My Korean Deli – by Ben Ryder Howe (2011)

My Korean Deli

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to own and run a convenience store with your family, wonder no more. Author Ben Howe describes in great detail the day-to-day experiences in their little Brooklyn store. Who knew that life behind a cash register could be so entertaining?

The plot is not as important as the individual people in the book. There’s Ben, of course, the WASP (white Anglo-saxon protestant) guy whose ancestors have lived in the Boston area for hundreds of years and carried the quiet, Puritanical mindset. He works as an editor for the Paris Review magazine. Then there’s his wife Gab, born to immigrant Korean parents. Gab is a modern woman with a college degree, but also a rock-solid dedication to the Korean traditions. Throughout the book, she is torn between wanting to be the successful American woman, and wanting to demonstrate perfect devotion to her parents. Gab’s father is an enigma who skulks around the background, mysterious and silent. Gab’s mother – Kay – is a spitfire woman who ran businesses back in Korea like a pit-bull, and wants to run one again.

Ben and Gab live with her parents in order to pay off college debt and save up some money for the future. To express their appreciation for the help, Gab convinces Ben that they should buy a business for her mother to run, and that the family can run it together. Thus begins the search for an affordable store in New York City, no easy feat. They finally find a small convenience store (or deli, as they call it, because they serve hot sandwiches) and open for business.

They keep one employee from the previous owner – Dwayne. Dwayne is scary, yet endearing. He is invaluable, yet capable of undoing the business. He’s always on time and works hard, but has to do things his way. Your feelings for Dwayne can change with every chapter.

The things I loved the most about this book were: One, the characters, from the crazy customers to the unpredictable Dwayne. Two, the back-and-forth conversations between Ben and his mother-in-law Kay. She was constantly arguing with him and bossing him around. It probably wasn’t too pleasant when it was actually happening, but it certainly was funny when put down on paper! And three, the message throughout the book that family is everything, even when they drive you crazy.




Harriet Beamer Takes The Bus – by Joyce Magnin (2012)

Harriet Beamer Takes The Bus

With an old-fashioned name like “Harriet”, you are correct in assuming that this novel is about an older woman. Yes, Harriet is a senior who has been widowed for a few years, then has her fourth bad fall at home. Her son Henry and daughter-in-law Prudence convince her to move into their home in Grass Valley, California. At this point, Harriet realizes that she has never really traveled anywhere (since her husband hated to go anywhere) or had any adventures, and this is her last chance to do something independently. She decides to skip the easy way to California (plane), and instead take the slow way, using public transit as much as possible.

Harriet zigzags across the country, going anywhere that sounds interesting. She carries nothing with her but a small rolling suitcase containing a few sets of clothes, a good credit card, and a brand-new smart phone to help her find lodging, food, and directions. The entire book is a delightful, humorous tale of the places she visits and the people she meets along the way. Most of her stops are enjoyable, although she hits a few snags. In each place she stops, Harriet looks for salt-and-pepper sets, talks to God and writes letters to her husband Max.

I loved the way Harriet tried to interact with everyone during her trip, young or old, no matter how different they seemed from her. She had the true spirit of Jesus in her as she talked to people. If you’re looking for a simple, fun read, look for this book at your local library!




I love books in all forms – printed, as audio-books, and in electronic format. Over the past few years, I have seen public libraries gradually shift over to less printed material and more e-books. This makes perfect sense. No more overdue books. No misplaced or lost books. No crayon scribbles in books because someone’s toddler decided to use it as a coloring book. Audio-books play perfectly because there’s no physical CD discs to scratch up. And no more theft. It’s a great solution to all these problems.

Our local public library originally offered e-books and e-audio-books through Overdrive. It worked well. I could read books on my kindle, my phone or my computer. It was easy and never seemed to malfunction.

But this year the library decided to save some money by switching to a cheaper company. We now have e-books through cloudLibrary by bibliotheca. I have checked out six books through this app. Sadly, two of them downloaded with totally blank pages. I tried three different devices, with the same result each time.

My conclusions: 1, you tend to get what you pay for, and 2, don’t get rid of those printed books, as they never malfunction!

Jordan’s Crossing – by Randall Arthur (1993, 2003)

Jordan's Crossing

I read this book because it was highly recommended by someone I am close to. The story-line is about a man named Jordan who takes a position at a university in Germany that pays extremely well, which will enable him to pay off a rather large debt. His wife Susan, son, and daughter are all dead set against moving to a foreign country, but Jordan drags them there anyway. Nothing goes right. They have a terrible time finding housing, their plans to home-school their daughter are cancelled because it turns out to be illegal there, they have a hard time finding a church that they feel at home in, and Susan is lonely and depressed. Their son finds a nice girlfriend, but even that turns out badly when a gang of Jamaican drug dealers slits their son’s throat and gang-rapes the girlfriend. The rest of the book is mostly Jordan in a rage, vowing vengeance and trying to find the gang so that he can kill them.

What I liked about the book was the theme that God is with us, no matter how terrible the situation we may find ourselves in. The older man who had also lost members of his family kept trying to point them to God for strength, and for the ability to forgive and re-build their lives.

What I disliked about the book was the total grimness of the story-line from beginning to end. I’ve read plenty of books with sadness and depressing themes, but those books usually mixed in some happiness and lighter portions to balance it out. It’s called “comic relief”, and theatrical performances as well as movies and books use it to give the audience a break from the constant negativity. “Jordan’s Crossing” was just depressing from beginning to end. Although I finished the book, it would probably not be one I would recommend.

Will Sam’s Club Save You Money?

Sam's club

This past week I visited Sam’s Club with my daughter-in-law. We had a guest pass to try out their store, which is membership-based. I had explored this discount grocery store years ago and was not impressed, but figured it was worth a second look. Before going, I wrote down food items that I regularly use, and the Aldi price for each one.  Since most items at Sam’s Club are sold in multi-packs, I had to calculate out the cost per unit to see if it was any cheaper than Aldi’s.  Here’s a sampling of what I found:

tub of slow-cook oats                           Sam: $3.75                Aldi: $2.39
coffee                                                       Sam: .20 oz              Aldi: .30 oz
brown sugar                                           Sam: $1.07 lb           Aldi: .65 lb
broth carton                                           Sam: $2.50                Aldi: $1.79
cheerios/toasted oats                            Sam: $2.94                Aldi: 1.39
frosted wheat square cereal               Sam: $3.63                Aldi: 1.79
granola cereal                                        Sam: $3.64                 Aldi: $2.39
beef hot dogs (8 count)                         Sam: $2.39                 Aldi: $2.49
kleenex                                                    Sam: $1.49                Aldi: .89
frozen veggies                                        Sam: $1.49                 Aldi: .95
eggs – dozen large                                  Sam: $1.32                 Aldi: .69
milk 2%                                                    Sam: $2.09                 Aldi: $1.99
half & half quart                                     Sam: $2.22                 Aldi: $1.69
bananas                                                    Sam: .46 lb                 Aldi: .44 lb
sour cream                                               Sam: $1.05                 Aldi: .99
butter                                                         Sam: $2.75                 Aldi: $2.55
fresh pears                                                Sam: $1.10 lb            Aldi: .96 lb
apples                                                         Sam: $1.07 lb            Aldi: .96 lb

Comparison was made difficult by the odd quantities and sizes Sam’s Club carries. I’m sure this is a marketing technique designed to make it hard to do side-by-side calculations. I also noticed that there was very little selection of some items, like jams and jellies. At Walmart you have at least a dozen flavors, at Aldi’s five or six flavors; at Sam’s you are stuck with only grape and strawberry.  As for spaghetti sauce, you had only one choice at Sam’s. Walmart offers half a dozen choices, and even Aldi has a few different types.

I did not buy anything, as all the items I was interested in were either more expensive or in a quantity too large for our family. My daughter-in-law found four items, but when we arrived at checkout, the one-time guess pass didn’t work. The cashier shrugged indifferently and said we would have to sign up for a membership to purchase the items.

This brings me to the final point about Sam’s Club: to shop at their store, you need to allow a fair amount of your personal data to be stored in their computer system: They input the information on your driver’s license/state ID – name, address, date of birth, and your picture! Why do they need that information? If you have cash or a valid credit card, that should be ALL they need. There have been so many database breaches in the last few years that we should all be leery of anyone asking for information that they don’t need.

So the daughter-in-law and I walked out of the store with nothing but our common sense. We will stick with the other grocery stores in our area that offer reasonable prices and less privacy invasion.


The Flying Farm Boy – by Daniel Boerman (2011)

The Flying Farm Boy

This book is a snapshot into the life of a young boy growing up in a rural area in Michigan in the 1950s and 60s. The Boermans lived in a heavily Dutch community with grandparents and other relatives close by. Most people in the community were part of the Christian Reformed Church, a small denomination comprised of mostly Dutch immigrants with a shared language and heritage. Dan’s father worked hard to support his family by growing oats and corn, and raising hogs for sale. The family lived in an old farmhouse, and the children in the area attending the local two-room schoolhouse. It was not uncommon to be snowed in during the winter.

What I enjoyed about this book was the solid, everyday feel about it. The author didn’t try to paint life in the country as idyllic, nor did he portray it as tedious and boring. It was a part of his life that had a regularity and solidness about it, a childhood surrounded by love and care from his parents, grandparents, and community. If you’re looking for a biography that is heartwarming and not too long (177 pages), this is your book!

Finding A Bargain At The Library

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Some of my best shopping has been at the public library. Yes, the library. Most people only think of their local library as a place to borrow books. But many libraries also sell off older books and audio-books at a fraction of the price. Every so often I stop in the large downtown library and see what’s for sale. Sometimes it’s a book or two off the 25 cent bargain cart. Sometimes it’s a Mo Willems book for my grandson – fifty cents. But the thing I really love to find is a good audio-book for sale. Many libraries are gradually switching over from the physical CD version to the online version of audio-books. No more lost, stolen, or scratched CD discs when they’re electronic.

At the library, every used audio-book for adults is just a dollar, and every audio-book for kids is fifty cents! Some are long, some are short, but the price is constant. Every time I check the library sale, I find at least one great book that makes the visit worthwhile. (Most times I find half a dozen or so.) My latest find was “Buddy”, a hilarious true story about a journalist whose family lived with a rooster that drove him crazy. The listed price on the back was $39.99, but I paid only $1.00 and no sales tax (libraries are allowed to charge no tax on their used discards). That’s what I call a mark-down! So the next time you’re looking for something to read or listen to, that you can keep as your own, check out your local library.

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