Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: nonfiction Page 1 of 6

Keelboats & Trees: Craving Adventure

Funny thing, reading “Undaunted Courage” the author mentioned, “It was basically a galley, little resembling the classic keelboat of the West.” I thought and noted in the book, “Good thing he said that because I was imagining the keelboats at Disneyland.”

keelboats
Early Morning Time In My Book

I grew up at Disneyland and I’m always amazed at how much I relate everything in my life to the park. Something the kids do, a book I’m reading, a hiking spot, a museum, a conversation with a stranger, all remind me of something I saw or did at the park. It was a major portion of my life and something I never thought I’d leave behind, but here I am. It feels so strange. I won’t say that I’ll never go back. You just can’t know what the future holds, but I so feel like a door has closed.

Do you remember the keelboats on the Rivers of America?

My last memory of them was when I was working there around 1996/97ish. A friend came rushing into the shop to tell us about one of them flipping sideways in the water…with guests on it…and how they were there helping people out of the water, amazed that no one was seriously hurt. I remember thinking, “Nothing crazy like that ever happens to me when I’m in the park as a guest!”

So here I am, years later, reading a history book, and thinking, “How are they going to travel up these rivers with all this stuff and people on that little keelboat?!” Imagining the ones I remember from Disneyland, loaded top and bottom with Mickey ear headed guests with Mickey balloons tied to children’s ice cream dripping hands.

Want to hear something crazy? I’ve only seen a couple real rivers. I drove over the Columbia River in Washington once and I’ve been around the Snake River in Wyoming and Montana. When I see them, I marvel about it. Once, when we were camping at the Grand Tetons, my sons and I looked out over the river next to a park visitor center. They jokingly asked what it was and I told them it’s a river. It’s what people here call a wash but with water in it. And they played along. Their eyes wide, they answered, “You mean all the time!” The ranger behind us laughed.

I’ve never seen the Mississippi river. When I google pictures of it, and the area where Lewis and Clark departed, I’m at a loss for words. All those rivers. All that water. The trees and landscape. It’s crazy. I want to go there sometime and explore, but I’m afraid. It’s so far away and I hear there are tornados. So scary.

I was born and raised here in Southern California, land of sunshine and beaches, but we don’t have much in the way of rainfall. We don’t have rivers; we have riverbeds that usually trickle water and sometimes fill up in an occasional heavy rain. Here on the desert side of the mountains, we are familiar with “washes,” places that fill up with water when it rains hard but usually stay dry and sandy. Trees only grow in the mountains, and where they are planted and watered in people’s yards and along the freeway or in parking lot planters.

Another sidenote: trees. The pandemic and all this eating outside stuff really showed me how few trees we have. There’s no shade anywhere. Even parks only have a few. It’s frustrating.

I’m one hundred and ten pages into this glorious book and they are just now getting started on the journey. I’m loving every page, but it’s really starting to make me want to go on a long adventure myself. Maybe I can convince my husband to take a trip with the trailer, work our way back east from Washington someday.

Bitter is the New Black: New Read

“Bitter is the New Black” by Jen Lancaster is another little gem that I picked up on an adventure that I mentioned in my post about “The Best American Short Stories – 2014.”

bitter is the new black

It’s not a hard and fast rule, more like a guideline, but I try not to pick up books at random as much as possible. There’s just so many books out there. I can’t possibly read them ALL, so I have to have some sort of process when making selections, even from a used bookstore that charges one or two bucks a piece.

My process starts with skipping the fiction section completely. Like fancy processed food at the grocery store, these things are created to catch your eye and make you want them, and they rarely live up to the hype. I’m not a non-fiction snob…ok maybe a little…but good fiction is subjective. You really can’t judge a book by its cover. Your favorite is not going to be mine. Tastes are just too different. So, for fiction, I have to be much more selective. It must come from my list, recommended by someone that I trust, for reasons other than marketing ploys.

PS There are exceptions. “Guidelines, not rules!” I have been sucked into great marketing and been happy for the experience. “Hunger Games” was one of those. Years ago, my sons and I walked into Barnes & Noble with its display of all three novels in piles around the entranceway. My youngest, at the time about 11 years old, insisted on getting it and a mother cannot deny her child a cookie or a book.

While he was reading it, he began describing scenes and I was intrigued. I started reading it, then my other son, then my stepdaughter, AND my husband. A year later the movie came out. …sigh… It was magic.

Where were we? Oh yes, Bitter!

My first stop in a used bookstore is Memoir. I pick up anything by someone I know or who looks like they have an interesting story to tell. Personal points of view are what I’m looking for! It’s my life’s work, my north star (thinking about a post focused on that recent epiphany). “Bitter is the new Black” stood out because, from the cover and subtitle, the story and author seemed completely opposite of myself. And it looked like fun.

From the back cover, “This is the story of how a haughty former sorority girl went from having a household income of almost a quarter-million dollars to being evicted form a ghetto apartment…”

I looked up Jen Lancaster when I started reading the book this morning. Sometimes I feel weird, always coming to the party late, but that’s ok. It’s just part of who I am, always a few years behind the times. If I like this, it looks like there are plenty of others to follow. Her latest book, “Welcome to the United States of Anxiety” came out in 2020, and (once again judging by the cover and description) looks like something I’d be interested in reading.

“Bitter is the New Black” will probably be one of those books that I read in a couple of days, don’t make a lot of notes in, and then summarize my feelings about in a couple paragraphs when I’m done. That’s not a negative, just an observation and prediction. I’m thirty pages in and enjoying it immensely.

Undaunted Courage: New Read

Recently, I was reading a book about writing that mentioned “Undaunted Courage” as one of the best historical narrative books ever written, and when I saw it in a pile of free books last December, I snatched up in glee. It was fate that we found each other.

Undaunted Courage
Reading In Bed with Peanut Butter Pretzels – Love

How does one get choked up over a history book? When the author makes it personal. The introduction got me right in the feels. They had taken an extended trip along the route Lewis & Clark took with friends, students, and their children. Driving, hiking, camping, and canoeing.

“We canoed the river at every stop. Each night, around the campfire, we would read aloud from the journals.”

“Around the campfire we took turns enumerating the reasons we loved our country (not so easy to do with young people in 1976, in the wake of Richard Nixon’s resignation and the fall of Saigon, but we did it with great success).”

That…sniff… Stuff like this makes me feel better about out current time. Yes, things have always sucked for someone somewhere at some time. But there are always reasons to be happy and proud.

I’ve been in the area with my own family a few times. On our first trip to Montana, we stumbled across the Lewis & Clark Caverns and found many museums and trails that commemorate the exploration. We’ve sat around the campfire reading from books we found at the museums. My personal favorite was a kid’s craft book we found someplace that helped kids make small canoes, build fire starters, and make maps while we hiked trails, pretending we were explorers.

On the back cover I read, “Ambrose follows the Lewis and Clark Expedition from Thomas Jefferson’s hope of finding a waterway to the Pacific, through the heart-stopping moments of the actual trip, to Lewis’ lonely demise on the Natchez Trace.”

The first thing I thought was, “He should have just checked Google Earth.” I’m hilarious. But think about that. When planning any trip, we don’t think twice about the best way to get there or how long it will take, how much food and water we’ll need. We just type in the location and the phone gives you the route, timeline, and alternatives. So much easier and leaves us with all this extra time to argue about where we will stop for lunch and whether we will get to see that roadside attraction before dark.

This book is LONG, nearly 500 pages, so I’ll be in it awhile. Have you read “Undaunted Courage” by Stephen E. Ambrose? I saw that he’s written several other books that look interesting. Let me know if you read him in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

Read more of my thoughts on this book at:
Keelboats & Trees: Craving Adventure

Isaac Asimov: Robots and Space Travel

I finished reading “The Roving Mind” by Isaac Asimov over the weekend. 348 pages in 13.92 hours. But who’s counting?!

isaac asimov

The man invented the word “robots,” but he’d never used a computer. He knows that the word is only attributed to him, but he knows he heard it somewhere before. He used a typewriter and when told a newfangled word processor would at least speed up his writing, he scoffed. He wrote a book a month and so many essays. “Prolific” doesn’t begin to describe him.

I enjoyed reading some of these essays more than others. My favorites being the last few that he wrote about himself. I was encouraged to hear that he often wrote “off the cuff” and only went back to clean up some mistakes and maybe rearrange a bit. That’s typically my style as well. I’m not saying I’m a genius, but what I write is usually what I’m thinking as I think it. It may not be brilliant but it’s honest, real.

There was one bit about space exploration that I found inspiring. Imagine space colonies, people living in space, children growing up on a space station. They’d be the people that went on the long journeys into space, the ones that got on that light speed vehicle and headed into the vast unknown. They would be used to that life and not as likely to be unnerved by the confinement.

Also, reading Isaac Asimov describe how big the universe really is, not to mention our own dang solar system. Amazing.

I’m not big sci-fi fan. Hell, I’m not even a big science fan. I’d rather delve into relational human issues, spirituality and imagination, than ponder the secrets only meticulous science can unravel. But space travel is fascinating to me. The prospect of it. What’s out there? Who’s out there? I’m not concerned with how we get there or if there will be metals to mine or an atmosphere on that distant planet. What I want to know is, how we will talk to them. Will we even be able recognize a sentient lifeform from an entirely different galaxy?

It’s probably why I love Star Trek so much. The exploration of space. “This is a science vessel!” How would we even begin to communicate and interact with a species that developed completely outside our own system? How will they be different? How will they be similar? It boggles my mind.

The only drawback to this book for me was that, because it was written in 1983, it felt a little dated. Many of the things we thought were going to destroy the world in the next decade never came to fruition. Don’t get me wrong, some of them still could, eventually. But, like a lot of predictions and panics, we’re assuming that technology will remain the same when we look forward to a grim future. These days, with the rapid development of technology, anything can happen.

When I look to the future, I wonder what crazy new thing will have been invented and embraced that will change how my grandchildren live. I’m curious and optimistic, unless I’ve just been to the grocery store, and they’ve put my spaghetti sauce on top of my loaf of bread…again. Then I’m afraid that I am convinced there is no hope for us a species.

Are you a sci-fi fan? Do you read Isaac Asimov fiction? What’s your favorite?

Go back and read my first post, “The Roving Mind: New Read” to see where I came from.

Media B.S. and Scientific…ahh, who am I kidding?!

Two quotes about media b.s. and scientific challenges from the essay “The Role of the Heretic” in the chapter “Other Aberrations” in The Roving Mind by Isaac Asimov.

“Supply the public with something amusing, that sounds scholarly, and that supports something it wants to believe, and surely you need nothing more.”

Sounds familiar. This is what we get from today’s “news,” social media, and politicians. When you ask anyone where they are getting their data, or what study or finding they are paraphrasing, you are accused of either not having an “open mind” or being “anti-science.”

“I hope scientific orthodoxies never remain unchallenged. Science is in far greater danger from an absence of challenge than from the coming of any number of even absurd challenges. Science, unchallenged, can become arthritic and senile, whereas the most absurd challenge may help to stir the blood and tone the muscles of the body of science.”

Unchallenged scientific orthodoxies are the same as religions. They both only wish to keep their power and control the masses so that things continue the way they want them to.

And…that’s all I’ve got today. Not very inspiring, I know.

The trouble this morning is that I promised myself I’d write SOMETHING every day and then post SOMETHING, even if it’s not worth posting. Do you think that’s too much? I’m talking about an hours’ worth of work each day. I really don’t think that is too much to ask of myself. But here we are…struggling to keep up.

And what about tomorrow? One day a week I leave the house at 7am to drive down the hill and visit friends. I don’t have time to write before I go. No big deal, right? I mean, it’s only one day and I have a legitimate reason. But I’ll have another this weekend when we leave on our mini vacation for our anniversary. That’s two days, maybe three.

My initial solution was to write two posts today and schedule one to come out tomorrow morning, but then I woke up angry and tired from a bad dream and just couldn’t get into writing anything at all. I decided what I really needed to get my brain off the dream and into work mode was some breakfast and coffee. Then I started texting a friend about that stupid dream. My mother-in-law called and asked me to pick something up at the store for her later. Then I thought, “Screw this. I’ll read some more and then write while my son needs the livingroom silent for his class.”

I showered, started the laundry, chatted with a friend, ate more tasty things (still thinking about a tasty lunch), sat down to my computer, and decided I needed to clean up some photo files first…

Yeah. You see where this is going.

But here I am now. FINALLY. At the laptop. Sitting in my bed instead of my office because it’s not comfy at all. My husband is working at his desk on the other side of the room. Luckily, he’s not on the phone right now.

My head hurts. I need more coffee. How long is that kid going to be in class?! The laundry will be done soon. It’s hot again today. I’m starting to think summer won’t end this year. First Covid bullshit and now infinite summer.

All of this angst is because I had a bad dream, a few of them in a row actually. I woke up tired and cranky. What I need is a nap and there is no room to hide in today.

But that’s ok because I DID write SOMETHING, and I am going to post it. For posterity, of course. And I believe I’m hilarious, especially when I’m being pissy. Win!

Go back to my first post, “The Roving Mind: New Read” to read more about this book.

Not Blind Faith and Obedience: Nietzsche

From the front cover flap of my Barnes & Noble edition, “…Nietzsche, a despiser of mass movements both political and religious, did not ask his readers for blind faith and obedience, but rather for critical reflection, courage, and independence.”

Apparently, Nietzsche and I have more in common than I thought.

blind faith and obedience

I only was able to spend thirty minutes in this book so far and, like my son, decided to read the introduction pages to get a feel for the significance of it. I’m about half-way through and the margins are filled with “yes” and “shit” and “well, crap” already.

Why? Because the book was published in 1883 and much of what he’s saying about the evolution of mankind…well, it just hits a little close to home. It probably always has and always will.

 “…life is assumed to be valuable just as it is.”

Tragic or comic, suffering or happiness, this is all of life and is not only to be endured but lived to fullest extent. We aren’t here waiting at this moment for the next to be better. We aren’t suffering through one period of life to enjoy happiness in the next. We are, simply, here, right now, living.

Years ago, I read that Nietzsche’s statement that “God is dead,” wasn’t a metaphysical thing. It’s not that the actual God died or that we killed him somehow. He was “referring instead to people’s belief in the Judeo-Christian God. His claim is that many people who think they believe in God really do not believe. That is, their “belief” makes no difference in their lives, a fact they betray through their actions and feelings.”

This struck right to the middle of my heart because it’s something I’ve brought up so many times over the years. I started watching “Messiah” on Netflix this past week. I’m not done yet, so no spoilers, please! While watching, I’ve paused so many times to rail about their reaction to this man. It’s exactly my problem with religious people. You say one thing and then behave another. You say, “God’s will be done.” And then act to change it. You say, “Turn the other cheek.” And then fight. You say, “Thou shalt not kill.” And then contract to murder. And it’s not just Christians.

Those who have turned our government into a religion are doing the same. We say, “For the greater good.” And then get angry when we’re in the minority. We say, “The authority knows best.” And get angry when it’s used against us. We say, “This is what the voters want. Democracy decides best.” And then avoid following the laws the majority voted for.

I’m not saying there is anything inherently wrong with it. It’s the natural outcome of denying reality because it’s easier. I believe we should acknowledge that our society has changed. We don’t need “blind faith and obedience.” We need “critical reflection, courage, and independence.” But that involves personal responsibility, and most of us aren’t willing to take that on. It’s far easier to be told what we are supposed to do, make others do it, and blame others when things go badly. It’s easier to take the welfare or the tax break, send our kids to public schools, vote for someone else, or force the medical care, than to provide for ourselves and live with the consequences.

Any time I’ve heard Nietzsche discussed, it’s usually negative. I’ve heard him equated with Nazi’s, which now I’m reading was a misunderstanding based on his sisters editing after his death. I’ve heard that his philosophy leads to nihilism and that was his goal. Nihilism isn’t a goal, it’s a crisis, a turning point. At first, we think, “What’s the damn point if we have nothing to work towards, no afterlife or reward at the end?” We struggle through the change, cocoon ourselves and consider the options. Once we begin to think critically, we take courage and emerge independent. We accept this world right here as it is, the people around us as they are, and we live our lives to the fullest, suffering and peace in same space. Reality is far more exciting.

My thinking is that, just as we protect our children with myths about the wider world as they grow, just as we train our children how to take care of themselves in the comparative safety of our homes, only to allow them to grow up, move out into the world, and take on responsibility for their own lives, so humanity does the same. Humanity will move through this crisis, it will struggle and fight its way out of the protective cocoon of myth and belief, to finally emerge in a new and beautiful form. This is what is meant as “God’s Will.” We aren’t meant for blind faith and obedience forever. If it doesn’t, then so be it. Evolution is a relentless bitch.

Now I know what my son was so excited about. I can’t wait to read more, but I don’t want to rush through just so that I can add it to my “Autobibliography.” I need to slow down, read, write, and reflect more. This may take a while, but I think it will be worth it.

Want to start at the beginning? Pop back to my initial post “Thus Spoke Zarathustra: New Read”

Chaos & Peace: The Roving Mind #1

The first of a few posts on The Roving Mind. There’s a lot in this book. Its essays go just about everywhere and I’m enjoying every page. Well, maybe not EVERY page. There are some moments that I think, “You know, Asimov, for a smart guy but you’re kinda being an ass.” Everyone can get that way about things they believe they know a lot about, things they have been well trained in, etc. We think, “Dammit, I’ve spent a lot of time in this subject. I know things. People should listen to me!” I get that way myself. Often. But then I remember chaos.

You remember chaos theory? “Life, uh, finds a way.” You know, Jurassic Park?

chaos

I know what I’m thinking isn’t exactly chaos theory, but it gets me in the direction I want to go.

Even though we think we know what’s best, we can’t know what’s best for every individual. Even if we did know what was best for someone else, we have their best interests at heart and we have a outside vantage point that they would benefit from seeing, we can’t force people to adopt our way of thinking. We’d be violating their very essence. Everyone is entitled to live their lives however they see fit, even if we can see their choices are doing them a disservice. It’s their life.

When Asimov gets all snarky about people who choose to believe in creationism or a flat earth, I wonder. What does it really matter? Why not simply leave people to their beliefs?

I didn’t realize it, but the title is so appropriate for this blog and my style of learning. “The Roving Mind” sums up my whole lifestyle really. You can’t tell me that a lack of focus is a disability! It’s been serving me well for 48 years and I’ll happily (hopefully) be humming along for at least another 40 at this rate.

In his introduction, right there on page one, I read, “…there is that phrase about doing ‘whatever it is I would do if I weren’t being prodded.’ Actually, I haven’t figured out what that might be. … The only thing I really want to do is to sit at a typewriter (or word-processor) and unreel my thoughts.”

My thoughts exactly, Mr. Asimov.

I’m recently retired. Yes, retired. Even though I have not had a job outside my home for the last 18 years, I have indeed been working. I have had responsibilities that prod me daily into doing things I would not be doing if I were alone with a situation that kept me fed and housed without effort. I’ve been a housewife and a homeschool (rather unschool) mom.

That last sentence proves I’ve been reading and watching too much “British” lately.

Now that I’m not hourly prodded by one child or another, no housework NEEDS to be done each day, and all my husband needs is something to microwave for lunch, I have found myself with a lot of time on my hands. “Get a job!” is the suggestion I hear from friends most. There are other things I could do: sew, knit, gardening, visit friends, volunteer. The list goes on and on. But what I really want to do is read and write.

And that is what I’ve been doing. There are times when I begin to get antsy and look for things to fill more of my time, but then I sit back and think. I have an amazing opportunity here. I can spend my days completely as I see fit. It’s like Star Trek. With an infinite source of energy, the whole community can spend it’s days pursuing whatever they like. I choose to spend mine using my own Roving Mind.

Maybe things will change. Chaos does assert itself. I’m sure some responsibilities will present themselves in the future, but for now I’ll be enjoying the peace, reading, meditating, practicing yoga, making my favorite things to eat from scratch, hiking, watching the birds, and then writing about it. Who knows where I’ll end up.

I laughed outloud when I read that last bit back to myself. I know a lot of people that would go completely crazy with the amount of quiet reflection that goes on around here lately. And here I am sitting on the porch with a cup of coffee, watching a bird pick through my plants, for over thirty minutes and calling it “adventure.” In the past I would not been able to enjoy that moment. I’d have felt like I was wasting precious time. Only lately have I changed my thinking. Time is only wasted when you let is rush by unnoticed.

What would you do with your time if you could spend it however you like? Do you think it would evolve over time if you gave yourself permission to pursue your own roving mind?

It turns out that I’ve written about chaos a few times before! See? Things come back around. Check out Violence and Chaos of the Natural World is What Grendel Represents and Social Anxiety and Chaos Theory.

The Roving Mind: A New Read

I started reading “The Roving Mind” by Isaac Asimov this morning, my first tentative step into read more of his non-fiction work.

The Roving Mind

After much tweaking of my mourning routine, I have finally caught the reins and started a more consistent writing schedule…again. And now I get to post about my latest book right as I start to read it, instead of after I finish like I have had to do the past month.

I enjoy writing these New Read posts because my initial impressions about a book are usually pretty different than my thoughts at the end. There was a reason that I picked up the book in the first place, (and, yes, I’ve promised to get better at remembering that reason). There is also a reason I’m picking the book off the TBR shelf today, which may be different than my reason for buying it.

What are my initial impressions of Isaac Asimov’s “The Roving Mind?” I started reading the Foreword, the Introduction, and the tributes from other science and sci-fi writers and teared up. I didn’t realize how much loved he was as a writer and a friend; it sounds like he was fascinating person. Then again, how could he not be? He’s written so much about science, non-fiction and fiction. I know him for his fiction. I’ve read Foundation, The Gods Themselves, and The Fantastic Voyage. I plan on reading more! So far, The Fantastic Voyage has been my favorite, but I think it’s mostly because the movie from the 60’s was so fun (and scary) for me when I was a kid. My husband has read more of his non-fiction. I have some of them on my bookshelf behind me right now.

I don’t consider myself much of a scientific thinker. I lean more on emotion and feeling, more concerned with getting along and making connections with people than thinking along the lines of repeatable experiments and data tables. When a scientist says something is true, I tend to lean more on “Can I trust that person?” than “Is his data provable?” But Asimov…he makes science approachable for people like me and I’m excited to start reading more of his work.

My edition of “The Roving Mind” is a collection of essays originally published in 1983 but republished in 1997 after his death in 1992. I bought it from Amazon, probably because I had the thought to read some of his non-fiction after finishing Foundation. It’s been sitting on my TBR shelf since 2013. I don’t think anything has sat there that long, but it’s science, it’s hard, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. Three essays in and I’m wishing I had read it years ago. This is going to be fun!

Want to follow me through this book? Read more at the following links.

Chaos & Peace: The Roving Mind #1
Media B.S. and Scientific…ahh, who am I kidding?!
Isaac Asimov: Robots and Space Travel

A Walk in the Woods: New Read

What the…?! “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson was amazing. Like, running around telling everyone I know, amazing. I told a friend and my dad that I was inspired by it. I told another friend that he should get it because he’s a “real” hiker, unlike me who mostly just goes for long day hikes. And I commented on another blog about it. THAT’S how much I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down.

A Walk in the Woods
The road calls me.

What was so amazing? From page one, I felt like I was there, and this guy goes and does things the same way my family does, so I don’t feel like I missed anything. When we go on an adventure, whether it be a day trip or a long road trip, we have always researched a little about where we are.

I say, “where we are,” because we don’t plan much about where we’re going, so we really can’t do a lot of research in advance of our trip. We have a general plan of what direction we’re going and where we may end up the first night, but usually the rest of the trip is a surprise. We’ve never been disappointed.

Typically, at the RV park we land at, we browse their gift shop, pick up maps, and ask about local sights. We look for a local museum or historical site, visit a park visitor center, and pick up small publisher books about the place or the people that founded it. I look for older books, ones written by the people that lived it. We walk, A LOT, around the area and within the parks. The point is to try to get to know the place better the short time we are there.

When I read Bill Bryson, I feel like he’s doing the same thing. His story isn’t just about hiking the Appalachian Trail. It’s about his misadventures getting ready for it and while he was on it. It’s about the nature he saw, the history of the trail and the towns and parks it runs through, the people he met along the way, and the stories he heard.

Within the first few pages, I was ready to get back out on the trails myself, in earnest this year! I texted a hiking friend and told him about the book. A few days later, he texted me a picture of his copy and asked what we were doing this weekend. And now I have plans to hit the hills at the crack of dawn in a few days.

As you probably know, I dread the coming of summer every year. I’ve lived in Southern California all my life, and in the desert for long enough to tolerate the heat. My trouble comes because I start to get cabin fever about halfway through the summer. I need to get outside but I can’t go out half naked to beat the heat like everyone else. It’s not modesty that keeps me covered up, my friends. It’s my red hair and fair skin.

In the winter, it’s easy to keep from getting sunburned. But in the summer, when the temperatures rise, shedding my long-sleeved shirt and long pants is not an option. I’d burn to a crisp in a matter of about twenty minutes. So, like those of you that spend your snowy winters indoors, I hibernate over the summer, focusing on indoor projects. But I love hiking in the desert so much.

This weekend’s plan, thanks to “A Walk in the Woods,” is to get up early, drive the hour up into the mountains, and hit the trail at 6am to beat the heat. We’ll climb to the top, maybe have a few adventures of our own, have a picnic with a view of the valley below (or more trees, depends on how far we get), and climb back down before the heat of the day tortures us. It’ll be a nice preview of the coming Fall.

I cannot express how much I loved “A Walk in the Woods.” On the back, right at the top, there is a quote from Washington Post Book World, “Choke-on-your-coffee funny.” Yep. That’s exactly it. It’s hilarious, heart-warming, full of interesting information, and I didn’t want it to end.

The last book I read by Bill Bryson was “At Home” and I’m pretty sure I fell in love with him back then. Why did it take me so long to read him again? All I know, is that from now on, every time I see a Bill Bryson book on the shelf anywhere, I’m going to buy it. He’s brilliant.

Using Buddhism as a Practice

“No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners” is definitely a beginner’s book. Short and sweet, right to the point, and I loved it. It’s a wonderful start at using Buddhism as a practice. In the hopes of remembering more of it…insert eye-roll because I can’t believe I have such a hard time with this…I’m putting it on top of my current book from awhile and reading one page of it first thing and then moving on to the rest of my day.

using buddhism

That’s what’s awesome about this book. Each question or concept is covered in one or two pages, making it easy to take in, one step at a time. No, you’re not going to get the in-depth and detailed nuances and rich history of Buddhism, but you will get the big picture and be able to start using the ideas immediately. It’s the edge pieces of the puzzle I was talking about looking for in my last post on The Protestant Ethic.

I’ve read a few books on Buddhism; Returning to Silence, The Art of Happiness, and The Story of Buddhism. All of them were wonderful, but this one has been the most useful. It’s more practical, less spiritual, of course, since Noah Rasheta does an amazing podcast called Secular Buddhism, where I found the book.

There is so much in this book to act on, that I can’t simply pull out a couple quotes to sum it up. That’s why I’m going to re-read it, much as I used to re-read and study my bible, one page at time, in the hopes of soaking up the information, digesting it and turn it into actions that make my life (and the lives of the people around me) just that much more peaceful.

There is one quote that I felt I needed to put down here:

“Buddhism can be practiced somewhat like yoga: as something you do, not something you are.”

This really got me. Years ago, I finally succumbed to pressure and started a meditation practice. At the beginning, I would go out to put the laundry in the washer and then sit beside it and practice for five minutes. That five minutes changed my life. Sounds crazy, but it is true. Nothing about my life changed though, it was only my awareness of my surroundings that changed, and my awareness that I could take a breath, pause, and then act. Something that had never occurred to me before.

That same year, I added yoga to my morning routine as an active meditation. And, wow, things really started to move around in my head. The process of learning to move and stretch my body as I breathe, putting all else aside for thirty minutes brought me peace that I took into the rest of my day.

Slowly but surely, I’m still learning more and more every day. I wish the process would speed up, or that I could go back in time and start earlier. Maybe I’d have made some better decisions in my life, or at least drove fewer people crazy with my reactionary habits. But that’s life. We live and learn. And because I started to learn these teachings as my sons entered their teens, I’ve been able to pass the ideas on to them early and it does look like they are using them. Another example of how we become immortal, passing a bit of ourselves into the future.

My practice today isn’t long and involved, but it is more consistent, and that means progress. A practice is something you do every day in the hopes of getting better and better. You never finish. You never arrive. You only practice until you die. Life is crazy like that.

So, yes, I enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it if you’re curious about the basics of Buddhism. Every page is useful. Every chapter is helpful.

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