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Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Monday, February 27, 2017

Adventure & Altruism: The Kindness Diaries


Friday evening I was looking through Netflix for something decent to watch with my children.  It's not often that I find anything new that I feel is worthwhile to sit through and is appropriate for all ages of family members...and isn't boring.  But just as I was about to give up, this Netflix series caught my eye: The Kindness Diaries.  Though it's not religious, this is a great show to watch as we go into Lent.

Leon Logothetis was apparently a stock broker before he decided to travel the world on a motorbike on a quest to see if human kindness and goodwill still exist.  Each day, no matter which part of the globe he finds himself in, he relies on the kindness of strangers to give him a place to sleep for the night and a meal.   He sometimes needs mechanical help with his bike that he cannot pay for, and he often needs directions.  He literally approaches strangers on the streets and asks them if they will put him up for the night, but he also talks and connects with people throughout the day.  Many times foreigners won't take him into their homes, but they will give him personal tours of the area, buy him something to eat and sit with him, and tell him their stories.  He does encounter genuine acts of kindness everywhere he goes, and each day is a new adventure.

After watching several episodes, my children and I definitely noticed a trend: the poorest people were most often the ones who agreed to put him up for the night.  The most remarkable example was of a homeless man in Pittsburgh who said that he couldn't invite him into his house because he was homeless, but Leon was welcome to rest at his little corner on the street with him and his friend.  This man had been homeless for a year, after he and his wife separated.  He gave Logothetis blankets to sleep on, what little food he had to eat, and even a spare set of clothes.  He literally gave him everything he had.  This touched the adventurer so much that he surprised the homeless man by buying him a house and enrolling him in an educational program that enabled him to become a chef.  He is now creating meals for the elderly.

And that is the interesting twist to this show.  Logothetis not only has these numerous adventures as he travels the globe and seeks kindness and hospitality from strangers, but he also gives back to those who are the most generous---and usually the most needy.  He experiences firsthand the most extreme poverty in India, and yet that is also where he repeatedly experiences extreme generosity.  People are willing to sleep on the floor and go without eating in order to provide him with a bed and food.  When he is allowed to spend the night in an orphanage, he is given precious bottled water to drink while the residents themselves drink unsafe tapped water that often makes them sick.  He is so touched by that, that he and his crew offer to purchase two water purifiers for the orphanage so that all the children have a right to clean water on a daily basis.  These unexpected acts of kindness on his part touches and greatly impacts the lives of those less fortunate people who were willing to treat him with kindness by providing him with food and shelter for one night.  And so the ripple effect occurs as kindness begets more kindness.

Just watching each twenty minute episode sparked heartfelt conversations in our family as we have been inspired to find our own ways to extend kindness to others throughout our days.  What a wonderful way to enter this Lenten season.  I know our family members often feel it's such a glum time of sacrificing something for forty days, but we can see in this series that sacrifice with love and kindness enriches our own lives more than we can anticipate.  That by giving of ourselves willingly and cheerfully, we receive so much more in return.

And that makes this show so worthwhile.


If you don't have access to Netflix, he also wrote a book by the same title that can be found on Amazon.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

My January Reading List


Reading is my first love, and books have always held a sort of magic for me.  From as early as I can remember, libraries and book stores were my favorite places to be.  When those Scholastic book order forms came home, I circled and starred books that I wanted like someone filling their Amazon wishlist.  In elementary school, I devoted some of my recess time to helping in the school library.  And it was a special day indeed when the teachers issued shiny new books whose spines had never been cracked.  To this day, the faint sound of a brand new hardback book being opened excites me.  I still volunteer regularly in a library.  I still go on dates with my husband to the local bookstores.  I still feel like a child on Christmas morning when I get a new book I've been dying to read.  And curling up on my favorite rocking chair with a soft throw blanket, a cup of steaming flavored coffee, a new book, and precious hours of uninterrupted quiet is my idea of a perfect morning.  These are the books I am currently reading or re-reading:

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne & John Tiffany is based on J.K. Rowling's story.  A number of my children are big Harry Potter fans, so they bought this book the day it hit the shelves and read it in a day.  Since it's a play, it's a quicker read than most of the Harry Potter books.  I usually don't read the books, but I have watched all the movies with my kids, but my ten year-old keeps insisting that I read this.  They found it a bit confusing for some reason, so I am committing to finishing this before the month is over.

Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste by Pierre Bourdieu is a book referenced by so many of the sociology books I love to devour.  I couldn't find it in any of our book stores or in the local library, so I had to order it from Amazon.  It arrived with one of my husband's graduate school textbooks, and I'm not lying when I say this is three times as thick and far more scholarly than his book.  Written in the seventies by a French sociology professor and writer who loved to write in paragraph-length sentences, I've got my work cut out for me with this book.  This one might take me more than a week or two to finish.

Republic of Outsiders: The Power of Amateurs, Dreamers, and Rebels by Alissa Quart is my current library book.  While the writer is far more politically and socially liberal than I am, this was an interesting book about modern day renegades who are making grass-roots changes in a variety of areas.  I especially enjoyed the chapter on autistic people redefining "neurotypical" people and joining together on the Internet, as well as the final chapter on crafters and urban farmers who are rejecting mass production and industrial agriculture.  The Internet has made so much possible for pioneers and renegades who think outside the box, allowing them to spread the word and find other like-minded people.  I find that so encouraging.

The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines is one of the books I received for Christmas, and I read it in two days...on my favorite chair, with cups of cappuccinos, under my favorite plaid blanket.  It was so interesting, so uplifting, so inspiring that I'm going to read it again before the month is over.  This couple just oozes joy and life, and it's contagious.  I'll close today with the final lines of their book:

"...the key to everything Chip and I have learned in our life together so far seems to be pretty simple: Go and find what it is that inspires you, go and find what it is that you love, and go do that until it hurts.  Don't quit, and don't give up.  The reward is just around the corner.  and in times of doubt or times of joy, listen for that still, small voice.  Know that God has been there from the beginning---and he will be there until...The End."  

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Few of My New Favorite Things


After three very full days of Christmas celebrations, I am using today to catch up...on overflowing baskets of laundry, journaling and blogging, exercising and dieting, and relaxing.  I'm sure most of you can relate.  We had a terrific Christmas, and I'll fill you in on the highlights later, but today I just had to share my excitement about some of my favorite gifts I received.

This Sony camera is something I've been wanting, but I felt too guilty to spend the money for myself.  I've been blogging for 20 months and using my outdated Samsung tablet and a cheap Smartphone for nearly all my photography.  My husband surprised me with this Sony a 6000 camera and accessories, and I am so eager to get outside and see what it can do.  I took dozens of pictures with it over the past couple of days of family and food and celebrating, but I have so much to learn about photography and this camera's features.  I now have a new challenging project going into 2017.


Along with the camera, I have new reading material for the weeks ahead.  I have always been drawn to colonial America and love to study that period of time.  Although our farmhouse was built in the late 1880s, it was renovated in an early American style, and there is so much more I'd like to do with it.  I really wish Chip and Joanna Gaines could come to the Alleghenies and tackle our farmhouse for their next project.  I absolutely love watching Fixer Upper and was going to buy their new book, The Magnolia Story, myself if it wasn't under our Christmas tree.  Finally, my sister spent the better part of this year researching our family's genealogy and created a scrapbook of our family tree and lots of old photos, newspaper clippings, and old legal documents.  She was able to trace both sides of our family as far back as 1570.  It turns out that the vast majority of our ancestors settled in Pennsylvania and Virginia in the 30-50 years prior to the Revolutionary War.  It's fascinating to read some of the stories, and I can't imagine how many hours of tedious work my sister put in, but I'm so grateful she did.  I can't wait to curl up on my favorite chair with a gourmet Cappuccino (also a new gift) and these books.

And you can see how badly I needed a camera after looking at the photo above.


Not only is my sister a talented writer, but she is an artist and wood crafter as well.  This wall hanging was another total surprise Christmas gift she made for me in a farmhouse chic style, and it's hanging in our dining room above the piano.  I got all the kids and she got all the talent in the family. 


Our house was full this Christmas---with gifts, food, holiday spirits (both kinds), and family.  Yesterday we had 17 people crammed into our dining room around our main Christmas tree opening gifts.  Our farmhouse was full of life and love and laughter, just the way I've always hoped it would be.  The best part was sharing it with our first grandchild who truly brightens the room with his squeals and energy and innocence.  I'll share some of the details of both the high points and the mishaps later, but today I'm just going to savor all of it while the memories are fresh and the house is a bit more quiet.

And I'm going to play with my new "toy" so I can get more great shots like the one above.  I hope you're all able to bask in this post-Christmas euphoria and relax a bit as we finish up this year.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Strawberry Salad, Summer Reading, Swimming, & Song Lyrics


It is a day for alliteration.  None of my topics today have anything in common except summer and the letter S.  Let's start with my favorite salad this time of year: Strawberry Spinach Salad with strawberries purchased at a local farm stand and fresh spinach from our garden.  It's the homemade dressing that really makes this taste so good.

Strawberry Spinach Salad
Whisk together 2 Tablespoons chia seeds, 1 Tablespoon poppy seeds, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon paprika, 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, and 1/2 Tablespoon dried onion.  Cover and chill for about an hour in the refrigerator.
In a salad bowl, combine a bunch of torn spinach leaves with about 1/2 quart of sliced strawberries.  You can also add some slivered almonds.  Pour dressing over the salad and toss.  Refrigerate for about 15 minutes.


I just finished reading Queen Bees & Wannabees by Rosalind Wiseman in hopes that I can help our 14 year old daughter understand and navigate her way through high school Girl World.  This book really explained why girls play the roles they do in their social cliques, and it touches on boys as well.  The one thing I have yet to learn, though, is what makes a girl a queen bee/mean girl in the first place.  Is it just her personality that she was born with?  Is it because of how she was raised or the behavior she saw in her own mother?  Is it from the media that she's been exposed to?  Does it have to do with how she was treated by her own peers at one time?  I'd really like to know how these narcissistic girls become the powerful, controlling heads of their social environments.  As difficult as it is to watch any of my children be excluded, snubbed, or laughed at, I think it would be even harder as a mother to see your own child be the mean one who ridicules and harasses others.  I am seriously hoping that the private Catholic college prep high school we are sending our daughter to will not have nearly as many scary issues as the ones presented in this book.  However, if I'm wrong, this book has shown me ways to deal with these potential problems.  I wish I had read it fifteen years ago when our older daughters were becoming adolescents.


After two full weeks of uncovering the pool, scooping out debris, vacuuming, dumping in pounds of chlorine and stabilizer, and fishing out toads and their eggs, our swimming pool is finally ready for humans to swim in.  Our children spent hours in it the past few days.  Just look at that blue sky yesterday afternoon.  We haven't had many days like this all year.  It was glorious!


As for me, I sat in my lawn chair with my SPF 70 sunblock, big sunhat, and polarized lens prescription sunglasses to try to make up for those foolish teen years of covering myself in baby oil while sunbathing for hours a day.


Finally, my teenagers have managed to pull me away from NPR, Fox News, and Joel Osteen on our Sirius XM radio in our SUV to introduce me to The Blend.  When I heard Humble & Kind, I ran home to see the music video and share it with my husband since this is the message we're always trying to leave with our own children.  I'll close today by leaving with you the lyrics of this song by Tim McGraw.

Humble & Kind
You know there's a light that glows by the front door
Don't forget the key's under the mat
Childhood stars shine, always stay humble and kind
Go to church 'cause your momma says to
Visit grandpa every chance that you can
It won't be wasted time
Always stay humble and kind

Hold the door, say please, say thank you
Don't steal, don't cheat, and don't lie
I know you got mountains to climb but
Always stay humble and kind
When the dreams you're dreamin' come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride but
Always stay humble and kind

Don't expect a free ride from no one
Don't hold a grudge or a chip and here's why
Bitterness keeps you from flyin'
Always stay humble and kind
Know the difference between sleeping with someone
And sleeping with someone you love
"I love you" ain't no pick up line so
Always stay humble and kind

Hold the door, say please, say thank you
Don't steal, don't cheat, and don't lie
I know you got mountains to climb but
Always stay humble and kind
When those dreams you're dreamin' come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride but
Always stay humble and kind

When it's hot, eat a root beer popsicle
Shut off the AC and roll the windows down
Let that summer sun shine
Always stay humble and kind
Don't take for granted the love this life gives you
When you get where you're goin
Don't forget turn back around
And help the next one in line
Always stay humble and kind 

Lyrics and song can be found here:


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Pertinent Read


It is rare for me to sit down and read a new novel.  Don't get me wrong; I love to read, but it's usually non-fiction or classic literature that fills my bookshelves and nightstand.  Every now and then, however, I discover something that catches my attention and draws me in, and I devour it within hours.  The Admissions was one of those books.

I found myself immediately connecting with the mother in this story.  She's a bit more type-A than I am, but I could definitely relate to her trying desperately to make everything in her life work successfully and ensure that all family members are happy and well-adjusted.  Like many modern mothers, she struggles with finding and maintaining a balance of ambition and relaxation.  She also sees the enormous pressures placed on adolescents competing for the top spots in academics, sports, and extra-curricular activities in order to get accepted at the "best" colleges in the nation.  She contrasts this with her own childhood that allowed for plenty of free time to explore, play, and create just for pleasure.  She hates to see her children stressed out, but she can't envision a way out of the typical upper-middle class suburban lifestyle of both parents working long hours away from the house while the children attend the best local public schools and many lessons, practices, and activities that occur all week long.  

Without giving away too much of the plot, I will say that there was something that I found reassuring near the end of this book.  A Harvard admissions officer states that it's not the 4.0 GPAs nor the near perfect SAT scores nor the gazillion activities on applicants' resumes that get them into the Ivy Leagues.  They want to see depth and passion for one or two areas of concentration instead.  That is what makes young people stand out. 

This is actually consistent with a lot of advice from admissions officers today; although, that's still no guarantee of acceptance of course.  When most of the Ivies have only a 6% acceptance rate, even a ton of passion and depth may not cut it.  Even so, this advice should bring some relief to parents and teens alike.  This novel quite accurately displays the utter exhaustion that so many families feel while attempting to keep up with the numerous sports and activities young people believe they must participate in for college admission.  To simply focus on just a couple interests sounds heavenly.  I think the difficult part for many is narrowing it down to just two, and which two might be the most impressive to an admissions board?  I have a son who would probably say gaming is what he's passionate about, but then again, he has no interest in higher education at all, so he probably won't be trying to impress any college officials any time soon.  I think this is another positive of homeschooling since the child can devote lots of time to a given talent or interest.

Reading The Admissions from cover to cover in half a day helped me redirect my focus on what I really want for my family.  Even though our competetive society pushes us to be busy and the best at everything, that's not ultimately what brings us peace or happiness.  While I don't want my children to waste their God-given talents and abilities, I also don't want them spending their childhoods feeling anxious, pressured, and incredibly stressed out all the time.  The world won't end if they don't graduate at the top of their class, if they don't get into a top college or even go to college at all (that one's a little harder to swallow,) or if they never play a varsity sport.  I am reminded that what I truly hope for my children is that they grow up feeling loved, accepted, nurtured, and guided enough that they exhibit those same traits themselves as adults.  I feel this novel emphasizes this as well.  If you're looking for a novel that's pertinent to modern day middle-class families that you won't want to stop reading at the end of the day, this is a must-read.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

It's Time to Try New Things

I don't know what it is about early fall, but it always makes me feel like starting new projects, learning new things, and trying something new.  I suppose it stems from the start of a new school year and all the opportunities and possibilities that brings.  Already, our family has ventured out into new domains, and with the cooler mornings, falling leaves, and autumn harvests, I am excited about what else lies in store for us over the next few months.


Our first new discovery is Cookie Butter, sold at Trader Joe's.  This is the best nut butter we have come across since Nutella.  It comes in a variety of flavors, and I am finding recipes using this weekly.  For now, we're simply spreading it on bread, using it as a dip with Pretzel Crisps, or just eating it on a spoon.  This does go against my usual diet of healthy, wholesome, natural foods, but I also say "everything in moderation."  I give the credit to The Monogrammed Life for this delicious find, and for the next one.


While I am not a bacon fanatic, this is an interesting combination.  I do love dark chocolate and ganache, and I am always game to trying a new variety of chocolate bar.  The bacon is not overpowering but is definitely noticeable.  These are sold at Trader Joe's for $1.97, but I've been informed that they can also be found at Walmart.

Image from Wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons

Our 10 year old son begged us to take him to a restaurant that served calamari while we were on vacation.  It turned out that almost every child in our family loved it, and now calamari is a regular request when we eat out.


Although I am not a fan of most beer, I have been loyal to Samuel Adams in the past.  However, after trying the Achoo Chili Pale Ale from Robin Hood Brewing Co., I have found a new favorite.  You can actually smell the chili peppers in this ale, and it leaves a surprising hint of the same on your tastebuds.  It's fantastic with pizza, I'm told, but I paired it with jambalaya.


My husband and I have been trying out new restaurants the past few months including this one.  Revival Kitchen is located in the village of Reedsville, PA.  It uses fresh ingredients from local farms and sells bottles of wine in the back from a local winery.  The menu changes based on what produce, herbs, and meats are available at the time, and there are many unusual offerings.  The coconut jasmine rice that I had as a side dish was to die for.  The food was great and so was the presentation.


Additionally, I discovered a new wine at this restaurant that we really like.  I usually just order a chardonnay, but this Traminette made by Seven Mountains Winery was perfect with our dinner.  We also sampled their rhubarb wine out of curiosity, which would be great with dessert.


New foods and beverages are not the only new things we are trying.  To counterbalance the calorie intake, we have also been going on mountain bikerides and hikes on various trails through the woods here on our mountain.  Our younger two boys just recently learned to ride bikes, and they now want to ride daily.  Learning to ride a bike on gravel lanes downhill is no easy feat, which is why it hasn't happened for them until 9 and 10 years of age.  Now that they've got it down, however, they are hooked.  Those of us not on bikes are walking our beagle and sometimes carrying one of our cats who insist on tagging along, but then bawl the whole way.

Additional New Things We Are Trying:

*Once Upon a Time.  I know we're a little late to discover this, but we have not had cable or satellite television for years.  We do now have Netflix, which is where we found the first four seasons of this ABC television series.  I really didn't think I would be interested in it, but I chromecast it for our children one day, and now we are hooked.  Fairy tales with a modern day twist, this show holds the interests of everyone in our family.  With Netflix, it's tempting to bingewatch all the episodes at once, but we are restraining ourselves and limiting it to two or three episodes at a time to make it last.

*Violin lessons and Band.  Our youngest decided to give up ballet and start playing the violin instead, so this week begins lessons for her for the first time.  Our younger boys are continuing to take lessons in trumpet and clarinet, but this year they will also participate in their new school's band.  Our ten year old is my only one who doesn't like to be in the spotlight, but he assures me that since he'll be on stage with other performers, he'll be fine at the concerts.

*Learning Spanish.  I'm so excited to begin learning Spanish with our homeschooled son via Rosetta Stone.  I had four years of French in high school and college, plus a year of Italian, but I have not yet learned this romance language other than what I picked up on Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer when we had preschoolers.  I can't wait to get started.

*Lots of new books.  We just got a library card from another public library that is close to our children's new school, and I found shelves and shelves of books that I have been wanting to read.  I am a closet sociologist (well, I guess I'm out now) and I had to restrain myself and not check out an entire shelf before vacation.  I just finished reading these five and can't wait to go back and check out more:  Reading Classes: On Culture and Classism in America by Barbara Jensen; When Did White Trash Become the New Normal:  A Southern Lady Asks the Impertinent Question by Charlotte Hays; Class Matters by correspondents of The New York Times; The Middle-Class Millionaire; The Rise of the New Rich and How They are Changing America by Russ Alan Prince and Lewis Schiff; and Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich by Robert Frank.

I hope you and your family are finding new things to try with the changing seasons.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Much More Than a History Book


     While our family was in southern Virginia last week, a new book by Tamy Kay Thompson was released by The History Press/Arcadia Publishing titled Curiosities of Hampton Roads.  This is no ordinary history textbook or tour guide.  The paperback describes mysterious, eerie, and somewhat ghastly tales and occurrences from the coastal southern cities of Virginia.  I was able to acquire a pre-ordered copy at the beginning of our trip, which made our time in Williamsburg even more meaningful.  We viewed or toured most of the buildings Thompson describes in chapter four, including the Governor's Palace, the College of William and Mary, and the public hospital, just to name a few.  During the candlelit ghost tour, some of the same strange apparitions mentioned by the tour guide were also written about in this book.
     I had the pleasure of interviewing the author in her home, and I wanted to share with you what I learned.


Preppy Mountain Farmer: "What led you to write this book?"

Tamy Kay Thompson: "I was interested in the history of America's birthplace, but the research I did wasn't exactly matching the stuff my kids were learning in school.  I started digging deeper and uncovered some interesting historical facts that can't be found in mainstream history books, like the fate of the first German immigrants, the true story of John Smith and other early colonists, and the Native American Indians' side of the story.  At the same time, I learned that a lot of places in Hampton Roads are considered haunted.  Yet none of the books I read combined the historical aspect with the legends.  I decided to write a book that did just that, and write it like a tour guide of the area so it could be used by tourists, local residents, and historians alike.  Along the way, I discovered some unknown historical sites that deserved some recognition."

Preppy Mountain Farmer:  "What was the writing process like and how long did it take?"

Tamy Kay Thompson:  "The writing process was difficult at times.  I had to decide where to begin, what to include and omit, and how much detail to go into.  Plus, I had to visit almost every site to get a feel for it, see it, and photograph it.  And, of course, there were countless hours of research involved.  Every time I thought I'd read everything there was to read about a specific place, I found something else.  The historical section/genealogical room at the Main Street Library was useful, and the librarian stationed there was incredibly helpful.  I accessed old books, diaries, newspaper articles, and censuses.  I also delved into the deeds, property patents, and public records in downtown Hampton.  All-in-all, it took about a year to write, then another few months to edit.  But the writing process took much less time than getting it published; it was rejected by numerous publishers over a few years before The History Press/Arcadia Publishing accepted it.  On a brighter note, one of my favorite things about researching for the book was taking my kids to several of the sites, which helped them learn more about the area than they ever learned in school.

Preppy Mountain Farmer:  "Have you always been interested in these topics?"

Tamy Kay Thompson:  "Growing up, I wasn't interested in history and could never memorize specific dates and names of places.  As an adult, I began to enjoy learning about American and world history...if it was interesting.  I like the bizarre, obscure, and curious stuff.  I've always liked ghost stories, strange tales, and historical legends that leave you wondering if they're true or not.  I thought Historically Haunted Hampton Roads (which was renamed Curiosities of Hampton Roads by Arcadia Publishing) was an interesting combination of historically accurate facts and strange tales."

     I couldn't agree more.


     Did I mention that the author just happens to be my little sister?

     Copies of Curiosities of Hampton Roads: Ghostly Colonists, Hidden Crypts, The Black Swan of Westover and More can be found at: (Click on any of the links below, and they'll take you directly to her book.)
...and many independently owned, local book stores.