Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Laughter and a Night Out

Anita Renfroe, a popular Christian comedienne, performed at the Green Lake Conference Center last night as part of the Northern Pines Family Camp ( a nondenominational family camp).  What an opportunity that local residents could also buy tickets to the concert.  This year Anita Renfroe is also part of the Women of Faith Conference tour, but she has also performed on many television programs including a regular spot on Good Morning America.  Many know her as a You Tube sensation.  I must admit I only knew her from newspaper press about her then upcoming concert in Wisconsin.  One trip to her website yesterday and I knew that I wanted to attend last night's concert. Luckily one daughter in law was home from work in time to make the "date' with me, and we had a great time.

Anita humorously shows in song and verse those occurrences of motherhood, family life and espeically growing older that we all recognize.  Our auditorium last night was packed and for over two hours we never stopped laughing.  In the "local" crowd, I saw women from their twenties to seventies including several mother-daughter pairs.  I definitely saw some "girl friend" groups all decked out for a night away from the rushed summer pace of home, hubby, kids, and work.  Many in the audience were couples from the Northern Pines Camp, some very young marrieds and others much older, yet Renfroe's humor and message fit everyone.

My only regret is that I did not spend the money to pick up a few of her dvds, so that I could keep the laughter going.  If you happened to stop in at the blog today, take the time to hop over to Anita's website and read more about her.  And absolutely, check out her video of Momisms set to the William Tell Overture on YouTube or the newest song on her website In the Muthahood. Here's a question for you -  what happened to our culture that someone like Anita is not a prime time star, a new generation Carol Burnett or Lucille Ball?  Why isn't a pastor's wife whose been married for 31 years, who loves being a parent and grandparent, loves God, and who sees the humor and blessings in every day life -- why isn't she an icon know by all?
Instead we all recognize the dozen or so names that fill all the nightly gossip shows?

 I see that Anita and her husband collaborated on a devotion book and on one about marriage.  She has also contributed a Women of Faith book of humorous stories.  My hope is that she pursues more writing in the future.  There is room in the literary world for her wit.  My other hope is that she returns to Wisconsin soon (and that I realize she is here!)


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Psalm 91 for Mothers by Peggy Joyce Ruth

Last week I read an interesting commentary on Psalm 91 by Peggy Joyce Ruth.  Titled Psalm 91 for Mothers, the slim book hits upon that nagging anxiety and worry that plagues many parents.  When people of faith begin to have those worries, they feel that they must be failing in their beliefs. Yet as the author points out, our world is a dangerous place and we can become fearful about our loved ones.  Peggy Joyce Ruth has written several books based on this Psalm which she calls a protective shield, but this one focuses everything on the family.  Personal stories of people who have made this psalm their personal affirmation of faith, their spiritual shield from harm pepper the book. If you begin to read the psalm itself, I am sure you will recognize it or at least parts of it.  The psalmist seeks safety in the presence of God and God answers that He will be with the believer in times of trouble.

In the Christian world, I guess there are two camps of thought about "bad stuff" and suffering.  Some believe that bad stuff happens to good people, much of it not our fault.  People in that camp feel that God can use those experiences to temper us, to make us stronger, and even to draw us closer in faith. Because we cannot see the outcome which may be years in advance while we are stuck in times of trial and trouble, the burdens can often seem overwhelming.

Others, at least how it came across to me in this book, feel that God protects those who strongly call out to him.  I got the feeling from some of the testimonies that we were supposed to think that the protection would manifest itself in no harm happening if the call to the Lord is loud and clear.  Personally, I've witnessed bad things happening to people whom I feel are strong in their faith (In my eyes, no one seems to escape the trials of life, at least at one time or another.) Yet I know there are those unexplained times of great protection or healing that can be nothing less than miracles. So I guess I feel that we do not totally understand God's intentions but must accept that both "views' happen.  That makes my 'take' quite different than the author's.

Even then, I recommend that you do become familiar with the psalm and its great promises.  Read it as a prayer with God's response.  Like the author recommends, insert your own name or someone who are concerned about.  As I read it, I said our family.  It is comforting and strengthening to say outloud, "My family will say to Him that He is our refuge and our fortress; and in Him we place our trust." After becoming more familiar with the Psalm, you can decide whether you'd like to read about Peggy Joyce Ruth's outreach and ministry through her writings.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Once Upon A Prince by Rachel Hauck

Once Upon a Prince - Rachel Hauck - Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Romance novels aren't my personal favorite genre anymore -- I'm a little too old for those titles that are so obviously targeted at the under thirty crowd, but occasionally I pull one off the shelves anyway.  In the case of Once Upon A Prince by Rachel Hauck, it was a matter of downloading the title from the WPLC website onto my Nook simply because I had seen so much publicity for this title.  Also I enjoyed reading Hauck's The Wedding Dress, finding it "meatier" and more original than most romances.  With The Wedding Dress recently receiving several awards, I thought grabbing this title would be wise.

What I got was a "commoner meets royalty" story complete with two fictional countries joined by a one hundred year old treaty about to expire.  The young prince from Brighton who will soon find himself king must consider both countries as he picks a bride.  Although willing to serve his country, what Prince Nathaniel would really like is the opportunity to actually meet someone and fall in love without any political implications. And it seems he might be on that path when he meets Susan Truitt, a landscape architect in Georgia.  Susan is reeling from a decade old relationship which has just soured, and although she likes the young European she meets on the small George island, she certainly is not ready for a relationship.  This is definitely a story of star-crossed lovers.

Like The Wedding Dress, this story is refreshing.  Characters are genuine and I liked the streak of humor which permeates throughout.  For the young who have not devoured dozens and dozens of romance titles or watched countless boy meets girl movies, this first installment in the royal wedding series is sure to delight.  For me, my final verdict is that it was a fun read, a sweet romance, but I should stick to titles which promise more commentary on life and more depth.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Laura Hillenbrand's book Seabiscuit held the #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list for weeks and months.  For years, it was a library favorite and often a bookclub pick.  Its transition to the big screen brought more awards and success.  I would imagine that nonfiction writers would proceed with caution when picking a new project.  How could anything else compete with such a standout as Seabiscuit?  Hillenbrand herself says that she doubted that any other subject would captivate her the way Seabiscuit had, but all that changed when she met Louie Zamberini and heard his story.  Right now, I bet she would struggle to pick which book has affected her more.

Zamberini was born in 1917, the younger son of Italian immigrants who found their way to California in hopes of capturing the American dream.  Louie, however, seemed  on his way to a life of petty theft.  Reading about his frequent escapes from the police made me think of scenes from the old Rascal kids movies  It wasn't until Louie was in high school that his brother convinced him that those quick legs would be better served on a track field than on a back alley.  Soon he was breaking records, and everyone in their California community was cheering him on -- even the police!  Eventually there was talk of the Olympics and even whispers that Louie would be the first man to break the 4 minute mile.

But as the 1936 Olympics approached, it became apparent that Louie would not represent the United States in the mile.  More established runners who were at their career peaks at that moment in time would sweep the slots and make their way to Germany.  Instead, Louie quickly adapted his pace and distance, securing a slot in the 5000.  Hillenbrand brilliantly captures the excitement of Louie's Olympic competition as she also creates a historical backdrop of the new Nazi nationalism.  Back in the states, Louie sets his eyes on the next Olympics and a college track career, but war intervenes and Louie finds himself in the air corps training as a bombardier.

As the book is subtitled, this is a story of survival - Louie, pilot Russell Allen Phillips, and  Francis McNamara are the only men who survive the crash of the B-24 Green Hornet who had set out to find a missing aircraft.  Adrift for more than forty days, only two survive, only to drift into Japanese territory.  Louie's story while a prisoner in a succession of Japanese POW camps continues a tale of survival in the even the cruelest of conditions and illustrates how resilient the human spirit can be.  As the author describes the describes the end of the war and the joyous return of POWs to thankful homes, one expects a quick happy ending.  But Louie's story does not end with Japan's surrender.  Not wanting to spoil the power of this book, let me only point out the last part of the subtitle - redemption.  Louie's experiences should have crushed him, destroyed his desire to live, or left him embittered and hateful, and in fact, they almost do.

Let me end by saying that I've always wondered about the power of crusades like Billy Graham's.  Can people really change in one evening?  Never did I expect to find the answer to this question is a popular best selling book about WWII and a young athlete.   I cannot recommend this book enough.  You'll be appalled at the ill equipped life rafts aboard the B-24 bombers and fearful for the men as sharks follow their every move.  Just as you think you can swallow calmly and continue reading, you'll find that you've entered an even worse world as the most basics of humanity are stripped from POW prisoners.  As I read, "Why/" was my constant thought.  And perhaps for the first time, I understood the need for the bombs that ended the war.

This is the story of one airman, but as more and more WWII vets leave us, it becomes the story of all of them -- the promising lives they had taken away from them, the dangers they faced, the bravery they showed, and the life-changing wounds, both physical and emotional, that forever changed them.  And for too many of them, they never got Louie's chance to rebound and rebuild.

Our book club is discussing this book on Thursday.  Unfortunately, I will be gone.  If you've read this book, I would love your reactions.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

With Dad on a Deer Stand by Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman, musician and writer, is probably best known for his book A Look at Life from a Deer Stand: A hunt for the meaning of life. which since its publication has sold near 300,000 copies.  I first purchased a copy of this book for my husband, and some years later I noticed the book on one of our bookshelves and "repurposed" it by passing it along to a son in his late teens/early twenties -- a time when I really wanted to encourage his faith walk, but words didn't always come easy between us.

Hunting culture is strong in our area of Wisconsin, and my sons are certainly part of it.  They provide meat for their freezers and hunt not only bow season, but rifle season and later the muzzle season.  They finish up deer hunting just as the first ice forms on the lakes and then ice fishing begins.  That, in itself is another story!  I fear that too many people (a few hunters, but mostly nonhunters) see this activity as bad boys gone wild and totally "red-neck" thinking.  Steve Chapman realigns that thinking in his first books, as he shows how hunting has allowed him to connect with God, by not only appreciating his creation, but by allowing him deeper understanding of Biblical life lessons.  Our sons first hunted with their dad on our own property, so I think they were raised with that "focus" to their hunting, and I heard back from that youngest son that he enjoyed Steve's book.  My husband gave up hunting about twelve years ago, our sons now hunt with friends in different spots across the state, and some years travel out of state to hunt elk or mule deer. Both are fathers, who someday hope to repeat the bonding experience their father started with them in the deer stand.

When  I saw that Steve Chapman had gathered a collection of stories focused on sharing the relationship
strengthening aspects of hunting, I wanted to read the book, hoping I would find another gem to pass on to my sons.  The stories within were written by Steve himself, as well as by professional wildlife photographers, writers, and just plain hunters.  Some of the stories had stronger faith messages than others, but all were entertaining.  I believe that hunters, especially young fathers, will really connect with the writers.  While nonhunters may be shocked by the story of the young dad, who bundled up his two year old daughter to take her out for a few late afternoon hours in the deer stand, I really wasn't/   It was either that or stay in the house, miserable.  As I read, I briefly thought about the dangers, but then I refocused on all I knew about the safety measures ingrained in my own sons and I was assured that the writer knew the same.  I also thought about the sturdiness of today's tree stands, the crispness of an autumn afternoon,  and the mixture of God's paintbox in that wooded setting. I thought about the story that my husband tells of having a little sparrow quietly sit right next to him in the tree stand, but mostly I thought about the sweet smile of my own four year old granddaughter as she used to share her precious version of her own afternoon "sits" with her daddy as they watched for a big buck during fall bow season.  Life with dad in the deer stand can be a window to God's world, his desires for our lives, and our joys and responsibilities as parents/children.

Filled with short stories, illustrated with pencil drawings, and under 180 pages, this book makes a nice gift for the hunter who reads, or perhaps for one who doesn't read much.  I read the book all at one time, but I could easily see it being the type of book that could be read in pieces over weeks or even months.  I received an e -copy of this book from Harvest House Publishers and NetGalley for review purposes.  All opinions are mine.  Check out for more information about his writings, music, and ministry.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Matchmakers of Butternut Creek by Jane Myers Perrine

I found the Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek to be humorous, heart warming, and just plain charming.  It was the kind of read that leaves you happy knowing that will be future installments.  I believe Perrine has committed to writing three novels about young Pastor Adam and his Texas congregation.  At the center of all the action are the Widows of Butternut Creek (Birdie and Mercedes, plus a few new "members") who are determined that everything at Butternut Christian Church be done just right.  Now that they have Pastor Adam "broken in" to the RIGHT ways of doing things, they are ready to play matchmaker and find him a wife.

After unsuccessfully trying to match Adam up with every single woman in Butternut (even the Presbyterian female minister), the ladies have decided that Gussie Milton who coordinates youth camps and events with several churches across their Texas area will do just fine.  What they don't realize is that Adam has already decided that Gussie is someone he might be interested in, but he certainly can't act on his feelings with the widows setting up the couple at every turn.  Gussie doesn't know the power of the elderly women, but she does know that being around Adam is starting to draw her out of a self-imposed safety net where she had hidden for almost a decade.

With side stories like that of the brother and sister Adam has taken in as foster children and the humorous experiences he faces when finding a replacement organist,  The Matchmakers of Butternut Creek goes beyond simple romance. Our church organist, a wonderful lady and former teaching colleague of mine, just loved the first book.  Can't wait to hear her comments about the organist trials in this volume.  I do think the first book moved a little faster, but I often feel that when I read a series.  If you liked the Father Tim series, you will enjoy Perrine's series.  I look forward to the third book. The folk of Butternut Creek still have stories to share.  I received a copy of this title from FaithWords, the publisher, for review purposes.  All opinions are mine.

If you want to catch Jane Myers Perrine's blog or see her other books, check out her website.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

orphanThe Wisconsin Public Library Consortium (WPLC), our state's site for borrowing ebooks and audiobooks currently has over 200 hold requests for the novel Orphan Train Christina Baker Kline.  When I placed my name on the hold's list several months ago, there were at least that many holds.  Our Winnefox library system has about 40 holds for the several hard copies owned.  Such a demand for a book usually indicates that the book has had a lot of promotional press, and, hopefully, that it is a winner.  After a long wait, my turn at an e-copy of Kline's newest novel finally came.

I don't want to say that I was disappointed, but in a way I was.  I will explain that later.  First an overview.  The book was a good read and I especially liked how the story of Molly, a present day teenager in foster care, is juxtaposed to Vivian's story.  Vivian, now in her nineties and a widower, was born Niamh Power in Ireland.  Her grandparents sacrifice to send Niamh and her parents to America, hoping that the young family will find a land of plenty.  Instead, they find hardship and prejudice.  Her father seeks refuge in the bottle and her mother sinks into depression and anger.  When a fire destroys their apartment, Niamh is told that all have died.  Like hundreds of thousands of other street children and orphans, she is sent west with instructions to be polite, or more preferably, silent, so that prospective parents will select her.  Already nine and slightly large for her age and with flaming red hair, the chaperones are sure that she will be hard to place.  In the end, it is her ability to sew which gains her a placement.  Note, I say "placement" because like many orphans sent on the trains west, Niamh never really finds parents or a home, at least not for years.

Although Kline calls this book Orphan Train and she explains how much research went into the book, in the end, I think this book is equally about the modern day foster care system and children like Molly.  Abandonment and regaining a sense of belonging are the strong themes of both stories.

Why was I disappointed?  First, the length is only 271 pages, and I guess I was expecting a mega-novel - a saga that told the life stories of several orphan train riders.  Instead, we only have Niamh's story (although she does meet up with a boy she traveled with on the train).
There were over 200,000 orphans sent west and from all the research Kline did for the book, I expected a broader and more intricate scope.  There have been many "orphan train' books written for younger audiences, each telling the story of one or two orphans.  In a way, I don't think Kline did much more than that.  After reading the author's notes about the abundance of historical material about the orphans and their new lives, I've come to the conclusion that I need to seek out some of the primary sources and nonfiction writings that document the real stories.  I've been exposed to enough fictionalized accounts; what my interest demands now are the facts, the hard facts!

For those who've read little about the orphan trains, or for those who want a good intergenerational story, I DO recommend Orphan Train.  If you're not buying the book, be prepared to be on a waiting list.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Until We All Come Home: A harrowing journey, a mother's courage, a race to freedom by Kim de Beecourt with Ginger Kolbaba

In recent years, I've read several international adoption stories.  Each one was an emotional tale of anticipation, hope, setbacks, and love that grew so quickly and went so deep, that nothing could stop the determined parents, not even foreign governments.  Until We All Come Home is another such story.  From the time Kim de Blecourt and her husband decide to adopt to the day mom and new son Jake arrive in Michigan, it is over four years.  The first years were spent finding an adoption agency, saving the necessary money, and preparing their young daughter.  Kim was delighted when she found an agency that worked in the Ukraine partly because she had accompanied her church on a mission trip there years earlier.  However, I doubt she had any idea just how difficult their new journey would be.

When Kim, her husband, daughter Jacey, and father-in-law arrived in the Ukraine in May 2009 they felt their hearts were ready to accept a new son, and they even felt they were prepared for the careful maneuvering necessary in a country that had an "on and off again" foreign adoption policy.  They were not prepared for a single government official determined to stop their adoption at every turn.
Until We All Come Home tells the story of corruption and fear vs. the force of a mother's love and her ultimate trust in God. As weeks turn into months and still the final paperwork is denied, Kim's family returns to the United States, leaving her alone with young Sasha, whom they rename Jake.  As the family's life savings is used up, church members and new friends help.  A young Ukrainian woman Kim had met years earlier on that mission trip becomes her translator, alleviating some of their problems.  But it seemed as soon as something helpful happened, a new and more devastating problem arose to take its place.

Reading this book as been described as being plunged into part spy story and part mother's diary.  I cannot agree more. Descriptions of hiding behind closed doors and frequently moving to avoid being discovered are interspersed with memories of Sasha's first experiences on a playground and the first time he teases his sister.  Just like the best thrillers I've read, Until We All Come Home demanded my full attention until I read the last word.  For me, that meant staying up until 2:00 a.m.  No sleep until I
knew the final answers, and now that I'm finished, I highly recommend the book.

I received a copy of this title from the publisher Faith Words for review purposes.  All opinions are mine.

Since Sasha's (Jake's) adoption, Kim deBlecourt has become involved in Nourished Hearts which works for ethical adoptions and to improve the lives of those children waiting to be adopted. Check out the website to learn more about their work and Kim's book.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Computer Desk refurbished into Kid's Kitchen

About a year ago my daughter showed me some kid's kitchens on Pinterest that had been made from old furniture.  I investigated some more ideas on various blogs and tucked the ideas away.
I don't do power tools, so I knew this was really a project that my husband would do.  We kept our eyes out for a cheap piece of furniture that would work, but didn't have much luck until I found a computer desk with attached bookshelf at a rummage sale for local historical society.  The price was a little more than what I wanted and the desk was actually too big, but since the sale was a good cause, we made the purchase.

It sat in our garage for months since we both had decided the piece was too large for our idea.
Then in the midst of our long winter, my husband said he would try cutting it down to a narrower size and lower the height.  He got a vision of what he wanted to do, and I just let him go. In the end, I did a little painting and took the photos for the window scenery. One photo is of the lake where we have our cabin.  The other photo is a rainbow that we had outside our house a few summers ago.

 Somehow we forgot to take photos of the original desk, but it had a roll out shelf for the keyboard which became the oven door, several drawers which stayed, and a bulletin board back which became the kitchen wall/windows.  Hinges, plexiglass, and a few knobs had to be purchased. We used paint we had on hand except for a little jar of green for the counter.

Our older grandchildren play restaurant complete with printed menus and bills.  Our smallest granddaughter is just two and a half, and she is thrilled to make tea for grandma and grandpa.  She loves opening the oven door.  Today she made toast, apples, and cake for the baby doll.  She had cake herself yesterday at a party, so cake was on her mind!  I am so happy that my hubby was willing to put the time into this project!  Beats any purchased kitchen I've seen.

Our newest addition to the toy room