|Disappointment with a book is unsettling, especially when the author is a favorite, but it is not the end of the world. It is an excellent opportunity to evaluate one’s expectations and desires when it comes to books which are good skills to develop when it comes to choosing the next book to read.|
As a writer, Amor Towles is top shelf. I enjoyed his first mesmerizing book, Rules of Civility. I loved A Gentleman in Moscow and read it several times. But his third novel, The Lincoln Highway, was not for me. This book was built on sorrow and violence and fits the description of a modern tragedy – which was a complete change of direction for this author and not what I was expecting at all. The Lincoln Highway is a journey story of three young people but it is a not hero’s journey, although there are aspects of heroism in several of the characters. I wanted to be able to root for someone in the book but there always seemed to be a roadblock, a detour, or a pothole in the plot that threw off my ability to commit to any one figure.
I also had trouble believing the characters’ use of language. It was far too lyrical, beautiful, and worldly-wise for their backgrounds. What came out of the characters’ mouths was intriguing, yet it was not in agreement with the characters’ ages, geographic location, or experience, for the most part. I could not fully believe the arc of the story, either. Amor Towles is a magnificent writer and so I must ask myself: Am I missing something here?
The first part of the story foreshadows the final events of the story, and I wish I had caught the crippling deficiency of one of the main characters before it was revealed at the end. That might have made a difference in my opinion of the book. Maybe.
I watched an interview with Amor Towles on YouTube prior to the release of The Lincoln Highway. The author stated that he definitely did not want to write a book that was a copy in any way of his previous two books. In this Towles has succeeded, perhaps too well. I confess my disappointment in The Lincoln Highway, but I have realigned my compass and look forward to traveling with Mr. Towles on his next book journey.
Category Archives: Travel Stories
My husband and I are spending the winter months in Arizona this year. Our residence is in the midst of several mountain ranges but because we are surrounded by houses on three sides, there is only one range readily visible — the Goldfield Mountains. Every morning since we have arrived, I have jumped out of bed and run to the kitchen to raise the white-painted, wooden slat blinds on the window, and in good weather or bad, with the sun blazing or gray, overcast skies, the magnificent mountains are there and they immediately raise my spirits. Why it is so marvelous to see the mountains each and every morning I cannot say, but it is truly uplifting.
Clouds are often in the panorama of the Goldfield range also. They glide by, hover over, or nestle into the caps and valleys of the mountains and soften the rugged peaks and promontories that are silhouetted on the horizon. From this distance, about ten miles away, the mountains appear calm, imperturbable. They seem to offer pleasant assurances and graceful dependability. But I know from trips up dusty mountain trails that they are truly rugged, steep, irregular, stony, and challenging. Does this make them less majestic? Not at all. But it does make me very aware of the potential hardships they can cause.
We are getting some distance from the year 2020 now, but when I take time to consider it, 2020 was like a trip into the mountains; it was rugged, steep, irregular, stony, and demanding. It seems that giant, boulder-like challenges appeared on our life-paths continually. Many days were filled with difficulty. Some days were devastating. Apostle Paul tells us that when the way gets tough, it helps to turn our thoughts toward good things.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things…. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8
Why? Why turn our thoughts toward the good and beautiful and true things around us? Isn’t that simply sticking our head in the sand? No. This practice, through the grace of God, turns chaos into peace. It turns the possibility of enduring endless dark days into the promise of experiencing light and life instead. Written from a jail cell, Paul’s “list of things to think about” is a life-giving exercise for rugged climbs and hard times.
Author and podcaster Anne Bogel has taken Paul’s life-giving list and turned it into a question: *Once a year, Anne asks her listeners and readers, “What is saving your life right now?” What seemingly insignificant activity or item — a fragrant candle, a beautiful tablecloth, reading a favorite nonsense poem – brings joy to your day, and provides some much-needed distance from the stony landscape of your daily difficulties? (You can read Anne’s 2021 list here: https://modernmrsdarcy.com/domestic-tasks-saving-my-life/).
I think this is a powerful question that opens up an escape route out of a rocky situation. A lifesaver does not have to be expensive or complicated, it simply must bring you joy. When was the last time you sang a favorite song at the top of your voice? Or blew bubbles on your front porch?
The activity that is saving my life right now is the daily, morning view of the mountains from our kitchen window in Arizona. If you can think of something that is a lifesaver for you, take a moment to treat yourself to it, then call someone and share it with them. It just might save their life right now, too.
*In her blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy, Anne Bogel credits Barbara Brown Taylor with initiating the lifesaver practice: “The idea comes from Barbara Brown Taylor’s wonderful memoir Leaving Church. In it, Taylor tells the story of when she was invited to speak at a gathering, and her host assigned the topic: “Tell us what is saving your life right now.”
Road Trip Roundup
Went on a lovely drive yesterday. It was a beautiful day — sunny, high clouds, perfect for a road trip to Tallahassee, FL.
One of the things on our “to do” list was to visit Bradley’s Country Store. Just a bit outside of Tallahassee proper, we arrived there by means of a country lane, County Road 27. Portions of this narrow but scenic roadway are crowned with a canopy of tree branches that reach over to each other from both sides of the road and sometimes meet in the middle overhead. The canopy drive is a beautiful thing to behold and delight to experience.
We arrived at Bradley’s early in the afternoon on a Thursday. As you can see from the picture above, the store is small and the parking lot in front of the store is small, also. Even though we visited on a slow business day, there were plenty of cars and customers coming and going at Bradley’s during our short visit.
Established in 1927, Bradley’s is known for stone ground corn grits and homemade sausage, which is what attracted us to their place of business. On entering the wood A-frame structure, we caught the delicious fragrance of sausage being cooked — a fragrance that draws you to the back of the old wood building, back behind the jar filled and product-laden shelves to the meat market where customers line up for a sausage link on a bun. Irresistible! It was obvious by the earnest faces of those in line that purchasing this item was the reason for their visit to the Bradley’s. There was plenty of foot traffic moving from the front to the back of the store, and we filed right in with the throngs of lunch-seeking pilgrims. That sausage dog was quite a treat!
The store’s board walls are lined with old painted-metal trade signs and advertising images. One large section of wall is covered from floor to ceiling with plaques, most of which are printed with black lettering on distressed wood panels. These are obviously new but fit the old-timey atmosphere of Bradley’s Country Store. A small square plaque on the wall said, “CALL YOUR MOMMA.” That item almost came home with me.
You can see in the picture that Bradley’s has a nice front porch with wooden rockers available for use. Inside, this inviting old building has well used, uneven floorboards,(watch your step), numerous shelves of home canned pickles, peppers, salsa, and sauces, and plenty of other nostalgia-inducing (and I didn’t even grow up in the South!) goodies. There are several Southern cuisine cookbooks to browse, homemade lavender soaps to admire, and of course, Bradley’s homemade sausage and stone ground grits. The staff was cordial, helpful, and knowledgeable.
We happily purchased some of Bradley’s Country Store’s most famous foodstuffs that day (you can order online as well) which we plan to share with family and friends soon. Cheese grits, anyone?
Arrived at the Glen Workshop!
Arrival at the Santa Fe airport was on time. The shuttle that took us from the airport (pictured left )to Saint John’s College, the site of the workshop, made several stops which allowed bus risers to get a glimpse of the city of Santa Fe — very enticing! Mountains are all around- what a gorgeous setting!
Tomorrow morning we will begin the workshop at 9am. Professor Karen Swallow Prior is the mastermind behind the class ( there are many other excellent classes offered as well, as you can discover when you go to the link) called Fun With Flannery, an in-depth look at the short stories of Flannery O’Connor. So, let the fun begin!
To the High Desert of Santa Fe, New Mexico, we journey…
… At the B19 Gate in the Phoenix Airport- American Airlines. Waiting for the flight to Santa Fe to arrive, then from the Santa Fe airport to a shuttle for a ride to St John’s College and check-in for The Glen Workshop. Never expected to be here too early to get into the dorms 😳but it just might happen! (Hope to include pictures of the Glen Workshop experience, but the WordPress mobile platform just crashed! Maybe pics can be edited in later…)
Parables with RVL and a few close friends
I recently returned from a retreat in Kalamazoo, MI. There were about 200 women/friends who attended, some from as far away as California. Wish I had words to explain how powerful the Coffee Break Ministries weekend in the Parables was. The retreat leader was Ray Vander Laan, a teacher and preacher who has spent years studying the scriptures from a first-century Jewish perspective. http://rvl-on.com/about/
I have noticed in my reading of current Christian thinkers and speakers, that there seems to be a big focus on the importance of story in sharing the message of Jesus Christ. This weekend, Ray Vander Laan, also known as RVL, again brought up the importance of story, and especially that the Bible is ONE story. (This is also an emphasis in a wonderful book I recently reviewed in this blog by Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet called Jesus A Theography. See link at the bottom of page).
Here is the scripture that united RVL’s teaching over the weekend: Matt 13:52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” RVL told us that the majority of the time when Jesus taught through parables, he used metaphors, symbols, types and motifs that his audience was well acquainted with from the text. Using parables, Jesus told stories that his audience thought they knew, but Jesus would change something in the setting, or expand the theme, or add a different character so that the parable took the listeners by surprise, and engaged their thinking. RVL taught that in the parables, Jesus would say in various ways that: 1. He is God 2. The kingdom of heaven is at hand 3. I am the Way, follow me.
RVL taught on three major parables, and a couple that are less well-known. He would give us the Jewish back story of each parable, then go through the text with wonderful pictures, maps or videos of the Holy Land so we could get the visual context – all of this was interspersed with Jewish phrases, words or scripture that we would that we repeat after RVL in Hebrew, jokes and short self-deprecating stories of his trips to Israel, and words of wisdom from RVL’s rabbi friends, etc. If I were to use one word to describe RVL’s teaching style it would be “passionate”. This man obviously loves the Lord and the text, and is very committed to inviting his students to share in the same “walk”.
One of the last parables we read was the Prodigal Son. At the end of the lesson, I lost my concentration and composure. I covered my face with my hands and sat there, unable to hear anything that was being said, although I knew RVL was talking. It wasn’t strictly an emotional response, but more of a realization deep in my core about how much it cost the Father (Jesus in this parable) to restore his lost son. All of this was my reaction to the phrase in the text that says (Luke 15:20) “he ran to his son”, which RVL had spent a lot of time and energy explaining to us earlier in the day. My view of the story of the Prodigal Son has been changed forever, I think.
Of course there was a lot more to the weekend, especially the fun of chatting with friends on a long car ride and being graciously welcomed into the home of Michigan friends who were as generous as they were delightful to be with. Still, the take-away for me is the power of the stories in scripture. I believe it is through the reading of scripture and the revelation of the Holy Spirit that we experience not just the history or culture of ancient Israel, not just the content of black print on white pages, but we see the very heart of God, the One who loves us here and now, and who wants us to return that love with all our heart and soul, strength and mind.
Meeting an angel, visiting a saint
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2 To start with, I almost didn’t sit next to her because of a seating error. By the time everything was corrected, I had to move several seats further back in the plane. I caught sight of a golden head of hair and heard a melodious voice say , “Hi,” as I schlepped my belongings to a seat that was very close to the bathrooms. “Hi,” I mumbled as I glanced her way. I was being anti-social for a good reason; on the hour drive in to the airport I had come down with a cold. Has that ever happened to you? At 8:30 a.m. you are as healthy as a ripe tomato, and by 9:30 a.m. you have a headache, intense sinus pressure, runny eyes and nose, and a cough, with three hours on an airplane coming up. Once on the plane, I was trying to disappear into my seat so that I wouldn’t be ejected bodily from the jam-packed Delta flight by passengers who were thinking, “It’s her! The one with Kleenex falling out of her pockets. She’s the Jonah who brought a plague into the aircraft! Throw her out the cargo doors.”
Even before the cold bug dragged me down me, I had been living with a mill stone tied around my heart. I was on my way to visit a sister, the dearest of saints, hoping and praying that, by God’s grace, forgiveness would be extended and a relationship would be restored; but I knew there was no guarantee that either of those things would happen. Then this cold had descended like a judgement – was it a sign that I should wait until another time to bring up tough questions? Should I play the “I’m sick” card and let my sainted sister care for me, as I knew she would? Or was the cold a diversionary tactic, an irritating distraction, meant to thwart the purpose of the trip? I blew my nose and pondered these things.
In my seat, I turned 45 uncomfortable degrees away from my seatmate to decrease the possibility of cross-contamination from my cold germs. It wasn’t until the attendants came with the food cart that I faced directly forward. Both my seatmate and I decided to partake of the snacks offered. We both stowed the books we had been reading and put our trays down, but before she put it away, I saw that my neighbor was reading a study on the book of Ephesians. Ephesians! A surge of Holy Spirit electricity shot through me. Soon, the flight attendant came by with bread and wine – well, lukewarm coffee and pretzels, actually, but it might as well have been the elements, because a gracious communion meal began right there at the back of the plane.
And we did commune, finding a lot of common ground: we were both from families of ten children; both raised Catholic; both of us had sisters who had taken vows in a community of nuns; both of us were facing challenges within our birth families, and we both were following the One we love, the Lord Jesus, into new places.
My seatmate’s name, I finally learned, was Meg. Meg asked the most amazing, generous questions, about my life and family, and the reason for my trip home; she also asked questions about the dearest of saints that I was going to visit. The two of us exchanged a lot of information in the short period of time we had together. Just before the plane landed, Meg turned to me and said, “I can see that the enemy could really cause trouble in this situation with your family. I would like to pray for you – may I?” I looked into her blue eyes, and nodded yes. Meg then prayed for my health, peace, open hearts, healing, pure motives and the presence of the Holy Spirit to direct all events. She prayed for other things, too, but I don’t know what they were because at that moment I began to realize what I was experiencing: God had sent a messenger, an angel – albeit a flesh and blood one – to minister to me on this difficult journey home, and I was overwhelmed with amazement and thanksgiving. When Meg said “Amen”, I asked if I could pray for her, also. In my prayer for Meg, which was one of gratitude for God’s tender care in all areas of Meg’s life, and an acknowledgement that what the Lord does “is marvelous in our eyes,” I thanked God for sending a ministering angel named Meg to sit next to me on the plane. Meg did not dispute that this was true, so I have decided that until Meg or the Lord says otherwise, I will believe that God did provide an angel that day to encourage His ill, crabby and troubled child.
Meg and I said our goodbyes as we deplaned. She came across my line of vision one more time as she walked jauntily down a long corridor to the main doors of the airport. I saw her from the back, her hair golden and shining, but there were no other signs of heaven around her – that I could identify, anyway.
The visit with my sister went very well. It was a good, difficult, painful, scary and beautiful four days. We talked, prayed, laughed, cried and got angry, but we spoke the truth in love to each other. Forgiveness flowed and healing began – even my cold got better fairly quickly. My sister is the dearest of saints to me – but she is as human as they come; as fatally flawed as me and the rest of the human race. I am so very happy, and relieved, that it was possible for us to spend time together, and that the time was God honoring and fruitful. I made my way home from that visit filled with hope.
And Meg? Was she an angel or an earthling? Well, I have tried to reach her via email; there has been no response – yet – so the jury is still out on that question. But no matter what the outcome, whether she is of earth or of heaven, she was most certainly a gift of encouragement from God at a time when I desperately needed it, for which I am very thankful.
Does this blog entry smell like Liquid Smoke?
Just got home from a few days in North Dakota ( 7 hours away by car) at the DD’s in-laws. In-laws live on a ranch not too far from Bismark, and each year on the day after Thanksgiving they and their extended family (including us this year) make sausage from beef, pork and venison meat. This year the total production of sausage – summer sausage, breakfast sausage, links,patties cold smoke, summer sausage and jerky – was 1,100 lbs. Yep. This is an astonishing operation, which goes on for days, with four generations involved. DH and I have heard about Sausage Making Day for over a decade, but had not attended until this year. I mean WOW. These folks are doing something right – something that anyone with half a brain should tune into. Somehow this family has turned hard, heavy, dirty work into fun-with-a-personality-and-a-purpose. I woke up in the middle of the night last night with a smile on my face because I realized what a marvelous thing I had been privileged to experience at Sausage Making Day.
Gotta tell ya, these folks KNOW what they are doing. This is the fourth generation to carry on the practice of sausage making: the secret recipes (if they share them with you, they have to kill you), the equipment, the space, and the expertise are all in place. And humor is there. So is the beer. I am basically a non-drinker, and can be pretty uneasy when there is a lot of booze around. But somehow, it fit in this situation. People, from retirees to pre-schoolers and every age in between, were working hard, and laughing hard. Yes, the adults were drinking hard, but nothing got out of hand, and even though they were surprised that I didn’t drink, they weren’t offended.
Neither DH nor I had anything to offer the people with whom we were working except the willingness to do anything that we were asked to do – and that was enough for them. We worked for about 10 hours that day (this was the second day of operations – the early birds had started after Thanksgiving dinner the day before), with a couple of breaks for singing, dancing and eating thrown in. Oh yes, and cards and other table games and underwear wedgies were going on, too. I would say there were 25 to 30 people gathered at the height of the sausage making – all family by blood or marriage – all working shoulder to shoulder and making the most of the day in every way.
I forgot to mention that with each batch of sausage that was made, there had to be some cooked up on the stove which everyone then tasted and commented upon: ” “GARLIC!” “Too much salt?” “Hey, is it legal to put jalapeños in German sausage?” At meal times, wonderful homemade food items appeared as if by magic. Amazing traditional German soups and main dishes, home canned pickles, and from-scratch pies, cakes and desserts were set out and scarfed up. Bottles were passed around, jokes were passed around, and lots of love was passed around, as well.
I was exhausted by the end of the night, but it was happy, productive exhaustion. For our efforts, we were given several pounds of the finished product to take home and enjoy eating over the next year. Oh, and great memories to make us smile in our sleep, too.
Flying boat covers
We experienced our first major summer storm last night.
I was riding up to our cabin in Park Rapids,MN with son, Rob; he was towing his boat. As we traveled we encountered the leading edge of a big storm. About a mile into the storm the snap-down cover of the boat was pulled up and off – gone, just like that! Rob turned into a gas station in order to stow some gear in the cabin of the boat to prevent anything else from becoming airborn. After the worst of the very dark, windy, rainy and lightning filled weather had passed over, we slowly drove through the area where the cover flew off hoping to see it along the side of the road, but nope.
Think it will ever show up?