Book Review #72: “Columbine” *Re-Read*

I try my hardest to post Book Reviews within 24-48 hours after finishing the book. However, life has been pretty hectic recently. I finished Columbine in mid-April, just after the acknowledgment of it being 20 years since the tragedy. I’m just now posting my review.

I have a special connection with this book. The author, Dave Cullen, came to Longwood in the spring of 2010 as a guest lecturer. I was able to interview him for an article I wrote for the student newspaper, The Rotunda. He graciously signed my copy when I bought it at his lecture. It was strange, reading his message from March 17, 2010. That feels like a lifetime ago!

I’m glad I re-read this book. I remember how I felt after I read it the first time. Part of me wishes I’d re-read it before now, before nine years had passed. However, I still felt similar emotions as I did the first time.

I have to give major props to Cullen on his research and dedication to this book. This is one of the best accounts I’ve read of the events that occurred on April 20, 1999. And Cullen goes deeper than that. He covers the massacre, but also delves into the lives of the shooters, their families, and survivors.

It’s not perfect, but as someone who originally read memoir-style books such as The Journals of Rachel Scott: A Journey of Faith at Columbine High and She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall years ago, when the tragedy was still relatively fresh (I was almost 10 when it occurred), I appreciate the time and effort Cullen devoted to this book.

If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. Cullen makes it clear that he is a journalist first, and it’s evident throughout. His amount of sources is simply incredible. It’s very dense, and tough to read, but it’s an important work. I’m glad Cullen devoted many years to writing this book.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #71: “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America” *Re-Read*

Nickel and Dimed

Image Credit: Goodreads

When I initially read this book, it was assigned reading for one of my very first college classes. I can’t remember which one, but this book left a profound impact on me. Slowly, I started reading more from Barbara Ehrenreich. However, this is the book that started it all.

I started college in the fall of 2007, about a year before the financial crisis that began in 2008. I believe I was assigned to read this book at a poignant time. I also believe I’m re-reading this book at another poignant time, at the beginning of 2019.

Going into re-reading this, I realized my copy of the book was updated with a new afterword, published in 2008. However, the overall concept – Studying low-wage jobs and attempting to understand their socioeconomic impacts – is nothing new. That’s part of the reason I was drawn to Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.

Ehrenreich embarked on an experiment in 1998 – Trying to see if she, as a single, middle-aged woman, could survive as a waitress, a cleaner (hotel maid and house cleaner), a nursing home aide, and a seller / retail associate for a month, in three different cities. Each chapter explores a different type of job and a different city. She quickly realized the challenges with each one, and each city presented its own obstacles with housing, food, and assistance. Along the way, she met a variety of people working these jobs. A few were fortunate, but many were barely making ends meet. Several were working 2-3 jobs full-time, and still struggling with their incomes and their partner’s / spouse’s income(s) as well.

I won’t spoil anything, but she learns many lessons along the way. She discovers multiple issues with affordable housing, child care costs, fast food, health care, education, and the way these companies treat their employees.

I got a bit lost with the footnotes, statistics, and percentages, and glossed over a few of them toward the end. However, reading the updated afterword was important, and appreciated. This country has a lot to learn, still, in 2019. We need to treat employees, especially those earning the absolute minimum, better.

Overall, I’m glad I took the time to re-read this book. It’s a bit “dated” now, since Ehrenreich’s experiment started and concluded 21 years ago. However, it’s still relevant in many aspects today. And, like her, I’m grateful for everything I’ve had and worked for. This is a valuable book that will stay on my bookshelf forever.

4 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #82: “How Iceland Got Teens to Say No to Drugs”

The Atlantic

Image Credit: The Atlantic

I saw this article on Facebook recently. Thanks to Brittany A. for sharing it.

Here’s the link to The Atlantic’s article, published January 19, 2017:


What were you doing in 1997?

According to a local psychologist, Gudberg Jónsson, back then most of Iceland’s teens were drinking or drunk. All the time. It felt unsafe.

Fast-forward 20 years. There aren’t teens wandering the park, nearly passed out drunk. There aren’t many wandering teens at all.

Why?

They’re involved in after-school classes, art club, dance, music, or with their families.


Iceland boasts incredibly low percentages of teens drinking, using cannabis, or smoking cigarettes.

Here are the numbers. This was a survey of 15-year-old and 16-year-olds, reporting these activities for the previous month.

Drunk, 1998: 42 percent
Drunk, 2016: 5 percent

Ever used cannabis, 1998: 17 percent
Ever used cannabis, 2016: 7 percent

Smoked cigarettes every day, 1998: 23 percent
Smoked cigarettes every day, 2016: 3 percent

It’s radical, and exciting. But, there’s a method behind it. And if adopted by other countries, it could have a revolutionary change. However, it’s a big if.


In 1992, Project Self-Discovery was formed, offering teenagers “natural-high alternatives to drugs and crime.”

Instead of a treatment-based approach or program, the idea was to allow the kids to learn anything they wanted, including art, music, dance, martial arts. By having the kids learn a variety of things and skills, their brain chemistry was altered, and give them what they needed to cope better with life. Other ways to combat depression, anxiety, numb feelings, etc. Life-skills training was also incorporated.

Research and studies in the early 1990s showed a series of factors that played into Icelandic teens not getting involved with alcohol and drugs: Participating in organized activities three to four times per week, especially sports; total time spent with parents during the week; feeling cared about at school; and not being outdoors in the late evenings.

Youth in Iceland began gradually, before being introduced nationally. Correspondingly, laws were changed. You had to be at least 18 to buy tobacco, and 20 to buy alcohol. Tobacco and alcohol advertising was banned. In addition, another law, still in effect today, prohibits children aged between 13 and 16 from being outside after 10 p.m. in winter and midnight in summer.

Another key provision was involving schools and parents. State funding was increased for sports, dance, art, music, and other clubs. Low-income families received help or assistance to take part in these extracurricular activities.

“Protective factors have gone up, risk factors down, and substance use has gone down—and more consistently in Iceland than in any other European country.”

Youth in Europe started in 2006. The questionnaires – Sent out to many European countries, South Korea, Nairobi, and Guinea-Bissau – shows “the same protective and risk factors identified in Iceland apply everywhere.”

However, no other country has made changes on the scale seen in Iceland. Sweden has called the laws to keep children indoors in the evenings “the child curfew.”

There are cities that have reported successes, being a part of Youth in Europe. Teen suicide rates are dropping in Bucharest, Romania. Between 2014 and 2015, the number of children committing crimes dropped by a third in another city.

“O’Toole fully endorses the Icelandic focus on parents, school and the community all coming together to help support kids, and on parents or carers being engaged in young people’s lives. Improving support for kids could help in so many ways, he stresses. Even when it comes just to alcohol and smoking, there is plenty of data to show that the older a child is when they have their first drink or cigarette, the healthier they will be over the course of their life.”

Would something like this work in the U.S.?

Not a generic model, nothing exactly like Iceland, but something specifically tailored to individual cities, maybe even individual communities. By working with communities to identify the biggest issues and the biggest needs, maybe adopting facets of the Iceland program may help teenagers, and others, in the U.S.


My two cents: While I do drink alcohol now, I’ve never smoked. I was never tempted by alcohol as a teenager. Not at home with my parents, anyway.

I was involved with music and sports from a very young age – Piano, gymnastics, soccer, then the viola, and softball. My church was another huge part of my life. If I wasn’t in school, at music lessons, or at sports practice, I was likely at church.

Also, I know my parents played a huge role in my life. Being an only child, I know I’m a bit biased. But, we had dinner at the table almost every night. We didn’t eat out a lot. The Internet was new, and no one had a smartphone. We had a computer, but there were strict limits, and more educational games than Web surfing. They were fully present in my life. I may have been sheltered and protected, but it gave me so many benefits.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

 

 

 

Commentary #81: “How One Woman Is Teaching Homeless & Foster Care Children To Dream”

Precious Dreams Foundation

Image Credit: Sam Dahman

A dear friend shared this article on Facebook on November 30th, and I felt compelled to write about it.


Who knew that decorating an ordinary, simple pillowcase could make such an impact?

Nicole Russell, together with volunteers, provides comfort items that help children in transition to self-comfort.

What makes you happy?

What images can help you dream?

Things that many of us take for granted – Warm pajamas, stuffed animals, receiving blankets, books, and journals – This foundation helps provide it!

This is awesome!


If you’re interested in learning more, please see the resources below:


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #80: “You have two ages, chronological and biological. Here’s why it matters”

Aging Quote

Image Credit: BrainyQuote

This article on CNN.com, posted on November 30th, immediately caught my eye.


Your chronological age is fairly self-explanatory – It’s based on your birthday.

Your biological age is a bit more complicated – It’s called someone’s phenotypic age.

Phenotypic: Relating to the observable characteristics of an individual resulting from the interaction of its genotype with the environment.

Remember biology class?

Long story short: Your biological age determines health and lifespan.

Morgan Levine, a professor and researcher at Yale Medical School, worked with her team to identify nine biomarkers in a simple blood test. Some of these biomarkers include blood sugar, kidney and liver measures, and immune and inflammatory measures.

The bottom line: People who have a lower biological age than their chronological age have a lower mortality risk.

What’s interesting about Levine and her team’s research is that your biological age is not permanent. It can be adjusted. Meaning, changing things like lifestyle, diet, exercise, and sleep habits can lower one’s mortality risk and improve one’s biological age.

Currently, Levine is working to provide access to the algorithm online so that anyone can calculate their biological age, and take further steps to improve it.


For more information:

What do you think? Let me know in the comments!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #79: “Tiny Houses For Homeless Vets Makes A Lot Of Sense”

Today is Veterans Day. I waited to share this story, because I think it’s important.

In Kansas City, Missouri, former U.S. Army Corporal Chris Stout is definitely a hero. In more ways than one. Not only did he serve his country, but now he’s giving back to it. Through the Veterans Community Project, tiny homes have been built in the Veterans’ Village, all for veterans who are struggling with homelessness. Chris and several friends quit their jobs in 2015 to start the project, and it’s been blossoming ever since.

The first 13 homes were finished in January. Another 13 will be done by the end of this month. Each house is fully stocked – Furniture, linens, toiletries, food, and even welcome gift baskets.

However, Chris calls the houses the “sexy piece.” The bread and butter is the sense of community, camaraderie, and connecting veterans to the services they need.

In the interview, Chris stated that eight of the original 13 residents have found permanent housing. They take the furniture with them. It takes about 72 hours for a house to set up for a new resident.

The idea is for veterans to get back on their feet, with as much time as they need based on their goals, and get connected with the services they need. While starting the project, Chris found that many didn’t feel safe or have a sense of privacy with traditional shelters. The anticipated length of stay is six months, but as long as they are working on their goals, they’re welcome to stay as long as they like/need.

Another 23 houses are to set to be done by the beginning of 2019. In addition, a community center is nearly finished, which will have medical, dental, and veterinarian care, a barbershop, and a fellowship hall for group events.

When a veteran walks in, the staff gets to work with their bus pass, housing placement, job placement, legal services, food pantry, clothing closet, and emergency financial assistance. So far, the organization has helped more than 8,000 veterans.

More than 650 communities around the country have reached out to Veterans Community Project. They’re growing in Denver, Nashville, St. Louis, and more. Chris’s goal is to be in every major city, helping veterans with what they need.


Chris Stout has already been recognized as a CNN Hero. He’s in the Top 10. The hero with the most votes will receive $100,000 toward their cause. Voting ends December 4th.


Thank you to all veterans! We appreciate your service.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Getting Personal #135: Reflections, On My Birthday

Birthday Quote 2018

Image Credit: BrainyQuote

This is the third birthday reflection post I’ve written. I wrote the first in 2016, and enjoyed it so much, that I did it again in 2017.

Now, here we are in August 2018. For those who don’t know, I turn 30 today. It’s kind of crazy, but so exciting!


We’ve owned our house for two years now. We continue to have stable jobs, with a few much-appreciated raises and bonuses thrown in. Last year, we celebrated seven years together, added two new members to our family with Savy and Mia, and toasted to two years of marriage. We spent a week with Al’s family during Thanksgiving, and then a quiet Christmas here at home. It was definitely a cold winter – Lots of blizzards!

This year, we finally did our HVAC overhaul, and we’re so happy we did. We’ve seen a ton of movies, and tried several new recipes. Thanks to my awesome father-in-law, I now have a beautiful custom display case and wardrobe for my American Girl dolls. We’re getting better at going to the gym during the weekday mornings, and riding our bikes around the neighborhood at night.

As the summer is starting to wind down, we’re eagerly awaiting the arrival of our greyhound! Look for the first blog post about him in mid-September!


Reflecting on my long birthday weekend celebration, I’m immensely grateful for all the time I’ve been able to spend with so many people – Al, my parents, my church family, my office family, Al’s co-workers, wonderful family friends, Al’s parents, Nick and Savy, and their new puppy! There has been an abundance of food, hugs, warm wishes, thoughts, appreciation, cards, and love! I saw two wonderful movies as well, Christopher Robin and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, surrounded by family and friends.

I can’t wait to see what this new decade has to offer!!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂