Update: “Less is More” Reading Challenge

It’s already two months into 2020 which means I’ve had enough time to struggle with my new goal of reading less than 40 books this year.  January seemed to be the most difficult time for me because I had to consciously break the habit of reaching for a book whenever I had a spare moment.  I’d catch myself reaching for a book when I sat on the couch and then was confused when there wasn’t one on the living room side table. I laid down in bed at night and glanced at my night stand at the empty place where a book used to be.  I had to purposefully slow down my gluttony for books in January and start to purposefully select nourishing books.

Reading less than 40 books a year breaks down to less than 3 to 4 books a month.  Just to be on the safe side, I’ve decided that no more than 2 personal books a month for me.  As I’m subsiding with only two books a month, they had better be good ones. I turned to my Amazon wish list that has books that I’ve wanted to read but couldn’t borrow from the library.  Some of those books have kept warm for me for over two years and this was the time to start reading them. I decided I’d buy a book from my Amazon wish list once a month and treat myself to the pleasure of reading a book that I actually own.  At that rate, I’d be able to finish off all the books on my wish list by the end of the year, a thought that gives me a smile of anticipated satisfaction.

Now that I’m two months in my new goal of reading less than 40 books in 2020, it’s been a lot easier to control my insatiable desire to read.  I’ve learned the trick is to give myself choices in what I read and spend my time in other activities I enjoy. Yes, I’ll read a book from my Amazon wish list but there are a wide variety of books to choose from on that list.  The second book I’ll read a month is another freebie. I’ve noticed that this second book I choose is usually one that is about a current topic that interests me. I almost stumbled this month in my goal when I purchased my Amazon wish list book and didn’t start it but rather started reading a third book that took me by surprise (Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of Her Own”).  So it seems that I will not read my Amazon wish list book this month, but I will have read two books and that was the goal in the first place.  

Now that I’m not reading as much as I used to, I’ve rediscovered other activities that I enjoy.  When I sit down at my side of the couch I now reach for my crocheting bag instead of my current book.  I’m finally getting around to making an afghan of surplus autumn-colored yarn that a great aunt gave to me many years ago.  After my afghan is done, I’m thinking about working on my cross-stitch again, a lovely sea-side scene with the poem “Footprints” stitched above the waves.  If I want to read before bed, I read from the small Bible that I, as 2-year old, helped my dad by “underlining” important passages for him throughout the New Testament.

I’ve learned through this experience to read slowly and well.  Carefully choosing what books I read has enabled me to focus on topics that are important to me.  The chaff has been cleared and the nutritious wheat remains. Matt Haig in his book Reasons to Stay Alive said “Read a book without thinking about finishing it.  Just read it. Enjoy every word, sentence, and paragraph.  Don’t wish for it to end, or for it to never end.”

Fire In the Fireplace

The wind was blowing the billowing clouds across the desert sky, creating pockets of shadows across the golden desert, making it look like a patchwork quilt of light and dark.  The palm trees bent their heads and swayed with the cold wind. There was no one outside on this cold day. It was dark in the house and a candle was lit in the living room to chase away the cold and gloom.  It was a perfect day for a cheerful, crackling fire but we didn’t have a fireplace. I sighed as I wrapped myself tighter in my crocheted afghan, wishing the candle that I had lit on the entertainment center would give more heat.  I felt like Bob Crachet trying to warm his hands by candlelight in Scrooge’s office. We had the heater on but it didn’t chase away the cold I felt. What I needed was a good, warm, roaring fire, but we bought a house with no fireplace.  The only thing about my lovely home that I wish it had.

I decided to turn on Netflix on our BAT (Big-Ass TV).  Maybe I could watch a movie as I was cocooned in my blanket.  Netflix came up on the BAT perched on the wall above the entertainment center and I scrolled with my remote through all the shows.  I didn’t see anything that I felt like watching. Oh, wait, is this a show of a fire burning in a fireplace? I selected it out of curiosity and shortly I heard the wood crackling and saw sparks flying off a birch-wood fire projected in high-def ultra HD up on the BAT.

In no time at all, my on-screen fire was roaring, the shadows of the room were chased away and I had the coziness of a fire without having to chop wood.

What I needed now was a warm drink.  I fixed myself some tea and resumed my post on the couch wrapped in a blanket with my feet up on the recliner.  I reached over and picked up my book from the side table and started to read. My cat jumped on my lap and lay there purring as I turned the pages of the book and took sips from my tea, all in front of a cheerful, crackling fire.

My husband came into the living room, took one look at me and what was on the BAT and laughed.

“I know it’s not real, but I tell you, I feel the warmth!” I told him.

Still chuckling, he sat down on his side of the couch and shared the fire with me as he scrolled through his cellphone.

After a little while our kids wandered in the room, saw what was on the BAT and were impressed.  My daughter went to her room and got her own book and read it in front of the fire in the side chair.  My son brought his Legos in and set up a battle scene in front of the entertainment center.  

It was all rather cozy.  The crackling fire in our front living room while the winter wind blew outside.  

Suddenly, the fire went out.  The video had run its course and Netflix was showing us what we could watch next.

“Uh-Oh!” I exclaimed.  “Our fire went out, someone should have added another log to it.”

My husband reached for the remote and restarted the show. Crackling flames soon spread their warmth into the living room.

2020 Reading Challenge: Less is More

In 2017 I discovered Goodreads, that wonderful app made for bibliophiles, and fell in love with it.  I found books to read and saw them on my “bookshelf,” tapped the “I finished it” icon when I completed a book, then rated the book from 1-5.  It was immensely satisfying. When Goodreads asked if I wanted to join the 2018 reading challenge, I was all in, and set a goal to read 50 books.

With a goal of 50 books I had to make sure I read at least one book a week.  I finished a fantastic book and checked it off Goodreads as read, barely digesting what the author had to say, then I started another book.  I never came up for air. I would read in bed, in the bathroom, and during breaks at work. I consumed books, but it was mindless consumption, I wasn’t tasting what I was eating.

I read whatever I could get my hands on, mostly library books that I would request that I found on Goodreads.  Sometimes all the books I requested would come in at once and I’d have a small stack to get through. There was so much to read and so little time.  

I finished 2018 by reading through 68 books.  Satisfied that I had blasted through my reading goal, I decided to lighten up in 2019 and put my new reading challenge at 40 books.  But my 2018 habit snuck into 2019 and I was reading through books furiously. Blasting through the ideas that authors shared like a miner blasting through rock in a mine, getting through the mountain but not pausing to see the gold inside.

All the reading I was doing made me start to think I was taking a college course.  I realized in November of 2019 that reading was becoming more of a checklist that I needed to complete and not a source of pleasure.  I took the whole month of December off from reading and gave Goodreads a rest. It was quiet and peaceful with all the ideas of the authors I’d be reading floating around in my head being gone.  I didn’t realize how consuming reading had become and found the month of December a welcome sabbath.

On January 1, 2020, Goodreads asked if I want help improving my reading by setting a reading goal.  I gave this some serious thought, I learned that reading less is more, and I wanted to slow down my reading to maybe only 2 books a month which would give a total of 24 books for 2020.  That would enable me to digest what the author wanted to say in the book and mull it over but I know that summer is made for mindless novels. I eat those up by the handful like potato chips, I wouldn’t be able to stop at two in the month of July.  I realistically set my 2020 reading challenge to 40 books with the goal of keeping it under 40.

Treasure Jars

My future husband and I walked the beach together in Okinawa with our hands clasped as we soaked each other in after months of separation thanks to the stop loss of 2003.  The waves rolled and fell back around our feet among the many sea shells that littered the beach. I mentioned to him that I thought the purple ones were the prettiest and he let go of my hand and scoured the beach for them like they were pieces of valuable treasure among the sand.  Every time he found one he proudly presented it to me with a small smile and went back to find another, moving the sand around with his bare feet and bending down to pick up the shell and dust it off. I kept them safe on the long airplane ride home back to the states and put them in a small corked jar with wheat etched into it that used to hold small pastel-colored bath oil balls.  

Our children began presenting me pretty rocks since they were small, toddling around the yard and finding treasures around the ordinary dirt, their small grubby hands showing me the shiny pebble they’d found that they thought I’d like.  It touched my heart that they’d give me their treasures and even tried to find a special rock just for me, and just like the sea shells from Okinawa, I kept them all and never threw them back to the ground when they weren’t looking. I would put them in my pocket or stash them in my purse, but I soon found myself having too many rocks to keep in my purse and my pockets were overflowing.  I started to put my treasures in an old candle jar on my dresser, the big kind with a lid that I bought from Walmart. Everything they gave me, I put into my treasure jar.

Throughout the years, seashells have been added from our trips to the beach, strings of beads for a necklace, a plastic jack-o-lantern ring that was saved especially for me from the loot of a trick-or-treat haul, a heart-shaped rock, and more recently a couple of Pokemon cards.  But mostly small rocks and pebbles, most of them small and smooth white ones but also green-flecked ones and speckled sparkly rocks.  

These treasures have filled up the old jar and soon filled up another re-purposed small candle jar.  My cup was really filling over with blessings and I needed a larger container to hold all the love that is represented in those rocks, seashells, and tokens.  I finally went to Walmart and bought a large glass jar that holds all my treasures with some room to spare.  

I actually have two treasure jars now: the big one that holds my treasures gifted to me from my kids and the small one that holds those shells from that day, many years ago in Okinawa.  That small little jar is in the hutch in our bedroom and our children every so often ask me if they can count the shells in the jar. So I let them take the jar out and they count the shells that are in there and I tell them the story about how their dad picked those shells out especially for me on a beach far away.  What I don’t mention to them is how similar their expressions are to their dad’s when they gift me the treasures they find.

Lessons With Instant Oatmeal

My husband bought instant oatmeal for the kid’s breakfast, the kind that you empty the packet into a bowl, add some water, and microwave it.  Presto! Easy, kinda-nutritious breakfast.  It’s an easy breakfast that I thought my kids could make themselves that’s not cold cereal.

My 8-year old son is usually the first one up and the first words out of his mouth are usually “Mom… what’s for breakfast?” Whereupon I list out his choices that he can have: there’s waffles in the freezer, you can have some toast and yogurt, I was going to make myself some eggs do you want me to make you one?  All of these he just shook his head, none of them would do for this connoisseur of breakfast foods.

“There’s that oatmeal that Dad bought the other day, why don’t you have that?”

He really liked that idea and went to the pantry, opened the door and pushed aside the Cheerios and tortilla chips to get the instant oatmeal.  He brought the packet to me as I was sitting at the kitchen table enjoying my morning tea.  “No, I’m not making this for you.  You can do it yourself” I told him, handing the packet back to him.

“Look,” I said, “Here are the directions, go ahead and read them.  What’s the first thing we have to do?”

My son is resistant to read aloud something that’s new.  He doesn’t know what some of the words are so he prefers not to do it at all.  My high school students do the same thing.  He whined a little (high school students also do this) about reading the directions of the packet but I wouldn’t let this learning opportunity pass him by.  Poor kid, his mother teaches high school math.

“What does it say?” I asked again after he was done with his pouting.  I brought the packet closer to him and pointed to each word in step number one as he read it aloud in a halting mumble.

“Empty packet into…” he said.

“Sound it out… ‘mi-cro-wave'” as I pointed to each syllable.

“Microwave safe bowl.  What does that even mean?”  He whined.  I may as well have asked him to solve a quadratic equation.

“That means you empty your packet into a bowl that’s safe to put into the microwave” I said as I shook the packet to show him what a packet was.  “So, go get a bowl.”

My son left the dining room and walked around to the kitchen to get a bowl.  He opened the cabinet where they were kept and looked up.  He couldn’t reach them.  “Will you get down a bowl for me?”

“No, you can do it yourself”  I replied from my chair at the kitchen table as I took a drink from my tea.

My son heaved another sigh and went to get a chair to stand on to reach the bowls.  He brought the chair back and stood on it to select a bowl for himself.  After making his selection of a bowl he brought it back to me and I walked him through the remaining two steps.

He read the last two steps to me and I helped him understand what 2/3 cup meant and what it means to microwave on high 1-2 minutes.  You always want to microwave it the smaller time because you can always add time if you need too.  He put the bowl in the microwave above the stove by using the chair to stand on and pressed the button to microwave it on high for one minute.  When the microwave dinged, I helped him take it down, and he stirred the oatmeal.

He carefully carried it to the dining room table where he stirred it again and ate it.  He enjoyed it so much that he made himself another packet, this time completely on his own.

Mission accomplished!  One more task that he can do by himself.  We’re raising kids to be independent adults around here!  Then, it was my daughter’s turn to make her own instant oatmeal.

My daughter is 10 years old and can read directions just fine.  She did everything that the instant oatmeal packet told her to do which was why she came to me practically in tears showing me her exploded bowl of oatmeal that she was holding between two pot holders.

“What happened?!” I asked her, peering at her mess of an oatmeal bowl.  “Did you follow the directions?”

“Yes!” She replied, voice quavering with emotion and holding back the tears.

“Did you microwave it for a minute?”  I pursued.

“Yes!” She responded, incredulous that the directions would betray her, and looking at her messy oatmeal in disbelief.  The directions have always worked for her before.  I’ve seen the same look on high-achieving freshmen who didn’t get the correct answer.

“I did it for a minute and then stirred it just like it said and it wasn’t done, so I microwaved it again for another minute” she insisted.

“Wasn’t done?  Logan microwaved it for a minute and his was done.”

“It wasn’t done, Mom!”  She exclaimed.

Then it hit me.  The oatmeal packet told her to put in 2/3 cup of water in the bowl and it came out too runny for her.

“Okay, we can fix this, don’t worry.  Put the bowl on the counter and we’ll pour it into a larger bowl and try this again.”  I said.

I explained to her that the packet asked for too much water for thick oatmeal and that next time she should pour only about a half-cup of water into her oatmeal bowl.  I had her open another packet and she poured it into the new bowl and had her stir it up with her spoon.

“Okay, now we just added another packet to this bowl so that means we should add more water.  Two-thirds is too much for you, right?”  My daughter nodded.  “So let’s just pour a little at a time until the mixture is as thick as you want it.”

Ah, ratios and proportions, I thought, almost as fun as the quadratic equation.


Zechariah Verses Abraham and Sarah

My daughter sees her brother enjoying a Drumstick ice cream cone sitting at the kitchen table and immediately asks for one.  She expects me to say yes and of course I will but sometimes I say no, just to see her reaction.  When she hears the negative “no” she makes a face, frowning and furrowing her brows, in a mock pout because she knows this game that I play and knows that she’ll get a Drumstick ice cream cone because it’s the fair thing to do.  It’s equal.

When I read about Abraham and Sarah’s reactions to being told they will have a child in their advanced years and compared it to Zechariah’s reaction to being told his elderly wife would have a child, I found it to be unequal and unfair.  Abraham and Sarah both laughed (Genisis 17:17, 18:12) to themselves in disbelief when they were told they were going to have a son in their advanced years.  Zechariah questioned the angel Gabriel who brought the news that he would have a son born to him in his later years (Luke 1:18).  What got me was that Abraham and Sarah did not have any consequences for their disbelief but Zechariah did.  Zechariah was not able to speak until John the Baptist was born.  This was an inconsistency, it wasn’t equal, it’s not fair to Zechariah that he was punished for his questioning and Abraham and Sarah weren’t.  How could God be unfair?

This is when I started thinking about equality verses equity.  As a teacher I know that if I did the same thing for all students, not everyone will necessarily achieve the goal.  Each student has different abilities and skill sets which is why equity can be a better idea of fairness.  Equity gives people what they need to be successful.  Equality and equity can be a confusing comparison to make, the words sound the same, and they say almost the same thing.  The graphic below is a good illustration of equality verses equity (Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire).

Image result for equality vs equity

Maybe Zechariah needed that rebuke to get him to believe he and his elderly wife will have a child together whereas Abraham and Sarah did not.  This is where faith comes in that God has their best interests at heart and that He is very purposeful in what He does.  Equity is personal and requires that someone recognize what an individual needs in order to be successful.  It’s amazing that God loves us so much that He doesn’t just think about equality but also equity.



Evening Desert Walks

In the evening, when the sun is not as intense in the hot desert summer sky, I take my dog for his walks.  I really should say “our” walks because I need them just as much as he does, sitting inside the house with cold air blowing on me all day gives me a case of cabin fever.  Once I see the living room clock point at 7pm I know it’s time to break free from my air-conditioned prison and go outside in the not-so-hot fresh air.

Our favorite place to walk is along the dirt road that begins a quarter a mile from my house.  Once we go past the small cabins along the dirt road it’s open desert and Bo gets to go off his leash.  Bo is a tailless but handsome German Shepherd we got from the Desert Hot Springs pound and his stumpy tail wags as he voices his impatience to go for a walk with his yips and barks, seeing me put on my sneakers and pressing the buttons of my Garmin GPS watch.  He’s jumping and turning circles when I finally get down his leash from its place by the door.

When we go outside Bo pulls at the leash, he knows where we are going, and he could probably take us to the dirt road himself.  We walk along the dirt road with its small vacation cabins  tucked in among cactus gardens and palo verde trees.  They’re empty most of the time, looked after in the owner’s absence by an old couple in a green jeep, their cocker spaniels leaning out of the windows as they circle the driveways of the cabins, leaving tire tracks to make it look like people frequent the cabins.

We finally walk by all the small cabins and came to what I call the Cross Roads, where the  dirt road makes a junction with other dirt roads and depending on what I feel like I could go down to a wash, through hilly terrain, or toward a main road where a church sits on the corner.  I opted for the church road as it’s not used often by dirt bikers and Bo hates dirt bikes.  A dirt bike came from behind us one time and I heard the distinctive whine of the motor too late over the blowing desert wind.  Bo saw it and gave chase to the dirt bike and when the dirt biker saw he had a big dog on his heals he kicked it up into high gear and gave Bo his dust.  It didn’t detour my dog from having a good chase after that dirt bike, finding his way back to me a half mile down the dirt road with his tongue hanging, a doggish grin on his face from the good chase.

It’s only a half mile from the Cross Roads to the Church, a mile round trip, and Bo spends the time searching out rabbits, lizards, and peeing on creosote bushes, trotting contentedly from one location to another.  He must run around twice as far as I do, maybe even three times as far.

An idea came to me and I took of my Garmin GPS watch and looped it through Bo’s collar.  It stayed at the top of his collar, right by his pointed ears, I pressed the start button to begin recording the trip and took off Bo’s leash.  Let’s find out just how far he runs.

Immediately Bo started making his rounds, peeing on a bush here, sniffing a branch there, standing at attention with his ears perked looking intently at a creosote bush where a lizard was hiding.  Meanwhile I continued to walk toward the church.  I reached the church and made the u-turn back toward the Cross Roads with Bo a few feet from me trotting off the path, tongue hanging.

He saw something in the distance toward the Cross Roads and took off after it and for a while I didn’t see him.  I kept walking and noticed that there was a slow moving green Jeep coming down the hill path approaching the Cross Roads.  Where was Bo?  The Jeep slowed down and paused for a moment out of sight behind a swell in the desert.  Uh-oh, I’ll bet Bo is saying hello, I hoped he wasn’t bothering those cocker spaniels.  I started to call Bo and after a few minutes he finally came into view.  I told him what a good boy he was and patted his head all the while continuing to walk to the Cross Roads.  I leashed him when we got there in the middle of the fresh tracks of the Jeep and that was when I saw that Bo was limping a little bit in his front right paw.

Later on, after performing home surgery to remove the cactus thorns lodged in Bo’s front right paw, I took a look at my Garmin watch to see how far Bo went.  There was a film over the watch and I used my finger nail to scratch it off.  What did that come from?  Oh, it’s Bo’s drool, yuck!  The watch settled to the bottom of his collar as he ran and he drooled all over it.  I took a scour pad from the kitchen sink and scrubbed it off then synced the watch with its app on the phone to see the results.

I know that it’s a mile round trip from the Cross Roads to the  church.  Bo went 1.5 miles during that walk.  So does that mean that Bo runs 1.5 times further than I do?  If I did 3 miles would he go 4.5 miles?  Surely more data is needed to make a sound conclusion.  I could also tell from the map on the app that Bo did in fact go and see the old couple in the Jeep.  But he turned around and trotted through the desert when I called.  What a good dog!