Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Dressmaker of Khair Kana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

The Dressmaker of Khair Kana
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Published 2011
Book Club

I read this book for my local (in person) book club.  It was a true story (written in story format) about a family of sisters living in Afghanistan, at a time when the Taliban came into power in their part of the country.  Laws changed drastically overnight, for women and girls, of course: they could no longer attend school, work outside of the home, leave the house without an escort (usually a male), and they had to wear the stupid chadri in public (see image).  

Chadri (Afghanistan)*
 *Don't tell me women WANT to wear this.  
Why don't men put a sheet over their head and try to live!  
Sorry, I'm inserting my emotions again.

To earn an income - essentially, to EAT - the main character, Kamila, turned her home into a shop and employed her sisters (and even a few neighborhood women and girls who needed work to earn a living, too) as seamstresses.  Kamila was instantly successful in finding shop keepers in town to buy their dresses and suits, and soon she had a reputation as a savvy business woman.  

One day she was urgently approached by a bridal party needing a wedding dress and bridesmaid dresses, in just a few days.  The bride was marrying a Taliban member.  Kamila understood that the Taliban now knew what she was doing in her home, and that they had accepted it, so long as she continued to keep a low profile and followed the rules for women. 

In addition to the political changes, several anxious events occurred during this time: Moussad, military leader of the Northern Resistance in Afghanistan, was assassinated, and September 11th, 2001, happened.  The assassination of Moussad meant the Taliban had a stronger hold on the country; and when the Taliban did not turn over Osama bin Laden, the United States began military attacks on Afghanistan.  Kamila and her family lived and worked anxiously under these conditions.

But there was a good turn of events, too.  Due to Kamila's clever and courageous entrepreneurship, she was approached by the U.N. Habitat, an institution in Afghanistan seeking to recruit women for a work project.  With permission by the Mob - I mean, Taliban - the organization would be able to teach girls the value of work (after the Taliban prohibited it).  Kamila's family was against her working with Habitat because . . . FEAR.  Rules changed every day, and one never knew when the Taliban would lash out at a woman for breaking a law that was suddenly altered.  

Once she was stopped at a checkpoint while traveling to Pakistan with Habitat.  Because they did not have a male escort, the Taliban threatened them with arrest and questioned their loyalty as Muslims.  With an AK-47 pointed at her forehead, Kamila used her cleverness to talk their way out of the predicament.  Her experiences had taught her that the Taliban could be reasoned with, "as long as one was polite, firm, and respectful."

Well, because of the attacks in Afghanistan by the U.S., the Taliban were on the run, and many cities were freed from their stronghold.  For some reason, men immediately shaved their beards, but women were still apprehensive about ditching the chadri.  FEAR.

Kamila continued her work with Habitat in her country, but next moved to international outreach within the United Nations and with global aid, Mercy Corps.  She was invited to participate in a two-week MBA program for Afghan businesswomen in the United States, and she even met Condoleezza Rice, who invited her to Washington D.C., to tell her own story to members of Congress, business people, and diplomats.  

Condelezza Rice and Kamila Sadiqi

But Kamila's desire was or has always been to help the people in her country, to educate them and create job opportunity, especially for women.  She said,
Money is power for women.  If women have their own income to bring to the family, they can contribute and make decisions.  Their bothers, their husbands, and their entire families will have respect for them.  It's so important in Afghanistan because women have always had to ask for money from men.  if we can give them some training, and an ability to earn a good salary, then we can change their lives and help their families.
It is a good story; unfortunately, it isn't riveting storytelling.  Nonetheless, I am really glad I read Kamila's point of view.  She is a remarkable woman.  She could have lived in utter FEAR, but she did not.  She stood out.  However, I do wonder about all of those women who do live in FEAR, whose stories are not being told?  I wish someone would tell their stories, too.

Kamila Sadiqi, 2005

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books That Have Been on My (TBR) Bookshelf Forever!

Ten Books That Have Been on My (TBR) Bookshelf Forever!
(And they look the part.)

The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - Jules Verne

Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson

Ivanhoe - Sir Walter Scott

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame - Victor Hugo

The Republic - Plato

The Last Days of Socrates - Plato

Politics - Aristotle 

The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway

Idylls of the King - Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë

Of these ten, I will read Treasure Island with my kids, later this year, for our Exploration school year, and The Republic is part of my WEM Reading Challenge; but other than that, is there one I should move up on my TBR list?

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

Doctor Zhivago
Boris Pasternak
Published 1957

I was intimidated to write about Doctor Zhivago; hence, I had been avoiding it like my nine-year old avoids brushing his teeth before bedtime.  It has been weeks since I finished this book and put it down to rest. What am I supposed to say? except this book is one of my more memorable reads this year, and maybe since I started reading classics four years ago.  Its emotion is magnified because I recently finished Solzhenitsyn's Gulag, which covers similar time periods and political and social themes of Soviet Russia.

This was a typical Russian literature experience for me, like with Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy.  The characters and their names were many, the themes were profound, and the human relationships intertwined and complicated.  I completely loved it overall, though sometimes I was clueless about the Russian history.  That's ok.  Some day I will be abreast of Russian history.

Since I watched the 2002 film version of Zhivago before I read the book, I knew about the adultery within the story, which perplexed me.  Our main character, Yuri Zhivago, is supposed to our hero. He says and thinks almost all the right things, yet his adultery is unacceptable.  It was difficult to rectify that conflict.  I even felt stronger about it while reading the book than I did watching the movie.  How can this man be so corrupt in his marriage, and yet have admirable views about life, liberty, freedom, individuality, and art?  How can he seek what is good and commit was is so wrong at the same time? He is almost incredible.  I suppose that is what makes him a tragic hero.

Yuri, the tragic hero (from 2002 film version)

Adultery aside, Pasternak shares insightful ideas through his characters' words.  On life:
People who can say that have never understood a thing about life - they have never felt its breath, its heartbeat - however much they have seen or done.  They look on it as a lump of raw material that needs to be processed by them, to be ennobled by their touch. But life is never a material, a substance to be molded.  If you want to know life is the principle of self-renewal, it is constantly renewing and remaking and changing and transfiguring itself, it is infinitely beyond your or my obtuse theories about it.
. . . about Russian society and Marxism:
I don't know a movement more self-centered and further removed from the facts than Marxism.  Everyone is worried only about proving himself in practical matters, and as for the men in power, they are so anxious to establish the myth of their infallibility that they do their utmost to ignore the truth.  
All customs and traditions, all our way of life, everything to do with home and order, has crumbled into dust in the general upheaval and reorganization of society.  The whole human way of life has been destroyed and ruined.  All that's left is the naked human soul stripped to the last shred, for which nothing has changed because it was always cold and shivering and reaching out to its nearest neighbor, as cold and lonely as itself.  
. . . untruth came down on our land of Russia. The main misfortune, the root of all the evil to come, was the loss of confidence in the value of one's own opinion.  People imagined that it was out of date to follow their own moral sense, that they must all sing in chorus, and live by other people's notions, notions that were being crammed down everybody's throat.
. . . on art:
. . . art always serves beauty, and beauty is delight in form, and form is the key to organic life, since no living thing can exist without it, so that every work of art, including tragedy, expresses the joy of existence.
. . . the "love" of Yuri and Lara (these two were made for each other):
Oh, what a love it was, utterly free, unique, like nothing else on earth!  Their thoughts were like other people's songs.
They loved each other, not driven by necessity, by the "blaze of passion" often falsely ascribed to love.  They loved each other because everything around them willed it, the trees and the clouds and the sky over their heads and the earth under their feet.  
And that is just a raindrop in a deluge of ideas throughout the book.

The writing (translation by Max Hayward and Manya Harari) was perfect.   I loved it so much, even though it was tragic and left me shaking my head.  What people under duress will write!  Pasternak even rejected his 1958 Nobel Prize, due to threat of deportation by the Soviet government; meanwhile, Solzhenitsyn rebuked his fellow writer for declining the award.  But like Solzhenitsyn, Pasternak had a great love for Russia and, even with all its faults, couldn't bear to leave it.  (I don't blame him.) Later, in 1989, Pasternak's son accepted the Nobel Prize on behalf of his father, as they had not removed his name from their records. 

Boris Pasternak (1890 -1960)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

These Happy Golden Years
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1943

[My Little House posts are super long with lots of spoilers.  I cannot simply write a review; I have to relive each book.]

A friend looked at my bookshelves and asked me the dreaded question: "If you had to save one book from a fire, which book would you grab first?"  (And as I write this, there is a fast moving wildfire twelve miles from my house that we are monitoring.)

It's fire season in California

I automatically said my Bible.  She said, "Of course!" But of these books, which would you grab; and I said instantly, "My  Little House series."  And if I had to narrow it down, I would save These Happy Golden Years.  Yes, this is my absolute all-time favorite of all the Little House books.  This book fills me with such joy and happiness; I want to jump into Laura's shoes.

These Happy Golden Years opened with Laura starting her first teaching job.  (Reminder: she's fifteen.) Naturally, she doubted her abilities, but Pa said, "Success gets to be a habit, like anything else a fellow keeps on doing."  His advice was to think first, then speak and act afterward.

Laura's first day of school

She was to board at the Brewster's shanty, twelve miles away, for eight weeks.  That's a long sleepover for someone who has never been away from home before.  The worst part, however, was that "Mrs. Brewster was so unpleasant, Laura could hardly swallow (her dinner)." Laura referred to the Brewster's house as "horrid."  She discovered later that Mrs. Brewster was miserable because she hated living in the West.  At least Laura would be at school all day, five days a week; but then it hit her that she would be stuck at the Brewster's all weekend.  She would not be able to go home.  What a nightmare!

But that Friday afternoon, to Laura's surprise, Almanzo Wilder arrived in his sleigh to take Laura home for the weekend.  He drove twelve miles in freezing, icy wind and snow for her.  He also looked at the Brewster shanty in disgust.  (He hated Laura staying there.)  When Laura arrived home, she said she was so happy, "her throat ached.  She could hardly go to sleep."  Home was so happy, she wanted to stay there forever.

Almanzo drove Laura back to the Brewster's for week two, which was Laura's worst school week ever.  She could not manage her students.  Then she remembered how Miss Wilder must have felt when her classroom was out of control.  At the end of class on Friday, Almanzo took Laura home, and Laura had a long talk with her parents about her school.  Pa did his everybody's-free-you know-like-it-says-in-the-Declaration-of-Independence spiel, again.  He also added: 
1.) be patient, 
2.) see things [Clarence's] way, 
and 3.) don't force him.  
Ma shared: give way; don't pay attention to bad behavior; be pleasant and nice; and be wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove.  After Laura returned to school for week three, she applied her parents' advice, and it was a success. 

Every weekend Almanzo brought Laura home and back again to the Brewster's.  During one drive, Laura blurted out,
I am going with you only because I want to get home.  When I am home to stay, I will not go with you any more.  So now you know, and if you want to save yourself these long, cold drives, you can.
Yikes!  She could have kicked herself because she realized too late that it could mean being stuck another three weekends at the Brewster's.  In fact, that very week, in the middle of the night, Mrs. Brewster turned into Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction and threatened her husband with a knife.  Gratefully, Almanzo came for Laura on Friday, after all.  When she thanked him for coming, he replied, "No need for thanks.  You knew I would."  She answered, "Why, no, I didn't."  And he said, 
What do you take me for?  Do you think I'm the kind of a fellow that'd leave you out there at Brewster's when you're so homesick, just because there's nothing in it for me?
Let that sink in.

Laura completed her time at Brewster's, and Almanzo took her home on the last day.  That was supposed to be the last ride.  But Laura saw the young people sleigh riding up and down Main Street, and she thought she had been forgotten, until she heard the familiar sleigh bells of Prince and Lady. Almanzo invited her to go riding.  Laura was a sucker for beautiful horses, and she instantly changed her mind about "going with" Almanzo.

Meanwhile, Laura continued her education during the week and found other jobs to do on Saturdays in town, to continue earning money.  Every Sunday after church, she enjoyed the sleigh rides behind Prince and Lady.

One week, Laura's Uncle Tom visited the Ingalls family.  On that Sunday, Almanzo came to pick up Laura for a sleigh ride.  He was quiet for awhile, until he asked Laura whom "that young man was." Imagine that: Almanzo jealous!

Laura stayed several weeks with Mrs. McKee and her young daughter out on a claim shanty because Mrs. McKee was afraid to stay by herself while her husband worked in town. She complained that the man-made law was absurd.  As Laura described it, "The government bets a man a quarter-section of land, that he can't stay on it for five years without starving to death."  Mrs. McKee commented:
Nobody could.  Whoever makes these laws ought to know that a man that's got enough money to farm, has got enough to buy a farm.  If he hasn't got money, he's got to earn it, so why do they make a law that he's got to stay on a claim, when he can't?  All it means is, his wife and family have got to sit idle on it, seven months of the year.  I could be earning something, dressmaking, to help buy tools and seeds, if somebody didn't have to sit on this claim.  I declare to goodness, I don't know but sometimes I believe in women's rights.  If women were voting and making laws, I believe they'd have better sense.  
You can say that again!

Another day Mrs. McKee mentioned Almanzo, but Laura shrugged it off.  Mrs. McKee said, "Don't worry, an old bachelor doesn't pay so much attention to a girl unless he's serious.  You will marry him yet."  This shocked Laura, and she replied, "Oh, no!  No, indeed I won't! I wouldn't leave home to marry anybody."  

Laura liked the prospect of earning money for work.  Pa said, "That's the way it is once you begin to earn."  (It's liberating!)  Laura got another teaching certificate and taught a new school, closer to home, that spring.  She was so excited because she was paid a little more than a dollar a day.

But Laura still had a wandering spirit.  When she looked to the Wessington Hills, sixty miles away, she said, ". . . they make me want to go to them."  Her friend Ida replied, "When you got there they would be just hills . . ."
In a way, that was true; and in another way, it wasn't.  Laura could not say what she meant, but to her the Wessington Hills were more than grassy hills.  Their shadowy outlines drew her with the lure of far places.  They were the essence of a dream.
Walking home in the late afternoon, Laura still thought of the Wessington Hills, how mysterious their vague shadow was against the blue sky, far away across miles after miles of green rolling prairie.  She wanted to travel on and on, over those miles, and see what lay beyond the hills.
That was the way Pa felt about the West, Laura knew.  She knew, too, that like him she must be content to stay where she was, to help with the work at home and teach school. 
Back to reality, Laura continued her Sunday rides with Almanzo in the buggy.  One day he tried to make a move - ok, hardly a move; but he did try to put his arm around her, and she cut it short immediately.  She caused Almanzo's new wild colts to break into a run, and he was forced to put both hands back on the wheel - you know, the lines.  Almanzo concluded, "You're independent, aren't you?"  (He catches on quick.)

Once, Almanzo showed up on a Sunday afternoon with Nellie Olsen in his buggy.  Nellie chatted and giggled incessantly, cozying up to Almanzo.  The next Sunday, Nellie was in the buggy again.  Laura found her annoying, and knew she had to take action.  She sneakily spooked the colts into a run, and Nellie screamed with horror.  Laura thought, She would never try to hold [Almanzo], but no other girl was going to edge her out little by little without his realizing it.

Almanzo told Laura he would be back next Sunday and they would all go again.  Laura said, "We'll not all go.  If you wan to take Nellie for a drive, do so, but do not come by for me.  Good night."  And next Sunday he returned, without Nellie.  (The End.)

My favorite illustration of Manny and Laura

Almanzo bought two more new wild colts to tame, and Laura was brave to ride with him and even to learn to drive them.  He also took her to a new singing school, which was sort of like a date.  During one of those nights, Almanzo picked up Laura's hand and proposed to her, "I was wondering . . . if you would like an engagement ring."
"That would depend on who offered it to me,"  Laura told him.
"If I should?" Almanzo asked.
"Then it would depend on the ring," Laura answered and drew her hand away.
She had her ring next Sunday.  Ma said, "If only you are sure, Laura.  Sometimes I think it is the horses you care for, more than their master."  And Laura answered, "I couldn't have one without the other."

Almanzo had to go away to Minnesota for the winter, and Laura realized that she would miss him. She even felt a little insecure about him seeing old friends and girls he used to know.  (You know the feeling.)  On Christmas Eve he showed up unexpectedly, during a terrible snowstorm, but it was a wonderful reunion.  Almanzo admitted that he did not want to stay away so long.

Mary came home for another visit, and asked, "Do you really want to leave home to marry that Wilder boy?"  Laura contradicted her, "He isn't that Wilder boy anymore, Mary.  He is Almanzo." Mary persisted, "But why do you want to leave home and go with him?"  And Laura replied, "I guess it's because we just seem to belong together."

One day during church, a stray kitten and dog came into the building, and of all people, the kitten found shelter inside Laura's hoop skirt.  It took all Laura had not to break into laughter, and still Mary reproved Laura for violently shaking in silence.  After church, Mary rebuked, "Laura, I am surprised at you.  Will you never learn to behave yourself properly in church?"  And Laura replied, "No, Mary, I never will.  You might as well give me up as a hopeless case."  They all had a good laugh when she shared what actually happened.

Almanzo had urgent news.  His mother and sister were planning a big church wedding; to prevent that from happening, they needed to be married as soon as possible.  So they agreed to a quick wedding immediately.  First, Laura dropped a bomb:
Almanzo, I must ask you something.  Do you want me to promise to obey you?
Of course not.  I know it is in the wedding ceremony, but it is only something that women say.  I never knew one that did it, not any decent man that wanted her to.
Well, I am not going to say I will obey you.
Are you for women's rights, like Eliza?
No.  I do not want to vote.  But I cannot make a promise that I will not keep, and Almanzo, even if I tried, I do not think I could obey anybody against my better judgement.
The night before her wedding, Laura requested Pa play music.  He asked what she wanted to hear, and she answered, "Play for Mary first.  Then play all the old tunes, one after another, as long as you can."

The next morning she and Almanzo were married.  This was such a bittersweet time, saying goodbye to her home and family, to begin a new chapter in her life.  She once thought to herself, The last time always seems sad, but it isn't really.  The end of one thing is only the beginning of another.

When Almanzo and Laura were driving to their new home, as husband and wife, she only then realized that Almanzo had hitched Prince and Lady to the buggy, instead of the wild colts.  She exclaimed, "Why, you are driving Prince and Lady!" Almanzo replied,
Prince and Lady started this.  So I thought they'd like to bring us home.  And here we are.
On the first night in their new home, Laura's heart was full of happiness.   
"It is a wonderful night," Almanzo said.
"It is a beautiful world," Laura answered, and in memory she heard the voice of Pa's fiddle and the echo of a song,
"Golden years are passing by,
These happy, golden years." 

Manny and Laura, 1885

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange
Anthony Burgess
Published 1962

This dystopian novella is set in futuristic England.  Before you begin to figure out the plot, you will learn the slang of this world; it will happen as you read.  The teenaged-protagonist, Alex, is the leader of his lawless gang of friends who spend their nights drugging, fighting, robbing, and raping. 

Before long,  Alex's bad choices catch up with him, and he is arrested during a home invasion, in which the homeowner dies as a result.  Alex is sentenced to 14 years in prison (which is too short, in my opinion; but I'm mean). 

In prison, he is selected for an experimental behavior modification program provided by the State, and released back into the community after he completes the program. But some have objections to the experiment because it removes free will and control from individuals. Would you want to live in a world where human behavior is controlled, like little pre-programmed robots, but where people are good and the world is always safe; or would you rather have free will to choose your behavior, even if it means living with evil wickedness, violence, and crime?

Burgess wants to show his reader that to forcibly or artificially change behavior, as the State tries to do with Alex, destroys his humanness altogether, and this is a very bad idea.  Do they even know what they are doing?  Is it successful?  You have to decide if you agree or not.  Of course, I agree with Burgess because I am totally against the State doing anything other than what it was intended to do, and according to Scripture, the only job of the government is to reward good and punish evil.  God does not give government the responsibility of controlling citizens or altering their behavior by force.  If God wanted us to be robots, He would have preprogrammed us Himself.  

In the end, there has been much discussion about the 21st chapter, which was left off at the time of publication for the American audience.  But today that final chapter is included, and many people do not like it.  My guess is that it feels unnatural to read about Alex the Monster for twenty chapters, and then suddenly in chapter 21 he appears as a different person.  It does not transition smoothly.

As usual, I am in not in the majority.  I am grateful for the final chapter because it absolutely shows Alex's humanness, which is what I longed for the entire story.  He is losing interest in his foolish, wicked desires; he shows thoughtfulness and maturity; he realizes he is growing up; and he is considering how his behavior may affect his own children.  He certainly does not want his son to be like him, but he understands that he may not be able to stop him if he chooses a life of crime.  Alex is realistic about human behavior.  

Yeah, I get that: people can change!  And that is exactly what I wanted Alex to do.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Born Again by Charles W. Colson

Born Again
Charles W. Colson
Published 1976
The Well-Educated Mind (Biographies)

Before I began this biography, I knew nothing about Charles Colson; I was only a baby when he was a top aide to President Richard Nixon.  Born Again is Colson's story about the high point of his career as Nixon's Special Counsel (through the President's 1972 reelection campaign), his conversion to Christianity, his conviction during the infamous Watergate scandal (though that is not why he was convicted), and his time spent in federal prison for obstruction of justice and defamation.

In the Oval Office with Nixon

Colson was portrayed in the press as Nixon's "Hatchet Man," a man who would do anything to get Nixon reelected, even "throw his own grandmother under the bus."  His opponents didn't like him very much; if you put an agenda before people, you're not going to make a lot of friends.  

After Nixon was reelected, Colson decided to take a break from politics and return to his private law practice.  However, two events were brewing simultaneously: a conversion and a conviction. 

While the Watergate issue was becoming public, Colson had already been feeling egregiously about himself and his conduct during his political career under Nixon.  (That's his conscience talking, and that's usually how God gets our attention.)  He decided to inquire about a close friend's obvious grounded peace and joy; his friend had become a Christian, and it had changed his life.  Maybe this was the change Colson needed.  He started to read Christian literature and soon after joined a prayer group consisting of both Republicans and Democrats, including one who did not like Colson at all.  

Meanwhile, the heat was on Colson regarding the Watergate and Ellsberg scandals.  Colson had no prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in until after it had already occurred, and he had no knowledge of Nixon's wiretapping; he believed that President Nixon was keeping information from him. Unfortunately, Colson was connected to the defamation of Daniel Ellsberg (who had military information about the Vietnam War) by leaking Ellsberg's FBI files to the media - with the intent to destroy his character - and later tried to cover up the leak.  But before he knew any specifics, an indictment hung over his head for a long time.

Colson founded a prison fellowship ministry.

After Charles Colson prayed to commit his life to Christ, he started to see things differently.  His sin of pride became very clear to him.  When he learned that he was to be indicted, and that there would be a trial and he could end up in prison, he knew it wasn't the end of his life; however, he continued to feel bitterness toward justice.
The evil of my pride had been exposed . . . but the process of ego slaying was still going on.
After speaking to a Christian friend about the reality of prison, his friend told him a difficult truth:
"It's really tough, Chuck . . . but what really matters is . . . what God knows.  He knows your sins; He knows mine.  And He's always ready to forgive us."
Colson contemplated how "God does not promise to spare us the pain or punishment that comes from our mistakes [sins], but He would always forgive us, love us, and provide the strength to see us through our most difficult experience."  This was the realization he needed to accept his fate.

Even after his lawyer told him he could get him off because he was not guilty of plotting and aiding in the Ellsberg scandal, Colson revealed that his guilty conscience of scheming to destroy someone's character was enough to convict him; hence, he pleaded guilty to something that he was not even on trial for.  He was sentenced to 1-3 years in a federal prison, though he only served seven months.  

Colson worked for prison reform.

The remainder of his story is a look at the dangerous life behind walls and bars and fences - a completely different way of survival.  Not only did he have to learn to assimilate to this new life, but he also became a leader.  He led in the sharing of the gospel and formed prayer groups and connected with men who desperately needed God.  In addition to personally learning about his new faith, he put it to use and was a helper to fellow prisoners in need.  

Finally, while this is not a major part of his autobiography, Colson founded a Christian prison ministry, Prison Fellowship, after he was released.  This ministry is still operating today and serves prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families.  He also worked to influence prison reform - something he actually instituted while he was still a prisoner himself.  So to those who accused him of conveniently finding religion when he was under the microscope for bad political deals, his salvation was definitely real. He continued to serve His Savior and fellow man for the remainder of his life.  Good on him!

Charles W. Colson

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little Town on the Prairie
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1941


After the long winter, it was finally spring and the Ingalls family moved back to their homestead. Laura and her older sister Mary (who is blind) went for a walk on the prairie and had a conversation about sheep sorrel.  Laura expressed that it tasted like springtime, and Mary, ever the realist, said "it really tastes a little like lemon flavoring, Laura." 

The Goodness of God

Then their conversation turned to goodness and rebellion.
"You used to try all the time to be good," Laura said.  "And you always were good.  I wish I could be like you.  I don't know how you can be so good."
"I'm not really," Mary told her.  "I do try, but if you could see how rebellious and mean I feel sometimes, if you could see what I really am, inside, you wouldn't want to be like me."
Mary admitted to "showing off, being vain and proud," and Laura contradicted her, telling her that she is good.  But Mary replied, using words straight from Scripture:
"We are all desperately wicked and inclined to evil as the sparks fly upwards."  But she continued, "I don't believe we ought to think so much about ourselves, about whether we are bad or good."  And further, ". . . it isn't so much thinking, as - as just knowing.  Just being sure of the goodness of God."
Mouse in the House

This is hysterical.  In the middle of the night, Laura described how "a gasp, grunt, and sudden thud of something small and squashing" woke her up.  Pa told Ma that he dreamed a barber was cutting his hair, but Ma could not understand how a dream could upset him so.  When Pa reached up and felt his hair, he realized - and Ma confirmed - that a place on his hair had been "shorn clean off."  And what he took hold of was a mouse, which he "threw away as hard as he could."  Sure enough, in the morning, they found a dead mouse near the wall.  

Pa had to attend a town meeting at the Whiting's homestead the next day, but he was missing a section of hair.  It would have been fine to keep his hat on, but he expected Mrs. Whiting to be present, and he would need to remove his hat, in respect.  
"Never mind," Ma consoled him.  "Just tell them how it happened.  Likely they have mice."
"There'll be more important things to talk about," said Pa.  "No, better just let them think this is the way my wife cuts my hair." 
"Charles, you wouldn't!" Ma exclaimed, before she saw that he was teasing her.
Long story short, Pa came home with a kitten to deal with the mice problem. 

Laura, Mary, Carrie, Grace, and Kitty

Laura in the World

Mary had always wanted to go to school and become a teacher, but her dreams were dashed after an illness caused her blindness.  But the Ingalls learned of a school for the blind in Iowa, and Laura's new mission became earning money to help pay for an education for her sister.  She was offered a summer job with a merchant in town, sewing shirts for bachelors.

Pa and Laura walk to town.

Working in town exposed Laura to the world.  The White family, whom Laura worked for, were rude and cold to each other, and nothing like Laura's warm, loving family.  Laura reminded herself of Ma's words: 
It takes all kinds of people to make a world.
While Laura worked, she watched the townspeople, including drunks who went in and out of the saloons, sometimes destroying property.  When Laura explained what she saw, Ma said, 
"I begin to believe that if there isn't a stop put to the liquor traffic, women must bestir themselves and have something to say about it."
Pa replied, "Seems to me you have plenty to say Caroline.  Ma never left me in doubt as to the evil of drink, nor you either."
"Be that as it may be," said Ma.  "It's a crying shame that such things can happen before Laura's very eyes."
My Favorite Part: The Fourth of July 
Fourth of July was the day when the first Americans declared that all men are born free and equal.  "BOOM!"
"It's nothing to be solemn about!" Pa jumped out of bed. "Hurray!  We're Americans!"
In my opinion, that should be reason enough for Americans to wake up like this every morning, yet sadly, so much been destroyed and lost.  But that's a post for another day.  Back to Laura's day . . .

Laura and Carrie went to town with Pa to celebrate Independence Day where they listened to a politically incorrect speech about history, 
". . . when our forefathers cut loose from the despots of Europe.  There wasn't many Americans at that time, but they wouldn't stand for any monarch tyrannizing over them. They had to fight the British regulars and their hired Hessians and the murdering scalping red-skinned savages that those fine gold-laced aristocrats turned loose on our settlements and paid for murdering and burning and scalping women and children.  We licked the British in 1776 and we licked 'em again in 1812, and we backed all the monarchies of Europe out of Mexico and off this continent less than twenty years ago, and by glory! Yessir, by Old Glory right here, waving over my head, any time the despots of Europe try to step on America's toes, we'll lick 'em again!   
 "Every man Jack of us a free and independent citizen of God's country, the only country on earth where a man is free and independent.  Today's the Fourth of July . . . and it ought to have a bigger, better celebration than this.  Most of us are out here trying to pull ourselves up by our own boot straps.  By next year, likely some of us will be better off, and be able to chip in for a real big rousing celebration of Independence.  Meantime . . . somebody's got to read the Declaration of Independence . . .
And Laura included almost the entire text of America's Founding document.  When it was over, Laura expressed how no one cheered, but rather it was more like a moment to say, "Amen."  

Finally, Laura went into a contemplation about God and self-government.  She thought:
Americans won't obey any king on earth.  Americans are free.  That means they have to obey their own consciences.  No king bosses Pa; he has to boss himself.  Why, when I am a little older, Pa and Ma will stop telling me what to do, and there isn't anyone else who has a right to give me orders.  I will have to make myself be good.
This is what it means to be free.  It means, you have to be good.  "Our father's God, author of liberty -"  The laws of Nature and of Nature's God endow you with a right to life and liberty.  Then you have to keep the laws of God, for God's law is the only thing that gives you a right to be free.  
If more parents taught this to their children at home and teachers were allowed to reinforce this in schools and our government would function according to these principles - WOW! how many of society's ills would be covered?  But, I digress again.

Mary Goes to College and Nellie Olsen Comes to De Smet

Before Mary left for college, she and Laura went for one last walk on the prairie.  As usual, Laura had to curb her expressive urges.  Instead of describing the sun as "sinking to rest, like a king . . . drawing the gorgeous curtains of his great bed around him," Laura replaced it with:
"The sun is sinking, Mary, into white downy clouds that spread to the edge of the world. All the tops of them are crimson, and streaming down from the top of the sky are great gorgeous curtains of rose and gold with pearly edges.  They are a great canopy over the whole prairie.  The little streaks of sky between them are clear, pure green."
When the Ingalls family moved back to town for the winter, Laura and Carrie resumed going to school.  And guess who the teacher was?  Miss Wilder, Almanzo's sister.  But the real surprise was that Nellie Olsen moved to De Smet.  Between Miss Wilder and Nellie, it turned out to be a maddening school season.  See my notes:

  • Nellie provoked Laura, and a fist fight almost ensued.
  • Miss Wilder did not punish anyone for their disruptions, rebellions, and lawlessness.  She meant to rule them by love, not fear.  (A hippie before her time.)
  • Laura worried about getting an education while Miss Wilder permitted chaos.
  • Miss Wilder was unfair and cruel to Carrie.
  • Laura shared her observations with Ma and Pa, who disbelieved her story.
  • The whole bench rocking episode!  (I have to side with Laura on this one).
  • Laura explained: her fury took possession of her.  (See image below.) 
Laura's fury taking possession of her.

  • She and Carrie were excused from school, but returned the next day.  Teacher may be wrong, but must always be respected.  (Maybe so, but bad teachers need to be fired.)
  • Laura felt guilty for her internal resentment of Miss Wilder.
  • Chaos continued when Charley sat on a pin and Miss Wilder punished him, which didn't make sense.
  • Laura felt responsible for the chaos because she smiled at naughtiness once; but she still did not repent.
  • Miss Wilder told a lie about Laura.
  • Laura did not consider why Miss Wilder lied, but it all came back to Nellie, who used Miss Wilder to hurt Laura.  (Laura defended Pa, but insulted Nellie's father at the same time, which caused Nellie to team up with Miss Wilder.  And in the end, ugh, it really was all Laura's fault.  That troublemaker!)
  • Which prompted Ma to write in Laura's journal: 
If wisdom's ways you wisely seek,
Five things observe with ease,
To whom you speak,
Of whom you speak,
And how, and when, and where.    

A Birthday Party, Coming of Age, and a Life Change

Laura and her girlfriends were invited to a birthday party of a fellow male classmate.  They sat down to dinner together and later played games.  The overall social atmosphere between the boys and girls reminded me of why being young and coming of age is so exciting and pleasurable.  

Oh, to be young again.

Speaking of coming of age, Laura so much enjoyed her friendships and "playing" - which was "unladylike" - that she never wanted it to end.  Almanzo Wilder even asked to walk her home a few nights after church, which petrified Ma.  But Laura was growing up.

However she also needed to study and do well in school because she wanted to continue to help pay for Mary's college tuition.  Laura managed to maintain her grades and was exceptional during the school exhibition; and because of her merit and dedication, she was offered a job as a third grade teacher for the Brewster School, twelve miles from town.  She passed her exam and took the job.  Her life was about to change overnight.

Final Words of Wisdom, by Ma
"The prairie looks so beautiful and gentle," [Laura] said.  "But I wonder what it will do next.  Seems like we have to fight it all the time."
"This earthly life is a battle," said Ma.  "If it isn't one thing to contend with, it's another.  It always has been so, and it always will be.  The sooner you make up your mind to that, the better off you are, and the more thankful your pleasures." 

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The Gulag Archipelago
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Published 1973

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was born in Russia, 1918, after the Russian Revolution had begun.  In his youth, he supported the Communist regime, and during WWII, after he graduated from the University, he joined the Russian army and spent three years in combat.  Before the end of WWII, he was arrested by the Soviet spy agency for disrespecting the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, in a letter to a friend.  He was sentenced to a labor camp for eight years, which he called the Gulag Archipelago. The historical and biographical book he wrote (titled by the same name) is about his life during those years he was in prison.

Since my pages are defaced with notes, stars, underlining, circles, and arrows - making it impossible to focus on any one topic or point - I am just going to write what comes to mind, as opposed to a synopsis.  I know this will be one of the more enduring books I have read in my life, and I will remember Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn for a long, long time.

Solzhenitsyn experienced first hand what it was to have his freedom stolen from him; hence I appreciate how he values freedom and liberty.  He wrote about it and talked about it, like it is one of the most important human struggles.  His story is direct and grim, and at times told with bitter sarcasm.  He wrote extensively on his experience in the labor camp, but I have only captured a few points here.  For example:

The goal of the prison and labor camp was to retrain the people.
[The State] find[s] in forced labor one of the highest forms of blazing, conscientious creativity.  Here is the theoretical basis of re-education; "Criminals are the result of the repulsive condition of former times, and our country is beautiful, powerful and generous, and it needs to be beautified."
Thanks to Marx's and Engels' socialist philosophy, Stalin believed that forced human labor was the key to human correction.
Engels discovered that the human being had arisen not through the perception of a moral idea and not through the process of thought, but out of happenstance and meaningless work.  Marx . . . declared with equal conviction that the one and only means of correcting offenders was not solitary contemplation, not moral soul-searching, not repentance, and not languishing - but productive labor.
To compel a prisoner to labor every day (sometimes fourteen hours . . .) was humane and would lead to his correction.  
And so, for this correction, families were divided, marriages dissolved, people starved and exposed to the elements and sickness, and women were raped, not only by soldiers but also other prisoners.   Solzhenitsyn claims a quarter of a million lives were affected, for what?

Since WWII, Nazis were arrested and convicted of their crimes against humanity; however, Russians were discouraged from talking about their government's past sins.  According to Solzhenitsyn, sixty million lives were murdered, and "no one was to blame for it," for fear of opening up old wounds.

Have you ever noticed that there are no movie blockbusters or major books about Stalin (like there are about Hitler)?  Why?
Hitler was a mere disciple, but he had all the luck: his murder camps have made him famous, whereas no one has any interest in ours at all.
Solzhenitsyn also claims that the U.S. and its allies abandoned the Russians after WWII.  They liberated the Jews from the Nazis, as if the West were only concerned for its own freedom, but would not help deliver the Russians from Communism.

The most memorable part for me was a female prisoner who was interrogated about her Christian faith.  Why would a nation destroy its own citizens? After reading her arrest file she broke out into a sermon.  She spoke about her religious faith and religious believers:
Formerly, unbridled passions were the basis for everything - "Steal the stolen good" - and, in that state of affairs, religious believers were naturally a hindrance to you.  But now, when you want to build and prosper in this world, why do you persecute your best citizens?  They represent your most precious material: after all, believers don't need to be watched, they do not steal, and they do not shirk.  Do you think you can build a just society on a foundation of self-serving and envious people?  Everything in the country is falling apart.  Why do you spit in the heart of your best people?  Separate church and state properly and do not touch the church; you will not lose a thing thereby.  

After release, 1953

If Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn seemed like an angry man, maybe he had a right to be.  He loved his native Russia, but Communism was destroying her people.  After his release from prison, he began a career in writing literature, and in 1970, he won a Nobel Prize.  He continued writing and speaking in defense of liberty, self-government, democracy, and peace.  Eventually he was expelled from Russia in 1974 because of his opinions against the Soviet Union.  After the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Solzhenitsyn returned to his homeland in 1994, and died of heart failure in 2008.

A smiling Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
1918 - 2008
All you freedom-loving "left-wing" thinkers in the West! You left laborites! You progressive American, German, and French students! As far as you are concerned, none of this amounts to much.  As far as you are concerned, this whole book of mine is a waste of effort.  You may suddenly understand it all someday - but only when you yourselves hear "hands behind your backs there!" and step ashore on our Archipelago.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas

Amazing Grace: 
William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery
Eric Metaxas
Published 2007

This is the second book I have read (in the same year) by Eric Metaxas - the other being Bonhoeffer, which was EXCELLENT!  Metaxas seems to draw these quiet, humble figures out of the past and brings them to the forefront of history.  Amen.

William Wilberforce was born into a life of privilege and, on the surface, he lived a life of wealth, leisure, and entertainment; however, he was actually quite frail and sickly.  Nonetheless, in 1780, at twenty-one, he was elected to Parliament and soon after showed an interest in reforming society for the better.  Leave it to God to use the least among us to do the most difficult work.

It began with Wilberforce's spiritual conversion in 1786, when he came to know Christ as his Savior, that he experienced a "Great Change."
"Well, I now fully believed the Gospel and was persuaded that if I died at any time I should perish everlastingly."
"I must awake to my dangerous state, and never be at rest till I have made my peace with God.  My heart is so hard, my blindness so great, that I cannot get a due hatred of sin, though I see I am all corrupt, and blinded to the perception of spiritual things." 
He was in such agony over his state of sinfulness that he considered leaving politics in order to "live now for God."  It was John Newton, ex-captain of a slave ship and personal friend of Wilberforce, who encouraged him to stay in Parliament and allow God to use him for the greater good.
"God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners."
Thereafter, Wilberforce realized his purpose in this world and made it his passionate work to abolish slavery.  But he and a few fellow abolitionists had to be clever about their mission because slavery was completely acceptable in their time, as it had always been since the beginning of civilization. They targeted only the slave trade, which would prove to be difficult and challenging enough.

In fact, it took twenty long, dragged-out years and much determination, perseverance, and patience before abolitionists could see that victory in 1807.  How Wilberforce did not give up the fight is beyond me, and maybe that did not help his health either; but I suppose it was God's will to use this man and others like him to carry on the fight for those who had no voice.  Not only was he instrumental in outlawing the slave trade, but he influenced attitudes and changed hearts concerning slavery overall. Three days before Wilberforce died in 1833, slavery was altogether abolished in the British Empire, except in India, which Wilberforce had also worked towards.  Slavery in India was later abolished in 1843, which demonstrated that the ripple effect of Wilberforce's work lasted long after he was gone.

I take away two important ideas from Mr. Wilberforce and his story: the first is that it gives me great hope in mankind to read about quiet, humble lives who courageously fight for righteousness and persevere through dangerous opposition.  History overflows with examples of minor characters doing major work to change the course of the world for the better, we just do not tell their stories enough like we tell the stories about the tyrants.

The other point is not necessarily an idea, but a truth, as William Wilberforce and those he worked with to abolish slavery were deeply motivated by their Christian faith.  As the Bible teaches, we must never be insecure to do what is right or speak for the weak, knowing that we will be in opposition to the world.  Wilberforce is an example of this Christian ideal.
Open your mouth for the speechless, In the cause of all who are appointed to die.  Open your mouth, judge righteously, And plead the cause of the poor and needy.  (Proverbs 31:8) 
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.  Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.  (1 Peter 3:13-14) 
Not only that, but they were white, too.  While slavery was commonplace all over the world, it was also Christian white men and women who fought for the emancipation of black slaves and worked to end the theft, sale, and enslavement of other human beings against their will.  In other words, not all white people support the mistreatment and suppression of others based on skin color or other lame excuse.  Many ardent abolitionists were white.  Thanks to work by Mr. Metaxas, we have their stories to tell.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Reading The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, during the longest California heatwave ever

The Long Winter
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1940

When I started The Long Winter on June 1st, Southern California hit triple digits.  Today is the last day of June, and the heatwave continues.  At least tomorrow's high temps will only reach 99 degrees. Triple digits usually come in July and last about a week or a few consecutive days - not in June, and not for an entire month!

When will it end?
Reading The Long Winter during an endless triple-digit heatwave made me think about surviving unbearable conditions, with no change or end in sight.  Of course, it will end, but when you are living through it for longer than usual you feel helpless and tired and even a little worried that things will remain this way forever.  That is how Laura felt when her family survived seven months of blizzards in De Smet, South Dakota.

Speaking of LONG, my notes are excessive, but I will do my best to keep it short and sweet.   Let's start at the beginning:

Laura helped Pa stack hay; however, "Ma did not like to see women working in the field. Only foreigners did that.  Ma and the girls were American."  Leave it to Ma to admit something politically incorrect for today's audience.  Personally, I do not take offense because Ma lived during the late 1800s, and that was her world.  It was not that women were incapable - as Laura proved she was capable - but this was just the way it was in the 1800s.

Pa and Laura found a thick muskrat's home, ready for a tough winter.  Laura asked how the muskrat knew to build such a home, and Pa explained that God gave animals an instinct to know what to do; whereas, Pa said,
"we're not animals.  We're humans, and like it says in the Declaration of Independence, God created us free.  That means we got to take care of ourselves."
(Of course, Pa connected everything to the Declaration of Independence.  Oh, wait! The Founders believed God created man free and independent, too.  Duh!)  But wait, there's more...Laura wondered,
"I thought God takes care of us."
"He does," Pa said, "so far as we do what's right.  And He gives us a conscience and brains to know what's right.  But He leaves it to us to do as we please.  That's the difference between us and everything else in creation." 
Laura wanted to know if muskrats could do as they pleased, and Pa explained instinct to her.  Muskrats will only build the same home, but man can build any home he likes.  "So if his house don't keep out the weather, that's his look-out; he's free and independent."   (That's when Laura tried to comprehend the shanty-style house which did not keep out the weather.  Maybe man is not so sharp after all.)

Frozen cows
Before winter, an early storm brought freezing cold temps.  Several roaming cattle froze in their place, in Pa's field.  Laura went with Pa to see what had happened and watched Pa free them from the frozen ground.  Laura tried to explain to Ma and Mary, but Mary was incredulous:
"It must be one of Laura's queer notions," Mary said, busily knitting in her chair by the stove.  "How could cattle's heads freeze to the ground, Laura?  It's really worrying, the way you talk sometimes."  
And to herself, Laura realized she could not explain how she felt, "that somehow in the wild night and storm, the stillness that was underneath all sounds on the prairie had seized the cattle."  (Yeah, how do you explain that to a realist like Mary?)

One day an Indian came into town to warn the settlers of the coming blizzards.  This prompted homesteaders to move from their claim shanties to town where they could live closer to supplies and each other.   That is what the Ingalls family did.  This also meant that Laura and Carrie could attend school, which they were both weary to do; but Laura is all for having courage in the face of fear.

For example, one day at school, a blizzard came.  Laura immediately thought how to keep warm if they had to wait out the storm: they could burn the wooden desks.  Just like her Pa, she was proactive!  Gratefully, they did not have to burn the desks because they were all escorted into town by the school superintendent.  Fear and courage makes you find ways to survive.

Almanzo, Laura's future husband, lived in De Smet, too, where he and his brother Royal were bach-ing.  Almanzo lied about his age to get a claim because he believed he was as capable as any 21-year old, to own land.  Laura explained,
Anybody knew that no two men were alike.  You could measure cloth with a yardstick, or distance by miles, but you could not lump men together and measure them by any rule.  Brains and character did not depend on anything but the man himself.  Some men did not have the sense at sixty that some had at sixteen.  And Almanzo considered that he was as good, any day, as any man twenty-one years old.
Those blizzards kept coming, one on top of another, and they prevented the trains from delivering supplies to town.  It was a burden on Laura's heart, and she tried hard to be cheerful, always.  Ma impressed upon her girls to keep their chins up.  She really was a strong woman through all of this.  Eventually they ran out of coal and had to burn hay.  They stretched out the potatoes and brown bread for food, and tea to drink, for as long as they could.  Eventually Laura lost her appetite.

Twisting hay
Imagine how they felt when in January they learned that the trains would not run again until spring!  Pa told them the story of the engineer who tried to move the train that was buried under snow, but quit.  Each girl had a different opinion.  Carrie said she did not blame him for quitting; Laura said he should have found another way to move the train; and Mary said he should have just obeyed the superintendent.

The superintendent then tried to move the train, but failed.  And Pa said it was because he lacked patience, and Ma added perseverance.  Pa said,
"Well, he's an easterner.  It takes patience and perseverance to contend with things out here in the west."
Once Ma snapped at Charles for swearing - "Gosh dang!" - then apologized to him.  Pa understood the reason for her her short temper.   Ma is never short fused.

Grace whined because her "feet's" were cold, and Laura scolded her for complaining.
"For shame, Grace!  A big girl like you!  Go warm your feet," Laura told her.
Almanzo hiding his wheat

This I could not understand: Almanzo hid his good seed wheat in the wall of Royal's feed store, where they were staying in town.  But, the town ran out of food, and people were going to starve. There was a rumor that a homesteader was wintering on his claim twenty miles outside of town, and he may have had seed wheat. The men discussed going out to buy it from him to feed the people in town.  Why didn't Almanzo just sacrifice his wheat for the town?  All of his reasons make no sense to me.

Pa considered going to look for the wheat, but Ma put her foot down, literally.
Quietly she told Pa, "I say, No.  You don't take such a chance."
"Why...Caroline!" Pa said.
"Your hauling hay is bad enough," Ma told him.  "You don't go hunting for that wheat."
Pa said mildly, "Not as long as you feel that way about it, I won't.  But..."
"I won't hear any buts," Ma said, still terrible. "This time I put my foot down."
"All right, that settles it," Pa agreed.   
And this time, Ma did not apologize.  Sometimes I think women display more sense than men, and must say so.  Even Pa told her, "You're right, Caroline, you always are."  (I love it when a man can put aside his pride and admit the truth.)

Almanzo said that he was "free, white, and twenty-one; this is a free country, and he was free and independent to do as he pleased."  So he and Cap Garland risked their lives to find this unknown homesteader, in hopes that he would sell his seed wheat, if he had any at all, in order to save the town.  It was excruciatingly painful to read through; but long story short, they made it, found the man, made a deal, and brought home the wheat all in one long day's treacherous journey.

While Almanzo and Cap were traveling, another storm had come, and Pa lashed out at the wind.
Pa rose with a deep breath.  "Well, here it is again."
Then suddenly he shook his clenched fist at the northwest.  "Howl!  blast you!" he shouted.  "We're all here safe!  You can't get at us!  You've tried all winter but we'll beat you yet!  We'll be right here when spring comes!"
Charles, Charles," Ma said soothingly.  "It is only a blizzard.  We're used to them."  
Pa dropped back in his chair.  After a minute he said, "That was foolish, Caroline.  Seemed for a minute like that wind was something alive, trying to get at us."
"We'll beat you yet!"
After the storm had passed, Loftus, the store owner who provided the money for Almanzo and Cap to purchase the wheat, prepared to resell it to the families in town.  However, he charged a high price, even though Almanzo and Cap did not charge Loftus extra for hauling.  Pa told him he had a right to do as he pleased with his own property, and a profit was understandable; but he reminded him that every customer was free and independent, too.
"This winter won't last forever and maybe you want to go on doing business after it's over.  Your business depends on our good will.  You maybe don't notice that now, but along next summer you'll likely notice it."
"That's so, Loftus," Gerald Fuller said.  "You got to treat folks right or you don't last long in business, not in this country."   
In the end, Loftus sold the wheat for exactly what it cost him to purchase it.

Every day the girls ground wheat and Ma made bread.  And every day Laura felt dull and stupid and tired.  She even asked Pa if the blizzard could beat them, but Pa encouraged, "No, it's got to quit sometime and we don't.  It can't lick us.  We won't give up."

That next morning, Laura woke to the warm Chinook winds blowing.  Spring had arrived, and that meant the trains would come.  And they did.  The blizzards were done, winter was over, and the Ingalls family ended The Long Winter with Christmas in May.

Well, this was not very short, after all.  The bottom line is this: The Long Winter is essential reading material.