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Monday, May 22, 2017

Book Review: "Mornings on Horseback" by David McCullough

I like David McCollough's biographies, and I think I have like this one best of all.  It is about the early days of Teddy Roosevelt.  The author tries to answer the question, "How did this extraordinary man become who he was?"

He shows the influences of his family, his poor health as a young man and how he just loved the natural world.  These elements shaped Teddy and inevitably shaped our country.  He believed in a very physical lifestyle, hence the title of the book.

The book was fascinating throughout, and if you like history and are interested in Roosevelt, I highly recommend it.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

My Book

My publisher is downsizing their warehouse.  Consequently, I now have several cartons of books at my house that I want to sell.  

“Trail Training for the Horse and Rider” is a highly readable, how-to book for trail riding.  I cover training the green horse, retraining the spoiled horse, negotiating difficult obstacles and terrain, conditioning, dealing with difficult weather and more.

It costs $20.00 plus $4.00 to ship.  If you are a local person, we could arrange to meet to save shipping costs.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

My Life as a Mathematician

The Kahn Academy

I was always excellent at math, and I loved it.  In high school, I took it through Calculus.  Since I only went to a community college, I didn't need any math for my degree unless I was deficient.  When I went to take the placement tests, the woman in charge saw my transcript and told me not to take the math section because it was an insult to my accomplishments.  Even though it was required, I didn't take it and no one made me.

I ended up in a career that involved a lot of math, but not at a very high level.  Most was just arithmetic and some word problems.  I came to excel at the word problems that came my way at my job. and it was fun to try to solve them by turning them into algebraic equations.  (By the way, I was a printing estimator.)

I have loved math my whole life, and I even credit it for allowing me to retire early.  Knowing how math works, compounding interest and the "rule of 72" encouraged me to save and invest.

Then I retired--and found out I didn't miss my job, but I missed dealing with math every day.

In January, I signed up at the Kahn Academy website.  It is a free service that is for students in high school and below.  It has all kind of math courses.  There are videos covering everything and tests.  I described it to my niece, and she said it is a form of "mastery learning," and it has been found to be the most effective way to learn things.

I started with Algebra.  I mastered Algebra Basics and then Algebra I.  Much of it I remembered or almost remembered, but quite a bit of it seemed foreign--and it was tough.

Next came High School Geometry.  The early parts of it were pretty simple, but then it got very tough.  I am 98 percent finished with it.  From Geometry, it was a natural transition to go the Trigonometry.  I didn't remember any of it from High School.  Still, with hard work, I am 73 percent complete.  From there, I many work on Algebra II some more.  I am at 44 percent, there.  Eventually, I will tackle Calculus, and I am sure that will be as tough as can be.

Yes, I am a math nerd, and I can't believe how much fun I am having doing this.

If you know any students who are struggling with math, please, please direct them to the Kahn Academy--it is an awesome way to learn--and it really is free!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Book Review: "The Woman in White" by Wilkie Collins

This is an awesome, awesome book.  I didn't want it to end.  It was one of the books my niece recommended, so I'm not surprised it was good.  She has great taste.

A man takes up a job as an art instructor for a young lady at a house in the country.  On the way there, he meets a mysterious woman in white who is running from something.  She knew the mother of this man's new student, and when he arrives at his destination, he does a little detective work to find out more about her.

He tutors and inevitably falls in love.  Things then get complicated, fast.  The woman in white keeps appearing in the story--driving the plot.

Things happen.  I don't want to give anything away.  The book consists of various characters telling their part of the tale from their point a view.

Though the story moves slowly, it still kept me on the edge of my seat.   This is definitely a must-read book.

Book Review: "The Real Custer" by James S. Robbins

I like historical non-fiction, and I like reading about interesting characters.  Custer is certainly that.  He was courageous and flamboyant; smart and politically unsavvy.  He was a great general in the Civil War, without doubt.  After the war, in the cavalry, he struggled to find his greatness.

His time at West Point as a young man was particularly interesting.  The Civil War battles got a little boring for me, but they were well written and thorough.  Those who like that kind of thing would like how the author handled them.

I thought his relationship with his wife was one filled with much love and devotion.  As in everything--Custer went into love with both feet first--and conquered.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn is the tragic climax of the book, of course.  Since no one survived, the author admits that the details are sketchy and gives the most honest account, possible.

I liked the book.  Now the big question that I always have with biographies--did I like the man?  If I met him, I don't believe we could have been friends--he was just way too different then me.  Seriously, would anyone call me flamboyant?

Book Review: "Naked Prey" by John Sanford

Yes, I do read some contemporary novels.  I like police stories, detective stories and mysteries in general.

This was a good book.  It was fast-paced and had a creative plot.  Two bodies are found hanging in a small town in the middle of nowhere.  The young lady who found the bodies is fascinated with the investigation and gets herself involved in it.  She was the best character in the book.

Before you know it, more murders occur and the plot gets more twisted and exciting.  It is an easy read compared to what I have been reading, but sometimes that is a good thing.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Book Review: "Anything for Billy" by Larry McMurtry

This is a totally fictional and totally enjoyable version of the story of Billy the Kid.  Truly, the story is more about the narrator, Mr. Sippy, a half-dime novelist who goes out west to experience the west, first hand.  He fails as a train robber and ends up meeting Billy.

Unlike McMurty's Lonesome Dove novels which were deep and sad, this is light and fun.  It is fast paced and filled with excitement.  A great western novel.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Book Review: "Between the Dark and the Daylight" by Willam Dean Howells - 1907

This was another from Project Gutenberg.  It is no secret that I thoroughly enjoy Howells.  He is the realist of realists, and that suits a realist like me.  His stories may not have much going on, but I love every minute of them.

This is a collection of lightly connected short stories.  Most of them involve the brain and its mysterious functions--particularly memory.  One of the characters in most of the stories is a psychiatrist that gives explanations about what he thinks is happening.

All of the stories were completely enjoyable.  A few of them were simply a group of friends telling stories of their experiences.  Most of the stories involved love.

Highly recommended for realists.

Book Review: "The Grey Woman" by Elizabeth Gaskell - 1861

I read this book on Project Gutenberg.  It is a compilation of short stories.  The first and longest of the stories is "The Grey Woman," and it is also the best of all of them.  Who would have thought Elizabeth Gaskell would write a page-turning adventure, mystery story?  I loved it.  I hope to find other stories such as this among Project Guttenberg's collection.

"Six Weeks at Heppenheim" was good, too.  I didn't even understand the purpose of "Disappearances."

The rest of the stories had fine qualities, but they were too moralistic for my tastes.  A few were downright preachy.  They were worth reading, but  

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Book Review: "Ruth" by Elizabeth Gaskell = 1853

I believe that this book was a more relevant book, back in the time it was written.  It is about Ruth, a fallen woman, and how she has to live with her reputation.  It is a very, very sad book, and as with all of Gaskell's books, filled with illness and death.

It dragged in the middle and got more exciting as the book went on.  The ending was a horrible, "happy" ending.

I guess I would say that I am glad I read the book, but I really didn't like it.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Book Review: "The Accursed" by Joyce Carol Oates

This was certainly different from all the other books I have read by this author.  I would even say it was a little weird, but it was also fascinating.  It dragged a bit in the middle and certain chapters were very boring, but then the next chapter would be great.

Taking place in 1906, it involves a family and a neighborhood that was attacked by some strange, occult experiences--and felt they were accursed.  Oates involves historical figures, such as, Woodrow Wilson, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Grover Cleveland and Teddy Roosevelt.  With Sinclair and London, we get a healthy dose of the Socialist movement at the time.  We get to learn a little about presidents and a lot about the Princeton area where the story takes place.

I liked most of the book, and it was a worthwhile read.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Book Review: "Sphere" by Michael Crichton

Who can resist an good book by Michael Crichton?  Fast-moving, science-filled adventure stories.

Five people walk into a submarine: An astrophysicist, a zoologist, a mathematician, a biologist and a psychologist--and then the fun begins.  They are to investigate an alien spacecraft found on the bottom of the ocean that has been there at least 300 years.

This was one of the better ones. It is filled with lots of interesting science.  The conversations between the characters--all from different points of view was particularly entertaining.  The story was anything but predictable and a real page turner.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Book Review: "The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins

Yes, I don't only read old books by dead authors.  I like modern books, too.  I have always liked to read murder mysteries since about the age of 12.  This is a particularly good one.

It is written from the point of view of 3 people, and you have to pay attention to the dates on the chapters to keep the sequence of events straight.  None of the people are model citizens and half of the fun is seeing how their minds work.

The main witness is an alcoholic that witnessed something during a blackout and is struggling to remember it.

The suspense kept me going right through this page turner.

A great, entertaining book.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Book Review: "Cranford" by Elizabeth Gaskell - 1851-1853

This book was published in a periodical as installments, and each installment can stand on its own, but they interlink with each other.

It portrays Victorian England in a small town.  The characters are widows and spinsters with very small incomes.  The narrator is a woman who visits them and stays for protracted times.  There is very little known about the narrator.  The stories are about the elderly ladies and their customs.

It is quite funny, actually, and sad in other ways.  There isn't much of a plot, but that doesn't harm the story in the least.  The story telling is always entertaining.

Book Review: "Founding Mothers" by Cokie Roberts

I try to get a few non fiction books in my line up, and I like American history.  This was a good pick because it gives a different view of the Revolutionary period.

It is no surprise that many of the women of the time were politically engaged.  The book delves most heavily into the lives of Abigail Adams and Martha Washington, but includes many other women, too.  Some are active players, some are just defending their homes, some are supportive of their husbands and then there is Peggy Arnold--supporter of the traitor Benedict Arnold.  All of them are interesting.  I really liked this book.  It still tells of the male side of history, so we can see where the female side fit in.  The nice thing about it is that all the people felt real.  They may have been heroes, but they were human heroes.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Great Morning

The weather was terrific, again.  After I went on another somewhat successful trail ride with Ellen, I hung out with Kevin.  First, we went to see a Great Horned Owl nest he found on the parkway in Rocky River Reservation.  It is just south of Uranus on the opposite side of the street.  Just look for the gathering crowd of birdwatchers.  We were able to see the owl on her nest without binoculars, but with them, we could see her little baby, too.

Since we were close, we just had to go see the eagle's nest on Grayton Road.  They are sitting on their eggs, right now, so we couldn't see the one that was sitting inside the nest, but we saw on on a tree, very close to the nest.  I guess the eggs will hatch, soon.  We will be back.  We have known about that nest for years.

Next, we hiked at the golf course trail.  It used to be a nice bridle trail, and the first section of it still is.  Once you go up the hill, though, the erosion is just awful.  It simply would not be worth the risk to try to ride a hose through it, but it is still safe to hike.  I doubt if the park will try to fix it, again.  The trail is a dead end, so it isn't a huge loss, but it is a shame to lose any of our bridle trails.

Lastly, it was time for lunch.  Kevin and I love Burger King.  Actually, we are rather addicted.  I like my whoppers without mayo and with BBQ added.  They are healthier and tastier that way.

Then I went home to rest a bit before me dog walk.  It was a busy and fun-filled day.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Book Review: “Blonde” by Joyce Carol Oates

Book Review: “Blonde” by Joyce Carol Oates

Is there any author out there that can bring a character to life better than Joyce Carol Oates?  In this highly fictionalized account of the life of Marilyn Monroe, she does just that.  The book isn’t entirely accurate, as Oates explains at the very beginning, but that doesn't matter.  It is the essence of Marilyn that is the most important part of the story.

Reading this book was much like watching the movie “Titanic.”  I knew the tragic ending from the very beginning, but in this case, I didn’t know much about the tragic life that led up to her suicide.  

This is a sad, sad story that is so well written.  It has forever changed how I view her movies and her image.

Book Review: “Mary Barton” by Elizabeth Gaskell - 1848

Book Review: “Mary Barton” by Elizabeth Gaskell - 1848

This is Elizabeth Gaskell’s first novel.  She wanted to show the poverty experienced by the working class in her town of Manchester, England.  Deftly, she describes the conflicts between labor and the owners of the cotton mill without taking sides, yet shows that the misunderstandings between the two are caused by lack of awareness and communication.

Yet, she doesn’t get bogged down in all of it.  The novel has a lot of death, just like the two previous novels I read of hers, but death seems like such an important part of life in previous centuries where medicine isn’t as advanced as today.  

The story also has romance--and even murder with a dramatic trial.

It was a great read.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Book Review: "The Job, An American Novel" by Sinclair Lewis - 1917

What was it like to go into the business world in 1917 if you were a woman?  Read this novel and find out all about it.  It wasn't as easy as it is today, of course.

There were a lot of similarities, too.  I loved the descriptions of office life.  The humdrum, sheer boredom made me want to laugh.  Sounds like my old office life.  The way the noise can make someone want to scream, the attitudes of the fellow workers and the feeling like you aren't getting anywhere.

Our protagonist, Una, learned something that I knew and never practiced.  The only way to really move up is to move on.  Employers take the status quo for granted, and if you do a good job, they are happy to keep you in that position forever.

She makes friends, networks, tries love with mixed results.

It wasn't Sinclair Lewis' best book, but it was certainly a worthwhile one for a woman who used to be in business, herself, to read.

Monday, January 30, 2017

We Walk

My constant companion, Maggie, aka Dumb Dog, walk every day.  That is nothing new.  I have been walking dogs every day since I was a teenager.  The difference is now I have much more time.

We try to average an hour a day.  Sometimes it is more--sometimes less, but we seek our average of an hour.  We walk in the West Creek Reservation, but you won't see us too often.  Maggie is so bad when we see other dogs, that I try to avoid the more populated paths.

Weather permitting, I bring a book to read.  It actually encourages me to walk farther and I don't get frustrated when she spends too much time sniffing things.



Of course, walking is tougher this time of year, but I have still maintained our schedule.  Today, with all the snow, I didn't really feel like it, but as soon as I got outside, I felt invigorated.  We did our hour with no problem.  It was a little slower, but we did it.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Algebra

I am such a nerd.  I love math--always did from about 10 years of age.  In high school, I went up to Calculus and got As.  I never took any math at Community College because I didn't have to.  I did get a job where I used math every day--printing estimator.  I even solved word problems all the time.  If I came up with something out of the ordinary, I would just turn it into a formula.

Since I have been retired, I don't have an outlet for my math skills, and I found I missed it.  I have been playing around with the idea of relearning all the stuff I forgot from lack of use.  I heard about the Kahn Academy, and I finally looked into it.

It is free on-line courses of the high school level.  I tried out a lesson, and I realized that this kind of learning would work well for me.

I started Algebra I.  As I go through it, I remember a lot of it, and for the most part, I am finding it easy.  I have the same old usual problem I always had in high school--forgetting to bring down my negative signs!

One of the reasons for starting from the beginning is that I don't remember the terminology.  Without that, it may be hard to understand the explanations on the harder math

Since this is fun, I believe I will keep going with it at least through this course for now.  It would be awesome to get as far as Calculus, but it could take a few years to get that far.  I am sure it won't remain so easy as I climb out the early courses.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Book Review: "Free Air" by Sinclair Lewis

Sinclair Lewis is one of my favorite authors.  With all the talk about "It Can't Happen Here," he has been on my mind.  I thought I would see what other books of his were available on Project Gutenberg.

I decided to try "Free Air."  It was serialized in "The Saturday Evening Post" in 1919.  A daughter decides to take her father on a road trip for the betterment of his health.  Now imagine the conditions and the types of cars back in pre-WWI.  That was what attracted me to the story, initially.  What I found was a love story between a well off young lady and a working class young man.  They learn about each other's world as they learn about love.  They also have a few adventures on the way.

I liked this book a lot, as I have liked all the Sinclair Lewis novels.  He is another somewhat forgotten novelist, and I really hope that the attention that has been drawn to "It Can't Happen Here" will revive interest in his other awesome novels.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Book Review: "North and South" by Elizabeth Gaskell 1854

Book Review: "North and South" by Elizabeth Gaskell 1854

This is another book recommended by my niece.  It was very different than the first Gaskell book I read.  

When an American thinks of north and south, we think of our own country and the Civil war.  This takes place in England.  The south that the author is referring to is a very rural area and the north is an industrial region.

Our heroine, Margaret, is from the south and finds herself living in the north.  As she learns about her new world, so do we.  Her new home is in fictionalized Milton which is based on Manchester.  Margaret befriends a working family as well as an owner of a cotton mill.  Being exposed to the contrasting friendships gives he a view of both sides.

The book deals with labor problems, bad working conditions, strikes and death--lots of death.  My niece seems to like books with sadness.  There is also some romance, but it is minor compared to the other themes.  Once again, the characters are well rounded and interesting.

The book is wonderful.  Score another one for my niece.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Book Review: "Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurtry

Book Review: "Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurtry

Long time ago, I guess in the 80s, this was an award-winning mini series.  I didn't get to see it except in bits and pieces because my life was very busy.  My family saw it, though, and they loved it.  My mom and Ellen read the book, but it never crossed my path.

A couple years ago, Ellen gave me the sequel, "Streets of Laredo" and I really enjoyed it.  Last year, she saw the mini series at the Goodwill Store in video cassette.  I still have a working VCR, so she bought it for me for about a dollar or so.  It was really, really good.

I picked up the book to read.  The story was fresh in my mind, so I didn't have any surprises when I read it.  I wish I had read it, first.  The book was awesome.

It is a western about a couple retired Texas Rangers that decide to take a herd of cattle up to Montana, basically on a whim, because they were restless.  On the way, they run into many problems, and I have never known an author so willing to kill off main characters.  The trip was a disaster.  Basically, just about nothing worked out the way it was planned.

It was also very sad, and by the last hundred pages, I couldn't wait for it to end.

All the horse parts of the book were very accurate.  The horses played an important part of the story, and the author seemed to have a great appreciation for them.

I do think it cleared up one thing.  My sister, Ellen, has issues with crossing rivers.  They had one terrible river crossing and many difficult ones.  The cowboys dreaded river crossings throughout the book.  I think exposure to the mini series and the book may have traumatized her for life.  Maybe it is good that I didn't read the book until now.  That first river crossing is tragic, and they portray it so well on the mini series.

If you like westerns, cowboys, horses and adventure--this is the book for you.  Just be prepared to like most of the characters and willing to watch them die.

Book Review: "Wives and Daughters" by Elizabeth Gaskell

Book Review: "Wives and Daughters" by Elizabeth Gaskell

This is a book that was recommended by my niece, Sarah, who prefers to read books by dead authors.  Published in 1865, the story takes place in England.  It is a book of relationships, manners and some romance.  The characters were so real, I can't help but wonder if the author patterned them off of people she knew.  They were all flawed, but not badly flawed--and they all had very good qualities, too--much like real life.

Our main character, Molly, lost her mother at a young age.  Now, as a young lady, her father decides to get married.  His new wife brings her daughter into the picture, and she brings in the drama.

Molly's father is a doctor, and illness is an undercurrent throughout.  We really don't always know what is wrong with his patients, and that must have been common back then.  A person could be failing, and it might be a lingering infection (no antibiotics back then) or untreated diabetes or leukemia.  Doctors didn't have the abilities to diagnose or treat like they do now, of course, and it made a very different world.

Having recently watched the entire series of "Downton Abbey," I was very prepared for this book.  "Downton Abbey" was the end of the era that this book takes place in.  Molly is solidly middle class, and the book is excellent for its portrayal of the differences in the classes and how they view each other.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to people who like books by dead authors.