Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Book Review: The Wednesday Wars

This was a delightfully entertaining book. In The Wednesday Wars, author Gary D. Schmidt introduces us to Holling Hoodhood (I didn't care for this name, but loved the character anyway), a seventh grade boy whose father is grooming him to take over the family's architectural firm, whose world is thrown into chaos by the Vietnam War, whose sister is determined to be her own person, and whose teacher is out to get him.

With many reminders that he is representing the Hoodhood name, Holling is urged to impress this teacher who clearly doesn't like him (because she is stuck with him during a special time on Wednesdays when all the other students head to Catechism or Hebrew School). As the Wednesdays play out, and she fills his afternoons with classroom chores and assignments from Shakespeare, Holling is forced to navigate through countless obstacles and adventures. He accidentally sets the classroom rats free while cleaning their cages. A bully is after him. The class expects him to come through and provide them with cream puffs. And, worst of all, he has to wear yellow tights with feathers on the rear when he plays Ariel in a Shakespearean theater production.

The book was equal parts funny and tender. Frankly, I can't wait to read this book to my younger sons in a few years. The parts about Shakespeare give basic plot-line information but can easily be understood without a well-defined knowledge of Shakespeare. Plus, they drive home the point that Shakespearean plays are still relevant today and might even encourage boys to check them out (since the plays are full of stabbings, poisonings, witches, monsters, storms, and things that excite the boy imagination). Finally, I have to say that it was refreshing to find a book that appeals to boys without resorting to foul language, gross bodily functions, or sexual exploits. It was a good, clean book and I felt glued to it from beginning to end.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Book Review: The First Phone Call From Heaven

The blurb on the inside cover is quite a bit to live up to: "From the beloved author of the #1 New York Times bestsellers Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven comes his most thrilling and magical novel yet - a page-turning mystery and a meditation on the power of human connection." While it was good and definitely read quickly, I wouldn't agree that it is his most thrilling book. I think I preferred For One More Day and The Five People You Meet in Heaven to this one.

When the little town of Coldwater, Michigan, begins receiving phone calls from deceased loved ones in heaven no one knows what to make of it. There are numerous responses. Some believe and are thrilled to have a renewed connection. Others are skeptical and believe it must be a hoax. Still others are terrified by the disturbing calls and try to ditch their phones so that they will no longer be forced to face the past.

Woven through the seams of this little story, the author shares the history of Alexander Graham Bell and the invention of the telephone.  And what if we could hear loved ones calling again from heaven? Who would you want to receive a call from? What would you want them to tell you? Would this phenomenon inspire hope in you?

With a cast of characters, each with a story and a reason for hope, the small town becomes a mecca for others who want to become a part of this media frenzy and modern miracle.  One particular character, a disgraced pilot who has recently returned from prison to Coldwater, is intent upon discrediting the story. The suspense builds as he gathers evidence and tries to dissuade his own son from eagerly awaiting a call from his mother.

Although it was an interesting premise and a well-plotted book, I wasn't overly-thrilled with the ending and didn't really connect with the story as well as I had hoped. Still, I would say it is a worthwhile read and certainly an inspirational story in keeping with Mitch Albom's usual fare.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Book Review: Think Confident, Be Confident for Teens

Back in November, when I was working on my novel for Nanowrimo, I sought out books that teens might access to encourage their self-esteem, since my novel was about a young insecure girl who finds a golden bobby pin and begins to believe it is her good luck charm. I wanted to find out what teens might read to boost their self-confidence and become the kind of teen my character becomes.

This book, Think Confident, Be Confident for Teens: A Cognitive Therapy Guide to Overcoming Self-Doubt and Building Unshakeable Self-Esteem, by Marci Fox and Leslie Sokol (faculty members at the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research), is a wonderful tool for teens to use to build their self-confidence. It is an outlined plan for replacing negative thoughts of self-doubt with thoughts of affirmation and realistic assessment of situations they are facing.

As the publisher's blurb puts it: "Confidence is like a magnet that attracts people to you and helps you get closer to reaching your goals. When you believe in yourself, you send the message that you have the brains, ability, and talent to handle whatever life sends your way. And the truth is, you do!

"Using powerful skills based in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), Think Confident, Be Confident for Teens shows you how to tap into your self-esteem so you can be yourself in every situation, no matter how awkward you feel or scary that may sound. The fun exercises and tips in this confidence-coaching workbook will guide you past feelings of self-doubt and encourage you to believe in yourself, strengthen your friendships, and meet every challenge head-on."

Although I don't feel like I gained any insight for enriching the process my character goes through in the novel, it was still a worthwhile book to read for enlightenment on what type of struggles teens are facing and how they might address them with more confidence. I think I'm on the right track in the novel and I think my character changes her life by changing her thoughts (the key truth the book wishes to drive home).

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas and Some Snow Art

A very Merry Christmas to my blog readers. May God bless you today and in the New Year!

To help you celebrate, here's a look at an amazing artist who walks miles in the snow to create art he knows will be blown away or naturally erased. Had to show this to Trevor. Maybe the next time we have a good snowfall, he'll be out there trying to create some picture in the snow.

The artist's name is Simon Beck and you can visit his art on a special Facebook page as well.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Great Aw-Factor Photography

Since this is a viral hit, you've probably already seen these darling photographs that a mother caught of her toddler napping with their puppy, but for the few who might not have found it:

The story I found was at http://www.natureknows.org/2013/12/toddler-naps-with-his-2-month-old-puppy.html?m=1, but the photographer's blog is at www.mommasgonecity.com.  You can't beat the cuteness factor, can you? Apparently there is a book coming out in 2015 with photos of the two (Bedtime for Theo and Beau). Looks like it will be a sweet book.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Early Christmas Gifts

This year there were three gifts we acquired several weeks prior to Christmas. We have been thoroughly enjoying them and I'm so glad to have them.

First off, we have been attempting to help Trevor lose some weight. During the winter months, it is always more difficult for us to keep him moving, so we tossed out the suggestion of having one of his gifts be a treadmill. He seemed to really go for the idea.

We didn't plan on purchasing a new one. I began scouring the Craigslist offerings and were thrilled when we found someone in a neighboring community selling a "new-in-box" walking treadmill. Apparently, they had bought it for their son and he purchased a different one before they could give it to him. While it doesn't have an option for running (it is a walk-to-fit model), it is easy to move and is getting quite the workout already. Trevor walks on it for a half an hour at least four days a week and I walk for a half hour almost every morning and Bryce has been walking on it, as well. Grateful to have this new blessing of a gift.

Then, there's Bryce's new television. He had been content with his old bulky one for quite some time, but a friend got a new flat screen and ... well, you know how it goes ... once he saw how awesome the graphics were on his friend's t.v., he wanted one for himself. We were thankful to get a percentage-off-deal after the purchase of a new camera (remember Trevor left the old one out overnight on the trampoline - groan). Now, he is reveling in his new television. Plus, the purchase spurred him to thoroughly clean his room in preparation for installation, so we got an added blessing. Score!

Finally, I am extremely grateful for a gift I received at The Salvation Army Eagle Creek corps at their annual Christmas party (something I don't usually attend). They gave me a cd of brass band Christmas music and I have been listening to it like crazy this month. I love me a good brass Army band and I'm really enjoying the gift of this music!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Book Review: The Emotional Life of Your Brain

I am a sucker for books by neuroscientists explaining the processes of our brain.  I find the subject thoroughly fascinating. This book, The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and Live - and How You Can Change Them, was no exception. I enjoyed listening to the research and the findings and the arguments for changing the patterns of your individual brain.

Dr. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist who studies and teaches at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, argues that the brain has six emotional styles: resilience, outlook, social intuition, self-awareness, sensitivity to context, and attention. Each individual varies in their strengths or weaknesses in each of these areas. In other words, some brains just aren't wired to be as resilient to life's trials and tragedies as others.  Depressed individuals have a different brain make-up than others who sail through life with a Pollyana-like enthusiasm despite setbacks.  I found the research to be quite interesting. I reveled in all the terminology flying by - the pre-frontal cortex, the amygdala, etc.

The argument goes further than just identifying six styles of relating to life. Dr. Davidson argues for the brain's plasticity and claims that we can actually change the way our brain responds. He is a big proponent for eastern meditation and much of his research focused on the changes in brain chemistry and brain response in individuals who rack up hours and hours of meditation. Although I'm not likely to take up this form of meditation after reading the book, I do think there is some value to considering the benefits gleaned from such practices and I would venture to guess that Christian prayer could elicit fairly similar results to those cited for meditation.

Still, I was a little bit disappointed with the book.  The lion's share of the book is spent talking about the author and his research and discoveries. When I placed the final disc (out of 9 cds) into my player, I was relieved to hear that he was finally going to address the ways he feels people can change the patterns of your brain. However, the methods suggested were vague and often the same across several different emotional styles. So that, if you want to be more resilient, practice mindfulness meditation, and if you want to be more attentive, practice mindfulness meditation. It sounded like the same solution almost every time - meditation.

Sadly, I don't think I can use this book as a resource to withdraw from all use of antidepressant medication (something I would welcome). It wasn't as practical as I had hoped. It did affirm for me the concept that each of us have been hard-wired in a particular way, but that our brain also responds to things based on our surroundings and our life experiences (lots of experiments with rats whose mothers paid close attention or completely ignored them and such). It is good to recognize the brain's plasticity. There just wasn't a step-by-step method for changing the way our brains are wired, at least none that I could embrace and follow rigorously.  I would have preferred to have been given some training in the cognitive behavioral therapy - changing the thoughts we think in response to situations by reassessing them consciously and reframing them into a different context or outlook.

So, while I did really enjoy listening to this book, and gleaned a lot of useful information about the brain, I don't think I enjoyed it quite as much as I had hoped. It was more focused on stories of the author's adventures and experiments and less focused on really handing over useful tools for people to change their brain chemistry. It is good to know there are scientists willing to look into something other than medication, but I'm still not sure I have the tools to change my own clinically depressed brain chemistry enough to wean from medication.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Book Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian

This book, Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, was selected as our December read for my young adult literature book club. I wouldn't have picked it on my own. I think I would have been put off by the fact that it is about an adolescent on an Indian reservation. Sounds like a ridiculous reason to be put off, but I guess I just wouldn't select something with that subject matter. However, I am so glad that I took the time to read this book. It was delightful and fun.

I think Ellen Forney's illustrations were significantly beneficial for this novel. They were clever and hilarious and really well done. They added so much to the flavor of the story. This is the tale of a young boy living on an Indian reservation who longs to get free of the burdens of life on the "rez." It reveals the sad reality of the life of poverty many experience in such circumstances. While the novel was heartbreaking at times, it was also laugh-out-loud funny at times. Arnold Spirit is a gifted student drowning in the local school on the reservation, until he decides to travel twenty-two miles to a small town "white" school outside the reservation boundaries. This doesn't go over well with the other Indians in his community. They consider him somewhat of a traitor.

At times the story just seemed to ramble, but it was perfectly fine rambling. The voice of the main character was clear and strong and the reader really gets inside the head of the character (both through the words and the illustrations). It is basically the tale of one year in the life of an Indian boy who considers himself part-Indian, part-white because of his immersion into the new school situation. Throughout the chronicle of the ups and downs of life, trying to balance the two cultures, the main character shines and overcomes adversity. It was a tale worth reading (despite some people's objections because it mentions masturbation, has some sexual comments, and some crude boy humor - didn't bother me at all, since I live with a herd of crude boys).

Friday, December 13, 2013

Amazing Close-ups of Snowflakes

Found another talented photographer on the web. His name is Alexey Kljatov and he's from Moscow. He purchased some sort of magnification lens and used it to photograph snowflakes, with amazing results:

To see more snowflakes and read more about his process, visit his website here.



Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Book Review: The Greatest Gift

I love the cover on this book, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas, by Ann Voskamp, author of the best-selling One Thousand Gifts. It shows gloved hands gently holding an intricately cut Christmas ornament. The words in this book are like that intricately cut Christmas ornament - delicate and inspiring. They are words reminding us to be still and experience His full love for us during this season where the celebration of His birth is often overshadowed and silenced by the rush of decorating, purchasing, wrapping, baking, and visiting.

Although I was unable to read this book as intended, in daily doses across the 25 days of December leading up to and bringing the ultimate day of Christmas, it was still a blessing.  Voskamp takes a different Bible passage for each day and illuminates a lesson for the anticipation of Christmas. The stories are not all merely devoted to the birth of Christ. She delves into stories of Abraham and Sarah, Rahab, Moses, Ruth, King David, and Jonah, among others. All of the stories carry telling messages of God's love for His people and His gift of new life. In addition to the Bible passages, and the brief devotionals, the author provides activities to enrich each day and thoughtful questions to journal through. Although I didn't participate in the activities or journaling parts of this process, I can see how this might benefit someone reading through this book in the way it was intended.

My only quibble, which seems unfair actually, was that at times the words were just too flowery, too intricately carved. I guess I wanted the words to be more straight-forward and less decorative. Still, I found several passages which bear repeating and recording for future thought:

"When you are brave, you give yourself the gift of facing and touching the torn places. The places where we're torn to pieces can be thin places where we touch the peace of God. Joseph touches his thin place ... and sees through: 'You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.' What was intended to tear you apart, God intends to set you apart."

"That is always the secret to abundant life: to believe that God is where you doubt He can be."

"No personal choice that muddled your life can ever trump the divine choice to wash your life clean."

"You aren't equipped for life until you realize you aren't equipped for life.... In that moment of realizing your limitations, your short-comings, your inescapable sins, all that you aren't - in that moment of surrendered lack, you're given the gift you'd receive no other way: the gracious hand of an unlimited God."

Those words spoke to me and ministered to some need within my heart. I'm sure that any reader can find the words they are needing to hear within this small Advent devotional. If you are looking for a book to help you herald in the coming of our Messiah, then you might pick up this little devotional by Ann Voskamp for yourself. If you choose to check it out from the library, as I did, then be prepared to read it in a shorter space of time because the hold list will probably be as long at your library as it was at mine.

Monday, December 9, 2013

More Hilarious Photography

What better way to start off your Monday than with a series of funny photos of animals dressed up in human attire. Yago Partal, of Barcelona, has created a humorous series of photos of humanized animals which he calls "Zoo Portraits."

Here are my favorite two (taken from his website at the link above):

I love the way the lemur's chest hair is exposed in this fashionable pose. Plus, his red eyes slay me.

The rhino tough guy.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Clever Elf on a Shelf Scenarios

I'm not a big fan of Elf on the Shelf myself.  We tried it and I found it tiresome to try to come up with clever new places to hide the elf (we didn't purchase the real deal, but used something similar to stand for the elf ... I think it was a bear on a rocking horse) on a daily basis. If only I'd had a little help from these creative minds ...

I have a friend who posted pictures of her naughty elf last year on Facebook, doing things like binging on candy. It was fun to watch. If I were participating, this is the idea I would steal:

This is the one my boys would appreciate the most:

And here's a hilarious one that a friend alerted me to on Pinterest:

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Book Review: Blackmoore

It took a romance set in Northern England in the 1820s to stir me out of my reading torpor.  The novel, Blackmoore, by Julianne Donaldson caught me up and kept me reading. I'm now eager to seek out her other novel, Edenbrooke.

In this book, we meet the lovely Kate Worthington and her lifelong goal of visiting the estate called Blackmoore, set between the ocean and the moors in North Yorkshire. Her neighbors and best friends, Sylvia and Henry Delafield, have been telling her tales of their summer visits to Blackmoore for years, but Mrs. Delafield has been loathe to invite Kate along for a visit because she fears it will distract Henry from his courtship of Juliet St. Claire (a girl whose match would secure a title for the family).  Finally, Henry has put his foot down and insisted that she come.

Now, the threat shifts to Kate's mother, who is furious because Kate has spurned a marriage proposal by the elderly, diseased Mr. Cooper.  Kate's mother is intent upon marrying Kate off, despite Kate's vow to never marry (she already feels penned in and doesn't want to confine herself even further). Her mother forbids a visit to Blackmoore and the further dream of accompanying her spinster aunt on a trip to India until Kate makes a deal that if she goes to Blackmoore and secures and rejects three proposals, her mother will finally release her from the requirement of marriage.

Because of a previous scandal with her older sister, Kate begins to realize that she will never receive the three proposals she needs to secure. Thus, she begs Henry to make the proposals, promising she will reject each one so that she can earn the right to her longed for trip to India and the freedom it entails.  What she hasn't banked on is her own heart's internal struggle with this process.

I thoroughly enjoyed this light romance. The setting was intriguing, the characters were lively, and the plot moved along nicely. This would make an excellent book club selection as there are study questions at the end of the book to explore.  I'm glad I picked up this lovely, clean romance.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving Puzzle

I'm not sure when this Thanksgiving tradition began, but I dearly missed it during the years when I had two small children and it was merely impossible to keep an eye on them and keep them out of the pieces.  Now, I have a partner in crime, since Sean loves to do puzzles.  He helps during two phases: the first step of locating the end pieces and the final step when there are fewer pieces missing. Still, it is great fun and a wonderful Thanksgiving tradition. So, here is this year's puzzle:

It was easy in some ways, because there were plenty of different details to find and match. It was also hard in some ways, because the picture on the cover of the box only included the central portion of the puzzle. Many of the edge areas were a mystery.

Do you have a special tradition for Thanksgiving weekend?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Winner's Certificate

I completed my Nanowrimo novel this year on November 20th, but didn't sign in to validate it until today. So, I just downloaded my nifty little certificate which proves that I completed the goal. My boys always scoff at this motivation. The certificate is an honor I'll gladly accept. The Nano people informed me that out of more than 300,000 people who signed up for Nanowrimo this year, only 41,940 people were winners, and I'm one of them!

Normally, they offer a winner's badge by now, but I couldn't find one, so here's what my certificate looks like:

In the meantime, my silence hasn't been due to editing or revising (I usually let the novel sit for at least a few weeks to provide some space), but rather because I have been abandoning books left and right lately.  It is really quite remarkable. I've read about 50 to 100 pages in and then, just decided I didn't feel like reading it right now after all. Sob.

Here's a list of the ones I can remember setting aside:

Regine's Book: A Teen Girl's Last Words by Regine Stokke (this book is about a girl who faces, and eventually succumbs to, leukemia) - just too darn sad. Couldn't keep reading, although the photography in the book was stunning and the story probably worthwhile, if you can get beyond the sadness factor.

Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World by Rosalind Wiseman - while this would be a great book for a mother with boys to read, I just couldn't get into it this time (perhaps because I'm not having any great difficulties with my boys which require seeking assistance). Maybe I'll pick it up again some day.

Runaway Emotions: Why You Feel the Way You Do and What God Wants You to Do About It by Jeff Shreve - again, just didn't feel like this book at this time (ironic, no?).

The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes - this book received stellar reviews, so I might pick it up again, but I hadn't gotten very far in before the hold list recalled the book and I couldn't renew it (sob).

At the moment, I am about 35 pages into two books, which again haven't totally hooked me yet:

It Happened at the Fair by Deeann Gist and After the Rain by Karen White.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Book Review: The View from Castle Rock

I blindly stumbled upon this one - literally. One day, I dashed into the library hoping to select a new audio book to listen to while I clean the kitchen every morning. Unfortunately, I realized that I had left my glasses out in the van and didn't have time to run back out to get them. Thus, as I wandered the aisle of audio selections, I could only really make out the author name and title. Someone in my book club recently mentioned Alice Munro and I had never read any of her books. Thus, I grabbed this one up without really knowing what it was about.

Once I began listening, however, I was intrigued because the introduction promised stories from her ancestors' trip to America and also the story of her relationship with a boy from The Salvation Army.  My ears perked up. I think it was my desire to get to the bottom of that story which led me to continue listening.

Part memoir, part fiction, Alice Munro has taken actual facts of her history and pieced together a fictionalized version of the story. It begins with a young boy, at Edinburgh Castle Rock, catching his father's dream of moving to America. The stories of life aboard the sailing vessel are interesting and engaging. Then, new life is established in America and eventually the stories lead to the author's growing up years in Canada.

It is during her early years in Canada that Munro begins to take an interest in someone her family would consider scandalous - someone from the rag-tag group of soldiers in The Salvation Army. I have to say, I was a bit disappointed with this bit of the story. The individual wasn't a good representative for the Army and the story of her relationship ended badly, sorry to say.

It kept my interest while listening and wasn't a wasted venture, but it won't go on my list of all-time favorites from the year's reading. Nor will I probably seek out another Munro book. However, in searching for information about the author, I discovered that she has recently won the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2013. Perhaps that is why someone was mentioning her. Given that fact, I might reconsider attempting another of her offerings, but I'm not sure. Still, if you are interested in the history of emigrants from Scotland or the history of the Lake Huron area of Canada, you might find this selection to be just your cup of tea.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Book Review: The Story of Beautiful Girl

I had never heard of this book prior to our book club's planning session last January. I'm so glad it ended up being one of our choices. It was an easy read, during this distracting month, because the story was compelling and kept me turning pages.

Beautiful Girl is a young girl named Lynnie who lives at the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded in 1968. One day she escapes the school, escorted by a deaf African American man named Homan, who is only known at the school as Number Forty-two. Drawn by a mailbox with a lighthouse bearing the head of a man, the two arrive on the doorstep of a widow named Martha. They are not alone, however. They come bearing a newly born baby. When representatives from the school arrive, the baby is hidden away in the attic. As they take Lynnie away and search for a fleeing Number Forty-two, Lynnie whispers a  request into Martha's ear - "Hide her."

Lynnie is returned to the school to a life of drudgery and bondage, always remembering her baby and Homan but, fearing their safety, never speaking up. Number Forty-two makes his way in the world always hoping to return to Lynnie and the baby. Martha flees her home and hides the baby away, always wondering whether she has done right by the little girl.

The reader is caught up by so many questions.  Will Martha be discovered and the baby returned? How did Lynnie come to be pregnant? Will Lynnie ever again escape the abusive, sterile environment of the institution? Will Homan finally be reunited with Lynnie? Will the baby ever be told the story of her birth and secret identity? Carried along by these questions, the story unfolds like a beautiful flower.

The author, Rachel Simon is an award-winning author, best known for her memoir, Riding the Bus with My Sister. I believe she did an excellent job of drawing well-developed characters and placing them in an enticing plot line. Her tender care in portraying these disabled characters was refreshing. Moreover, it had the feel of historical fiction as it told the tale of the early years of these horrid institutions and the exposure which finally forced more humane treatment for the disabled. This is a story well worth reading.

Monday, November 18, 2013

More Amazing Photo Manipulations

Swedish photographer Erik Johansson has created a whole array of photos which, gently manipulated, bend the mind's eye.  An array of his photos may be viewed at http://indulgd.com/mind-bending-photo-manipulations-by-erik-johansson/.

Here are my favorite two:

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Potential of First Drafts

Throughout the whole Nanowrimo process, I have a tendency to beat myself up for the perceived weaknesses of my new manuscript. The errors and flaws jump out at me. I worry that the piece is really worth nothing and a waste of time.  I think, "Will I have spent all of November, pouring out words for a manuscript that is too hokey, not engaging enough, riddled with too many characters and not enough suspense?"

I receive e-mails from the Gotham Writer's Workshop in New York.  They always provide good encouragement for writers and valid things to think about.  But, recently, Kelly Caldwell, their Dean of Faculty, wrote up a piece about first drafts.  These were words I needed to hear.  My rough draft might be rough and have tons of holes and weaknesses, but there are also things of great value there.  Even if it might not look like it on the surface, there are elements which, once mined and refined, will yield a good story.  She writes:

 "As everyone from Anne Lamott to William Zinnser, from Julia Cameron to Walter Mosley has told us, writing is a miraculous blend of the subconscious and the conscious. Our subconscious mind works away at our stories, and in our first (and second and third) drafts, we tap it, as miners tap veins within rock, to unlock its treasures. In revision, we bring our conscious minds to the effort, thinking about and experimenting with our structure, our themes, our words.

"Most gems do not emerge from the earth smooth and sparkly. Some natural gemstones must be hammered and cut to release their precious cargo; some are washed in cyanide, or bathed in pearl essence. Before any of that, miners must identify which lumps of rock will yield precious gems, and which are just rocks....

"Clich├ęs, repetitions, elliptical descriptions, themes that just won’t quit, characters who won’t go away – on the surface, in our rough drafts, they can look like just so much bad writing. But on second look, we need to evaluate them with some care, and dispassion. Sometimes they are, or they point to, natural gemstones, that with excavating, cutting, and polishing, become precious."

As I pray that my "bad writing" will turn into something of value with revision and digging, I offer up to you, fellow writer, this encouragement as well.  Don't chuck your first draft.  Don't belittle your efforts.  Remember, you cannot see what wealth is hidden beneath the surface.  There is a reason your story needs to see the light of day. Just keep plugging away until that story is presentable and the great potential has been fully tapped. Your future reader will thank you for not giving up too soon.


As of 11/15, I am 45,334 words into the Nanowrimo goal. Not bad progress at all!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Book Review: The Returned

This was a book I had to pick up because the premise was so intriguing. Plus, I really liked the cover art with the scene upside down and then reflected again, right side up, within the words of the title. Cover art can make or break a first impression.

For a first novel, I think Jason Mott did an outstanding job with The Returned. He hit upon an interesting what-if and ran with it. I think the structure of the novel worked well, with individual stories of various "returned" individuals interspersed with a continuous tale of one family's experience. But, somehow, I just wanted more from it. I'm not even sure what that "more" would look like. I don't know how I would have written the story any differently, but at the end of the novel, I felt like there was so much more that could have been, should have been, said. Still, I think the author accomplished his goal of taking the reader into an alternate reality where they could hold their loved ones once more and seek some sort of reconciliation with the losses of the past. Everyone who picks up this book will place themselves into the heart of the story and consider how they would respond should one of their deceased loved ones return.

The story follows an elderly couple, Harold and Lucille, whose eight year old son drowned in 1966. When a government agent, working with the Bureau, shows up on their doorstep with their "returned" eight year old son, they don't quite know what to do with the situation or how to respond to their "son." Is he really their son or just a glorified imitation? Is he a devil or a miracle? Moreover, is the widespread occurrence of more and more returned individuals a blessing or a curse? What would a society do if those who were dead suddenly began showing up again in their pre-deceased forms? This intriguing question permeates the book.

When I mentioned the book's premise to my husband, he immediately responded with, "Sounds like Stephen King's Sometimes They Come Back." Thankfully, this author didn't turn it into a horror story. It was a realistic assessment of what would happen in the world if the dead returned to life again and expected to live alongside the living. How do you pick up with what could have been when you've spent your whole life adjusting to the tragedy that did happen? Moreover, how would the world handle the sudden multiplication of bodies to feed, clothe, and house? Intriguing premise, indeed!

It was also reminiscent of Mitch Albom's One More Day, although in that book the deceased individual comes back for only one more day, while the deceased individuals in Mott's book return for unspecified amounts of time, some lingering longer than others.  Still, they seem to depart again eventually and maybe this is what left me unsettled with the handling of the premise. I guess I wanted every returned individual to accomplish some purpose behind their return.  I wanted to feel there was some magnificent reason for the situation to occur.  The random nature to the selection of "the returned" was unsettling. While questions of faith and morality, love and responsibility were addressed, I still felt like I was left hanging without complete resolution.

In the end, the reader gets a bird's eye view of the son's chance to say good-bye to his mother, something he didn't have when his life was suddenly snuffed out. It is this bit of reconciliation between the dead and the living which provides this novel with value. I can see how the author would anticipate readers being able to insert themselves into this scenario and vicariously accomplish some sort of reconciliation with their dearly departed. So, while I wanted a bit more from the novel than it delivered, I still gleaned a bit of reconciliation and, therefore, feel like it wasn't time wasted.

If my own miscarried baby were to return to me, in this scenario, I would expect to achieve something I wasn't allowed in life ... the chance to know what my baby would have eventually been like (what personality, what looks, what mannerisms, etc.). But, like the characters in this novel, I would feel uncomfortable taking something that was not to be and forcing it into what is. Reconciling the two, what was not and what is, would be impossible. Thankfully, this premise is only that - an interesting premise to consider.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

This One Made Me Chuckle

Saw a brief story about artist Kim Dong Kyu, who has been taking masterpieces and inserting modern inventions into the scenes.  This was my favorite:

                                                         (Photo by Kim Dong Kyu)

I could so relate, because of the time my youngest dropped our I-Pod touch, just two months after purchasing it, and cracked the screen.  Ah, the despair!

You can view more of his updated masterpieces here.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Nano Progress and Tidbits

I am cooking along on the novels.  I still am not thrilled with my efforts (worry that the story is a bit too smarmy, the stakes not high enough, and the story not interesting enough to hold a reader), but I keep reminding myself that it is a first draft.  All of these weaknesses can be addressed during the numerous editing stages the manuscript will go through after the Nanowrimo challenge is done.

The novel holding my primary focus is called "The Golden Bobby Pin" and is about a terribly shy, self-conscious teen who finds a golden bobby pin and decides to wear it in her hair.  She finds that when she wears the pin, good things happen and her self-confidence increases.  She becomes convinced that it bears some magic, despite her best friend's skepticism. Eventually, the pin will disappear and she will have to determine whether the confidence comes from within or from the pin.  As my niece puts it, it's a feel-good novel.  Not intense story-line, like some of my others.

The second novel I started is called "Dethroning the Queen of Sheba." This is one I began many years ago, so the story line has had a good long time to simmer.  However, somehow my enthusiasm for the tale is lagging, even though I think it holds more promise than the somewhat unbelievable bobby pin story. I suppose part of it is that I really liked the beginning I wrote before and cannot find it anywhere in my papers (although I know I never would have thrown it out - it is there somewhere).

It is about a teen who is forced to spend the summer with her prissy younger sister at her grandmother's house.  She decides to bring her sister down a peg by sending her fake anonymous love letters.  She is unsettled when someone else begins sending real letters.  Who is sending the real letters and will the older sister end up being the one who is brought down a peg instead? It just isn't coming as smoothly as the other tale, for now.  I still write about a thousand words on it, every other day.

So, on November 8th, I achieved the mid-way point of the Nanowrimo goal - achieving 25,000 words. I tend to average about 3600 words on days when the boys are not home and 1500 words when they are home.  This is still not enough to make 100,000 words by the end of the month, but I'm hoping I will at least complete the bobby pin novel entirely.

In other news, my son's football team lost their sectional game on Friday.  It was not unexpected, but still a bit of a disappointment (equally disappointing because we didn't get to see it as planned - we drove all the way out to the venue, only to find that there were no parking spaces left - the game was mobbed and Bryce said even if we had parked in a store parking lot across the street, we would have even struggled to find standing room). I did manage to snag a photo of him in his game jersey prior to leaving for school on Friday morning:

Plus, I realized that I failed to post a photo of my younger sons dressed in their Halloween attire this year.  So here is a photo of my skateboarding zombie and my Scream character:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Another Amazing, Creative Photographer

This time I stumbled upon a 14 year old boy's photographs of himself.  This kid is amazing.  Like the artist, last week, he is able to create photos that evoke a fairy-tale feel to them.  I loved looking at these and you will, too.


My favorite was of the boy drawing his own legs on a piece of paper.  Which photograph was your favorite?

The boy's own website is at www.fiddleoak.wordpress.com and you can find more information about how he comes up with and crafts these ideas.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pardon my Silence While I'm Busy Writing a Novel

Every November since November of 2009, I have participated in National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo).  Every year, I've completed the necessary 50,000 words to receive my prize - something my boys scoff at - the coveted certificate.  It really isn't just a certificate I've won.  I've won more confidence in my writing.

And, I suppose I am either a lot more confident this year or just determined to make things more interesting and difficult, because when it came time to start the novel, I couldn't decide between two warring ideas swirling in my head.  So, I decided it wouldn't hurt to start them both and let time determine which one I felt like working more diligently on.  I figure I can combine the word count, since they are both going to be tangible novels in the end (I would hope).  Thus, I started Day One with 2281 words on one manuscript and 1264 words on the other.  So far, one novel is outpacing the other one.  I now have 10,503 words on the more preferred story line and 2952 on the other one.  I still haven't decided if I will ditch the second one or up the ante and try to accomplish 50,000 words on both of them, arriving at a total word count of 100,000.  That sounds intimidating, but I'm eager to give it a shot.  What do I have to lose?  Any words I write are more than I would have had if I had neglected to attempt Nanowrimo again.

Regardless of what happens, I am happy to say that I am 1/5 of the way through the challenge.  I will probably not be on to blog as frequently, since I set my goal rather high.  Thank you for your patience and be sure to check in from time to time just in case I snag a moment or manage to read a book (after all, I still have my November book club book to read). If you are doing Nanowrimo, leave a comment.  I'd love to feel a sense of solidarity with another writer.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Book Review: Pie

I don't always post reviews of the books I read aloud to the boys, but in this case, I felt compelled.  This was a wonderfully fun book!  The boys both loved it (even though it features a cat instead of a dog).  It was well-written and engaging.  Plus, each chapter began with a different pie recipe (yum).

Alice Anderson's Aunt Polly is a master pie baker.  She is so good at it that she has won 13 of the coveted Blueberry Awards.  But, she's also a generous-hearted woman who can't bear to sell her pies, insisting on giving them away.  The whole town is thrown into a tizzy when Aunt Polly suddenly dies, leaving her secret pie-crust recipe to her cat Lardo, whom she leaves to Alice.  Everyone wants a shot at winning the Blueberry now that Polly is gone.  Plus, someone seems intent upon finding the missing recipe (stealing the cat and the key to the pie shop, then ransacking the shop).  Alice and her good friend, Charlie, are determined to solve the mystery and keep Aunt Polly's memory alive.

I loved that this book highlighted the propensity of each individual to certain gifts and the need to use those gifts to shine wherever you are.  Even though there were sad moments (yes, I cried during the read-aloud and the boys definitely noticed me tearing up), it was a joyful story full of lessons on the importance of friendship, family, and faithfulness to one's gifts.  The book was an absolute delight and I may just have to try one or two of those pie recipes (like the Chocolate Cream Pie and the Peanut Butter Raspberry Cream Pie).  Thankfully, baking is one of my gifts.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Amazing Baby Art to Bless Your Halloween

(Photo from boredpanda.com)

This was too cute to miss passing on (although, chances are you caught it elsewhere on the web, since it is quickly going viral):


Visit it!  You won't be sorry.  My favorite two were the ones with the baby in the claw machine and with the baby atop a stack of books!  Which were your favorites?

Apparently, there are over a hundred photos of the baby in fairy tale-esque scenes and the artist, Queenie Liao, has created a book called Wengenn in Wonderland, but I couldn't find a link to any book by that title.  Give it time, though.  It will definitely hit stores one day!  What talent!


For a video slide show with even more of the photos visit: http://sobadsogood.com/2013/10/27/mum-turns-babys-naptime-into-a-magical-adventure/

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Book Review: Taylor's Gift

Once you become a parent, your life is forever altered and connected to another life.  Moreover, once you become a parent, you open yourself up to empathy for every other parent's worst nightmare.  I could not read this without putting myself in the shoes of these two parents, who tell of their own personal tragedy when the life of their bubbly, vibrant 13 year old daughter, Taylor, was snuffed out in a skiing accident. If you have a child, you can't help but feel even a sliver of the pain this family experienced through this loss.

But the great thing about this story, is that the pain comes with God's redemptive power.  I love to watch God redeem brokenness and pain.  It makes me want to shout, "Go God!" (something my brother used to say when he'd see an especially stunning sunset or something of great beauty).  God took this tragic story, these horrific circumstances, this family's deepest pain, and turned it into something hopeful and beautiful.  He gave Taylor a legacy that lives on despite her absence in this world.  Through her organ donation, Taylor went on to save or greatly improve the lives of five individuals.  When Todd and Tara Storch decided to donate Taylor's organs, they opened themselves up to a whole new world.  Todd left his stable job to become the founding creator of Taylor's Gift, an organization devoted to increasing the organ donation registries across the nation.

I loved the vulnerability both parents expressed in the telling of this tale.  They were willing to share their own personal weaknesses, like the desire to run away from the pain and the tendency to sometimes snap when others didn't respond in ways they wanted (I, too, would have snapped if I saw someone heading to launder my deceased child's clothes - I would want to bury my head in the items and continuously sniff up the lingering scent).  Despite being overcome with grief, Tara Storch bravely shared her lows and came around to finding a renewed sense of joy in life.  I think this story is also important because it shows others the reality that two individuals often grieve in different ways. Tara was overcome and barely able to function, while her husband channeled his grief into action and seeking a purpose in the pain.  The key to maintaining strong relationships in the face of the loss of a child is in allowing for different grieving styles.

If you are looking for an authentic, courageous story, which weaves the pain of one of life's worst challenges with the hope of life's greatest potential, you can't go wrong with this book.  It will bring you to tears and move you to make a commitment, yourself, to allow others the gift of life by registering to be an organ donor.  This was such an inspiring read and I'm sure both God and Taylor are looking down with big smiles of approval.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Minecraft Halloween Party

When Bryce was small, I had a dear friend who woke one morning to discover that she was miscarrying a set of twin boys.  Not wanting her two young daughters to go with her to the hospital or be alarmed, she gave me a call and I invited them over, telling her to tell them it was a Halloween party invitation.  That first Halloween party was a happy/sad event and thrown together quite quickly.  But, it marked the beginning of a long string of Halloween parties my eldest son enjoyed.  It became an annual tradition and quite a lot of fun (there was the year of the Spurting Spider cake which I've posted about before).

Since the two younger boys have been around, I haven't been game to attempt another Halloween party.  I suppose I have more anxiety issues now than I did then and it always seemed like it might overwhelm me.  But, this year, over Fall Break from school, all Trevor could talk about was wanting to throw a Minecraft Halloween party.  For his last birthday party, only one third of those invited attended.  I worried he might be disappointed again if few kids could come.  He talked me into inviting 12 kids and he began to frantically work out all the details.  He is a detail-oriented kind of guy.  He had a blast searching the Internet for ideas.  Thus, none of our ideas here are original, really, but we had a lot of fun pulling it all together.

Sadly, I failed to take a single picture during the festivities.  I guess I was keyed up about everything going off without a hitch.  Plus, there is the factor of my camera being broken (thanks to Trevor leaving it out on the trampoline overnight), which means I have to take all pictures with my I-pad (not quite as convenient).  But, I managed to take a few photos before and several after it had all been cleaned up (sorry, not quite as authentic, I know).

First, Trevor set about making each of the invited kids a Minecraft character mask.  He printed these out on the computer and then affixed them to large squares of cardboard.  The Enderman mask was the biggest hit and I think several of the kids were fighting to have it, which led to an indoor game of chase.

Next, he tackled ideas for games.  He wanted to hold a costume contest.  Plus, he made these two games, as well (a Creeper Toss game and a Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Piggy game):

He had a set idea of what kind of refreshments he wanted and they had to fit the Minecraft theme.  So we placed out little bowls (inexpensive green ones located at the dollar store) filled with things to represent gold (Rolos), iron (Kisses), carrots (carrots - ha), Zombie Poo (chocolate covered raisins), Redstone (watermelon jello squares), Diamond (blueberry jello squares), Sticks (pretzel sticks), and TNT (Twizzlers).  He also provided Creeper juice (small water bottles with a creeper label he crafted and then copied on the copier).  The Rice Crispy Treat Creepers were the biggest hit and there was only one left in the pan at the end of the party:

The most amazing costume (in my opinion) didn't win.  One of the two girls who came wore a head of foam snakes to compliment her Medusa costume.  There were four boys (plus my two) and none of them voted for her.  Sad.  But, Trevor had great fun passing out prizes (to everyone, so nobody would feel left out).  He gave out a Minecraft poster (to the costume contest winner), two Yahtzee games, a bead set, a wooden helicopter model and a glow-in-the-dark ball (which was the only prize the recipient didn't seem too thrilled about - all the rest were hits).  Each guest also went home with a Creeper goody bag filled with small Halloween items and candy.

Apart from some moments of anxiety when too many of them were piled on the trampoline together (I had visions of bodily injury) and when a few of the boys wandered off to the bridge (led by my two mischievous ones), it was a thoroughly enjoyable party.  For the most part, Trevor didn't even want me to hang around, so I just sort of kept a side eye on them and a low profile.  They told jokes and played chase and Trevor showed a few of them how to get skins on Minecraft.  The kids all had a wonderful time and several asked if we could do this every year (um, I'm not there yet, although I did say that if we have one next year it will be Sean's turn to invite his friends - the poor kid already never gets a birthday party because his birthday is so close to Christmas that nobody would want the added expense or time commitment).  The party was a big hit and a lot of fun to plan and pull off.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Book Review: The Monstrumologist

Recently my library advertised a new book club for adults who enjoy reading young adult literature.  I thought this was a perfect opportunity to find other like-minded individuals and to continue to expose myself to more young adult fare.  So, I joined.  The first month's selection displayed perfect timing: The Book Thief.  I was already re-reading it for my other book club.  At the discussion of The Book Thief, we chose between two suggested selections for the October meeting.  The leaders of the group had selected titles which would fall in line with an October feel.  Together, the group selected Rick Yancey's The Monstrumologist, the first in a series of four books.

I will admit, I wasn't thrilled with the choice.  The book didn't sound appealing to me at all.  But, I barreled on anyway, reading this book so that I could participate in the discussion of it.  While it wasn't a book I would have chosen on my own, it wasn't a bad book either.  The writing was sound and the characters well-drawn.  The horror elements were suitably horrific and the plot, although it didn't move as quickly as I would have liked, moved to an inevitable conclusion.

Framed as a story told in journals by a man who claims to be a hundred and thirty-one years old, The Monstrumologist begins in 1888 when 12 year old Will Henry is working as an assistant to a scientist, a monstrumologist, who studies monsters.  The doctor calls for Will to "snap to," because there is a caller at the door delivering a horrific find from the graveyard.  Thus begins the adventure to locate and eradicate a species of monster documented by Herodotus, Pliny, and Shakespeare as the "Anthropophagi," a monster without a head, whose eyes are located on his shoulders and whose mouth, complete with an array of sharp teeth, is located in the chest.  (For a You Tube promo of the book, click here.)
                                                   (Photobucket image by J. Cortez)

After being orphaned by a fire, Will Henry, whose father was once the doctor's devoted assistant, stays with the monstrumologist out of loyalty to his father's devotion.  The Anthropophagi specimen hanging in the basement choked on the pearl necklace around a young girl's neck.  Will Henry is horrified by the image, but bravely fights alongside his master to root out the nest of this dreaded monster.  Unfortunately, there is a whole pod of monsters in the very village of the monstrumologist and they strike again before the doctor, his assistant, and the constable can root them out.  Thus another young boy is lured into the adventure after losing his whole family to an attack by the Anthropophagi. They must figure out how the monster came to be in the town and how to effectively get rid of them before they feast again.

I admire how the author presented the writing with a Victorian feel.  The story wasn't so horrific that I wanted to put it down (not being a fan of horror stories), but it didn't really leave me wanting to turn the pages faster until close to the end.  When Will Henry is called (for his small size) to crawl through a tunnel in the underground chamber of the Anthropophagi, I was transfixed.  This was truly terrifying.  He was trapped in a small place and then fell into the very nest, where he encountered the dominant female's youngest progeny.  Although I knew the boy survived to write the tale, it was still quite suspenseful.

I imagine this book would hold great appeal for teenage boys who are looking for a horror story.  They would relish the details of the attacks and the plight of the young apprentice.  For me, however, I wouldn't say this book left me wanting to search out the rest of the series.  I'm just not a fan of horror fiction, I guess. Still, it wasn't too horrific and the author didn't resort to fluffing the book with extraneous violence or foul language, so it would be a suitable title to suggest for a young male reader interested in monsters (like say, my middle son, in a few years).

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Book Review: Salt Sugar Fat

In this stunning expose' of the processed food industry, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, Michael Moss warns the American public of the pressing problems of obesity and health concerns brought on by the economic exploits of the makers of processed foods.  He considers his book to be a wake-up call to consumers to become more aware of the tactics and methods used by the processed food industry.  He likens the grocery store to a battlefield, complete with minefields and subtle enemy attacks.  But his final exhortation is this: "We have the power to make choices."

I found this book absolutely fascinating, while at the same time deeply disturbing.  Moss outlines clearly (and with plenty of documented support) the way we got to this point.  Weaving history lessons on societal shifts along with explanations of the processed food industry's giant pull towards making more money, Moss leaves the reader with no doubt that we are in a very dangerous state when it comes to the foods we are choosing to ingest.  These foods are pillared on three of the most dangerous ingredients: salt, sugar, and fat.  These are the things which the industry relies on to keep us coming back for more - more Oreos, more macaroni and cheese, more sugared cereals, more chips, more inexpensive and convenient foods - despite the fact that these foods are causing tremendous health problems.

Moss shows that "sugar, salt, and fat are the foundation of processed foods."  He outlines the growing tensions between consumers and these food giants who are determined to put "the pursuit of sales above consumer welfare."  I don't know which aspect I found more engaging: the history of how our society has advanced to this state of affairs (where we are more concerned with saving time and grabbing quick snacks instead of sitting down as a family to three established daily meals, where we are determined to find the cheapest, fastest foods available, where we glibly buy into the marketing genius of these companies to feel good by eating the foods which actually hurt us the most) or the investigative reporting the author provides about the key players and their endless pursuit of the mighty dollar.

Written in a narrative fashion, this book will change the way you look at the food you are purchasing in the store.  Even if you weren't an advocate of the "real food" movement before, you might begin to lean that direction after you ingest all of this telling information.  I found myself afraid of entering a store, for fear I might get sucked into the strategies and persuasions offered by the processed food industry.  I have a bent towards this food.  It is the most appealing fare for kids today.  When I go to feed my kids, it is macaroni and cheese, cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets and sweetened yogurts they are after.  Although I can summon enthusiasm from my middle son for a good meal of salmon, steamed baby carrots, and fresh fruit, it is still a constant battle to keep him away from his favorite processed foods.  We eat entirely too many of these foods and this has to change. 

Thankfully, this book has given me even more motivation for making the switch from a diet full of processed foods to a diet more full of real foods and things which take more time and money to prepare, because my family's health and well-being should, indeed, be more important to me than saving a dollar and the energy it takes to prepare wholesome fruits, vegetables and lean meats like fish and chicken.  The heads of these processed food giants don't eat their own foods.  That should tell us something right off the bat!  They value their health, so they avoid the very chips, Lunchables, Hot Pockets, and colas they are making for the general consumer.  Europe won't even allow the levels of salt, sugar, and fat, which we willingly consume.  Something has to change and Moss's great argument is that it should start with you, the reader.  Each of us can only control what we do in response to these companies and we have the power, as he says, to make different choices from here on out.  This book will open your eyes and hopefully, change your behaviors.  I certainly hope it helps me to change our family's food consumption habits.

For an interesting interview with the author, a 3 minute video pitch by the author, and plenty more positive reviews of this book, head here.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Prayer of Protection Over a Teen's New Car


I have such mixed feelings about this exciting new development.  On the one hand, I am thrilled that my son found a car he is so enthusiastic about.  He loves it!  Look at it.  How could he not? It is such an awesome-looking car.  On the other hand, it is the kind of car that will attract attention and get him pulled over more frequently.

I don't know if this was the right step to take, buying him such a nice car.  After two accidents, my thought was to buy him a beater of a car, something inexpensive and dull.  His dad reasoned that we wanted to be sure he was in a safe car, one that was built well.  Indeed, the Mustang is a well-built car.  We're hoping this car will see him through the college years, but realistically, I can't stop thinking about those accidents and playing with the "what ifs" in my mind.

Since it is such a nice car, he's bound to take better care of it, I suppose.  However, I can't help feeling like he should have been made to suffer a bit more for his mistakes.  Then again, they were just mistakes.  I've made the same mistakes myself.  If we went according to accident record, I'd be driving a beater, too.  Ha!

The money is coming from three sources: the check the insurance company gave us upon the other car's demise, a portion from us, and a portion from Bryce's savings.  However, does it really hit him very hard to take it from his savings?  Will he feel the pinch and appreciate fully the value of the car he's been entrusted with?  Are we depriving him a valuable lesson by not requiring him to work in some sort of job, saving up for a replacement car.

Logistically, I wouldn't want to still be driving him everywhere.  It is so much easier when he can transport himself to where he needs to be.  And, he will, indeed, need a car for college next year.

Thus, the argument rages in my brain, Lord.  But the primary thought is for his safety.  Please place Your protective hand on my son and this car.  Please watch over all the elements of traffic around him.  Keep those crazed drivers out of his path.  Help him to make swift and careful decisions.  Teach him responsibility despite our possible failings in the parenting department.  I place him and the car in Your hands and will try to let go of the anxiety I feel.

Thank You for this bountiful blessing and for the delight my child is experiencing.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Help Trevor Win a Matisse Drawing Contest

The boys are on Fall Break from school this week, so Tuesday I took Trevor to the Indianapolis Museum of Art.  I was surprised at how quickly he moved through the museum.  He was most interested in the sculptures and did really enjoy one painting in particular which portrayed Jesus entering a demon-infested landscape.  That painting is quite gruesome ... totally boy-appealing!

While there, he said his absolute favorite thing was entering the Inspired by Matisse contest.  In a small lab room, set up with I-Pads with a drawing app, individuals were urged to try their hand at drawing like Matisse.  Trevor drew this entry and titled it "Sway:"

If you would like, you can follow this link and vote for his drawing in the 6-12 age range competition. Below the drawing there is a place to click "vote."  Thanks for helping out!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Book Review: Handling the Truth

When I noticed this book on the recent acquisitions list at our library, I placed my name on the hold list. Although the book is about memoir writing, and I have no plans for ever writing a memoir, I figured it couldn't hurt to read someone's insights into the writing process for this genre.  Plus, in the back of my mind, I was remembering a request from one of my GED students (back when we lived in DeKalb).  She asked that I write up her life story (which is biography, but a kin to memoir, certainly) and she has quite a story to tell (raped at 11 by a family friend, she gave birth to her first-born at 12 and went on to establish a solid marriage and have two more children).

One of the first suggestions Beth Kephart makes is one I wholeheartedly support, the need to immerse yourself in other memoirs in order to prepare for writing one's own. (I have done this with YA novels to prepare myself for writing my own.)  Sadly, as the author shared illustrations of the craft, I realized that I was unfamiliar with most of the memoirs mentioned in this book.  Her appendix of suggested reading at the back would no doubt be quite helpful to any writer interested in writing memoir.  Instead of merely providing the titles of read-worthy memoirs, Kephart highlights each book with an explanation of what the book is about and why it would be helpful as an example of good writing.  I was thrilled to discover that one of my favorite writers, Oliver Sacks, has written a memoir.  This, along with a few others, will be added to my lengthy list of books to one day read.

For me, the key take-away from this book was the idea that memoir must have meaning above and beyond the mere cataloguing of what happened.  The writer has to find a way to share experience in a way that the reader will relate to and benefit from.  The author quotes Vivian Gornick as saying, "A memoir is ... under obligation to lift from the raw material of life a tale that will shape experience, transform event, deliver wisdom."  Truly great memoirs find a way to draw meaning from the events of life.

I cannot say whether this is the best book to read about writing memoir (I don't feel qualified to make that judgment). There were times when the flowery language of it made me wish the author would just say things in a more concrete manner.  Moreover, I didn't really glean many general writing tips that I hadn't already encountered elsewhere.  I know that Sheila, of The Deliberate Reader, highly recommends The Memoir Project by Marion Roach Smith.  Plus, Kephart herself suggests a list of profitable titles to read on the art of writing memoir.  If nothing else, this book will certainly provide you with more reading fodder and anyone who wants to write books should be prepared to read many books, both books of instruction and books of example.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Book Review: Unbroken

I have heard the buzz about this book and been intrigued, but it took a book club selection of the book to get me to finally read it.  It deserves all the wonderful accolades on the back cover: "gripping in an almost cinematic way" - The New York Times Book Review; "a powerfully drawn survival epic" - The Wall Street Journal; and "stirring and triumphant ... a nearly continuous flow of suspense" - Los Angeles Times.  Rebecca Skloot declares the author, Laura Hillenbrand, "one of our best writers of narrative history."  I concur on all counts.  This book gripped me and would not let me go.

Titled Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, this book tells the tale of Louie Zamperini and his extraordinary life experiences before, during, and after World War II.  From his mischievous days of youth to his exciting Olympic ambitions, his early life was a whirlwind of activity and marked him as an exceptional individual.  But the heart of the story picks up when Louie's plane, a B-24 bomber dubbed the "Green Hornet," goes down in the Pacific Ocean.  There are three survivors clinging to two life rafts.  Their story was so exciting (especially the bits about sharks swimming circles around their raft and even jumping up into the raft in attempts to pull the men into the water) that I began to read bits of it aloud to my boys.  Sean was especially riveted and kept saying, "keep reading."  We read of the time Louie caught a bird and in attempting to eat it, became covered  in lice so that he had to dip his head into the ocean to drown the lice, while his raft-mates beat back the attacking sharks. Sean marveled when the men were able to catch a shark and eat the liver.  We were astonished when we read of the amount of weight lost during the forty-seven days stranded at sea (they shrank down to 67 and 80 pounds).  Louie bargained with God, that if He would save him, Louie would serve Him the rest of his days.

Amazingly, the harrowing adventures while lost at sea paled in comparison to conditions of life after he washed ashore in enemy territory.  I had to stop reading aloud because the details became far too graphic (although I did relent and share with them the fact that the disease beriberi often swelled a man's testicles to the size of bread loaves - boys relish those kind of details).  The stories of other prisoners of war were woven into Louie's tale.  William Harris was captured by the enemy but escaped and swam eight and a half hours across Manila Bay while a storm raged and fish bit him.  He made a run for China, surviving on ants and the assistance of sympathetic Filipinos, until some civilians turned him in to the Japanese.  His tale was especially interesting because he had a photographic memory.  Louie would sneak into the guard house and steal a map, rush it to Harris, who would look it over carefully for a few seconds and then draw up the map as Louie rushed it back to the guard house undetected.  This activity eventually netted a horrific beating for Harris.

The worst of the stories centered around a particular guard, nicknamed "the Bird."  Mutsuhiro Watanabe, "the Bird," became Louie's worst nightmare.  Although he was monstrous to all the POWs, he was especially focused in on Louie, for some reason.  This man made Louie's life a living hell and Louie was filled with hatred and rage toward the man.  Even when he was eventually freed, at the end of the war, he was plagued by nightmares of encounters with "the Bird."  At one point, he woke from a nightmare to find that instead of strangling "the Bird," he was instead strangling his own wife.  Louie began to run to alcohol to avoid facing the demons that plagued him from his war-time experiences.

Just as I was beginning to despair over the story, feeling the weight of all the devastating details and worrying that perhaps there would be no redemption, only a sad tale of a life destroyed by horrific war conditions, Hillenbrand tells of Louie's wife's attempts to drag Louie to a Billy Graham crusade. Referring to actual transcripts of Graham's sermon, it was as if the preacher's words were directly pointed at Louie.  Remembering his bargain with God, he responded and broke away from the hold of alcoholism and resentment.  He even took a trip back to Japan to face and forgive his old guards.  His life was changed and he channeled the tragic story of his life into work reforming troubled youths.  Moreover, he eventually penned a letter to "the Bird," expressing forgiveness and good will.

Although the book was especially gruesome to read, it was a fascinating and truly well-told story.  The pages fell away quickly.  Even if you are not a war-story enthusiast, this book is a riveting, remarkable read.  I thought that I would be frustrated with yet another World War II book selection, but this was my favorite book selection of the past three war-centered books. 

Update: My Unbroken movie review: 12/27/14 - Went with Trevor to see Unbroken yesterday. Thankfully, the violence wasn't too intense for his ten year old eyes, and he did enjoy the movie (perhaps more than I did). I felt disappointed with it. It failed to capture the most important aspects of Louie Zamperini's life and story. Yes, it told of the horrific circumstances the man endured, but it didn't focus on the redemption of his story or on the amazing story of forgiveness the book highlights. These key elements (the bits about Louie's decline from PTSD and his eventual turn to God and journey to forgiveness for his enemies) were left to sentences displayed on the screen in the final moments of the film.

My writing friend, Julie Kloster, articulated my dissatisfaction well when she wrote on Facebook: Teachers remind students to "find the main idea" of stories. Angelina, dear, you missed the main idea of UNBROKEN. What makes this story great isn't the endurance of war torture, but the supernatural ability to forgive those who torture us by "loving our enemies" with the love that we first receive from Christ. What our hearts long for is not just strength, but healing. Where are the scenes of Zamperini's post traumatic stress? Where are the scenes where Zamperini was finally....broken....and recognized his need of God? Where are the face to face encounters of forgiveness with the Japanese soldiers that tortured Zamperini? All of these scenes would have added up to make the beautiful torch run not just touching, but mind blowing. A bit less torture and a lot more redemption would have catapulted this film from inspirational to a classic, life-changing piece of art."

My recommendation is to definitely read the book before seeing the movie. I'm not saying the movie isn't worth watching, but without reading the full account and getting a clear picture of the heart of the story, you are settling for the shell when you could experience a fully-fleshed out story of redemption.

It reminds me of an image I shared on Facebook this past year highlighting the differences between a movie and a book.

(Image shared from The Other 98%'s Facebook page).