Sunday, August 31, 2014

Another Inspirational Photographer

Holly Spring, who lives in New Zealand and has a daughter with health difficulties (including having only one hand), has taken some absolutely stunning photographs of her daughter to emphasize her ability to overcome any obstacle. I love a story of a family finding beauty in the midst of challenges. Here are a few of my favorites:

You can find more of her photos at her website or at either of the following sites sharing her story: Stylish Eve or ABC7Chicago.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Book Review: Divergent - Highly Recommend

Awesome! Impressive! My favorite young adult read of the year!

I know I'm rather late to the show. There's been a constant clamor about this series and I've sat waiting for the chance to get my hands on the books. Most of the books have long hold lines and I haven't been willing to invest in their purchase (although I may rethink that if I encounter difficulties getting the second and third installments of this trilogy). When the first book came out in audio form, I was able to get my name at the front of the hold list (mere luck of opening the library's recent acquisitions e-mail as soon as I received it). I couldn't get enough time for listening to this plot unfold and now find myself itching to get my hands on the second book. Knowing that several friends have expressed disappointment with the third book, I am equally intrigued to read that one and discover what they meant by their words.

This book immediately sucks you into the landscape of another world, another time. Beatrice Prior lives in a future Chicago, a world where society has broken into five factions, each believing they hold the key to a more peaceful existence. The Candor cling to honesty, Abnegation to selflessness, Dauntless to bravery, Erudite to intelligence, and Amity to peacefulness. On decision day in their sixteenth year, each citizen must decide which faction they will devote their allegiance to and join. They are given an aptitude test, but Beatrice's test in inconclusive. She is told that she is Divergent and that she must hide this fact from everyone because it is dangerous to be Divergent.

We follow along as Beatrice selects a faction and endures rigorous training to make it into the top rankings or face the consequence of being factionless (without family, job, housing, or identity). During her initiation she gains friends and enemies and even a love interest (but one she must keep secret). She also discovers a secret. Her society is about to implode and she must take steps to fight against those who wish her dead, while seeking to rectify the wrongs which have led to the revolution.

The pace was intense. The characters were enthralling. I fell in love with Beatrice's tough nature tempered by her willingness to question herself and others. I loved the rivalry among the characters. The love story was well-done, without presenting too many intimate details. I think I'll wait until Trevor and Sean are 11 and 9 before reading this book aloud to them (or if I read it earlier, I'll skim over some of the intimate moments). The actions of each character rang true and created interesting conflicts within the story. It was just a marvelously intriguing tale and I can't wait to read more. I highly recommend this popular read.

As a side note, there is an interesting interview with the author on the Amazon listing page and I loved her comments about the factions in her book. She says:

"The faction system reflects my beliefs about human nature—that we can make even something as well-intentioned as virtue into an idol, or an evil thing. And that virtue as an end unto itself is worthless to us. I did spend a large portion of my adolescence trying to be as “good” as possible so that I could prove my worth to the people around me, to myself, to God, to everyone. It’s only now that I’m a little older that I realize I am unable to be truly “good” and that it’s my reasons for striving after virtue that need adjustment more than my behavior. In a sense, Divergent, is me writing through that realization—everyone in Beatrice’s society believes that virtue is the end, the answer. I think that’s a little twisted."

I suppose one of the reasons I liked the book so well is that I completely agree with that world-view perspective, that virtue itself can become an idol. She has something important to say and her story communicates that, in addition to just being a really interesting, captivating story.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book Review: Stolen

This was another book club pick, this time for my young adult book club. Stolen, by Lucy Christopher, tells the story of Gemma Toombs, a sixteen year old girl who is abducted from the Bangkok airport and spirited away to a desert location in Australia. Her captor, Ty, a man nine years her senior, is a drifter who has followed her for six years and orchestrated the abduction with expert precision. Gemma writes the tale as if addressed to Ty, giving her perspective of the events as they play out.

It received many glowing reviews on Amazon. But, I just can't quite get there. Even though it held my interest for the most part, there were many parts that dragged along (lots of desert descriptions and endless, but fruitless, ruminating on how to escape or inflict harm on her captor). Still, I had no problem keeping with the story line. I was a bit worried at the outset that it would involve rape or some difficult sexual story line. I was thankful that the story never really drifted into that territory. There wasn't a lot of foul language either. I think the greatest difficulty for me was in buying into the Stockholm Syndrome. And that whole idea that the girl had a really crappy life and her captor was actually doing her a favor? Well, I couldn't exactly buy that either. And at the end of the novel, I just found myself thinking "I could have read it or not and it wouldn't have really mattered to me." Sadly, not one I feel like recommending to others. Then again, as I said before, I'm knee-deep in Divergent, so it may have merely suffered by comparison.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Book Review: Dating, Dining and Desperation

Melody Carlson is one the bigger names in the young adult Christian fiction genre. She's written numerous novels for teen girls. When I noticed this one on the recent acquisitions shelves at the front of the library, I was interested because it was clearly women's fiction and I wasn't aware she had written any novels for women (turns out, she's written quite a few women's novels and I really shouldn't be surprised since she practically has too many young adult novels to count).

I also shouldn't have been surprised that this turned out to be a piece of series fiction (another one of her specialties). However, I truly didn't grasp that this was book two in a series (although the stamp on the cover declaring it a Dear Daphne novel should have been a neon sign to me). Apparently the first one was called Lock, Stock, and Over a Barrel. In the first book they introduce the basic plot line that Daphne is set to inherit her aunt's house, convertible, and newspaper column job as long as she fulfills an unusual requirement. She has to secure a husband before one year is up.

Where I picked up the story, with this second book, Daphne is pining for a soured relationship with her attorney. She was convinced he had feelings for her, but then he went on vacation with his ex-wife. Enter a new neighbor, a vivacious Southern-belle, and the determination to fulfill the requirement takes on further fuel. The book was a bit confusing to me because the first half spent its time devoted to developing the friendship between Daphne and Sabrina, and encountering numerous possible suitors (each one tossed aside). Suddenly in the second half, a whole new plot line is introduced with the arrival of another neighbor, this time a young girl who is in desperate need of some stability and friendship in her life. It was truly only when I finished that I realized that this was a series book. The ending leaves you hanging, wondering who Daphne will end up with to fulfill the requirements of the will (something the reader is sure will happen in the end).

Our library has the first book in the series, but I don't know if I'll pursue it. For one thing, I already know much of what it laid out. At the end of the book, the reader is informed that the third and fourth installments in the series will only be released as e-books. So, I'm just not sure I'm hooked enough to want to invest in the last two books or read them in an electronic format (I much prefer to hold the book in my hand). As far as Christian fiction goes, this is a typical fare - romantic story line, references to Christianity and the ways God would have us live, and a happy, peaceful ending (well, it is promised for book four, anyway). I suppose it may have suffered by comparison since I am in the middle of listening to Divergent, an absolutely riveting tale.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Inundated with Cool Music Videos Lately

As I showed my husband yet another one this morning, he said, "Where do you find all these?" Mostly through links on Facebook. Thus, none of these may be new to you; still, I felt they were worth sharing:

This one just amazes me. The guy has a truly innovative mind to put together a recording of himself playing a cover for that popular song, "Happy." It is catchy, but the great part is that he plays all the parts himself. Too cool:

Next up, a video of a guy playing PVC pipes for drums and using flip flops for drumsticks. This is one I gotta show Bryce! It's ten minutes long, but I couldn't look away:

Another cool drumming video, where two kids tap out a beat with pens and a ruler:

And these final two just make me happy (kind of like the "Happy" cover above). The first is a video of an animated musical instrument and the music is so soothing and delightful:

Like the other one, this animated instrument is more of a percussionist's video:

Enjoy and have a "happy" day!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A New Family Dynamic When the Oldest Goes to College

It seems too soon to be writing a post about the new family dynamic. After all, we only just moved Bryce into his Purdue dorm room in Tarkington Hall on Sunday afternoon. Not even 48 hours ago. Ha. But, the emptiness is there and I'm feeling it ever so slightly. I think John is cut up about it far more than I am. My day will come when Sean is installed somewhere away from home. For me, while I'm sad about Bryce moving on, I'm more excited for him to have such a great opportunity and wonderful times ahead of him. He is ready for it and I am eager for him to live it to the full (well ... not if the full means partying or indulging in behaviors I wouldn't sanction, of course).

The move-in process was remarkably smooth. There were six or seven students outside his closest dorm door who assisted us in unloading the truck-load of stuff he brought. Bryce has spent the past two weeks honing and obtaining all the necessary (and many unnecessary, as we discovered) items for life in a dorm room. I believe it took us only fifteen or twenty minutes to get everything dumped into his room. At that point, he grew quite agitated and wished only for us to depart. It is, after all, a fairly small room and we were crowding five people among all the debris of his belongings. I wanted to take several of the moving bins home, so he had to unload clothes and shoes from several of them, but within minutes he was shooing us out. I think John felt a bit put out that he wanted us gone so quickly, but he understood that it wasn't a matter of getting rid of us so much as a matter of clearing the space and getting down to the settling-in process.

Bryce sent me a panoramic photo (not the greatest) of the room once they managed to get things oriented in the way they desired. He was thrilled that his roommate's futon fit in the space below his loft (they both ordered loft beds to make more room for relaxation) and is facing the TV (yes, they think they are going to have enough time for relaxation and TV and gaming - ha), refrigerator and microwave.

He had to send home several things he mistakenly thought would fit (a microwave cart which I had picked up for a song - $5.99 - at the thrift store, a set of drawers on wheels, and a few closet hanging storage devices). I laughed because I assisted Bryce in packing up his clothes (folding the shirts and placing them in his new laundry basket for transportation). His roommate has about 3 or 4 inches worth of hanging clothes between the dresser and the side of the closet. Thus, he is able to display a bunch of stuff on the top of his dresser. Once Bryce hung up all his hanging clothes, I'm sure they covered at least a foot and a half to two feet of space above the dresser. Bryce loves his clothes.

His location is absolutely perfect. He is not far from the engineering buildings and there is a wonderful dining hall just across the street. Bryce said they have innumerable choices available at that dining hall and he should do fine on the 13-meal plan we purchased for him. Thanks to their mini-fridge, he should be able to make his own standard breakfast just fine (a small cup of mandarin oranges and a Carnation Instant Breakfast drink).

I have sent him two e-mails already on these first two lonely nights without him and he has responded twice and promised to keep me informed about how things are going. This first week will be a week of fun, since it is what is called the "Boiler Gold-Rush." He is settling in well and having a good time.

Things have grown a bit more serious with his "friend" Madisyn. As of the 27th of July, Bryce informed me they were officially "boyfriend and girlfriend." This was not really unexpected since he spent most of the summer over at her house. He says her family loves him and treats him just like a son. When Grandma came for a visit prior to his departure, she took Bryce, Madisyn, and me out for dinner, so I had a bit of a chance to get to know her more and I really like her. I think she is a good influence on Bryce. She holds similar views to my own on his late nights and his spending habits (not sure she is able to curb them any more than I seem to, but nice to know we are in agreement).

So, we were not really surprised when Bryce informed us that she and her family are already scheduled to come visit him on Friday (they are going for a football game between West Lafayette and our high school). Then, he will ride back home and she will drive him back up on Sunday. While I hope this doesn't become a frequent thing, I'm not as opposed to his clinging to a girlfriend from home as I thought I would be.

Still, the house will be quieter (not by much since he was already absent quite a bit even when he was living at home) and his room will be different. John and I are cleaning it out and consolidating things from both closets into just one closet, so that Trevor can move in and use the bed, TV, one closet and the surface of the desk during Bryce's absence. When, and if, Bryce comes home for a visit, he will merely move to the bed available for him in Sean's room. We are going to be selling the bunk beds from their room and putting up a daybed with trundle opposite of Sean's bed. I don't think Sean is as eager to have a room of his own as Trevor is, so we will have to see how this transition goes once we get Bryce's room squared away and transfer it to Trevor.

Trevor is missing Bryce already. He had a weekend journal assignment and I encouraged him to write about his brother moving in to college. He said he didn't want to write about that (probably too personal). Sean was thrilled when he was playing x-box yesterday and Bryce was apparently on and sent him a message saying hi.

We will have to adjust to this new family dynamic. It is the four of us now, instead of the five of us. When Bryce does come back for visits, it will most likely be more for a visit with his girlfriend than for a visit with his family. He is on his own now. I hope that college treats him well and that he makes loads of wonderful memories and friends. I hope that he does, indeed, keep in touch and keep me informed as to his well-being.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Book Review: Unstoppable

If you are looking for inspiration and encouragement to live a life of faith and overcome the difficulties life might be presenting you, you cannot go wrong with a book by Nick Vujicic. Born with no arms or legs, Nick is a walking testament (get the pun?) to God's purposes for even the most challenging circumstances life can bring. He clearly lives out a life message of "no limbs - no problem, as long as one is centered on the Lord and what truly matters." He has been an inspiration to many and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this, his second book, Unstoppable: The Incredible Power of Faith in Action. For my review of his first book, Life Without Limits, go here.

Through his own stories of overcoming his unique challenges to the stories of others who have made a tremendous impact on our world, Nick makes it his goal to affirm and encourage every listener to put their faith in action to find their purpose in life. God doesn't make mistakes and every one of us can bring something to the table, perhaps even something that no one else is qualified to provide.

While not something I really needed to hear (as I'm no longer in those years of seeking out a life partner), I enjoyed the bits about his meeting and marrying his wife, Kanae. I recently saw a photo on Facebook of Nick pulling a wagon with his young son behind him, so it is obvious that they have gone on to start the family he mentions desiring in this book. I wish him and his wife all the best as they pursue their ridiculously good life.

In the light of Robin Williams' recent suicide, the passages discussing suicide intervention (and every person's ability to stand in the gap for those who are hurting) were especially poignant. Nick is a powerhouse of encouragement and a veritable volcano of inspiration. His words certainly caused me to review my life and to find a renewed commitment to living my life to fulfill God's purposes. I may not yet know everything that God wants to do with my life, but like Nick Vujicic, I want to lay my life at the Lord's feet and surrender my will to His best purposes for my life.