Wednesday, August 14, 2013

So lately, God has been laying it on my heart start memorizing scriptures. In my quest to do so, I have found some resources I wanted to share. First, I found this terrific website called Memverse. You can sign up for free, create a profile and then tell it which verses you want to memorize and how long you want to spend each day memorizing. Then it gives you chances to practice these verses daily and rank them based on how hard or easy they were for you to remember. You can track your progress and you can compare your progress to other members who might be from your church or state. My next stop was to the blog of Ann Vosskamp. My pastor's wife had mentioned that Ann's website had a few free tools for memorization, so I checked it out. Turns out there are some wonderful resources there. She has a free tool for memorizing the whole Sermon on the Mount in a year and another for memorizing the book of Colossians in a year. Pretty cool! While snooping around her website, I found another great resource for memorization. His website includes free tools for memorizing Ephesians, and Phillippians. Ann's blog also took me to Beth Moore's where I found this little bit. All in all, it's a great start for one small amount of research!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

My Review of "The Fault in Our Stars" by John Green

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have mixed feelings about this book.

One the one hand the extreme amounts of existentialism and big (or maybe ostentatious) words drove me crazy...I mean who really talks like that? On the other, I'm glad that authors are giving readers, particularly young readers, challenging subject matters and vocabulary.

And then I decided to soften my stand even a bit more, because I remember being a teenager, trying to find my way and in the process of doing so, trying to think about mature subjects, voice my opinion, try out new vocabulary words, and in doing so, probably seemed as precocious as these two sometimes did.

The subject matter was interesting. Books about people dying and their revelations as they do so are not new. Neither are books about kids with cancer, or kids exploring their boundaries. But I did like that the author seemed to tackle it from an actual point of view of one of these patients - with some humor and some anger, as well as other emotions mixed in, rather than choosing an extreme, either a "woe is me" attitude or a reverent "life is swell & this is all part of the plan" attitude. The fear, the anger, the sadness, the longing, and even the momemnts of happiness that these characters felt were expressed realistically through dialogue and humor, and yes sometimes sadness. I appreciated that. It maintained a good balance between the extremes it could have taken.

My favorite quote from the book is regards to the view of a relationship by the survivor after the loved one has passed on. It occured to me that is how I felt after my divorce, as well: "The pleasure of remembering had been taken from me, because there was no longer anyone to remember with. It felt like losing your co-rememberer meant losing the memory itself, as if the things we'd done were less real and important than they had been hours before."

The love between the two main characters was beautiful, and I loved that it tied together so beautifully with just a few small words at the very end.

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Saturday, January 5, 2013

My review of "One More Day" by Mitch Albom

For One More DayFor One More Day by Mitch Albom
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had a hard time rating this book. Here's why...

On the one hand, this is a beautifully told story. The voice of Chick Bennetto sounds authentic and is consistent through the story. In his voice, you can hear the nostalgia. You can hear the admiration he had for his mother. You can hear the longing he had for a relationship with and approval from his father. You can hear the dismay & regret over the choices he'd made and the negative turn of events in his own life. You also walk away with some beautiful "lessons learned". And you get to triumph with him in the end. Most importantly, you are reminded to reach out and make your relationships right TODAY...don't wait, because we don't always get one more day to right those wrongs.

The problem I had with this story is that it felt contrived. See, the author had a ton of success with "Tuesdays with Morrie"...which was based on a true story. And I think he tried to repeat that here with his journalistic-style telling of this story, even though this particular story was not true. Which just made this story seem annoying, inauthentic and made the author seem like he was trying to hard. The thing is, this author clearly has an ear for a good tale, and he also expresses himself beautifully. But his tale lost something when he tried to make it seem true with the journalistic method of storytelling.

I would have rather read a real account of an inspiring person (which is out there, and which I think Mitch Albom could tell beautifully) or one that is not written posing as a real story.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My Review of "The Dry Grass of August" by Anna Jean Mayhew

The Dry Grass of AugustThe Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book, to me, was just average. As other reviewers have said, most of the story has already been told before, but in better novels.

The book was lent to me, and kept me entertained while I was sick, so I appreciate that, but it just doesn't stand out in this genre as a must-read. I don't regret reading it, but I'm also not disappointed that I have to give it back. It hasn't stuck with me the way other books have.

What I did like about the book is that the author has done a nice job of developing some of the characters. Each character has a distinct personality, with an authentic voice. They are believable, and I think it is easy to decide which are likeable, and which are detestable. The main character, Jubie, is an emotional and passionate teenager who stands up for what she thinks is right, even knowing the consequences might be horrible (like a whipping from her daddy). You can't help but admire her for that, and feel for her as she tries to find her way through the story...her triumphs, her mishaps, her embarassaments, etc. And even though her big sister Estelle is prim & proper and kind of a know-it-all, you'll find a few things about her and a few things to dislike ...probably the way most people feel about their big sister.

The other siblings were peripheral and unnecessary, in my opinion, other than perhaps to make the story more authentic to the era and to increase the readers sympathy for Mama's burden.

Of course, you can't help but love Mary, the hired help, who nannies, cooks, and cleans for this family and who actually nurtures the children, unlike their own mother who is sometimes there for them but mostly not. And you love the relationship she has with the kids, especially Jubie. She does a good job of turning the character of the father into a detestable human being, and creating an ambivalence in the reader towards the character of Mama.

I also think she did a nice job of creating the setting for the book. She developed it in a way that you felt like you had been there and seen the story first hand.

I'm always curious why authors choose a title for the book, and in this case it comes from a piece of scripture referenced in the book that talks about how evil will burn like dry grass. There is plenty of evil in this book, and you do hope for Jubie's sake that the goodness prevails.

Part of the problem for me was there was so much going on, yet it ended in less than 300 pages. In order for this book to have felt fully developed, it needed to be a longer book with all the current themes, or a shorter book with fewer themes. I got to the end of the book and felt like "that's it?". The ending didn't satisfy. And I felt like a lot of drama was created for no apparent reason, since the author chose not to develop it beyond 300 pages.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Nebraska Wine and Balloon Festival 2012

Adam and I decided to head out a few weekends ago to the Nebraska Balloon and Wine Festival. As luck would have it, it rained while we were there. Luckily, we had one umbrella and one rain jacket between the two of us so we managed to stay dry. The rain meant that none of the balloons could launch, but we were happy that we were still able to sample the wine, and see the balloons up close and glowing. This is an annual event, so if you ever find yourself near Omaha in the month of August, be sure to check this event out! Besides wine and balloons, there were vendors selling food and products as well as live music. Be sure to bring a blanket or lawn chairs and some bugspray!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rock of Ages

Last fall my friend Amy went to see the Broadway musical "Wicked" when it was in town and then my aunt took me. We all had such a fantastic time that Amy and I agreed we needed to get season tickets. Then we decided out moms would like it, and they would like each other, so we invited them and the four of us got season tickets to the Broadway shows. We are having so much fun we are already planning to get tickets again next year.

The third show for this season was Rock of Ages. The music was FANTASTIC. In fact, I'm planning to use my iTunes gift cards from Christmas and my birthday to download those songs but by the original artists to create my "Rock of Ages" play list. Also, the talent in this show was incredible. The show is very high energy with lots of intense singing and dancing and those performers did not miss a beat! I also thought the writers did a great job of weaving together a story from all those popular 80's songs that we know and love. If you love power ballads this is your show.

My only disappointment here was the gratuitous vulgarity. While I may not always agree with certain language or lifestyle choices, I usually am pretty tolerant to its presence in pop culture & in the world around me. But in this case, a lot of it was unnecessary to the story - lots of "f-bombs", lots of sexual references, etc. Definitely not a family-friendly musical. Buyer beware: part of the story line is that the main female character takes a job as a stripper and as such there is some dancing related to that involving poles. It is tied into the story as part of the main female character's storyline, however, I just thought I'd throw it out there in case that sort of thing would offend you.

All in all, a great night with friends - but probably not my favorite show of this season. One more to go - Fiddler on the Roof in April and then we will be eagerly stalking the website for next year's season package! :)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Book Review - "The Best of Me" by Nicholas Sparks

The Best of MeThe Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I love to get some variety in my reading (different authors, genres, themes/subject matter, etc.) there are some authors I just can't resist even if their writing is somewhat predictable. Nicholas Sparks is one of them.

Like many of his other works, there is a love interest that involves some sort of conflict, tension or history to it. There is a tragedy. There are characters with quirks. And there are characters dealing with their baggage. And it doesn't necessarily end the way you want it to, but it ends the way it should.

Dawson grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, the youngest in a family of drug dealers, wife beaters, bullies, etc. He meets Amanda in high school and they fall madly in love. Her parents - wealthy and of good reputation - don't approve of their relationship and eventually the pair break up but neither of them really get over their first love.

Each of them moves on to different cities to start new lives of their own. Amanda goes to college and marries a guy that looks good on paper and Dawson moves out of town and takes on a variety of jobs, living in a variety of places and never really settling down, never able to get over Amanda.

When they meet again, it is at the dying wishes of a mutual friend, and of course that old flame is reignited when they see each other again. They stay in their hometown for a few days trying to sort out their friend's estate and in doing so they are able to spend some time together catching up on each other's lives.

The tension in this particular romance is created by the fact that Amanda is married - but not happily - and struggles with the desire to reunite with Dawson and everything that she would be giving up and all the hurt she would be causing to her family if she did so.

Meanwhile, in the background of their relationship, in addition to the problems at home with her alcoholic husband, Amanda is struggling with her relationship with her mother and Dawson is struggling with the tragedy that caused him to leave town originally & also his crazy family who are out for revenge against him.

And then, in true Nicholas Sparks fashion, another tradedy strikes that brings a resolution to all those loose strings that were woven into the book. You may love it, you may hate it, it might all seem a bit too convenient, but in the end is was probably the right way for things to play out.

While I seem to be harping on Sparks' formulaic approach to writing, I will say that I keep reading in spite of that because I love the values he instill in the characters - in this case, Dawson overcomes his negative upbringing and leaves a nice legacy. You are also introduced to their mutual friend who, in spite of his rough exterior, was a wonderful man, wise and generous. And in the end, Amanda is faithful to her her husband and tries to do the right thing for her family. If you like the way Sparks describes things and the rhythm to his writing, you won't be disappointed. He also has a great way of endearing the characters to you and getting you to feel what he wants you to feel, in spite of how you would normally react.

I borrowed this book from the library and already returned it, so I can't quote it exactly, but one thing I liked is he talks about how people so often think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but they forget that it's greener because someone watered it and tended to it so that it could grow.

What a neat statement - yes, other people might be more appealing to you than the husband you are struggling with. Or, other jobs might be more appealing than the one you currently have, or your neighbors' house might seem better than yours - but you have the power to have the things you want by investing yourself in them - by working to nurture your relationship, your career, your home or anything other area of your life that you aren't happy with. Giving up will lead to brown grass and anything else will look better.

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