This is my personal blog, on which I talk about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy. Some topics are serious, others whimsical. I love comments and questions so don't be shy, just courteous, even if you don't agree with me. I have another blog, The Story Template, on which I post writing-related topics on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Let's see, a bit about me... I'm married with two children, and spend much time taking care of our family. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research. I am a Christian who came to faith under protest through studying the historic circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus. I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. I also have written a nonfiction book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story. This book is a programmed learner-type book that helps you, the writer, develop a complete compelling story (novel or screenplay) from a vague idea.

YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Review: The Fight of Our Lives

Politically Correct

I have a Muslim acquaintance who attends my gym. She is like the other ladies, and we chat about life and whatever topics are tossed around. She and her husband own a gas station, and they have a three-year-old boy she takes care of at home. She doesn't come in during the month of Ramadan, since (as she says when she returns) she's fasting all day and the exercise might be too much.

There are Muslims all around my neighborhood. A nearby mosque causes traffic jams along a one-lane artery every Friday, and police come out to direct traffic. Every day on the streets I see the ladies with hijabs (headscarves) going about their business. The men are not always as identifiable as Muslims, although a full beard can be a hint, and wearing the taqiyah (rounded hat) or long robes is a giveaway. The clothing for both men and women is always conservative and often full. They are America, what I like to think of as one part of the melting pot of nationalities living their lives in peace in the USA.

I have no quarrel with Muslims. Live and let live, I like to think. I wish no one ill.

And yet...

I also remember playing flute for a soldier's memorial after he had been killed in the Pentagon on 9/11. The church was packed so that overflow seating had to be set up in the narthex. Watching from my corner of the stage the grieving family and friends was heartbreaking, and the eulogies went on for 2 hours. In 2002 Daniel Pearl was beheaded on film by Muslims. Pearl's statement before the event made very clear that he was Jewish. Later, Sheikh Ahmed Omar Saeed was convicted for Pearl's murder. Since then, there have been many Muslim attacks and near-attacks on civilians and soldiers in Israel, the USA, and other areas.

So, it was with interest and a little trepidation that I read Bennett's and Leibsohn's book, THE FIGHT OF OUR LIVES.

This book documents in a calm and extensive manner the goals and achievements of Radical Islam to destroy the Jews and Western civilization while broadly imposing Sharia law in many nations. Those who are not Muslim, according to the radicals, are infidels and worthy of death. The authors of this book make it clear that their quarrel is with "Radical Islam" and not Muslims in general.

"Radical" simply refers to a hard-line adherence to original teachings of Islamic dominance without respecting other circumstances. "Moderates" consider the social milieu. For example, most Muslims in USA respect the USA's religious tolerance, and live happily and productively without insisting that everyone become a Muslim or die. The authors express the wish that moderate Muslims would more loudly denounce the destructive actions of the small, Radical, arm.

Most interestingly documented is the pacific and conciliatory response that America and the West has chronically taken in modern times in response to attacks by Radical Islam. This has been especially obvious after 9/11 when Radical Muslims came clearly into the focus of the American eye. The Islamic threat, the authors say, is the "Fight of our Lives," and we are not identifying and dealing with the problem. For example, the authors open with the story of Major Nidal Hasan, responsible for killing 13 and wounding 29 in a shooting at Fort Hood, Texas in 2009. While at Walter Reed in 2007 Hasan gave a presentation that publicly suggested Radical Islamic tendencies. These tendencies continued when he was transferred to Fort Hood; for example, he emailed back and forth with Anwar Al-Alwaki, an American Muslim cleric implicated in several terrorist attacks (and recently killed in Yemen by a Predator drone). Yet despite numerous red flags Hasan was allowed to continue his military career unabated, until he took a gun to the Soldier Readiness Center.

The book continues with many examples of American propitiation to Radical demands and attacks, then discusses the roots of Radical Islam contrasted with the roots of Christianity. The authors finally call for a strong defense of Western culture. If the West is not strong, they say, the Radical Islamists will sense weakness and will continue to actively strive to defeat the West. Americans do not understand the roots and ideas of their own history and the unique idea of founding a country based on the natural rights of the person. By not valuing our hard-won freedoms we may not be able to adequately defend against a harsh theocracy.

I found the book well-documented, without hysterical tendencies or hate-filled rhetoric. The authors make it clear that we (non-Muslims and moderate Muslims) have to be honest in acknowledging the threat of Radical Islam to our culture of tolerance and rights for all, and we need to maintain an imposing presence so that the Radicals hesitate to fight. If they do fight us, we must win. I found this book provocative and frankly disturbing. Yes, it convinced me.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Tyndale Blog Network book review (BookSneeze) bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! (Phil 4:4, NASB)

During the early 1600s the Puritans (so named because they wanted to restore Christianity to its "ancient purity") relocated from England to Holland, before deciding they would sail to the New World to establish their own colony where they could worship in peace and without secular pressures and temptations.

They sailed from Holland back to England, and were joined by farmers and tradesmen. On September 16th, 1620, the small Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, England, with 102 passengers seeking a new life in America. (The Mayflower originally had 90 passengers, but when a second ship the Speedwell couldn't sail, 12 of those passengers were added).

On November 19, 1620, the land of the new world was first sighted. Two days later the ship anchored in Provincetown Bay, Massachusetts, far north of the Virginia colonies for which they had been aiming.

Although the passengers debated going south, they finally decided to stay where they were for the winter. Before setting foot on the shore, on November 21st, 1620 (November 11th according to the Julian Calendar, 10 days behind the Gregorian Calendar), 41 of the Pilgrims and other colonists signed the Mayflower Compact that read:

In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread* Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc.

Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620.

*Note: The "dread sovereign" referred to in the document uses the archaic definition of "dread," meaning awe and reverence (for the King), not fear.

Scouting parties identified Plymouth as a place to settle, and on December 30th 1620 the pilgrims disembarked here. Governor William Bradford, describing the first landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth that December, writes:

Being thus arrived in a good harbor, and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth.... What could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men--and what multitudes there might be of them they knew not. The season it was winter, sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms. What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and His grace?

The settlers built log huts. Weakened by the long journey, cold, lack of food, and disease, nearly half of the settlers died that first winter. They buried their dead at night so the Indians wouldn't observe their weakness.

In March of 1621, an Indian named Samoset who knew a few English words visited and then introduced the Pilgrims to Squanto, an Indian who had lived in England. Squanto brought corn, and taught the pilgrims how to adapt to the new environment.

In the autumn of 1621 Governor William Bradford set aside a day for public Thanksgiving to God in gratitude for the blessings already received. Chief Massosoit was invited, and brought 60 braves, 5 dressed deer, a dozen wild turkeys and popcorn.

On this day, we are hopefully fortunate enough to sit in our warm homes surrounded by dear ones and enjoying a groaning table full of food. Let us not forget the great blessings and privileges we have and perhaps take as a matter of course. Make a list. Here are a few things I'm grateful for:

God, life, family and dear friends (both here and gone), and the opportunities to pursue dreams

As I read this over, I'm suddenly realizing the things I'm grateful for are the values set forth in the Constitution -- wow, what inspired geniuses they were who set up this country, starting from the Mayflower Compact on up.

I'd love comments to hear what you are grateful for, and how you celebrate Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Divorce

A little irreverent, but pretty funny :-) If you're traveling, have a safe trip!


A man in Jacksonville calls his son in San Diego the day before Thanksgiving and says, "I hate to ruin your day, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing; forty-five years of misery is enough."

"Pop, what are you talking about?" the son screams.

"We can't stand the sight of each other any longer," the father says. "We're sick of each other, and I'm sick of talking about this, so you call your sister in Denver and tell her."

Frantic, the son calls his sister, who explodes on the phone. "Like heck they're getting divorced," she shouts, "I'll take care of this,"

She calls Jacksonville immediately, and screams at her father, "You are NOT getting divorced. Don't do a single thing until I get there. I'm calling my brother back, and we'll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don't do a thing, DO YOU HEAR ME?" and hangs up.

The old man hangs up his phone and turns to his wife. "Okay," he says, "they're both coming for Thanksgiving, and they're paying their own way."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Low-Carb Brownies

This recipe was adapted pretty closely from my regular brownie recipe. I haven’t figured out how to frost them yet because the artificial sweeteners taste bitter and would be powerful in the frosting, but it’s possible that xylitol might work. Haven't been brave enough to try it yet.

This recipe makes 16 brownies. Don’t bake these too long, or they will become hard.

1/3 cup oil or butter
1/3 cup cottage cheese
Sweetener to make the equivalent of one cup sugar. Splenda and xylitol both work in a rough 1:1 ratio
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, beaten
6 tablespoons (3/8 cup) cocoa
½ cup almond flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line 9x9 inch pan with parchment paper.
2. Mix wet ingredients well.
3. Add dry ingredients and blend until smooth.
4. Pour batter into pan. Bake for about 30 minutes or until done.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Non-Sugar Sweeteners

Since I've started eating lower-carb I've been on a search for edible substitutes for carb-based foods. For example, I've found that flax flour, and especially almond flour, with some recipe modification do an adequate job for baking jobs such as muffins. (These flours tend to be heavy, so I need to lighten the batter with whipped egg white, cottage cheese, or similar ingredients). My family is OK if not thrilled with these, which means I don't have to make two batches of things.

Sweeteners are another story. I do not subject my family to artificial sweeteners, by the way; I tend to remain skeptical and a bit wary, especially for growing kids (although small doses are probably OK). Also, these sweeteners generally have a bitter aftertaste; another reason not to inflict them on the kiddos. However I have found one that is amazing that I discuss at the bottom of this blog.

There are a few non-sugar sweeteners that are commonly used in our society. While this list isn't necessarily exhaustive (since I'm not an expert), here is an overview of the most common FDA-approved GRAS (generally recognized as safe) sugar substitutes:


Sucrose is regular table sugar, disaccharide (fructose and glucose) with a glycemic index of about 64 (roughly the same as honey). This is the regular granulated table sugar that can be replaced with the non-sugar sweeteners.


Aspartame (trademark name Nutrasweet, and others): discovered in 1965, it is derived from two amino acids: phenylalanine and aspartic acid. It is intensely sweet so only smaller amounts are needed to sweeten the substance. Aspartame is commonly used in diet sodas.


Saccharine (trademark name Sweet-and-Low, and others): this was the first discovered artificial sweetener, in 1879. In 1977 the FDA slapped a warning label on this substance because it had been shown to cause bladder cancer in rats. Further studies discovered that the mechanism of bladder cancer in rats is not relevant to humans. The FDA subsequently removed the warning.


Stevia (trademark name Truvia, and others): this is an herbal extract from a naturally-occurring plant, and is widely used in Japan and South America. Its glycemic index is zero, which is impressive. In 2008 FDA gave the GRAS label to Truvia, a stevia-based sweetener.


Sucralose (trademark name Splenda, and others): sucralose replaces three of the hydroxyl (OH) groups from sucrose with chlorine atoms. Although sucralose is extremely insoluble (doesn't dissolve) in fat and therefore doesn't accumulate in the body, it can be classified as an organochloride, some of which chemicals in this class are toxic or carcinogenic. Again, though, sucralose is on the FDA GRAS list, so don't worry if you consume this. The organochloride classification is only an interesting factoid.


OK, and here is the amazing sweetener. Drumroll, please...


Xylitol (trademark name Xyla, and others): this is a sugar alcohol and a natural sugar that tastes GREAT! No aftertaste, and honestly it looks, measures, tastes, and acts very similarly to regular granulated sugar. A friend of mine, Kathy, on hearing about my low-carb foray (see some of my previous blog entries) brought my attention to xylitol. It is derived from birch and/or corn and/or other plants, and has a glycemic index of about 15. It is a natural substance that has been used widely in Europe and without known long-term toxic effects. It has also been shown to decrease caries (dental cavities) when used in chewing gum.

Xylitol has been shown to be dangerous and possibly fatal to dogs who eat this: they become hypoglycemic, and exhibit changes in liver enzymes that suggest that there may be some damage going on. These effects don't occur in humans. However, please don't feed any xylitol to Fido. (Chocolate is another dangerous substance to feed to canines).

The downside to xylitol ... AND PLEASE TAKE THIS WARNING SERIOUSLY! Kathy spent a very bad 12 hours in the bathroom because she didn't heed the warnings.

Xylitol is not broken down completely in the GI system; hence the low glycemic index and the generally beneficial properties for calorie reduction. Until you are adapted to ingesting and handling this, though, it will act as an osmotic and also as a substrate for those happy GI bacteria to produce gas and so forth. This translates into GI discomfort, flatulence, gas, and bad diarrhea.

To adjust to xylitol, you need to regularly eat small quantities -- starting with maybe half a teaspoon -- and gradually work your way up. Until you're adapted to this, don't bake with it or use it for anything more than sweetening your coffee. Kathy gave me her bag of it because she was so sick she didn't want to use it again. I've started taking a little at a time, so far with no bad effects, but then again I'm being cautious. We'll see.

You can buy the xylitol at a health food store or on amazon or other online sellers.

To summarize, I'm optimistic that xylitol may solve my sweet tooth problem. I don't eat a lot of sweets, but every now and then just have to have a cookie or a piece of chocolate. With xylitol I may be able to perpetually continue with a lower-carb food profile from now on, even if I eat something sweet. Hallelujah.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

To Pumpkins at Pumpkin Time

To Pumpkins at Pumpkin Time
by G.C. Tall

Back into your garden-beds!
Here come the holidays!
And woe to the golden pumpkin-heads
Attracting too much praise.

Hide behind the hoe, the plow,
Cling fast to the vine!
Those who come to praise you now
Will soon sit down to dine.

Keep your lovely heads, my dears,
If you know what I mean...
Unless you want to be in pie,
Stay hidden or stay green!

Monday, November 7, 2011

John Oxenham

"To every man there openeth a way and ways and a way
and the high souls tread the highway and the low souls grope the low.
And in between on the misty flats the rest drift to and fro.
But to every man there openeth a highway and a low,
and every man decideth the way his soul should go."

(from Wikipedia)
William Arthur Dunkerley (November 12, 1852 - January 23, 1941) was a prolific English journalist, novelist and poet. He was born in Manchester, spent a short time after his marriage in America before moving to Ealing, west London, where he served as deacon and teacher at the Ealing Congregational Church from the 1880s, and he then moved to Worthing in Sussex in 1922, where he became the town's mayor.

He wrote under his own name, and also as John Oxenham for his poetry, hymn-writing, and novels. His poetry includes Bees in Amber: a little book of thoughtful verse (1913) which became a bestseller. He also wrote the poem Greatheart. He used another pseudonym, Julian Ross, for journalism. Dunkerley was a major contributor to Jerome K. Jerome's The Idler magazine.

He had two sons and four daughters, of whom the eldest, and eldest child, Elsie Jeanette, became well known as a children's writer, particularly through her Abbey Series of girls' school stories. Another daughter, Erica, also used the Oxenham pen-name. The elder son, Roderic Dunkerley, had several titles published under his own name.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Hallowe'en is thought to have originated 2000 years ago as the Celtic "end of summer" festival called Samhain. Prominent in the celebration were autumn crops such as pumpkins, apples, and various gourds. The Celtic new year began on November 1st.

The Romans were great adopters of the cultures they conquered. When they took over the Celtish peoples in about 43 C.E., they integrated Samhain within a pagan festival they celebrated, Feralia, that was celebrated in late October. Feralia was a day to commemorate the dead.

Christianity spread through the Roman Empire, and remained in the Roman lands once the empire fell. In the eighth century Pope Gregory III established a syncretic holiday between the pagan and Roman Catholic belief systems, that November 1st would become All Hallows' Day. All Saints' Eve, the day before All Hallows' Day, was the time when the wicked spirits roamed free. It was celebrated with bonfires, parades, and people wearing costumes of saints, angels, and devils. Turnips were carved in Ireland and Scotland and made into lanterns to remember the souls in purgatory; this custom came to America although the immigrants used pumpkins because they were easier to carve.

For myself, ever since my kids were scared in a "haunted" house when they were little, I've hated Hallowe'en. People laugh at the common themes of death, evil, occult, monsters, demons, zombies, witches, and so forth but really, these things are not funny. The idea of Hell (and yes, I believe there is such a place) should terrify anyone. Even though the children trick-or-treating door to door in ballerina and Superman costumes are cute, these dark themes remain with worries of candy poisoning and worse.

Yes, I may be an uptight mom, but our family no longer celebrates Hallowe'en. Throughout the year we always have various candy around if anyone wants it, although frankly the peanut butter cups or M&Ms sometimes aren't eaten for months. So the trick-or-treating loot isn't a big deal for the kiddos. We get a pizza and watch a fun movie together in the family room. Our house is in an area that doesn't receive trick-or-treaters, so this makes it easier. (I would answer the door if we did have them, though. In our previous house one year while studying for a test I put out a bowl of candy instead of answering the door. I heard some pig kids mount the steps, and when I checked the bowl after the hooting and chortling saw they'd taken everything. I shouldn't have been surprised, I guess).

This year kiddos are big enough that they're both going to dance parties with costumes, rather than our traditional pizza. This sounds like more fun than the spooky, evil stuff.

I don't really have a point here, except that I don't like Hallowe'en. Can you tell?