Saturday, December 31, 2011

Have a Happy New Year

I've been gone so long that the emails have stopped coming and I've stopped looking.

But for those kind enough to wonder where I've taken off to I thought I'd at least let you know we're alive and well and looking forward to another year but I'm afraid life has given me other things to do instead of blogging.

Here's a picture of our last camping trip at the end of the summer at Quartz Creek where we had a great time and the kids kayaked and rode horses till they nearly dropped from exhaustion.  Andrew, Spencer and Grace ran the zombie half-marathon at Halloween and now she's waiting nervously for her college application to BYU to got through. We're all pulling for her and think she's definitely going to get in but it's up in the air till we have that letter in hand, right? Spencer's been busy with cross country skiing and running and his graphic design business is booming, he's had four or five clients so far and is finishing up a series of ten or so graphics right now.

David is dealing with middle school (what else can you really say about those years after all?) but is loving basketball and got the lead in You're a Good Man Charlie Brown slated for opening the middle of February (we're teasing him that he'll have to shave his head to get fully into character). And then Lillian is trying out for the role of Cossette in the local high school production of Les Miserables. We'll see if that happens, she's having fun practicing.

But me?

Last May I was asked to teach an early morning scripture study class for high school juniors in our area and after planning and preparing all summer long classes started August 22nd and I've been doing that ever since.  They come at 6 am each school day, we do our best to get through a few chapters in the Old Testament (our text for this year, New Testament is next year) and then I go home, wonder how on earth I can do it again and spend the rest of the day frantically pulling together another lesson.

I actually love it--I love studying scripture, love the kids I teach and love what they teach me but it has pretty much eaten up any extra time I may have had. The good news is that it's really a blessing to know exactly what you need to accomplish each day and then have a chance to practice it over and over again. 

But before I leave you for another four months, I thought I'd at least share a few things.  With the Christmas break I've been doing some outside reading and have found some amazing books along the way:

Bloodwork: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution by Holly Tucker.
I heard about this on one of my favorite podcasts, Stuff You Missed in History Class. It's nonfiction but reads like a novel and tells the story of the first blood transfusions. Seriously icky stuff but as fascinating as a train wreck.  You get a bit of 17th century French culture, the history of medicine and circulatory theory and a great who-dunnit that solves a 300 year-old cold case. Highly recommended.

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein.
It's just what the title suggests, a basic outline of philosophy as illustrated in humor. It's funny and easy to digest and gives you a better appreciation for the world of the joke. My only gripe is that some of the jokes (maybe a quarter of them) are raunchy and you'll want to skip them. You'll know when they're coming.

Socrates: A Man for our Times by Paul Johnson.
The latest by our long-lasting, conservative British historian who tends to name-drop whenever possible.  A great read, and just the right length, though about 40 pages toward the beginning are long-winded and could have been a little more relevant.  By the end you'll be enthralled by the man (Socrates, that is) and will wonder how you ever got along without reading such a great analysis of his influence. 

Though I think Johnson has succumbed to the Tolkien Effect.  This is the simple problem of elderly British academics reaching such monolithic proportions as to be considered untouchable by editors, to their (and their readers') detriment.  No one (and I repeat, no one) is above the need for a good editor--even Moses was edited before final publication for goodness sake! Anyone who insists on using the word "obfuscate" instead of simply saying "darkened" or "clouded" is drowning in their own pit of irony.

Creators, Intellectuals, and Heroes all by Paul Johnson.
Three other books by the above author.  Heroes was the best of the three and the one I was able to finish while the other two were more of the same and not enough to keep me nibbling.  Each book is a list of people who fit his definition of creators, intellectuals or heroes respectively and while there aren't many surprises (his list of heroes includes Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, to which I say in all kindness: "D'uh.") there are a few that I just can't reconcile with my personal definition of heroism.  Sorry, I just can't call Julius Caesar heroic. The man killed something like 4 million people in his conquest of Gaul and chasing personal glory. I'm just not seeing the hero thing in that.

So I'm not recommending these three but Napoleon and History of the American People are fabulous. Spend your time on those instead.

The Carolinian by Samuel Shellabarger.
My little digression into historical fiction which I love so much. Not one of his better books--it's about a South Carolinian pre-revolutionary aristocrat who weaves his way rather tediously through British and colonial intrigues despite the best efforts of his wife to cause him difficulties.  For some reason Shellabarger always has a female in his stories, giving the hero all sorts of grief because she's just some silly female who can't possibly understand the greater picture that the hero is trying to achieve. For once I'd like to see one of his heroines save the hero because he's the foolish one and she's the one who gets it.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
Interesting and philosophical (as you'd expect from the title) and definitely worth a read. The author takes a cross-country motorcycle trip with his young son who has all sorts of interesting issues and the story builds up around the father's acceptance and understanding of what hand he's been dealt in life.

Here's Looking at Euclid by Alex Bellos.
This gets the award for the best title for a book. Ever.  I just finished it and would recommend it to anyone who will listen.  What else can you say about a book that has a Chapter Zero?  I think that pretty much says it all--but then I'll always try to say more, won't I?  It's a series of essays covering the ways math relates to us, our world and our imperfect human understanding of that world. Yes you get into mathematical theory but it's easy to understand (generally) and some parts will blow your mind. Origami, gambling, the golden mean, vedic mathematics, menger sponges--it's all there for your enjoyment.

Barbarians by Terry Jones.
Yes, as in that Terry Jones (the one from Monty Python). He's not exactly an historian, as best as I can tell he's just a guy who loves history and makes it fun and interesting. He's had several History Channel series and I think this book is a companion volume to one of them but I love how he takes an unconventional approach to history. Whatever story we've come to accept as true he will turn on its head and show how once again, it's been manipulated by those who survived to write it down. History truly is written by the conquerors and while I don't know that I accept Mr. Jones' story any more than what I was taught in school, I do love having something to think about and reconsider. Oh, and this book examines the peoples conquered by the Roman Empire and debunks the idea that they were dirty, stinking, illiterate barbarians without any culture worth preserving. A good read, though it slows toward the end.

And next on my list? I just started Cleopatra's Nose: Essays on the Unexpected by Daniel Boorstin, then I've got scheduled  The Royal Road to Romance by Richard Halliburton followed by The Disappearing Spoon and Other True Tales of Madness, Love and History from the World of the Periodic Table of Elements by Sam Kean (which I can't wait to read, it's come highly recommended).

If this isn't enough for you I'll leave you with a couple other things: I made this pie and it was the most amazing chocolate pie experience ever. A truffle in a crust if you will. It could not be easier to make with only a handful of ingredients and it works with all kinds of crusts. Just partially bake a crust for 10-15 minutes first before filling if you want to use a regular pastry crust instead of graham crackers.

And then I read that if you have stainless steel appliances, especially brushed nickel or stainless steel, then using a little WD-40 on a cloth to wipe them down will not only clean them up but help them resist spotting and fingerprints. It is absolutely true and I don't know how I have lived this long without this trick. It is amazing.

So that's it for now. Goodbye for a while. I'm back to work on Monday and while I may have time to pop in over the next four months, I'm guessing I'll be swamped till spring. Hope your new year is terrific!


Susan said...

I wondered what had happened to you! I'm happy to hear that life is good. Have a very blessed New Year! ;0)

Linda Stahr said...

A couple other amazing but little knowns:
Papa Murphys sells JUST THE CRUST for super cheap (like. $1 stateside...). A rubber eraser can clean nasty smoke marks off a wall (crayon too...). And PLEDGE keeps finger prints off stainless steel better than WD-40 if you don't want the WD smell... Enjoy seminary!

Reno said...

I have also been wondering- and thanks for letting us know that you are still alive and kicking! Happy New Year to you and your family and continued enjoyment as a Seminary teacher.

Michemily said...

Happy new year! I'm adding those books to my list.

NorahS said...

Great to hear from you!

Jordan McCollum said...

Good to see you! My dad teaches Seminary, too. Have fun!

Jordan McCollum said...

Oh—your pie reminded me of a great s'mores pie recipe I made a while back:

Mrs. Godfrey said...

Glad to hear from you! I have always enjoyed your book recommendations, so thank you for making my New Year bright all ready!

Best of luck this year!

Linds said...

I am just so glad to see a post up! Happy New Year to you all and enjoy the teacing!

Lori said...

Happy New Year to you too! Glad you had a fun, productive fall.

Jennifer said...

Every now and again when I think back to the beginnings of my own blog, I think of you. And wonder why you show up in my reader so infrequently. Now I know.

I sure do miss reading what you have to say, but I totally understand about the things that make life having priority.

Roo said...

So glad to hear from you. My Dad is the seminary "Principal" in their stake. I know what a time commitment it takes and he doesn't have to prepare a lesson.

Glad to know you're all doing well. Good luck to Grace. I'm sure she will be accepted without a problem. I hope that Lillian gets the part in the play.

Happy New Year! See you again in the spring...I hope.

Kathy G said...

I, too, have thought about you now and then. Several blog authors I used to read regularly have gone into hiatus mode recently, especially as their children got older. Will look forward to your future updates, whenever they may be :-)

Headless Mom said...

I have thought about you often! Glad you've had such a great fall. (Confession: I would love a great 'excuse' to dive into scripture. I shouldn't need one, I know.)

Thanks for the book recs. I am looking to read some in the new year!

Blessings to you and your family and good luck to Grace with BYU!

StudioJewel - lisa lehmann said...

we will wait. happy new year to you too!

branda50 said...
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Anonymous said...

Happy New Year...You certainly do keep busy I don't know how you find the time to read...
We've missed you and the interesting things you do...You could post a picture and a sentence now and then...
A few other things....David they sell bald caps, don't shave you head, haha....Good luck to Grace and to Lillian...Way to go Spencer with your business?...

Karen B said...

Hello stranger! I've missed your posts but am so glad all is OK with you and your family. Have a wonderful New Year.

dancing_lemur said...

I was glad to see you pop up in my feed reader! Glad to know all is well!

Maddy said...

How things change. Thanks very much for the book recommendations- a couple for me, one for junior and luckily Euclid looks like a perfect match for my husband - January birthdays are such a challenge.

Megan (FriedOkra) said...

So wonderful to hear from you! Sounds like you are as busy at great things at ever. I wish YOU an amazing New Year of motherhood and beyond. My best to your family as well. Loved finding you "lit up" in my Google reader. (I don't give up easily.)


J at said...

Wow, 21 comments and you've been gone for 4 months. Impressive!

I'm interested in that Terry Jones book...thanks for the suggestion.

So glad you're teaching...what a gift, to you, to the kids, to everyone involved. Glad you're enjoying it. :)

Janel said...

It's always good to know a familiar face isn't dead.

I started teaching fashion in September. I totally know the feelings you describe. But the rewards are positively awesome! : )

Glad to hear you're having fun. Enjoy!

Actually Mummy said...

Well I was watching! I'm glad you found something wonderful to fill your time, and I'll see you next time :)

ctrmother said...

Seminary is the best! You are a blessing to your kids. Enjoy it, enjoy your own personal growth, and enjoy interacting with awesome kids who grow spiritually as you guide them along. We all understand!

JanMary @ said...

I was wondering - glad it is for a great and enjoyable reason.

Happy New Year to you and yours from Ireland.