Summer Fun Plans

I love when summer comes around!!!

I’m a teacher’s aide in a public elementary school and that means I have several school breaks during the year … and … wait for it … summers off. Now, I’m not paid for those breaks, I’m paid for working 190 days per 365 days/year and that’s it. So I enjoy the time more than the money, obviously! 🙂

So exciting. I’ve got plans. Oh yeah. Tuesday at noon the kids leave. When this Friday rolls around and the afternoon dismissal bell rings, I’m done. There are several things I plan to do this summer.



I discovered that my streaming music station, Pandora, has a new thing called Thumbprint Radio. I had no clue, until I scrolled down my ‘stations’ list and saw it at the bottom. “What’s this?” I asked myself. Oh-ho, this is cool. Pandora is streaming entertainment based on a music genome. You can choose a station, such as “Traditional Hymns” or “Jimmy Buffett Radio” and they’ll play songs along those lines. Within the genre you might like this song or not like that one. You have the option to thumbs up or thumbs down a song, and Pandora will adjust your listening to what you like. If a song had more violin and less trumpet, or more harmony and less melody, they will present songs in that station with that selection in mind according to your thumbs up.

Thumbprint Radio is a station where all your liked songs go into one station! Though Pandora is free, I choose to pay $4.99/month for Pandora Pro which has no ads. So what this means is that I have access to music with a huge variety of songs that I already like and never interrupts itself for an ad or a DJ. I love it madly. I will be listening to a lot of music. Some of my stations I love are:

100 Hymns Instrumental Radio
Jimmy Buffett Radio (includes balladeers from the 70s like Paul Simon and James Taylor)
Gaither Vocal Band Radio
Mozart Radio
Hank Williams Radio (classic country)

and many more. Yay.



I have some books stacked up. I want to read or finish-

12 Ways your iPhone is changing you by Tony Reinke
Son, a literary western by Phillipp Meyer
Hearts of Fire, by Voice of the Martyrs
Veronica Mars- the Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas
The Autobiography of Hudson Taylor: Missionary to China (Kindle)
Bright Side by Kim Holden (Kindle)
The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes (Kindle)

Plus a lot of “summer easy reading” eBooks I’ve downloaded from BookBub recommendations. At BookBub, you select which reading genres you enjoy, and thankfully there are a lot to choose from, and BookBub sends you a daily list of digital selections based on your preferences. You can download according to your desire, budget, and amount of space on your reading device! I choose the free ones but they also have eBooks for 99 cents, $1.99 and up. They tie-in to Amazon’s Kindle store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, Apple’s iBooks, and others.



My friend Kim on Facebook sent me some photos from Gay Halseth-Frayed and Twisted’s FB page. They’re vintage spine bookmarks. Cool! I won’t embroider like Mrs Halseth has, but I’ll paint them.

And just where will I be finding vintage books? We have several places in the county where I look forward to shopping this summer. There are three in particular, and two of those I have never been to before. I like my usual haunt of Second Time Around. I have already found antique books of Swedish poetry, an old Methodist Hymnal and an old Baptist Hymnnal at that store, all for $1 each.

The other store is called Neat Pieces Antiques, which I’ve driven by but never entered. He has three buildings and a large outdoor area. He sells heritage pine, architectural items from old barn stairs to glass doorknobs, and inside, vintage clothing, antiques, and of course the books.

Well! I believe I’ll be able to find some books here for sure! Befoe you faint from horror, I’ll look for water damaged, moldy books that otherwise would not ever find a home and are one step away from a trash can. I don’t like the idea of taking apart a perfectly good book just to get at the spine.

The third vintage store I’m planning to visit is called simply The Special Store. This place has lots of glassware among other items like furniture. I need an English porcelain or bone china teapot, and one more cup and saucer. This will be the place to find them.



Now that I have an automobile with AC, I can drive around this summer. I like to go out in the Golden Hour, just at and 1 hour after dawn, and 1 hour before sunset, taking photos. I downloaded the manual for my now 1-year-old Nikon and I’ve been experimenting with some of the fancier settings now that I’m familiar with the camera and its superficial capabilities. It will be a photo extravaganza! I also began using my rechargeable batteries now that I’ve finally gone through all the high-capacity alkaline ones I’d bought. I can recharge to my heart’s content, even in the car, since it comes with an automobile charger too.

In addition to Flickr and Facebook, I also have an account at Unsplash to upload my photos, and also Instagram now that I figured that one out. I want to compose better, and post-process better. Summer is the time to play with pictures and try and get better at photography.



Of course, movies and shows. On Amazon Prime I watched a nice movie called Mao’s Last Dancer, the true story of Chinese ballet dancer Li Cunxin. I like movies like that and will seek out some more either on Snagfilms, Crackle, or Amazon Prime, and of course whatever I can absorb for free on Youtube.

I’ll finish some classes I’d started, including “Understanding the Tabernacle”, and “Principles of Biblical Interpretation”. A new class at Ligonier called “Loved by God” has sparked my interest too. So, studying the Bible through classes and reading and studying it directly is on the summer fun menu.

Some friends have asked me to lunch, and in June I’ll go to a wedding. That’s pretty much it. We get out of school May 26 and begin again July 31. I’ll also be taking a class for school sometime in July, so it’s really not ALL that much time off as one remembers from childhood. But I’ll take it!

Three Scandinavian movies worth watching

If you like foreign films there are a few coming out of the Scandinavian nations that I’ve enjoyed so much.

The Wave

Topping the list for quality production values is Norway’s entry to the Academy Awards for best foreign film, The Wave. Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus reached 8% approval rating, and the comment: “Well-acted and blessed with a refreshingly humanistic focus, The Wave is a disaster film that makes uncommonly smart use of disaster film clichĂ©s.”

Based on true information about quakes and fjords and tsunamis in the region, we read

Nestled in Norway’s Sunnmøre region, Geiranger is one of the most spectacular tourist draws on the planet. With the mountain Ă…kerneset overlooking the village – and constantly threatening to collapse into the fjord – it is also a place where cataclysm could strike at any moment. After putting in several years at Geiranger’s warning center, geologist Kristian is moving on to a prestigious gig with an oil company. But the very day he’s about to drive his family to their new life in the city, Kristian senses something isn’t right. The substrata are shifting. No one wants to believe that this could be the big one, especially with tourist season at its peak, but when that mountain begins to crumble, every soul in Geiranger has ten minutes to get to high ground before a tsunami hits, consuming everything in its path.

Wikipedia’s summary:

A Norwegian geologist (Kristoffer Joner) and his family (Ane Dahl Torp, Jonas Hoff Oftebro) fight for survival when a massive landslide causes a 250-foot tidal wave.

It was gripping and realistic and tense without being over-the-top ridiculously stressful or gory. The LA Times wrote, “Norway’s ‘The Wave’ shows Hollywood how to make a disaster film with real thrills.”

Recommended! On Netflix. In Norwegian with subtitles. In watching it thought about the Alaskan tsunami in the 1960s when a part of the mountain collapsed and the displaced water rushed to shore. It’s happened before. It will again, Revelation 6:14.

A Man Called Ove

This entry from 2016 is from Sweden-
Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus:

A Man Called Ove’s winsome sincerity — and Rolf LassgĂĄrd’s affectingly flinty performance in the title role — keep it from succumbing to excess sentimentality. Stepping from the pages of Fredrik Backman’s international best-selling novel, Ove is the quintessential angry old man next door. An isolated retiree with strict principles and a short fuse, who spends his days enforcing block association rules that only he cares about, and visiting his wife’s grave, Ove has given up on life. Enter a boisterous young family next door who accidentally flattens Ove’s mailbox while moving in and earning his special brand of ire. Yet from this inauspicious beginning an unlikely friendship forms and we come to understand Ove’s past happiness and heartbreaks. What emerges is a heartwarming tale of unreliable first impressions and the gentle reminder that life is sweeter when it’s shared.

Though religion or faith is not mentioned, what I took from it is how to love people, even the unlovable, and how much of a difference that committed persevering love makes. In Swedish with English subtitles. On Amazon Prime and maybe elsewhere.

On Youtube is a one-hour documentary called Hugo and Rosa, another Swedish movie, this one is a documentary released in 2002. The director Bengt Jägerskog visited aged siblings Hugo and Rosa for ten years, the last ten years of their extraordinarily long life. When we meet, Hugo is nearly 100 and Rosa is 96.

Finlander summarizes the documentary this way-

“Hugo is approaching 100 and his sister Rose is 96. In their little red house in the Swedish countryside they live in the same way as people there lived 100 years ago. “The trick is in staying happy,” the always elegant Rosa confides to the filmmakers. In addition to cooking and caring for the household, she also sometimes plays the accordion. And when a sparkling Hugo with his amusing tales is chopping wood and digging in the garden, it appears as if nothing can disturb the idyllic life of the siblings. The march of time, however, is relentless, and after Hugo’s health complications, both find themselves in a retirement home. Even here they do not lose their remarkable optimism about life, their good mood, or their ability to take a humorous and detached view of the ailments associated with their age. A discreet camera follows Rosa and Hugo up to the final climax of their long life’s pilgrimage.”

What we discover early in the film is that their unique worldview is due to their faith. From my research, and what I can surmise, they belonged to an evangelical Lutheran church all their lives. Hugo taught Sunday School for many, many years, at one time, his class held 40 students. “It was a lot,” he said with a twinkle. Even in their last year of life, an entire service was held by them, with Hugo speaking and Rosa playing the accordion. They sing hymns, look forward to and speak of heaven, and have a placid and rock-solid assurance of reuniting with their Lord, whom they identify as their Lord, and with their 7 other siblings who have passed on before them.

I noticed at the outset, Rosa’s face. It was lit from within with calm serenity and joy. As the documentary progresses, the reason for her serene joy is made evident- it’s faith. Hugo also. It is a simple documentary, the director allowing the brother and sister speak for themselves, as well as his juxtaposed film shots space to be interpreted by the viewer.

What the documentary made me think of are all the Christians that have lived in obscure corners of the world, planting and marrying and living and dying, and passed on to eternity. I can’t wait to meet them. There are so many saved people I will look forward to meeting when we all get there. Hugo and Rosa’s life was simple. Hugo was born in 1900 in a simple farmhouse with no running water or electricity, and it stayed that way for almost their entire lives. They got electricity the last months of their lives. For one-hundred years they worked hard, chopped wood, milked cows, shoveled snow, planted fields…and loved it all because they loved the life the Lord gave them.

If you want some sweet movies or a good action movie, these are it. Note: The Wave is rated R for action disaster scenes and some language.

I’m not going to stress about people in street photography

I’ve written two other times about street photography. That is the kind of photography where photographers take candid pics of people on the street, usually in B&W but more often in color too. Sometimes the street people know they’ve been captured and other times they don’t. Sometimes the street photographers get very up close and personal, and other times, they don’t. There are as many ways to “do” street photography as there are photographers to do it.

The idea is to chronicle life. Street photos from photographers who were active in the in the 50s and 60s took some amazing photos that in all likelihood looked mundane then but are absolutely fascinating now. The famous names are Garry Winogrand, Bill Cunningham, Jon Naar, and many more.

Garry Winogrand
Garry Winogrand
Jon Naar, Faith of Graffiti
Bill Cunningham

Street photography is both profound and absurd. The first photo, with the old women walking…by the trash…with a small, lone weird animal at the bottom. Profound and absurd. The highly graffitied wall…with derelict abandoned car…with joyful kids. Profound and absurd. And Editta Sherman in the subway…dressed out of time…with graffiti – profound and absurd.

I find street photography to be more profound as the photos fade from “nowadays” into “historical.” I like street pics from the 50s and 60s and early 70s more than today’s. It’s the history that grabs the viewer, makes us go ‘awww’, or long for times gone by in looking at places we used to know.

I just don’t like dealing with people when I take pics. I’ve read up on and viewed videos that offer tips on how to take good street shots with people in them. I’ve read tips on how to defuse a situation where a concerned or angry subject approaches you. I’ve read up on how to ‘hide’ what you’re doing so as not to anger the subject. All good. I just don’t want aggravation when I take pics. It’s supposed to be relaxing. So I tend not to deal with people. I like architectural details better anyway. Skylines. Colors. Patterns. Grit.

There’s always a story behind everything. I like this photograph a lot!

Atlas Obscura has the story to this charming bit of London history:

The wrought iron hook hanging next to No. 4 goes back to the early days of automobile traffic. The building sits just off the corner of a chaotic six-street convergence, and even with the guidance of traffic lights drivers didn’t always trust the signals. So the police were assigned to step in now and then, to keep things moving, and if it happened to be a hot summer day they needed a place to hang their heavy woolen coats. Since No. 4 was under construction there was a handy nail to do the trick, but once construction was completed, the nail disappeared.

The makeshift hook may have been gone, but the traffic wasn’t, so the police asked for the nail to be put back. They got this instead: a sturdy bespoke model, clearly labeled so everyone knew who it was for.

Everybody go ‘awwww’!

There’s always the hope that as you scout, scavenge, and hunt up photo opps in the back alleys and trash heaps, you might make a cool architectural discovery like this one. Again, Atlas Obscura

In 2011, while the REI store in the Puck Building in Manhattan’s SoHo district was undergoing renovation, workers made an unexpected discovery. Hidden behind one of the walls of the cellar were more than 100 lithography stones from the building’s days as a printer. They are now on display on the store’s lower floor.

In 1917 in Halifax Nova Scotia, a munitions ship anchored in the harbor blew up. It was a huge and devastating event. As the Atlas Obscura story excerpt below notes, the explosion was the largest man-made explosion ever before the atom bomb. As you walk along the now quiet streets, you might look up and see a strange architectural detail. What is the face etched in the window? (And why didn’t the window shatter?)

The 1917 explosion caused when a munitions ship crashed was a defining moment for Halifax. It was a tragic and disastrous event, that also stemmed generations of folklore, like babies who survived flight through the air by landing in trees. Many of these are too fanciful to be true, but St. Paul’s Church, the oldest building in town, bears the scars to prove its incredible tales.

We used to visit older friends in Halifax in the late 1990s. Our friend who was in his 60s had a mom who was in her late 90s. She was 17 years old when the explosion happened. It was hard to get her to speak about it (no doubt the trauma of losing friends and homes made her reticent to relive it all again). We asked her what it was like to live through the most devastating man-made explosion in the world ever at that time. In typical northern taciturn manner, she said after a long pause, “Well…it was loud.”

When I do street pics, I gravitate to the buildings, not the people. I like to know the story of why this hook is there, or what that face is about, or what these curious stones with backward writing on them are. I like to see the color amid the concrete, the beauty among the grit. If someone walks by as I’m taking the shot, great, there’ll be a person in it. If not, then I’ll still be content with my street pics, sans life. I know that people in a pic make it more interesting, not to mention alive. But oh well. I like what I like and I’ll do what I want! Street photography minus the people… just the street, thanks. Besides, I looked through my photos and I’ve been taking street pics all along. Not great ones, not profound or absurd. Just…life.

Street photography and all its joys and pains

Grammarly has changed my life.

OK, that’s hyperbole, but Grammarly has given me relief in spades. It’s an extension you add to your browser, which checks for typos and grammar mistakes as you type. No matter where you’re typing, Facebook, Twitter, comment responses on Disqus, wherever you’re typing, it puts a red line underneath a typo or grammar mistake.

I’ve been surprised at how well it offers corrections, too. It is eerily correct in its offerings even when I’m writing cultural idioms or abbreviations. For example, I typed ASAIK and it knew I meant AFAIK (As Far As I Know). The corrections far outstrip even MS Word.

You can ignore any corrections you don’t want or don’t agree with. A little red circle at the bottom keeps track of how many words need fixing, and if you want, you can click it to see how many have already been corrected. I dare not look.

Grammarly is free, though that doesn’t stop its creators from frequently reminding you that you’re “missing out” on features and offers deals on upgrades. But these reminders are not intrusive. They’re contained in a correction, once in a while.

Hey, I don’t need an upgrade, I just need my typos corrected. They are getting so bad. I wrote a three-word response on Facebook this morning and mistyped two of the words. You see what I mean about how valuable this extension is.

I’ve been interested in street photography of late. I love photography. I noticed a book called The Birth of Graffiti by Jon Naar at the Second Time Around store a while back and bought it. He took his pics of graffiti in NYC in the 1970’s, a low point for the city and its denizens.

Naar is an accomplished portrait photographer, photographer of art and architecture and more. In his 90’s now, he is still active. Wikipedia says Naar has had a multifaceted career as an intelligence officer in World War II; a globe-trotting executive during the postwar years; and an environmentalist, with nine published books to date. Major publications like The New York Times, The Saturday Evening Post, Vogue, Fortune, Elle, and Schöner Wohnen have featured Naar. The NY Times Magazine’s very first use of color for an interior was commissioned by them of Naar.

I love-hate graffiti, it is a blight but it’s also art. Art blight. Blighted art. I dunno. Overall I’m just fascinated by it. I also like gritty city pictures, tattered handbills, signs, doorways, subways…Naar’s photos were all stupendous and so evocative. Yes, he takes shots of just graffiti, but he took many of his shots with people in them. Kids playing basketball against a backdrop of a heavily graffitied wall…a mom and toddler walking by a profane graffiti mural…and so on.

I didn’t know it at the time but his style of photo is called “Street Photography.” It is defined:

Street photography, also sometimes called candid photography, is photography conducted for art or enquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public places.

I’ve always loved candid photography, especially of kids. I am grateful I’ve often had the chance to legitimately take photos of kids, either through being a journalist and covering school things and sports or as a school employee asked to chronicle events on campus for the yearbook or the official Facebook page. Kids are fun to take pics of because they’re unpredictable, emotive, and a challenge to get in the frame. They’re also cute!

Kids enjoy having their picture taken, unlike adults. Adults are suspicious, guarded, and can deck you if they get mad that you’re in their face. Hence the relief in being around kids with my camera.

But I also enjoy gritty cityscapes. Or even in my rural town, gritty, industrial things. Like these pics:

Many of my photos were of the same theme with the same interest in same topics as Naar’s. Like these of his:

If I’d like to concentrate on street photography, as good as it is to be on the same track as someone like Naar in terms of interest in these kinds of scenes, it’s the execution that matters. I need to improve my composition, framing, and bravery in getting close to the moment. In Naar’s scene of the police car, what makes it good is that the cop is in the car. When you look closely, you see his arm in the window. This brings life to the scene. The handbills, not only colorful and framed well, but his decision to take it with the bold clenched fist above them gives the picture a foreign feel, and vaguely threatening. The new & used tires, the inclusion of the graffiti and the loneliness of both displays of the tires makes one ask, which are new and which are used? They all look tattered.

Where I fail is getting people in the picture. Getting people in the picture is key. People energize the photo. Their activity mystifies, perplexes, shocks, or comforts. It’s the people who bring emotion to it, mystery, and story.

So, then there are the stupendous pics of Naar’s like this one, my favorite. Click to enlarge. It’s absolutely tremendous-

It’s subway and graffiti. OK, so the grit is there. The lighting is great, the warm glow of the interior of the car contrasted with the steel of the exterior. The light, joy, and movement of the people through the window to the left and the right. The yellow strip which mirrors the rush and zoom of the car itself when it arrives and departs.

And then…there is one sole, still woman. One part of the entire photo where nothing is moving. There is no joy. Her face is stoic, devoid of the same lightheartedness the rest of the people display. The grittiness of her surroundings is contrasted with her obvious wealth. Her perfectly coiffed matronly hairdo. Her poised, ladylike feet in expensive shoes. Her fur around the collar.

Since every photo should tell a story – or begin one, we ask, why, if she is so obviously of means, does she take the subway?

Most incongruously of all, is her butler and the hatbox. Pink, no less.

It’s an amazing photo.

There are many street photographers out there. This web page explains 10 principles of street photography and then lists many good street photographers.

Candid photography is interesting and challenging, just the way I like it. I’ll keep trying. Meanwhile the link above has a wonderfully long list of good photographers and pictures to be inspired by!

Enjoying the first day of Spring Break

The long awaited Spring Break is here. I went to bed last night after a very busy day at school and after school, and at home…tired, bleary, tapped out and running on vaporous reserves. I woke up this morning after 9 hours’ great sleep to a glowingly gorgeous morning of birdsong, bright sun, and beautiful flowers. Cant be better, right?

It does get even better! Read on for more.

I had to go into Athens Friday late afternoon, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. Though in my youth I drove all over the place without being fazed, as I age, my reflexes are slowing and my ‘startle-reaction’ is more sensitive. For example, people changing lanes suddenly in front of me startles me more than is used to, and the momentary fright lasts longer. I’m more skittish about cars around me. Too much sensory input while on the highway at high speed is burdensome to my brain and eyes, where it bothered me much less in my 30s.  After a long week and a very long day with the kids at school, I was exhausted and wanting to go home.

Their weekly sale included a pint of blackberries for $1.88, and tofu., s I scooped both those up.I found some GREAT deals on the markdown tables. There was a packet of two slices of chocolate frosted cake, and on the fish aisle, a little more than half a pound of smoked salmon for $3!!

Frugal shopping on the fly means that when you see tofu for sale, you get veggies for a stir fry. When you see smoked salmon, you get cream cheese.

Well, eventually, of course, I did get home. As I parked in the garage and opened my trunk to extract the groceries, a moving van pulled up. The tenants on the other side of the house had moved out a day or two ago, and it seemed that the landlord had quickly found new people to take their place. We all spoke in the driveway for a while, they are super nice. I know that since the economy had settled down after the crash of 2008, fewer houses are being foreclosed, fewer people are moving and the occupancy rates for various cities and counties are reaching maximum. In other words, people are staying put. So rents are hard to find, or so I’m told.In any case, I’m glad this family found a nice place to live.

Have you ever considered what a service to the community being a landlord is? Providing housing to people, maintaining a nice place for them to raise their kids, dealing with tenants fairly and honestly? It’s a really good thing.

At Kroger it was nuts, so many cars gridlocked getting gas and the grocery store itself, while not overcrowded, was busier that I’d seen it. Must be the Spring Break thing.

I got home, unloaded groceries, fed the cats, straightened up, watched a few videos, and went to sleep. Blessed unconsciousness, no sensory input, and perfect bodily comfort with the bed clothes and covers.

The next morning, I awoke to this. Sun! Birds! Blue Sky! Flowers! Yay!

These baby birdies are in a nest the mama had made in the windowsill of the window that has the air conditioner. Their peeps are so cute!
New neighbor’s cactus

I’ve been wondering where the male cardinals have gone. I know they’re still around, but I used to see them closer to the house, feeding on worms near my front door, even. This guy was about 150 feet away from me, halfway up a tall tree.

Pretty dogwood tree, my favorite in the whole yard. Blooming in the sun on a spring morning. Ahhh

For breakfast, I used some of the smoked salmon to make a pate that included cream cheese (softened), lemon juice and instead of capers, minced olives. I spread the salmon pate on toasted multi-grain artisan bread (another Kroger marked down item). The blackberries went on my plate of course, as did a yellow gold potato I’d roasted in the crock pot a few days ago. It sounds fancy, and it probably is, but it was done on a budget.

Today is supposed to be in the upper 70s and I plan to stand at my potter’s table and clean out my pots and refresh my outside plants that made it through the winter. In another few weeks the threat of frost will have passed and I will get some plants to put in the pots. I sure do love flowers. And birds. And warm sunny mornings. And life!

Milan’s Leonardo statue at the Galleria

I spent a Saturday recently scanning in old travel photos. I found this one and I’d forgotten to write the caption on the back, but I knew it was Italy. After scanning and enlarging it, I saw that the top of the base was labeled Leonardo, so it was an easy matter to Google ‘Leonardo statue Italy’ and discover it’s a famous statue of Leonardo Da Vinci in Milan. Google is amazing.

The statue of Leonardo da Vinci is located in Piazza della Scala, prominently displayed in front of the international temple of bel canto. The monument offers a solemn and austere image of the scientist and at his feet are four of his pupils. The statue is made of white Carrara marble, whilst granite from Baveno was used for the base.

Ah, yes, now I remember. I’d gone to the Galleria and took this photo from the car on the way in. The Galleria is one of the world’s oldest shopping malls, built in 1867. Though Providence’s Westminster Arcade was built in 1828 and is Nationally Registered Landmark. I have a photo of that one, too, somewhere…

Notice the photo of the base, the hexagonal shape with each panel artfully carved in bronze in 3-D relief. Amazing work!

I like statues. I like granite and marble, so that stands to reason. I played around with the Leonardo statue on Pixlr-O-Matic. This is an online version of Pixlr, a free photo editing app I’d downloaded to my desktop. There are several versions of Pixlr online for free. The O-Matic automatically places several filters atop your picture. I couldn’t decide which ones I liked most so I saved several. You decide, lol. First is the original untouched, then an original version cropped to highlight just Leonardo. Then all the Pixlr ones.


The Italians are certainly impressive in their creative statue making. All over Milan, Florence, Rome, and else where are impressive fountains, statues and art of all kinds. There’s an interesting story that combines the Italians’ love of beauty with confidence in their abilities. They began re-building the cathedral in Florence in 1296. The dome that would be built atop the structure was so large, the architect had no idea how t would be built. He designed it,and the powers that be said, well, that’s going to be a few hundred years from now when we get to building the top of it, so let’s just wait a while and worry about that when we get to it.

And they did! I’m drastically collapsing the story but it’s captured both in a National Geographic article and in a good little book called Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King.

I love all the Italian statuary and art. I wonder if they ever imagined that photography would be invented and we’d take photos of their work and then monkey with it by adding filters and gizmos. I wonder if the ancient artists and stonemasons would be impressed and delighted, or offended and angry. Oh well, art marches on.

Ten (15) Books I Can’t Do Without

I follow the New York Times Magazine on Twitter. On their Twitter stream you’ll see links to beautifully photographed articles from their Magazine. I love looking at pretty things, and their articles always feature nice photography, whether it’s about fashion, art, architecture, or any other subject for that matter.

In one particular series, they contact a current celebrity and ask them to list ten books they couldn’t do without. It’s the old question, which books would you want with you if you were marooned on a desert island? As an aside, I remember in George W Bush’s Presidential term (#43) he was asked in a different interview that same question. He’d replied “the Bible.” It was 2001, and I was not saved yet, and his answer both confused me and angered me. The Bible?! That boring, dusty thing? I could not for the life of me figure out the attraction.

Now I know. But the question back then as well as this week’s in the NYT to Michelle Dockery is a compelling one. It got me thinking about books that have had an impact on me one way or another. I couldn’t winnow it down to just ten. My list has 15 books, and the era ranges from my high school years through to my fifties (now). They are all old friends, cherished and loved, having transported me to another place or challenging my thinking. If I read some of them now I might have a different reaction. But for who I was at the time of the reading, these books had a great impact on me.

My list will go in chronological order of when I’d read them. Here they are, my top 15 books starting with my faves from High School to now. My faves…apart from the Bible of course.


The Hobbit

I loved it. I read it. I re-read it. I read it to my little sister. I talked about it incessantly. I thought I was going to have a heart attack when Smaug departed his cavern and breathed fire in attack over Lake-town, it was THAT exciting. I enjoyed it tremendously. So did everyone else: the book has never been out of print since it was published in 1937.

The Once and Future King

Starting in High School, I had a long-lasting love of the medieval era, armor, weaponry, and most of all King Arthur that lasted well into my thirties. This book kicked it off in my sophomore year. It’s one of the books on the syllabus in my English class, where I was first introduced to it. I read it afterwards many times and enjoyed it each time, getting something new from it with each reading. “Might doesn’t make right.”

All Creatures Great and Small

My best friend’s mom gave me Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small when I was a freshman in high school. I did not enjoy animal stories at that time and I shelved the book. A few years later, being without reading material for the moment and desperate to read anything, I picked up and I’m so glad I did. I loved the book and it became a treasured companion while I read it and a cherished memory for years after. When the BBC TV series came out I watched that too.


I had a Michener run for a while in High School. I remember his book Hawaii best. The exotic locale, the interesting characters, the tsunami, and most of all my horror at what I considered evil work of the missionaries. Those bad, bad missionaries, trying to force a new god on those natives! They were just minding their own business! They were there first! Hawaii entranced me as a kid, I look back now and see it as a towering monument to a secular wold view held by a lost person very distant from God. But the writing was good.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Growing up in the 1960s & 1970s meant the cold war, Iron Curtain, and Russia dominated the news, our thinking, and our lives. Unfortunately as a kid of the 1960s, words like Gulag were part of our vocabulary. I tread Ivan in high school and was much impacted by it. I thought the writing was starkly beautiful in a way that even Hemingway would be envious of. Combined with the knowledge that the author, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, had actually served in the camps and that this was the first book the Communists had allowed to be published on the subject, made the impact on me even more deep.

The Stand

I had quite a Stephen King run in the 1970s and early 1980s. He is a Mainer, and he taught as an adjunct at University of Maine at Orono, my alma mater. I saw him frequently on campus and around town. His first book, Carrie, was published just a few years before I got to UMO. By the time The Stand was published in 1978, the year I arrived at the U, the King phenomenon had to taken off just locally in Maine but nationally, too. It was fun to read published books and then spot the actual author, say, at the mall. It was fun to have a writer for a celebrity in our midst. The Stand is considered his greatest work. It IS a great work, just great. It got me thinking about good and evil, what I considered equal forces battling it out. Plus it’s just a gripping yarn.


Pillars of the Earth

Ken Follett’s amazingly well researched and deftly written tale of the decades of building a massive cathedral in medieval times fed into my love of the era, as mentioned earlier. I also love architecture, great stories, and good writing, so this book had me at hello.

Bonfire of the Vanities

The 1980s was when was 20-30. I was a new married adult who owned a house, eyeing the American landscape of that era though grown up eyes. The excesses, greed, stock market, Reagnomics, money, finance, real estate were all words that populated the news and our lives as much as Soviet, Russia, nuke, and Gulag had when I was growing up in the ’60s. Wikipedia describes Bonfire as a book “about a drama about ambition, racism, social class, politics, and greed in 1980s New York City” and so, it is a perfect mirror of the era. I’m not a huge fan of author Tom Wolfe but this book was excellent for the time.

Love in the Time of Cholera

I had a South American author run during my late 20s. I read Isabel Allende, Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Paul Coelho incessantly. This book of Marquez’ contains my all time favorite opening line of any book (almost tied with Hardy’s in Return of the Native.) “It was inevitable, the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” Who wouldn’t love such an opening sentence full of poetry, foreshadowing, and mystery?!


Lonesome Dove

Contrasting the magic realism of the South American Authors are the American cowboy writers I was into, Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry. I liked the contrast of the lush S. American tropics to the AMerican dusty, tumbleweed west. During the ’90s I traveled widely, including a VW camper van through all the American western states. I fell in love with West Texas. As we traveled through to Big Bend National Park, filming of the epic series based on McMurtry’s book Lonesome Dove had recently just concluded. We stayed a couple of nights at The Gage Hotel, a historic and beautifully appointed hotel filled with furnishings that took you back to the 1830s, and occasionally a real cowboy would stride through and suddenly you were living Lonesome Dove life. As for the book Lonesome Dove, it’s epic. EPIC.

The Shell Seekers

Wikipedia explains, “The Shell Seekers is a 1987 novel by Rosamunde Pilcher. It became one of her most famous best-sellers. It was nominated by the British public in 2003 as one of the top 100 novels in the BBC’s Big Read.” This book isn’t profound or deep. It’s just one of the best reads ever. If you’re looking for a good story and quality writing, this is it.


Bowling Alone

The first half of the decade I was consumed with launching and running a weekly newspaper in my city of 7000 people. I had been greatly concerned with Robert B. Putnam’s revealing of the decline of civic commitment, loss of political balance, and dearth of wise reporting. So I began a paper, and then along came this book, which mirrored my concerns and had sociological data and a well-researched thesis to support it. This non-fiction book made a tremendous impact nationally, as it did with me.

As for the rest of the first half of the decade, it was spent reading non-fiction about civic endeavors and citizen journalism. As for my private reading not associated with my work, I was being drawn to Jesus and spent any spare moments I had reading material that mirrored that confusing time, such as Buddhist and New Age books that attempted to explain the soul. (Noooo! Anything except Jesus!)  I was also selling my business and moving to GA and re-settling alone down south. Not doing a lot of reading.

2000’s teens

By now I’m saved, and so my reading material changed and the impacts on me changed too. My world-view had completely shifted from seeing the world and seeking answers about it through fiction, which really is what most fiction is about, to seeing the world through the mind of Christ.

Pilgrim’s Progress

This book, written by John Bunyan in the 1600s, is considered one of the greatest books of all time. An allegory of a Christian’s progress through life, with its joys, trials, and final glorified status, is a pleasure to read, even 400 years after its first publication. Edifying in the extreme, many people consider this book second to the Bible in terms of impact. I enjoyed it so much.

Elmer Gantry

The Lord’s Spirit dispensed discernment to me and I have a heightened sensitivity to unorthodox doctrines, falsity, and hypocrisy. This fiction book by Sinclair Lewis is a devastating (and accurate) portrayal of hypocrisy in a pastor, from its first germ to full blown infection. Its insights were illuminating and fascinating to me, as much as they repelled me also. An incredible book for a Christian to read.

The Little Woman

I’d love for all the paper tiger feminists crying about how life just can’t go on in a day without women (wah we’re so persecuted) to take a look at some of these tremendous Christian women who just went out there and did it. The Little Woman is an autobiography by Gladys Aylward of her voyage to become one of the very first first female missionaries to inland China in the early 1930s. Traipsing mountains, facing jail riots, escaping armies (with 100 orphans in tow) … all in a days’ work. This book shows you what the Lord can do with a willing and obedient heart. It’s a joy to read.

Honorable mentions, books that also impacted me and I couldn’t do without, at least as far as my development at the point at which I was reading them:

  • 1984, George Orwell
  • Jude the Obscure, Return of the Native, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
  • Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
  • Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  • Dune, Frank Herbert
  • Watership Down, Richard Adams
  • How Proust Can Change Your Life, Alain de Botton

How about you? What books can’t you do without?


Further reading

30 Great Opening Lines in Literature

The Great Books Program and Foundation

Harvard Classics