started on your own journey of gratitude, Amazon.com has quite a selection of delightful note cards that will help you get inspired.  At the time of this writing, Peter Pauper has a 4-for-3 promotion on select note cards and thank you cards.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art also has a nice selection of note cards with reproductions of fine artwork.

Please share your feedback and experiences with gratitude practice and writing thank you notes.  Thank you!

The G.I. Train Wreck


No, it’s not a real train wreck, but it sure felt like it.  In January last year, just a week into my resolutions to run more, read more and write more, I hit a major speed bump and everything got derailed.  Including this blog.

The short version, without all the gory details, is that I had a major flare up of a mysterious intestinal disease.

Eeewww!


It took forever to get a diagnosis, and even longer to recover. My running regimen was completely derailed.  It was hard to run anywhere besides to the bathroom. I was tested for everything by my Gastroenterologist (GI). Nothing showed up.  My primary care Dr. mentioned the possibility of Celiac.  I’d never heard of it.  I asked the GI to test for the antibodies, he said it was negative.

By this time it was five months. I would have bought stock in Imodium AD if it had provided any relief!  As a last resort the GI Dr. scoped my entire digestive tract.  The biopsies showed definite damage due to CD.  Suddenly my blood tests made sense and he declared them positive for CD. LOL.  Make up your mind!

As a final proof positive,  he had me swallow a capsule sized video camera to get pictures of my guts.  It was all transmitted by wifi to a receiver on my belt.  I was officially diagnosed on June 4th, 2012.  I officially began my gluten free journey.  That is a whole ‘nother story!

 

The treatment for Celiac Disease (CD) is a very strict gluten free diet.  No wheat, rye or barley in any form whatsoever.  That is another whole ‘nother story.

Gluten plays hide-n- seek in so many places that walking through the grocery store is like walking into a minefield.

Celiac Disease is an auto-immune disorder where the body reacts to gluten in the small intestine by attacking itself.  It severely damages the small intestines ability to absorb nutrients.

This manifests in a myriad of mysterious ways.  I’ve had this all my life.  I just didn’t know it. Most of my earlier symptoms were fatigue, depression, forgetfulness and other things that come & go.

Finally, after a whole year of pretty discouraging symptoms, I began to feel better last week.  I finally have the energy and inspiration to get back to blogging, but I wanted to give an explanation of my absence to my faithful nine (9) followers!  LOL.

Mental Running


That’s the funny thing about running. The deceptive thing about it. It may seem mindless, but it’s really largely mental. If the mind’s not strong, the body acts weak, even if it’s not. If the mind says it’s too cold or too rainy or too windy to run, the body will be more than happy to agree.The Running Dream, by Wendelin Van Draanen

Running is Mental – What keeps you going?

What got me started running was a review of Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. That was the best book I read in 2010.  I loved the stories combined with cutting edge science and medical data.  That book, along with the C25K running program got me started. That was the hook and the bait snagged me.

My problem is that every October, right around the time-change, I get derailed.  My exercise program falls apart.  It doesn’t matter where I am, I get clobbered by SAD and the first thing to go is my workout.

Then sometime after the winter solstice (December 21-22) when the days start to lengthen, I slowly get back on track.  This year it started with a dream.  A running dream.

I was running up and down hills out in the countryside, surrounded by sunlit green fields. 

I fill my head with thoughts of running.  I have to get my mind in gear before my feet begin to move.  Browsing the library catalog I discovered a movie called The Long Run, about an African woman who trains for the most arduous ultra-marathon, the Comrades.
While I was browsing, the keyword, running, brought up a book, The Running Dream, quoted above.  I was intrigued by the title, because I had just had my own running dream. Jessica is a high school track star who loses her leg in a tragic accident. The road to recovery is a long one, full of challenges and growth.

In Born to Run, one of the people interviewed mentions that you need a heart to be a champion. The best part of the story is the way Jessica grows her heart, not just feeling pity, but real empathy for others that she encounters.  I won’t post any spoilers, so you have to read it for yourself.  It looks like this will be my favorite book for 2012, and I have barely started.  Wendelin Van Draanen also brought us Flipped, which was one of my favorite books last year.

What is your favorite mental motivator?  Is it a book?  Movie? or . . . ?

Dystopian Fiction or Dystopian Reality?


Santa Olivia Audio CD cover

While reflecting and praying about my post last night I realized that dystopia isn’t fiction for a lot of people, it’s reality. There are a lot of hot spots that must be pretty dismal, Kabul, Baghdad, Gaza, Sub-Saharan Africa.

In addition to these global dystopias, many people are living in their own personal dystopia.  Check out this blog on Domestic Violence Survivors, Donna’s story http://t.co/8WzxPsLI.

We can curl up in our easy chairs next to the fire with our favorite dystopian literature while sipping hot chocolate, safe in the knowledge that it’s only fiction.  Our world is safe.  But what about the children in a refugee camp in Gaza who don’t even have a book to read or a chair to curl up in.  They may not know where their next meal is coming from, or even where their parents are.

I’m sure that God, called by whatever Name, hears every prayer.  But who can He count on to help answer those prayers?

What can we do to help our Heavenly Father relieve the suffering of the countless non-fiction dystopias around the world?  How can we Pay It Forward?

I can’t believe that I forgot one of my favorite books from last year.  Senior moment!  I stumbled upon Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey.
Loup Garron is a girl with superhuman strength living in a kind of buffer zone between the USA & Mexico.  This is a modern twist on the classic wolf-man tale.  Her dad was the product of a military experiment in genetically engineered fighting men.  She has to keep her abilities under wraps, but joins a boxing gym to work out.

The sequel, Saints Astray, was just released.  I’m looking forward to it.

 

Teenage Dystopia


Definition of Dystopia from Dictionary.com 

dys·to·pi·a

http://sp.dictionary.com/dictstatic/d/g/speaker.swf [dis-toh-pee-uh]

noun

a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression,disease, and overcrowding.
Compare utopia.
Origin:  1865–70; dys-  + (u)topia
Related forms
dys·to·pi·an, adjective
dys·to·pi·an·ism, noun
More on dystopia from Wikipedia.com  
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
I’ve been curious about the seeming rise in popularity of Dystopian YA Literature. In 2011 I read a few of these novels to see what was developing in this genre.  Here’s my list or recent reads.  

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer – This is the one I’m reading now.  The things that go wrong are deal with such ordinary things that I keep looking around to see if it’s happening now. Is the moon hanging low in the sky, or are we having runs on food at the supermarkets.  We do have lines at our local gas station. . .

It’s not exactly a creepy feeling, but this book makes me uneasy because I can totally see these things happening.  Other dystopian plots are just so out there that you know they are fantasies, even while you are enjoying being  caught up in the action.

I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier – This is an older story, late 1970s, that used to be required reading in some schools.  That was after my high school days.

Our dystopian reads (1960s & ’70s) were things like 1984Brave New WorldFahrenheit 451 and Lord of the Flies.

  


Witch & Wizard by James Patterson – This is the first book in the series that is popular around my office. None of us are YA.  We’re MA, OF or AR (middle-aged, old fogies or ancient relics). Reading stuff like this keeps us young, or at least give us the illusion that we feel young.  It also gives us something to talk about with our kids.

Witch & Wizard combines a dystopian world with elements of magic.  It features a super-villain with magical powers called, The One Who is The One (as opposed to the One who must not be named or Big Brother).  It was OK, but I  preferred Life As We Knew It

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. He is more famous for The Book Thief, but I liked Messenger better.  I would describe it as random-acts-of-kindness with a dark twist.  I listened to the audio narrated by an Ausie, so it had a down-under flavor.  I think this was my favorite novel of 2011.

The Book Thief is set in Nazi Germany during WWII.  It’s pretty depressing, with Death as the narrator, but there are some interesting aspects.

I haven’t started The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins yet.  My daughter just finished and she describes it as “Better than Twilight, not as good as Harry Potter”.

 

All of the books listed above can be found in your local public library.  Many libraries now offer online, downloadable audio-books and eBook options, including Kindle versions available through Amazon.com. Amazon.com has most of these in Kindle format as well.
What do you think of Dystopian Literature?  This isn’t an exhaustive list, and I’ve probably left out your favorite book (The Giver? – Among the Hidden?)  What is your favorite?  Why do you think this genre is so popular now?  Is it the unstable economy?  Wars and rumors of wars? 
If you were to recommend an alternative, more positive reading list, what would be on it?  

Memories of Mom – the Elephant and the Mouse


When I was four years old my family moved into a big yellow house on 98th Avenue in Oakland California. That’s me on the right, Mom, my big sister in the middle and my little bro on the left in Daddy’s arms.

I checked out 98th avenue on the street view in Google Maps and discovered that our house is still there, pretty much unchanged except for the color.

The Oakland Zoo was just three or four blocks further up the hill from our house.  Mom would take my brother and I up the hill to the Zoo. I remember the high point of each trip was to stop and say, “Hi”, to Essie the Elephant.  This was back in the day when you could still feed the animals.  Mom would buy a brown paper bag of peanuts and let us feed Essie.  We’d toss the peanuts over to her.  Essie would swing her trunk down and gently pick up the peanuts and put them in her mouth one by one.  We got such a kick out of it.  I’m sure we bugged Mom constantly to let us go to the zoo to see the elephant.  I don’t remember any other animals at the zoo, just Essie the Elephant.

I have lots  of warm and fuzzy memories from this house, like Dr. Seuss books,the big walnut tree beside the house and the greenhouse in the back yard.  I discovered comfort food in this house, Campbell’s Bean with Bacon Soup,Campbell’s Black Bean Soup, which they don’t make any more, darn!  I was able to find Campbell’s Soup – Black Bean, c.1968 Art Poster Print by Andy Warhol on Amazon.com for illustration purposes. Mom used to make the yummiest grilled cheese sandwiches with Roman Meal Bread.

 

I remember the backyard of the house had more gardens than grass.  There was a sidewalk that ran up the side of the house and across the back yard, under a trellis to a gate that opened out onto a hill covered with tall grass and fox-tails.

There was also a huge greenhouse on the south side of the yard.  We really weren’t supposed to play in there, but I remember sneaking in with my cousin sometimes. This is a picture of me on my tricycle, so cool in my cowboy hat.  This was eons before Big Wheels.

A few odd memories of Mom surface when I close my eyes and imagine that house.  One time, early on a Sunday morning, we heard Mom scream bloody murder and the whole family came running to see what was the matter.  We were all still in our PJs.  Mom had surprised a mouse in the kitchen.  Dad got a baseball bat and chased the mouse around the kitchen trying to hit it with the baseball bat.  The memory of a manly husband doing his duty to gallantly defend his family from this scary wild animal burned an indelible image on my psyche.