Ten Time Management Choices

My husband has no idea how much he owes Sandra Felton.

I did not come to marriage very organized in either my time or my stuff. In college, I wasn’t lazy, but I was always running behind. Many of my grades suffered from late deductions. And I can’t tell you how many times I got frustrated over not being able to find an item or paper I needed.

Sometime during early marriage, I came across Sandra Felton’s book, The Messies Manual. Then I subscribed to her newsletter for years until I knew by heart what each one was going to say.

I put a lot of Sandra’s principles into practice. I can’t say I became a paragon of organizational virtue, but I definitely improved from where I was.

But I learned something else about organization on my own. We can’t make up a workable schedule and put everything in its rightful place and then be done organizing. We have to maintain our systems and adapt them to new demands on our time and new items in our home.

So I have decided organization is not a destination. It’s a journey. And, therefore, I continue to occasionally reads books or articles about organization.

When I saw that Sandra had coauthored a fairly new book with Marsha Sims, and it was on sale for the Kindle app, I got it. That book is titled Ten Time Management Choices that Can Change Your Life.

The authors state that “One of the goals of this book is to help you accomplish easily and quickly those necessary but uninspiring activities that comprise much of our daily lives so you can turn your attention to the significant things you want to do” (p. 9).

They point out how the advent of modern technology eased life in some ways but created a lot more things to do, some necessary and some distracting.

They say some authors “downplay organizing systems and indicate that if you have enough focus and self-control, you’ll be okay. Not so. You need good skills as well” (p 21.) So they point out overarching principles but also offer practical tips.

They remind us often that “time management is not the art of getting everything done. It is the art of getting the most important things done. To put it another way, it is priority management.” (p. 63).

The authors offer a variety of ways to determine priorities, make schedules, etc. I love that. Some time management books promote a very rigid system. I don’t usually like everything about other people’s systems, so I appreciate the variety of methods to experiment with to find one that works best.

They also tackle multitasking, interruptions, procrastinating, delegation, time wasters, schedules, developing good habits.

They apply principles to home and business.

Each chapter has several vignettes of people with organizing problems and the solutions they found.

The end of each chapter and the end of the book contain questions and activities to help implement the principles. The sessions at the end of the book could be done alone or with a group.

Here are a few more quotes that stood out to me:

Creative people have more ideas and interests than any one person can do in a lifetime, and we accumulate the paraphernalia to prove it. (p. 54.)

A word of explanation is necessary to those who fear setting up a schedule because it feels rigid and stifling. Scheduling is not an inflexible list that is written in stone. It is a statement of what regular tasks are important to accomplish each day and when you plan to do them during the day. As you become experienced in using and tweaking your schedule, you will find it meets your needs more and more successfully and will become your friend. (pp. 163-164).

When you create a schedule for routine tasks, you open a tap through which good time management can flow. A schedule is absolutely necessary because 1. It keeps you from forgetting what needs to be done. 2. It protects you from the unsuccessful “What do I feel like doing today?” approach (p. 164).

Although I would not classify this as a Christian book overall, the authors do employ some biblical principles.

There was only one place I strongly disagreed with the authors.

Organized people work dispassionately. That frees them from a lot of stress. Disorganized people wear themselves out by investing emotion in the things they have to do. They work while saying, “I hate making the bed every day” or “Unloading the dishwasher is such a drag.” The way to take the emotion out of doing what you need to do regularly is to make the activity into a habit (p. 196).

I can’t say that making activities into habits takes the emotion out of them. I still chafe at a lot of things that have to be done. However, making them a habit gets them over with rather than pushing them to the background. And I look forward to the satisfaction of getting them done.

I don’t think I learned much that was totally new to me from the book. But many of the principles I had formerly learned were applied in new ways, and all of the book was a much-needed reminder.

If you need to organize your time better or need to brush up on organizing principles, this book would benefit you.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

I Must Decrease: Devotional Book for Dieters

I Must Decrease: Biblical Inspiration and Encouragement for Dieters by Janice Thompson is pretty much just what the title says. Janice had lost over 100 lbs. over fourteen months. But she didn’t want to write a “how-to” manual or promote a specific plan. She wanted to share some tips and encouragement with a light-hearted approach.

The book is divided into three 21-day sections in which she compares the dieting (or healthy eating) journey to a horse race: the beginning, with eager anticipation; the middle, where we’re tired and need encouragement to keep going; and the end, when we realize the race isn’t really over, that healthy eating needs to be a lifestyle.

Each day’s devotional is divided into twelve sections, usually with a particular theme or emphasis for the day:

  • Ticklers: A humorous quote.
  • Tidbits: A bit of information.
  • Traps: e.g., quick snacks which are usually unhealthy, using food as a reward, etc.
  • Tricks: Little helps.
  • Treats: Healthy food ideas.
  • Testimonies from Janice and others: a paragraph of some aspect of healthy eating or a problem they faced.
  • Treasures: A Scripture reference.
  • Tips: Devotional thoughts on the Scripture for the day.
  • Trusting Him: A prayer about the day’s devotional.
  • Turning Your Focus: Ideas for ways to reach out to others.
  • Today’s Food Choices: A reminder to write down what you ate.
  • Thoughts on Paper: A reminder to journal about your experiences.

There are four recipes at the end.

Almost every “tidbit” section had a link in the ebook version I read, but of the half-dozen or so I tried to click on, none went to an active link.

Personally, I’m sorry to say that I didn’t get much from this book. I don’t think I came across a lot that was new to me. Humor is a subjective thing, and the humor here just didn’t jibe with me. The twelve sections every day seemed a little fragmented. I think I would have gotten more from a verse with some thoughts and a prayer each day and then tips and such all together at the back.

The book had mostly positive reviews on Amazon, so many people did benefit from it. You might like the humor and formatting. And if you’re new to dieting or would like reminders of truths you know, this book might be more helpful to you. At the moment, it’s only 99 cents for the Kindle app, not much to lose to give it a try.

Christopher Robin Milne

As you’re probably aware, A. A. Milne’s children’s books about Pooh and Christopher Robin and the Enchanted Forest were based on his son, his son’s toys, and the family farm, Cotchford, which edged the Five Hundred Acre Wood (which became the Hundred Acre Wood in the Pooh stories).

Though Christopher Robin was Milne’s son’s name, young Christopher wasn’t called that. He went by Billy Moon, or just Moon (which came from his early attempts to say “Milne”).

A. A. Milne was known for plays and other works when he wrote a few poems and then a couple of books based on Christopher and his real childhood toys. He was dismayed that those books overshadowed all else he wrote. He stopped writing related children’s books because he didn’t feel the extensive fame was good for Christopher.

A few months ago, my husband and I watched Goodbye Christopher Robin, about the Milnes and the fame of Pooh and Christopher Robin. My children had grown up with Pooh (mostly the Disney version) and the Milne characters will always have a soft spot in my heart.

I wanted to learn more about how Christopher (as he was known as an adult) really felt, so I decided to read his book, The Enchanted Places: A Childhood Memoir. I learned shortly thereafter that Christopher had written a sequel titled The Path Through the Trees, so I read that as well, and decided to review them together.

Though there’s a bit of overlap, the first book covers Christopher’s life until he went into the army, and the second covers that time forward. (For convenience sake, I am going to refer to the first as EP and the second as PTT.)

In The Enchanted Places, Christopher tells about his family, his nanny, and growing-up years.

Though the Pooh books were inspired by Christopher Robin’s toys, they also contained his father’s nostalgia about his own childhood.

The Christopher Robin who appears in so many of the poems is not always me. For this was where my name, so totally useless to me personally, came into its own: it was a wonderful name for writing poetry round. So sometimes my father is using it to describe something I did, and sometimes he is borrowing it to describe something he did as a child, and sometimes he is using it to describe something that any child might have done (EP, p. 19).

In the second book, Christopher says that part of his writing the first book had to do with his feelings upon his father’s death. He learned that his mother had destroyed almost everything of his father’s, and at first he was quite angry. Later he came to believe she was right to do so. But he knew that at some point someone would come around wanting to write a biography of A. A., and EP was a place to sort through his remembrances and present “not a full-length study, but just a collection of snapshots” of his father (EP, p. 91). His father “doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve as [his brothers] do. Alan’s heart is firmly buttoned up inside his jacket and only the merriest hint of it can be seen dancing in is eyes, flickering in the corners of his mouth” (EP, p. 91).

Christopher “quite liked being Christopher Robin and being famous” (EP, p. 81). But in boarding school, “it was now that began the love-hate relationship with my fictional namesake that has continued to this day” (EP, p. 86). The Goodbye Christopher Robin film shows his being bullied at this point, as do a couple of articles I read. He doesn’t specifically say he was in either of these books, but he said the poem “Vespers” “brought me over the years more toe-curling, fist-clenching, lip-biting embarrassment than any other” (p. 23).

Christopher’s lowest point seemed to come after the war when he was looking for a job. He didn’t seem to have any qualifications for anything, a least none that anyone needed. He was a little jealous of his father’s success at his expense then:

But were they entirely his own efforts? Hadn’t I come into it somewhere? In pessimistic moments, when I was trudging London in search of an employer wanting to make use of such talents as I could offer, it seemed to me, almost, that my father had got to where he was by climbing upon my infant shoulders, that he had filched from me my good name and had left me with nothing but the empty fame of being his son.

This was the worst period for me. It was a period when, suitably encouraged, my bitterness would overflow. On one or two occasions it overflowed more publicly that it should have done, so that there seemed to be only one thing to do: to escape from it all, to keep out of the limelight. Sorry, I don’t give interviews. Sorry, I don’t answer letters. It is better to say nothing than to say something I might regret (EP, p. 146).

Christopher says in both books that he was fiercely independent.

However much I wanted to succeed as a bookseller on my own merits, people would inevitably conclude that I was succeeding partly at least on my father’s reputation. They might even think (wrongly) that my father’s money was subsidizing the venture and that–unlike other less fortunate booksellers–I did not really need to make ends meet (EP, p. 148).

In The Path Through the Trees, (sometimes this title is prefaced with Beyond the World of Pooh, Part 2), Christopher tells of his life from the time he began to make his own choices: his five-year stent in the Army, his finishing college, search for a job, marriage, life as a book-seller.

He’s oddly selective about what he writes, which, of course, he has every right to be. He does say this book is “a personal memoir, not a biography” (PTT, Location 3889) and presents “a disjointed story—but a happy life” (Location 31).

In this second book, he tells a great deal about his first love, a woman named Hedda whom he met in Italy. But he tells us very little about his wife, Lesley, except things they did together. She was his cousin, so he had known her for years. But he doesn’t describe her as a person or how they went from cousins to romance. Likewise, he tells us his daughter, Clare, was born with cerebral palsy, couldn’t walk, had limited use of her arms. But he doesn’t describe her personality or appearance. I don’t know if this quietness was for their protection, a result of his own struggles with fame and too much of his life made public, or what.

He spends a lot of time on how they came to be booksellers, how things progressed with the shop, choices they made, things that affected the market, etc. He defends book-selling as a profession—there appears to have been some who regarded book-selling as a “trade” (which was somehow lower in rank than other professions) or as somewhat mercenary.

He has a chapter on animals they took care of (including a vole and owl in their home). In other circumstances, he might have been a naturalist.

He talks a great deal about Dartmouth, the town where he and Lesley settled and had their bookshop.

When Clare was done going to school and came home to stay, she needed full-time care. Christopher stayed home with her while Lesley continued part-time at the bookshop. This seems to have been one of the happiest times of his life, taking Clare out into nature and devising and making various helps for her needs. He had often said that he had inherited his mother’s hands and his father’s brains, and these devices for Clare employed both. His thoughts about equipment for the disabled was interesting:

It is a sad fact that much of the equipment designed for the disabled is inefficient and nearly all of it is ugly. To some extent the one follows from the other. An efficient design has a natural elegance which needs little embellishment to make it attractive. Whereas the wheel chair issued to Clare was such a mechanical disaster that nothing could have redeemed it. How unfair it is that a person who most needs a chair should so often have just the one–and one so very far from beautiful–while the rest of us, who need chairs only now and again, possess so many (PTT, Location 3233).

But of course the greatest pleasure of all was to see Clare sitting comfortably where before she had been uncomfortable, doing something she had not previously been able to do. And it was a pleasant thought that this was, in a sense, a legacy from her grandparents whom she had never known–a product of the fusion of my father’s fondness for mathematics with my mother’s competent hands. If she had inherited neither, she could at least benefit from the fact that I had inherited both (PTT, Location 3243).

Christopher’s independence caused him to refuse accepting money from the Pooh book sales until Clare came home.

Christopher seems to have been a kind and gentle man, though fiercely opinionated on some topics. He was a classic introvert, a thinker. He describes one scene in the second book where he’s walking home and comes upon a couple searching for elephant hawk caterpillars, which they hoped to take back to their area so the bugs would hatch and breed there. Christopher got home and told Lesley about the encounter. Lesley left a few minutes later and came across the same couple. She commented that her husband had just spoken with them. The man replied, shyly, “I thought he looked like the sort of person who would be interested in my caterpillar,” which Christopher took as “a nice compliment” (PTT, Location 3721). I can somewhat picture him ambling around Dartmouth, as he describes it, enjoying his bookshop, stopping to observe and contemplate nature, willing to talk about moths with strangers.

Though Christopher had some rough spots with both parents, and didn’t see his mother the last fifteen years of her life, he loved them and spoke fondly of them in these books.

Sadly, to me, Christopher “converted to humanism” when he was 24, believing that man invented God rather than the other way around. He states this in the first book, but apparently felt he came across a little too strongly. So in the second book he says that though he does not believe in God, someone else can, and they can both be right (which does not make sense, but apparently he means something like “believe whatever works for you and helps you through life”). A. A. was also an atheist but did not push his beliefs on his son until he shared an atheistic book with Christopher in his twenties.

This article tells some of the differences between the film and reality. There are some things in the films that were not in these books but may have come from other sources (A. A. also wrote a biography, It’s Too Late Now, and both Milnes wrote other books as well). Or, as always happens in movies, the makers may have taken a bit of license. One difference this article doesn’t mention is that though A.A. Milne wrote an anti-war book after WWI, he felt war was justified against Hitler and wrote another book telling why. “Hitler was different: different from anything he had imagined possible; that, terrible though war was, peace under Hitler would have been even more terrible” (PTT, Location 140). The film shows A. A.’s battle with PTSD (though it was not called that then). Christopher doesn’t mention his dad having flashbacks or problems adjusting, but he knew he’d had “sad times” in his life and felt they came out through Eeyore.

Another scene in the film comes when young Christopher asks his father, “Are you writing a book? I thought we were just having fun.” Alan responds that he’s writing book and having fun. I think that was accurate: I don’t think A. A. observed his child’s activities with a mercenary air, pulling from them what he thought would “sell.” Perhaps as happens with many parents, having children brings up memories of one’s own childhood, and A. A. recognized what would resonate not only with other children, but other parents.

I read the Kindle version of both books, but then discovered the second was included in my Audible subscription. So the audio and ebook were synced to where I could go back and forth between them. One advantage to listening was hearing the words in an English accent. I knew, of course, Christopher was English, but I don’t think in accents when reading. The audiobook has a lovely postscript not in the books by Peter Dennis, the narrator of this and the Pooh books and a personal friend of the family. I also checked both books out of the library to see if there were any pictures or other material in them. The first book had pictures of Christopher as a child as well as pictures of some of the places in the books side-by-side with the book’s illustrations of those places.

There’s a scene at the end of the film where Christopher tells his father he had more or less made peace with his childhood namesake. In the army, especially, he came across people whose fond childhood memories included Pooh and were a comfort to them. I didn’t read any sentiments like that in these books, but I hope Christopher did come to something like that realization in real life. Though he didn’t want to be mistaken for his fictional namesake, and though he understandably wanted to be permitted to grow up and away from him, the fictional boy and his toys and their innocence and imagination have touched the hearts of children and parents for decades.

(These books fit within the Nonfiction Reading Challenge celebrity category).

The Writer’s Desk

I saw The Writer’s Desk by Jill Krementz mentioned by literary agent Wendy Lawton at the Books and Such blog. I was able to find a used copy at Amazon for around $6. I’ve enjoyed leafing through it the past few days.

The book is made up of large black and white photos of over 50 writers at their desks. Alongside each photo is a paragraph or two from the writer about his or her workspace, style, routine, etc.

It’s interesting to see the wide variety of styles, routines, and even dress. Some of the men came to their desks with sports jackets and ties. James Michener preferred very loose tee shirts and shorts so he was unimpeded as he worked.

The work space for some was clean and sparse. Many had very cluttered desks and offices.

Some had a routine; others were more free form in style.

Some needed absolute quiet and solitude; some were able to concentrate in the midst of everyday family life.

Some wrote longhand, some used a typewriter, others a computer. The book was published in 1996, and some of the pictures are much older. I don’t know how many chose pencils or typewriters instead of computers or just because that’s what was available in their day.

I loved many of the insights:

John Updike writes “by hand, when the fragility of the project—a poem, the start of a novel—demands that I sneak up on it with that humblest and quietest of weapons, a pencil” (p. xi).

Archibald MacLeish: “I am sure—I mean I am not sure at all but I believe—the master poets must come at their poems as a hawk on a pigeon in one dive. I can’t. I chip away like a stonemason who has got it into his head that there is a pigeon in that block of marble. But there’s a delight in the chipping” (p. 77).

Joseph Heller said many of his ideas come when he’s doing things like walking the dog or brushing his teeth. “I don’t get my best ideas while actually writing” (p. 85).

Isaac Bashevis Singer: “Some writers say that they can only write if they go to a far island. They would go to the moon to write not to be disturbed. I think that being disturbed is a part of human life and sometimes it’s useful to be disturbed because you interrupt your writing and while you rest, while you are busy with something else, your perspective changes or the horizon widens. All I can say about myself is that I have never really written in peace” (p. 91). That’s encouragement for people like me who are easily disturbed.

Saul Bellow: “I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction” (p. 99).

Jill Krementz is the wife of Kurt Vonnegut and the author of several other books. She says in her acknowledgements that many of these excerpts came from George Plimpton’s “Writers at Work” series in his magazine.

Of the 56 authors mentioned here, I had only heard of nineteen and read about six of them. So I took a little bit of time to look up the desks of other favorite authors. I had looked up Louisa May Alcott’s desk after reading the novel The Orchard House, taken from the name of the house Louisa lived in while writing Little Women. It’s hard for me to imagine writing much on such a small area, but it was unusual for a woman to have a desk in those days. Her father made the semicircle desk especially for her. I also enjoyed this view of C. S. Lewis at his desk with his cup of tea nearby and Lucy Maude Montgomery at hers. I stopped there, as this rabbit trail could take hours. But maybe someday I’ll explore some more.

I enjoyed this glimpse of writers’ spaces and styles.

Women Heroes of World War II

Irena Sendler and her best friend, Ewa, were social workers in Poland when the Nazis took over. The Germans erected a nine-foot wall around the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. The women were then separated, because Ewa was Jewish.

But Irena used her position as a social worker to visit homes in the ghetto and then secretly make arrangements with parents to take their children to safety.

She was arrested by the Gestapo, interrogated, and beaten to the point of breaking her legs and feet in several places. They decided to execute her, but she was suddenly released due to a bribe someone offered an official.

Kathryn J. Atwood has collected several stories of brave women such as Irena in Women Heroes of WWII: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

The women cover all ages, from teens on up. They ran the gamut from nurses to actresses, students to countesses, a pastor’s wife, a watchmaker.

Some were famous, like Corrie ten Boom, Josephine Baker, and Marlene Dietrich. Most were unknown.

Some hid Jews. Some were couriers. Some were saboteurs; some helped downed airmen get out of the country. One was an assassin. Some worked with organized resistance groups: some worked on their own.

What they all had in common was human decency, bravery, and a desire to help that overshadowed any reluctance or fear.

Kathryn gives an overview of the war in the introduction. Then she grouped the women by country, with a brief introduction of that country’s involvement in the war. I’ve read a lot of books about WWII, fiction and nonfiction (Irena’s story, mentioned above, sounds similar to the plot in The Medallion by Cathy Gohlke, making me wonder if that book is based on Irena’s story). But Kathryn’s summaries helped me see the bigger picture and taught me a few things I hadn’t known.

Each chapter is just a few pages, with a list at the end of other books, movies, or web sites featuring each person.

This is a YA book, but it’s not juvenile. It’s easily readable.

It could spark a lot of questions. What would you do in similar situations? Where is the line between helping and going too far? This is a secular book, so it doesn’t go into right and wrong. For instance, one dancer was required to wear skimpy costumes, but the author says this wasn’t “considered immoral but, rather, artistic and representative of the new Jazz Age” (p. 77). Nothing is said about whether the assassin was right or not. But if I shared this with a daughter, I’d want to discuss some of those issues.

There’s an updated version of the book: Women Heroes of World War II: 32 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue. If I had known that before I started, I would have looked for this book at the library rather than the one with 26 stories.

But I am very glad to have read it the stories of these brave women. Thanks to Bev for the recommendation.

I’m going to count this book for the Wartime Experiences category of the Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

Gift from the Sea

Anne Morrow Lindbergh was not only married to famous aviator Charles Lindbergh and a pilot herself; she was also a popular author—and not just because of her famous name. Gift of the Sea is probably her most well-known book, still read widely even today.

Anne was a busy mother of five when she had a rare opportunity to go to the beach alone for a couple of weeks. She took the time to reflect on her struggles as a woman, wife, and mother. Over eight chapters, she uses the metaphor of the sea, island life, and different kinds of shells to illustrate different stages or aspects of life..

For instance, the chapter on the channeled whelk, a shell once inhabited by a creature, speaks to her of “the art of shedding.” What she says in this chapter would fit right in with the minimalist movement of the last few years: the need to simplify and pare down not only our stuff, but our responsibilities and relationships.

The chapter on the moon shell speaks of needed time alone.

I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before (p. 42).

Quiet time alone, contemplation, prayer, music, a centering line of thought or reading, of study or work. It need not be an enormous project or great work. But it should be something of one’s own. Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day–like writing a poem or saying a prayer. What matters is that one be for a time inwardly attentive (p. 56).

What Anne calls the double-sunrise is a bivalve that reminds her of early marriage, “two people listening to each other, two shells meeting each other, making one world between them” (p. 65).

What she calls an oyster bed has “small shells clinging to its humped back. Sprawling and uneven, it has the irregularity of something growing. It looks rather like the house of a big family, pushing out one addition after another to hold its teeming life” (p. 80). This speaks to her of the middle years of marriage.

I am very fond of the oyster shell. It is humble and awkward and ugly. It is slate-colored and unsymmetrical. Its form is not primarily beautiful but functional. I make fun of its knobbiness. Sometimes I resent its burdens and excrescences. But its tireless adaptability and tenacity draw my astonished admiration and sometimes even my tears. And it is comfortable in its familiarity, its homeliness, like old garden gloves when have molded themselves perfectly to the shape of the hand. I do not like to put it down. I will not want to leave it (p. 83).

I particularly liked this about middle age: “For is it not possible that middle age can be looked upon as a period of second flowering, second growth” (p. 86) rather than the “false assumption that it is a period of decline” (p. 87).

One other quote that stood out: “Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after” (p. 102).

I thought it interesting that even in Anne’s day (this book was published in 1955), she felt the weight of what she calls “planetal awareness.” How much more would she feel it now?

The world is rumbling and erupting in ever-widening circles around us. The tensions, conflicts and sufferings even in the outermost circle touch us all, reverberate in all of us. We cannot avoid these vibrations.

But just how far can we implement this planetal awareness? We are asked today to feel compassionately for everyone in the world, to digest intellectually all the information spread out in public print, and to implement in action every ethical impulse aroused by our hearts and minds. The interrelatedness of the world links us constantly with more people than our hearts can hold. Or rather—for I believe the heart is infinite—modern communication loads us with more problems than the human frame can carry. It is good, I think, for our hearts, our minds, our imaginations to be stretched, but body, nerve, endurance and life-span are not as elastic. My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds. I cannot marry all of them, or bear them all as children, or care for them all as I would my parents in illness or old age. Our grandmothers, and even—with some scrambling—our mothers, lived in a circle small enough to let them implement in action most of the impulses of their hearts and minds. We were brought up in a tradition that has now become impossible, for we have extended our circle throughout space and time.

Faced with this dilemma what can we do? How can we adjust our planetal awareness to our Puritan conscience? We are forced to make some compromise. Because we cannot deal with the many as individuals, we sometimes try to simplify the many into an abstraction called the mass. Because we cannot deal with the complexity of the present, we often over-ride it and live in a simplified dream of the future. Because we cannot solve our own problems right here at home, we talk about problems out there in the world. An escape process goes on from the intolerable burden we have placed upon ourselves. But can one really feel deeply for an abstraction called the mass? Can one make the future a substitute for the present? And what guarantee have we that the future will be any better if we neglect the present? Can one solve world problems when one is unable to solve one’s own? (pp. 124-125).

Her answer was to concentrate on “the here, the now, the individual,” “the drops that make up the stream,” “not as a retreat from greater responsibility, but as a first real step toward a deeper understanding and solution of them” (pp 127-128).

I mentioned when I read Anne’s biography that she seemed a very conflicted person. Probably most women struggle with how to best use their time, how to meet the needs of others and not feel depleted, etc. She had more pressures than many, dealing with the fame and lifestyle her husband brought to the family. But she seemed to struggle a lot inwardly.

I want first of all… to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact–to borrow from the language of the saints–to live “in grace” as much of the time as possible. I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus when he said, “May the outward and inward man be one.” I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God (pp 23-24).

I approached this book with some wariness, since Anne’s biographer said this book “is a journey infused with classic literature and Christian doctrine, yet rooted in teachings of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. . . . Camouflaging her Hindu and Buddhist sources beneath the words of Christian saints and modern poets and writers” (Susan Hertog, Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Life, p. 429). I don’t know enough about Hindu and Buddhist doctrines to be able to discern those threads in the book, but I picked up on a bit here and there.

And there’s a lot of feminist thought, though Anne doesn’t take it as far as some. She does believe that marriage and family and even housework are worthy: she just struggles with how to meet the needs of all.

I identified with some of Anne’s struggle, though not all of her angst. I wouldn’t agree with all Anne’s philosophy, and I’d caution the need for discernment in reading the book. But I think one can take the Christian references and common sense passages at one’s own interpretation.

I’m going to see if Shelly Rae at Book’d Out will allow this book to count for the Oceanography category of the Nonfiction Reading Challenge. This is probably the closest I’ll get to that one. 🙂 If not, it would work for the Essays category.

Have you read Gift From the Sea? What did you think?

The Man Who Was Q

Charles Fraser-Smith supplied British intelligence and soldiers with a number of innovative gadgets during WWII. When Ian Fleming began writing his James Bond novels, he based the detective’s gadget master, “Q,” on Fraser-Smith. A few months ago, I reviewed Fraser-Smith’s memoir of his war-time activities, The Secret War of Charles Fraser-Smith, the “Q” Gadget Wizard of World War II.

David Porter wrote a full biography of Fraser-Smith in The Man Who Was Q: The True Story of Charles Fraser-Smith, the “Q” Wizard of WWII.

Fraser-Smith’s parents died when he was a child. He was brought up by a missionary family and became a Brethren missionary to Morocco. His ministry was what we’d call a “tent-maker” type today, a phrase coined from when the apostle Paul made tents to support himself for a while. Fraser-Smith directed a large farm for which he hired local workers. He was able to have conversations with them about the Lord while working side by side.

Charles and his wife had to leave Morocco and go back to England when WWII started ramping up. As was told in the previous book, Charles was sharing some of his experiences with a local church one day, especially how he had to come up with innovative ways to do things in Morocco. A British Ministry of Supply official in the audience was impressed by Charles’ innovation and flexibility. A few days later, Charles was invited to work for the Ministry of Supply, but without much information about the work involved. Charles accepted, and his book tells about his experiences obtaining supplies or creating devices to help the British during the war.

Only one chapter here is devoted to Charles’ “Q” activities, since the previous book had already been published.

After the war, Charles was heavily involved in relocating supplies that were no longer needed. He and his wife wanted to go back to Morocco, but a serious illness disrupted their plans.They then began dairy farming, with Charles creating innovative and sometimes controversial improvements in the process. He and he wife continued ministry work in various capacities.

After his wife died of cancer, Charles was involved in a number of ministry enterprises. One was funding a Bible translated into Arabic.

His son talked him into writing about his war experiences, since the period of secrecy he had agreed to was over. Charles did not consider himself very educated or articulate, so two ghost writers worked with him. “Charles was somewhat disappointed that the finished book contained relatively few of his outspoken Christian statements. But enough of his highly individual views, and his remarkable life, characterises the book for the reader to understand that this is no conventional story of espionage and undercover work” (p. 151). The book made him a celebrity, with interviews and showings of some of his gadgets. He wrote a couple of other books, with proceeds going to Arab World Ministries.

An appendix contains a treatise of Charles’ views of how missionary work could be expanded among Arabs by ministering to those who had traveled to Europe so they could go back and be a witness to their own people. He also advocated for unconventional ways (at the time) to minister to them, like hospitality, literature, and other methods. He stresses the importance of establishing indigenous, not westernized churches.

This book was originally written in 1989 and is no longer in print, but I had no trouble finding a used copy. I enjoyed learning more about Charles’ remarkable life.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Story

Before reading Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Story by Susan Hetrtog, I didn’t know anything about Anne except that she was the wife of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and an aviator herself as well as an author.

Anne grew up as the daughter of the US ambassador to Mexico and a very ambitious mother. Anne was quiet, sensitive, and introverted. She felt her sister, Elizabeth, was everything she should be and wasn’t.

Charles Lindbergh became famous for making the first solo non-stop flight from New York to Paris. According to Wikipedia, this flight was “widely considered a turning point in world history for the development and advancement of aviation, ushering in a new era of transportation between parts of the globe.” Lindbergh’s feat turned him into an instant American hero and Time Magazine’s first “Man of the Year.”

Anne’s father became the financial advisor to Charles Lindbergh and invited him to their compound in Mexico for Christmas one year. Anne was enamored immediately, but expected Charles would fall for her sister. Charles didn’t seem to fall for anyone, but when he started thinking about marriage, Anne came to mind.

Anne thought long and hard about marriage to Charles before accepting. They’d have to deal with a lot of public attention: Hertog quotes one source as saying public interest in Lindbergh was about like that of the Prince of Wales. Another source said only the Kennedy family was more in the public eye.

Anne thought Charles was “beautiful,” but she was well-read, and he didn’t have much interest in reading (at least the kind of books she liked). She wasn’t sure she could live with someone without sharing this aspect of herself. She was sure that she would have to sacrifice for the relationship. But in the end, she decided she couldn’t live without Charles.

He taught her to fly and to navigate, and she accompanied him on many of his flights.

My biggest impression of Anne, at least from this book, is that she was a conflicted woman most of her life. She loved flying, but she missed her children when she flew. She loved domesticity, but resented how all-consuming it was and longed to have solitude and time to write. She both loved Charles and chafed under his leadership. She didn’t embrace her early Christian upbringing, but wrestled with sin and salvation and what it all meant (yet she said, “I wasn’t searching for God” but to understand herself, p. 427). She mixed in Buddhist and theosophist tenets with Christian ones. She espoused “Christian virtues,” yet seemed to miss its grace and salvation. “She went beyond the stern precepts of her ancestors’ Calvinism; she was searching for the ‘changeless light,’ looking inside herself, trying to make peace with God” (p. 411).

Charles was very domineering and could be incredibly insensitive, wanting Anne to spend days and weeks co-piloting with him and leaving their son with others on the son’s birthday and even one Christmas.

Anne believed in submitting to and supporting her husband, but didn’t seem to realize that submission and support didn’t mean never voicing a differing opinion. Anne had always been one to acquiesce, first to her mother and then to Charles. In fact, Charles and Anne’s mother argued over what should be included in their wedding while Anne sat back and let them decide.

The couple’s firstborn son was kidnapped from their home at the age of twenty months. According to Hertog, the investigation was totally inept, with differing agencies vying to be the one to solve the case. Ransom notes were delivered and Charles even paid a ransom, but the child was never recovered. Later the baby’s body was found buried not far from their home.

The kidnapping was a wound that never healed for Anne. The media frenzy drove the Lindbergh’s to England for several years.

As events were ramping up leading to WWII, Charles took an isolationist stance. He felt the cost of human life in a war against Germany would be too great. He was more concerned about Russian communism than German fascism and felt the former would take over Europe if the latter was defeated. But, to the shock of many, Charles said in radio addresses to the American people that he agreed that white people were a superior race and Americans didn’t need to fight other white nations over an issue that was not their problem.

Anne took her submission to Charles so far that she wrote a book expounding on his views, though it was “against her instincts” and she later regretted it.

Understandably, they fell out of favor. When war did come, Charles felt he should help his country even thought he disagreed with their fighting, but had a hard time finding anyone who would accept his help.

He condemned American cruelty during war, but somehow seemed to overlook Japanese and German cruelty. After the war, “Only a trip to a concentration camp, and a tour through the rubble led by a ‘skeleton’ boy, moved him to condemn the brutality of the Germans” (p. 418). “This kind of human destruction, he wrote in his diary, was not worth the fulfillment of political ends” (p. 419).

Somehow, the Lindberghs seemed to be forgiven after the war. Anne published several books, the most famous and enduring being Gift of the Sea.

Anne’s concern about the press proved true. Their attitude seemed to be “We made you, we have a right to you.” They made up stories when information wasn’t forthcoming. They endangered the Lindberghs—once “reporters stalked Jon (their second son) on his way to school. Sideswiping the Morrows’ car, they pushed it off the road and pulled open the doors to take the boy’s picture” (p. 278). Later, Charles’ ship arrived during a photographers’ ball. “On hearing of Lindbergh’s return, the conductor stopped the music, and the men, cameras in hand, rushed to meet the Aquitania. Stampeding on board, they hammered on Lindbergh’s door. When he refused to open it, one photographer broke into the adjoining cabin, took photos, and fled” (p. 348).

The author has access to the public (edited) letters and diaries and five years of interviews with Anne. She mentions one affair Charles had that was unknown to Anne until after his death. Wikipedia reveals that he had seven children by three different German women–perhaps these were unknown as well at the time of the book’s publication. The Lindbergh’s youngest daughter, Reeve, met with her German half-siblings.

One problem with this book was that it was hard to distinguish the author’s voice from Anne’s. The author spent a lot of time explaining what Anne wrote, but it’s hard to know if this interpretation was Anne’s or the author’s. It did seem the author inserted herself in the book more than was necessary and covered some of the same themes repeatedly.

Plus, I listened to the audiobook, and it wasn’t always clear when the narrative went from the author’s words into a quotation from Anne’s writing. I do have a hardcover copy of the book as well, which includes several photos. In some ways, I probably would have gained more and understood some of the connections better if I had read the book rather than listened to it. But, as it is quite long, I felt I’d get to it sooner via audio.

So, in the end, I know a lot more about the Lindberghs but respect them a lot less. There were traits to admire in each of them. But, like all of us, they were flawed people.

The Secret War of Charles Fraser-Smith

I have not seen the James Bond films, but evidently the supplier of his cool spy gadgets is someone known as “Q.”

“Q” is based on a real person: Charles Fraser-Smith.

Charles started out as a British missionary in Morocco. One day he spoke at a church about his “pioneer missionary work in Morocco and the often unorthodox methods I had used to keep my various projects alive” (p. 22).

Sitting in the audience was the director of the Ministry of Supply, who chatted with Fraser-Smith afterward. The next day the director asked Fraser-Smith to meet him at the ministry headquarters and offered Fraser-Smith a job.

Outwardly, Fraser-Smith was a civil servant of the Ministry of Supply’s Clothing and Textile Department.

In reality, he procured or developed an astonishing numbers of gadgets and supplies for the Special Operations Executive during WWII.

Fraser-Smith and most of the people he dealt with had to sign an Official Secrets Act, requiring thirty years of silence about their wartime activities.

Some time after that thirty years, Fraser-Smith wrote The Secret War of Charles Fraser-Smith, the “Q” Gadget Wizard of World War II along with Gerald McKnight and Sandy Lesberg.

The “Q” designation came from “warships disguised as freighters and unarmed trawlers” during WWI which were known as “Q ships” (p. 10).

Some of what Fraser-Smith supplied were kits to go with soldiers in case they were captured: miniature maps and compasses hidden in hairbrushes, pipes, pens, even dominoes. Sometimes these included a flexible surgical saw with which to try to cut through bars to escape. Fraser-Smith also supplied spies and other soldiers.

He had to take great care that nothing would alert a casual observer—or a sharp-eyed prison guard—to anything that was hidden or unusual. One trick Fraser-Smith often used was to thread a screw-on lid or top in the opposite direction, so if anyone tried to unscrew it in the usual way, he’d actually be tightening it.

Hairbrushes had to be made with bristles native to the country his clients were going to. Sometimes he had to supply uniforms from other countries for men to go undercover. Fraser-Smith had to make sure the fabric was the same type and quality. In one of his first attempts, the manufacturer he used made the uniforms too well and had to redo them.

Sometimes Fraser-Smith came up with ideas himself. Other times, he had to consult with experts and convey what he needed without giving away too much information. And in either case, he had to employ manufacturers to produce what he needed in sufficient quantity. He had to swear many of these folks to the Official Secrets Act. Most of them rose to the challenge admirably. A few dragged their feet, not wanting to vary what they did for their own profit.

One of the most interesting parts to me were miniature cameras which were used to take pictures of the terrain of certain areas. These pictures would be smuggled back to photographic interpreters who would project the height of hills, depth of crevices, etc., so invading soldiers would know the lay of the land exactly.

Another fascinating section told of the S. O. E. employing an illusionist to disguise things, like making a military base look like a working farm.

Fraser-Smith had to come up with various ways to get his supplies to people, particularly POWs. He never used food packages like the Red Cross sent, because he didn’t want to risk those packages being refused if someone found one of his gadgets in them.

Fraser-Smith wrote that he “slightly” knew Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond. But he said Fleming misused one of his ideas of hiding things in golf balls. Fleming’s golf balls would not have performed as golf balls and “wouldn’t have fooled an Irish farmhand let alone the lynx-eyed prison officers and S.S. of the O Flags” (p. 128).

Fraser-Smith also wrote of the “everyday people,” from resistance fighters to sympathetic citizens, who would pass on vital information or supplies at great risk to themselves. “Day after day these men and women continued against the greatest odds with no one present to encourage them. Seldom was it possible to let them know if their arduous and perilous work was successful. Much of it went unrecognized. Those who fought in the services were spurred on by team spirit, e’sprit de corps. The S. O. E. agent and the resistance fighter were alone. This was the highest order of heroism” (pp. 152-153).

I was surprised that some of these tricks would be revealed even after thirty years. Maybe most of them had been discovered by then. I’m sure the types of things that are hidden and disguised now are much different from what they were then.

I first heard of Fraser-Smith in this post, and I was so intrigued, I had to look up his book. It’s long out of print now, but I found used copies on Amazon. He reminded me of other pioneer missionaries, like Nate Saint, who devised ways to carry sheet metal strapped under his small plane or to drop a bucket to people below while flying in a circle. John Paton once had a major spiritual opening with a tribe after building a well. God doesn’t just use preachers and scholars, speakers and writers: He uses people He has gifted in various ways.

This was quite a fascinating book. I read it for pure interest, but I am also counting it towards the Nonfiction Reading Challenge. It would fit equally well for the Inventions or Wartime Experiences category, but I think I’ll count it for the former.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved)

How to Read a Book

Why would an avid reader for decades pick up How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren?

I had three reasons:

  1. I’d like to retain more from my reading. Though I flag pages, underline or note important points, sometimes even outline chapters, I forget much of what I’ve read in a short while.
  2. Reading better in general should enhance one’s ability to read the Bible.
  3. I see so many people online talking past each other. I’ve wondered if that has anything to do with a lack of reading comprehension.

This book was originally written by Adler in 1940. Adler revised and updated it with Charles Van Doren in 1972. Even though 1972 doesn’t seem all that long ago to me, as far as literature is concerned, I found this book very tedious. I read a lot of old classics, so I don’t think older language is the problem here. I think it’s just Adler’s style.

It would take up too much time and space to go into Adler’s method here. But this Goodreads review goes into more detail.

Adler’s first step would be what we call pre-reading, and most of us do this to some degree, depending on the book, the author, and our familiarity with both. Many of us would look at the front cover, the back cover, look over the table of contents, read the first paragraph or two, maybe leaf through the whole thing briefly. But Adler’s method goes into much more detail and study. One of his first steps is to read the whole book once and then come back and apply these other steps.

Adler’s stages of reading are: elementary, inspectional, analytical, and syntopical. He discusses the first three in great detail and then applies his principles to various types of books. Then he has a chapter on syntopical reading, which goes beyond the reading of one book to reading several books on a given topic. He ends with a list of recommended reading and an appendix of exercises and tests for the various levels (I just glanced through the last appendix without trying any of the tests).

Honestly, I can’t see someone going through all Adler’s steps unless they’re incredibly academically minded or unless they need to know the book extremely well for a class.

Does that mean my time in the book was a waste?

No. Even though I have no desire to follow Adler’s advice for all my reading, I agreed with many points. I especially appreciated the urge to read actively, not passively. I gleaned numerous nuggets I liked. I can’t share them all here, but here are a few:

I think his evaluation of the average high school student is probably true even of many adults today:

He can follow a simple piece of fiction and enjoy it. But put him up against a closely written exposition, a carefully and economically stated argument, or a passage requiring critical consideration, and he is at a loss. It has been shown for instance, that the average high-school student is amazingly inept at indicating the central thought of a passage, or the levels of emphasis and subordination in an argument or exposition. To all intents and purposes he remains a sixth-grade reader till well along in college (p. xi.).

This was written before personal computers, much less iPhones and ebooks, but this is even more true now:

There is a sense in which we moderns are inundated with facts to the detriment of understanding. One of the reasons for this situation is that the very media we have mentioned are so designed as to make thinking seem unnecessary (though this is only an appearance). The packaging of intellectual positions and views is one of the most active enterprises of some of the best minds of our day. The viewer of television, the listener to radio, the reader of magazines, is presented with a whole complex of elements—all the way from ingenious rhetoric to carefully selected data and statistics—to make it easy for him to “make up his own mind” with the minimum of difficulty and effort. But the packaging is often done so effectively that the viewer, listener, or reader does not make up his own mind at all. Instead, he inserts a packaged opinion into his mind, somewhat like inserting a cassette into a cassette player. He then pushes a button and “plays back” the opinion whenever it seems appropriate to do so. He has performed acceptably without having had to think (p. 4).

Even though I don’t know many people who would read a whole book at an elementary level before coming back to read it analytically, I can see Adler’s point here:

We were told to consult footnotes, scholarly commentaries, or other secondary sources to get help. But when these things are done prematurely, they only impede our reading, instead of helping it.

The tremendous pleasure that can come from reading Shakespeare, for instance, was spoiled for generations of high school students who were forced to go through Julius Caesar, As You Like It, or Hamlet, scene by scene, looking up all the strange words in a glossary and studying all the scholarly footnotes. As a result, they never really read a Shakespearean play. By the time they reached the end, they had forgotten the beginning and lost sight of the whole. Instead of being forced to take this pedantic approach, they should have been encouraged to read the play at one sitting and discuss what they got out of that first quick reading. Only then would they have been ready to study the play carefully and closely, because then they would have understood enough of it to learn more (p. 37).

I thought this about propaganda was especially good:

The best protection against propaganda of any sort is the recognition of it for what it is. Only hidden and undetected oratory is really insidious. What reaches the heart without going through the mind is likely to bounce back and put the mind out of business. Propaganda taken in that way is like a drug you do not know you are swallowing. The effect is mysterious; you do not know afterwards why you feel or think the way you do (p. 198).

What about my three purposes for reading the book?

First, I did not get any information specifically about retaining more from reading, but that was not this book’s purpose. Probably one would retain more, at least for a time. Even if I did use Adler’s methods, I would still probably forget much without reviewing either the book or my notes from time to time. But I did get some ideas for improved note-taking.

Secondly, I did think that Adler’s methods would be good for Bible study. I’m an advocate of reading a book of the Bible at a time rather than cherry-picking random verses here and there.

As to my third purpose, I thought he brought up some very good points. One of his steps is ascertaining whether or not you agree with the author, and if not, why not. But you have to support your views from what the book actually said. So one can’t take things out of context, infer one’s own views, etc. Of course, our era of sound bytes and no context at all on Facebook and Twitter doesn’t really support good, meaningful communication.

Have you read Adler’s and Van Doren’s book? What do you think about any of his points mentioned here?

I counting this book for the Hobby category of the Nonfiction Reader Challenge since reading is my main hobby.