Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Heading to CBLI With a Great Deal of Trepidation

Last Wednesday, as I sat at my computer reading my morning mail (most of it useless, as usual), without turning in any awkward manner or twisting or anything, I felt a sudden spasm of pain in the small of my back.  Since then, I have been battling another long-standing backache.  Although it hasn't been nearly as bad as the last episode, when I was immobilized on the floor and unable to even get up and getting to my bed to lie flat took over a half hour of painstakingly inching my way.

The difficulty lies in the fact that we are scheduled to leave for CBLI tomorrow.  I'm somewhat grateful to have planned a leisurely amble there.  We will drive an hour and a half to Grandma's house, where we will have lunch and move about for a bit, then will drive two and a half more hours to DeKalb, where we will stop in to visit and stay overnight with our dear friends, the Olsens.  Finally, that leaves only an hour and a half stint to camp on Friday morning.  This will be far easier on my back than a straight five hour drive would have been.

Still, I'm feeling such dread over the situation.  If my back doesn't improve, I'll be there unloading all of our things and walking extensively throughout the ten-day encampment.  I usually look forward to this camp so much, but I'm feeling "a great deal of trepidation."

This is reminiscent of a saying from one of the books we have packed to bring along for the drive - Kate DiCamillo's Mercy Watson series, where the pig, Mercy Watson, likes "hot toast with a great deal of butter!"  We've also packed DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux.  I'm hoping the boys will enjoy Despereaux as much as the third graders did back in Ms. Sharon McKee's classroom when I worked with her in DeKalb years ago.

I tried hard not to pack many of my own books to read because a fellow camper messaged me to say that she will be offering a free library in bins outside the front of their cabin.  She took the idea from this delightful website where others are blazing a trail of great literature love in their neck of the woods.  I have plucked about fifteen books from our shelves to contribute and hope to find something good to pick up for myself to read.  I think it's a fantastic idea.  Hopefully, the zealous regulators in Madison, Wisconsin, will stay far away from our little Camp Lake, Wisconsin free library (they are establishing regulations for these private book offerings in people's individual yards - ridiculous!).

I'm also feeling a bit of trepidation for another item we are packing - fishing poles.  The boys are eager to fish this year, but I'm less than eager to spend my afternoon free times sitting in the heat at the dock worried that one of them will get a rusty hook (which is about all we have left - I must go buy some newer hooks) lodged in their arm or something.  This fear is not a frivolous one.  When Bryce was little and spent loads of time down at the docks each day at CBLI, he actually did hook another boy's arm.  That little boy got his just revenge, though, when he put my car in drive and it took off (driver-less) up the concrete wall around the pop-stand.  Yikes!  Of course, I shouldn't have left Bryce and his buddy in the car, with the keys still in the ignition, while I ran over to the soda machine to grab them a quick soda.  Lesson learned.

I know we'll make tons of happy memories (just like the memories of the fish hook and the runaway car and the year Bryce was so sick I couldn't leave him in the room to even run to get some food for myself).  The boys are certainly excited.  I just wish I could feel a sense of peace about my back and the rigours of walking (not to mention climbing all those stairs for the zip-line ... urgh).

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Book Review: Sister

Long before I started working on my first Nanowrimo novel in 2009 (a novel which is told through a series of journal entries), I began to search for other novels written in an epistolary format.  I suppose, for me, the idea of writing a novel in letters was appealing because I have always enjoyed writing personal letters.  I assumed a good letter writer would find the epistolary novel an easy task.  Alas, it is hard work to make a novel gel well with snippets of letters, let alone telling the whole tale in one long letter.

Rosamund Lupton has done just that.  Her debut novel, Sister, is one long letter from an older sister to her younger, deceased sister.  Beatrice Hemming longs to talk to her little sister, Tess, but death has snatched her away, so Beatrice resorts to writing a letter explaining her reaction to Tess's disappearance and death.  Returning to London from her new home in America, Bee expects to find her sister and play the big-sister role she has honed so well.  Unfortunately, the police discover Tess's body and declare it a suicide.  Bee is convinced that Tess would have never killed herself and she becomes determined to follow all possible leads to find her killer.  The possibilities keep the suspense building as she explores a variety of suspects from Tess's married lover, an obsessed stalker, a dismissive psychiatrist, to a group of genetic scientists who were hoping to find a cure for cystic fibrosis

I think this author has done a remarkable job of creating a voice for the main character.  Sadly, I didn't really connect with the main character however.  I don't know why I didn't care for the main character, but she struck me as obsessive and unhinged.  It seemed incongruent that this character would be desperate to find the truth about her sister's death and yet be trifling with romantic thoughts in the midst of this. 

The writing was certainly outstanding.  I wanted to keep reading to figure out what happened to Tess and whether or not Bee eventually solved the crime or if it turned out in the end to have been suicide after all.  It was a good mystery, but I had a great deal of trouble with the ending.  It seemed like the letter concept broke down because the final pages reveal actions and elements which could not be put down in a letter (I'm trying hard not to provide a spoiler, so this may not make sense).  There is a resolution, but I found it to be disappointing.  Perhaps, I wanted a happy ending.  Perhaps the denouement just left me with too many bad feelings.  Perhaps my own lack of a close sister relationship made it difficult for me to connect with the characters and actions.  For whatever reason, despite enjoying the book, it didn't sit well with me in the end. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Book Review: Chomp

This newest book by Carl Hiaasen, Chomp, is every bit as good as the first book I read by Hiaasen, Hoot.  I had great fun reading Hoot as a read-aloud for the fifth grade class I worked with back in DeKalb.  This newest book would make an excellent read-aloud, as well.  I consider the first sentence an excellent example of a good hook: "Mickey Cray had been out of work ever since a dead iguana fell from a palm tree and hit him on the head."

Wahoo Cray, Mickey's son, knows that times are tough, so despite his father's pounding headaches and double vision, he accepts a job for his father with a television series for a survivalist show.  The lead actor, Derek Badger, is set to film an episode in the Florida Everglades and they are hoping to find a large alligator for him to wrestle.  Mickey and Wahoo set off on an adventure, assisting the bumbling Badger through wild terrain, accompanied by a fellow classmate of Wahoo's, Tuna Gordon, who is on the run from her alcoholic, gun-wielding father.  Derek Badger gets chomped by numerous things: an alligator, a snapping turtle, 2 snakes, a bat, and numerous mosquitoes, before he disappears suddenly into the Everglades.  While attempting to find this star, who is anything but a survivalist, Wahoo, Mickey and Tuna must also attempt to evade capture by Tuna's lunatic father.

This book was full of action and kept up a wonderful pace.  It would appeal to both male and female young adult readers.  Like Hoot, this book pairs two believable teenagers in a fight against a society that often ignores or violates the natural scheme of things.  Readers will find a wonderful description of Florida's wildest environs, along with information about various species of animals that populate the area.  I recommend this book as an entertaining young adult read.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Book Review: What if Your Blessings Come Through Raindrops

When I saw that our library was going to be acquiring this new devotional by Laura Story (based on the award winning song by the same title), I had to put my name down on the hold list.  I love this song even though it makes me weep almost every time I hear it.  The words to the song hit home every time:

"We pray for blessings ... for healing, for prosperity. We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering.  And all the while, You hear each spoken need, Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things.  'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops? What if Your healing comes through tears?  What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near?  What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?  We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear.  We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near.  We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love, As if each promise ... is not enough."

Too often I've been the one doubting instead of clinging to the faith of His wisdom and His care.  Too often I've cried in anger rather than gratitude for his tender mercies and undying faithfulness.  This book was a blessing in reminding me to move past the whys and pursue the hows.  I didn't read it like I would a normal devotional, devoting one day to each chapter.  I read it through in two or three sittings.  It was easy to read and full of not only Scripture verses of encouragement but also quotations of comfort from popular Christian leaders.  This was a power-packed little book of spiritual challenge and encouragement, perfect for someone struggling with trials of this life.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Book Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog

This was not a book I would have selected on my own.  I'm not really big on science fiction.  But, my book club selected this for our July read and so I complied.  At first, it was hard going and I thought I might just give up and skip group this month.  However, I missed last month while I was at camp (and they read Stephen King's 11/22/63).  This followed a similar vein since it involves time travel.  I think what saved it for me was that the individual was sent back to Victorian England (a period of time that has always fascinated me).

Time-traveler Ned Henry is in need of a rest.  He's done too many time drops and is suffering from time-lag.  He is brought back from his most recent drop (an assignment to find a hideous figure called the bishop's bird stump in Coventry Cathedral moments after an air raid) and stumbles upon information about an incongruity which threatens to destroy the space-time continuum.  He is quickly sent back to Victorian England to fix the incongruity caused by the rescue of a drowning cat.  This one simple action by a time-traveler has caused a variety of shifts in history.  He must go back and attempt to return the cat and realign events in history.  While he is there, he is supposed to receive his well-deserved rest and recuperation, but instead of growing closer to fixing the incongruity, it seems his efforts have only shifted events even further.  Questions loom: will he discover the whereabouts of the bishop's bird stump (for the reconstruction of Coventry Cathedral in the present of 2057)? will they manage to fix the incongruity?  will the right couple end up getting married? will he and his partner make it back to the present successfully? and will everything run amok because of the rescue of one drowning cat?

Although I had a hard time getting into this book, once I got to the point of the Victorian era, it was a joy to read.  Plus, it was genuinely funny.  I will be curious to see if others in our book club were tempted to give up on this book too soon.  Plus, I wonder if, without a penchant for the Victorian era, others were not that interested in the events of the book.  It did seem to take a while to get to the resolution (the book is over 400 pages!).  Still, I'm glad to have read it and am looking forward to our discussion.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Book Review: 90 Minutes in Heaven

Our Rock Band drums have broken!  The little boys are devastated because they were really getting into playing them again this summer.  Since we have an older system (Playstation 2), it is a bit tricky to find a replacement (we've been checking Amazon and e-bay, but don't wish to pay more than $60 to replace them).  Thus, I jumped when I saw a listing for Rock Band in a garage sale ad for a neighboring community (20 minutes drive away).

Alas, their drums were for the X-Box 360 system (which we already have, both the system and the drums - in Bryce's room and thereby, mostly off-limits).  I went to a few more garage sales in that area, hoping to make my drive worthwhile.  At the last sale, I found something to make-up for the wasted mileage.  I bought the book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, by Don Piper.  (Plus, Trevor found a broken necklace which he insisted on buying for a dime because it looked like a shark tooth - hee-hee.)

I had heard of this book back when I was reading the outstanding book, Heaven is for Real.  I will say that while both books are good and both books affirm the existence of heaven, Heaven is for Real is better written and more extensive in the discussion of what went on for the individual who went to heaven briefly.  Still, this was a valuable book to read.

In 90 Minutes in Heaven, Don Piper tells of his fatal car accident which took place on a bridge in Texas.  His car was hit by a truck driven by a prison inmate.  The car was basically flattened and pinned against the bridge (if it had taken place moments earlier or later, he would have drowned in his car).  Don Piper was torn up pretty badly, with limbs barely hanging on and sections of bone missing (apparently thrown from the car upon impact).  With no pulse, and looking horrific, the EMTs declared him dead.

After a period of time, a fellow minister (who had been at the very pastoral conference Don was returning from) stopped and walked to the scene.  This minister felt deeply convicted that the Lord was asking him to pray for the man in the mangled car.  Thus, despite the assurances from medics on the scene that the man in the vehicle was already dead, this minister climbed into the back of the car and reached a hand onto Don's shoulder and began fervently praying for him.  He prayed specifically that there would be no internal injuries.

Suddenly, in the midst of praying, Don began to join the minister in singing "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."  Don explains his brief time in heaven as the most glorious thing he has ever experienced and how crushed he was to have to return to his body and resume life on earth, despite his love for his family.  He honestly shares how frustrating his recovery was, full of pain and selfish resentment towards his losses.  It took him quite some time to work through his unwillingness to let others help him, his impatience with the pain of recovery and his bewildering depression as he attempted to discern why the Lord had brought him back down to earth instead of allowing him to remain in heaven.  The book is more an argument for God's purpose in our earthly time and our unexplained suffering than it is a treatise on what heaven will be like.  It made me boldly aware that the Lord has a purpose for my life and that I should be pursuing that purpose and allowing Him to teach through whatever difficulties I encounter.

Like others, I didn't really need a book to make me believe in heaven because I already have firm convictions about the existence of God and His glorious throne and our final destination as believers.  However, it was very affirming to read about the author's experience of heaven because it brought joy to my heart to consider the overwhelmingly intense sights and sounds which await us in heaven.  It was wonderful to read that we will be greeted by loved ones who have gone before.

The timing in reading this book couldn't have been more appropriate.  My aunt Sherry past away the very day that I finished reading the book.  She was a believer and I revel in the thought of her greeting my grandparents and others and meeting the Lord face-to-face.  What a glorious reunion!  What a joy to anticipate!  Death is nothing to be feared when one has a relationship with Jesus Christ, for we will walk the streets of gold and sing praises to our Maker.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Book Review: Take One

Karen Kingsbury's books are always easy to get into and easy to read.  This book, Take One, was no exception. Plus, it is always interesting to read where she gained inspiration for certain minor characters.  She holds auctions to include real individuals as characters in her novels to raise money for her favored charities.

This was the first book in the Above the Line series.  We meet Chase Ryan and Keith Ellison, who have left missionary work in Indonesia to work as producers of a film they hope will change lives.  But at every step of the venture they are beset by opposition.  From a temperamental lead star to food trucks burning up and actors being bitten by the animals in the film, Chase and Keith continue to plug away at their dream, refusing to give in to discouragement despite the battle.  They are also running behind in funding and are praying for a miracle in that regard.

In the midst of the action with the film, we also meet Keith Ellison's sheltered daughter, Andi.  She is tired of being seen as the missionary kid and wants to experience more of life.  She is also struggling with her faith after the senseless loss of her dear friend.  Now that she is attending university in Bloomington, Indiana, (where the filming is set) she pairs up with her room-mate, Bailey Flanigan, a solid Christian struggling with relationship issues (in love with one boy, but dating another).  Each of these characters propels the action of the novel along well.

I read this book while I was at music camp and I also loved that this book's theme verse was the same one I chose for my campers when I was officer of the day: "Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds.  For you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance ..."  I will be happy to look for the further installments of this series.  Karen Kingsbury has a way of weaving faith into stories of interest.  You can never go wrong with a Karen Kingsbury book!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Grateful for God's Protection

In my last post, I mentioned my need to place my requests in God's hands and let them go.  Somehow I managed to do that this time around and God came through.

Bryce and his friend Nolan drove down to Holiday World without incident.  We enjoyed the water/amusement park on Wednesday and Thursday despite the unbearable heat on Thursday.  Apart from some sunburns and a horrible experience with the Wildebeest ride (where it broke down before we got on, then broke down when we were on the first climb, then broke down again in a spot where water was streaming at us and we had to walk off the ride and re-board and finally finished the ride an hour and a half later - groan), we had a great time.  The boys even got me on The Voyage roller coaster once (I wasn't sure they would allow Sean to ride because he is 48 inches and just at the height requirement level).

We weren't thrilled when Nolan and Bryce decided to drive home on Thursday night instead of waiting until Friday morning, but we let them go.  A little after midnight, Bryce called to say that they had broken down in Indianapolis.  Apparently the car was leaking oil steadily and they had stopped halfway through the drive to replenish the oil.  However, the car over-heated and they finally had to stop.  According to Bryce, Nolan proceeded to call his father, who never answered the phone.  Then, he called his mother and step-father, who "refused to come help." ???  What?  Bryce said it was because Nolan had an argument with his mother prior to going down to Holiday World, but I'm wondering if he only pretended to call his mother because what mother would leave her child, and SOMEONE ELSE'S child in a dangerous part of Indianapolis in the middle of the night?  It just doesn't make sense!

So, next they tried two friends, to no avail.  Finally, Bryce called his grandmother (who had agreed to come over to our house to keep an eye on the place and water the plants, thankfully).  He then called us because he couldn't understand why she still hadn't shown up.  Of course, given the fact that she's 83 years old, he should have merely been grateful that she was there and was willing to risk driving into Indianapolis to pick them up in the middle of the night!  She did finally arrive and took the boys home safely.

Bryce explained that a black man accosted them at the gas station and the owner came out to see what was going on.  He instructed the boys to go inside the station and then locked them in with him until their ride arrived (thank you, God).

The following morning, comforted by the knowledge of Bryce's safety and grateful again for Grandma's help, we drove with the little boys on to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.  The temperature gauge on the van read 116 degrees at one point.  It was incredibly hot.  Thus, we were thrilled to experience the 50 degree temperatures down in the cave.  We took the Historic tour and both Trevor and Sean thoroughly enjoyed the cave.  Then, we visited an amusement center where we took a ski-lift ride and Trevor and Daddy rode an alpine slide down the hillside.  Both boys jumped on a trampoline and climbed a rock wall.  We ate at a fabulous restaurant in Cave City, Kentucky called "Sahara Steak House."  Their peanut butter pie was amazing and John said his salmon was fabulous, as well.

We returned home with piles of laundry and loads of family memories, plus, a good dose of gratitude for everyone's safety and well-being!