Thursday, February 13, 2014

John Adams, a few thoughts

Thoughts on John Adams by David McCullough:

1. It was difficult for me to get into it, more difficult than for most books. McCullough is an excellent writer, but maybe his style is a little more scholarly than what I usually pick up to relax with. I seem to remember that the same thing happened when I read his 1776. Once I got far enough, the story pulled me along and it was fine.

2. I feel like I learned a tremendous amount of history and will actually remember it pretty well now that I have Adams's life story to pin events to. I didn’t know much about his work in Europe during and after the war, or the strife between political parties during and after his presidency, and now those things are vivid.

3. McCullough uses a ton of original sources and shows Adams’s faults as well as his virtues. Adams himself knew and admitted his faults. But after reading this, I truly admire him. He was honest even when it wasn’t advantageous for him to be. He was brave enough to make hard decisions that he knew would bring criticism. Even though he wasn’t a military man, he fought for his country with the talents he had, and he gave most of his life to his country. It was poignant reading about his final years and his death.

Definitely a book worth reading. I will surely refer to it again, possibly even read it again someday.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

John Adams

I'm finally reading John Adams by David McCullough. It's been sitting on our shelf for years and I've kept meaning to start it, but (1) it's long; (2) it's nonfiction, not that I don't like nonfiction, but at the end of a long day it's not what I normally choose to relax with; (3) it's David McCullough, so the writing is intelligent and complex, so see (2) on relaxing.

A few weeks ago I decided it would be good for my character if I did something about this vague intention. I raised the stakes by setting a deadline and inviting others on a productivity website to join me (not necessarily in reading John Adams, but any challenging book). I even started reading, though I wasn't enjoying it very much. But then things got busy and before I knew it, there were two weeks left and I was only on page 78.

Math time. I figured out how many pages I'd need to read per day to meet my goal. It sounded difficult but possible, so I decided I'd go for it.

Here's the interesting part. Now that I'm reading around 40 pages per day instead of 4 or 5, the story has been easier to get into and the writing is easier to read. I'm also remembering a lot more since I'm getting whole chapters in a day instead of spreading them out over a week.

Mostly, though, I'm learning to appreciate John Adams and what an amazing person he was. I've read a little about him before, but this book is showing me how little I knew about how important he was to the United States. I've only gotten up to the part where he's helping with the treaty negotiations to end the Revolutionary War, and already he's done enough to be remembered forever, and there's still plenty of book left. When I finish -- before the deadline! -- I'll post some thoughts.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Old year, new year

Is it just me, or did 2013 go by on fast-forward? It's been a strange but good year. We've had a daughter start college and start driving (there is nothing quite like the feeling of riding in the passenger seat knowing exactly how inexperienced the driver next to you is). We've had children get older and taller and smarter. We've had the big change of my mother moving to a care center, then having the care center and its staff and residents become part of our lives as we visit. This change caused some major readjustments in our family and home as I realized how much of my time and focus had revolved around caring for and worrying about her for the past several years.

This year may bring some big changes too, but right now I'm fine with not knowing exactly what they'll be. I have plenty of ongoing goals and ways I want to improve this year, little by little. My house is slowly getting decluttered again and I need to do the same with my time. Right now, though, if I can get all the dishes washed and update the budget and cook our belated Christmas dinner, the day will be a success.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Shakespeare year

Last month I decided I should finally get around to reading all of Shakespeare's plays. I work best with a time limit, so I wondered if it would be possible to read them all in one year. It's surprisingly difficult to decide how many Shakespeare plays exist. There are the ones we know he wrote, the ones we think he wrote (or wrote part of), and of course the ones he wrote but we don't have.

After looking at several sources, I settled on 39 plays for my list. Of these, I've already read approximately 23 (one summer Shakespeare class in college is still a blur, so I'm not sure about a couple of plays). But I also want to be able to remember which is which. Some of the comedies, especially, blend together in my mind. So my goal is to read or re-read all 39 plays by the end of October 2014, write a one-sentence synopsis for each, and be able to match each synopsis with the correct play.

I started with Taming of the Shrew, which I was already reading for a book group. Then things got busy, as they usually do when I set a lofty goal. But I just finished Cymbeline, the second on my list and one I had never read before. (It's not going on my favorites list.) I chose a somewhat random order after discovering that experts don't agree on the order the plays were written or performed anyway, but I do plan to read the long string of English-king plays one after another, hoping they'll make more sense that way. Next is Timon of Athens, another new one to me. Stay tuned for updates.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

New tenants

This is Ned...

And this is Nemo.

We adopted them from the Humane Society on Wednesday. They're brothers, about three months old. I'd forgotten how hard it is to get photos of young gerbils -- they hardly ever hold still! We named them from the book A. is reading (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) after quite an involved voting process. (Runner-up names were Mario and Luigi, very popular among a certain demographic in our household.)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hiking, part 5

Week 11 and 12 - Sort of a massive combination of hiking, walking, driving and riding. Can you guess where? (Oh, all right, answers are at the end.)

(1-Wyoming state capitol; 2-Deer at nature center in Lincoln, NE; 3-Liberty Jail visitor's center in Missouri; 4-Haun's Mill memorial in Breckenridge, MO; 5-Goat trying to play with us in Breckenridge [tried to get into our car, too, when we left]; 6-Mark Twain historical site in Hannibal, MO; 7-Mississippi River in Hannibal; 8-LDS temple in Nauvoo, IL; 9-Joseph and Hyrum statue in Nauvoo; 10-Mississippi River in Nauvoo; 11-Joseph and Brigham statue in Nauvoo; 12-Carthage Jail in Illinois; 13-Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD; 14-Mount Rushmore; 15-Mountain goat and kid at Mount Rushmore; 16 & 17-Rushmore Cave, SD; 18 & 19-Trail ride in the Black Hills, SD; 20-Railroad museum in Hill City, SD; 21-Western music show at Circle B Chuckwagon in SD; 22-Martin's Cove visitor's center and Devil's Gate, WY.)