#832 The Golden Willow by Harry Bernstein

The Golden Willow by Harry BernsteinThe Golden Willow by Harry Bernstein

Harry married a woman named Ruby.  They planted a golden willow tree in their yard. They had two children. They each had to work very hard to make ends meet. Harry was a writer and for a long time didn’t bring home a lot of money. Things came easier as they got older.

When Harry was in his nineties, he decided to write a book. He shopped around for people to publish it, but it took some time before it was published. This book is Harry’s third book. It’s all about his life with his wife.

They started out renting a room. There was no shower. The landlady said the plumber would be there soon, but he never showed up. Years later, they were in the same neighborhood; they thought it might be nice to see where they used to live. The man who lived there, or bought the place, was kind enough to let them see the room they started their marriage in. There was still no shower. They laughed about that one.

Ruby died first, which was sad. Harry didn’t want to be alone. He started writing his books to fill the time and to fulfill a life-long dream of being an author.

What I liked

This book was certainly sweet. It’s about Harry’s life with his beloved wife. Their life wasn’t easy, but they loved each other very much. They weathered many storms, but fared much better than many other people in relationships. The willow was a symbol of their love. They watched it grow and mature.

It is really inspiring that Harry wrote these books past his nineties. That’s a lot of stuff to remember for someone as old as Harry was at the time.

What I didn’t like

While this book is certainly sweet, I don’t see anything super special about it. They had a great marriage, good for them, but there’s nothing that sets them far apart from anyone else. The best thing about the couple is that they made it so long with a minimal level of strife, which is impressive, but not unheard of if you’ve found a good match.

Harry has died, in case you were wondering. He died in 2011. I’m sure he’s happy to be with Ruby again.


I do like the idea of planting a tree to commemorate a relationship.

Weigh In

Would you write a book about your relationship with your loved one?

Do you think it’s sweet that Harry wrote a book after all those years?

#817 In The Presence of my Enemies by Gracia Burnham

In The Presence of my Enemies by Gracia BurnhamIn The Presence of my Enemies by Gracia Burnham

Many of us probably don’t remember a lot that happened in 2011, besides the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, but more did happen that year. In that same year, Muslim extremists also kidnapped a large group of people from a resort in the Philippines. In that group was a married missionary couple, Martin and Gracia Burnham.

The Burnhams had lived in the Philipines for many years serving as missionaries. Martin was a pilot who would fly supplies and people from mission to mission and Gracia raised their children and manned the communications to Martin while he was in flight. They had decided to go on a trip for their honeymoon to a resort, but the resort did not end up being a relaxing get away that the Burnhams had planned.

They were rounded up from sleep and held at gunpoint. Martin didn’t even have a shirt. They were put on a boat, then another boat. They finally made it to land, but were marched, mercilessly, and fed little. They would move locations very frequently. Illness was a common thing for the Burnhams. The captors, who identified with a Muslim extremist group, wanted ransom from all their captives. They went down the list of captives asking who could come up with what money. When the Burnhams told their captors they were American missionaries, who were rather poor, the captors told them that they would be last. They would be political prisoners.

The months went on and on. Some people were ransomed, but not Gracia and Martin. They were fed poorly. Martin was without his glasses and often saw everything blurry. Fellow captives were beheaded, some of the girls were taken as mistresses to the captors.

Over a year after the Burnhams were kidnapped, one other woman and the couple remained. Ultimately, Gracia got out alive, but without her beloved Martin.

What I liked

Gracia’s story is harrowing. I cannot imagine being taken captive like that and then having to live like an animal for over a year. They were treated poorly and their captors believed what they did was right according to Islam. It just goes to show you that not everyone interprets religion correctly.

Gracia is much stronger in the situation than I would have been, I think. I’m stubborn, but I don’t know if I would have made it out alive. It’s so silly that someone would take another person.

What I didn’t like

I tried to find out more information about what happened to Gracia afterwards. I know she does some speaking events and there is a mission set up in honor of Gracia and her husband, Martin, but I don’t know a lot more than that. I really wanted to know how Gracia fared after all of this. The book seems to end rather abruptly. In biographies and memoirs, I like to have a little bit of a follow-up.


Gracia is certainly an admirable woman.

Weigh In

Would you have survived being captive for over a year in the jungle?

What do you think about groups who interpret religion to the detriment of anyone who isn’t as “devout” as they are?

#815 Answering the Call by Ken Gire

Answering the Call by Ken GireAnswering the Call by Ken Gire

Most of us have probably never heard of Albert Schweitzer, including me. So who was Albert? Well, Albert was a doctor who spent most of his life in Africa doctoring people. He was also an accomplished organist. In addition to all of this, he also gave lectures.

When Albert and his wife married, they were off to Africa pretty soon. Albert had been told that there would be a hospital in the small African village he was going to, but there wasn’t. There was nothing. There was Albert’s house and a chicken coop that someone had abandoned. These were his only spaces to treat patients. He did just that. He saw patients on the porch.

He soon found out many quirks of natives. They wouldn’t eat food provided by Albert and his wife because they were afraid of poisoning. They also considered certain things fetishes. The cardboard name tags that they had to carry around as patients were never lost, because the people looked upon them as a fetish.

Eventually a hospital was built. Albert even helped design it. Albert and his wife were back and forth between Europe and Africa. They had a daughters. Life was okay, until the war came. The war brought short supplies to the hospital. At one point, Albert and his wife were even prisoners of war for some time.

Even after Albert’s wife died, Albert went right on doctoring people up. He received a Nobel Peace Prize for some of his work.

What I liked

I never knew Albert existed. So it’s nice to learn about someone like Albert. He was a man who devoted most of his life to other people. He was  good guy. It’s refreshing to hear about people with such dedication. He lived away from his family for years and years, in order to provide healthcare to people who really needed it. He saved all kinds of lives.

What I didn’t like

I liked the book, although, I do feel like I breezed through it much too fast.


Here’s to Albert, being a doctor, where doctors are needed.

Weigh In

Could you go live away from your family solely to help others?

Could you live helping others, and without the normal things we have in life–money, house, etc.?

#809 Good Talk, Dad by Bill & Willie Geist

Good Talk, Dad by Bill & Willie GeistGood Talk Dad by Bill & Willie Geist

Bill and Willie Geist have both been in television for years, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re a normal father and son, or as normal as any father and son can be. Bill talks about his life with Willie and Willie talks about his life with his father. Their life together wasn’t always easy. Bill went to war to become a photographer and didn’t make a whole lot of money when he came back, but ultimately, he got into television.

Bill became a normal voice on TVs everywhere and Willie watched, despite the fact that Willie never got an official birds and the bees talk.

Willie played a whole lot of sports, a whole darn lot. He got hired by CNN and later got hired to do a sports show. He talked about sports and more sports. People started asking him to host other shows.

Meanwhile, Bill had something to reveal with his fans. He had been living with Parkinson’s disease for sometime. He decided to share with the whole world. Despite what should have happened, Willie and Bill ended up alright.

What I liked

It’s nice to put a voice to a name. I’m familiar with both Willie and Bill’s voices, bit didn’t know who they were.

I also felt it was rather novel for a father and son to write a book together. It really seems like something a mother and daughter would do. I think this must have been a nice bonding experience for them.

I loved the part where Willie takes his son to the NYPD, where the police officer on duty admonishes Georgie, Willie’s son, to eat his vegetables or not to hit his sister. Hilarious.

What I didn’t like

I don’t give one flying flip about sports and this is unfortunate because Willie talks about them a lot. I don’t care about football, baseball, handball, soccer, hockey, basketball, trash ball, tennis ball, spoon ball, or any other sort of ball that someone plays with someone else. I just don’t care.

In fact, about as far as I go as far as caring about sports is that I tend to think individual sports are way more impressive than team sports. Football is an excuse for men to try to touch each other’s butts, but some guy practicing for years to be able to do all that cool stuff on a gymnastics horse/vault/whatever they call that thing is pretty impressive.

Bill and Willie are interesting guys, but so much of their lives revolve around sports that I just don’t care. They’re nice guys, but they’re not from my tribe.


Good game *smacks butt* *guy blushes* *other guy makes “call me” sign*

Weigh in

Would you go into the same field as your father?

If you’re from a family that centered their lives around sports, was it enjoyable to your growing up experience or was it a burden?

#805 Shut Up, You’re Welcome by Annie Choi

Shut Up, You're Welcome by Annie ChoiShut Up, You’re Welcome by Annie Choi

Annie Choi grew up as the daughter of Korean immigrants. She thought her father just might be gay; he has a suspicious love of show tunes. Her mother bought all of her underwear from Korea, because apparently, Korea was the only place that could properly make underwear. Annie took piano lessons and Korean lessons. Her family ate at the same hexagon table for decades. Her father did something with gold, but went on a gold-plating spree and started plating everything in gold. If it was metal, he probably gold-plated it. Luckily, he couldn’t gold-plate the toilet and other such household items. He did gold-plate the kitchen knives though.

Annie writes open letters to various entities. Why does the DMV take so long? What’s up with babies being such jerks? Annie ended up growing up with the same affinity for underwear that her mother has, but she didn’t have to get hers from Korea. She found a company in the United States that could make the underwear she needed. When the airport lost her luggage the thing she was most concerned about were her panties.

The family was constantly after Annie to get married and have babies, but Annie didn’t want to get married and have babies. In fact, not really any of her relatives her age wanted to get married and have babies. There are things Annie doesn’t like about her Korean family, but there’s plenty more to laugh about.

What I liked

Annie is no Margaret Cho,but she’s funny.  I liked reading about her Korean family. I think it is funny how her mother can only get underwear from Korea. I’m sure there is underwear to be had elsewhere. The whole conversation about her dad gold-plating everything was hilarious. It almost seemed like a person couldn’t sit still for two minutes or they just might get gold-plated.

What I didn’t like

I don’t have the same affinity for remaining unmarried and childless that Annie does. I don’t really get it. I like the idea of being in a committed relationship and I like the idea of having kids, some day. I do kind of feel bad for Annie’s parents because they will not have grand children, but I also kind of pity Annie and her brother, who will, in reality, just as her parents say, will have no one to be there for them in their old age. It’s Annie’s choice ultimately; it just makes me a little sad.


Hide your silverware from Annie’s dad, if you want it to stay silver.

Weigh In

Does your dad have any weird obsessive hobbies, like Annie’s dad?

Does a member of your family insist they can only get their underwear from one place?