Thursday, July 21, 2016

Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little Town on the Prairie
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1941


Springtime

After the long winter, it was finally spring and the Ingalls family moved back to their homestead. Laura and her older sister Mary (who is blind) went for a walk on the prairie and had a conversation about sheep sorrel.  Laura expressed that it tasted like springtime, and Mary, ever the realist, said "it really tastes a little like lemon flavoring, Laura." 

The Goodness of God

Then their conversation turned to goodness and rebellion.
"You used to try all the time to be good," Laura said.  "And you always were good.  I wish I could be like you.  I don't know how you can be so good."
"I'm not really," Mary told her.  "I do try, but if you could see how rebellious and mean I feel sometimes, if you could see what I really am, inside, you wouldn't want to be like me."
Mary admitted to "showing off, being vain and proud," and Laura contradicted her, telling her that she is good.  But Mary replied, using words straight from Scripture:
"We are all desperately wicked and inclined to evil as the sparks fly upwards."  But she continued, "I don't believe we ought to think so much about ourselves, about whether we are bad or good."  And further, ". . . it isn't so much thinking, as - as just knowing.  Just being sure of the goodness of God."
Mouse in the House

This is hysterical.  In the middle of the night, Laura described how "a gasp, grunt, and sudden thud of something small and squashing" woke her up.  Pa told Ma that he dreamed a barber was cutting his hair, but Ma could not understand how a dream could upset him so.  When Pa reached up and felt his hair, he realized - and Ma confirmed - that a place on his hair had been "shorn clean off."  And what he took hold of was a mouse, which he "threw away as hard as he could."  Sure enough, in the morning, they found a dead mouse near the wall.  

Pa had to attend a town meeting at the Whiting's homestead the next day, but he was missing a section of hair.  It would have been fine to keep his hat on, but he expected Mrs. Whiting to be present, and he would need to remove his hat, in respect.  
"Never mind," Ma consoled him.  "Just tell them how it happened.  Likely they have mice."
"There'll be more important things to talk about," said Pa.  "No, better just let them think this is the way my wife cuts my hair." 
"Charles, you wouldn't!" Ma exclaimed, before she saw that he was teasing her.
Long story short, Pa came home with a kitten to deal with the mice problem. 

Laura, Mary, Carrie, Grace, and Kitty

Laura in the World

Mary had always wanted to go to school and become a teacher, but her dreams were dashed after an illness caused her blindness.  But the Ingalls learned of a school for the blind in Iowa, and Laura's new mission became earning money to help pay for an education for her sister.  She was offered a summer job with a merchant in town, sewing shirts for bachelors.

Pa and Laura walk to town.

Working in town exposed Laura to the world.  The White family, whom Laura worked for, were rude and cold to each other, and nothing like Laura's warm, loving family.  Laura reminded herself of Ma's words: 
It takes all kinds of people to make a world.
While Laura worked, she watched the townspeople, including drunks who went in and out of the saloons, sometimes destroying property.  When Laura explained what she saw, Ma said, 
"I begin to believe that if there isn't a stop put to the liquor traffic, women must bestir themselves and have something to say about it."
Pa replied, "Seems to me you have plenty to say Caroline.  Ma never left me in doubt as to the evil of drink, nor you either."
"Be that as it may be," said Ma.  "It's a crying shame that such things can happen before Laura's very eyes."
My Favorite Part: The Fourth of July 
Fourth of July was the day when the first Americans declared that all men are born free and equal.  "BOOM!"
"It's nothing to be solemn about!" Pa jumped out of bed. "Hurray!  We're Americans!"
In my opinion, that should be reason enough for Americans to wake up like this every morning, yet sadly, so much been destroyed and lost.  But that's a post for another day.  Back to Laura's day . . .

Laura and Carrie went to town with Pa to celebrate Independence Day where they listened to a politically incorrect speech about history, 
". . . when our forefathers cut loose from the despots of Europe.  There wasn't many Americans at that time, but they wouldn't stand for any monarch tyrannizing over them. They had to fight the British regulars and their hired Hessians and the murdering scalping red-skinned savages that those fine gold-laced aristocrats turned loose on our settlements and paid for murdering and burning and scalping women and children.  We licked the British in 1776 and we licked 'em again in 1812, and we backed all the monarchies of Europe out of Mexico and off this continent less than twenty years ago, and by glory! Yessir, by Old Glory right here, waving over my head, any time the despots of Europe try to step on America's toes, we'll lick 'em again!   
 "Every man Jack of us a free and independent citizen of God's country, the only country on earth where a man is free and independent.  Today's the Fourth of July . . . and it ought to have a bigger, better celebration than this.  Most of us are out here trying to pull ourselves up by our own boot straps.  By next year, likely some of us will be better off, and be able to chip in for a real big rousing celebration of Independence.  Meantime . . . somebody's got to read the Declaration of Independence . . .
And Laura included almost the entire text of America's Founding document.  When it was over, Laura expressed how no one cheered, but rather it was more like a moment to say, "Amen."  

Finally, Laura went into a contemplation about God and self-government.  She thought:
Americans won't obey any king on earth.  Americans are free.  That means they have to obey their own consciences.  No king bosses Pa; he has to boss himself.  Why, when I am a little older, Pa and Ma will stop telling me what to do, and there isn't anyone else who has a right to give me orders.  I will have to make myself be good.
This is what it means to be free.  It means, you have to be good.  "Our father's God, author of liberty -"  The laws of Nature and of Nature's God endow you with a right to life and liberty.  Then you have to keep the laws of God, for God's law is the only thing that gives you a right to be free.  
If more parents taught this to their children at home and teachers were allowed to reinforce this in schools and our government would function according to these principles - WOW! how many of society's ills would be covered?  But, I digress again.

Mary Goes to College and Nellie Olsen Comes to De Smet

Before Mary left for college, she and Laura went for one last walk on the prairie.  As usual, Laura had to curb her expressive urges.  Instead of describing the sun as "sinking to rest, like a king . . . drawing the gorgeous curtains of his great bed around him," Laura replaced it with:
"The sun is sinking, Mary, into white downy clouds that spread to the edge of the world. All the tops of them are crimson, and streaming down from the top of the sky are great gorgeous curtains of rose and gold with pearly edges.  They are a great canopy over the whole prairie.  The little streaks of sky between them are clear, pure green."
When the Ingalls family moved back to town for the winter, Laura and Carrie resumed going to school.  And guess who the teacher was?  Miss Wilder, Almanzo's sister.  But the real surprise was that Nellie Olsen moved to De Smet.  Between Miss Wilder and Nellie, it turned out to be a maddening school season.  See my notes:

  • Nellie provoked Laura, and a fist fight almost ensued.
  • Miss Wilder did not punish anyone for their disruptions, rebellions, and lawlessness.  She meant to rule them by love, not fear.  (A hippie before her time.)
  • Laura worried about getting an education while Miss Wilder permitted chaos.
  • Miss Wilder was unfair and cruel to Carrie.
  • Laura shared her observations with Ma and Pa, who disbelieved her story.
  • The whole bench rocking episode!  (I have to side with Laura on this one).
  • Laura explained: her fury took possession of her.  (See image below.) 
Laura's fury taking possession of her.

  • She and Carrie were excused from school, but returned the next day.  Teacher may be wrong, but must always be respected.  (Maybe so, but bad teachers need to be fired.)
  • Laura felt guilty for her internal resentment of Miss Wilder.
  • Chaos continued when Charley sat on a pin and Miss Wilder punished him, which didn't make sense.
  • Laura felt responsible for the chaos because she smiled at naughtiness once; but she still did not repent.
  • Miss Wilder told a lie about Laura.
  • Laura did not consider why Miss Wilder lied, but it all came back to Nellie, who used Miss Wilder to hurt Laura.  (Laura defended Pa, but insulted Nellie's father at the same time, which caused Nellie to team up with Miss Wilder.  And in the end, ugh, it really was all Laura's fault.  That troublemaker!)
  • Which prompted Ma to write in Laura's journal: 
If wisdom's ways you wisely seek,
Five things observe with ease,
To whom you speak,
Of whom you speak,
And how, and when, and where.    

A Birthday Party, Coming of Age, and a Life Change

Laura and her girlfriends were invited to a birthday party of a fellow male classmate.  They sat down to dinner together and later played games.  The overall social atmosphere between the boys and girls reminded me of why being young and coming of age is so exciting and pleasurable.  

Oh, to be young again.

Speaking of coming of age, Laura so much enjoyed her friendships and "playing" - which was "unladylike" - that she never wanted it to end.  Almanzo Wilder even asked to walk her home a few nights after church, which petrified Ma.  But Laura was growing up.

However she also needed to study and do well in school because she wanted to continue to help pay for Mary's college tuition.  Laura managed to maintain her grades and was exceptional during the school exhibition; and because of her merit and dedication, she was offered a job as a third grade teacher for the Brewster School, twelve miles from town.  She passed her exam and took the job.  Her life was about to change overnight.

Final Words of Wisdom, by Ma
"The prairie looks so beautiful and gentle," [Laura] said.  "But I wonder what it will do next.  Seems like we have to fight it all the time."
"This earthly life is a battle," said Ma.  "If it isn't one thing to contend with, it's another.  It always has been so, and it always will be.  The sooner you make up your mind to that, the better off you are, and the more thankful your pleasures." 

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The Gulag Archipelago
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Published 1973

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was born in Russia, 1918, after the Russian Revolution had begun.  In his youth, he supported the Communist regime, and during WWII, after he graduated from the University, he joined the Russian army and spent three years in combat.  Before the end of WWII, he was arrested by the Soviet spy agency for disrespecting the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, in a letter to a friend.  He was sentenced to a labor camp for eight years, which he called the Gulag Archipelago. The historical and biographical book he wrote (titled by the same name) is about his life during those years he was in prison.

Since my pages are defaced with notes, stars, underlining, circles, and arrows - making it impossible to focus on any one topic or point - I am just going to write what comes to mind, as opposed to a synopsis.  I know this will be one of the more enduring books I have read in my life, and I will remember Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn for a long, long time.

Solzhenitsyn experienced first hand what it was to have his freedom stolen from him; hence I appreciate how he values freedom and liberty.  He wrote about it and talked about it, like it is one of the most important human struggles.  His story is direct and grim, and at times told with bitter sarcasm.  He wrote extensively on his experience in the labor camp, but I have only captured a few points here.  For example:

The goal of the prison and labor camp was to retrain the people.
[The State] find[s] in forced labor one of the highest forms of blazing, conscientious creativity.  Here is the theoretical basis of re-education; "Criminals are the result of the repulsive condition of former times, and our country is beautiful, powerful and generous, and it needs to be beautified."
Thanks to Marx's and Engels' socialist philosophy, Stalin believed that forced human labor was the key to human correction.
Engels discovered that the human being had arisen not through the perception of a moral idea and not through the process of thought, but out of happenstance and meaningless work.  Marx . . . declared with equal conviction that the one and only means of correcting offenders was not solitary contemplation, not moral soul-searching, not repentance, and not languishing - but productive labor.
To compel a prisoner to labor every day (sometimes fourteen hours . . .) was humane and would lead to his correction.  
And so, for this correction, families were divided, marriages dissolved, people starved and exposed to the elements and sickness, and women were raped, not only by soldiers but also other prisoners.   Solzhenitsyn claims a quarter of a million lives were affected, for what?

Since WWII, Nazis were arrested and convicted of their crimes against humanity; however, Russians were discouraged from talking about their government's past sins.  According to Solzhenitsyn, sixty million lives were murdered, and "no one was to blame for it," for fear of opening up old wounds.

Have you ever noticed that there are no movie blockbusters or major books about Stalin (like there are about Hitler)?  Why?
Hitler was a mere disciple, but he had all the luck: his murder camps have made him famous, whereas no one has any interest in ours at all.
Solzhenitsyn also claims that the U.S. and its allies abandoned the Russians after WWII.  They liberated the Jews from the Nazis, as if the West were only concerned for its own freedom, but would not help deliver the Russians from Communism.


The most memorable part for me was a female prisoner who was interrogated about her Christian faith.  Why would a nation destroy its own citizens? After reading her arrest file she broke out into a sermon.  She spoke about her religious faith and religious believers:
Formerly, unbridled passions were the basis for everything - "Steal the stolen good" - and, in that state of affairs, religious believers were naturally a hindrance to you.  But now, when you want to build and prosper in this world, why do you persecute your best citizens?  They represent your most precious material: after all, believers don't need to be watched, they do not steal, and they do not shirk.  Do you think you can build a just society on a foundation of self-serving and envious people?  Everything in the country is falling apart.  Why do you spit in the heart of your best people?  Separate church and state properly and do not touch the church; you will not lose a thing thereby.  

After release, 1953

If Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn seemed like an angry man, maybe he had a right to be.  He loved his native Russia, but Communism was destroying her people.  After his release from prison, he began a career in writing literature, and in 1970, he won a Nobel Prize.  He continued writing and speaking in defense of liberty, self-government, democracy, and peace.  Eventually he was expelled from Russia in 1974 because of his opinions against the Soviet Union.  After the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Solzhenitsyn returned to his homeland in 1994, and died of heart failure in 2008.

A smiling Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
1918 - 2008
All you freedom-loving "left-wing" thinkers in the West! You left laborites! You progressive American, German, and French students! As far as you are concerned, none of this amounts to much.  As far as you are concerned, this whole book of mine is a waste of effort.  You may suddenly understand it all someday - but only when you yourselves hear "hands behind your backs there!" and step ashore on our Archipelago.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas

Amazing Grace: 
William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery
Eric Metaxas
Published 2007

This is the second book I have read (in the same year) by Eric Metaxas - the other being Bonhoeffer, which was EXCELLENT!  Metaxas seems to draw these quiet, humble figures out of the past and brings them to the forefront of history.  Amen.

William Wilberforce was born into a life of privilege and, on the surface, he lived a life of wealth, leisure, and entertainment; however, he was actually quite frail and sickly.  Nonetheless, in 1780, at twenty-one, he was elected to Parliament and soon after showed an interest in reforming society for the better.  Leave it to God to use the least among us to do the most difficult work.

It began with Wilberforce's spiritual conversion in 1786, when he came to know Christ as his Savior, that he experienced a "Great Change."
"Well, I now fully believed the Gospel and was persuaded that if I died at any time I should perish everlastingly."
"I must awake to my dangerous state, and never be at rest till I have made my peace with God.  My heart is so hard, my blindness so great, that I cannot get a due hatred of sin, though I see I am all corrupt, and blinded to the perception of spiritual things." 
He was in such agony over his state of sinfulness that he considered leaving politics in order to "live now for God."  It was John Newton, ex-captain of a slave ship and personal friend of Wilberforce, who encouraged him to stay in Parliament and allow God to use him for the greater good.
"God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners."
Thereafter, Wilberforce realized his purpose in this world and made it his passionate work to abolish slavery.  But he and a few fellow abolitionists had to be clever about their mission because slavery was completely acceptable in their time, as it had always been since the beginning of civilization. They targeted only the slave trade, which would prove to be difficult and challenging enough.

In fact, it took twenty long, dragged-out years and much determination, perseverance, and patience before abolitionists could see that victory in 1807.  How Wilberforce did not give up the fight is beyond me, and maybe that did not help his health either; but I suppose it was God's will to use this man and others like him to carry on the fight for those who had no voice.  Not only was he instrumental in outlawing the slave trade, but he influenced attitudes and changed hearts concerning slavery overall. Three days before Wilberforce died in 1833, slavery was altogether abolished in the British Empire, except in India, which Wilberforce had also worked towards.  Slavery in India was later abolished in 1843, which demonstrated that the ripple effect of Wilberforce's work lasted long after he was gone.

I take away two important ideas from Mr. Wilberforce and his story: the first is that it gives me great hope in mankind to read about quiet, humble lives who courageously fight for righteousness and persevere through dangerous opposition.  History overflows with examples of minor characters doing major work to change the course of the world for the better, we just do not tell their stories enough like we tell the stories about the tyrants.

The other point is not necessarily an idea, but a truth, as William Wilberforce and those he worked with to abolish slavery were deeply motivated by their Christian faith.  As the Bible teaches, we must never be insecure to do what is right or speak for the weak, knowing that we will be in opposition to the world.  Wilberforce is an example of this Christian ideal.
Open your mouth for the speechless, In the cause of all who are appointed to die.  Open your mouth, judge righteously, And plead the cause of the poor and needy.  (Proverbs 31:8) 
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.  Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.  (1 Peter 3:13-14) 
Not only that, but they were white, too.  While slavery was commonplace all over the world, it was also Christian white men and women who fought for the emancipation of black slaves and worked to end the theft, sale, and enslavement of other human beings against their will.  In other words, not all white people support the mistreatment and suppression of others based on skin color or other lame excuse.  Many ardent abolitionists were white.  Thanks to work by Mr. Metaxas, we have their stories to tell.


Thursday, June 30, 2016

Reading The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, during the longest California heatwave ever

The Long Winter
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1940

When I started The Long Winter on June 1st, Southern California hit triple digits.  Today is the last day of June, and the heatwave continues.  At least tomorrow's high temps will only reach 99 degrees. Triple digits usually come in July and last about a week or a few consecutive days - not in June, and not for an entire month!

When will it end?
Reading The Long Winter during an endless triple-digit heatwave made me think about surviving unbearable conditions, with no change or end in sight.  Of course, it will end, but when you are living through it for longer than usual you feel helpless and tired and even a little worried that things will remain this way forever.  That is how Laura felt when her family survived seven months of blizzards in De Smet, South Dakota.

Speaking of LONG, my notes are excessive, but I will do my best to keep it short and sweet.   Let's start at the beginning:

Laura helped Pa stack hay; however, "Ma did not like to see women working in the field. Only foreigners did that.  Ma and the girls were American."  Leave it to Ma to admit something politically incorrect for today's audience.  Personally, I do not take offense because Ma lived during the late 1800s, and that was her world.  It was not that women were incapable - as Laura proved she was capable - but this was just the way it was in the 1800s.

Pa and Laura found a thick muskrat's home, ready for a tough winter.  Laura asked how the muskrat knew to build such a home, and Pa explained that God gave animals an instinct to know what to do; whereas, Pa said,
"we're not animals.  We're humans, and like it says in the Declaration of Independence, God created us free.  That means we got to take care of ourselves."
(Of course, Pa connected everything to the Declaration of Independence.  Oh, wait! The Founders believed God created man free and independent, too.  Duh!)  But wait, there's more...Laura wondered,
"I thought God takes care of us."
"He does," Pa said, "so far as we do what's right.  And He gives us a conscience and brains to know what's right.  But He leaves it to us to do as we please.  That's the difference between us and everything else in creation." 
Laura wanted to know if muskrats could do as they pleased, and Pa explained instinct to her.  Muskrats will only build the same home, but man can build any home he likes.  "So if his house don't keep out the weather, that's his look-out; he's free and independent."   (That's when Laura tried to comprehend the shanty-style house which did not keep out the weather.  Maybe man is not so sharp after all.)

Frozen cows
Before winter, an early storm brought freezing cold temps.  Several roaming cattle froze in their place, in Pa's field.  Laura went with Pa to see what had happened and watched Pa free them from the frozen ground.  Laura tried to explain to Ma and Mary, but Mary was incredulous:
"It must be one of Laura's queer notions," Mary said, busily knitting in her chair by the stove.  "How could cattle's heads freeze to the ground, Laura?  It's really worrying, the way you talk sometimes."  
And to herself, Laura realized she could not explain how she felt, "that somehow in the wild night and storm, the stillness that was underneath all sounds on the prairie had seized the cattle."  (Yeah, how do you explain that to a realist like Mary?)

One day an Indian came into town to warn the settlers of the coming blizzards.  This prompted homesteaders to move from their claim shanties to town where they could live closer to supplies and each other.   That is what the Ingalls family did.  This also meant that Laura and Carrie could attend school, which they were both weary to do; but Laura is all for having courage in the face of fear.

For example, one day at school, a blizzard came.  Laura immediately thought how to keep warm if they had to wait out the storm: they could burn the wooden desks.  Just like her Pa, she was proactive!  Gratefully, they did not have to burn the desks because they were all escorted into town by the school superintendent.  Fear and courage makes you find ways to survive.

Almanzo, Laura's future husband, lived in De Smet, too, where he and his brother Royal were bach-ing.  Almanzo lied about his age to get a claim because he believed he was as capable as any 21-year old, to own land.  Laura explained,
Anybody knew that no two men were alike.  You could measure cloth with a yardstick, or distance by miles, but you could not lump men together and measure them by any rule.  Brains and character did not depend on anything but the man himself.  Some men did not have the sense at sixty that some had at sixteen.  And Almanzo considered that he was as good, any day, as any man twenty-one years old.
Those blizzards kept coming, one on top of another, and they prevented the trains from delivering supplies to town.  It was a burden on Laura's heart, and she tried hard to be cheerful, always.  Ma impressed upon her girls to keep their chins up.  She really was a strong woman through all of this.  Eventually they ran out of coal and had to burn hay.  They stretched out the potatoes and brown bread for food, and tea to drink, for as long as they could.  Eventually Laura lost her appetite.

Twisting hay
Imagine how they felt when in January they learned that the trains would not run again until spring!  Pa told them the story of the engineer who tried to move the train that was buried under snow, but quit.  Each girl had a different opinion.  Carrie said she did not blame him for quitting; Laura said he should have found another way to move the train; and Mary said he should have just obeyed the superintendent.

The superintendent then tried to move the train, but failed.  And Pa said it was because he lacked patience, and Ma added perseverance.  Pa said,
"Well, he's an easterner.  It takes patience and perseverance to contend with things out here in the west."
Once Ma snapped at Charles for swearing - "Gosh dang!" - then apologized to him.  Pa understood the reason for her her short temper.   Ma is never short fused.

Grace whined because her "feet's" were cold, and Laura scolded her for complaining.
"For shame, Grace!  A big girl like you!  Go warm your feet," Laura told her.
Almanzo hiding his wheat

This I could not understand: Almanzo hid his good seed wheat in the wall of Royal's feed store, where they were staying in town.  But, the town ran out of food, and people were going to starve. There was a rumor that a homesteader was wintering on his claim twenty miles outside of town, and he may have had seed wheat. The men discussed going out to buy it from him to feed the people in town.  Why didn't Almanzo just sacrifice his wheat for the town?  All of his reasons make no sense to me.

Pa considered going to look for the wheat, but Ma put her foot down, literally.
Quietly she told Pa, "I say, No.  You don't take such a chance."
"Why...Caroline!" Pa said.
"Your hauling hay is bad enough," Ma told him.  "You don't go hunting for that wheat."
Pa said mildly, "Not as long as you feel that way about it, I won't.  But..."
"I won't hear any buts," Ma said, still terrible. "This time I put my foot down."
"All right, that settles it," Pa agreed.   
And this time, Ma did not apologize.  Sometimes I think women display more sense than men, and must say so.  Even Pa told her, "You're right, Caroline, you always are."  (I love it when a man can put aside his pride and admit the truth.)

Almanzo said that he was "free, white, and twenty-one; this is a free country, and he was free and independent to do as he pleased."  So he and Cap Garland risked their lives to find this unknown homesteader, in hopes that he would sell his seed wheat, if he had any at all, in order to save the town.  It was excruciatingly painful to read through; but long story short, they made it, found the man, made a deal, and brought home the wheat all in one long day's treacherous journey.

While Almanzo and Cap were traveling, another storm had come, and Pa lashed out at the wind.
Pa rose with a deep breath.  "Well, here it is again."
Then suddenly he shook his clenched fist at the northwest.  "Howl!  blast you!" he shouted.  "We're all here safe!  You can't get at us!  You've tried all winter but we'll beat you yet!  We'll be right here when spring comes!"
Charles, Charles," Ma said soothingly.  "It is only a blizzard.  We're used to them."  
Pa dropped back in his chair.  After a minute he said, "That was foolish, Caroline.  Seemed for a minute like that wind was something alive, trying to get at us."
"We'll beat you yet!"
After the storm had passed, Loftus, the store owner who provided the money for Almanzo and Cap to purchase the wheat, prepared to resell it to the families in town.  However, he charged a high price, even though Almanzo and Cap did not charge Loftus extra for hauling.  Pa told him he had a right to do as he pleased with his own property, and a profit was understandable; but he reminded him that every customer was free and independent, too.
"This winter won't last forever and maybe you want to go on doing business after it's over.  Your business depends on our good will.  You maybe don't notice that now, but along next summer you'll likely notice it."
"That's so, Loftus," Gerald Fuller said.  "You got to treat folks right or you don't last long in business, not in this country."   
In the end, Loftus sold the wheat for exactly what it cost him to purchase it.

Every day the girls ground wheat and Ma made bread.  And every day Laura felt dull and stupid and tired.  She even asked Pa if the blizzard could beat them, but Pa encouraged, "No, it's got to quit sometime and we don't.  It can't lick us.  We won't give up."

That next morning, Laura woke to the warm Chinook winds blowing.  Spring had arrived, and that meant the trains would come.  And they did.  The blizzards were done, winter was over, and the Ingalls family ended The Long Winter with Christmas in May.

Well, this was not very short, after all.  The bottom line is this: The Long Winter is essential reading material.    

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books Read So Far 2016


It is a FREEBIE this week, so I am listing the best [twelve] books I have read so far this year, 2016, in some kind of order beginning with most favorite, which is difficult because some are fictional and others biographical:

1.  Bonhoeffer - Eric Metaxas  
Excellent biography about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 
German pastor and spy during WWII.  
I will never forget this book.

2.  Far From the Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
(audio version,
but I like this cover best)
I love this story; I don't know how else to say it.

3.  On the Banks of Plum Creek - Laura Ingalls Wilder
My favorite of The Little House series, for now.

4.  Journal of a Solitude - May Sarton
Portrait of May Sarton
I read this book at the right time in my life.  
Had I read it any other time, it may not have had the same impact.

5.  The Long Winter - Laura Ingalls Wilder
Great lessons are to be learned in this one.

6.  The Gulag Archipelago - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 
Excellent biography and evidence from someone who knows what it is like
to have his freedom and liberty stolen from him.

7.  The Autobiography of Malcolm X
This book shocked me to the core,
but it was worth finishing to the very end.

8.  Little House in the Big Woods - Laura Ingalls Wilder
Just a sweet, pleasant story.

9.  Little House on the Prairie - Laura Ingalls Wilder
OK, not a sweet or pleasant story, but necessary.

10.  Farmer Boy - Laura Ingalls Wilder
More good character lessons are in this one.  
This should be a parenting manual.

11.  Amazing Grace - Eric Metaxas
Another great biography by Metaxas, 
demonstrating perseverance and faith in a few men 
fighting for the freedom of all. 

12. By the Shores of Silver Lake - Laura Ingalls Wilder
Not my favorite of The Little House series, 
but still a wonderful experience.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge: Reading the Histories


Since January 2012, I have been reading through The Well-Educated Mind reading lists - first the novels, then the biographies.  Next, I will begin the histories, which is my most favorite genre.  

In the beginning, I knew of several bloggers reading through the novels; in fact, I was able to catch up to them.  But they have since taken a break in their reading, or I passed them up. When I began the biographies, Cleo at Classical Carousel joined me, and she encouraged a group of readers via Goodreads to join us.

I am hoping to begin the histories in January 2017.  If you would like to read along, I have included Susan Wise Bauers' suggested questions to think about and the book titles (listed in chronological order).  We still have the Goodreads group available, if you would like to follow along or join there.

Maybe you are a history fanatic and need an excuse to read more of it, or you loathe it terribly and need encouragement to exercise that part of your brain.  Either way, we would love to have you join us.  We read about one book a month, but depending on the size, it could take longer.  Consider it a three-year reading challenge, at least, if you choose to read every book.


How to Read History:

According to Susan Wise Bauer, these are questions to consider when reading a historical work.

Level I:
Who is the author, and does he/she state the purpose for writing?
Who is the story about, and what are the major events?
What challenge did this hero/heroine face, and what causes this challenge?  What is the result of the hero/heroine?
Do the characters progress/regress, and why?
Where/when does the story take place?

Level II:
What are the historians' assertions, and what questions is he/she asking?
What sources does the historian use to answer them?
Does the evidence support the connection between questions and answers?
Does the historian list his or her qualifications?

Level III:
What is the purpose of history?
Does this story have a forward motion?
What does it mean to be human?
Why do things go wrong?
What place does free will have?
What relationship does this history have to social problems?
What is the end of history?
How is this history the same as - or different than - the stories of other historians who have come before?

The List:

These are the titles to read in this order:

Herodotus: 
The Histories (441 B.C.)

Thucydides: 
The Peloponnesian War (c. 400 B.C.)

Plato: 
The Republic (c. 375 B.C.)

Plutarch: 
Lives (A.D. 100 - 125)

Augustine: 
The City of God (completed 426)

Bede: 
The Ecclesiastical History of the English People (731)

Machiavelli, Niccolo: 
The Prince (1513)

More, Sir Thomas: 
Utopia (1516)

Locke, John: 
The True End of Civil Government (1690)

Hume, David: 
The History of England, Vol. V (1754)

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques: 
The Social Contract (1762)

Paine, Thomas: 
Common Sense (1776)

Gibbon, Edward: 
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776 - 1788)

Wollstonecraft, Mary: 
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

De Tocqueville, Alexis: 
Democracy in America (1835 - 40)

Marx, Karl & Engels, Friedrich: 
The Communist Manifesto (1848)

Burckhardt, Jacob: 
The Civilization of the Renaissance in  Italy (1860)

Du Bois, W.E.B.: 
The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

Weber, Max: 
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904)

Strachey, Lytton: 
Queen Victoria (1921)

Orwell, George: 
The Road to Wigan Pier (1937)

Miller, Perry: 
The New England Mind (1939)

Galbraith, John Kenneth: 
The Great Crash 1929 (1955)

Ryan, Cornelius: 
The Longest Day (1959)

Friedan, Betty: 
The Feminine Mystique (1963)

Genovese, Eugene D.: 
Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (1974)

Tuchman, Barbara: 
A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous  Fourteenth Century (1978)

Woodward, Bob & Bernstein, Carl: 
All the President's Men (1987)

McPherson, James M.: 
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War  Era (1988)

Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher: 
A Midwife's Tale: 
The Life of  Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary (1990)

Fukuyama, Francis: 
The End of History and the Last Man (1992)

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Fifteen Books of Summer (Maybe)


May 31st - It is officially summer for me, and that means I will be busier than ever, of course.  I am months behind on my reading challenges; so why not commit myself to another deadline?  Because at the end of the day, instead of reading, I want to pass out.  So I pass out.  Maybe this will force me to stay up and read.  

Since my summer is 2 1/2 months as opposed to 3 months, I will be pleased just to read these, 

in June:

to finish Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas, for my local Book Club reading;

and finish The Gulag Archipelago by Alexksandr Solzheitsyn, for The Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge;

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, for The Little House Read-Along;

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, for The Classics Club II and Back to the Classics.

In July I plan to read:

Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, for The Little House Read-Along;

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald, for The Classics Club II;

David Cooperfield by Charles Dickens (yeah, right!), for The Classics Club II and Back to the Classics;

Born Again by Charles W. Colson, for The Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge.

And in August I have:

These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder, for The Little House Read-Along;

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, for Reading England, Back to the Classics, and The Classics Club II;

The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola, for Back to the Classics and The Classics Club II.

Plus I am reading The Pickwick Papers every month.

That's twelve.  

If stay up past my bedtime and read more and more (I mean, it's SUMMER!), I may be able to squeeze in three more books to make it 15:

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, just because;

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Bugess, for Back to the Classics and The Classics Club II;

and maybe, just maybe, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God by Jonathan Edwards for The Classics Club II.

That's that.  Now I must go and get reading.  

Monday, May 23, 2016

Night and Day by Virginia Woolf

Night and Day
Virginia Woolf
Published 1919
Woolfalong Reading Challenge, Reading EnglandThe Classics Club II

This novel was unnecessarily long for whatever point Woolf was trying to make.  It was not as enjoyable, and that is why it took six long weeks for me to finish it.  The only happy remark I can add is that Woolf displayed a sarcastic, humorous side that I am not accustomed, and there were some remnants of Jane Austen's style of writing, which in both cases I liked.

Some other pleasant aspects about the novel include the mood of the setting (which is London) and the numerous references to the sea and voyages, which in many regards feels like the uncertainty of love and relationships.

SPOILERS ALL OVER THE PLACE

There are four main characters, plus one later character, whom I focused on. Katharine Hilbery is a young woman living at home, under her parent's care, as she struggles for her own identity and liberty.  And there is Mary Datchett who works, doing what she considers important work for the suffragette movement; but is she really self-sufficient when she, too, struggles for independence from her own parents? What choices do these women have to obtain their autonomy?

Enter William Rodney and Ralph Denham.  Mary likes Ralph, but Ralph thinks Katharine is the perfect example of a woman, who is not all that she seems to be.  I think Ralph is attracted to her unconventional mind and heart.  However, William proposes to Katharine instead, and she accepts because for a brief moment she thought that was what she was supposed to do.  Her parents are certainly content about the match.  That leaves Ralph out, and he does what he thinks he is supposed to do: propose to Mary.  But Mary knows Ralph's heart is not genuine, and she rejects his proposal. Smart girl.  

Katharine knows her engagement to William is not right either, just in time for the fifth important character to enter - Cassandra Otway, Katharine's cousin.  William and Cassandra make a great pair because she is very traditional, and so is he.  Perfect.  Katharine and William re-evaluate their feelings and end their engagement so that William may pursue Cassandra; and Ralph is free to pursue Katherine.  

DONE LEAKING SPOILERS

Katharine is now able to freely decide if she is using marriage as a way out or if it is really something she is choosing for a good reason, like for love or happiness.  She has many questions about marriage and love and happiness, and it is through these philosophical discussions with the other young people and her mother that she hopes to work them out.

Speaking of Mother Hilbery - she was a little overwhelming.  She is a romantic and totally into Shakespeare (not that that has anything to do with it; or maybe it does).  When Katharine is searching for advice on how to handle her feelings for Ralph and is concerned about her doubts of inventing love where there is none, Mother Hilbery makes the argument that "love is our faith," and that "we have to have faith in our vision."  What?  I did not understand.  Was she suggesting that our faith in love is enough for a union?    

That made me recall a part in "Moonstruck" when Loretta's mother gave Loretta a different opinion about her whirlwind proposal by Ronney:

"Do you love him, Loretta?"  
"Ma, I love him awful."
"Oh, God, that's too bad."

Again, as my grandmother told me: "Make sure he loves you more than you love him."

Is love necessary for marriage?  Are there different types of love?  If so, which is best for marriage?   Do we marry for happiness?  Can marriage even make us happy?  These were important questions Katharine had.  And these are important questions we should still consider today when thinking about marriage. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

By the Shores of Silver Lake
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1939

By the Shores of Silver Lake opens with somber emotions: a long illness has affected the family, and Mary has been left blind; Pa has not been able to catch up after the devastating destruction of the grasshoppers; Laura has had to take on more responsibilities, and they are behind in the housework; and to make matters worse, someone is coming, and Ma and Laura are embarrassed for their disheveled state.  

But this turns out to be good news.  The unannounced visitor is Aunt Docia, and she offers Pa a job as the accountant on the railroad grade in Dakota Territory.  Pa takes it, and heads out immediately, leaving Ma and the girls to recover for a few more months.  

Sadly, Jack dies of old age before they leave for Dakota.  
Laura knew she was not a little girl anymore.  Now she was alone and must take care of herself.
Ma, Mary, Laura, Carrie, and new baby Grace, leave for Dakota on a train.  It is a new experience for them, and Laura is frightened.  She reminds the reader several times that people died on trains because trains traveled at high speeds and crashed frequently.  You can sense the fear and anxiety in all of them as they nervously cling to each other.  But once they were on the train, it was a wonderful experience.  Laura remembered Pa called these "the wonderful times they were living in."

Laura and Mary continued their competition with each other, and this was a humorous exchange: as they were sitting on a bench waiting for the train, Mary sensed Carrie fidgeting, and said,
Don't fidget, Carrie, you'll muss your dress.
Laura craned to look at Carrie, sitting beyond Mary.  Carrie was small and thin in pink calico, with her pink ribbons on her brown braids and her hat.  She flushed miserably because Mary found fault with her, and Laura was going to say, 'You come over by, Carrie, and fidget all you want to!'
Just then Mary's face lighted up with joy and she said, 'Ma, Laura's fidgeting, too!  I can tell she is, without seeing!' 
Being in the presence of men was uncomfortable then.  When Ma and the girls arrived at their destination, they heard the railroad workers singing Ma's favorite hymn; but when they saw Ma they immediately stopped singing.  Rarely any of the men looked up at them, and I believe it was out of respect.  They quickly changed their behaviors and conversations, for good reason.

Because of Mary's blindness, Pa told Laura that she must see for Mary.  And this is probably why we enjoy beautiful writings by Laura.  When Mary (being the realist) argued with Laura that she must be sensible in her descriptions, Laura discovered "there were so many ways of seeing things and so many ways of saying them."

For example, after Pa met Ma and the girls at the depot, he took them via wagon to their temporary home at the railroad grade.  Laura described the prairie for Mary.  But for the reader she said,
The sun sank.  A ball of pulsing, liquid light, it sank in the clouds of crimson and silver. Cold purple shadows rose in the east, crept slowly across the prairie, then rose in heights on heights of darkness from which the stars swung low and bright.
That would have been silly to Mary.  Stars don't swing.

Surprise visit by Rev. Alden

The story moves quickly.  When winter comes, the Ingalls family moves into the surveyor's home, which is perfect.  It has everything they need.  They shared Christmas with their only neighbors, Mr. Boast and his new wife.  And Rev. Alden makes a surprise visit with a new young pastor, preparing to start a church in the new territory.  Before they leave, Rev. Alden suggests they pray together:
They all knelt down by their chairs, and Reverend Alden asked God, Who knew their hearts and their secret thoughts, to look down on them there, and to forgive their sins and help them to do right.  A quietness was in the room while he spoke.  Laura felt she were a hot, dry, dusty grass parching in a drought, and the quietness was a cool and gentle rain falling on her.  It truly was a refreshment.
 Feeding the boarders

Pa still needs to stake out a homestead and claim it, which is a complicated process.  Meanwhile, men who already have their homesteads in the Dakota Territory need a place to stay overnight and food to eat. The surveyor's home is the only civilization for miles, and Ma cannot turn them away.  So she charges them for food and boarding.  This would have driven me insane; serving all of those men was backbreaking.

And Pa's experience getting the homestead was treacherous and difficult, too, though everything worked out, obviously.  When spring came, a little town of De Smet was being born, and Pa put up a storefront on one of the main roads, which became the new temporary home for the Ingalls family.  I like Pa's philosophy:
'That's what it takes to build up a country,' said Pa.  'Building over your head and under your feet, but building.  We'd never get anything fixed to suit us if we waited for things to suit us before we started.'

Pa trying to get a homestead

Before we know it, Pa builds a small shanty on their homestead, too, and the Ingalls family squeezes in.  Shortly after, they planted trees, as required by the government.  Pa imagined the government was trying to change the climate.  (Interestingly, even then the government was telling people what to do with their property.)

One of Laura's responsibilities was to take Ellen, their cow, to drink at the well.  The prairie was a great distraction for Laura.
Big girl as she was, Laura spread her arms wide to the wind and ran against it.  She flung herself on the flowery grass and rolled like a colt.  She lay in the soft sweet grasses and looked at the great blueness above her and the high, pearly clouds sailing in it.  She was so happy that tears came into her eyes.  
Peacefully, By the Shores of Silver Lake closes sweeter than it opened, of which I am so grateful. However, next month we move to The Long Winter, a story that promises many essential lessons for life.