Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Orphan Master's Son - book review

I'm making progress on my goal to read all the Pulitzer Prize winners in fiction! I recently completed the 2013 winner, The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson. (Warning - there are some spoilers in my review below.)

This book is divided in to two parts. The first part tells the story of Jun Do, a boy in North Korea who is raised in an orphanage by his father, the Orphan Master. Jun Do is conscripted into the North Korean Army at a very young age and works for a while in the tunnels under the DMZ (demilitarized zone) between North and South Korea. He is then assigned to work for the government kidnapping people from other countries, and finally he serves as a radio operator on a fishing boat where he intercepts and relays transmissions. He becomes a "hero" based on a concocted story to cover up the fact that one of his shipmates tried to run away. He gets beat up as the government tries to get the real story out of him, and he is finally sent to prison.

The second part of the story is about Jun Do as well, however through a bizarre series of events he has taken on the identity of a famous Commander simply by claiming to be him. It's actually kinda funny how many of the people around him during this section continue to propagate this story that he is the Commander. He (well, the Commander) is married to the actress Sun Moon, and Jun Do helps her and her children escape to America.

The book is set in the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea), which claims to be a socialist state, but has the characteristics of a dictatorship, and promotes Juche, an ideology of national self-reliance. The story gives a glimpse into life in North Korea where the government decides who does what, how and when. I haven't really studied much about North Korea, but this glimpse into that type of a culture was horrifying and terribly saddening.

I have mixed feelings about the book. Like some of the other Pulitzer winners I've completed, I'm glad I read it but would not read it again and would only recommend it to serious readers. There is a good bit of torture and inhumane killing throughout the book, which was disturbing but was not written in a manner that made it completely gory or too bawdy (if that makes sense).

The plot line was interesting and I found some incidents extremely humorous. For example, before Jun Do goes to prison, he is part of a delegation that goes to America and is met and entertained by a Texas senator. They are not successful in their attempt to have a warhead (that the US confiscated) returned, so the delegation creates a story to tell upon their return to North Korea. They report that the American made them eat with their hands outside (at a Texas BBQ), forced them to sleep with their dogs (the family pet), made them do grounds-keeping and cut weeds (with a chainsaw) and shoot guns (target practice). The delegation claimed that all these things were done to humiliate the Koreans, and this incident figures strongly in Jun Do's plan to help Sun Moon and her children escape later in the book.

Have you read this book? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Memorandum Monday - A Custom Scrapbook, More Anne, and The Daily Mail

Joining in today with Sian's Memorandum Monday meme sharing something NEW (something you did over the weekend FOR THE FIRST TIME or something you learned and DIDN'T KNOW BEFORE). There were several firsts and some learning around here this weekend.

A Custom College Years Scrapbook
Although I created a couple of custom scrapbooks for hire last year, this weekend I completed a custom college years album for the first time.

The soon-to-be college graduate's mother contacted me, and I put together a 66-page album with photos and memorabilia from her son's four years at TCU. I actually completed the bulk of the album in two days and delivered it on Saturday morning. Here's a peek at the final page in the album.

Megan Fellows and Anne of Green Gables
Megan Fellows has appeared in numerous TV shows and movies, however I first heard of her when we watched the Anne of Green Gables movie last week. This weekend I learned more about her - she is a Canadian actress best known for her role as Anne Shirley; both her parents were actors; her first acting job came at the age of nine; and she portrays Anne in two additional movies.


Robbie and I spent Saturday evening watching the next movie in the series for the first time. Anne Of Green Gables - The Sequel condenses the stories from books two, three and four in the Anne of Green Gables series. I believe this second movie was a TV mini-series - it was four hours long and a great way to spend a weekend evening. We're planning to watch the third movie, Anne Of Green Gables - The Continuing Story, this week, and I'll be re-reading the remaining books soon, too.

Star Wars Trading Cards and The Daily Mail
This weekend Robbie mentioned to me that he'd read there were supposed to be a set of four Star Wars trading cards in the Sunday edition of The Daily Mail. Actually there is a new set of cards each of the next three Sundays, too, according to the information he gathered on one of the collectible forums he enjoys. Of course, he would like to add the cards to his collection. I emailed Sian and she was so wonderfully kind and ran round to the shop to pick up a copy, however we learned that those cards are not offered in Northern Ireland but are rather associated with a chain of shops in England. So, while we didn't find the cards, we did learn something new . . . and I was reminded of how grateful I am that the Internet and blogging have brought friends in to my life from around the globe. (If anyone has a copy of the Sunday Daily, please drop me an email. I'd still love to surprise Robbie with that set of cards.)

Did you do or learn anything new this weekend?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sunday Musings - More (book review)

We all have a personal calling, however sometimes it's difficult to define and follow that call as we get caught up in the busyness of our everyday life.

In his book More: Find Your Personal Calling and Live Life to the Fullest Measure, author Todd Wilson provides information on ten foundations of calling as well as a framework for discovering and defining our own personal calling.

The book (which I received free from Booklook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review) begins with descriptions and discussion about ten foundations or truths about calling. These foundations (like trusting the Author of our story, stepping forward in faith, and taking personal responsibility for the unique role Jesus gives us) provide a base for completing the steps in the second half of the book to discover our unique call. Our calling consists of a primary (or general) calling and a secondary (or unique personal) calling. The author discusses these two callings using a three part framework: BE-DO-GO.

We all have the same basic general calling - to be disciples of Christ [BE] who make disciples of Christ [DO] wherever we are [GO]. Once we understand this principal, we can then move on to the three components of our unique calling. There are questions and steps to help us work through this process. I've studied and thought about my personal calling many times, and I found this framework to be a great way to reassess where I am right now. In fact, I'll probably work back through the exercises in this section to help me refine my personal calling - being a teacher [BE] who encourages others in their everyday walk with the Lord [DO] in my daily life [GO].

This is a very well-written, easy-to-read book with practical steps to help us discover our unique calling. I definitely recommend it for anyone who is seeking to find or better understand the calling God has placed on your life.

How would describe your calling?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Anne of Green Gables

As Anne Shirley would say, some things have more "scope for imagination" than others. This is definitely true of Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery's wonderful book that introduced readers to Anne over 100 years ago.

I don't remember ever reading these books as a child. In fact, I first read the 8 book series that chronicles Anne Shirley's life for the first time just a few years ago. At the beginning of this year, I decided to re-read the books as part of my goal to re-read all my children's/young adult books and to join in with the 2016 Anne of Green Gables Reading Challenge. However, it was this post on the Love Letter to Adventure blog that inspired me to get going and complete the first book so I could join in with today's discussion and link-up.

I thoroughly enjoyed getting reacquainted with Anne and her vivid imagination as I re-read the book over the past couple of days. Despite the fact that Anne is an orphan and has endured tough situations in the first 11 years of her life, she is a delightful girl whose wonderfully creative mind helps her maintain a positive outlook because "you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly."

There are so many wonderful things I could say about the book that it's hard to choose, so I'll simply answer the questions from the Love Letter to Adventure discussion post and the 2016 Anne of Green Gables Reading Challenge Book 1 discussion post.

*What kind of everyday adventures do you see in Anne’s life?

Oh my, every day is an adventure in Anne's life! She can simply look out her window and imagine an entire adventure story. Whether she's reveling in the outdoors, adding flowers to the table setting, or eating ice cream for the first time, she notices the beauty and flavor and color in everything.

*How can we use Anne’s outlook to bring extra excitement and meaning to our everyday lives?

I think we can all learn from Anne how to change our attitude and perspective by viewing the situation in a positive light. While she is admittedly somewhat melodramatic, Anne has a way of bringing a bright spot into even the most difficult things. About her apology to Mrs. Lynde, she tells Marilla, "I thought since I had to do it I might as well do it thoroughly.

*And just for fun, what was your favorite part?

It's hard to just pick one part, but I do love how Anne gives names to things and places. For example, when she's on her way to Green Gables for the first time, she decides the long lane spread over with wide-spreading apple trees should be called the "White Way of Delight" . . . as opposed to the "Avenue" as it was referred to by the locals. The cherry tree outside her bedroom window is dubbed the "Snow Queen" and the geranium on the window sill becomes "Bonny" because it makes it seem "more like people."

*This first installment of Anne Shirley's story is about her finding a home after years of displacement. While we often consider 'home' to be synonymous with 'house', it's also a state of being. What does home mean for you and what makes it special?

To me, home is where we spend time with the people we love. Robbie and I have lived in several houses over the past 15 years and each one has been 'home' for that time because we were there together, living our daily life, making memories, sharing our love for each other.

*Friendship is such a huge theme in this book. There are many elements that make up a great bosom friendship like Anne and Diana's but if you had to pick three of those elements, what would they be?

There are so many elements that go into making and maintaining friendships, but three that I think are vital are trust, commitment, and acceptance (of the person just as she is).

*Of course, we love Gilbert Blythe but the real sweetheart in the first book is Matthew Cuthbert. What makes Matthew such a great father figure in Anne's life? And (if you've read the books before) what effect do you think his love and influence has in the rest of Anne's life?

I think Matthew is a great father figure because he loves Anne just as she is, he doesn't try to change her, and he is a good role model as he works hard and doesn't judge others.

For those of you who've never met Anne Shirley through the pages of these books, she has a wonderful (long-winded) way of describing things. Here's an example of her describing a concert to Marilla when Anne returns from a trip to the city:

Oh Marilla, it was beyond description. I was so excited I couldn't even talk, so you may know what it was like. I just sat in enraptured silence. Madame Selitsky was perfectly beautiful, and wore white satin and diamonds. But when she began to sing I never thought about anything else. Oh, I can't tell you how I felt. But it seemed to me that it could never be hard to be good any more. I felt like I do when I look up to the stars. Tears came into my eyes, but, oh, they were such happy tears I was so sorry when it was all over, and I told Miss Barry I didn't see how I was ever to return to common life again. She said she thought if we went over to the restaurant across the street and had an ice cream it might help me. That sounded so prosaic; but to my surprise I found it true. The ice cream was delicious, Marilla, and it was so lovely and dissipated to be sitting there eating it at eleven o'clock at night.

I'd never seen the the movie/mini-series based on the book, but Robbie and I watched the first half of it yesterday (and will finish it this evening). We're both thoroughly enjoying it! There are some changes: Anne is 13 instead of 11 when she arrives at Green Gables; several years from the book are condensed into one in the movie; the movie starts with Anne at the Hammonds and the asylum rather than her simply telling her background later in the book; Marilla doesn't say she can stay until some time later as opposed to just the third day in the book; and Anne doesn't stay home from school after being punished by having to sit by Gilbert Blythe, etc.

However, so far I think the movie is a great adaptation of the book. The movie contains all the best scenes from the book (like the tea party with Diana and Anne walking the ridge pole) although with a slightly different timeline.

I'm looking forward to completing the movie and re-reading the rest of the books in this series. Have you read Anne of Green Gables? What's your favorite part?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Memorandum Monday - Pocket Pages

This weekend I created some pocket page layouts for the first time this year. I was working through my 2015 digital workflow and found several miscellaneous photos from April (yes, I'm that far behind processing photos) that I wanted to include in our chronological album. I added those photos and a couple of pocket journaling cards to the front and back of a page protector.

My favorite pocket is the one that holds this FUN pocket card and chocolate tag that I received from one of my scrappy friends after teaching a mixed media canvas class at Scrappin' Goodtime last year.

I used a different page protector to showcase photos of the Firefighter Scrapbook-for-Hire project I completed last spring.

The back of that pocket page is filled with a variety of FUN photos from May.

After I printed and inserted the photos, I discovered four NEW packages of cork board embellishments that worked perfect for adding a title and journaling.

I really like the way the cork board brings this page together.

Joining in today with Sian's Memorandum Monday meme sharing something NEW (something you did over the weekend FOR THE FIRST TIME or something you learned and DIDN'T KNOW BEFORE).

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sunday Musings - Genesis

The word "Genesis" means beginning. At the start of this year, I began reading through the book of Genesis again, this time using my journaling Bible. My goal is to take time to really ponder these scriptures and illustrate what I'm learning and hearing from the Lord. In previous posts, I've shared about beginnings & creativity, resting on the Sabbath, ruling over sin, and obedience. Here are a few other thoughts and pages from my reading and illustrating through the first few chapters of Genesis.

God created woman as a "helper comparable" to man, and man and wife become one flesh. I love the idea of including photos in our Bible as a way of personalizing the scripture and as another form of memory-keeping.

We must obey the Lord and not allow the darkness around Satan to overtake us and blind us to the truth (like Adam & Eve did). I traced this snake and apple from a coloring page and shaded around the snake to illustrate the darkness that surrounds Satan.

Illustrating the first ten generations of mankind helps me remember some of the important things noted in the Bible about these men.

The story of Noah is such a great example of obedience and how God protects and leads those who are righteous before Him.

When the dove returned to Noah in the ark with a freshly plucked olive leaf in her mouth, he knew the waters had receded from the earth.

And every time we see a rainbow, we should remember that it represents God's covenant that "never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth."

I recently enjoyed Lesson 2 in the free Heaven is Calling Bible Art Challenge series by Rebekah Jones. She shares a new insight into the scriptures when God is calling for Adam and Eve in the garden after they had eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Since I'd already illustrated this scripture in my journaling Bible, I used my NISB Bible and Rebekah's free printable to illustrate a reminder that God calls us and wants relationship with us.

It's amazing how many lessons and insights are in the Scriptures - these all come from just the first nine chapters of Genesis! When was the last time you read through this first book of the Bible? Where you reminded of lessons you'd learned before or did you see something new in the Scriptures?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Snap 8 - Cityscapes

When we set out on our Arizona road trip last month, I thought it would be FUN to capture cityscapes along the way. It turned out to be more difficult than I thought as I tried to snap photos from varying distances, through the windshield (which was often spotty from the numerous bugs we killed along the way) or a side window (with sunlight reflections causing distortions), while traveling at highway speeds (or stuck in rush hour traffic). Sometimes I simply forgot to take a photo of a city as we drove through! After some cropping and a little editing, here are the cities and towns I did capture.

Dallas, Texas

Fort Worth, Texas

Big Spring, Texas

Midland, Texas

El Paso, Texas

Tucson, Arizona

Phoenix, Arizona

Amarillo, Texas

Joining in today with Helena's meme - Snap - a visually linked set of between 2 and 4 images.  The set can be based on colour or shape or subject.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Memorandum Monday - Tombstone

This weekend for the first time, I watched the movie Tombstone starring Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliot and Bill Paxton.

I knew the movie was about Wyatt Earp and the gunfight behind the OK Corral . . . because on our recent Arizona road trip we visited Tombstone for the first (and last!) time. It was one of the places that Robbie really wanted to see, however it turned out to be the only truly disappointing place we visited. The town is basically a tourist trap, with limited parking even in the off-season when we visited. There are several blocks along one road that allow pedestrian traffic only. There are older buildings (or at least old looking facades) that now house shops, stores and galleries selling over-priced souvenirs and antiques.

The main attraction that we wanted to see was the actual spot of the gunfight, so we paid the admission fee and headed out behind the OK Corral. There was a small area fenced off with life-size figures depicting eight of the men involved in the gunfight.

These were the worst looking mannequins we've ever seen!

There were large goldish cylinders near each statue that I at first mistook for rather large shell casings! (LOL) They are, we think, spotlights in case some other poor soul pays to see this exhibit after dark.

Their clothes were all new looking, but it was the boots that drew our attention.

Seriously! The mannequins were staked to the ground through the center of the boot, and the Arizona sun had obviously curled the toes of all the boots! Here's Robbie's assessment of the exhibit!

During our quick stroll down the main street, Robbie did capture some nice photos. The gentleman in this first photo was one of the few re-en-actors we say who actually looked authentic. (The others were typically talking or texting on their cell phones.)

These horses were gorgeous, but the stagecoach driver would have looked more authentic without the workout gloves.

It was difficult to get photos along the road without lots of people in the background, but I really like this one of the flag.

Now, back to this past weekend, and the Tombstone movie - it was fantastic! I learned quite a bit that I didn't know before about Wyatt Earp, Tombstone and the gunfight.

*Tombstone was a silver mining frontier boomtown in the American Old West.

*Wyatt Earp made a reputation for himself as a lawman in Kansas before moving to Tombstone, Arizona.

*The bad guys were called The Cowboys.

*The gunfight at the OK Corral was between the lawmen (Wyatt Earp, Virgil Earp, Morgan Earp, Doc Holliday) and five Cowboys (two who fled when the shooting started and three who were killed).

*The Cowboys got revenge by later shooting and wounding Virgil Earp and killing Morgan Earp.

*After Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and several others went on a vendetta ride, killing Cowboys along the way, they never returned to Tombstone.

I highly recommend watching the Tombstone movie . . . and skipping a visit to the town itself!

Joining in today with Sian's Memorandum Monday meme sharing something NEW (something you did over the weekend FOR THE FIRST TIME or something you learned and DIDN'T KNOW BEFORE).

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Arizona Road Trip

Last month we hit the road for a 10-day, 2,695-mile road trip!

Before we headed out, I set up the tri-pod and conducted an impromptu photo shoot in the driveway. I've had this idea in mind ever since I used a piece of junk mail with a similar photo on my FUN vision board back in 2014. I love how this photo shows us all ready to go . . . and the fact that no one will ever mistake me for a "light pack-er."

The first couple of days of our trip took us out of Dallas and all the way to the western tip of Texas. From El Paso, we drove through the southern part of New Mexico and into Arizona, where we most of the trip. We stopped for a couple of days in New Mexico on the way home.

Along the way we had lots of adventures (and some misadventures), which I'll be sharing over the next few weeks as I process the 1,735 photos we took (using our small digital camera, the DSLR and both our iPhones). One of the best things about digital photography is how we can take lots of photos, then choose the ones we want to keep to share and scrapbook. We can take photos just for FUN or INSPIRATION, too!

Some of you may remember in one of my INSPIRATION posts last year that I mentioned how we can find color INSPIRATION in hotel hall carpeting. So, of course, now (when I remember) I snap photos of hallways, too!

I hope you'll join me over the next few weeks as I relive the memories from this trip. I'll be sharing about the two items I checked off my 50 Things To Do Before I'm 50 list, the delicious food, the unique accommodations, the interesting attractions, and lots more!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Beloved - book review

As part of my goal to read all the Pulitzer Prize winners in fiction, I recently completed the 1988 winner, Beloved by Toni Morrison. (Warning - there are some spoilers in my review below!)

Beloved is the story of Sethe, a former runaway slave who now lives in a two-story house with her daughter Denver. Shortly after Sethe escaped slavery and moved into the house with her mother-in-law and four small children, her former master came searching for her. To avoid her children being taken back to the cruelty she experienced, she attempts to kill them, succeeding once as she slits the throat of her little girl. The former owner does not take her or the other children back as he can see that she is now crazed and the children maimed or dead. The remainder of the story in essence is about how the dead baby haunts the house for many years and eventually returns to the house as a young woman.

I have mixed feelings about this book. This was definitely a thought-provoking and intense novel. On one hand, it is a well-written story that reveals tales of the past a little at a time so the reader can see the atrocities experienced by the slaves and possibly understand their current actions. The suspense alone was enough to keep me reading. On the other hand, it contains many scenes of baseness and vulgarity (rapes, beatings, sex, murders), a house haunted by a destructive ghost, and mental instability so severe that even I'm still not sure if the young woman was the resurrected baby or a figment of the characters' imaginations!

Have you read this book? Please share your thoughts in the comments.