Commentary #95: “Non-Fiction That Changed My Life”

Non-Fiction Quote

Image Credit: AZ Quotes

I enjoyed Norees’ post so much, I wanted to share it.

Here’s the link to her original post:


The only book on Norees’ list that I have heard of is Quiet.

I’m intrigued by The Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Alex Haley.


Her question was: What are some non-fiction books that had a big impact on you?

Here’s my list, in somewhat chronological order in terms of when I read it, or was assigned to read it.

The Diary of a Young Girl (1947)

48855

This was one of the first books I was assigned to read about World War II, the persecution of Jewish people during that time, and the Holocaust. I re-read it every couple of years as a reminder.

Night (1958)

1617. sy475

We read this as part of our Holocaust study in eighth grade. Now, I want to read the rest of the trilogy, after I re-read this one.

A Child Called “It” (1995)

60748. sy475

I was probably a bit too young to read this when I did (Middle school, I think), but it left a profound impact on me. I had legitimate nightmares and crying spells for weeks.

The Freedom Writers Diary (1999)

47304

This is one of those rare instances where I saw the movie adaptation, several times, before reading the book. I first read the book through one of the libraries, whether it was in Chesapeake or Farmville. I now have my own copy. I’m grateful for teachers like Erin Gruwell.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (2002)

Nickel and Dimed

This was one of the first books I was assigned when I started at Longwood in the fall of 2007. It left a profound impact on me. I’ve read it several times since then. Ehrenreich is now one of my favorite writers.

In Cold Blood (1965)

168642

I read this somewhere between high school and college. Capote was an incredible writer.

The Last Lecture (2008)

40611510. sx318

I first heard about this book from one of my professors, Jeff Halliday. It’s one of the most moving, powerful books I have ever read. I believe everyone should read this book at some point in their lives. Also, if you haven’t seen Randy Pausch on YouTube, I highly recommend it. It’s powerful stuff.

Tough Choices: A Memoir (2006)

199756. sy475

I read this when I was in college. I found it at the library. Fiorina is an impressive woman!

Columbine (2009)

I learned about this book when the author, Dave Cullen, was a guest lecturer at Longwood in 2009. I had the pleasure of interviewing him for The Rotunda. It’s a tough book to read, but a good one.

The Glass Castle (2006)

7445. sy475

I first stumbled upon this book when I was in my junior or senior year at Longwood. This is another book, a memoir, that everyone should read.

Tornado Warning: A Memoir of Teen Dating Violence and Its Effect on A Woman’s Life (2011)

Image Credit: www.shapingyouth.org

This is another book that I think many should read, both men and women. And, I’m glad I’ve re-read it a couple of times.

If I Am Missing or Dead: A Sister’s Story of Love, Murder, and Liberation (2007)

If I Am Missing Or Dead

This is another book that came into my life at the perfect time, in February 2016. I’ll never forget reading it, late at night, in the early months of being married to Al, grateful that I was able to escape. Thanks to my good friend, Mike H., I learned about Janine and her incredible story. This is another book I think many others should read.

Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood (2005)

smashed

I found this book at a thrift store at the perfect time, about 12 years ago. It’s a compelling account of how alcohol can affect someone so early. I think I need to re-read this. I first wrote my book review in 2016!

The Unknown and Impossible: How a Research Facility in Virginia Mastered the Air and Conquered Space (2017)

The Unknown and Impossible

Remember Mike H. from earlier? He’s now a published author. I loved reading this compelling 100-year history of NASA!

Grace and Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond (2012)

Grace and Grit - Amazon

I learned about this book through my church bulletin, as one of the women’s circles was reading it for discussion. I’m so glad I found out about this book. Lilly Ledbetter has had an incredible life, and wanted to fight for what’s right.

Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide (2017)

Girls Auto Clinic - Amazon

Patrice Banks is a bad-ass! This was another author interview on Fresh Air. This is a must-have for every glove box!

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (2016)

evicted

Matthew Desmond was interviewed on Fresh Air, discussing the book and his ongoing project on evictions and the database he has been building. Like Ehrenreich, Desmond is a true ethnographer, and I can’t wait to read more from him.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (2010)

Unbroken A World War II Story of Survival Resilience and Redemption

I’m glad I received this book through a book swap. Hillenbrand is a remarkable writer. This is not my most favorite non-fiction book in the world, but Louie Zamperini’s story is incredible and important.


Want to Read

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2010)

6493208

I’ve been wanting to read this for years.

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (1997)

9791

I took a Linguistics course at Longwood. We read a different book by Bryson, and I really enjoyed it. I’ve always been fascinated by the Appalachian Trail, so I think this book would be great.

Hidden Figures (2016)

25953369. sy475

I’ve wanted to read the book since the movie adaptation was released. The movie is excellent, so I’m pretty the book is pretty terrific, too.

Educated (2018)

35133922

Tara Westover’s interview on NPR’s Fresh Air was one of the most riveting podcast episodes I’ve listened to. I hope to read this before the end of 2019.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (2016)

27161156

I’ve been curious about this memoir since hearing the author’s interview on NPR’s Fresh Air.

Parkland: Birth of a Movement (2019)

41154327. sy475

I’m not ready to read this yet, but just knowing that Cullen wrote it is enough to put it on my list.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (2012)

12262741. sy475

Granted, I didn’t hear about this book until the movie adaptation with Reese Witherspoon was announced, but it peaked my interest.


 

Getting Personal #178: Reflections, On My Birthday

Jeremiah 29-11 - lilyandval

Image Credit: lilyandval.com

This is my fourth birthday reflection! I can’t believe I started this annual tradition in 2016. I’ve enjoyed reading the posts from 2017 and 2018, too.

Here we are, 2019! This year has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride. But it’s been mostly good!


This time last year, we were anxiously awaiting the arrival of our greyhound. It was going to be our first dog together, and we were so excited. We welcomed Pablo to our house in September. However, we quickly realized this poor baby was experiencing severe separation anxiety. We had to return him to the greyhound agency after four weeks. Al and I were incredibly devastated. But, we knew he needed to be in a home with someone who was either retired or home much of the day, and with other dogs or greyhounds. By the time we returned him to the agency, there were at least four people who were willing to take Pablo!

We had a short cooling-off period, and gave ourselves time to heal. We continued working, finally got our HVAC system finished and working, and a few weekend trips away.

Around Thanksgiving, Al and I had been casually researching local rescue organizations, thinking we were going to be ready to try again after the holidays. We had heard good things about Saver of Souls Pet Rescue, based in Virginia Beach. A few people we know had great success with them and adopting from them. We fell in love with bonded brothers, older miniature pinschers named Phineas and Ferb. We filled out the application, and crossed our fingers. We didn’t want to get our hopes up, but we felt drawn to them.

Our lives changed on December 2nd. We learned at an event in Virginia Beach that our application was approved, and we could take Phineas and Ferb home!

 

Image may contain: Al Vardaro and Laura Beth Vardaro, people smiling, dog, eyeglasses, beard and outdoor

The day we adopted our two furbabies – December 2, 2018. Al is holding Phineas and I’m holding Ferb. They are our goobers!

They have changed our lives for the better! I can’t imagine not having them. It’s hard to believe December will be a year since we adopted them. We’re hoping for many years with them. We believe they will turn 10 sometime in November.

Aside from adopting Phineas and Ferb, we’ve stayed busy! I truly think turning 30 was a huge turning point for me. I’ve enjoyed finding and making new recipes, celebrating many birthdays, taking trips with Al, and soaking up as much time with family and friends.

Here’s a few other big things that happened this year:

  • I read 17 books in 2018, including two Advance Reading Copies (ARCs).
  • On March 30, 2019, I hit a HUGE milestone with my writing. I finally finished the first draft of my 2012 WIP, tentatively titled, “Experiences From Camp.” It’s just over 50,000 words. It feels incredible! Two of my friends have graciously offered to look it over and begin the editing process with me!
  • I paid off some significant credit card debt!
  • I have seven American Girl dolls now. Mia, Girl of the Year 2008, is the newest addition.
  • I participated in a wonderful group of Gal Pals on Facebook, and really enjoyed it. I look forward to participating in another round, either later this year or the beginning of 2020.

Cheers to 31!

img_2142


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

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 🙂