Monday, November 29, 2010

BookLook "The Christmas Stone"

“The Christmas Stone”
Your neighbors would rather have a book this year. True, your Divinity is divine and your fruitcake is, well it’s fruity, but a little Christmas book is a better gift. If you are truly thoughtful you will not write inside in giant letters “Merry Christmas from the Smith Family” either. When they finish reading they can pass it along to someone on the next block over and really spread that Christmas cheer. And they won’t have to give it to DI where it’s just embarrassing when you find it there with your signature.

”The Christmas Stone” is one of those perfect little Christmas books. It is written by Liz Carlston, a young woman who survived the Columbine High School massacre. Since all the proceeds from her book are being donated to Primary Children’s Medical Center, it is a worthwhile purchase as well as a worthwhile read.

The story begins with Claire rushing home on December 23rd to Milwaukee to be with her father who is hospitalized. She is beautiful, financially successful and adrift in the lonely life she has made for herself in Colorado. Daniel is about to enter her life as a seat mate on her flight home. He will be meeting his son Spencer for Christmas in Milwaukee as soon as he takes care of an apology to his ex-wife that is long overdue.

During the flight Claire hears the story of Daniel’s mistakes and regret and his hope for forgiveness at the end of the flight. He also shares the story of the small “magic” stone he carries in his pocket and how it came to represent what he needed to do to forgive himself and begin the healing process.

The book is small, with only 81 pages. It is easily read on a winter’s evening when it’s time to take a break from the hustle and bustle of Christmas chores and spend a little time quietly nourishing the soul. Reading “The Christmas Stone” reminds us Christmas should also be a time of love and forgiveness and mending.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Zac Efron joined our family Thanksgiving!

One of our most loved family members is Laura. After making sure it was okay with us, she brought her special friend Zac to our dinner table in his full cardboard outfit complete with scarf (in Timpview High School colors)and a Primary song taped to his shirt in celebration. He didn't say much but he did add a lot to the dinner table conversation!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

BookLook for Thanksgiving

“The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet”
Historical fiction is a time machine sitting on a magical flying carpet. Off to explore places and epochs with an author like David Mitchell as our genie. His magical powers carry us where we will never go, to visit a place we will never forget.

In 1799 the Empire of Japan has completely isolated itself from the evil Christian world of the west except for the Dutch East Indies Company. A young clerk with the company, Jacob De Zoet, sails into Nagasaki Harbor planning to make his fortune and return to his fiancĂ© in Holland. But Jacob’s integrity and Christianity place him on another tragic path. After refusing to sign his name falsely to allow his superior to steal from the company as is commonly done, Jacob is left behind without status or protection. He faces years of servitude and falls in love with a Japanese woman studying medicine with the Dutch doctor. There is hopelessness and courage in the lives of all who are also trapped by the mandates of society and their individual decisions.

Mitchell has been compared to Tolstoy and I would add Michener. His complex characters are magnificent in their bravery and foolishness. Their stage is a foreign landscape described so vividly we hear the crunch of leaves as they pass and smell the malodorous vapors rising up from a decaying civilization. Sometimes the author creates an atmosphere filled with so much tension we find ourselves holding our breath waiting for their rescue or redemption.

“The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet” is an epic novel of epic length. There are some graphic descriptions which though not offensive they are not for the faint of heart. It is available as a 19 hour recorded book and narrated by a man and a woman whose dual performance enhances the unforgettable experience. This is a great historical fiction novel however you choose to read or listen to it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Christmas Tree made of dolls

I interviewed 92 year old Alta Taylor today for a newspaper story about the Festival of Trees. In 1984 she made a tree covered in dolls she made from scratch. She poured porcelain in the molds, painted the faces, attached the hair and sewed white gowns. The tree in her home was the model and it has 36 dolls in 3 sizes attached to a tall white tree. Amazing. The dolls sit in a glass case in the doll room until they are placed on the tree every November. She is blind now but still makes porcelain gifts for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren every Christmas.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

BookLook Review "It's Good to be Alive"

“It’s Good to be Alive”
Inspirational speakers are inspiring. On the other hand and there’s always another hand, you have to fight traffic, shift your schedule around their appearance date, and sit too long on an uncomfortable chair to listen to their message. It’s much better to read their book then watch their YouTube clip (this author has more than 500,000 hits)!

Jack Rushton had everything. At age 50 his six children and happy marriage filled his days with joy and he enjoyed his church education job. He was living the good life in southern California until his head struck a rock while body surfing with his family and ended up a quadriplegic 21 years ago. His new book “It’s Good to be Alive, Observation from a Wheelchair” is good inspirational reading.

Rushton’s self-depreciating humor is revealed in this quote: “All my life I wanted to be able to do one thing better than anybody else and was very unsuccessful. Then I had my accident, and I thought, you, maybe I can be the best quadriplegic on a respirator that ever lived. And then wouldn’t you know it, Christopher Reeve goes out and breaks his neck and I’m in competition with Superman.”

Although Rushton didn’t have the publicity Christopher Reeve generated, he became a popular inspirational speaker and writer. His humor and wisdom despite a tragic accident and his current difficult circumstances inspires readers to face their adversity with courage too.

With chapter titles like “If Rushton can do it, anyone can do it” it’s hard to choose a favorite. But one of mine is the concluding chapter written by his wife and full-time care giver Jo Anne. Her life also changed instantly that day at the beach. Reading how she initially felt completely overwhelmed comforts others beginning the care giving journey. When she writes, “I never would have predicted early in Jack’s injury that we would be so happy today and find life so pleasant and fulfilling,” we believe her. Her sense of humor shines through as she mentions one of the benefits of having a husband confined to a wheelchair is that he doesn’t mind going shopping with her since he always has somewhere to sit!

Jack Rushton’s optimism is contagious. If he can find joy in his journey and believe it’s good to be alive we can too. Our challenges pale in comparison but his advice applies to whatever is diminishing that attitude of gratitude for each of us.

Monday, November 8, 2010

BookLook Nov. 11 "The Terrorist"

“The Terrorist”
Don’t let the title scare you – wait, government conspiracy novels are a little scary. Peter Steiner writes another thriller for those of us who enjoy the occasional great spy novel. It’s an addiction which began when I read every LeCarre book published. Or maybe it was even earlier when I discovered Agatha Christie in elementary school. Like chocolate, once you’ve tasted a good spy novel you just have to have more.

“The Terrorist” continues to follow Louis Morgan who left the CIA as an accused terrorist. He was innocent but set up by his now deceased former boss in a complicated plot. The file was supposed to be buried deeply in the dusty archives of the CIA but with the increased search power of new computers and a zealous employee, the file is resurrected and another conspiracy begins.

Louis, who now paints quietly in the French countryside, is visited by a CIA official and asked to help find links to al Queda using his former contacts in the Middle East. At first he refuses, but when a young boy is kidnapped Louis knows he must agree to help. Louis suspects he is being manipulated and that once again things will not end well. Using his intelligence, intuition and experience, the retired spy takes control of the game and changes all the rules for an exciting conclusion.

Steiner sketches his characters and countryside so simply and brilliantly, they are unforgettable. Louis is a reluctant hero making life and death choices for himself and others. His recent romance with Pauline brings tenderness and wisdom into his lonely life but he must risk it to reenter the dark and sinister world of spies. The innocent young boy Zaharia gives us a glimpse into the terror of false imprisonment and provides additional tension as we fear Louis will not succeed in time to save him.

Since this is the third Louis Morgan novel, you may want to read “L’Assassin” and “Le Crime” first, but it’s not necessary. The novel is short but satisfying – sometimes you just want one chocolate, not a whole box. If you need a delicious spy novel to read, “The Terrorist” will satisfy your craving at least for a little while.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween Pictures

I was "flying" little dragon Finn after his first big trick-or-treat night out with his big boy cousins.

The Star Wars family.

Roman saying "EEwww!" while helping clean out the pumpkins.

Dawson was up on the table for better pumpkin carving leverage.

Haydon loved the design and the cut part but not the clean out!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Flower arranging is like Karoake

Pictures for the newspaper with an article on flower arranging

Flower arranging for the amateur - it's like karaoke

Debbie Balzotti for the Springville Herald

It started out as a basic interview of a local business and their news that they would be teaching floral design classes in Springville. But Chad and Cherie Hall found out I had a secret yearning to create and they made me give it a try on the spot. Here are a couple of things I learned.

It's like karaoke. You think you can sing but actually you need someone singing along with you to make it really good. Chad patiently, very patiently and smiling sometimes at my complete ineptitude, stood by my side teaching me how to make a simple fall arrangement. Here is the recipe I followed, with lots of help.

First, hollow out a small pumpkin and attach the lid with a wooden skewer. Next, fill the pumpkin to just above the rim with that green florist foam stuff. Cover the foam with little pieces of leather fern (already I was pleading for help on where and how much) around the edges. Now take 3 cattails and cut them 3 different lengths and insert to form a triangle - no, no the smallest one always goes at the top!

Take 5 red carnations and place them in the triangle pattern - yes 5 makes 2 triangles when viewed from the front and side. Oops I make the big mistake of sliding a carnation up when it looks too short. "Never pull a flower back up or you will make an air pocket and the flower can't get water which makes your arrangement die sooner." That explains a lot about my past failures.

My focal flower is a sun flower and I learn how to wire the floppy stem and make it stand where I want it to stand - down front and center. Off course Chad now has to zoom in and repair with a little stem stick where my flower isn't quite standing up.

The filling in is the hard part for me. And I forgot to strip off the lower leaves so Chad reminds me again that I need a couple of inches of just stem to push in. Myrtle, Solid Aster, and Broom Corn finish the flower work.

The ribbon - for me this is very important but Chad reminds me it isn't the focal point. What? Another false notion is corrected with a lovely fall bow - not too prominently placed to complete my first masterpiece. It was really fun but I think I better take the class and see if I can do this more than once and all by myself.