"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

August Books

This month I traveled the world, learned why we need religious instruction in public high schools, and got inside Celtic culture in order to understand the Scots-Irish people that make up so much of my own region.  All through books, of course. 

One Year Off
by David Elliot Cohen -- Have you ever wished you could quit your job and just take off around the world for a few months? Well, that's what this man and his family did after selling most of their possessions including their house. The family left their California home and traveled to a variety of places in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia after one or two stops in the Americas.  The chapters are a series of informative, entertaining e-mail updates Mr. Cohen sent to family and friends back home who wanted to hear of their adventures.  I enjoyed learning about the family's experiences in a variety of places such as Paris, Sardinia, Zimbabwe, Capetown, Istanbul, Zurich, Mumbai, Phnon Penh, Perth and many other cities around the world.  Who knew hippos were the most dangerous creature in Africa?  Well, read about the family's experience with one of them. Wow, the African safari chapters were exciting!  Great book!

Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America by James Webb -- The author discusses the Celtic culture of the Scots-Irish going all the way back to Roman times with brief mentions of various factors that shaped those who make up a sizable number of those who settled and live in the United States. One chapter focuses on Braveheart and the fight for Scottish independence while others focus on Andrew Jackson and later still the author discusses some of his own life as a son of a career military man.

I enjoyed learning about this culture and could identify with much of what the author says since I live in an area with a huge Scots-Irish presence.

The Cruelest Journey: Six Hundred Miles to Timbuktu by Kira Salak -- This book told the adventure of the author as she paddled a kayak along the Niger River and across Lake D├ębo to Timbuktu. Along the way, she stopped at villages and told of her experiences with the various people. She met some very friendly tribes while others were hostile. Many (most?) wanted money as they saw "tubab" (white woman) as rich.  The author told of various practices amongst these West Africans -such as men marrying more than one wife, female genital mutilation, sorcery, even slavery.  In fact she bought two women's freedoms when she reached Timbuktu. Yes, they say slavery has been made illegal, but still the Tuaregs own the Bellas despite the governmental decree.  A few times the author wanted to see inside one of the mud mosques only to be refused because she was "Christian." (She's actually Buddhist.)  I really enjoyed this book. I felt I was paddling along experiencing the African sun and cultures.

Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - And Doesn't by Stephen Prothero -- In this book the author makes a case for religious studies within high schools and colleges because so much of world and national events come from people's religious beliefs.  Think of the American support for the State of Israel. Much of that comes from religious people who believe from the Bible that Israel has the right to this land because God gave it to them for all time.  Without knowing this about the Bible, you may be perplexed why a number of Americans would care about the fate of some piece of land half way across the world. Happenings in Iran and Iraq and with al Qaeda have a religious reason. If you strip public life from all study of religion, you are ignorant of much of what makes the world tick.

It cannot be taught as literature alone, but "students must understand the historical force of the Bible - how its words have beckoned adventurers to new lands and motivated politicians to create new governments." (pg. 134) 

A Ride Along the Great Wall by Robin Hanbury-Tenison -- An English couple rides along the Great Wall of China by horseback and tells of their adventures, sights they see, people they met and their overall impressions.  I found this at the library and enjoyed reading this book about China.  I was particularly interested in the section on when they met Muslims. They were the friendliest and most helpful Chinese this British couple met. Also their bathrooms were clean unlike the putrid pits they found elsewhere along the way.

Sleeping With The Devil by Robert Baer -- The subtitle is "How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude"; this book was written by a former CIA agent and it touches on the US's relationship with Saudi's royal family, the bribes, the corruption...ugh!  He speaks of the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda as well as the Alawaites in Syria which I find extremely interesting to read in light of this year's events there. I actually thought it would be interesting to read an updated version since this book was published 7 years ago and he speaks of the cost of oil anywhere from $20 to $40 a barrel. Ha!  Also the Syria thing...I'd like to read his thoughts on what has happened there in recent months and really in Egypt and Libya as well.  As for the US and Saudi, did you know Saudi was our biggest customer in weapons?  This book was rather painful.

From the epilogue: "Washington abetted the whole thing, even encouraged the Al Sa'ud to run a kleptocracy. The result is a kingdom built on thievery, one that nurtures terrorism, destroys any possibility of a middle class based on property rights, and promotes slavery and prostitution.  We can't get around the fact that the House of Sa'ud underwrites the mosque schools that turn out the jihadists, just as it administers the charities that fund the jihadists.  It channels the anger of the jihadists against the West to distract it from the rot in the House of Sa'ud."  (pg. 205)

The House on Dream Street by Dana Sachs -- This is a memoir of an American woman during her extended stays in Vietnam. What began as a backpacking adventure with a friend to see Asia grew to a love for Vietnam.  The author tells of her experiences learning the language (which is very tonal), interacting with locals, trying to cook an American meal (hamburgers and fries) for her landlords and other aspects of the culture. I found this a good way to learn more about Vietnam's people and their attitudes towards Americans and war and destiny in general.

I thought this statement worth pondering:  "You only realize how heavily you depend upon the customs of your own culture when you live somewhere that doesn't follow them." -- She said this in the context of the Vietnamese rarely saying "please" and "thank you" which is something she grew up learning.

The Miss Stone Affair: America's First Modern Hostage Crisis
by Teresa Carpenter -- I found this book in the library and although it wasn't the most exciting book I've read, I did learn a few things about separatist groups in the Balkans.  A missionary lady was kidnapped by men who were opposing the Ottoman rule in order to get money for their cause.  They also kidnapped a Bulgarian woman who was 6 months pregnant. Oddly, they kidnapped the latter for the sake of Miss Stone's honor. Propriety amongst kidnappers?  Weird!  These kidnappers for the most part were portrayed as rather kind although they had their moments of roughness. When Katerina's baby was born, the men each took turns holding her and vowing to put her name on their guns for good luck.  This book was an interesting way to learn more about the Balkans and the roles western powers had in creating some of the borders and discord there.

Wuhu Diary by Emily Prager -- The author takes her adopted daughter back for a visit to Wuhu, China to see where LuLu was found and lived her first seven months. They stay for several weeks and LuLu gets to attend preschool and meet many Chinese people all of whom seem to adore the little Chinese girl who speaks perfect English.  see previous post for information on Individualism

Sunday, August 28, 2011


In Wuhu Diary author Emily Prager takes her adopted daughter back to her hometown in China.   She wants LuLu, nearly five when they make the trip,  to see the area in which she was born and found and lived her first seven months.  In the early part of the book, Emily and LuLu went to a park where several families gathered. I found this observation worth sharing because Emily's thoughts on the individual's importance in Western culture slightly shocked me. Until...I thought about it and realized it was probably true.

"I am feeling pretty relaxed, although I am the only Westerner in the park. It will take a week or two for me to change myself so I can walk around China. My awareness of myself has to vanish completely.  Right now, I am still too self-conscious. After all, this is a culture where the whole is greater than the individual, and I have just come out of a culture where the individual is more important than God. ..."  (pg. 21)

What do you think?  Do you agree with Emily or do you think this was a slight exaggeration on her part? At the very least I think it was an interesting way to get across the point that individualism is pretty important to us. Do you consider us too individualistic, not enough or just about right?  Where would you like to see some improvements? What are the benefits of individualism, if any?  What are drawbacks of it?  What are the benefits of a more collectivist society such as China?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Books & Boys!

Almost a month ago, I showed you my latest stack of library books. It took a while, but I finally finished all of those. Normally I am a fairly quick reader, but I kept getting distracted.  By these guys. Especially the baby. (click pics to see larger)

Michael was busy spending time with his uncle Juan and hanging out with his friends before school starts back, but we did go to the park earlier this week on an especially nice day. The weather was about perfect!
My sister emailed me last night about a free 8x10 collage picture that Walgreens was offering so I uploaded a few photos and made this which I picked up at the store this morning.  Pretty cute, huh?

I have many pictures of Michael around my house. Not so many of Zach so I should remedy that before he gets old enough to notice. The collage is a start.

We don't want the little man to feel neglected, do we?

I went to another library branch last week and ended up with these....none of which are in my yellow notebook, but they seem interesting enough.

There's a couple about China, one about Vietnam, the US's involvement with Saudi Arabia over the years and even a fiction story this time!  (Hear that, Becky?)  :-)

And no, really, I cannot believe I've not written much on my blog in so many days!  I've been reading yours as I hope you've noticed by my comments and I've been pretty active on Facebook, but just haven't had much to blog about. I hope you all are doing great!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

August, Syria, Ramadan, Somalia, Zach, Juan, World Travel, Fear

First off...happy August!  I really cannot believe it's the eighth month of the year and Christmas will be here before we know it!   While growing up, I recall people talking about life going so fast once you were out of high school. At the time, I was stuck in chemistry and physics classes that crawled by so I didn't believe them. But, boy, do I now!

The tenth of this month marks two and a half years since our last day in Damascus. My heart has been aching over what the government continues to do there.  The day before Ramadan, they decided to be even more cruel if you can believe it. I cannot even imagine that Syria is the same place I traveled to and loved. Which, in a way, it isn't.  The people then feared their government and all was calm.  Today, while they may still have this fear, many have chosen to speak out in spite of it.  With hopes for a better, freer future.  I admire their courage.

Secondly, I hope my friends observing Ramadan have a beneficial month as you reflect on God and what He has blessed you with yet others in the world lack.   Some of them your brothers and sisters in faith. Like Somalia.  Ugh, again heartache seeing those starving people on television and Wafa's blog posts.  Heartbreaking.

Thirdly, today is the third and Zach is three months old!  My dad reminded me that his grandfather would have been 111 years old today as he was born August 3, 1900. 

Fourthly, my brother in law's brother has been visiting the area for the last few days.  Juan is from Venezuela and it's his first trip to the USA. He doesn't speak much English, but thankfully Will is great at both languages and can translate.  Really, smiles and hugs don't need any translating and Juan is a fun-loving, pleasant, loving 18 year old.  I've enjoyed seeing him while he's been in North Carolina. Will hasn't seen his little brother since Juan was about 8....younger than Michael!  Can you imagine? Of course he's talked to his family and seen Juan via Skype, but still. It's so cute seeing Juan and Will together. They have similar facial expressions and even walk the same! 

Lastly, I have two questions for you.

1.   I just finished a book about a family who took a year to travel around the world. They visited about 40 cities concentrating on southern Europe, South Africa, India, Cambodia, Laos and Australia.  They avoided South America, the Middle East (except for Turkey), most of northern Europe, Russia and most of the USA since they are from California.  I was curious if you could take off for a trip around the world for a year, what are the places you would most definitely want to visit?

2.  I keep seeing how much fear drives the news. I've been hanging out at my parents' house recently and while feeding my baby nephew, I'll sometimes watch CNN to see what's happening in the world. For days last week, you would have thought the world was coming to an end if Congress failed to extend the debt ceiling.  As if the USA keeps the world going and if we defaulted, life as we know it would come to and end, aliens would invade and we'd all be their slaves. (I think Amber's post influenced that last bit..sorry.)

I've read articles about the Norway terrorist and see how often fear drives people to do evil things. They fear Muslims. They fear immigrants. They fear the end of civilization as we know it.  They fear the extinction of white people. Why so much fear?

That got me to wondering what YOU fear. Do you fear the same things? If so, why?  I think we all have our own personal fears so who is brave enough to share some of them?  And how do you deal with your fear?  Do you feed it by listening to even more doomsday news stories (or preachers!) or do you handle it by denial - what exactly?  What are your fear-busting remedies?   Any recommendations?

Or maybe you think it's a good thing to fear because it keeps up from getting too complacent?  What are your thoughts on fear? Healthy? Good in moderation? 

Do share...unless you are too scared!  ;-)