Sunday, August 30, 2009

Book Review: Araminta Spookie: The Haunted House and The Sword in the Grotto

This CD set contained books one and two of the Araminta Spookie series by Angie Sage. Of course, given my MS's fixation on Halloween and all things spooky, I assumed this one would really catch his attention.

Sadly, despite an effort to play the CD for him, he refused to listen to more than one chapter of the story. Since I had already listened to the whole thing on my drive home from the CMI weekend, I knew he would really enjoy the books. However, I thought it best to return it to the library and try again closer to Halloween (if they aren't already checked out) or perhaps next October.

Araminta is a ghost-obsessed girl who lives in a haunted house with her aunt and uncle. When she discovers that her aunt intends to sell the house (before Araminta has even located a single ghost), she determines to drive away any would-be buyers. In the midst of her antics, the ghosts in the house finally show themselves and do their best to help her.

The characters are classic - the uncle sleeps upside down with the bats in the belfry, the aunt is very tight-lipped and struggles with keeping the boiler going. Araminta is just plain delightful. I highly recommend the audio version, because the narrator does an excellent job of fleshing out their character in the voices she gives them.

In the second book, Araminta is joined by her new friend, Wanda as they seek out an appropriate gift for Sir Horace, a ghost who is about to turn 500 years old. They discover a sword in a grotto near the home and make plans to follow the underground tunnels from their home to the grotto. What they hadn't expected (although Wanda actually had expected the worst, since she is more timid than Araminta) was a portcullis trap and the tides to begin filling the grotto cave. This book contained much more suspense and once again, the characterization was fantastic.

I'm actually looking forward to the time when MS and YS are ready to explore these funny, delightful books! Moreover, I wouldn't be surprised if this series ends up as television fare or an October released animated movie.

Book Review: The Castle in the Attic

I originally picked this up at the library, intending to play it for my boys before bed when we were out at camp together. However, by the time we arrived back at our room in the evening it always seemed so late already, that I skipped bedtime stories altogether. Thus, as I headed off to the CMI alumni weekend, I grabbed the children's book CD's, as well, and ended up listening to it by myself as I drove.

This would make a very good read-aloud story for use in classrooms (probably 2nd-4th grades). Although it features a boy as the protagonist, I do believe that girls would be equally interested in this story. Plus, it touches on enough common childhood problems (self-confidence issues, loss of a friend, latch-key situations) that it would appeal to any child.

William is devastated when he learns that Mrs. Phillips, his nanny/housekeeper, will be moving back to England. She feels that he is old enough to fend for himself, despite the fact that both of his parents work jobs with demanding hours. He determines to find a way to keep her with him.

As a parting gift, Mrs. Phillips gives William a life-like miniature castle. He is instructed to open the box containing the white knight when he is alone. When the white knight comes to life, he draws William into an adventure that tests Williams inner resources.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Have You Seen This?

This is truly amazing. A perfect demonstration of how art and music combine to tell a story. Kseniya Simonova just won a Ukrainian talent show with her drawings in the sand, set to music. What a gifted young lady!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nature Photographer and Friend

A few weeks back, I received a welcome surprise. My ES's kindergarten teacher from DeKalb, IL, Tracy Paszotta, friended me on Facebook. After ES finished a year of kindergarten with her, I spent a year in her classroom, working as an individual aide for an autistic boy. I smiled, sighed, and clicked "Confirm."

I don't know why I had never thought to look for friends from my old Littlejohn Elementary School colleagues. I suppose, ever since I joined Facebook, I haven't really been on the lookout for new friends. Mainly, old friends from The Salvation Army have found me and occasionally I would see another person I wanted to add from their friend lists.

Now, I had some DeKalb contacts to add and I was having fun. I was able to skim through photos and see how some of the kids I remember from Littlejohn have grown up. I reconnected with two students who used to write to me often through the "Wee Deliver" program at the grade school. (This was a delightful program, headed by Ms. Sharon McKee. Both my son and Jenny, a student I worked with, spent time as carriers, so I felt deeply committed to the program ... plus, I just love to write and read letters!)

When I discovered Debbie Miller (an old friend and fellow individual aide) on Facebook, I was extra excited because I noted that she has a blog. From the moment I clicked on her blog, Nature-ally Beautiful, I fell in love with her photography. Now I am scheming and conniving to try to get her to come take pictures on our property. I would love it if she could get a professional shot of one of our blue heron.

I was also feeling frustrated that I had not found her just a few weeks earlier. She recently held a poll on her blog to determine a final shot for a set of note cards featuring cats. Everyone who participated in the poll was entered into a contest and the winner received a set of four of her beautiful note cards.

Not to worry, though. On my way up to the CMI reunion weekend, I made arrangements to stop in and see Debbie. I brought her a loaf of my Banana Chocolate Chip bread, just like old times, and we sat in her kitchen talking about blogs and how thrilling it is to pursue something you feel passionate about. I made a purchase from her line and she added in a jar of her homemade Autumn Orchard Salsa - yum! (Her jams and salsas are so delicious that she has to hide them from her kids, or they disappear too quickly. Indeed, she recently found two boxes she had hidden away and it felt like Christmas.)

I also snagged a chance to look out at her garden. She has a little nook surrounded by stunning sunflowers, where she sits quietly and waits for the birds to come and take their poses. She has promised to send me some of the sunflower seeds so that I can attempt to grow my own. (Inwardly snorting, remembering how black my thumb is!) She assures me that sunflowers are not difficult to grow. I think I would achieve more success if she were to make a trek down here to Indiana to walk me through the planting process. She'd teach me a new skill and I'd offer up the beautiful setting, ripe for nature-ally beautiful photography!

Take a moment and visit her blog. From there you can take the link to her card page, if you are interested in purchasing any of her beautiful note cards. While you're there, tell her Wendy sent you!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Book Review: Thorn in my Heart

As I set out to drive to the CMI Alumni Reunion in my husband's car (extremely thankful for his working CD player), I popped in the first disc of Liz Curtis Higgs' Thorn in My Heart. To be honest, I had no idea that the book was going to be a retelling of Scripture; although, I did know that it was Christian fiction. What had drawn me to check this out from the library was the endorsement by Tracie Peterson on the back of the case. She writes, "A moving account of love, deception, redemption, and hope. I was hooked from the first page."

I definitely agree with her first sentence, but disagree with the second. From the outset, despite the fact that the tale is set in Scotland in 1788, I could tell that it was going to be the tale of Jacob and Esau. Given Scotland's history for clan feuding, this was a clever choice of setting. But, I found myself wondering if I should set it aside and pick up one of the other audio books I had packed. It wasn't until the story moved into the second portion, where two sisters (Leah and Rachel) vied for one man's affections, that I began to feel hooked in the story.

I have often wondered about Leah. How did she endure those long years of trying to earn her husband's affections by producing male offspring? Why would God allow Leah to live in such poverty of love, knowing that her husband preferred her sister and was tricked into marrying her? Did her children really fill the longing for love she must have experienced?

Although Thorn in my Heart merely re-tells the Biblical tale (it cannot be expected to follow the story entirely), it does present the emotional and spiritual issues of these Biblical characters. Jamie's (Jacob) deception has forced him to leave home and seek shelter with a distant relative. When he arrives, he immediately falls for the younger sister, Rose (Rachel). Leana (Leah) is about to be married off to a man she disdains. When this arrangement is interrupted by misunderstanding, Leana believes she is done for. However, her crafty father (Laban) has plans to redeem the situation.

I must admit, I cried as I listened to the final disc of the story. This tale provided so much to think about. Even today, many individuals find themselves living in a loveless marriage. God provided the comfort and determination Leana needed in her situation. Her example of loving faithfully, though unloved, was powerful. Indeed, her love became a symbol of the way God loves us. He is steadfastly faithful, despite our insistence upon chasing other means of fulfillment for the hole in our heart which He was designed to fill.

Liz Curtis Higgs has written three other books in this series. I'm wondering if they are all a re-telling of Scripture. I'm pretty sure they all are set in Scotland. She has also written a book called My Heart's In the Lowlands, detailing a ten day trip through Scotland. Wouldn't it be fantastic if I could find a book club reading these four books? Wouldn't it be truly over the top, if that book club then decided to take a trip together to Scotland, following the journey set out in My Heart's In the Lowlands? Ah, to dream the impossible dream ...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I love reading correspondence. It doesn't even have to be directed to me. I think that is probably why I enjoyed my job at the Marion E. Wade Collection, transcribing C.S. Lewis' personal letters. Letters are full of interesting tid-bits, relational building blocks and a casual consideration of many facets of life.

In fact, I have often considered writing a book, for children, written entirely in letters. This is what attracted me to the books of Kate and Sarah Klise and other books, like Love, Ruby Lavender. This is also what intrigued me about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Sadly, I began this book prior to leaving for camp (CBLI) and have already had to return it to the library. Thus, for reviewing purposes, my brain is somewhat fuzzy. Plus, so many others have already written reviews, I hardly feel I have anything worthwhile to say. I did enjoy this book, but I don't think I could go so far as others have and claim that it is the top book I have read this year.

The book is told through the correspondence which evolves between a young columnist, Juliet Ashton (whose war-time column brought smiles and laughter to get people through the day), and members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. One of the members, Dawsey Adams, has noted the columnist's name and address in a second hand book which he has purchased.

Side note: Now, that alone would be something I would love to experience. Imagine opening your mail to discover a letter from a complete stranger who happened to read a book you discarded and wanted to address his comments regarding the book to you. Sadly, I only discard books I don't really care for, but it would be truly fun to hear someone else who feels passionate about a book I have read.

In fact, Lucy, has just mentioned an interesting reading group she is participating in where the five individuals each select a book and read it, while making notes in the margin. Eventually, Lucy will receive her original book back, filled with all the notes of her other four friends who were reading the book after her. Sounds intriguing!

Back to the book: Dawsey begins to explain how this strangely-named literary society came to be during the German occupation on the island of Guernsey. Juliet is drawn to his tales and receives further correspondence from others in the group, before actually journeying to Guernsey to conduct more research.

The storytelling ability of the author is profound. Although the beginning seemed a bit slow, once I got part-wat into the book, I began to care deeply for the well-drawn characters. Plus, the book offered an interesting view into life during war-time occupation. Moreover, it provided clear evidence of how books enrich our lives. It was definitely a good read.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Book Recommendations from the CBLI Guest

I'm always on the lookout for good reading. I mentioned before that I discovered Bill Bryson when a special guest at CBLI (Paul Rader?) spoke of his book, I'm a Stranger Here Myself. This book appealed to him because he was also returning to the United States after many years of living in other countries.

This year, I decided to actively seek out book recommendations from the CBLI guest speaker. The guests this year were Commissioners Alex and Inge Hughes. There were two books I jotted down during various Bible classes. One was In God We Doubt: Confessions of a Failed Atheist, by John Humphries. Another was William Beckham's Redefining Revival. Since my husband has always had a keen interest in apologetics, I may purchase the Humphries book for him.

When I approached Commissioner Hughes to ask for his top five book recommendations, he asked if I was interested in books concerning leadership. It was an understandable assumption, given that I was at a "leadership institute," but I indicated that I was merely interested in what he considered to be profitable books for any Christian to read.

For his first suggestion, he reiterated the two books he had already mentioned in his classes. Next, he asked if I had read Philip Yancey's book on grace. I had and admitted that I have enjoyed almost all of Yancey's books. His third suggestion was to read anything by Henri Nouwen and his fourth, any books by Max Lucado. The final suggestion was to read the books of Eugene Peterson, especially the two concerning David and Jonah (Leap Over a Wall and Under the Unpredictable Plant).

To be honest, I think I would hate to have this question posed to me. How could I ever narrow book suggestions down to just five? Still, I think his suggestions are sound and I will try to carve some time for those books in the future.

If you were asked to recommend five profitable books, which would you suggest?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Stepping Back in Time, with One Foot Planted in the Present

Sometimes, when you are young, you don't really grasp the enormity of opportunities which lie before you. You take everything in stride, because "this is just how life is". You aren't keenly aware that life could, in fact, be different in any way.

I have had a chance to look back on my own youth and recognize the blessings and opportunities I took for granted. Sadly, those opportunities really aren't available for me now. But, I did have a rare and wonderful weekend to plunge myself back into the realities of my youth and ponder anew God's many gifts, especially music, friendship, and spiritual support.

Music has always been vitally important to me. When we were kids and reached the age of seven, my father taught us how to play an instrument. Three or four years later, we were allowed to decide if we wished to continue. I believe most of us stuck with it. I know that my two older brothers and I did, because when we moved to Chicago, at the beginning of my freshman year, we were allowed to join the Northern Illinois Youth Band.

Despite the fact that there were few young people at our Salvation Army corps appointment, we were able to nurture friendships with other music-minded teens from around the Chicago division. Looking back on those days, I realize how fantastic that opportunity was. The sense of belonging was intense. The friendships were solid. I knew that if I had any difficulties at all, I could freely share them with my youth band friends and they would rally around me.

Last weekend, with the blessing of my husband (who bravely kept the three boys at home), I travelled back to Camp Wonderland to attend the 75th Central Music Institute's Alumni Reunion. I attended CMI from 1979-84. My father attended during his teenage years. I had hoped that my ES would attend this year, but his summer had already been so busy and it would have meant him missing the first three days of school. As a teenager, CMI was the highlight of my year. As soon as it ended, I began counting down the days until CMI would come the following year.

Thus, I was thrilled to be able to enjoy a weekend getaway and relive memories of that fabulous music camp experience. Many of my Northern Illinois Youth Band friends (who had watched the event grow in its appeal through Facebook updates) were there as well. And, the special guests for this year's CMI were our old NIYB bandmaster, Dr. John Richmond, and a bandmaster my husband sat under at the University of Illinois, Dr. Jim Curnow.

What a blast from the past! We stayed up late talking and reminiscing. We gals shared a cramped cabin with one bathroom and talked fashion (well, they talked fashion ... I listened and marvelled) and old times, just like when we were 16. Of course, these conversations were also peppered with remarks about ailments and health challenges, children, marriage, and jobs. We stood back, amazed at how each of our personalities has remained the same over these many years. We contemplated pranks to pull on the guys in the cabin next door, but in the end, were too exhausted to carry them out. We shared joys and trials and we wondered why we ever allowed a quarter of a century to go by without rekindling these fast friendships.

Saturday evening we were up until almost two in the morning, reliving memories from our youth band days: My tendency to click on my valves during any string band performances. Youth band trips to various destinations (like Missouri, Pennsylvania, North Carolina). Various things that went wrong on those trips, like ... the outdoor concert, in NC, where every breath we took in and blew out, processed a million horrid gnats ... the concert in PA, (or was it Delaware?) where the bandmaster stopped at one point, turned to the audience and said, "I'm sorry. The bandmaster has made a mistake." and later on, to poke fun, the band stopped and said, "We're sorry. The band has made a mistake." ... or the time the Army people at our destination forgot that we were coming and thus, we all stood around on the evening of our arrival being divided up into impromptu billets where the families clearly had not been expecting us!

But, just as nostalgic as the friends made me, the music knocked the breath out of me as well. I guess I really hadn't realized how long it has been since I have read music and performed with a group, either a vocal group or a band. During the Saturday morning rehearsal for the Alumni Chorus, under the direction of Dr. John Richmond, I kept turning to friends and explaining that I felt like a deer in the headlights.

Granted, John Richmond is a choir leader extraordinaire. He articulates the need for focus. He gently reminds us of technical clues and notations. We only had a limited time to rehearse and we sat in our chairs mesmerized by the sheer magnitude of the fact that we were singing under John Richmond's direction again.

At that point, it was still nostalgic fun. Saturday afternoon, we had a brief rehearsal for the Alumni Band. I haven't really played regularly in a Salvation Army band since my graduate school years in Champaign, Illinois, during 1988-90. I was thrilled to be able to sit in the second horn section (while in the past, I would have clamored for the first or solo horn section). Lisa, a NIYB friend, sat behind me in last chair. We were both simultaneously amused and mortified by our mistakes. Key changes were deadly.

It felt so amazing to hold the horn to my lips once again. I was enjoying every minute of it, until John Richmond came forward to sing during a piece called "Our Petition." (You may watch our performance with him here, at the 15:00 mark). I have vivid memories of this piece and John Richmond's voice singing these poignant words. As he began to sing, during the rehearsal, the magnitude of my loss began to overwhelm me. I finished that song and the next fighting back tears.

I don't know if I can even articulate what it feels like to participate in a Salvation Army brass band. The music isn't just a catchy tune, it is music which has been written to honor God and to stir souls. It is, as John Richmond reminded us in our choral rehearsal, a high calling to present music. Musicians fulfill a ministry of the priesthood (oh, if I could only recall his specific words!). When I sit in a band and play such music, it moves me beyond anything else I know. I have always felt that way, but I had forgotten. Now, the "what-ifs" and the "whys" of the course of my life, the paths which led away from The Salvation Army and away from those brass banding opportunities, flooded over me.

I looked down and noticed Peggy Paton Thomas watching our rehearsal. This only caused the tears to fall more intensely. She gave up so much of her time during my teen years to offer me private lessons, gratis. I could never thank her enough, because it meant a lot to me. But, it felt so sad to sit there struggling with the music and wrestling with God over the horn that was set aside.

I called my husband and tried to share my emotions with him. Somehow, with the kids clamoring in the background and him moaning over how the boys destroyed all his cleaning efforts during the four hours when he was at work that morning, I don't think he understood. His final words shook me back to reality. He said, "Well, it's not like there's any opportunity for you to pick up a horn now, anyway."

Finally, I was thrilled to partake of those old opportunities for spiritual support. As I said, my youth band friends readily offered spiritual support back in those days. At CMI encampments and other occasions, we met in groups at the altar and prayed for God to walk us through the trials and difficulties of adolescence. But, now we were standing in the services watching those in our children's peer groups line the altars and pray together in close-knit clusters.

Towards the end of the Sunday morning service, as the altar call (in the Salvation Army, at the close of a service, you are always invited to come forward to kneel at an altar and address any spiritual needs you might have) purred along, the friend next to me grabbed my hand and held it tight. Soon, another friend approached and had a word with me.

She wanted to apologize for not being aware of my recent isolation and loneliness in this move to Indiana. She offered such sincere comfort. Her words were soothing and a balm to my soul. "You are not alone... I'll be praying for you... Let me give you my phone number ... it would be great if you could find a mentor, or someone to meet with regularly to share and pray with ... etc." That meant so much to me.

And for all of it - the music, the friendship and the spiritual support - I consider myself so fortunate to have been able to attend that CMI reunion. I know she was right. I am not alone. Several of the other friends who attended, felt the same needs met. As women, we can pour our lives into meeting the needs of our families and forget that we are still those same girls of our youth and need friendships and passions and spiritual support.

This past week, Pete, one of my CMI friends, posted an enticing status on Facebook. He suggested offering monthly CMI refreshers. I'm sure I could never get away for a weekend every month. But, boy did it whet my appetite. The thought of more than annual gatherings. It is too much. Not to mention, we'd get to sing the CMI theme song more often. What a blast!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Another Good Laugh

Here's a quick plug for another writer friend of mine. Kyle White was our youth pastor back in DeKalb, IL. That is, until we started up the writer's group. Shortly after that, he left his youth pastor position and began to devote more time to his writing. I have always loved his "stuff" (mostly poetry), but was thrilled when I learned of his blog.

He doesn't post to his blog as often as I would like, but I'm guessing that might be a good thing. In fact, I have often wondered about that question of publication following the act of making your writing available to the world at large at no cost to speak of. His writing is definitely worth purchase and I hope to one day buy his essays on Wisconsin (they'll sit right next to my books by Bryson, probably).

But, you can enjoy another good laugh if you visit his blog and read his three recent posts (all of 2009 - sadly). Maybe if he receives a deluge of comments, he'll post more of these entertaining blog entries. Then, again, maybe I'm just deluding myself into thinking I've sent more than two additional readers his way. Ha! Now there's another good laugh!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Book Review: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

After a wonderful weekend away, I was anxious to write a post about that, but it is eluding me (too much to say and having difficulty focusing the many words). Instead, I will return to a backlog of books which I have wanted to review.

I am a sucker for any Bill Bryson book. He is incredibly witty and always ensures a good read. His memoir certainly lived up to my expectations. I managed to listen to this book (usually in my husband's car, while running errands solo) and must say that at the beginning I was wishing my boys could listen as well. This is a tale of a boy growing up. It was chock full of boy behavior and boy shenanigans.

However, if I ever share this book with my boys, it will be by reading bits to them from a hard copy. There were a few too many passages I wouldn't want to share with them (his visit to the stripper's tent, beer theft escapades, etc.). Still, I know they'd be rolling on the floor over several of the well-written boyish antics.

There was only one occasion when my ES was in the car with me. That just happened to be a chapter about a friend, of Bryson's, who planned to detonate a bomb filled with confetti on the last day of school, only the bomb exploded in the middle of the night in the boy's bedroom. I think ES almost paused to hear the end before getting out of the car. Almost.

At first, I had a difficult time with the narration, provided by Bryson. I suppose I had an image in my head of what he would look like and sound like and the voice didn't fit. Plus, Bill Bryson lived the first part of his life in the States, growing up in DesMoines, Iowa, then a large chunk in Britain, then another chunk back in the States. Therefore, his narration betrays bits of both speaking styles. However, by the end of the book, I was entirely comfortable with the American-British mix.

I would highly recommend this memoir. For one, it is always refreshing to read about people who grew up in the 50's - a time when life was more innocent and the pleasures seemed robust and real. Beyond that, Bryson is just hilarious.

I was first introduced to his humor when I read I'm a Stranger Here Myself, a book which had been cited in a sermon during CBLI one year (I always jot those things down). I can remember reading it in the library at Littlejohn School in DeKalb during my 15 minute breaks. The librarian wanted to know what I was reading because I couldn't keep from laughing out loud. His writing is just that funny!

The bonus to listening to the audio version, is that it offers up a final interview with the author. The interview was an excellent addendum to the book because you get to hear, firsthand, about the process of writing this funny book. I tried to locate an author interview on-line and found this. However, it really doesn't equal the interview offered at the end of the audio version. If you are looking for a good laugh, you can't go wrong with a book by Bill Bryson!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

At the Corner of Now and Then

At the Corner of Now and Then

In this hall
old meets new,
separate lives intersect.
His grandmother left
three items
in this hall -
heavy, antique items -
a carved, caned chair,
a heavy, wooden dresser
with elaborately carved handles,
a gold framed mirror.
Upon inspection
never prompted to this point,
I discover
drawers heavily-laden
with old papers
- histories, poetry, writings
and an odd solitary drumstick.
I came and
added three items
to this hall -
small, tentative items -
a flowered plaque,
a wooden plaque,
and a gold basket.
The plaques hold
a declaration and a plea.
The wooden states
"As for me and my house
we will serve the Lord."
The floral says,
"Let everything that has breath
praise the Lord."
The basket holds
my endless clutter -
pens, grocery cards,
telephone numbers, and chapstick.
The antiques remind me
that this house
is not mine.
Our temporary abode
comes with a history.
I hold it loosely.
I don't impose my own order,
if, indeed, I had any order to impose.
I simply share the space,
acknowledge the history,
welcome the gift of
this temporary intersection.
Yet even tonight
in this hall
a kinship has been nurtured.
His grandmother loved words.
I do, too.
And I can bet
she'll be grinning
when I pass her
solitary drumstick on
to my drummer,
her great-grandson.

This was my offering, in response to the poetry prompt from Seedlings in Stone. The prompt was to write a poem about the hall. I'm not a poetry regular. But, when Lucy, set her own challenge to write a poem this year, it resonated with me. You can go to Seedlings in Stone to find others who followed this prompt as well.
Here are the photos I tried to add last week:

Thankfully, given the generous comments of others, I'm guessing the poem stood fine without the photos. Perhaps I'll try this again.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Book Review: Stone Crossings

I don't think I could have chosen a more appropriate book to begin with during my reading time at camp. Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places, by L.L. Barkat, was a breath of fresh air to my soul.

In this book, L.L. Barkat, tells the story of her difficult past and the way God's grace has ebbed and flowed around each and every step of her path. I appreciated the fact that the author didn't tread into her past with the hope of drawing a picture of how bad things were for her. She didn't dwell on wrongs or injuries, but didn't shy away from revealing them as well. Instead, she used the stories (sometimes mere hints at difficult situations from her past), to illustrate and compel the reader to trace God's movements on her (and our) behalf.

There were several discussions I could whole-heartedly relate to. In a chapter on doubt, she shared:

"People in the 'borderlands of belief,' as Philip Yancey puts it, are vulnerable to attack. They are not prancing through the forest with the whole armor of God but have left the shield of faith in a shady glen and the belt of truth beside a fallen tree. This can be an honest, necessary course of action in the journey of faith, but things can happen in the meantime.... The dangers of doubt are real. We can get injured and suffer loss. The entire direction of our lives can change."

I also enjoyed the fact that her book hugged so close to the metaphor and images of stones and rocks. It was like observing a painting. Each chapter gave a glimpse of the whole picture and in the end, like a talented artist, the author directed our gaze up to our creator. The chapters are brief and discussion questions are offered at the end of the book.

But, I must go further. Beyond being a delightful read, I have discovered that this book was merely a portal. In searching for the cover image, I discovered L.L. Barkat's several blogs. The one I spent the most time at is Seedlings in Stone, but I am hoping to delve into her others in the future.

Her blog was attractive on so many levels. I discovered that she offers up poetry and gives a prompt to readers, so that readers can participate and link back. I don't write poetry often, but I did find myself wanting to write a poem and "join in the reindeer games."

She also has several posts dedicated to writing and blogging. She strikes me as a writer's writer. What do I mean by that? Well, I guess, I'm considering her to be the kind of writer who often stirs other writers to pursue their craft more diligently or with fresh vision.

Moreover, I can't wait to head back to her blog and make some lists of books to read. As I was reading Stone Crossings, I noticed several books mentioned which I have recently read. In fact, I was tickled to find a reference to Roxaboxen, a children's book I recently read to my boys. Then, when I viewed her blog, I noticed several other books I have read (and she even quoted Richard Restak - author of one of the first books I read this year). I have a feeling the books on her shelf are books I would equally enjoy on my shelf!

To end my review of her delightful book, I want to pull a story from within her 12th chapter. This story reminded me that I must tend the talents I have been given and leave the results to my Maker. I must write honestly, not in an attempt to curry favor. She retells a Chinese tale, The Empty Pot, about an emperor who is looking for his successor.

"He sets a contest - to see who can grow the most beautiful flower. But he provides the seeds. One child, Ping, has always excelled at making things grow. But his seed doesn't germinate. He waters it, puts it in the sun, feeds it good things. His pot remains empty.

"On the appointed day all the children of the kingdom bring their pots to the emperor. Out of bold porcelains rise white daisies, purple pansies, fuchsia zinnias and red poppies. Yet Ping comes downcast, holding an empty pot. The emperor takes an interest in Ping, listens to his story of woe, then turns to the other children and says, 'Where you got your seeds from, I do not know. For the seeds I gave you had all been cooked. . . . I admire Ping's great courage to appear before me with the empty truth, and now I reward him with my entire kingdom and make him Emperor of all the land."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Bit of This and That

Tomorrow morning, ES starts school for his 8th grade year. It seems impossible that his summer is already over. The little boys are actually jealous (which ES can't understand). YS keeps begging to go to school and meet his new teacher. I'm guessing CBLI got them in the mood. Alas, they will have to wait two more weeks.

Today, we made another trek to the park. After walking the trail (yes, MS's bike chain broke again, before we completed the walk) the little boys were eager to play at the playground.

This requires a brief side-note: When we were returning from CBLI, we decided we didn't want to travel through Chicago again. I had a book to return to a friend in DeKalb, so I decided to drive home via DeKalb (not exactly a straight line, but quite fun). Immediately, MS asked if we could go to the Hopkins Park pool. He was not quite two when we moved, but he has such fond memories of our times at that pool. We decided to drop ES off at a friend's house and spend three hours at the pool.

On the way to the pool, I called my friend, Renee Olsen, to see if she might want to meet us there. Alas, her kids were already occupied with something, but she invited us for dinner. We had such a wonderful visit with the Olsens that my little boys have been talking about it every day and asking why we can't just go back to their house to play. The Olsens have a marvelous back yard and swing set. One of their daughters taught MS to swing without any pushes from an adult. Now he is constantly begging to go to the park so he can show off this skill.

So, of course, today he ran to the swings, eager to impress. There was a girl on the swings being pushed by her grandfather. She began to talk to MS and their exchange has left me chuckling all day.

She: "My grandpa can give you a push."

He: "No thanks, I know how to get started all by myself and go really high. My friend, Karissa, showed me how. I'm really good at pumping now."

She: "What's your name?"

He answered.

She: "That's a very nice name."

He: "How old are you?"

She: "Six. How old are you?"

He: "I'm four."

She: "Oh good! I like young people."

He went on to offer her a chocolate for the person who could swing the highest. This was something he kept doing during CBLI. He would say, "First person to the door gets a chocolate." Wish he had his own chocolate to be doling out!

Still, I felt like offering him a chocolate later in the afternoon. He was stung by a bee. The first time he was stung (at CBLI) two years ago, he had an allergic reaction and ran a high fever for a few days. I have tried to impress upon him that he might have another allergic reaction if stung again. But, this can't stop a creature lover.

I immediately called the doctor's office to ask what I should look for as a sign to get help. I have been watching his lips and tongue for swelling. Thankfully, he is only complaining of pain at the sting site. No fevers. No swelling. No itching. What a relief. Now that, deserves a chocolate! (Don't tell anyone, but I enjoyed a chocolate, too, on his behalf.)

Now if only chocolate could assuage the twinge of guilt I am feeling. Why do I feel guilty, you ask? Well, last month I wrote a post about an elderly woman who asks about my husband every time I show up at church without him. Even though I wasn't trying to be critical, I feel a horrible sense of guilt because I learned that she passed away.

I'm fairly certain there's chocolate in heaven. I mean, there has to be right? After all, it's heaven! Since she made it there before me, I hope God gives her a chocolate.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

More CBLI (With Photos) - Part II

The Tuesday evening Western Hoedown Family Night turned out to be a lot of fun, as well. After a picnic cookout, there were numerous activities available. At each activity the participant would receive a ticket. There were pony rides (my boys wouldn't even consider it, but if I had a daughter, I'm betting she would have been in the line several times), stick horse races, watermelon seed spitting competitions, a jail (which required $1 bail, with proceeds going to the missionary collection), a beaded bandana craft (which MS was determined to try), face painting and a spot where you could get a family photo taken.

If my scanner were working, I would scan the professional photo they took at that booth. Instead, here is a photo a friend snapped of us on our way down to the festivities.

I think my boys enjoyed the petting zoo the most, though. We returned to that area time and again. At one point, YS was holding a baby chick and quietly set it down on the ground. Mayhem ensued as everyone around tried to wrangle the baby chick to come out from under the wagon where most of the animals were penned.

At the end of the activities, we had accumulated enough tickets for YS to purchase a lovely hardback Scholastic book on Bikes, Cars, Trucks, and Trains and MS to purchase a truck from the county store.

The boys didn't last long for that evening's viewing of "Toy Story 2", but the following evening (when most of the camp was enjoying a day at Great America) they sat still through an entire showing of "Journey to the Center of the Earth." Go figure!

The other meeting they couldn't possibly manage was the Saturday evening Kids program. I managed to keep them quiet and seated long enough for them to watch the videos of highlights of their individual programs (2s & 3s and 4s & 5s). YS seemed to be in so many of the photos. He especially loved the ball pit. At the end of the video for his track, there is an adorable image of MS and YS on the hayride, MS with his arm draped protectively over YS. If you would like to view these brief videos click here, and toggle over to the 13 minute mark. This is the Saturday evening program (they have begun streaming the programs live so people at home can watch). The videos are introduced around the 13 minute mark and are about five minutes long, each.

It is actually quite cool that they are now offering videos of the meetings on line. My parents were able to watch a few meetings live from their computers. One of the highlights of the final Sunday morning service was a drama presented by the teens. It was a very powerful experience and one I highly recommend viewing. During this same service, a woman sang a Nicole Nordeman song, that I am determined to find. Thankfully, I can watch it all over again and gain clues to help find it.

Still, it doesn't beat being there! For example, it was such a stirring blessing to sing "The Days of Elijah" in the first Sunday morning meeting - at the 8:40 mark - yet, when you watch it on-line, it cannot carry the intense feeling you get singing it in the midst of the crowded sanctuary. It was amazing and so worshipful!

We had such a wonderful time at CBLI this year. The food was especially good this year. There were loads of options and I was surprised by how much fruit was available. As mentioned before, we ate very well and I ate a tad too many desserts. I think my all-time favorites are their monster cookies. The cook was very friendly this year. Several times, he offered to carry trays for families or would stop by and ask if we needed anything. And, mealtimes were so much easier this year, now that I have a 2-1/2 year old and a 4-1/2 year old. No stroller to deal with. Both boys fed themselves for the most part. MS even enjoyed the privilege of carrying his tray up to the counter and dumping our silverware in the big bucket of water (sorry for those individuals who may have been splashed when he enjoyed it a bit too much).

Plus (a big PLUS), thankfully, no sickness this year! I was remembering last year (and a highlight I failed to mention - probably because it was just too over the top). On our way home from last year's CBLI, I had to administer MS's eye drops for his pink eye. At the camp, I had been placing him on the floor and holding him down to get them in. This time, I didn't want to put him on the McDonald's floor, so I attempted to give him the drops while seated in his car seat in the van. Not only did we attract an audience (because the kid was shrieking like I was attempting to kill him, not rid him of infection), but he threw up all over his clothes and his car seat. Ah, aren't kids delightful?

So, as I wrap up this year's CBLI, I have to say it was a really good year. Of course, I'm still wishing there were some way to change the focus of this event. I understand that the purpose of CBLI is to nurture leadership within The Salvation Army. I appreciate the many years I have been allowed to attend (despite my lack of leadership responsibility within The Army). But, every year, I find myself wishing I could bring along someone else, another family, to be blessed by this splendid opportunity. If I could choose anyone, right now, it would be to bring Cardiogirl and her girls along with us next year. Wouldn't that be a fabulous vision for such an encampment. The theme could be "each one reach one!" At least I can hope that others are blessed by experiencing it via my blog!

Friday, August 7, 2009

More CBLI Memories (and Photos)

For those who may be new to my blog and are wondering what CBLI is, here is how I introduced it last year. It is so thrilling for me to watch my son enter the teen track, since that is where I first began attending CBLI. All of my boys have developed such an intense love for this camp and eagerly await our annual trip there.

We had such a grand time during our afternoons this year. I wondered how it would work out, since MS is really beyond naps and YS still requires them. For four of the days, we made our way to the pool as soon as it opened up at 1 p.m. and by 3 or 3:30 both boys looked like this:

Yes, that is one of MS's stuffed snakes at the foot of the bed!

On Tuesday, after the little boys woke from their nap, we went down to the dock to see if Todd was still fishing (he had invited the boys to come fish with him). MS was thrilled to find him there. As Todd had said, the fishing was good, and within minutes MS had caught quite a few small fish and released them back into the water. I think his favorite part was touching the fish. Then again, when asked what his favorite part of CBLI as a whole was, his standard answer was "fishing with Todd," so maybe the time spent with Todd edged out the thrill of touching the fish.

While Todd and MS fished, YS kept me busy running back and forth from the rock strewn drive to the dock. He would select four or five rocks (man, boys have a thing for rocks!), always wanting the biggest ones, and we would carry them back to the dock and place them on the wooden boards. Then, he would throw them over into the water while I gabbed for a few moments with Todd. Then, he would beg to do it all over again.

One day, we finally attempted a paddle boat ride. It wasn't very successful, however; once we were a few feet from the shore, both of the boys kept saying "I don't want to be on the boat now."

It was still good fun down at the lake front because most of the time ES would show up to ride in the various boats which were available. His favorite boat is the fun bug. It is a neat triangular boat, where you navigate by shifting the weight from your right and left feet. Of course, Josh Grindle, one of the dock workers, laughed because ES usually spent more time in the water than on the fun bug, intentionally.

Here is a short video of him attempting to flip the boat.

And more photos of the fun to be had on the water. The first photo is of one of our friends, Jordan, on a fun bug. Every time the little boys would see her they would call out her name. With friends, paddle boats, fun bugs, kayaks, canoes, and water, who wouldn't love the lake front?

The boys also enjoyed going up the hill to the playground near the Sandpiper cabin where we have been housed for other CBLI encampments. I forced the boys to pose for a photo, so that you could see the gigantic hill I used to climb, pushing their double stroller! The Wonderland Lodge is so close and convenient. We really enjoyed it (but I may regret not having that huge hill to hike up, since I ate way too many desserts).

Note the cardboard tube near MS's feet? Trash he found and had to bring home because he had an idea for turning it into art!

There is so much more to cover that you will just have to return again (you will, won't you? ... Say you will!). Stay tuned for Part II of this CBLI Recap! I promise more photos, more fun, and more trash being turned into art!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Funny Boy!

I keep hoping to get enough time and energy to give a post-CBLI follow-up, but there is so much to say and too little time or energy to get it done. Thankfully, I did finally finish up all the laundry from our trip. Plus, I worked extra hard to get everything (except the clean laundry) put away today (hubby was convinced it would all sit out for at least a full week).

So, tonight (after a wonderful dinner out with my husband to celebrate our 19th anniversary) I am merely going to share a few bite-sized tid-bits from my MS during CBLI.

He was a big hit around camp because everyone could clearly see how much he loves snakes. He brought three rubber snakes, one wooden, and one stuffed snake with him. Every time we were ready to leave for class, he would insist on bringing one. Sometimes, in the dining hall, I would have to wrap the snake around his neck so that he could focus his two hands on carrying his own tray.

One day, his teacher came to me and said she just had to share what he had said during the class. He told her that God made him special because He knew that there needed to be someone to love snakes and spiders. That he does. That he does.

The day before we left, he was outside and came to show me a wolf spider he had caught. He was allowing it to crawl all over his hands. Yikes! God must have made him special, because there's no way in the world, I would willingly allow any kind of spider to crawl on me.

Many people were also impressed with his creativity (in fact, he won an award in his class for being the most creative student). He was constantly seeing things and saying, "Hey, I could make a craft out of that."

So, one afternoon, we had gone down to the lakefront to take a paddle boat ride. He noticed a foot long piece of rope (the thick kind used to secure the boats). He brought it over to me and asked if he could have it to make a craft (no doubt, a snake). I told him he had to ask the dock workers.

He turned and asked them if he could have the piece of rope. One dock worker teasingly replied, "Yeah, but it's going to cost you!"

I tried to explain to MS. "He means you have to give him something. What do you have that you could give him for the rope?"

He paused and thought for a moment, then said, "I'm just going to steal it," and took off running.

We all stood there cracking up. He did finally come back (all grins) and offered up a "thank-you."

Truly, I think both ES and MS thought that the lakefront was the absolute best place to be at camp!