{Book Review} Chasing the White Dog By: Max Watman

A Fun Look At Moonshine But With Faults

In this book journalist Max Watman takes you all around the world of American distilling and moonshining.  We learn of his own (Mis)adventures in fermenting and distilling in his kitchen and basement.  We learn the history of distilling and in our nation’s past, and we get an overview of the major events that shaped alcohol production in the country (Whiskey Rebellion, Prohibition, Etc.).  We also get a tour of many of the new startup micro-distillers that have began around the country.  Finally Max takes you on a great tour of moonshining in Virginia, South Carolina and much of the rest of the South and even visits with the law enforcement officers who are charged with shutting it down.

The topics are not all in this order; rather the author tends to jump around from subject to subject as he changes chapters.  His writing about his own experience making moonshine, visiting micro-distillers and moonshiners is quite interesting and I as a reader was able to connect with the people he was interviewing and talking about.  However his leaps into American moonshining and distilling history were far too chaotic for me to follow, characters came and went so fast that by the end of a chapter I felt like I didn’t learn too much and it all spread by in a blur.

Other than the occasional falter when he ventures into history, Watman does a great job telling you about real people who practice this art of distilling spirits, both legally and illegally.  And as far as books go on the subject, his is one of the freshest and is obviously one of the most current, so despite its faults I recommend the book if this subject interests you at all.

{Book Review} prayerfulness by Robert J. Wickes

Not a book about prayer but still worth reading.

At first glance you might think this is a book about prayer but instead it lies in the vein of books that talk about praying without ceasing or practicing the presence of God.  In this book the author Wilkes focuses on practices/mindsets and activities that will develop a sense of spiritual mindfulness or awareness.  Topics include “Creating simple rituals”, “Softening the soul”, and “Befriending anger and other negative emotions”.  From the titles of those chapters I think you can get an idea of the direction of this book.  The book is more about finding a way of connecting with God via small actions and changes in mindset that allow for a life of “Prayerfulness”.

The book is not heavy on the use of scripture, but instead pulls regularly from life experiences of the author.  Also Wickes’ views Christianity from a Catholic perspective while not being overtly catholic in his recommendations or practices.

I found some of the recommendations and thoughts in this book to be useful and interesting; and I have been challenged in my thinking on dealing with some of my emotions and thoughts about my relationship with God.  If you are open to this style of spiritual writing then I think you may be able to get something out of this book.  However, if are looking for principles firmly based in scripture and consistent references to the Bible and reformed theology this book is definitely not for you.  Decide on getting this book with that in mind.

Hello WordPress!

Blogger’s performance was becoming sub-par, plus they would not allow FTP publishing, so I have moved over to WordPress. I like their setup and I have quite a few thing to write about. So it should be fun, and you can expect more from me soon.

{Book Review} Citizens of London by Lynne Olson

All I can say is I wish I had history books this interesting back when I was in college. This book as you may know cover the contributions of three important American figures in Britain during the early years of World War II before the U.S. had declared war. The people examined are John Gilbert Winant the American Ambassador to Britain after Joe Kennedy was recalled home; Edward R. Murrow the head of CBS news in Europe at the time, and Averell Harriman a businessman who developed the lend-lease program that would provide weapons, technology and materials to the British during the early years of WWII.
Olsen explores through stories and anecdotes the lives of these men during this trying time for the England and how they made significant contributions to the war effort in England and hwo they were responsible for forging those early bonds that tied England and USA together in the battle against the Axis.
Olsen is a journalist not a history professor, so she tend to mix in a bit of opinion and makes some claims without really justifying them, but that is easily overlooked for how fun and interesting of a read this book is. As a journalist the author crafts and tells great stories and you learn so much about how people you never knew existed had a great effect on WWII, and that includes many other people beyond the main subjects of Murrow, Winant and Harriman.
If you are a fan of World War II history and politics I think you will enjoy this book like I did. It is not a military book by any means, but rather a book about political inner workings, creating public opinion and the economics of waging a war. If any of those things interest you, then I think you will find this book a great read.

{Product Review} Crest 3D White Whitestrips Vivid

I know it has been a long time since I have written or reviewed anything.  This is mainly due to my contributions to Sermons On The Mound (My God/Baseball Blog with Ben Chamberlin).  But I am back with a new product review, which isn’t really that much of a great product at all.
Disappointing with no real results.
The Crest 3D White Whitestrips Vivid are the lowest level of Whitestrip product line that Crest offers.  They offer an “Advanced Vivid” and a “Professional Effects” version of this product too.  And I can understand why, because I had little luck and no real whitening results from this version of the strips.
The strips are a bit difficult to apply and they don’t really want to stay stuck to your teeth.  And I know if they don’t stick to my teeth they are not going to be whitened at all.  I used the ten strips sets of strips in the package once a day for ten days and after all the hassle of trying to get them to stay put in my mouth I saw no discernable difference in the whiteness of my teeth when I finished using the product.
If you are looking for an over the counter teeth whitening product I would skip this one.  Perhaps try one of Crest’s two other versions, which according to packaging offer better whitening results and “Advanced Seal Technology” to help them stick to the teeth.  I am really not sure why if they have the better working and faster acting technology why they would put out a poor product like this?  So my recommendation is to skip this product and try something else.

{Book Review} The Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam

A Fascinating Book about Our Sub-Conscious and How It Influences Our Lives
The subtitle to this book is “How much our unconscious minds elect presidents, control markets, wage wars, and save out live.” And that is exactly what you get in this book. The book is a well written exposition on how our unconscious brain controls many of our decisions, prejudices and actions without us ever even knowing it.
Now basically the author Vedantam, has compiled the research of various studies and experiments on this topic and presented it in a way that is accessible, interesting and entertaining. I was truly fascinated at how much a part of brain that we never really “Think” with controls our everyday lives, sometimes causing us to do and say things that if we really thought about it we would never do, and other times that same part of our brain saves us from danger and trouble we would never see coming.
The author, Shankar Vedantam, is a journalist for the Washington Post and some people have knocked that fact, since he is not a Ph.D., researcher, or a scientist, I actually don’t mind. As a journalist I think the author presents all his content in very easy to read, understandable and well organized format, with a mix of some great individual stories of real people and how their lives were changed by this “hidden brain”.

While this may not be a truly new concept to many; and other works like Freakonomics and The Tipping Point have covered similar areas, I still found this to be a really thought provoking and if the subject interests you and I would recommend this book.

{Product Review} Centering Prayer by Thomas Keating

A Course in Centering Prayer in Convenient Box Form

If you are interested in centering prayer and looking for a more multimedia introduction into the practice then this is a product you may be interested in.
What you receive is:

A relatively small spiral bound book which provides introductions, summaries and guides you through the other materials in the course.

A set of 6 DVDs with lectures from the likes of Fr. Thomas Keating, Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler and Fr. Carl Arico about centering prayer.

Two audio CDs with tracks for introducing you to and taking you through a centering prayer session.

And a set of prayer cards to help assist you with entering the quiet time of reflection prior to centering prayer.

As has been mentioned by others the book is not super thorough, it serves as more of a guide to the course then a full text on the subject of centering prayer. I suggest if you are completely new to the concept of Centering prayer you may want to bundle this set with Fr. Thomas Keating’s book “Open Mind Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel,” which is a very complete take on centering prayer.

The DVDs too are nothing spectacular but are just video sessions of lectures that are given at Introduction to Centering Prayer retreats. They are not exciting or adrenaline pumping, but then if that is what you are looking for, I think you have the wrong practice.

I don’t think it is my role to appraise the practice of centering prayer but rather offer insight on this introductive course, which I find to be very complete and helpful to a beginner who just doesn’t know where to start or what to do. I believe short of taking a course in centering prayer in person at a seminar this is the next best thing you could use to introduce you to the practice of centering prayer. I found it complete, thorough and helpful; and if this is a subject you are interested in I think you may find it helpful too.

{Product Review} Five Star Flex Notebinder

Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s I had a glorious appreciation of the trapper keeper. The handsomely designed three ring binder that held nearly all of your school work, nay, your entire educational experience in one manageable book-ish contraption.

Thankfully things have changed and improved. The five star flex hybrid notebinder (as the company states) acts like a workbook and works like a binder. Both the front and back cover are made out of tough yet relatively thin plastic. they are held together by nylon fabric that lets you fold the front cover all the way behind the back cover like a notebook.

Everything is held together by three plastic/rubbery rings to hold papers and contents in. The notebinder comes with a small supply of ruled paper and graph paper (Three hole punched and very convenient). Also included are three heavy duty sheet protectors with tabs. And two heavy duty plastic divider sheets with pockets for holding paper, index cards and other paper products. The only thing this thing is missing is maybe a small zip up pencil case. Everything is held in place by three tough plastic rings that are fixed to the back cover of the the notebinder, they are a little tough to open and close but they are very secure and I doubt they would bust open even if the notebinder was drop from quite a height.

So this really seams like a logical evolution in where binders are going. You have the flexibility of a notebook where you can fold everything away and start taking notes and the storage capacity and utility of a three ring binder. This would be perfect for any student middle school through college.

{Cookbook Review} Cookin’ With Coolio by Coolio

Dare I Say the Greatest Cookbook of 2009! (By a Rapper)

Okay the last time I checked Coolio was relevant and a pop culture force about 10 years ago.  Since then the only time I think about Coolio is when “Amish Paradise” by Weird Al comes up in my shuffle mix.  Well readers that has changed with the release of his cook book: “Cookin’ with Coolio, 5 star meals at a 1 star price” by Coolio the Ghetto Gourmet.
Right of the bat, this may be the best gag cookbook gift ever.  Not only does the book come from the self-proclaimed King of Kitchen pimps, the ingredients for recipes ask for amounts of seasoning in “Dime Bag” and “Nickel Bag” form (Don’t worry you can covert to regular measurements).  Recipes include “Chicken Lettuce Blunts”, “Kompton Fried Chicken”, “Taco Jones” and “Chili Mac Pimpi”.  And instructions include directions such as “Beat those eggs like a Mother#$%&er who crossed you” or “Spin them around like a stripper on a pole”. 
Suffice to say I enjoyed the writing as much or more than the recipes themselves.
Now for the amazing part; these recipes are pretty good.  The ingredients asked for are easy to find and consist of most spices and ingredients you would have in a regular kitchen.  There are no crazy cooking techniques or anything more difficult than an average home cook could handle.  I cannot attest to how healthy most of the food is, but there is a good section on salads, vegetarian food and even a nice seafood section “It’s Hard Out Here For A Shrimp”. 
So if you can get past the latent silliness of the presentation of the material I think you will find some good fun recipes, and you will probably laugh quite a bit too.

{Book Review} Forgotten God by Francis Chan

Once again Francis Chan makes you think.

I really enjoyed Chan’s first book “Crazy Love”, and this book is just as good. Chan has a great talent for getting you to take a hard look at yourself and see areas in your life where you may not be living according to what the Bible teaches. The great thing is that Francis doesn’t preach hellfire and brimstone, or yell at you, or guilt trip you, or try to make you feel bad about yourself. He instead invites you on a journey to explore what the Bible says with him, and if you read along you tend to find that Chan is not doing much more than just talking about what is already there in the Bible for us to read.

In his new book “Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit” addresses (As you can guess by the title) the fact that today we dismiss the role of the of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. The Holy Spirit has the ability to live in all of Christ’s followers, but how many of us, actually allow the Spirit to do that? In the book, Chan covers: why we need the Spirit in our lives; explores reasons why we may not engage the Holy Spirit or may feel uncomfortable with the idea; surveys the theology of the Holy Spirit; makes sure we want the Holy Spirit in our lives for the right reasons; talks about what a right relationship with the Holy Spirit looks like; dismisses the idea that a relationship with the Spirit will reveal God’s plan for our life; and discusses what the Church could look like if we all lived with a right relationship with the spirit. Also Francis finishes each chapter with a short biography about someone who is or has lived a very Spirit filled life. Suffice to say he covers a lot of ground.

Despite all that is covered, the writing is very accessible, not technical or full of obscure theological terms or jargon. This is a book that can be easily understood by just about anyone, and I am sure it will challenge many, as it did me. This book has made me take a serious inward look at my relationship with the Holy Spirit and my motives relating to the Spirit. I encourage you to pick up a copy and give it a read yourself.