Back To Mitford

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It’s that time of the year – the Christmas season – when many people totally abandon reading. Not enough time, they say. Too much to do. Can’t concentrate when I have so many things on the mind. My suggestion: listen to audio-books while you work!

I’ve been listening to the latest Mitford novel in the kitchen while I work on hand-sewing projects. It feels like visiting with an old friend. Most of the characters from Jan Karon’s earlier novels are in the book (some have died over the years). There’s Father Tim, who is fully retired now, his artistic wife, and their grown son Dooley, who has married and is now a licensed veterinarian. The small town of Mitford has the same favorite places – the diner, local grocery store, the Cavanaugh house, etc. The book makes you feel like you’re back home after being away for a while.

I also listen while making supper and folding laundry. There’s just nothing like having a good book read to you while you do your hands-on work. You can listen on an old-fashioned CD player (yes, they are still sold) with library CDs, listen on your computer, or download books to your phone through apps like Overdrive or Hoopla. The advantage to listening on your phone is that you can just tuck it in your pocket and the story follows you wherever you go.

Give audio-books a try, and see if they keep your love of books going until things slow down enough to sit down with a physical book to read.


Wonder Horse – by Emily Arnold McCully (2012)

Wonder Horse

You’ve heard of child prodigies, but have you ever heard of a horse prodigy? Back in the 1800’s there was a freed slave named Bill “Doc” Key, who was a veterinarian. He was greatly bothered by the brutal way that many horse-owners treated their animals. He would implore them to lay down their whips and use kindness instead.

In 1889, one of his horses gave birth to a crippled foal. Many people would have put down the foal. But Doc gave him a name –  Jim Key – and worked gently with him until he learned to walk. A great affection grew between man and animal. As time went on, Doc became convinced that Jim Key was intelligent. He began to show Jim cards with numbers and letters, and eventually Jim learned the alphabet, as well as numbers and simple addition and subtraction!

So amazing was Jim that Doc took him to fairs all over the country. They went to the Tennessee Centennial Exhibition in 1897, and to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Many people have debated over the years how much Jim Key actually understood, but one thing is for certain: patience and kindness will bring out the best in both animals and humans.

This is a Scholastic children’s picture book, but can be enjoyed by all ages. To learn more about Doc and Jim Key, you can read the biography: “Beautiful Jim Key – The Lost History Of The World’s Smartest Horse” by Mim Eichler Rivas.

Virgin Snow

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It finally happened – our first snowfall!


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Time to take a walk in the snow with my faithful Ugg boots.


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We call this the hybrid tree – two trees inseparable and growing into one.
During the summer months it looks like a giant pineapple.


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The lamp of Narnia that never turns off. Notice all the cute orange-tipped sticks that the city put in the ground a month ago.


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Oh no, where did we put the snow brush?


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The orange sticks are meant to show the snowplows where the edge of the road is so that they don’t dig up up the grass along the sidewalk. Sadly, many of them are already knocked down or bent.

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Time to put the feet up and watch the snow from inside with a glass of eggnog…








When Books Went To War – by Molly Guptill Manning (2014)

When Books Went To War

Did you know that during World War II, Europe lost approximately 100,000,000 printed books? It began with Hitler’s followers conducting book-burning events, targeting books by Jewish authors and books that held views different from their own. Then lists were made for the general public, advising them that they might not want to be caught during a home inspection with such books. The lists grew longer. Fear built up, and people began burning any of their own books that were deemed objectionable. As the Nazis bombed country after country, entire libraries were obliterated.

Adolph Hitler was an evil man, but he was not stupid. He realized the power of written words to motivate people, to educate and inform them, to influence the masses, and to lift discouraged spirits. Taking away books was just one of the ways he used to control and intimidate the conquered.

Then the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor, and was pulled into the war. As ordinary Americans were drafted and sent for training to become soldiers, librarians across the country came up with a brilliant idea. They wanted to supply all the troops with books to keep their morale up, and to give them a diversion from the horrors of war. Publishers, librarians, Congress and ordinary citizens all worked together to supply soldiers with books, and later to help bring books to Europe.

I absolutely loved this book! It’s rare now to find people that impassioned about books and reading (which is sad).  The letters that the soldiers wrote home, describing the relief that the books brought, were heart-warming. For many, it was a life-line that helped them keep their sanity. Men who had never had an interest in reading were totally hooked on reading by the end of the war. Of all the non-fiction books I have read this past year, this was among my favorite.


Scholastic Books Evolving

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When I was a kid, one of my favorite things at school was to get a Scholastic book flier. (Yes, I was a book geek even then.) My parents didn’t have a lot of money, but we would pore over the selection of books, and pick something. Then there was the anticipation of that book being sent, and excitement on the day when the teacher got her class’s book order in and passed out the books.

Scholastic is still around, and this week my grandkids showed me their fliers. Now instead of one flier, there are multiple fliers – four of them this month. Wow, I said, and I was once again like a kid in a candy shop. I was surprised to see that Scholastic is now carrying a good variety of books with moral or faith-based themes. Among the fliers were:

Jesus Always: 365 Devotions For Kids
An 8-pack of Bible story books
The Berenstain Bears And The Joy Of Giving
Who Was Jesus?
The Plot To Kill Hitler (a biography about Pastor Bonhoeffer in Germany during WWII)
National Geographic Kids: Mother Teresa
Why Should I Share?
Why Should I Help?
Kindness Is Cooler, Mrs. Ruler
Pass It On (about sharing happiness)
The Kindness Value Pack
The 7 Habits Of Happy Kids Pack
Building Faith Block By Block
The Little Flowers Of Saint Francis Of Assisi
God Gave Us Angels
Five-Minute Bible Devotions

Kudos to Scholastic for expanding their selection of books for kids! This is especially important since so many walk-in bookstores have closed over the past decade. If ever there was a time that we need to be focused on living moral and giving lives, it is now.

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Poor Mutilated Books!

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Whenever I find myself in a thrift store, I check out their book section. There are five thrift stores in our area that are great to visit, and two of them have netted me some astoundingly inexpensive reading material. Some books are in pristine condition, with that never-been-read look about them. Others are in “loved” condition, with evidence of having been read many, many times before being donated. But a few weeks ago I discovered a third type of thrift store book: the mutilated book.

I had actually been on the hunt for a specific book series called “A.D. Chronicles” for our church library, as a dedicated reader had read the first book and asked if we could get the series for our tiny library. Unfortunately, the 12-book series would have cost between $117 and $130 dollars, according to Amazon and I sadly let my fellow reader know that we had no church library budget, but that I would keep my eyes open at thrift stores.

Several weeks ago I walked into a local Salvation Army store, and to my amazement, found the first six books of the series sitting on the bottom shelf of the book section! I snatched up the books, set them on a nearby table for sale, and snapped their picture. Six dollars later, the books were on the way home with me.

At home, I surveyed the damage. They were public library books that had been discarded. Let me say, I have bought plenty of discarded public library material, but never seen books treated in such a rude fashion. Someone had carelessly ripped off part of the dust cover spines. They had stamped “discarded” 6-8 times on each one (serious overkill). Inside, they had cut out the barcode instead of simply drawing a line through it as most libraries do.

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As I turned the first few pages, I noticed that the discarder had actually cut through five or six pages as they removed the barcodes. You would think the person would have realized what they were doing after the first book, but no, all six of them received the same treatment.

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Time to do some repair work. I could have throw away the mutilated dust covers, but they had great artwork on the front. So I carefully washed the plastic covers to remove the dirt that had accumulated on them, removed the yellow stickers on each, and laid them on a towel to dry.

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I added old-fashioned checkout cards and pockets to the six books. Lastly, I made some huge spine labels to cover over the mutilated part of their dust covers. Much better!

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These books have found a new home in our closet-sized church library, and folks will be able to check out and enjoy these once-rejected books.

Five Patients – by Michael Crichton (1970)

Five Patients

Michael Crichton is best known for his science-fiction and techno-thriller novels, but on occasion he veered off into non-fiction. In 1970 he wrote a book detailing the medical cases of five patients who were hospitalized at Massachusetts General Hospital while he was at Harvard Medical School. In it, he examined different aspects of hospital life: the non-stop atmosphere of the emergency room on any given day, the soaring cost of being hospitalized, deciding whether or not to operate, the introduction of technology into hospitals, and the way doctors interact with patients. About the time he published this book, Michael Crichton abandoned his medical career and devoted himself to being an author.

If you work in the medical field, the terminology in this book will be familiar to you. Unfortunately for me, much of the medical description was akin to a foreign language. There were parts of the book that I found very interesting, however, such as the section on hospital costs. He gave the example of John O’Connor, who was hospitalized for 31 days, yet only had a bill of $6,172.55! Mr Crichton went on to say:

“The single most important problem facing modern hospitals is cost… First, the cost of hospitalization has skyrocketed. The average MGH patient today pays per hour what the average patient paid per day in 1925. Even as recently as 1940, a private patient could have his room for $10.25 per day; by 1964, it cost $50.10 per day; by 1969, $72.00-$110.00 per day. This staggering increase is continuing at the rate of 6 to 8 per cent per year.”
(page 60)

Near the end of the book, the author gives the suggestion that hospitals should organize their patients into areas based on how ill they are:

“As they become healthier, they would be moved to new areas of the hospital, where they would be encouraged to be more self-sufficient, to wear their own clothes, to look after themselves, to go down to the cafeteria and get their own food, and so on. They would, at every point, be surrounded by patients of equal severity of illness.”
(page 221)

What a contrast between this 1970 view of hospitals and present day hospitals! Now you are lucky if you actually get to spend 24 hours in a hospital after having surgery. As soon as you are conscious, they try to get you on your feet. When you are able to stagger to the bathroom with help, they get out the discharge papers!

Sadly, the skyrocketing cost of medical care that Mr. Crichton describes continues its upward thrust. I would have to agree with the author when he says that we will need to transition to a national health care system as health care becomes impossible to afford.