Thursday, July 30, 2015

Book Review: The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin

The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the SpectrumThe Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum by Temple Grandin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As I finished this book, I realized it is written in exactly the pattern of how Dr. Grandin's mind works -- she meticulously examines all the trees and then she assembles her forest. The beginning felt more like a college textbook written in first person -- fascinating information, but slightly difficult to wade through, even though I was familiar with much of the terminology. I was a bit disappointed early on, having previously read, Thinking in Pictures. But I'm glad I stuck with it, as it got better and better. Grandin covers a lot of ground -- from the latest in brain research to the latest hypotheses in how neurotypical and autistic minds process the world (i.e. not all autistics think in pictures like she originally thought and wrote about). And most importantly, she focuses on strengths of the autistic mind in order to steer those on the spectrum to a more fulfilling life and career. If I had edited the book, I might have challenged her to use consistent terms throughout -- i.e. "neurotypical" instead of "normal" in some places, even though she does get into, "what is normal anyway?" But to me that was only mildly distracting. Rating: 4 stars -- " I really liked it"

My other reviews on Goodreads

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Book Review: Go Set a Watchman

Like many, I was over-the-moon excited to hear that Harper Lee was finally publishing a sequel. I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird to prepare for the release, and then dove right in. Here's my review:

Go Set a WatchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed the first chapter and all the childhood flashbacks in the remaining chapters, many of which did not appear in the original novel. It was odd to read a few unpolished sections that made it into the final Mockingbird novel, as they were a bit incongruent with what was eventually published and a significant key detail was changed. Tough to review the rest, as it was a rough draft. I wish I hadn't read any reviews that contained spoilers so that I could feel the emotions along with Scout. I can see why the publishers advised her as they did way back when -- the memories of childhood newly revealed in Watchman were just as compelling as the ones that appeared in the polished-for-publication Mockingbird novel. I wish the original author had worked this into a sequel and written a longer ending, but it still is fascinating to see the backstory into how her work was created. Rating: 3 stars -- "I liked it"

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Book Review: Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time

Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the TimeOverwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I don't necessarily agree with every single premise, this was a well-researched book with lots of fascinating information. We actually spend more time with our children than previous generations, but the time is contaminated with the ever-cycling treadmill of what's next and/or undone. Our children have the same stress level as a mental hospital patient of the 1950s. The author really did her homework and legwork to sift out many helpful suggestions from her many sources. I enjoyed reading her journey and how she would always bring it all together. There were a lot of rabbit trails, and I'd wonder sometimes, "wait, how did we get here?" just before she'd bring it back around. I'm glad I read it, and would give a solid 3.5 stars if I could.

View all my reviews

Monday, August 26, 2013

Grief, Joy, Laughter through Tears & a Challenge

This weekend I learned that the baby of a friend of mine who was born way too soon is thriving on his original due date and has a bright future. A child many of us worried would die when water broke so unbelievably early, has fought through with God's mercy and lived.

It's been a weekend of rejoicing what is, that could just as easily have been a weekend of mourning what could have been. What should have been. The child's name is Jonathan, but in a way he is an Isaac of joy and laughter, too, I'm sure.

While this sweet baby continues to grow stronger, another mom of three is growing weaker...

You see, this weekend I also learned that a friend of mine has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. As friend number 1's baby learns to control his muscles and hands, friend number 2 has been losing control of hers. The disease is robbing her of what should be.

As I've grieved for friend number two, I've found myself pleading, "Oh, God, please.... No!"

I know it's arrogant of me to even presume I know better than God what is good and what needs to happen. Still, it feels disloyal to my friend not to beg Him to reconsider the plan here.

This mixture of joy and sorrow is nothing new. Life from our perspective is rarely all good nor all bad at the same time. We've probably all even heard the saying that "you have to take the good with the bad." Perhaps that's even why Romans 12:15 was penned. God has a way of blurring the lines between grief and joy, yet still we need to grieve fully at times.

We have a way of blurring the lines, too. Sometimes we laugh so hard that we cry. Other times we'll be in the throes of grief and someone will toss in a statement or joke that instantly lightens the mood. After just such an event, a character in Steel Magnolias (Truvy) famously quipped, "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion."

I know this road is terrifying, but my friend was also granted inconceivable peace prior to receiving her firm diagnosis. For that I am grateful. She's not afraid of death itself, but the dying part is scary of course. She's requested prayer for her children mostly and for one particular neurologist she sees. Mainly, she wants to live, fully live and enjoy every moment while she still can.

How do I even pray for her? For her children?

I keep thinking of a song that came out when I was coming of age -- Home Free, by Wayne Watson. If I remember correctly, he wrote it in response to the funeral of a little girl in their church whose healing they had prayed for without abandon. Right now, it's the only thing that really helps me process grief like this. (Well, that and the last few chapters of Job.)

I haven't told many people, but I had a cancer scare earlier this summer. In fact, I pretty much had myself in the grave and was quite stunned when everything checked out okay. I remember marveling how I'd been granted a new lease on life -- that since I apparently (at least for now) have the gift of time, that God could ask me to "take one for the team" regarding some of the personal difficulties I'd been experiencing.

In retrospect, this weekend has been a reminder of that realization and a challenge for me to fully live, but not just in the cliche' "enjoy every moment". Yes it is good to look around and be thankful, but I sense God drawing me to something more...

Every day of life is a gift -- a gift that I can give back to God when I return kindness when it seems un-deserved -- living at peace with those who frustrate me, seeking instead to love them, pray for them, and find creative ways to spur them on to good as well.

I'll be praying for my friend, too, as if it were I myself who were in her situation. One day, we all will be there, whether we receive advanced notice of it or not.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013


"Do you remember when the winter was so long, it seemed that summer would never come. And then in summertime, winter was so long ago we almost forgot what it was like?" -- Mary Ingalls, as quoted in These Happy Golden Years

Yep. That -- what Wisconsin feels like to me.

There's a reason I haven't blogged since April: The snow finally *FINALLY* melted (long after March, when I first started bidding it farewell).

Winter overstays its welcome up here. There's a quick meltdown we obligingly call "spring," and then summer is fleeting. There's just enough time to thaw out your toes.

We cram 9 months of stuff into summer. I'm so not kidding. Everything is so green and different, that it almost seems like we've moved somewhere else since winter. But it'll all be gone soon enough.

"How did Ma and Pa Ingalls ever do it?" I wonder. I'm pretty sure they must have been quite skinny. I have a cellar, too, but I'm guessing my garden isn't nearly as big as theirs was. I'm trying to branch out, though, and plant perennial things that will produce or at least start growing in spring -- strawberries, asparagus, and even "pie plant" (rhubarb).

In Texas, I loathed summer and welcomed the chance to go off and do things in air conditioning and/or cooler weather. Mission trip to Wisconsin or the mountains of New Mexico? You betcha! I'll work hard, but it'll feel good.

Now that I live in Wisconsin, I find myself begrudging anything on my calendar during June, July, & August. Can we visit relatives in Texas during spring break, when it's still too cold to do anything up here? Can we have VBS in January when the kids are stir crazy for activity because it's dark by 4:30 in the afternoon? Mission trip to Central America in February anyone?

So now I'm trying hard and hoping that I can get all the yard work done before the first frosts begin erasing the memory of what is planted where. There is such a long time between growing seasons that I forget. Sometimes I have to wait until things bloom before I know what is a weed and what is not.

I can almost hear my neighbors muttering under their breaths, even though most of our landscaping is nice and neat. Still, other areas are pretty sad:

(This is what happens when the weed control fabric of a previous homeowner is not completely discovered and removed before planting all those cool native plants.)

Maybe this fall I'll remember to label the good guys before they disappear? I'm hoping to dig down deep before summer's end and nab those holdout invasive roots sheltering under that deeply "planted" weed fabric I discovered too late. And maybe, just maybe, I'll remember to make my list of stuff I want to order for next spring and note where there's room to plant it...