Saturday, July 30, 2016

Ben-Hur; by Carol Wallace: A Book Review

What nostalgia and warm memories this title invokes!  As a young girl when a less complicated life afforded larger chunks of time for reading, Ben-Hur was an exciting story that brought biblical times to life and closer to home in a world that knew nothing of search engines that now make knowledge of distant places so common place.  Would this new revision written by Carol Wallace,the great-great grandaughter of the original author, Lew Wallace, hold the same enchantment for me now?

My specific memories of the original book are vague so it's hard to make an authentic comparison, but supposedly much of the cumbersome descriptive prose in the original has been reworked to hold greater appeal for current day readers. The story in this version flows well and the characters are engaging.  Judah Ben-Hur has a life of adventure, starting with an accident that condemns him to a galley slave. From there he is mercifully rescued, falls into fortune and carries hunger for revenge on those who separated him from his family earlier. He encounters Jesus along the way and gradually grasps Christ's mission of peace, which is counter intuitive to Ben-Hur's military mindset. The chariot race, perhaps what the book is best remembered for, still shines, and the rivalry between Ben-Hur and his former childhood friend, now enemy, Messala, keeps the reader rooting for justice on Judah's behalf.  The story has a satisfying ending.

There were times I felt the characters were shallow and the action mild compared to more modern day fiction.  For instance, Judah marries the sensible and right woman for him, but their romance is only hinted at and their declaration of desire for one another comes rather abruptly.

Encounters with Jesus Christ are in harmony with the Bible's account of his life and character. Ben-Hur's conversion is wholehearted. The crucifixion scene portrays the agony of Jesus and those who love him. I was disappointed that the author chooses not to develop any story of the resurrection. It is assumed, but if one is unfamiliar with Christ's work of redemption, God's powerful act of rising him from the dead is sadly missing. 

The book includes an afterword that is a brief, yet detailed biography of Lew Wallace.  I enjoyed reading of his background and the gradual reception of the book in the late 1800s.  The story had to endure tests such as whether it was blasphemous, whether it was morally valuable when fiction was suspect, and whether it's Christian message would be embraced.  By 1886 it was a major bestseller.

I also found it interesting to understand how Ben-Hur's story reflects the author's life experiences. Lew Wallace had his own journey of coming to faith and the story shows his conclusive belief.  In his lifetime there were many reports of readers whose lives were changed by the book.

I read most of this book while waiting on a plane delay while traveling this summer.  It was entertaining and carried me back to simpler days, not where there are less complicated personalities or problems of life, but where inner peace is obtainable and comes from a straightforward acceptance of truth and from valuing the journey to a faith that doesn't waver no matter how the world changes. How refreshing!

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Travel Continues to Tulsa

The previous post highlighted the visit from my daughter Jodi and her three sons.  After the mad dash with her and the boys in Atlanta to the departure gate for Pensacola, and after our hasty goodbyes, I sank into a nearby seat, unharnessed myself from my heavy backpack and waited until their plane had taxied out to the runway.  I had at least two hours until my plane would leave for Tulsa. Frankly, I needed some down time. 

I found my gate area and perused the concourse for food options.  I decided on a taco bowl and then settled down for the wait.  Waiting is never dull; catching up on Facebook, making a phone call, playing a turn on Words With Friends, reading a book or maybe engaging in conversation with a stranger.  But the two hour wait turned into three hours as the plane was delayed.  Amazingly, no one seemed irritated or upset.  Tulsa bound folks must just be nice that way:)  I knew the three handsome family members picking me up would be there, even at the later arrival time.

What a nice reception by Josh, Jill and Elle! Hugs all around and then off to their house. I hadn't counted on how relaxing and rejuvenating this time would be.  Like waking up the next morning to a quiet house and a much later start-your-day time.  Both teens now, the girls enjoy sleeping in and Josh does his work from home on the main floor; I slept upstairs in Brayden's king-size bed-another pampering plus as I could sprawl myself and my stuff out in one big space. Brayden wasn't home until my last night there, so Thank You, Brayden, for sharing your awesome bed.

I'm a decaf coffee girl, and when Josh realized he had not planned for my coffee preference, he offered to go out to Starbucks in the mornings to bring me my cup of joe. How kind, Josh.  Thank you! So I woke up that first morning to coffee on the counter and a planning powwow to all decide what we would do in the few days I was there. Meals included the ladies making lasagna one day, with fresh basil and oregano from the garden in the backyard, grilled ribs per Josh's perfected recipe and out to eat to celebrate the girl's birthdays which happen in July. I felt wonderfully treated on all counts!  Of course, the ladies also made a shoofly pie, a family tradition when we get together.

Elle had played tennis on the school team so she and I headed to the courts mid-morning.  Our time was cut short as a mean Oklahoman storm churned up and chased us back home. (It might have ended abruptly otherwise, too, because I pulled a hamstring just before we quit.  Ugh!)  The tornado siren was sounding as we pulled into the garage and just as Josh and I were following the storm's path on the news channel and deciding the safest place to hideout in their basementless house, the warning was changed to a watch and the worst possibilities were no longer headed our way.  But the storm was brutal with high winds, thunder and lightening and some hail, and lasted quite long.

Again, I don't have a lot of pictures to show of our time together, but our outings included driving  golf balls in the Flying Tee facility and a wonderful day of shopping.  The girls had birthday money to spend and it was fun to tag along.  My buying was limited; not much room to add many new purchases to my traveling bags. The birthday celebration happened at The Cheesecake Factory-oh yeah, need I say more! Thanks for the scrumptious meal, Josh!
Happy Birthday, Elle and Jill!

There was lots of lazying around, too, watching Netflix (not cartoons- a change up from the 3 weeks previous :), playing card games like Hearts and Euchre, visiting with Josh, getting whipped in Scrabble by Josh ( I taught him well) and just doing my own thing at times, when social media captured the girls behind doors in their bedrooms.

I visited their church Sunday morning and then enjoyed time with Kira and Brayden, who returned home that afternoon.  I wish I could have had more time with them.

The time had come to pack my bags.  Again, the bittersweet feelings.  I looked forward to returning home to my wonderful husband and an only-Kevin-there-house,  but was sad to leave these dearly beloved family.

Goodbyes were said Monday morning, and I was on my way.  Thank you, Josh, Jill and Elle, for a very enjoyable visit.  I'm so proud to claim you all as family. I love you more than words can tell.

"The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord make his face to shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace."

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Summer Visits to Cherish

         "Family and friends are hidden treasures. Seek them and enjoy their riches."  Wanda Hope Carter

Precious, golden days of fun, sun and family visits.
So many moments to treasure and
Not enough cell phones to capture it all.

Jodi and I laid out the plans for her 3 week summer stay in Indiana .  I would meet her in Orlando where her family was hanging out on a work/vacation trip, hook up with them for a couple of days and then fly her and the grandson band of brothers back with me to Indiana for a hometown good time. My lowest fare flight landed me at Sanford Orlando airport, about an hour away from anywhere magic might be happening.  The rented vehicle they drove to Orlando could only be driven by Dad who was tied up in meetings all day, and taxi fares from Sanford to their hotel were about as much as my flight ticket. I thought I had found a ride with a shuttle company, but since I hadn't made reservations earlier, they had no room for me.  I stared at the Uber app on my phone. Was I brave enough to use it on my own? I fingered a few phone calls and texts to Josh and Kira who have used the service often; I was coached and coaxed to give it a try.  I entered my information. A driver immediately responded and I could follow his progress towards me on the app. Within minutes my phone rang and the Panamanian driver was letting me know he had arrived. I stepped outside to curbside. He talked me to his vehicle via the cell phone at my ear. Still nervous about entrusting myself to a complete stranger,  I briefly paled at the split-second decision I now needed to make--do I sit in the front or the back?? I reached for the back door handle, slid in and heard the driver greet me by name. Whoa! What a world of conveniences and connections! The ride was pleasant with  engaging conversation comparing families and interests. The price was nice with Kira's first-time-rider promotion code, and I was delivered to the hotel where family awaited me.

The hotel room was the size of a studio apartment;  amenities included two outside swimming pools, several hot tubs, a splash pad and playground. Ian, Dominic and Noah enjoyed the water, taking rest times poolside, as needed.
Gaming at rest time

Watching the water

Noah zonked out!

After a couple of days there we said goodby to Dad and headed for Indiana. Nana and Mom had hands full pulling luggage, a stroller and clasping on to little shoulders, elbows or whatever extremities were within our reach. We switched planes in Detroit, almost leaving Nana and Dominic at the top of the escalator, with Nana trying to figure out how to maneuver luggage and child, with no free hands to steady her step onto the moving stairs. We managed to board the plane  with our baggage and wits collected and arrived in South Bend where we were warmly received by Papa at the airport, and with his welcome sign and gifts on the kitchen counter when we walked into the house. Thank you, Papa, for candy treats and toys, and flowers and chocolates for the ladies!

Our normally quiet quarters were overrun with busy bodies and boisterous voices. Dominic developed some fast rapid slide down the stairs that sounded like an accident happening, while Noah learned to back down the stairs with knees and hands. With 3 stories in the house counting the basement this was a necessary skill to develop.

I should have kept a diary of our days events, because now the memories are like a tangled balloon bouquet, each ribbon leading to a date and time, but hard to separate for any retelling of an orderly account. I'd rely on the photos I took, but too many events went unrecorded as I find it hard to break the spell of living into and with the moment in order to step back and snap a picture. Funny expressions or unexpected cuteness are escape artists when trying to preserve them for the photo gallery!

 So here's what I got.  Our first outing was to the Ft. Wayne Zoo with the Indiana cousins. Dan and Kris went, too. The zoo has lots to offer.  I was impressed with its size and variety of animals. We packed lunches which we ate on the grounds before we left for home.  It was a fun day for all.

Dominic, Rebecca, Aubrey, Shawn, Jodi holding Noah, and Ian

Another morning Jodi, the boys and I, trekked through Middlebury Cheese Factory sampling all the way and then enjoyed the 3rd floor kid attractions in the Davis Mercantile in Shipshewana-a big carousel, an awesome toy store and the Candy Store.Of course, you can't not stop at Rise 'n Roll when it's along your way.  The apple fritter and strawberry-frosted donut we found there made a nice topper to the light lunch we packed and ate in the park in Middlebury.
Pooh and Tigger outside the toy store

The Candy Store
Parks are child care takers best friends. Swinging seems to never grow old and playground equipment is great for tiring out energetic bodies.  Shanklin Park was visited more than once and how convenient to have a small park just one house over in our subdivision.

The Carousel

Noah chills himself to sleep at the park

 After being introduced to Crouqet (who remembers that oldie?), Ian begged any adult to play with him, often. 

Other games of choice throughout  the visit were Uno, and Rummicub for the adults after the kids were in bed.

We structured the days with an outing in the morning and after lunch movies/naps for the boys so Mom and Nana could have some down time.

Jodi made some delicious meals for us. We also visited favorite eateries like Venturi, South Side and The Chief.  Trying The Chief's flavor of the week- now there's a habit you might want to take up!  

Another day we traveled to Michigan to see cousins,  Janet, Jack and Fin. I'm so glad we could get together.

Austin, Ashley and Rowan joined us for the July 4th weekend. There was lots of good visiting and hanging out together here.  Several outings to do were mentioned, but due to short attention spans and needs for naps, our plans stayed low-key and local.  We managed to breakfast at Lux, visit the farmer's market, and walk the path from the dam to Shanklin. Even taking in the town fireworks show seemed daunting with 1 year olds and daylight savings time pushing the dark-enough-to-view- them-time back to 10 pm. A few sparklers and pop-its would suffice for this year's patriotic commemoration.

Rowan and Noah weren't the only show-offs
Dominic playing peek-a-boo with Rowan

Bathing beauties
The antics of Noah and Rowan were non--stop

Swing lectures & silliness

The last Sat. of Jodi's visit, we headed to South Bend. It wasn't the Elkhart County Fair, but the St. Joe Fair would do for a couple of rides. Our days together were numbered and bitter sweet emotions began to invade my mood. It would be hard to have this brood far away and out of sight; it would be nice to have the house quiet and to ourselves again. If only our times together weren't so far between.

Jodi, the boys and I left together on the same flight to Atlanta; she flew on to Pensacola and I to Tulsa.  I had a long enough lay over that I could walk them to their gate and still have plenty of time to catch my next flight. Due to an initial delay in South Bend, we bounded out of the plane in Atlanta and sprinted to the Pensacola flight. Rushing a 5 year old, riding the tram and keeping upright and jostling a stroller with baby in arms should earn Jodi and I super mom and nana awards. What a whirlwind departure!

We loved your visit Jodi! You are a delight to be with and you did a good job being mommy without daddy.  Watching you reminds me of all the details I've forgotten of being a mom to young kids. What a privilege and how fast the years pass.  You do it well.

We love you Ian, Dominic and Noah! May you carry many fond memories of your vacation with us in Indiana.  We will make the most of technology for staying in touch while we're apart. And we pray you will keep growing into the men of God you are called to be. 

About that trip to Tulsa?  Find out in the next post coming very soon!

Another item to push!

First time rider

Who needs toys?
Facetiming Dad

Pancake chefs

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A book review-Design Your Day

Looking for a way to organize your life to be more productive and satisfying? This quick, but powerful read should help.  Claire Diaz-Ortiz  has not only authored several books, but has a yearly goal of reading 200 books. How does this author, speaker and innovator, who was named one of the 100 most creative people in business by Fast Company get it all done?

Claire outlines her Do Less method in an easy-to-read, step-by-step process.  Part One helps us identify what is really important to us and what we really want.  Starting with choosing an overall theme for the year, Claire then shares methods to set reachable goals for the season ahead. Narrowing down the list of goals by organizing them into categories such as God, Family, Health, Money, etc. keeps things organized and allows for equal importance of large and small goals. Claire advises to choose less than more when it comes to how many goals to set, and then, to create strategies to reach the goals. Strategies include breaking down each goal into an amount or taking into account the circumstances of the year ahead, e.g. having a baby or other time altering events.

Part two uses the word LESS as an acronym to define four organization tips:
-Limit your work to your best 20%
-Edit your work time
-Streamline your work
-Stop working as needed

I like Claire's simple, direct style of writing. She's convincing without being preachy.  Though I haven't designed my day and life by Claire's excellent advice, yet, I believe the information will be helpful to come back to in the near future.  Claire concludes, "Ultimately it's about doing your best work, and finding more time for living along the way."

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.