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December 2017

The Case of the Missing Cow

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Princess Buttercup and Aunt Pittypat

Princess Buttercup, one of our two new heifers, disappeared without a trace the other day.  It’s not like a cow to just wander off by itself.  If one manages to bust through or hop a fence, she’ll usually follow the herd along the fence line, bawling her head off to be let back into the safety of the pasture.  We’ve been so busy with wrapping up the semester, it was a day before we noticed we were one brown cow short in Ole 29’s harem.  Besides, we’re in an enclave of farms flanked by a natural wetland area (i.e. a swamp);  there’s not a lot of options for a wayward bovine.

In other words, it’s hard for a missing cow to stay missing.  We did have one little gal emerge from the stock trailer only to be chased by that crazed Richard Marx, the meanest miniature jackass of a pony this side of Fish River.  She hoofed it the length of the pasture, hurdled the south fence like a track star, and was never seen again.  Poor Russ lost his money so fast he might as well have lit fire to it.  As for Richard Marx, his endless summer nights were soon to be found at somebody else’s farm.  Good riddance to that swoopy-maned jerk of an animal!

So, while we were both tracing the fence lines looking for evidence of a breakout, we were hoping that a disappearing cow would remain a once in a lifetime experience.  Really, what are the odds?  Even though it’s been cold and the snakes should be in torpor, I walked lightly and carried a big stick.  I’m a little leery of Ole 29 without a fence between us.  He kept his distance, but I could feel his eyes on me.  He stayed by the hay bale, but like one of those creepy portraits that appears to be staring you down wherever you stand, he let me know he is all bull.

This is the sad part.  Russ finally found Princess Buttercup wedged up under the tractor.  Somehow, she squeezed between the fence and the machinery, fell, and got trapped.  Her predicament defied logic; even idyllic farm life has its hidden dangers.  She’s busted up pretty bad and things are touch and go.  We’ve made her as comfortable as possible in our little cow hospital.  She is eating and being doctored, but if she can’t get up soon, I fear the worst.  We have been loving on her and keeping her company.  She puts her giant head in my lap and lets me stroke her, tracing the sienna tufts of her forelock.  If she pulls through, she will graduate from stock to family pet, bless that little cow’s heart.

Like I’ve said before, this farm lifestyle ain’t for sissies. It can be heart-wrenching, but I wouldn’t trade it.

 

Rocky Rates It: French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Giuliano

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Prepare for gushing, fan-girling, and mad props!  This is the most common sense, effective, simply glorious non-diet diet book I’ve ever read!  There, I’ve said it.  Now, you need to understand I’m pretty well-versed in dietary lore.  I’ve flirted with the likes of Pritikin, Atkins, and–Lord, help me–Suzanne Somers.  I’ve sweat to the oldies, boogied with Jazzercise, and pushed it to the edge of Insanity with Shaun T.

I was a lifelong runner until it came time to pay the piper with a bionic knee last summer.  Since my “good” knee is only a couple of injection cycles away from a similar fate, I decided to give up my running shoes and hop a bike.  The truth is that I never really worried about getting fat because I took for granted that I could literally outrun it if push came to shove. My eating habits reflected the same philosophy:  a thirty-mile week covers a multitude of  sins.  I didn’t really believe I could become overweight until I found myself precisely there.

Guiliano describes a similar situation of letting weight sneak up on her in the opening of the book.  Then, she explains precisely what changes she made to shed those extra pounds, not just for some event like a wedding or the upcoming swimsuit season, but forever.  The advice is practical.  The advice is doable.  The advice doesn’t involve mountain-climbers or burpees.  It most certainly doesn’t involve the requisite list of no’s we are accustomed to.  This book will transform your perspective on dieting.

If you’re ready to quit (Yes, I just said QUIT) dieting and still drop those saddlebags, read this book.  If you’re ready to stop obsessing about calories, carbs, fat content, points, etc., read this book.  If you’re ready to learn why French women don’t get fat, read this book.  It will open your eyes to a different mindset about weight management.

This is probably my 4th read of French Women Don’t Get Fat.  I love the positivity it brings.  I also love the recipe for leek soup.  Whether you incorporate the French approach to eating or not, you owe it to yourself to try this soup.  It’s THAT good!

Rocky Rates It:  5/5 Stars!  Best “diet” book I’ve ever read.  The ONLY one I’ve read multiple times.

Rocky Rates It: Silence by Shusaku Endo

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I don’t usually select a book by its cover, but the artwork depicting a priest at prayer against the backdrop of a bleeding sun was the catalyst for pulling this book off the shelf.  That, and the title, which if you’re like me and are surrounded by hundreds of teenagers every day, was rather appealing.

The book is a novel, but begins with a preface which reads more like a history tome.  Remember having to read The Scarlet Letter in high school and being so zombified by the sprawling preface that you ran for cover in the Cliff’s Notes?  Well, Silence is kind of like that, but my advice is to put on your big kid breeches and wade through the preface.  It’s worth it and will help you better understand the crusade of Fr. Rodrigues.  This is definitely what my kids call a “thinking book”.

We follow Fr. Rodrigues to Imperial Japan as he attempts to re-establish the former Christian stronghold stamped out by repression, torture, and the corporate apostasy of the previous priests attempting to initiate Catholicism to “the ends of the earth”.  The book is not so much about the outward adventure (yes, there’s LOTS there to mull over), but about the internal crisis of faith Rodrigues grapples with as God remains doggedly silent in the face of atrocity.

The book also parallels the betrayal of Jesus by Judas and lends perspective on their relationship.  Will Fr. Rodrigues be able to withstand the trials of faith even when it puts others in grave danger, or will he renounce Christianity altogether in the deafening silence?  I think the answer will surprise you as well as inspire you to examine your own spiritual strengths and weaknesses.

Rocky Rates It:  4/5 Stars

What the Dickens?

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Christmas Past

 

The Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet To Come swirled about the classroom as the genius of Dickens wrought its magic.  Sure, the students understood allusions to Scrooge, but I was surprised by their corporate ignorance of the plot line (and, consequently, the message) of A Christmas Carol.  After using a combo of rich oral reading (of course I “do” the voices) and sheer force of cheerful will, I was bound and determined to foster some sort of appreciation for this timeless story.

This story is ingrained, etched upon my heart as indelibly as the spirits of Scout Finch, Huckleberry Finn, and the Ingalls family.  It was eye-opening to watch my students respond to the power of Fezziwig and the pathos of Want and Need clinging to the ghostly robe of their benefactor.  They gasped when Scrooge’s early words came back to haunt him, and wondered aloud as lots were cast for a dead man’s bed curtains.  I’d like to say I had them…teachable moments stacked clear to Christmas…but it was Dickens who held them in thrall, his fireside read-aloud reaching across centuries.

As capricious as teens can be, sometimes they ask questions with enough poignancy that I can almost see their intellect expanding.  Sometimes, they ask questions that teach the teacher a little something.  One student in particular was going on about the transformative nature (his phrase…insert teacher back handsprings here!) of A Christmas Carol when he asked me the title of the most influential book I’ve read.  I asked for some time to contemplate his question, explaining that our characters are not just multi-faceted but our mindsets transform as a function of life stage and maturity as well.  By the next class, I was ready to go.

Today, Gentle Reader, I’d like to share the 5 most influential books I’ve read.  These are the ones that led to transformation, for better or worse.  Please note that although The Holy Bible was my gut reaction by nature, nurture, and virtue of growing up in the Bible Belt, I chose to omit it from this list.  This is not an ordinal list, and may hold surprises.

  •  A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving  This is the one that set the bar for storytelling, made me want to be a writer, and showed me just how inadequate my own scratchings can be.
  • French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Giuliano  If nothing else, this book started my love affair with leeks.  No kidding, they are divine!  My youngest caught me reading this awhile back and said, “Face it, Mom.”  I thought, “Here it comes.”  Sure enough, her hand went on her hip as she tossed her head.  “You’ll never be French.”
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley  This book taught me how to read…really read.
  • The Total Money Makeover  by Dave Ramsey  My record with Financial Peace University is 01-02 and a forfeit, but I either bless or curse Ol’ Dave with every major purchase.  If I could keep my debt snowball from melting from the heat off those card readers, I might be alright.
  • The First Days of School by Harry Wong/ A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne  Okay, that’s two books, but these two are the ones I credit with teaching me how to teach.  That first one by Ron Clark comes in pretty handy, too.  His name was mud in our house while our first two were little!

So, now I put the question to you:  What book(s) do you consider influential?

 

Yuletide Solitude

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Selfie with a lit reindeer

I was smiling and waving to beat the band.  I had a fancy coffee in hand…one that boasted an almost Starbucksian price tag without the presumed political posturing.  I waited for the coffee to cool a bit as I pushed up the sleeves of my red shirt and pretended not to swelter as the South Alabama sun beat jollily down on the town’s Christmas parade.

My spot was well-chosen.  I sat on the backside of the parade route with the nearest onlooker a good 50 feet away.  I thought the gutter beneath my feet might discourage candy throwing and heard several mothers admonish their float-riding darlings not to toss candy my way for fear of wastefulness.  I got pelted anyway!  I do admit, many a piece of candy did make its way down to the dark infrastructure.  I didn’t try too hard to catch the starlight mints or the Halloween-wrapped toffee (C’mon, people), but I did make a rather athletic save for a Reese’s Cup and managed to juggle two rent-a-center plastic cups and a string of Mardi Gras beads without dropping them into the abyss.

The parade had everything you’d expect in a Deep South promenade:  ROTC cadets, the high school marching band, the mayor and other dignitaries, an antique tractor brigade, beauty queens, cub scouts, politicians, tiny majorettes, military vehicles from the national guard armory, tankers from the fire station, and floats from local churches and businesses.  Most of the marchers sported rosy red cheeks, not from Old Jack Frost (who was positively melting by the time he passed by me, but playing his part to the hilt) but from early onset heat exhaustion.  Trust me.  Santa hats with temperatures rising near 80  is flirting with disaster, especially since the parade route is long enough to be a good haul for even the kids.  Santa Claus himself brought up the rear, looking jolly despite his thick red coat and boots.

So there I sat on the curb, all alone, in the midst of a parade.  And, do you know what?  I wasn’t lonely at all!  I greeted and was greeted by friends as they walked or rode by.  I “Merry Christmas’d” my guts out!  I watched my own kid march with the band while the other was across town playing in a basketball tournament.  I hopped right up after waving enthusiastically to Santa and hoofed it over to the town park for the parade after-party.  The park was packed and the sounds of laughter mingled with the high school steel drum band playing holiday tunes calypso-style. Kids shouted as they hurled chunks of snow–hauled in by 18 wheelers for the occasion–at each other and any unsuspecting adult who wandered too near the cordoned snow zone.

What a content way to watch a parade!  The weather may not have been Christmassy, but it was beautiful and clear.  There was no bickering over candy or those silly plastic beads.  There was no pressure to make lasting Christmas memories (or else!).  There was no meltdown over which child Santa waved to.  Between the parade and the basketball tournament, there was no time to do my usual Saturday shopping chores.  For a couple of hours, it was just me and that was just fine.

 

 

 

 

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