Saturday, June 27, 2015

If you were me and lived in...China: book review

Another great addition to the If you were me and lived in…series is here! Now we get a glimpse into life in China.  We get a geography lesson about the area which makes of the country such as the rivers, desert and grassland areas. China was founded by the Qin Dynasty over two thousand years ago. We learn about the capital city, Beijing, as the center of political, cultural and educational center.  We learn the popular names for boys and girls and endearments for Mom and Dad. We visit the great sites of China such as the Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors. We also learn about the regional food. Mandarin in the north, Cantonese in the south, and Szechuan in the southwest.  As well as holidays and festivals popular in Chinese culture.

I love this series. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This series is a great and engaging way to introduce children to the various cultures around the world. I love that this book gives an interesting look into China. I highly recommend this book and the other titles in this series for any family and classroom.                                                                                                                                                                        

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Friends: the pain of letting go

Friends. They are a great part of ourselves. Recently, I’ve been evaluating the friends in my life: the ones which have left, the ones still here and the ones who seem to have one foot out the door. Friendships are like other relationships. They are fluid, ever changing with periods of closeness, struggles, drifting apart and back to closeness. How do we categorize our friends? What do you do when your friends are drifting apart and do not come back to closeness. Do friends become acquaintances once again?

Categories of friends:
  • Acquaintances: the people we know in passing. They don’t know us on a more personal level and we only see them in certain situations like school or work.
  • Online friends: With today’s technology, we have online friends whose interaction is solely on the internet. They can add value to our lives. Some may eventually meet in person, the majority never have on-on-one interaction.
  • True friends: which we interact with on a regular, reciprocating basis.
  • Good friends are part of our inner circle.
  • The best friend. We all want one. Ever since grade school, we chose a best friend of the day or week. Some best friends become lifetime friends. The very close relationship in which a lot of time is spent together. This is the person you may call when you are excited, sad or just need to talk.

I look at this list and I notice that I have a lot of acquaintances and online friends. I have a few true friends but out interaction is purely online now. I have no real true or good friends whom I have physical interactions with on a regular basis. And I feel I have no real best female friend. I look at this list and I wonder what have I done or didn’t do that my relationships haven’t developed into deeper, closer relationships. I have to think I’m the problem because the common factor is me.

How do you come to the realization that you need to let go from your life? Over the last few days, I have felt like I have no friends. I don’t go out anymore because we either have grown apart and we’ve become Facebook friends, with only our past to talk about. Some of my friends live simply too far away to have any closeness with. The internet and phone calls can only do so much. I don’t have girls’ nights. I don’t have a friend to call when I want to vent my anger too. I know I have people who I can call in times of need for support and advice. But will I? Probably not because I feel I'm interrupting their lives with my problems. I want the fun side of friendship, too.  As I wrote and thought about this post, I realized that God maybe clearing my life of the people I thought were friends to make room for others. But it's still painful seeing a friend walk away from you. 

I didn’t write this post for anyone to feel sorry for me. I’m even reluctant to post it but I doubt anyone will read it. I think my life is in a transition now and I think something is just beyond the horizon. I wrote this post so that I could recognize the need to let of certain friends and for others to possibly recognize that they are holding on to certain people in their lives. I recognize when people leave your live, something better comes along. About 10 years ago, I had a friend leave my life very abruptly and without explanation. I always wondered why. I realize now that if this person stayed in my life, I wouldn’t gotten to know the man who has become my husband. I realize now that someone better came into my life. I realize now that it’s okay to let go the friend who no longer has a purpose in my life. It’s a painful process to let go of a friend whom you were once very close to. But it’s like holding on to a cat who is fighting desperately to be free. You are only going to end up wounded and even scared. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Checkmate Run: a dangerous game of cat and mouse

Checkmate Run by Allan Alexander is an intriguing story of Soviet Russia during the Cold War. It is a story about one man’s struggle against powers which tried to quash personal expression and ideas that were different than the status quo. The events take place between 1965-1975 as a young man named Alex learns the harsh and life threatening reality that he faces every day.

The story opens with a prisoner getting ready for trial. A trial that is heavily swung in the government’s favor. He is found guilty and sentenced for hard labor. We then meet Alex, a young man who has recently published a poem in a national magazine. A poem which openly criticizes the government. Alex is of Jewish descent and he must use trickery and subversion in order to achieve his goal of becoming a doctor as the government is discriminatory toward the Jewish citizens. With the help of his aunt and her powerful friends, he is able to get into medical school. When a friend and fellow author, Andrey Simyavsky, has been arrested for treason, a series of events occur that will change Alex’s life forever. He vows to fight in any way he can. He soon becomes on the radar of the KGB, the Russian spy and state-security branch, and he must fight quietly and undermine the growing reaches of the government. Will the KGB finally be able to stop Alex? Will he be able to escape?

I enjoyed this book very much. It’s hard to give a description of the book without giving too much away. Every event in the book is a piece of the puzzle, a calculated chess move in which Alex tries to outsmart the KGB and they are trying to catch Alex in “illegal” activities. I always knew about the harshness of life behind the Iron Curtain but to read about it in such detail, it’s heartbreaking. I have a deeper appreciation for the freedoms we have here in the US. We may not like what people say or do, but we can do the simple things like openly criticize the government without fear of losing our freedom or our lives. I was also intrigued of how the book Doctor Zhivago played at role in the story. I must confess I’ve never read the book or seen the movie but now I will. The last few chapters move at a furious pace as the danger greatly increases for Alex. I highly recommend Checkmate Run

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Texas Rising: Texas Revolution miniseries

Texas Rising is a 10 hour miniseries about the Texas Revolution against Mexico. It was told in five parts on the History Channel. It starred Bill Paxton as General Sam Houston, Olivier Martinez as General Santa Anna, the “Napoleon of the West,” and Cynthia Addai-Robinson as Emily D. West. Many, many more historical figures of the Texas Revolution are featured. The Texas Revolution took place October 2, 1835 – April 21, 1836. Everyone remembers the Alamo, Texas Rising attempts to bring more of the story to light and reveal the people who fought for independence.

“From the Ashes” (Part 1) begins with the aftermath of the defeat at the Alamo. After receiving the news of the Alamo, Houston and the Texan troops vow revenge and Houston orders Colonel Fannin (played by Rob Morrow) to leave the Goliad fortress in order to combine forces. Fannin refuses. “Fate and Fury” (Part 2) begins as Colonel Fannin finally comes to his senses and orders the retreat, only to be ambushed by the Mexican army lead by General Urrea (played by Alejandro Bracho). Emily West leaves the safety of the Texans camp, gets close to Santa Anna and becomes a spy feeding information to Houston through another spy in the Mexican army. “Blood for Blood” (Part 3) is the story of the final push to San Jacinto as Houston finally has the army’s trust and support. “Vengeance is Mine” (Part 4), April 21, 1836, the Battle of San Jacinto. Houston puts his plan into action as his troops surprise the Mexican Army and catch them unaware. When Santa Anna discovers that his army has lost, he tries to run and disguise himself as an ordinary solider. However, he is soon discovered and brought before Houston.  The final part “Rise of the Republic” portrays the aftermath of the Texans victory. Santa Anna is sent to Washington to meet with President Andrew Jackson (played by Kris Kristofferson). The Texans, riding high on their success, move forward to create their new republic.

As with any film, there are a few historical facts that were portrayed correctly and some that were not. First, Emily D. West was never at the Alamo. She was actually kidnapped by Santa Anna on April 16 at Morgan’s Point, Texas. She is, in fact, a Texan heroine. She is thought to be identified with the folk song, “The Yellow Rose of Texas” for her bravery.  The song was refers to a beautiful “sweetest rose of color.” The song was extremely popular during the Civil War (1861-1865) and the lyrics have been charged without the years. Many historians still believe that the song refers to Emily D. West. Second, Santa Anna was surprised by the attack at San Jacinto because he was otherwise engaged and left the Texans would never attack, let alone defeat him. He also disguised himself as an infantryman. What gave him away was his mean saluting him and referring to him as “el presidente.” Lastly, Santa Anna, I feel, was portrayed fairly correctly. He was referred to as the “Napoleon of the West” and he had an air of confidence about him that lead to his downfall. Napoleon had Waterloo and Santa Anna had San Jacinto.

Despite the historical inaccuracies and liberties taken for dramatic purposes, Texas Rising was an entertaining adventure about important events in Texas history. While some will debate about what did or did not happen, I viewed this miniseries as entertainment about a historical event. Even though you’d expect better accuracies from The History Channel, it still gave insights to what happened after the Alamo and the road to Texan independence. Most movies I’ve seen end with the Alamo or jump ahead to San Jacinto and ignores the events in between. I had never heard of Goliad and the events which happened there. I recommend Texas Rising to anyone who enjoys historical storytelling and old Western gunfights with hero saving the day. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Captain Hawk: a high seas adventure in a far off land

Captain Hawk by SJ Garland is a high seas adventure in the Far East. The story of Nathaniel Hawk who comes to Singapore in 1823 at the request of his estranged father. He walked away from the sailing life, vowing never to be the man his father wants him to be. When he arrives, he receives devastating news. Will he answer the call of the seas or will he take on the mantle that his father raised him to be?

Nathaniel Hawk arrives in Singapore for the Christmas holiday and his father has left on a secret mission for the East India Company. There is a ghost ship haunting the seas, sinking ships and leaving no witnesses. He soon is brought into the tensions between the British and Dutch sailors as the two countries are currently in peace talks over trade in the East Indies. An enemy of his father’s, a Dutch captain named Collaart, has turned his animosity to Nathaniel and vows revenge. He meets Charlotte Carstairs, a woman born too soon. A brain for business, she is the wrong gender for 1823 trade but her father trusts her instincts as she tries to save the family name from ruin. Is there a curse following the Hawk and his friends? Will they ever find the ghost ship?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I loved the mystery of the ghost ship and the mysterious crew. I loved the tension with Nathaniel and Captain Collaart as Nathaniel is desperately trying not to be pulled into his father’s world. I love the interactions between Nathaniel and Charlotte and low and slow burning romance between them. I can’t wait for the sequel which is set to be released in November. It’s already on my want-to-read list. I highly recommend Captain Hawk.

Captain Hawk
is available on Amazon
for free for Kindle unlimited
and in paperback for $13
as well as other book sellers

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Happy Birthday, Donald Duck!

Today is a beloved cartoon character’s birthday. DONALD DUCK! That’s right, Donald Duck was premiered on June 9, 1934 in a cartoon called the Wise Little Hen. Therefore, the Walt Disney Company recognizes today as Donald’s birthday. Donald is the most popular Disney character after Mickey Mouse. He was originally voiced by Clarence Nash until his death in 1985 when Tony Anselmo took over and continues to provide his voice today.

Donald is famous for his semi-intelligible speech, mischievous and temperamental personality. Many of Donald’s cartoon shorts portray him in a happy mood until something comes along spoils his day. I always liked Donald because he through he is initially scared of whatever is antagonizing him, that fear turns to anger and he fights back and comes out on top. However, Donald has also been portrayed as the one who antagonizes. He can be a prankster and sometimes a bully, especially to his nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie. Donald also is often portrayed as jealous of the spotlight given to Mickey Mouse and as a result a rivalry ensues. Everyone remembers the original Mickey Mouse Club song.

The cool thing about Donald is that he is often portrayed outside of Disney. He is the only character of film and television to appear as a mascot. The University of Oregon has a licensing agreement with Disney to use Donald’s image as “Fighting Duck.” The U.S. Coast Guard also uses Donald as a mascot despite his portrayal in cartoons as in the army.

Join me and everyone wish our favorite duck a Happy 81st birthday! 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Fever Tree: a great adventure to finding one's true self

The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh is the story of Frances Irvine who is faced with two options after the sudden death of her father. Each option leaves her little freedom. She must choose either a marriage to an almost perfect stranger or became a nursemaid to her aunt’s growing brood. The story takes the reader on an adventures from the stuffy English nobility to the dangers on the high seas and the wilds of Africa.

Frances is the only child when her mother died suddenly. Her father was a successful businessman but because he was Irish, he was looked down by her mother’s proper English family. Her father provided very well for her and she lived in comfort until her father’s untimely death and she discovers that her father lost everything when the stocks of a railroad company had failed. With her mother’s family unwilling to take her in, she is given a proposal by a distant cousin, Dr. Edwin Matthews, marry him and live with him in South Africa where the diamond mines are profitable. She rejects this proposal until her aunt decides that she will come with her and help her with her youngest children. Frances chooses the lesser of two evils and journeys to South Africa. While on the journey south, she meets dashing William Westbrook, who sweeps her off her feet and awakens in her something she never experienced before. When she lands in Cape Town, will she join Edwin or will she run away with William?

I loved this story. This book has been on my list to read ever since I saw it on the bookshelf. I finally was able to get a copy after months of waiting and the story did not disappoint.  The story may sound like a typical romance where the heroine is freed from a loveless marriage to find safety in the arms of a dashing man. This story had so many twists and turns that keeps you guessing about what will happen to Frances. Who will she choose? Will she fall in love her new home or will she escape back to England? The backdrop of the story takes place in South Africa in 1880 as the tensions are building between the English and the Boers. Boers were settlers of Dutch. German or Huguenot descent who settled in the Transvaal region of Africa. I highly recommend The Fever Tree. It is a great adventure story that will thrill you and keep you turning the pages. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

National Doughnut Day!

Doughnuts or donuts (depending on where you are from) are a delicious and sugary food which is often eaten at breakfast but is enjoyed throughout the day. The dough is deep fried and covered in glaze or sugar or icing. It can be filled with fruit jelly, custard or twisted into rope. Today is National Doughnut Day, which is observed on the first Friday of June.  Many donut shops offer free donuts on this day. National chains, Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme has special deals on this day.

The origin of the donut has been debated and there are a few theories as to the beginning of this wonderful treat. First, theory claims that Dutch settlers in America invented the doughnut. The Dutch word, oliekoek, means oil cake. A second theory claims that 16 year old Hanson Gregory invented the doughnut as we recognize it today. He was aboard a lime-tradiing ship when he was dissatisfied with the greasiness of the doughnuts. He used the ship’s tin pepper box to cut a hole in the center and thus cut down on the greasiness. When he got home, he taught the technique to his mother and the style took off. A third theory, an 1803 English cookbook references doughnut in a section for American foods. The final theory claims that the term “dow nuts” were first mentioned in a book of recipes and domestic tips written by the wife of Baron Thomas Dimsdale in 1800 in England. Whatever the origin, we agree we were glad they were invented.

The national day for donuts was started by the Salvation Army in 1938 to bring awareness to the social welfare programs they offered during the Great Depression. It referred to a practice from World War I when donuts and hot coffee were brought the soldiers on the front lines. The Salvation Army’s mission was to give spiritual aid and comfort to the soldiers. A link to home and family and what says home better than hot coffee and donuts. The female volunteers who brought the donuts to the solders came to be known as “donut lassies.” Every year on National Donut Day, the Salvation Army has a fundraiser in Chicago.

Enjoy a doughnut for me! 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Dream World: a story about finding love and yourself

Dream World: Tales of American Life in the 20th Century by William Charles Kreb is a story about two young college students who are entering a world without their parents’ watchful eye and into the world of love, lust and expectations in marriage.

The story opens with Liz Anderson, 17, who dreams of going to college in another state and her parents make her wait. It isn’t until her 19th birthday that she decides to go to Lake Shore College in Florida and assert her independence. The summer before school starts she gets a job as a tour guide at Dream World, an amusement park, which many students from Lake Shore work. It is there she meets, Willie Johnson, a young man who comes to Florida for spring break and decides to come back for college. He soon gets a job at Dream World. Liz and Willie casually date during that summer when something happens which leaves Liz hurt and Willie dating someone else. Willie soon realizes his mistake about breaking up with Liz and now he must fight to win back her affections as a new man enters her life. Both Liz and Willie struggle to find their place in the world, to form their own ideals and forge their own paths in life. Will Willie be able to win Liz back? Will someone win her heart?

I liked this book. I enjoyed the sparing between characters about life, love and marriage. Willie is the frugal man who wants love and marriage and Liz doesn’t know what she wants. The new man, Mike, is the typical egoistical pig who thinks he can get any woman because of his money.  I love the scene where Liz gives Mike a speech which shows him that she is not the kind of woman who falls in love (and bed) with any man just because he flashes money and a handsome smile her way. I love how she poked holes in his proposal when basically points out that he wanted a wife without the legal bidding marriage. She also shows Willie that if he wants her back, he will have to work hard to win her heart.  I also loved how the ending leaves the reader without a definitive answer if Willie and Liz get back together.
Dream World:
Tales of American Life in the 20th Century 
is available on Amazon in paperback for $34.95

Monday, June 1, 2015

In loving memory of Uncle Larry

Yesterday, my family lost a beautiful man. My Uncle Larry died at the age of 65 from a long battle with Alzheimer’s. He leaves behind two beautiful daughters, Rachel and Erin, an awesome son, Neil, a loving daughter-in-law, April and two wonderful grandchildren, Wyatt and Ruby. He also leaves behind 4 brothers, 6 sisters, numerous nieces and nephews and great-nieces and nephews. Everyone loved Uncle Larry and will miss him greatly. Even though you think you’ve prepared yourself for this, to think he is really gone brings tears to my eyes and a heaviness to my heart.

One of my most distinctive memories of Uncle Larry was when I was little, I stayed at their house for the weekend. One morning when he walked into the kitchen, he said in a deep, Fred Flintstone voice, “Yabba dabba do!” You could always count on Uncle Larry for a laugh. I will always remember hanging out in his garage as the adults talked and then later as an adult myself. He would proudly show off his beautiful motorcycle, a Harley Davidson Road King. He also gave the biggest hugs and when he asked you how you were, it wasn’t a just a greeting, he really wanted to know. He was the uncle who would hold us up by the feet and balance us on his hand. He was the uncle who put me on his shoulders so I could see the airplanes better. He was always very generous to me and my siblings and he did so without recognition. He didn’t want anyone to know how much he did for others. I will always remember and follow his example.

Uncle Larry sold me my first car. He taught me how to take care of it and answered any questions I had. He gave me a detailed record of what was done to the car so that when I took the car to the repair shop, I knew what needed to be fixed and what didn’t. He taught me to how to be knowledgeable about my car so I won’t be scammed by a dishonest mechanic. I know he would be proud if he could see me deal with a mechanic who thinks I’m a stereotypical woman who knows nothing about a car. I know he would get a great laugh at the looks on some mechanics faces when I can speak the lingo. I may not know all the ends and outs of a car but, thanks to Uncle Larry, I know enough to figure out possible problems and how to fix them. I know what repairs can be done at home and what should be done by a mechanic, thanks to Uncle Larry.

The last time I saw Uncle Larry was in November and it was one of the hardest thing I’ve ever done. He was so frail and a shadow of the man I knew. But when he laughed and that smile lit up his face, I saw the man I love. He still had that spark in his eye. It is a strange comfort to know that he is no longer suffering. He is home in a new body and he has his memory back. He is reunited with his parents. I love you, Uncle Larry and miss you.  

In loving memory
Lawrence Martin Bedard 
January 15, 1950 – May 31, 2015