LaVonne Neff

LaVonne Neff is an amateur theologian and cook; lover of language and travel; wife, mother, grandmother, godmother, dogmother; perpetual student, constant reader, and Christian contrarian. She blogs at Lively Dust and reviews books for various magazines.

Posts By This Author

How to Restore the Glories of the Old South

by LaVonne Neff 07-16-2015

I have an idea for people who value their region's heritage so much that they continue to wave what they think is the Confederate flag (even though it is actually the battle flag of Northern Virginia).

I suggest that they volunteer to be slaves. For life.

Fact: The 19th-century Southern way of life would have been impossible without enslaved people.

Fact: The one thing that could bring back that romantic bygone era would be if, once again, some 39 percent of the population were enslaved (that's the average percentage of enslaved people in the Confederate states). But this time let's recognize that no one values personal liberty as much as Southerners. And let's take their word that the Confederate flag has nothing to do with racism. Let's encourage true Confederate patriots, especially white folks who are not racists, to volunteer to work in the fields from sunrise to sunset. There will be no pay, of course, and no bothersome education; but food, lodging, and two sets of work clothes per year will be provided. And the South will rise again.

The Worldwide Obesity Epidemic: It's the Sugar, Folks

by LaVonne Neff 05-29-2014


One of this morning's headlines from Worldcrunch "While You Slept":

"More Than A Third Of The World Is Obese Or Overweight"!

Don't choke on your doughnut until you've looked at the statistics.

No matter how much you hated high-school math, surely you can do better than the people who wrote this headline and the accompanying article.

First, note that 2.1 billion is not "more than a third" of the world's population, which has passed 7.2 billion. It's more like 29%.

Papa Don't Preach — But Family-Friendly Work Policies Would Be Nice

by LaVonne Neff 04-22-2014
Quote by LaVonne Neff; vector image from

Quote by LaVonne Neff; vector image from

"Unmarried moms are rarer in America than France, Sweden, New Zealand, the UK, or the Netherlands" screams yesterday's headline by Matthew Yglesias on

"And honestly, it's no big deal," sighs an exasperated Swiss friend of mine, weary of conservative American Facebook memes. Unmarried mothers apparently do just fine in Switzerland (though admittedly the Swiss rate of 20.2 percent of births to unmarried women is considerably lower than the American rate of 40.7 percent).

Actually, though, it is a big deal in the United States, for several reasons.

Killing People Is Hard to Do

by LaVonne Neff 04-14-2014

Moose's Last Photo. Photo provided by LaVonne Neff

Twelve years ago we took our beloved Maltese dog, Moose, to the vet and came home without him. Moose was in the late stages of congestive heart failure, and many times each day he was wheezing and crying out in pain. While my daughter held the little dog, the vet gave him a shot. It was over very quickly.

Why don't we treat death row prisoners at least as well as we treat dogs?

"Secret Drugs, Agonizing Deaths" is the headline on an article in yesterday's New York Times. Back when executioners wielded axes, they tended to wear hoods so people wouldn't recognize them. Nowadays states still conceal executioners' identities — and much more.

Gimme That Old-Time Health Insurance ...

by LaVonne Neff 11-03-2013


Yes, President Obama said that if we like our health insurance, we can keep it

Yes, that turned out to be false for a few million people.

Yes, the president chose his words poorly. Whether or not health reform became the law of the land, there’s no way any president could have known if we’d be able to keep our health insurance from one year to the next.

What Happens When We Accept Our Own Mortality?

by LaVonne Neff 10-29-2013

Experienced as the Butlers were in suffering and loss, they were not prepared for the technologically enhanced torments of old age.

Knocking on Heaven's Door tells what can happen when a person's mind and body endure a series of shocks that would naturally lead to decline and death — except that, through various technological interventions, the body is not allowed to decline along with the mind.

In Professor Butler's case, a major stroke wiped out most of his ability to function independently and set him on the road to dementia. At the same time, his heart was slowing down. A year after his stroke, over the opposition of his primary care physician, Butler was fitted with a pacemaker. His cardiologist strongly recommended it. He needed hernia surgery, the doctor said, and his heart was not likely strong enough to survive the operation. So he had the pacemaker installed, he had the surgery, and he was rewarded with another six years of increasingly hellish existence — not only for himself, but also for his wife and his daughter. His mind was shot. His body would not do what he wanted it to do. But his artificially assisted heart kept relentlessly ticking away.

What Do You Mean 'Middle-Aged?'

by LaVonne Neff 10-17-2013

Yesterday on Facebook I referred to my daughters, who are in their early forties, as middle-aged. One of their friends, who is 43, wrote, "Middle-aged???"

"For sure," I wrote back. "I know it hurts." But then I Googled middle age and discovered that its borders seem to be shifting. Once defined as ages 40 to 60, it is now often defined as ages 45 to 64 (though Merriam-Webster wants to have it both ways).

When I turned 40, everyone was talking about the midlife crisis, that scary feeling when people in the workforce fear their careers may have peaked and when caregivers at home notice their nests are practically empty (except for all that stuff in the basement). Midlife hit at age 40 back then — a bit optimistic, perhaps, considering that U.S. life expectancy in 1988 was 74.9 years. Columnist Bob Greene may have been closer to the truth when he wrote that "middle age starts at 36."

A Canadian Who Loves Her Health-Care System

by LaVonne Neff 10-08-2013
United States and Canadian flags,  ruskpp /

United States and Canadian flags, ruskpp /

This morning a Canadian woman wrote such an interesting comment on an old post of mine, "Rationing is not a four-letter word," that I want to share it with you. I don't know the author, her full name (though she tells me her first name is LaVonne, so she's obviously a great person), or her contact information, so I can't give her full credit. But thanks, LaVonne-in-Canada: I learned a lot from you.

Here's what she wrote about how Canadian health care works for her. I've added a few comments in italics, in case you want to compare the situation of LaVonne-in-Canada with that of LaVonne-in-the-United-States.

Let's Talk About Food: Hospitality for Shy People

by LaVonne Neff 10-03-2013
Photo courtesy of Lavonne Neff

Mom and me, 1950. Photo courtesy of Lavonne Neff

Something you should know about tall women who seem reserved and even distant  — they may just be shy or socially awkward, and they may really want to be your friend. I've understood this all my life, of course, but I was well into adulthood when my mother told me she understood it too.

My mother was not the kind of woman who could chat easily with strangers or charm other people's children. She would not have survived as a social worker, therapist, or nurse. If she had belonged to a church that equated righteousness with personally comforting the deranged or the homeless or the dying, she would probably have changed denominations.

I tell you this only to point out that hospitality has many faces.

Let's Talk About Food: Maybe Some of Us Should Love Food More

by LaVonne Neff 09-27-2013
Photo Courtesy of LaVonne Neff

Renoir, 1881: Le déjeuner des canotiers. Photo Courtesy of LaVonne Neff

Q. What is one of the best ways to look good, feel good, and enjoy a long life?

A. Celebrate! 

Yes, it's counterintuitive. Most Americans are convinced that if only we could eat little enough fat, ingest few enough calories, spend enough sweaty minutes at the gym, and drink exactly 5 ounces of red wine a day, then we might live forever — with enough expensive medical intervention, of course.

How dreary.