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August 24, 2016

Turns out that traveling makes us
far happier than any material wealth
ever does. – Bright Side

Ah the lure of the open road, the ever-changing sea, the trackless sky! And travel-writers are right when they postulate that anticipation trumps destination. Without anticipation: planning, scouting, researching, dreaming, etc., travel would be ever so much the less.


As our faithful blog-readers may remember, we have done our best to infect our two grandsons, Taylor and Seth, with the travel virus by taking each of them on separate cruises to Europe. The catch: they had to master the entire geography of the world before their 13th birthdays—took each of them an entire year to accomplish.

After we visited them recently, en route home from our 24,000-mile trip, Taylor addressed a card to:

“Dear wonderful wandering-all-over-the-world grandparents.”

We suspect both boys will turn out to be wanderers as well.

As for us and our faithful traveling accomplices, Bob and Lucy Earp, we never leave home without first singing “On the Road Again” with Willie Nelson.

I once wrote an article for Ministry Magazine titled, “When Missionaries Go Forth, What Happens to Their Children?” What happens is that children of missionaries (also ministers and Armed Forces personnel) grow up with a permanent case of wanderlust. Home for them, [us] is not a place, but rather wherever in the world their parents happen to be at a given moment. My parents certainly bequeathed that great gift to me and my two siblings.

Scan0005But it is oh so frustrating to be tied to such a short life-span. So many places to see and experience, so little time. I felt it keenly in these two recent trips: In most cases, we only got to spend a couple of days in countries we’d have liked to have spent months. All we got were hummingbird-brief tastings.

Indeed, life is so brief, as I get older I’ve come to resent traveling on routes I’m already familiar with—worst of all: freeways. So, instead, my wife and I find backroads we’ve never explored before whenever possible.

I suspect that much of America’s current isolationism, myopia, and narrow simplistic thinking is a product of squirrel-cage living: just mindlessly spinning around and around on the same trajectory, never going anywhere new. Same for the failure of millions to learn anything new. Instead of reading, they waste their lives away on mindless yada yada. Or as Ted Koppel famously put it: “Almost everything said in public today is recorded; almost nothing said in public is worth remembering.”

As for travel, St. Augustine’s great quote is worth going back to again and again:

“The world is a great book, and those who do not travel—
have read only one page.”

Scan0006As for the money it takes to travel, we are anything but wealthy. However, like everyone else, our lives are governed by priorities: In order to travel, we do without things others may consider essential—like new cars for instance.

The more that I live, read, experience, learn, and become, the more I’m convicted that deep in our DNA, God has implanted a yearning to explore, to become, to grow. No one revels in sitting on something day after day. Always, each day, God expects us to stretch towards growth like a spider casting out filaments. Or as Robert Browning memorably put it in Andrea del Sarto:

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?”

* * * * *

Then there are those who yearn to travel but are incapacitated or anchored to one vicinity because of the illness of someone dear to them. Millions are in this situation. Many of these travel vicariously, and grow in the process.

Nor should we forget visionaries such as Thoreau who expanded his world mightily for two long years—yet never left Walden Pond.

* * *

With this preamble, I shall begin our new two-part series:

We Discover Northern Europe
We Discover America’s Backroads.

Not all at once, of course, but in small doses at a time.

Look forward to traveling with you, beginning next week.


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A Retrospective of Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club

December 30, 2015

We’ve now featured 47 books in our series. For all those who are interested in joining, this would be the perfect time to do so. You can start with the January selection and keep up from then on; but you can also look backward through our first 47 selections and add those to your library as well. There is nothing formal about joining—but I would appreciate hearing from you. I would also appreciate very much hearing from our current members: which of our last year’s eleven books you enjoyed most, and why.

Now, to bring you up-to-date, here is a complete list of all our books so far:

                                                      OUR FIRST 47 BOOKS

Alcott, Louisa May, Little Women, (June 3, 2015)
Aldrich, Beth Streeter, A Lantern in Her Hand, (Nov. 4, 2015)
Barr, Robert, A Prince of Good Fellows, (April 1, 2015)
Barr, Robert, The Swordmaker, (May 6, 2015)
Bergreen, Lawrence, Over the Edge of the World, (May 28, 2014)
Brown, Abbie Farwell, The Christmas Angel, (Nov. 23, 2011)
Buck, Pearl, Christmas Day in the Morning, (Dec. 2, 2015)
Burnett, Frances Hodgson, Little Lord Fauntleroy, (Feb. 29, 2012)
Conan Doyle, Arthur, The White Company, (April 30, 2014)
Dana, Richard Henry, Two Years Before the Mast, (March 26, 2014)
Dickens, Charles, The Christmas Carol, (Nov. 23, 2011)
Douglas, Lloyd C., Home for Christmas, (Nov. 28, 2012)
Duncan, Dayton, and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, (June 27, 2012)
Goudge, Elizabeth, City of Bells, (Sept 26, 2012)
Grey, Zane (1) Heritage of the Desert, (Dec. 28, 2011)
(2) Riders of the Purple Sage, (June 5, 2013)
(3) The Vanishing American, (June 30, 2014)
(4) Wanderer of the Wasteland, (March 28, 2012)
Hale, Edward Everett, Sr., The Man Without a Country, (Feb. 6, 2013)
Hill, Grace Livingston, Happiness Hill (Aug. 21, 2013)
Hilton, James, Lost Horizon, (Oct. 7, 2015)
Hugo, Victor, Les Miserables, (Sept. 25, 2013)
Huxley, Aldous, Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited, (May 8, 2013)
Knight, Eric, Lassie Come Home, (Nov. 6, 2013)
Lorenzini, Carlos, Pinocchio, Sept. 24, 2014)
Lowry, Lois, The Giver, (Aug. 27, 2014)
Moody, Ralph, Little Britches, (Oct. 29, 2014)
Munthe, Alex, The Secret of San Michele, (Aug. 5, 2015)
Porter, Gene Stratton, Freckles, (July 17, 2013)
Reed, Myrtle, The Master’s Violin, (April 3, 2013)
Richmond, Grace (1) Foursquare, (Jan 2, 2013)
(2) The Twenty-Fourth of June, (May 23, 2012)
Sabatini, Ralph, Scaramouche, (Feb . 26, 2014)
Scott, Sir Walter, Quentin Durward, (Sept. 2, 2015)
Sheldon, Charles, In His Steps, (Aug 22, 2012)
Sienkiewicz, Henryk, Quo Vadis, (Jan. 28, 2014)
Spyri, Johanna, Heidi, (July 30, 2014)
Tarkington, Booth, Penrod, (Oct. 31, 2012)
Tennyson, Alfred, Lord, Enoch Arden, (May 2, 2012)
Thoreau, Henry David, Walden, (Jan 25, 2012)
Tolstoy, Leo, War and Peace, (Feb. 4, 2015)
Twain, Mark, Tom Sawyer, (July 8, 2015)
Van Dyke, Henry, The Other Wise Man, (Dec. 4, 2013)
Wiggin, Kate Douglas, The Birds’ Christmas Carol, (Nov. 26, 2014)
Williamson, C. M. And A. M., My Friend the Chauffeur, (Oct. 26, 2011)
Wright, Harold Bell, (1) The Calling of Dan Matthews, (Oct. 26, 2011)
(2) That Printer of Udel’s, (Jan. 14, 2015)

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BLOG #46a [renumbered], SERIES #6
November 18, 2015

The true heritage of a nation is not GDP, big banks, or fortunes—no, it is our children, our teenagers. And that is why the recent news reveals an ongoing tragedy of epic proportions.

You may have heard, listened to, or watched the news, and moved on to more interesting things. You should not have—you should have been staggered!

It was this: Today, the average teenager is glued to an electronic screen nine hours a day—NINE HOURS A DAY! That does not even count the screen-time in schools. Back when I wrote Remote Controlled (Review & Herald, 1993), readers were shocked that the youth of our nation were watching TV four hours a day. Now that figure has more than doubled!

Business owners bemoan the sad state of affairs today: that they can find so few educated people to fill their positions. Why should they be surprised when the teenagers who ought to be preparing themselves for career success are instead immersed in mindless yadda-yadda for 60% of their waking hours! And each year that passes, it gets worse.

Now, let’s see if things are better for our younger ones and compare. You see, our childhood [half of what we learn in a lifetime is learned by the age of six] represents the gestation period for all that we later become in life. And what’s happening to our children? They are watching electronic imagery six hours a day—in other words about 40% of their waking hours. Even more if they are getting nine or ten hours of sleep a night.

Math scores have been plummeting ever since the 1970s (one generation into the television age); seemingly it cannot find bottom. The same is true with reading. How precious few teens or young adults can structure a coherent, grammatically correct sentence—much less a paragraph!

One would think that such news as this would galvanize the nation. Earlier on, scholars, pundits, and futurists assumed all these scientific breakthroughs and dramatic increases in knowledge would result in an ever more intelligent electorate. Instead, society keeps getting dumber and dumber. Since they don’t read newspapers, magazines, or books, they base all their key decisions in life on 30-second sound-bytes, with disastrous effects on voting patterns. Many futurists feel that democracy itself cannot survive such a prolonged free-fall of the American mind.

One would also expect parents, who value more than anything else in the world—or ought to!—their children, would immediately take control of their children’s growing-up years, dramatically reducing mindless electronic watching, now approaching zombyism, and say in effect: Starting with this very moment, we, with God’s help, will make raising clear-thinking, academically-qualified, career-prepared children our number one priority in life!

So what is your answer to be?

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Bess Streeter Aldrich’s “A Lantern In Her Hand”

November 4, 2015


I take our book selection seriously, believing as I do that life offers us all too few opportunities to read books worth remembering. After all, if we read a book a week, starting at the age of five, at the age of 75, we’d only have read 3,600 books out of the millions one could choose from.

Thus I gave a lot of thought to our 46th book selection. During a recent fall colors trip we took with Bob and Lucy Earp in Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina, I took four potential candidates for the November book along. Aldrich’s book won out. It was my second reading of Aldrich’s masterpiece, and it impressed me even more the second time than it did the first (rarely is this true).

Would you like to become an authority of sorts on life on the Great Plains during the pivotal post Civil War years? Travel in a wagon train, live in a sod house (mostly underground), live with droughts, torrential rains, prairie fires, blizzards, grasshopper plagues, claim jumpers, primitive medical conditions, unrelenting winds, marauding Indians, financial depressions, isolation, wars, epidemics, early death, and ever so much more. Live through it as retold by one whose parents lived through it herself. The early events in the book were lived by Aldrich’s parents; the later events she experienced herself.

As a reader, you are there with the storyteller, Bess Streeter Aldrich. Once you board that covered wagon that is pulled west into Nebraska, vicariously you live as pioneers lived, enter into their minds, hearts, and souls.


“All along, you will be amazed at the sheer number of insights into life back then that are relevant to life today. So what if overnight our power grid was hacked and we were forced to start all over again as pioneers? Just as Abbie and Will did. What if we had to put our own dreams on hold so that our children might live a better life than we had? What if we had nothing to pass on to our children but our dreams and a precious few bygone evidences that we weren’t always poor? The following excerpt movingly portrays this:

        “Abbie walked over to the small-paned half-window set in the sod, and looked out at the gray twilight coming across the prairie. The winds that were never still blew past the house in their unending flight.

“How queer people were. All the folks in the new country were hoarding things, hanging on to old heirlooms. They became symbols of refinement and culture. “Sarah Lutz had a painting that drew your eyes to it the minute you opened the door. Oscar Lutz’s wife had a pink quilted bedspread that she kept rolled up in newspapers. Even Christine Reinmueller had a bright blue vase with magenta-colored roses on it, standing up on top of the cupboard. They stood for something besides the land and the corn and the cattle. They must hang onto them, never lose them out of their lives, for if lost, everything was lost. She must hang onto the pearls and everything they stood for; Sarah must keep her painting; Martha Lutz, her bedspread; Christine, her blue vase. Else what was there in the future for the children?” (P. 108).

But the true measure of a book is whether or not it has the power to change you, inspire you, elevate you, broaden you, make you think deep thoughts—so that when you reluctantly read that last page, you are a different person from what you were when you read that first page—This is just such a book.

Bess Streeter Aldrich (1881 – 1954) was one of Nebraska’s most widely read and loved authors. Her writing career spanned forty-some years, during which she published over 160 short stories and articles, nine novels, one novella, two books of short stories, and one omnibus. In her work, she emphasized family values and recorded accurately Midwest pioneering history. She became one of the highest-paid authors of her time.

Her work appeared regularly in such magazines as The American, Saturday Evening Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, Collier’s, Cosmopolitan, and McCall’s.

Following is a listing of her best-known works:

1924 – Mother Mason
1925 – The Rim of the Prairie
1926 – The Cutters
1928 – A Lantern in Her Hand
1931 – A White Bird Flying
1933 – Miss Bishop
1935 – Spring Came on Forever
1936 – The Man Who Caught the Weather
1939 – Song of Years
1941 – The Drum Goes Dead
1942 – The Lieutenant’s Lady
1949 – Journey into Christmas
1950 – The Bess Streeter Aldrich Reader

And so Abbie Deal went happily about her work, one baby in her arms and the other at her skirts, courage her lode-star and love her guide,—a song upon her lips and a lantern in her hand. (P. 70)

* * * * *

Aldrich was originally published by D. Appleton & Company. If at all possible, secure a first edition hardback with dust jacket. She has also been published by Dutton Signet and Appleton Century Crofts.

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Part Two
August 26, 2015


As our long-time blog-readers know, I first wrote about trains a little over a year ago. A number of you responded to that series. Now we were back on the same route, but in late summer rather than spring. Each season, on Amtrak, is different. Indeed, no two journeys in life are ever the same for life never repeats itself.

The reason for this particular trip was a family reunion in the Sierra Nevada Mountains not far from Lassen Volcanic National Park. More on that at a later date.

I’ve become convinced, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that God takes special delight in vicariously traveling on trains. Again and again I’ve seen our universe’s Master Choreographer set up anything-but-chance meetings between His children on trains. For there is something about train travel that lends itself to introspection, to thinking deep thoughts about life, of posing Life’s Three Eternal Questions: Who Am I? Where Have I Come From? And Where Am I Going?

When I travel, I habitually load myself down with comp books to give away to those who appear to be seriously interested in them. This time, since I was traveling by train, I took twelve of my most recent: Sooty, the Green-Eyed Kitten, My Favorite Angel Stories, and My Favorite Miracle Stories; all found homes by the time we detrained in Denver nine days later. In trains, people read.

Just to give you a feel for the people who shared the train with us, I’ll tell you about some of them:

On our westward-bound train two roomettes behind was a vivacious young woman and her in-love-with-life nine-year-old daughter. Since their door was often open and they were often reading aloud to each other, I stopped to get acquainted. Since the little girl loved books about animals, I inscribed Sooty, the Green-Eyed Kitten to her. Within only a couple of hours she was already part way through. The mother was using the train as a vehicle to teach her the geography of our nation. Clearly, the mother strongly controlled electronic gadgetry, for I never saw the girl with one. Instead, she was entranced with all she saw out her window and the people who walked down the hall.

One couple was only going over the Rockies and down to Glenwood Springs (one of the most spectacular train trips on the continent). They planned to stay in a hotel in Glenwood Springs, swim in the vast hot springs pool, wander around town, then board an eastern-bound train back to Denver. This section of the Rockies is extremely popular with Coloradans.

Sitting next to us at breakfast was an athlete from Fresno, California, who plays basketball for Wichita State. He was returning from attending a wedding in Breckenridge, Colorado. He told us he much preferred train travel to air travel. Also at our table was a lady from Nevada City, Nevada who travels a lot, as often as possible by train.

A couple from Wisconsin sat with us at noon. In the Observation Car I sat next to a lovely young graduate in music from BYU. I’ve long been amazed at how many young people travel on trains, seeking answers for life problems. Turns out she was one of them. Deeply troubled by a romance with a young man who did not share her own close relationship with God, she had hoped to find someone on the train she could trust to listen to her story and perhaps offer guidance or suggestions. Above all: kindness, a quality she’d discovered to be all too scarce in this hectic society we live in. She read my own life-changing-story in the new Miracle book—and that convinced her that I could be trusted. Just before she got off in Reno, I inscribed a copy of the Miracle book to her; and she, in turn, inscribed a copy of her new CD release. I shall always treasure the words she wrote on it.

But by that time people to my left and across the aisle asked to see my books, and confessed to having overheard our dialogue. One of them, a grandmother of an eighteen-year-old co-ed was treating both her daughter and granddaughter with this train trip, coast to coast then south to San Diego and back to the East Coast. All in honor of her granddaughter’s graduation and birthday. I inscribed a book to the lucky girl. Two older women traveling together (across the aisle) stopped me and thanked me for taking the time to counsel the BYU graduate. It never ceases to fascinate me to see how open travelers are to share serious, even intimate, things with strangers they’d not even share with family members or close friends; reasoning, no doubt, that they’d never see their traveling listeners again anyhow.

After our five-day family reunion in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, we boarded an Amtrak eastward-bound train). On board were two train historians who, on the intercom, pointed out places of historical significance as the train approached them.

Also on the train was Tony, a retiree from New England (and whose single great obsession in life was trains). Even his CHASE credit card was Amtrak-designated. All points translated into Amtrak trips. Also, he regularly attended all key get-togethers for obsessive train devotees like him. In fact, it appears that Amtrak employees across the country recognize him on sight, even calling him by name in the dining car. He regaled us with many fascinating stories about Amtrak culture. He even got to meet the Amtrak president – twice.

We ate lunch with a British family, owners of an ice cream establishment in the UK. Both of their sons are techies, who are so interested in attending the University of California at Berkeley that they both attended a special class for serious applicants there: the younger one was on the train; the older one was still in Berkeley.

At dinner, we got acquainted with an ER doctor and his wife from London. They enthusiastically praised all that they were seeing in America.

Then there was the young techie from Munich, Germany, who had landed a contract job in San Francisco. He’d seen most of our national parks already, and climbed a number of our highest peaks. Indeed, he was planning to climb Long’s Peak ( one of Colorado’s fabled 14-ers) next day. He even liked the relative slowness (up to 80 mph) of U.S. trains, pointing out that many of Europe’s bullet trains move so fast the scenery is just a blur.

Unforgettable too were the young family doctors who were on their way to Colorado’s San Luis Valley where they were setting up a family practice. Their baby boy was the darling of the entire train—everyone, even the Amtrak employees, gravitated into his orbit.

All in all, on Amtrak, you will rub shoulders with people from all around the world. And if you have not yet traveled by train, put it on your Bucket List this very moment. Train trips will enrich your life in ways past quantifying.

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Remaking Our Brains

April 15, 2015

This was the weekend of our annual Conifer Kiwanis Reading Celebration for the third-graders who attend six mountain elementary schools here in the Colorado Rockies. Also for a large consortium of homeschoolers.

Before we honored the kids for their reading improvement, I gathered close to 90 third-graders on the floor around me, and urged them to make reading central to their lives. Since I poured thirty years of observation and research into my 1992 book, TV on Trial, and one of my main doctoral concentrations had to do with the relationship between reading and writing, and since those areas have remained central to me during my entire academic teaching career, I felt this occasion offered me a golden opportunity to plant seeds in these young minds.

I pointed out to them that there are two ways they can feed their brains: Reading and Electronic Imagery. Reading has been with us clear back to ancient times, but most significantly since the advent of printing, some six centuries ago. Electronic imagery is much more recent: around the turn of the twentieth century with the advent of moving pictures.

Today, electronic imagery has become so ubiquitous it increasingly has pushed reading onto the ropes, with some even questioning whether it can survive at all.

So, I pointed out to the third-graders that there are two significant differences between reading and electronic media: Reading is a creative process; electronic imagery tends to be creative only for those who create it. Reading is connotative. In other words, every time a person opens a book and begins reading, something exciting happens: that person’s brain shifts into its creative gear as the reader cranks out non-stop inner imagery that has the potential to actually change the brain into a powerhouse.

I introduced two contrasting word processes: “denotative” and “connotative.” Denotative has to do with the dictionary definition of a word. Let’s take, for instance, the word “father”; the dictionary definition is “a man who has begotten a child.” That’s all there is to it.

But the connotative process is so explosive it borders on the mind-numbing, for it has the potential, over time, to remake the brain. I pointed out that as you read the word “father,” if you have a loving father you adore, the mental image you create will tend to mirror that; but what if you have an abusive father? That would contribute to a much darker mental image. And no two readers ever create exactly the same mental imagery from the same words! For each individual is one-of-a-kind. That is why cloning would be such a terrible thing. As a person reads, word after word after word triggers the creation of mental imagery in the reader’s brain. So much so that just one book has the potential to create seismic differences in the reader’s outlook on life. But that’s not all, by any means. Each author writes in a different way from other authors; this is why Google enables teachers to catch plagiarists so easily, and why it borders on the impossible that an anonymous writer can long remain anonymous. The reader reads works by Alcott, Tolkien, Blume, Milne, Seuss, Hemingway, Tolstoy, Twain, or Martin Luther King, Jr.—; those stylistic differences are stored in inner templates, each of which may be drawn from when the reader begins to write herself/himself.

Depending upon whether the reader reads from a wide variety of books, stories, essays, etc. written by authors worth reading as opposed to stalling out on mental pablum; the former is likely to develop into a powerhouse and the latter into straitjacketed narrowism.

* * *

But what if individuals read no books and little of anything else, and instead feed the mind with electronic imagery (the norm for untold millions today), what happens to their minds? When one is watching television, cinema, video, or other electronic genres, whether one person is watching a given source or a billion people are watching it, every last one is internalizing the same picture! Reason being that the receiver’s brain has had nothing to do with the image’s creation—someone else did that. In fact, the receiver’s brain is completely bypassed: BAM! The image is blasted into the receiver’s brain. But it is not internalized for it is a foreign object. It is a self-standing entity that just sits there. Over time, as these foreign objects take up more and more space in the receiver’s brain, that person all but loses the creative potential that individual was born with.

In the collegiate freshman composition classes I’ve taught over the years, I’ve seen replayed the two species again, again, and again. When I tell a class, “Take out a blank piece of paper. We are going to write. . . . Now write!” It matters little whether I give them a subject to write about or let them choose, the results are the same each time: the reader, having all the internalized imagery of many authors’ books and stories synthesized into the memory banks, stylistic templates too, can hardly wait to start writing—and then the pen races across the page. The non-reader, almost invariably, just sits there glassy-eyed, like Bambi on ice. Since there is precious little in their brains that wasn’t created by someone else, there isn’t much they can draw from. And since they don’t read, they don’t know how to write either. Structurally, they are equally at sea. Since electronic imagery explodes at them from all directions, little of it structured, their thought-processes tend to be equally unstructured and disjointed. This is also true when they speak in public.

Furthermore, even in the business world, non-readers are handicapped. Studies have shown that when employing CEOs test them to see which applicant would be the best fit for a job, they are often given a task composed of, say five, steps in which to reach desired completion. Deliberately and unannounced, the CEO leaves out a step. So a reader moves from step to step: A to B, B to C, C to D, D to E, and E to F—only D to E is left out. The reader reaches this abyss, is puzzled , but doesn’t give up. Since the reader has developed a part of the brain scholars call the “library,” in which the brain talks to itself, the applicant, much like a spider, launches filaments out into the void, seeking for a terminus on the other side. Sooner or later, one of the filaments touches solid ground; the applicant now bridges to the other side and moves from E to F, and completes the task. The non-reader never can complete the task. Even when both applicants are college graduates with 4-point grade A averages, the results are still the same. A neighbor of mine, an executive himself, and a veteran administrator and employer, when I shared this study with him, explained, “So that’s it! I’ve long wondered why some top graduates could problem-solve and others failed so dismally. It makes sense!”

* * * * *

Sadly, our society has yet to recognize just how essential reading is to life and career success, even in areas that are not generally considered as demanding a reading background.