Thursday, November 28, 2019

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Book Reviews | Fiction

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is the second book I've read by Jamie Ford. (See my review of Songs of Willow Frost HERE.) This book has been on my to-read shelf since it was a book club selection a couple of years ago. I knew I would be traveling the day of the meeting, so I didn't read it at the time.

Like so many recent publications, this book alternates between two story lines, both following the life of Henry Lee. In 1942, Henry was an 11-year-old Chinese schoolboy living with his parents in Seattle, Washington. His parents, concerned about the growing enmity toward Japanese, made him wear a button that read "I am Chinese." He attends a white school as part of a scholarship program that means he also helps out in the school cafeteria and cleaning blackboards after school. He meets a Japanese girl, Keiko Okabe, who is also scholarshiping at the school. As they work together, they become friends; but Keiko and her family are suddenly "evacuated" to a Japanese "camp" by the American government. At first, they trade letters and Henry even goes for a visit, but eventually the two lose touch.

In the second story line, Henry is still living in Seattle and is mourning the death of his wife after 30 years of marriage. As he is passing the Panama Hotel one day, he discovers that is has been purchased and is being restored. The new owner discovered the possessions of many Japanese families in the basement - items they stored there as they were evacuated during the war. A familiar looking Japanese parasol sends Henry searching for answers about Keiko. I thoroughly enjoyed this book - it's a good read, a love story plus historical information about Seattle and the Japanese evacuations.


The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan has also been on my to-read shelf for a while. I think maybe I picked it up at Barnes & Noble a while back because it has a great cover and sounded like an interesting read. This is a fiction story about four women who graduated from Harvard in 1989 and covers a three-day period as they prepare for and attend their 20th class reunion in 2009.

Every five years, Harvard gathers information on the graduates and then sends them each a copy of The Red Book with addresses and information about each person who graduated with them. The graduates can also include (or not) a 3 to 5 paragraph summary about their current lives.

The story is written from several points of view and is an interesting juxtaposition considering what they write for The Read Book versus what their life is really like at the moment. The characters come from different social and financial backgrounds,  have varying sexual orientations and ethnic identifications, include individuals from different generations, etc. Honestly, this book was a little out of my comfort zone as some of the characters were quite liberal in their beliefs and actions; however, it's very believable in the portrayal of the complications and compromises in marriage, career struggles, mid-life questions about following dreams and/or finding happiness. It's well-written and a page-turner that keeps the reader wondering what's going to happen next. The story is wrapped up nicely with their entries for the 25th Anniversary Red Book.


Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton was this month's book club selection and (once again) follows two story lines. I enjoyed this book, which is very well-written, and think the alternating story lines worked because they were well-paced, developing one story line more in depth before returning to the other one (as opposed to every other chapter).

In 1958/59 Elisa Perez is living in Cuba with her high society family. Her father is a sugar baron and is friends of Batista and the reigning government. She is sheltered from the political unrest in the country until her brother is banished from the family and she meets Pablo, a revolutionist set on ousting Batista and replacing him with Fidel Castro.

In 2017, Marisol, Elisa's granddaughter, makes a trip to Cuba, which has recently become possible because of Fidel Castro's death. She is the first Perez family member to return since Elise and her family escaped to the United States in 1959. Marisol is charged with scattering her grandmother's ashes. Along the way, she uncovers some family secrets and learns more about Cuba's current situation. A very good read!


I'm not sure where I found Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart,, but it's been on my to-read shelf for a while. (Are you seeing a trend here?) 

Kate Herrick returns to the home where she grew up to take care of having her grandmother's furniture and belongings shipped to Scotland (where her grandmother has decided to stay after being displaced there during World War II). Her grandmother (who raised her from the time she was 6-years-old) asks her to get some items from a safe (hidden behind wallpaper and plaster board in the old house), but the items have been removed when Kate arrives. This story is set in a wonderful small village in the English country side. There's a nice batch of characters, a little romance, and a mystery as Kate learns more about her mother (who ran off with a gypsy man years ago). This is an easy, lovely read.


During our summer vacation, Robbie and I listened to several episodes of the What Should I Read Next podcast ... and ordered quite a few books when we returned home. The slimmest book, The Emissary by Yoko Tawada, is the one I've liked least so far. 

This story is set in Japan, which is isolated from the rest of world after some catastrophic event that has changed the order of things. Old people are healthy and continue to live long lives while babies are born unhealthy but insightful. Yoshiro takes care of his great-grandson Mumei, who can't even keep orange juice down and is unable to dress himself. Things get stranger in this dystopian environment; however, there is very little plot line. I kept waiting for something to happen or things to change, but I was disappointed (unless you count that at age 15 Mumei falls out of his wheelchair and starts metamorphosing into a girl). This is definitely not a book I would recommend.


Have you read any of these books? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Sunday Musings | Paul, A Prisoner

Have you ever thought about the fact that many of the Apostle Paul’s letters were written while he was in prison, yet they contain numerous reminders to give thanks, be joyful, and love others. In Acts 27:35, he gave thanks in the tempest before a shipwreck, and in Acts 28:15, he thanked God when they arrived in Rome … and, yes, in both of those instances he was a prisoner!

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the words joy and rejoice appear numerous times, once again despite the fact that he was a prisoner (awaiting a trial that could end his life). In fact, he wrote in chapter 4, verse 11, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.

And finally, it was Paul who wrote the scripture we’re focusing on today as he exhorted the Thessalonians to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”




We may never find ourselves locked in a prison cell, but I’m sure we can all relate to the feeling of being stuck in circumstances that we do not like or understand. It’s in these times that we most need to remember the admonition in 1 Thessalonias 5:18!
 

In everything give thanks;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

 
Sometimes it's hard to follow the direction in this scripture. There are times in life when it seems we have nothing to give thanks for; however, the scripture doesn't say give thanks for the things you like, it says in everything give thanks.

What are you giving thanks for today?

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Upcoming Class | Christmas Carols Bible Journaling Class (Allen, TX)

I'm excited today to announce my next Bible journaling classes on December 13 or 14 here at my home in Allen! 


Christmas Carols Bible Journaling Class
Friday or Saturday
December 13 or 14, 2019
10am - 1pm
Home of Melissa Gross, Allen TX
$30

 
Join me this December as we look at the scriptures and stories behind some of our favorite Christmas carols.
 
This brand new 3-hour class will include several devotional teachings and a variety of illustrated Bible journaling techniques. You will also receive a kit of fun Bible journaling supplies to use creatively in your Bible, journal, or hymnal.



** If you receive a notification that the class is sold out & would like to be added to the waiting list, please email me.
**If you are registered and unable to attend, please let me know before December 8 for a full refund. Cancellations after December 7 are nonrefundable; however, I will be happy to mail you the class kit.


Additional details for classes at my home:
*Be sure to bring your Bible (or a journal) to work in, along with your favorite journaling pen.
*I will have supplies available for you to use in your journaling, but you are welcome to bring along some of your favorite supplies as well. (Please note that space will be limited as we all gather around one large table.)
*There will be some yummy snacks and bottled water for us to enjoy throughout the day. If a hot coffee or ice cold soda enhances your Bible journaling time, please feel free to bring that along with you.
*Space is limited for each class (it's the same on both days), so don't wait too long to register! Your spot is reserved once payment is received. Within 48 hours of payment, you will receive a confirmation email with my address and directions.
I would love for you to join me as we dive into the Word and use our creativity to draw closer to the Lord during the most wonderful time of the year!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Scrapbooking | Old Photo, New Papers

On a recent visit to Scrappin' Goodtime, I picked up two sheets of "Splatter" patterned paper from KaiserCraft's Scrap Studio Collection. As I flipped through my storage binder of old family photos, I found a black & white photo of my Mama and her brothers and sister that I knew would work great with the pink brick background.

I started with one full sheet for the background and several strips from the "B" side of the other piece of "Splatter" then added additional papers from my scrap bin as a base for the photo. Letter stickers for the title, a small line of journaling & some flowers from my stash completed this page.


I love the way these new papers highlight this old photo! What do you think?

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Book Reviews | Memoirs

For a variety of reasons, I've read quite a few memoirs recently.


Our youngest nephew had to read A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah during the summer for his advanced 8th grade English class this year, so I picked up a copy to read and discuss with him. I hadn't heard of this book before and really knew nothing about Sierra Leone, West Africa, or the civil war that took place there. 

The author lost his family during the war when he was only 12-years-old. He spent a year running from the rebels, then two years as a soldier in the government's army before being taken out of the fighting by UNICEF. The title led me to expect stories of his time as a solider; however, he doesn't become a child soldier until halfway through the book. At that point, there are a few pages about his training (mostly brainwashing), a note about the first battle, then in the space of a few pages, two years pass and he is picked up by UNICEF. Because he was a good solider, he had no idea why his commanding officer allowed him to be taken away from the army. He and his friends were angry and rebellious, but finally rehabilitated. He eventually was sent to New York City, where the guys at his high school thought it was "cool" that he has seen people running around with guns shooting each other.

I have mixed emotions about this book. First, it was so sad to read about the war and how children were conscripted into the army. While I was saddened by his story, I was disappointed that there was not much guilt or remorse, or really any emotions, shown or discussed throughout this book that is told from the author's first person perspective. And, finally, while there are quite a few instances of foreshadowing, flashbacks, and symbolism, I felt the overall structure and readability of the book were lacking.


I'd heard very disparate reviews about Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover before my name finally got to the top of the book hold list at our local library. 

The author was raised by survivalist fanatic Mormon parents on a mountain in Idaho. She did not attend school, did not go to doctors, worked in the family junkyard "scrapping" metal, was physically abused by an older brother, and was brainwashed by her parents about how the government was out to get them.

When one of her brothers goes to college, Tara begins studying to take the ACT. Her score allows her to be accepted to Brigham Young University and she eventually goes on to earn several degrees, including a PhD from Cambridge.

Honestly, I did not like the author, who (despite earning those degrees) doesn't really seem very intelligent and is still rather emotionally fragile and unsure of herself (which is understandable). She questions her memories of events in footnotes and has (supposedly) comes to terms with being estranged from her parents. This was a depressing book without an uplifting ending.


I received a copy of I'm Possible: Jumping Into Fear and Discovering a Life of Purpose by Jeremy Cowart free from Booklook Bloggers (soon to be The Readers Lounge) in exchange for an honest review.

The author is an artist, photographer, and graphic designer. His unique creative style is evident from the book cover! He shares the story of his career and the circumstances that lead to various changes or direction. He is involved in lots of humanitarian projects (Help-Portrait, voices of Haiti, Gatlinburg fire, etc); however, when he describes these projects, it's hard to determine if he's volunteering his time and resources or if he's profiting from them as well and what his main motive for "helping" really is.

This is a good story about following ideas and "nudges" and trying scary new things, but I just couldn't really like the author. The writing was almost too contrived as he tried to sound humble with a little nod of thanks to the Lord here and there.


Night by Elie Wiesel was the other book on our nephew's summer reading list. This book was published in the late 1950s and tells the story of the author and his family during World War II. They were Jews and were taken to Auschwitz, then on to Buchenwald, concentration camps in Germany. Elie was with his father up until the last few months of his imprisonment (when his father died). 

The title of the book comes from the chapter where he shares about how he lost his faith the first night in camp. Sadly, he never says that his faith is restored. Many schools use this book when teaching about the atrocities of World War II; however, this was my first time to read it. It's a well-written first person account of the terrible hardships the author experienced.


The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba & Bryan Mealer was chosen as this year's community read here in Allen, Texas.

As a young boy in Malawi, Africa, William was the only son of a poor farm family. They survived a drought, but he had to drop out of secondary school when his family couldn't pay the tuition fees. He was naturally talented at fixing things and re-purposing trash into usable objects. He discovered some used books at the library and learned how to make a windmill from junk and parts and pieces he found. This windmill brought electricity to his home. 

When others learned of his ingenuity, he was invited to do a Ted Talk! Eventually funds were donated for his education at the African Leadership Academy and later to Dartmouth University. He wrote his memoir in 2009, and a young reader's edition (which I read) was published in 2015. I was pretty impressed with this young man, who said (in the interview at the back of the book) that he would return to Malawi to help the country after completing his education. [While he has helped his native country and his family in many ways, a quick Internet search shows that he is still living in the US five years after graduation.]


Have you read any of these books? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Benefits of a Gratitude Practice

A gratitude practice is something we do repeatedly and regularly in order to improve our ability to see and recognize the gifts and blessings in our lives. It is a way of approaching life intentionally and having a sense of wonder, of thankfulness and of appreciation. The practice may be saying a prayer of thanksgiving each morning or taking a weekly walk in nature while meditating on the good things in life or writing down the things you are grateful for each day.

Individuals have practiced gratitude for centuries, but it's become even more prominent as study after study confirms the physical, emotional and relational benefits of gratitude.

This article shares the following benefits of gratitude for the individual:

  • increased happiness and positive mood
  • more satisfaction with life
  • less materialistic
  • less likely to experience burnout
  • better physical health
  • better sleep
  • less fatigue
  • lower levels of cellular inflammation
  • greater resiliency
  • encourages the development of patience, humility, and wisdom

That's a list of benefits that sounds pretty good to me!

I'll be using this FUN free-standing gratitude album as I practice gratitude throughout the upcoming month of November.


This album has pocket page protectors, and I've used the kit materials to create cards for each day of November. 


My plan is to record something I'm grateful for each day by simply pulling out the card and writing in one or two items.


I'm looking forward to practicing gratitude with this FUN album!

Do you have a gratitude practice? Will you be recording the things you're thankful for this November?