Saturday, February 25, 2012

1000 Awesome Things

I just found a new fun place on the web I really like. Shout out to Phaedra's Adventures for listing 1000 Awesome Things on her side bar. I took a quick cruise through some of the posts and found that yes, indeed, life truly is full of amazing, awesome things. I particularly liked the post on blankets.
I think I'll go wrap myself up in one right now!

Book Review - Diappointment

A couple weeks ago I received a copy of "We Lived in Heaven" by Sarah Hinze to review. I worked my way through the book quite quickly as it is a very easy read. The book is a series of accounts from different people describing personal experiences of having "met" or "seen" the spirits of their children before they were born.

Because I have a strong belief in the pre-existance, that we lived as spirits in the presence of God before we were born to this mortal life, I expected this to be a strong, uplifting book confirming that belief.

However, I was disappointed by this book. Within the first few pages the point is made that some families have experiences with pre-birth spirits. Then page after page after page basically retells that same thing in different ways. While I am sure each experience was unique to the persons involved, that uniqueness was not really captured in the telling of the stories. It felt redundant.

Aside from the sense of repetition, the writing style did not impress me. I suspect the feelings that the various people portrayed in the book experienced were extremely powerful. In my mind, that power was not adequately conveyed in the book. What were, I am sure, very tender and sacred moments in families were reduced to short peeks that were little more than sound bites of stories. Some were down right anti-climactic.

I understand it is an extremely challenging thing to capture wonder and awe in words. It's sort of like trying to describe the taste of salt. You can say what it is NOT, you can give examples of something that IS. But how can you paint a taste or a spiritual experience with words to convey it to another person who has not had a similar experience? So, in that sense, I give the author credit for trying to take on this very formidable task, and perhaps I should not expect more.

But as a reader, I do expect more. And this book did not deliver it.

Beyond that, I was uncomfortable with the whole idea of sharing these deeply personal and sacred experiences in a book of this type.

I absolutely agree with the author that we did indeed live in heaven before coming to this world. I do not doubt the veracity of her experiences. I do question her motives in publishing this book. These tales, I believe, would have been better served in private journals of the families involved rather than put on display for the public.

Am I being too harsh? Perhaps. Maybe some will really enjoy the stories - feel the uplifting inspiration that no doubt the author was trying to convey. But honestly I wrestled for days trying to think of some positive spin I could put on describing the book. For me, it just wasn't there.

Book Review Coming Soon - Author Interview

I have been asked to review the book "The Night Sky: A Journey From Dachau to Denver and Back" by Maria Sutton.

I'm really looking forward to reading this book!

Here is the book description from Amazon:

This extraordinary and unflinchingly honest memoir takes us on a riveting journey into the hearts and souls of three enigmatic people whose destinies are forever changed by the events of World War II. The secrets of misguided love and passions are revealed as the author journeys between the past and the present to solve the mystery of a handsome Polish officer with piercing blue eyes and sun-colored hair. Maria Sutton takes us to the dark green hills and valleys of the ancient Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine, where the woody fragrance of birch trees and new-mown hay fills the fresh, crisp air after a heavy rain. Vicariously, we see a sunrise over Poland obscured by brightly colored swastikas on warplanes and then we will be taken into suffocating cattle cars, lice-infested stalags, and to the Dachau death camp. Further down a country road, the hearty laughter and beer steins clinking with each salute to the Fuhrer s astonishing victories can be heard.

As Maria takes us on this odyssey to solve a decades-long mystery, she learns the family secrets of untold heroism, quiet courage, and a mother s love and of tragedy, disillusionment, and heartbreak. At the end of her long journey, Maria uncovers a shattering and painful truth. But the secret, however heartbreaking, would also become the greatest gift she would receive.

I had an opportunity to ask the author a few questions online and thought you might be interested to hear what she had to say:

1) At what point did you decide to write a book about your experiences?

MS: This is the book I HAD to write – no doubt in my mind. It started off being a story for my family, but many of my friends said the story was important and should be shared with the rest of the world. I thought about Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle, two notable memoirs that brought us into the authors’ lives, where we learned of their family’s tragedies and triumphs and I wanted to add to that genre that exposed people’s vulnerabilities, weaknesses, strengths, and quiet courage. Moreover, it’s the resiliency of the human spirit that was the important part of their stories, and I wanted to share that message with readers beyond my family. When I was eight, my Mother watched the popular TV show Queen for a Day and oftentimes stated she should be a contestant because she was sure she would win the top prize, and that a book should be written about her life. At the time, I just rolled my eyes, but as her story unfolded to me during the search for my biological father, I realized she was a true-life hero and that a book should be written about her life. This book is for her, and all the mother’s out there who show quiet courage and strength in the love they have for their children.

2) How long did it take you to write the book?

MS: I have a complicated answer for this simple question. I searched for my biological father for 43 years – that’s over four decades of research material, so if you count that as part of the writing of the book, you could say the book was 43 years in the making. Once I decided to write this book, it initially only took four months for me to write it. But here’s the twist: I’m a fast writer, thought I had a final manuscript at the end of four months, ready to be sent out to literary agents. A little voice inside my head told me to have the book critiqued – so I did, by an Ivy League accomplished writer. When the critique came back, I was informed there was a lot of history in the book – and that history needed a strong voice to carry the reader through it, and that I had to be that strong voice because readers would want to know what kind of person would search for their father for 43 years, and WHY. I struggled with that concept for several months because I didn’t want to be the star of my book. I started thinking about the conversations I had with my mother about the War, Germany, her homeland, and immigrating to America, and the book began to emerge with me having these discussions with my mother. It took another six months to re-write the story in the new format. So, I guess you could look at the time frame for writing the book as 44 years, or just one. Aren’t you glad you asked this question?

3) Is there anything in the book that you considered leaving out?

MS: Oh YES, YES, YES! When I learned about the truth of my father, I glossed over it – and made a general comment about the horrific scene. My editor picked up the phone and immediately called me, stating I HAVE to describe what I learned – readers would get angry with me if I didn’t, and would not finish reading the book. She went on to say that the story had a beautiful ending, so I had to disclose, in graphic detail, what I found so that readers would continue reading the story through its ending.

4) Are there any parts that are NOT in the book that you now wish you had included?

MS: It was difficult for me to stop writing and re-writing the book, but there comes a time when an author has to say “Enough is enough!” An author has to be cognizant that what may be interesting to them may not be interesting to readers. One of the things that surprised me most about the book is that readers have become emotionally attached to Jozef, Julia, Paul, and Wasyl. My biggest concern in writing the book was that my family and friends really liked the story, but, that’s to be expected from family and friends, and would strangers who did not know us find the story interesting, and connect to the main characters? To my relief (and sometimes consternation), readers have become emotionally involved with the people in the memoir – some getting angry because I didn’t give more information about Paul, or that Jozef was the villain and why didn’t I paint him in a different light? Paul was a major influence in my life, yet one of my biggest failings is that I didn’t know very much about this man that I describe as a “Knight in Shining Armor.” It seemed like every reader had their favorite character, and perhaps I should have included more information on all the villains and heroes in my book.

5) Are there any other authors who have influenced your writing style?

MS: I love this question, and the answer will surprise you. My favorite authors are Steinbeck, Hemingway, Victor Hugo and Tolstoy. Steinbeck and Hemingway for their straightforward prose, Tolstoy for his complicated and sometimes convoluted stories, and Victor Hugo for his character development. Who could not love Anna Karenina or Jean Valjean? Writing has always intrigued me and the striking contrast between Steinbeck, Hemingway, Hugo and Tolstoy has taught me that the delicate balance between simplicity and abstraction is a huge consideration in how a book is written. Readers have to be given credit for their intelligence – you can’t over-simplify thereby insulting the reader, yet you shouldn’t make the reader second-guess what you’re trying to convey.

6) Do you have another book planned?


MS: One of the highest honors an author can get is for readers to say, “Please write more books.” I am thrilled that several readers have asked me to write more books, and I’m thinking that through. I need to feel passionate about a story in order to write it. Some marketing blog sites state “quantity is better than quality.” Not for me it isn’t. When I feel I have something important to say that I want to share with readers so they benefit in some way from my message, I will write that book.

****

So does that get you excited about this book? It does me. I like history. I like family history. I like personal accounts. I enjoy suspense. Put them all together and this promises to be one delicious read. I'll let you know my impressions after I get it done.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Change in Directions


Over the past few years I have made 25 loans through the micro-credit program KIVA.
I am a strong supporter of the concept of micro-credit and I have felt good about knowing that I could reach out to help people in various parts of the world. I've assisted in the purchase of lots of pigs and sheep and cows. I've helps stock stores, buy building materials and repair broken down vehicles. Every time the money was repaid I'd loan it out again to some new borrower, allowing the same few dollars I had invested in the beginning to touch more and more lives.

And now I'm done.

I have nothing against Kiva. They have not offended me. I'm just done.

Here's why... I absolutely believe it makes sense to help people in other parts of the world. But I also believe it is important to help people right here where I live. I have found an organization that will do that. It operates on the same principles as Kiva - giving small micro loans to individuals who are trying to improve their lives and working with them to see that the follow through. Here. In Idaho.

I've met the gentleman who runs the program and have confidence in his integrity in managing the program well. So, as my outstanding loans through kiva get paid back I am pulling my money out and diverting it to META.

I will still give to some charities I believe in that have activities throughout the world. But for micro credit activities, I feel good about directing my funds closer to home. This is a good organization. I'm excited to support them!

I love my Kindle Fire!!!!

Anyone who knows me well at all knows that I am an avid reader. I read LOTS of fiction and a fair amount of non fiction. I read for learning, for entertainment, for distraction, for comfort, for inspiration. Since I was a child, reading a good book has been among my dearest pursuits.

As an anniversary gift my sweet husband bought me a Kindle Fire. It's absolutely delicious to be able to carry around 100 different books in my jacket pocket. As I have indicated in an earlier post, my tastes are rather eclectic so I tend to be somewhat fickle in going between various genres. With all these different books (and a few magazines) collected on my Fire I an find something yummy to suit any mood.

There are hundreds of books that are available for download for free or very low cost. Many of them are drivel. Some, however, are quite good.

I've recently download several collections - complete works by classic authors: Mark Twain, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, HG Wells, and unbelievably - the whole collection from The Bronte Family (YES - all of them: Charlotte, Ann, Emily and Patrick). My brain has had enough of formula murder mysteries. I'm ready to dig deep into some of these time honored classic tales. Some I will be re-reading for the 3rd or 5th time since childhood. Some I will be discovering for the first time.

I know spring will come soon and then I'll have lots of yard work to get busy with. There is laundry to do and dinner to make. I do have a job - two of them actually. So I won't be able to just get lost in my books nearly as much as I would like. But all the more reason to choose carefully which sort of books I spend my limited discretionary time on.

Just as I think it makes sense to take care in what sort of people I choose to surround myself with in my social world, I want to be more judicious about my reading life in the coming months. I've recently finished one or two books that I wish I could delete from my brain. They convinced me it was time for a change.

So one of my goals for the coming year is to read a dozen or more classic stories and discuss them well with other people who care about serious literature.

For starters will be Persuasions by Jane Austen. (Click here for chapter summaries)My sweet blogger friend, Mimi, over on Bigger than a Breadbox is hosting a discussion of the book. I'm excited to join in!

What have you read lately??

Choose Ye This Day....

I've been thinking a lot lately about how quickly things can change in our lives. I've been reminded about the power and importance of individual choice in what we will notice and what we will focus on among all the many things occurring all around us. I've always said that each person's attitude was up to the person's choice more than a result of what happened to them. Here lately I've had some opportunities to really test how far I believed that to be true.

2011 was a great year for me. SO many blessing came my way. November and December in particular were a giddy blur of peak experiences. I had found my new job which was a great fit after a long period of struggle in a difficult work environment. I celebrated my 30th anniversary with the man I love, and truly felt bowled over by the depth of the kindness and intimacy we have developed over the years. I had several key spiritual experiences that strengthened me in ways so sacred I hold them close to my heart. In nearly every area of my life, I had so much bliss it was astonishing. This was way beyond happy. I felt a rich sense of purpose and meaning in my life far beyond any I had known before.

Then the new year came and much of that seemed to flip. My job is still great. My man is still my hero. My testimony still is strong and sustaining. But it would have been easy to lose site of all that in the face of some dark things that at times seemed to overshadow everything else.

January was a tough month at our house. It was a time of funerals and condolences. We lost six different people we were close to. Most were folks who lived in other states, but who had been an important part of our lives over the years. Two were from our current congregation - bookending life with one being way too young (just 15) and the other having known many years. While the circumstances around each of these deaths was different - cancer, old age, accident, suicide, heart disease - in every single one of these cases we were reminded of the uncertainties of life and why it really does matter to say what needs said to the people we love NOW rather than waiting for just the right time. You just never know when a conversation will be your last.

Then right along side all those griefs, came the health challenges. My sweet husband had been having lots of problems with his right shoulder - pain and loss of mobility. It turned out he had a torn rotator cuff that needed surgery. What was supposed to be a very straightforward operation got more complicated when they found the damage to his shoulder was far more extensive than the ultra-sound had indicated. It was not just torn. His ligament was completely unattached from the bone. So instead of a simple arthroscopic repair the surgeon had to cut through the muscle which will require a much longer and more painful recovery time.

For several days after the operation it was quite a struggle for him to deal with the pain and nausea. There were two days in particular that were hell on toast. We were both feeling pretty bleak. Even after the worst of that passed, the frustration for both my beloved and me was pretty high as we coped with him not being able to bathe or dress himself without help. He couldn't get good sleep and was just never very comfortable.

Finally the staples came out and the sling came off so now he is feeling a lot better. Best of all is that he can drive again, so he won't feel so trapped being home unable to get anywhere. Still, it will be several months and much difficult physical therapy before he will have full use of his arm again.

Add to this mix that one of our grown up kids was having some major struggles. I won't go into the details here as that is his private business - but suffice it to say that we spent more than a few sleepless nights of worry about the problems that our boy was having to cope with. Our kids are all adults and as such we hope that they will be able to manage whatever challenges they come up against in their lives. But in my heart my boys will always be my babies, no matter how grown up they are, so it HURTS when I see them having an especially hard time.


Put all of this together and what it adds up to is that the start of 2012 has been a season of coping with adversity in one fashion or another.

It has given me a chance to reflect on how I look at life when things are shining and how I look at things when dark clouds come calling. There were times during the happy days when I reveled in peak experiences and knew absolutely how very well blessed I was. There were also, I'm sorry to say, times when all was good that I pretty much took it for granted and just got caught up without noticing or giving thanks for how sweet it all was. Similarly, there have been times during our recent difficulties and sorrows that I have REMAINED grateful for the tender mercies that abound, even in the face of hardships, times when I've felt genuine joy despite some terribly painful things crashing all around us. And there have been times when I've crumbled in a heap of overwhelm and hurting when all I could see were the losses, the pain, the distance between current reality and what I would wish for instead.

Because the contrast in our circumstances have been so absolute in a very short period of time it has been a pretty dramatic lesson -

Happiness, contentment and joy are certainly easier to find when experiencing pleasant and supportive events or environment. But good weather, good food, solid tires, and fine health will not in and of themselves make me feel like all is right with the world. I've known plenty of people who focus on whatever is not immediately perfect no matter how many blessings they have.

And in the same fashion, grief, loss, hard times will not by themselves make me be miserable. It is certainly more of a challenge to keep my optimistic outlook when everything I care about seems to be crashing down around me. But it is not impossible. I have truly known some moments of sweet peace and joy during some of these darkest days.

Life is a complicated mix of good and bad, painful and pleasant. Through it all I decide which I will focus on .....what I have to be grateful for or what I have to sorrow about. I pick. I hope I can choose well.

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