Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Praise Fit for a Boy

Tonight, after picking the boys up from Awana, Trevor wanted to rush to the computer to show me this chorus that they sung in worship:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Book Review: Friendship Bread

This book is based on a chain-letter style activity involving Amish Friendship Bread starter batter. The batter generally comes in a Ziploc baggie with instructions to knead and feed the batter for 10 days. On the final day, the fermented batter is then divided into four portions, one to bake with and three to pass along to "friends." After reading this book, I found myself hoping to secure another baggie of this batter. I had a portion of it several years back, and although it was difficult to get rid of the extra starter (since I had no clue who to pass it on to), the bread itself was delicious (very cake-like and sweet).

Darien Gee has based this whole novel on the concept of the sharing of Amish Friendship Bread starter. She peoples her novel with numerous characters and yet manages to maintain a solid story line. I became quickly engrossed in the novel. The main three characters are women, each with a different life obstacle. Julia faces a fractured relationship with her sister after the death of her son while in the care of the sister. Hannah faces the loss of her eminent music career and her marriage. Madeleine faces the challenge of starting over in a small town after the death of her husband. Each of the women join in a welcome friendship and turn the experience with the friendship bread into a campaign.

This was a lovely, light-hearted read. The book had a similar feel to Maeve Binchy books (since she begins each chapter with a new character and weaves together the people of a community until you feel that you are right there in the midst of them all). I ended the book feeling edified and eager to whip up a batch of friendship bread or brownies or some other delectable. Alas, I have no starter and doubt I could follow the directions at the end of the book for creating my own starter (it involves yeast - something I've never worked with before). I will probably copy down the recipes at the end of the book, however ... just in case some starter winds up in my possession.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Water Park Weekend

This past weekend, we took the younger boys back to the Big Splash Adventure Water Park in Southern Indiana. We have arrived at that sad point in time where our oldest son doesn't want to accompany us on such trips any more. I suggested we force him to go. His dad was more kind and agreed to let him stay home alone. I think his Grandma was worried about him being alone; she called twice to check on him. Ha!

We had an adventure! Everything from forgetting to shave my legs (thankfully John remembered to bring his razor), a painful headache Saturday due to my departure from my morning coffee routine, a girl vomiting in the hall just outside our room (yippee), and a giant squabble between the boys when Sean hit the jackpot on an arcade game and Trevor persisted in demanding that he share the winnings with him. Trevor was promptly escorted back to the room and disciplined, while Sean went on to purchase two of everything he requested, so that he could share it with his brother (he's a sweetheart).

We also had a lot of fun. Sean was able to go on the slides this time and loved going down with Daddy (it was a bit too much for me).

Trevor favored an area where you could play water basketball and do a monkey bars course.

And we all enjoyed the lazy river.

The food was amazing, just like last year. That buffet breakfast, alone, is enough to make me want to return (eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, hash browns, french toast sticks, etc).

Plus, when we first arrived, I noticed a sign for The Salvation Army. I checked the banquet room out, but it was empty. Finally, I went back downstairs to look again and this time overheard someone checking in for The Salvation Army. I went to speak with her and discovered it was Jo Langham's daughter, Becky, (my son is friends with her brother, Abe) and she was there with a Salvationist group from Asbury College (the college my father and brother and sister attended). It made me remember a similar skiing retreat I went on during college and I found myself wishing I were back in college again. Ah, the good old days!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Book Review: La's Orchestra Saves the World

When I look for acceptable audio books, I often turn to Alexander McCall Smith. I absolutely love the narrator's accent in the Number One Ladies Detective Agency series. Lisette Lecat does such a fantastic job and I wouldn't have a clue about pronunciations of the Botswanan words or names. In La's Orchestra Saves the World, I revelled in the marvelous British accent of the narrator, Emily Gray. An excellent narrator can really turn a good book into a great book, in my opinion.

While I felt like Smith's series about the Scottish philosopher felt very similar in tone to the Number One Ladies Detective Agency books, this book was a welcome change of pace. The majority of the tale takes place during World War II. Smith tells the story of a young woman, La, who finds a place for herself after the unwelcome demise of a love relationship. She moves to a house in the country and begins to do her small part in helping with the war effort. Although it is not a plot-driven book, it ambled at an enjoyable pace and really held my interest. La proved to be an interesting character. I would have loved for the book to have continued on even further. Another masterpiece by Alexander McCall Smith!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Would This Make You Uncomfortable?

This is a gift a single female customer brought in to my husband at his work. It contained cologne, kisses, boxed candy, a turtle car ornament (I'm assuming that is what it is) and a handmade card that read "Happy Valentine's Day - Hope you enjoy the cologne!". It is signed "Sincerely," instead of "Love," so that's a good thing, but ... seriously? Am I reading too much into this or is this clearly out of line? What do you think? At least it made hubby as uncomfortable as it made me!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Book Reviews: When I Lay My Isaac Down and A New Kind of Normal

I don't really take the time to read many book reviewing blogs. For one thing, I have long lists of books I intend to read one day and the thought of adding more is daunting. But, one of my Indianapolis blogging friends recently reviewed a book that I ran out and picked up right away. It just sounded so interesting and encouraging.

Carol Kent was a popular Christian speaker when suddenly her world was turned upside down by the arrest of her only son, Jason, for the murder of his wife's ex-husband. Jason was an unlikely candidate for murder. He was a strong Christian, honor roll student in high school, trained in the military, etc. But when his two new daughters were faced with the possibility of unsupervised visitation with their abusive father, something snapped. Carol tells the story with a full, open view of their heartache and their shaky legs which continued to stand on the promises of God.

I couldn't read these books without weeping. Their tale is one both sorrowful and enriching at the same time. You think to yourself, "I have so much less to contend with and yet they are choosing to remain grounded in Christ in ways I have only dreamt of."

In When I Lay My Isaac Down: Unshakable Faith in Unthinkable Circumstances, Carol tells the story of what happened and how it felt for she and her husband. She explains how, like Moses, she had to lay aside her own hopes and dreams for her son and rely on the wisdom and sustenance of God. I appreciated the fact that she didn't sugar coat anything. She readily admitted to her doubts and failings, but continued to come around to clinging to God's provision.

In the follow-up book, A New Kind of Normal: Hope-Filled Choices When Life Turns Upside Down, she goes on to explain their new normal. They now spend their weekends visiting their son in a maximum-security prison. They have lost contact with their daughter-in-law and granddaughters. Life has not turned into a rosy fairy tale ending, but they continue to rely on God. They continue to walk the road they must.

The thing I found most interesting was that Carol never chooses to voice what I would be agonizing over - the whole "what if" or "if only" questions of life. I would be wishing that my son had never chosen to marry the woman who brought into his life the girls and the helpless feelings of protective instinct. I would be wondering if the daughter-in-law selected Jason for the very fact of his military training and his moral convictions, perhaps hoping that he would fight for her honor and the innocence of her daughters. But, that is my tremendous weakness. I tend to wallow in the "what if" and the "if only." I tend to question God's provision rather than follow this example and place complete and total trust in the only Being strong and wise enough to prevail.

If you are struggling with circumstances beyond your control, if you feel beaten down by life's intervening tragedies, then you would benefit from reading Carol Kent's journey and the conclusion she draws. We are all called upon to give back our children to the Lord for his use, whatever that may be, but some of us have a harder road to walk in doing so. Carol Kent honestly conveys her journey, her faults and failings and God's wonderful assurance that one day they will embrace their son in total freedom, even if it is not on this side of eternity.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine Cards

Trevor made Valentine cards for each of his family members and then was bemoaning the fact that nobody else would probably make cards for him. Thus, I set to work on these pop-up cards:

Here is his pop-up card to me: (He had been told by Daddy that there was going to be a special surprise for me - a trip to Dairy Queen.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Stupendous Salsa

I took Trevor for an annual physical last week. It was quite uncomfortable. I don't enjoy feeling shamed and that is exactly what I felt. The doctor indicated that Trevor's body mass index is at 23 and the desired goal would be 20 for a pre-adolescent boy.

Granted, Trevor is a bit thick. He has a solid body structure, very similar to his late uncle Rob. He has his uncle Rob's appetite. That boy can eat. We would tend to think that he eats fairly well. He has a fruit and vegetable with every meal. But, we do allow him to eat desserts. The doctor suggested we allow dessert only once a week. He's used to having one a day, so that will be the most difficult change to make.

So, I've been trying to think healthy for meals. I'm trying to adopt some eating changes for myself along with him, so he feels supported. Thus, I turned to a recipe my sister-in-law introduced at Christmas time (not that Trevor will eat this, mind you).

I will admit, when I first saw this salsa, I was convinced that I wouldn't like it. The only things I expected to like were the beans and the corn. The rest of it looked ... well, disgusting. She explained what was in it and that didn't help. I despise onion and don't care for quacamole. But, I agreed to try it with a tortilla chip and I was blown away. This is some darned tasty salsa. The fact that it is healthy and good for me, is just a big plus now!

Bernice's Salsa

Green onions, chopped
Red onion, chopped
2 avocados, scooped and cut into cubes (I only used one for this batch)
6 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 can black beans, drained
1 can corn, drained
1 packet Italian dressing
1/4 cup vinegar, to taste

She explained that it is best served COLD. I'm telling you this is some good stuff and so easy to throw together. I have been eating it all weekend long. Yum! Bryce likes it. Maybe Trevor will come around to it. I hold out no hope for Sean at all.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Book Review: Songs for the Missing

Sometimes a book review will come around and cause me to actually clip the review and hang on to it until a date when I can secure the book. This was the case for Stewart O'Nan's Songs for the Missing. The reviewer, Bob Minzesheimer, stated that the book kept him up for most of the night. He praised the novel's compelling story and taut, precise prose.

Although I agree with Minzesheimer's positive response to the novel, it wasn't quite as riveting as he described. The book tells the story of Kim Larsen's family and friends as they deal with her sudden disappearance during the summer after her senior year of high school. The shifting of perspectives to reveal more and more about how they were all coping was certainly well-done. After reading about 80 pages, I did feel compelled to finish the novel. However, I found the foul language tiresome and kept waiting for the information to come as to the missing girl's whereabouts and story. It seemed to take forever to finally secure the truth.

The characters were well-drawn, but I didn't like them or the book as much as I had hoped. It feels like I've been selecting books that are just not my style lately. Still, I would have to say this is a worthwhile read. It was interesting to get inside the skin of a family facing such an intense tragedy. I believe the situation was treated realistically and with a gentle touch.

I read once of a technique to hone your writing where you take a book and rewrite it from a different perspective. I think this would be one of those books that I could really sink my teeth into rewriting from a different perspective. It would be interesting to explore how a family of faith would deal with the crisis of a missing child.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Book Review: Th1rtheen R3asons Why

I started out writing a fairly positive review for this book. For a first book by an author, it was an outstanding effort. It is a very compelling story and I looked forward to hearing the tale play out during my occasional jaunts in the car. I felt that the writing was engaging and the characters realistic. I also think the author did an incredible job of conjuring up solid voices for his two main characters.

On the back cover of the audio version, it states that Asher got the idea for this book while taking an audio tour of a museum. It says he was "struck by the eeriness of the voice in his ear." He has certainly duplicated that experience and the audio version of this book successfully presented the sorrowful voice of a troubled girl.

Clay Jensen discovers an unusual package on his doorstep. It contains seven audio tapes, made by a high school classmate who has recently committed suicide. Throughout the thirteen sides of these tapes, Hannah Baker outlines the people and situations that led her to take this tragic step. She explains that she expects each of them to pass the tapes on to the next involved individual or the tapes will go public. Of course, Clay, a genuinely good kid, is anxious to hear why he has appeared on the tapes.

The story is, indeed, compelling. However, despite being sure his books will appeal to modern young adult readers, I myself had quite a few criticisms. I understand that authors attempt to keep things realistic, but I'm uncomfortable with the frequency of bad language and some parts were too graphic for my tastes. I don't know that I would recommend this to my son because I wouldn't really want him revelling in these tales of wanton behavior. There were moments when I was glad his ear-buds were deeply nestled in his ears, while I drove him here and there, so he wouldn't hear what I was listening to.

The book made me uncomfortable. I'm sure it was realistic (full of the types of situations modern teenagers find themselves in), but I didn't enjoy listening to the behaviors and antics of these teens. Plus, it was troubling to listen to the finger-pointing after a suicide. The events leading up to the suicide didn't really seem significant enough to push an individual to take their life - however, I do think teenagers tend to see things in starker emotional terms than adults might.

I also felt the shift to a hopeful perspective occurred too quickly at the end. It didn't really provide the level of redemption I would have liked. Still, I believe modern teenagers will appreciate the pace and development of this story and will relate far more readily to the less than wholesome aspects which troubled me. So my review is mixed. While it definitely bothered me, the story treats a realistic problem with realistic characters.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Book Review: Infidel

This is not the sort of book I would generally choose to read. If my book club hadn't selected it for our February read, I wouldn't have picked it up. Much like The Kite-Runner, I looked at the cover and felt hesitant to begin a book about Muslim culture or politics. It just isn't a subject I pursue. However, like The Kite Runner, I was amazed at how engrossed I became in this book despite its graphic portrayal of the Muslim culture and politics.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali sucked me in right from the start. In the introduction, she tells of a man who was murdered because of his involvement with her film, "Submission." This memoir was quite a page-turner. Beginning with the importance of bloodlines in her culture, she weaves the story of her life and the story of how women in Muslim countries are expected to submit. It is truly amazing the amount of influence Ayaan came to have from a fairly young age. After fleeing from a forced marriage, she finally finds freedom from the overwhelming expectations of her family as she seeks refugee status in Holland. She eventually becomes a member of Parliament there and lobbies for the unpopular view that expecting immigrants to adapt to Holland's culture is not racist, but rather fundamental in breaking down a cycle of oppression and cultural ignorance. Her argument is simple: look at the outcome of life in the Muslim sub-culture and look at the outcome of life in a Western-influenced culture and choose the one that provides individuals with the greatest freedom and happiness. (If this argument came from someone else, it would be ethnocentrism, but Ayaan is coming from the Muslim culture and finding fault.)

However, her message was extremely volatile, both for Muslims and for the political parties in Holland who were loathe to abolish government funding for faith-based education and tolerant attitudes towards immigrants. I began to have the same reaction I had to Khaled Hosseini's books. I wondered how the author could still be alive after revealing the realities of life in these Muslim cultures. Much of what she reveals is disturbing to read. Indeed, Ayaan has been in fear of assassination for presenting her views and opinions openly. Her book clearly indicated to me that many of the individuals perpetrating these crimes against both women (as exemplified in female circumcision, wife-beating, forced marriages and honor killings) and unbelievers (e.g., suicide bombers and assassins of apostates) don't even see themselves as criminals. They are merely following the dictates of their religion and the mandates of their holy book.

At one point, Ayaan declares that she has become an atheist. I don't fully believe she is an atheist. It seems she does believe there is a supreme being of some sort, because she continues to respond with immediate thoughts like "Allah, please let it not be a Muslim who is responsible for this."

Plus, I was unable to agree with her premise that all submission is evil. She presents the Muslim religion as the only one where the relationship between God and man is one of master and servant. However, I would argue that Christianity also sees the relationship in similar terms. The difference would be that our God is benevolent and worthy of our servitude. He is just and loving. To serve the Christian God is to relinquish our own will under the loving guidance of His will. We are free to speak to Him and to petition His will on our behalf.

It brought to mind a song which begs:

"Pierce my ear, oh Lord, my God.
Take me to your door this day.
I will serve no other gods.
Lord, I'm here to stay.
For You have paid the price for me.
With Your blood You ransomed me.
I will serve You eternally,
A free man I'll never be."

This refers to the Jewish custom where servants, in the year of Jubilee, instead of pursuing their freedom, could request to have their ear pierced as a public display of their voluntary submission to the lordship of their master.

I found myself hoping that the author would discover and embrace the religion I hold, with a loving God who encourages devotion but doesn't expect that devotion to play itself out in taking the lives of those who don't believe as we do. In the end, God determines what happens to the unbeliever, not man.

As you can see, this was a very thought-provoking book. It was well-written and incredibly interesting. I'm glad my book club selected it, or I might have passed it by.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Got an Old Prom Dress You Could Donate?

Photoshoot 1.1, October 22

My heart goes out to kids who find themselves in chronic, life-threatening illness. It was a real joy to discover a couple of local girls who are equally moved on behalf of these kids. They have started up their own non-profit organization called "Drop Your Dress." They are collecting prom dresses and boys' suits and ties in order to provide a prom experience for teens who are unable to experience a regular prom. What a great idea!

So if you have an old prom dress or suit coat that you could donate, check them out at

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Book Review: Breaking the Code

Breaking the Code was a recent release on our library's bookshelf. In the book, Karen Fisher-Alaniz tells of receiving an unexpected gift from her father on his 81st birthday. He presented her with a stack of over 400 pages worth of letters which he had written home during his experiences in the war. Up to this point, Karen hadn't really even thought to ask about what his war-time life had been like. He had shared brief stories, during her childhood, but had never really revealed fully the more intense aspects of his life during the war. He had been experiencing some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, waking from nightmares, and, through the letters, Karen began to unravel some of the details of his past.

It took her many years, but she was determined to transcribe all of his letters (a difficult task, since his handwriting was minuscule). It brought to mind the several years I spent transcribing C.S. Lewis' personal letters. There is something about transcribing letters that I find so appealing. It is like you are a fly on the wall, suddenly privy to a private world you never knew existed. Karen found this to be true, as well.

Over time, she began to meet with her father to ask questions about what she read and discovered that he had been sworn to secrecy for his involvement in translating the Japanese Katakana code. The intense warning not to disclose his involvement in this mission was so strong that he internalized all of it to the point of almost forgetting his involvement entirely.

This was an interesting read, reminiscent of the movie by the same name, "Breaking the Code," which starred Derek Jacobi (one of my favorite actors) as a mathematician who broke the Germans' Enigma code.