Friday, March 31, 2017

Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs: life and relationships

This month I studied Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs (sometimes Song of Solomon depending on your Bible translation). Both books are reportedly written by King Solomon and both have very different themes and tones. The main theme of Ecclesiastes is life is meaningless without God. The main theme of Song of Songs is the courtship of a lover and his beloved. In Ecclesiastes, I would like to discuss two main verses which highlight the book’s theme. In Song of Songs, I want to discuss two verses which repeat throughout the book and are very important to any romantic relationship.

There are so many great verses in Ecclesiastes which support its theme. I would like to focus on a few. The first verse I would like to discuss is Ecclesiastes 1:9 “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again, there is nothing new under the sun.” Humans are born, humans work and toil and humans die. It has been this way since the fall of man. Ecclesiastes 9:12 says that no man knows when his hour will come. We all share a common destiny: the good, the evil, the righteous, the wicked, we will all die and stand before God and be accountable for the things we have done in life. Everything in life comes from and comes to God. Happiness, pleasure, satisfaction, wisdom (Ecclesiastes 2:26) all come from God. Without God, your work, your search for happiness and wisdom is meaningless. It’s futile. Human wisdom doesn’t contain all the answers. True wisdom comes from God who sees past, present and future.

Second I would like to discuss the verses Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. Here we are shown that working as a partnership or team is better than working alone. Life is designed for companionship; not isolation. Genesis 2:18 states “The Lord God said ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” By working together, we can bounce ideas of each other, solve problems together, to see in different perspectives to get the work done. My favorite part of these verse is verse 12, specifically “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” This verse is at the heart of mine and my husband’s unity ceremony during our wedding. Hanging on the wall of our love is a three strand rope with a white, gold and purple strand. The white strand represents me, the bride and wife. The purple strands represents my groom, my husband. The gold strand represents Jesus Christ as the center and authority in our marriage. The strands are tied together to represent the joining of two people by God in marriage. With Christ at the center of our marriage, the bond between my husband and I cannot be easily broken. 

The first verse I would like to discuss in Song of Songs is “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” This verse repeats three times: chapter 2 verse 7, chapter 3 verse 5, and chapter 8 verse 4. This verse is spoken by Beloved (the woman in the relationship). Although she speaks to other young girls, the verse does apply to men and women alike. This verse encourages us not to force romance or love. If we try to force love or even commitment, the relationship is doomed to fail and we end up deeply hurt. With the repeating of this verse throughout the book, we are reminded to allow love to blossom on its own and when it’s ready it will happen. When it happens, a lifelong commitment can occur. For those singles reading this, take the time to get to know each other. Allow love to develop naturally, if its mean for you two to be together, then it will happen.

The second verse I would like to discuss in Song of Songs is “I am my lover’s and he is mine.” This verse repeats twice: chapter 2 verse 16 and chapter 6 verse 3. This verse is, again, spoken by Beloved. Here she says that she and her lover belong to each other and only each other. In marriage, there must be a unity of mind, heart and body. This verse ties in with the verse above. When love is slowly awaken and a friendship develops first, the unity of mind, heart and body seems effortless. As time passes, a couple’s unity can only get stronger and deeper. For instance, my husband and I will celebrate eight years of marriage this year, ten years total of being together. We finish each other’s thoughts, sentences and even anticipate the other’s response will be. For example, my husband works very hard, when he comes home he wants to rest. He’ll say “I’m going to lay down” in such a way that it becomes a question. To which I reply with sarcasm, “No, you can’t.” So now when he realizes that he “asks” to lay down, he’ll answer his own question with my usual sarcastic response.

In conclusion, reading Ecclesiastes was, at times, very depressing. Everything is meaningless. Life is meaningless. The big picture of life, the meaning of life, so to speak, the ultimate purpose of life is to know God, to follow his commandments and to seek his will. Song of Songs is a beautiful story between a man and a woman. To see the whole story as they meet, fall in love and get married. It is an example of how a true love and commitment develops. You cannot rush, force or pressure love to develop. It blooms in its own time. Either it develops between two people or it doesn’t. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Why boys shouldn't be favored over girls when desiring children

This week my husband and I had interesting conversations about the genders of our children. While we desire another child and hope to have another one day, we’ve been told that we really need to have a boy since we already have a girl and second, we need someone to pass the family name on. Since we don’t have the ability to choose the gender of our baby, even if we wanted to, why is it automatic that we should be desiring a boy? This idea got me thinking why are boys desired more than girls? In a recent Gallup poll, responders were asked if they could only have one child and they had the chance to choose the gender of that child, what would they choose? Forty percent responded that they would choose a boy, 28% chose girl and 25% had no preference. This poll has been repeatedly ten times since 1941 with almost identical results.

Girls are undervalued all over the world. The rates of sex-selective abortions in India and China are shocking while baby girls are being abandoned in South Korea. In the US, little girls tend to be sexualized through their clothes and though music. Girls are urged to stay young and innocent as long as possible yet media shows them that being sexy can achieve great things. Talk about a mixed message! To be concise with such a complex topic, I will discuss three reasons why boys are often preferred over girls and am argument against such reasons.

First, the main reason I hear about preferring boys over girls is because boys will pass on the family name. However, in the US today, women have the option to take her husband’s name, keep her own name or the husband can even take the wife’s name. For example, I took my husband’s name simply because I’ve always looked forward to being married and changing my name, I’m traditional in that sense. However, I do know of a family who had only girls. When one of the daughters got married, she and her husband decided to take her name so there could be a new generation with that surname. I’ve always heard of couples hyphenated their names, for example like Jones-Smith, or even combining their last names into a new last name. The best example is former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. When he married his wife, Corina, in 1987, they combined his surname, Villar, with her surname, Raigosa. To me, desiring a boy simply to pass on the family name is very weak.

Second, many claim to desire boys over girls because boys are easier to raise. The truth is neither gender is easier to raise than the other because the brains of boys and girls are different and thus develop at different rates over the course of their lives. Let’s break down the areas of raising a child and see which one is harder. Discipline: who’s harder? Boys. Why? Boys tend to respond better to physical discipline like being put into a time out chair or having their toys taken away while girls respond better to verbal discipline. Physical safety: who’s harder? Boys. Why? Boys tend to be more rambunctious and aggressive. They are natural risk takers. While girls (definitely not my daughter), tend to operate on the safer side and often need to be encouraged to take risks. Self-esteem: who’s harder? Girls. Why? Girls tend to grow up less confident and more insecure than boys. They are taught to be people pleasers, to bury their needs behind someone else’s. Another self-esteem issue with girls is body image. Parents, especially mothers, need to be careful how they express their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their bodies because your daughters are watching and will learn to hate what you hate on their own bodies. School: who’s harder? Mostly boys. Why? Being action based, boys tend not to respond will to an indoor based school day. Early education activities like music, clay work, finger painting and physical activity, are being stopped in favor for an emphasis on academics and visual auditory learning. This type of learning can be too most for brains too immature to sit still and boys tend to act out in response in boredom. Final tally: Boys 3, Girls 1.

Some may say “hey! What about expenses? Girls require pretty fancy clothes, shows, accessories.” True, some girls may require a lot of stuff as teenagers. However, this isn’t always the case. Myself as a teenager was very low key. I enjoy, and still enjoy, a simple outfit. I enjoy getting dressed up every now and then; however, those occasions are few and far between. Boys can be expensive too when it comes to stuff. Ever looked into buying a new gaming system lately? The most current Xbox, Xbox One (2013), retails from $300-$500 with games which run as high as $80! How is this cheaper than dressing a girl? It seems that boys are the more expensive ones. I think we need to focus on how differently boys and girls develop and grow which changes the way we, as parents, need to approach raising them. What worked for your daughter won’t necessarily work for your son.

Third, fear. Simply fear. The world is a scary place and in many parents’ minds, boys are better equipped or physically able to handle the bug bad world out there. Therefore, the image of girls as dainty, fragile creatures who need to be protected from harm. Yes, the world is a scary place for girls. They could face sexual exploitation, violence, discrimination in the workplace and even in school. However, why can’t we teach and prepare our daughters to able to face these things if and when they come up? Why not teach our daughters self-defense by putting them in martial arts? Better yet, why are parents not teaching their sons how to respectful treat a woman? Why are we not teaching boys to respect when a woman says no and means no? Why aren’t we teaching our children to be partners with each other? To work together as a team? My husband and I are a team. While I do do the majority of the housework, my husband does pitch in when he has off. He helps me carry the laundry from the laundry mat. He does the heavy duty scrubbing chores that I despise. I’ve said this before in other blogs that while my husband is the head of our household, he and I discuss everything together. He values my opinion and takes my feedback into consideration when we need to make a financial decision or a decision regarding the care of our daughter. If I were to have a son, I want to teach him how to treat and respect the women in his life. And that doesn’t mean bow down and worship the ground she walks on but to value her as an important part in his life.

In conclusion, regardless of gender, our children should be valued for who they are and taught to work together for the betterment of their lives and the world. Raising children isn’t easy. It isn’t for the faint of heart. Some days I want to scream and shut the door against it all. But I’ve been entrusted with this little girl, and God willing another child, to prepare her for the world without me. A world where she have to look after herself. So regardless of what my next child will be, boy or girl, he or she will be a wonderful addition to our family and will be raised with love.  And that’s all that should matter!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Cross Out: a look into urban life

Cross Out by Roger Cannon is the story of 17 year old Jaime “Kimo” Flores who leads three very different lives. He’s a talented artist, an aspiring future cop and he is a member of a local tagging crew. When members of his crew kill a member of a local gang called The Posse, Jaime finds himself in a race against time to keep himself, his friends and his family safe. In the community of Bell Gardens, Jaime starts to see the lines between his different lives begin to blur. He must choose his final path before it is chosen for him. What path will he take? Will he make it out alive?

Cross Out is an interesting look into urban life and the impact the community has on the youth who grow up there. While I appreciate the author’s capture of the urban life, I was not captivated by the story. I see this story appealing more to young adult readers especially teenage boys. I recommend this book for young adult readers or anyone who can appreciate a story of an urban youth trying to find his way in the world.

Cross Out
is available on Amazon

in paperback and on the Kindle

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Collecting: more than just gathering stuff

Collection is the act or process of accumulating something. Items from very inexpensive to extravagant. People collect many different things. My husband and I are collectors. It is one of the many things we have in common. For many of our friends and even his co-workers do not understand the drive behind collecting. The desire to collect can originate in many different ways. For many collectors, it falls into three categories, childhood memories and connections. It is the thrill of the hunt for new items. Or the special meaning or symbolism in the subject of the collection. There are many benefits to the brain when someone has a collection.

For many collectors, the joy of collecting stems from their childhood memories. My husband who primarily collects Star Wars action figures and memorabilia. It first began when he was 4 or 5 years ago when someone gave him a Ewok playset and the Cantina playset. However. The bulk of his collection started when he was 17. It’s the memory of getting those playsets as a child which drives his love of collecting. Many of my collection started when I was a teenager. My Coca-Cola collection started when I bought a Coca-Cola bottle with the Argentinean flag on it. It was 1994 World Cup and I thought it was cool. The one bottle turned into a lifetime collection. I’ve also been a long time collector of Precious Memories figurines. I collect pieces which are cute or have a special meaning for me at the time. For instance, one of my favorite pieces is called “Together is the nicest place to be” and it features a couple relaxing on the couch. It was given to me by my husband early in our marriage and it symbolizes exacting how I feel. It does matter what we are doing or where we are, when my husband and I are together is where I want to be.

Another source of joy of collecting is the thrill of the hunt. This is particularly true for my husband. There is a local hobby show called Frank and Sons. It is a large warehouse with individual booths inside where collectors can browse a wide range of collectibles for sale or even trade. Usually when a particular action figure is difficult to find in local retail stores, my husband can go to Frank and Sons and find it. He will look over the piece with a very critical eye, looking for flaws. There could be flaws in the paint, in the sculpting, or in the packaging. He’ll look over the figure while considering the asking price and make a decision about his counteroffer. He is also really good at bargaining with the seller. After a little back and forth, he and the seller will come to a deal which sometimes includes another figure for a lower price. The thrill of looking for the piece, finding the piece and then negotiating a price and the satisfaction when the piece is included in the collection is the satisfaction that comes with collecting.

For some collectors the items they collect have a special meaning or symbolism in their lives. The meaning or symbolism could be what the animal represents or it could have a connection to a loved one who has passed. I have many collections which has special meaning or symbolism to me. I recently started collect owls. In one year, I have quite a collection already. Owls symbolize wisdom and knowledge. I’ve always loved learning. I continue to teach myself new things all the time, so the owl seems to fit my personality. I have also thought owls to beautiful creatures. I’ve also collected wolves since high school. Wolves are another beautiful and majestic creature. Wolves symbolize a strong knowledge and instincts about oneself. Like with owls, I have felt a strong connection with wolves.  I also collect certain animals to represent my children especially my children who have passed. If you’ve read my blog before you know that I lost three children to miscarriage or premature birth. Each animal has a special connection to my children so that I can carry a piece of them with me. It doesn’t matter if anyone else doesn’t understand the symbolism, I do and it is a comfort.

There are many benefits to the brain when someone collects items as a hobby. First, collecting builds observational skills. A collector becomes more cognizant for details and becomes a better finder and seeker for items. For example, my husband’s ability to find the tiniest flaw on an action figure has helped him develop the ability to construct the display case at work which is appealing and inviting. Second, collecting improves organizational skills and enhances pattern recognition. A collection is often organized by shape, size, genre, series, and so on. Organizing the collection into categories enhances the ability to recognize common characteristics and detect gaps or flaws in a pattern. Again, this has helped my husband finds any flaws in a display. Third, collecting may forge a commitment to a good cause. For example, a person who collects elephant figurines may become aware of the elephants’ plight in the wild and make moves to help preserve and advocate preservation of the elephants. Lastly, when collectors are kids, the act of collecting could lead to a future career. For instance, if a child collects rocks, he or she might grow up to be a geologist. Or a child who loves animals and collects plush toys or figurines, may grow up to be a vet or a zoologist or a marine biologist.

In conclusion, if you were to ask any collector regardless of what they collect, their answers might be similar. They find joy and happiness in collecting. It would be joy from childhood or happiness in gathering items of meaning. It is the thrill of finding a particular item to complete a set and the subject of the collection may have special meaning or symbolism to the individual. Collecting benefits the brain and enhances abilities in other areas of life. Collecting enhances someone’s life in ways that benefits them. In my opinion, everyone collects something, some just don’t realize it.  

P.S. the pictures featuring my husband's collection is only a small fraction of his entire collection

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Girl from the Tea Garden: life in British India

The Girl from the Tea Garden by Janet MacLeod Trotter is the third book in the India Tea series. The story centers around Adela Robson, an Anglo-Indian girl, who dreams of life on the stage. When she meets the handsome Sam Jackman, she sees her dream coming more of a possibility. She seems to be at the height of society until she meets a charming yet spoiled prince and everything seems to fall apart. She soon finds herself in England, a country she doesn’t know. Will she have the courage and bravery to see through the bad times? Will she be able to return to her true home?

The Girl from the Tea Garden is set at the end of British rule in India, the turbulent political and social times are heavily felt as well as the outbreak of World War II. I enjoyed seeing World War II outside of the events in Europe. The author touches on events which occur in India during the war. I enjoy reading books which take the reader to a different part of the world and tells a story of what happened there while the war was going on. When I requested this book, I wasn’t aware it was the third in the series. However, the story was great to read and if there were any references to the first two books, they were subtle enough that it didn’t take away from the story. Now having read this book, I would like to read the first two and then read this one again. The author’s descriptions of the time and places were exquisite. If you enjoy historical fiction, you will enjoy The Girl from the Tea Garden.

The Girl from the Tea Garden
Is available on Amazon

In paperback and on the Kindle

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Moana: another Disney adventure with a great message

Moana is the story about an Ancient Polynesian girl who must save her island from a curse. Moana (voiced by Auli’I Cravalho) is the daughter of the chief and has felt the call of the ocean. But her father, Chief Tui (voiced by Temuera Morrison) has forbidden anyone to sail past the reef. Her grandmother, Gramma Tala (voiced by Rachel House) tells her the story of Te Fiti, the mother island who created the islands and life. One day, a demigod, Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) took the heart of Te Fiti. With the heart gone, a demon of fire and earth, Te Ká, seeks the heart and spreads death to island after island. Gramma Tala tells Moana that one day someone will journey across the sea, find Maui and restore the heart of Te Fiti. That day comes when Moana’s island suffers as the food supply dies. Moana finds a boat and defies her father and sails past the reef. She finds Maui who tries to trick her out of her boat but Moana is resourceful and finds a way to compel Maui to help her. The two journey together and battle pirates and mythical monsters. They finally reach Te Fiti, they must battle Te Ká to restore the heart.

I enjoyed the movie. It was uplifting and adventurous as any Disney film would be. I enjoyed seeing a tale which featured a people other than the more commonly told stories. The music was good. The song “How Far I’ll Go,” (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, performed by Auli’i Cravalho) is a great uplifting song. I loved the songs which featured the native language of the Polynesian people. The only song I didn’t care for was “You’re Welcome” (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, performed by Dwayne Johnson) was a little awkward at first but then develops into a fun song. Second, I enjoyed how nature and the ocean is a character in the movie. The ocean helps Moana, guides her on each step of her journey. It reminds me of Grandmother Willow in Pocahontas, although the ocean doesn’t speak in Moana. Third, I loved how the movie gives the message that its ok to have second thoughts and doubts. When the journey proves too difficult and there seems no nope to continue, Moana actually gives up and is ready to return home. She is visited by a person who helps her overcome those doubts. She’s very relatable this way. We’ve all had second thoughts and doubts and through Moana, audiences can be encouraged to keep trying.  

There are a few things I didn’t like. First, some of the humor falls flat for me. There is a scene where Moana thinks the ocean has not helped her find Maui and she’s on a desert island, she yells insults at the ocean including a line about fish pee. Then another scene where Maui is teaching Moana how to sail and he tells her to feel the current, if it’s warm you are going in the right direction. She feels the water and it’s cold, then suddenly warm. You see Moana react and you realize that Maui has peed in the water. I know the main audience is children but why does the humor how to usually center on bathroom jokes and gross humor. Second, Moana’s animal sidesick, a chicken named Heihei, seems to be outplace. I know he’s supposed to be the comedic relief during many scenes but sometimes the humor didn’t add to the scene. It was just awkward.

There were a lot of criticisms surrounding Moana and its story. First, a group of Polynesian people criticized Disney for making Maui overweight as an insult to the people and to Maui who is revered as a hero in oral traditions. Osnat Shurer, producer on the film, said they worked closely with different Polynesian groups in the South Pacific and found that each group had a different interpretation and image of Maui. So which one to depict in the film? Overall, I do not see overweight or even obese. He is bigger than life, muscular. There are many images of Polynesian people as fit and muscular. Second, many have called Moana as “cultural theft” which “inaccurately depicts Polynesian culture.” The problem is Polynesia isn’t a singular group but has hundreds of different languages with millions of people with different versions of these stories. So Disney took different aspects of the stories and created a fantasy world. I understand their concern and want the culture and stories accurately depicted. Unfortunately, many stories which Disney has told in the past were changed for the audience. For instance, Hercules (1997) depicts the hero as the son of Zeus and Hera. According to Greek mythology, he’s not the son of Hera. In fact, Hera tries to kill him as an infant. Many Disney stories do not resemble the original story: Pinocchio (1940), Sleeping Beauty (1959), and Cinderella (1950), Mulan (1998), to name a few. Does that mean these movies aren’t enjoyable? No, it doesn’t. If Moana encourages children to read about, explore and experience the Polynesian culture through their stories, to be introduced to the Polynesian people in the world today, what is the harm in that?

Moana is a fun adventure about a people that many do not much about. I enjoyed the music and the look into Ancient Polynesian life and the people who bravely sailed across the ocean and populated the South Pacific. A people who did it long before many thought it was possible. Moana is a great character filled with a desire to help her people that she will brave the open ocean. I loved the message of continuing on your journey despite your second thoughts and doubts. I understand the cultural concerns of a group in the Polynesian community; however, with such a broad area that is Polynesia that even within the area there is a diversity that no movie could accurately depict. Overall, I enjoyed Moana. It is a great addition to the vast Disney movie library. If you haven’t already seen the film, I highly recommend it. It’s available now on Blu-ray and DVD. Check it out. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Bone Witch: a fantasy world of magic and monsters

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco is a story in a mystical world where bone witches are feared for they can raise the dead and have very powerful magic. Tea is a young girl who lives with her parents in Knightscross, a small village in the kingdom of Odalia. Her older sisters are respected witches of water and forest. One day, without meaning to, Tea raised her brother, Fox, from his grave. Another bone witch, Mykaela, comes to see Tea and informs her that she needs to leave her home and train with other ashas or witches. When Tea arrives in Ankyo, the capital of the kingdom of Kion and enters The Willows, the home of the most powerful asha, Mistress Parmina, she is thrown in a world of lessons and intense training. During her training, she visits an oracle who tells her she is hovers between being a force of good and a source of evil. She will change the world. Will Tea heed the oracle’s warning? Will she strive to be a force of good? Or will she turn to darkness?

The Bone Witch is an interesting premise and story which certainly opens itself to multiple books. It was a bit slow at points with no real action until about 75% into the book. However, the descriptions of this world draws you in. The reader learns with Tea as she deciphers the oracle’s message. I can't discuss too much of the events as it would give away too much information, If you enjoy fantasy worlds and the realms of magic and adventure, I recommend The Bone Witch.

The Bone Witch
Is available on Amazon

In hardcover and on the Kindle 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Mad Love: a comedic look into the world of dating apps

Can science or mathematics predict if two people are perfect for each other? That is the premise behind Mad Love by Nick Spalding. A popular dating site in the UK, Sociality, is conducting a contest in which the site’s algorithm will match two people and the site will have the couple married before they meet and prove the algorithm works for the perfect match. Adam Holborne is a video game journalist who learns he has been chosen after a fight with a video game mascot at an expo. Jessica “Jess” Madison is an American studying abroad and joined the dating site on a whim. She is floored when she’s learned she has won this contest. Adam and Jess soon find themselves on the fast track to a St. Valentine’s Day wedding. While on their honeymoon, they are being photographed for the site. Can two complete strangers really fall in love this way? Does Sociality’s algorithm really work to match two people?

I enjoyed Mad Love as it was a comedic and, often, sarcastic look into the claims of dating apps and websites which always seem to guarantee to help you find your one true love. While the humor was sometimes brash and in your face, it exposes the truth behind these algorithms and the complexity in which two people met and maybe fall in love. I recommend Mad Love to those readers who enjoy a comedic story of life, love and everything in between.

Mad Love
Is available on Amazon

In paperback and on the Kindle 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Gilmore Girls A Year in the Life: a review

I’ve been a fan of Gilmore Girls almost from the beginning when the show premiered in 2000. After seven seasons, the show ended, leaving fans unsatisfied with how the characters and storylines were left. On November 26, 2016, Netflix released Gilmore Girls a year in the life a four episode season which was supposed to tie up loose ends and give fans a glimpse into the lives of their beloved characters. I waited eagerly as I counted down the days until the new episode were released. When I was finally able to sit down and watch the first episode left me confused and bewildered. I tried to watch the second episode when I gave up. Recently, I decided to give the new episodes another glance. After two more viewings, to write down thoughts and reactions, I decided to write my review. The return to Stars Hollow had its hits and misses.

The first episode entitled “Winter” (written and directed by Amy Sherman-Palladino, one of the show’s co-founders) and opens with a black scene as some of the show’s most memorable lines are played quietly as first and get louder as we get to the title shot. The first scene opens to reveal a snow covered Stars Hollow and Lorelai (played by Lauren Graham) sitting on the gazebo’s steps waiting for Rory (played by Alexis Bledel) who is back for the day. The episode focuses on Rory’s career to this point, the passing of patriarch, Richard Gilmore (originally played by the late Edward Hermann) and ends with Lorelai agreeing to join her mother, Emily (played by Kelly Bishop) in therapy.

The second episode, “Spring” (written and directed by Daniel Palladino, the show’s co-founder) and opens with Emily and Lorelai in a very tense and quiet therapy session. Rory is at a Chilton Alumni Day when she encounters her own school enemies (i.e. Francie) and Paris’ old crush (i.e. Tristian). Rory is insulted that Headmaster Charleston suggests that she go back to school to get her Master’s so she can teach. Determined not to fall into that pitfall, Rory decides to be proactive about her journalism career. Unfortunately, many doors are closing around her and her dream is slowing coming to an end. Where will she do from here? She moves back home, of course!

The third episode, “Summer” (written and directed by Daniel Palladino) opens with Lorelai and Rory at the pool and everyone congratulates on being back which Rory vehemently insists she’s not back. In this episode, the Palladino makes fun of the college students who end up moving home. They are called the Thirtysomething Gang and they are creepy. She ends up editing the town’s newspaper and decides to write her story (an idea given to her by Jess, played by Milo Ventimiglia). And poor Emily, once again, finds fault with Richard’s grave story. It’s an idea Lorelai is not crazy about and refuses to give her permission for Rory to use her story.

Lastly, “Fall” (written and directed by Amy Sherman-Palladino) has everyone questioning what the next step in their lives will be. Lorelai travels to California to participate in a hike to recreate Into The Wild while Emily vacations on Nantucket and considers selling her house in Hartford. And Rory decides to write her book in the hopes that opening chapters will help convince Lorelai to let her finish it. Lorelai comes home from her hike and decides that she and Luke have waited too long to get married. So the wedding plans are full steam ahead. At the end of the show, Lorelai and Rory are sitting on the gazebo steps, basking in the happiness of the wedding and Lorelai jokes about Rory’s turn to get married. Rory’s face is very telling and then she finally confesses something. The episode ends with four little words.

I loved about these episodes, yeah, let’s start with what I loved is the nostalgia. Seeing the town in which I spent many years living in during the show’s run as well as in reruns. I loved the deep impact of Richard’s death has on Lorelai, Rory and especially Emily. I loved how the writers wrote Emily’s grief. It felt real and substantial like a real wife who lost her husband of 50 years. I loved Lorelai’s favorite memory of Richard, which she finally shares with Emily. It was such a tearjerker. I loved Sookie’s return to the show, so classic Sookie and Melissa McCarthy played her as if she never left. I loved seeing Jess on the show and his influence on Rory. I must admit, I didn’t like Jess in the original series and didn’t want him and Rory together. However, Jess has matured and is a great fit for Rory. And there is a scene which shows so clear that Jess is still in love with her.

Now what I hated about these episodes. First, some of the humor just didn’t work. In the beginning, there is a gag with Rory running around Stars Hollow looking for a cell signal when cell phones worked fine before. And the town’s WiFi works but not the phones. Oh! The town’s first musical was very painful to watch. Oh so painful! And the four words that Amy Sherman-Palladino has been saying is how she wanted to end the show 10 years ago? I’m not going to say what they were for anyone who has not seen the new episodes. However, I will say that I say it coming. Throughout the episodes, there were signs that led me to believe that something was off and I could tell the writers were trying to build up to it. To me, it wasn’t as much of a shock that the writers were hoping. Maybe there were fans who were surprised at the ending; however, I was not.

Overall, it was great to see the return to Star Hollows. Despite my dislikes, I wouldn’t mind to see more episodes especially with Rory’s confession. I’d like to see where they take it. I’d also like to see them tone down the over-eccentric-isms (I know that’s not a word but it’s the best way to describe it) of Taylor and some of the other townspeople. I know it was a part of the original show but in these episodes, it was so over-the-top. I would rather see the focus be on Lorelai and Rory and their lives between their small town and the world outside. I’d rather them focus on the relationships instead of the sights.  To get back to the premise of the original show, the story of a unique mother-daughter relationship. If you are a fan of the original show, you may or may not enjoy Gilmore Girls A Year in the Life

Saturday, March 11, 2017

From Sand and Ash: a new story about a sad period in history

From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon is a World War II love story about Angelo Bianco, an Italian priest and Eva Rosselli, the Jewish girl he grew up with. The story starts in 1929 when Angelo came to Italy from America after his mother died. He lives with his grandparents and meets Camillo Rosselli and his daughter, Eva. The two children quickly became friends despite their religious differences. Fast forward to 1938, the Anti-Semantic laws are slowly coming into play as the lives of the Jewish community are being restricted. The Italian Jews still live a relative peaceful life, despite the racial laws and they hear of the terrifying events which are occurring in Germany. They know it’s only a matter of time before it happens in Italy. By 1940, it happens. Arrests are being made and communities around up and sent to the German concentration camps. Angelo is determined to hide Eva and as many Jewish families as possible. He becomes a part of a Catholic underground organization which hides and even helps Jewish people out of the country. But too soon their network is discovered and Angelo and Eva are placed in harm’s way. Will they survive the war? Will they be able to full express their love for each other? Can they even be together?

From Sand and Ash is a haunting story of a cold, dark time in history. The callousness of the German and Italian fascists against the Jews gives the story its drama. The love story between Angelo and Eva give it its hope. The reader will cheer for Angel and Eva and their friends as they work against the Gestapo and free as many Jews as possible. The reader will cry as the horrors are experienced by the Jewish communities. I enjoyed this story as I have never really read about the experience of the Italian Jews during the war. Most historical novels of WWII focus on Germany. I recommend From Sand and Ash.

From Sand and Ash
is available on Amazon

in paperback and on the Kindle

Thursday, March 9, 2017

My faith: its personal and unshakable

Recently a close friend of mine asked me what the purpose of my spiritual practices is, even after I answered her I still thought about it. Beyond my attempts to read the Bible every day (some days are so busy that I forget my daily reading) and my prayers throughout the day, I really don’t have spiritual practices. I don’t attend a church regularly. I don’t light candles. I don’t participate in the common practices that most people may think of. I don’t because my faith is very personal. It is different than anyone else’s. And I say I have a faith, not a religion because religion is a set of rules, traditions and customs that many are man-made and not Biblical (i.e. Lent). I was baptized in the Catholic Church as an infant and had my first Communion at 8, however, we didn’t really attend Mass on a regular basis. When I was 9, I began to question my mom about confession and she couldn’t answer me. It was the first and last confession to a priest.

My first encounters with a true relationship with Christ was when I was visiting my aunt while on Spring Break. I don’t remember how old I was exactly, definitely in my teens. It was Saturday night and I was lying in bed. I was praying about the struggles in my life. Struggles with family, friends, school and life in general. The next morning, the pastor was teaching from Romans. He read this verse: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). I sat there stunned. Three little words were the answer to my prayer: patient in affliction. God had answered my prayer. The Creator of the universe had heard my feeble voice. From then on, I read all I could, I asked questions and even looked for a church to attend in my area. I accepted Christ into my life on August 16, 1997 at a Harvest Crusade. And while I struggled with what it meant to be a Christian and I studied different Christian thought, it wasn’t until college when I learned I had to do it my own way. I read the Bible for myself and use the words of well-known pastors and teachers as supplement rather than the focus. My experiences with God and Jesus is very personal. He has seen me through very difficult times. I’ve felt his presence in my darkest moments.

A big part of my faith is prayer. Before reading my daily chapters, I ask him to guide me and open my eyes to what I need to see today. I don’t pray at set times, like Muslims are required to do. I pray whenever I feel I need to reach out to him. I pray in bed, in the shower, at kitchen sink as I wash dishes. Sometimes there are no words in my prayers. My tears and the ache in my heart speak for me. While he doesn’t always answer prayers with the answers I want, he does answer them. God answers prayer in three ways: yes, no, and not yet. Many people will focus on the yes answers to prayers. I see the no and not yet answers as more significant. I’ve received a no when my daughter, Ziva, passed away shortly after birth. I’ve received a not yet when I prayed for a certain relationship to become more. Each time, I’ve received a no or a not yet, I have received something greater in the future. You may think wait, how can something be greater than your child? The way I look at it, without the death of my daughter, I would not have had the capacity to meet and counsel so many women in similar situations. And I’ve met some amazing women and remain friends with them today. My ability to help these woman gave my daughter’s brief life meaning beyond anything I could have imagined.

There is nothing anyone can say or do that would tear down my faith because He has been a powerful presence in my life for 20 years. When someone asks a question and I don’t know the answer, it shows me where I need to do more studying and more prayer for God’s guidance. It doesn’t mean you’ve won the argument, you are the tool that God uses to show me where I need to know more. Do I always act and speak in a way Jesus would want? No, I don’t. I’m human and I will fail. I do my best to learn from my sins but I know I could stumble in the future. Which is why I need a Savior. Recently, I heard that faith, religion and essentially God is all made up to comfort people about death. While I am assured that I will be in Heaven with Jesus, my faith doesn’t comfort me about my death. I still think about and worry about my death. The thought of not being here for my husband and my daughter still frightens me. Why, you may ask. Because I’m human. It isn’t because my faith isn’t strong. It is because I am human and do not want to leave my loved ones behind.

People may ask how I can believe in God when there is no evidence he exists. But I do see evidence he exists. I see the wonders of science and see God. I see the laws of physics at work and see his design. I believe in the power of modern medicine and the power of prayer. I see the brilliance of man who creates wonderful machines which have led to the conveniences of life and I see guidance of God. I saw a meme recently that said that atheist claim not to believe in God because it was written by men and at the bottom of the meme says tell me about who wrote their textbooks. Yes, the Bible was written down by men but it was inspired by God. When atheist and non-believers try to use the Bible to how crazy beliefs, they focus on the Old Testament. For me, the Old Testament law was fulfilled and done away with when Jesus died on the cross and resurrected. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” What he talking about the ceremonial laws, specifically in Leviticus, and the offerings. Jesus become the ultimate and final offering for our sins. His blood covers our sins as the blood of the offerings in Leviticus covered the sins of the Israelites.

Some may still read this and think I’m foolish for believing as I do. That I cannot think for myself. The funny thing is they don’t want to believe that I do think for myself. I don’t blindly follow a pastor who claims that all non-Christians need to be killed. I certainly do not interact with only Christians as Jesus did not only associate with the religious leaders of his day. And yes, there are scriptures that I struggle with but I trust God to guide me and show me how to apply the scripture in my life. So when you spout off about Christians these days, be careful because not all Christians are the same. There are some who are in your face and using the word of God in all the wrong ways. There are some Christians who are comfortable in the limelight and doing God’s work. And there are Christians who are honorably doing God’s work with whispers, quietly in the background that you never would know they were there. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Fallen saga: angels, demons and eternal love

The Fallen series by Lauren Kate takes the reader on a fantastical journey of love through time, fallen angels and a coming battle.

Fallen is the first book in the series where the reader meets Lucinda “Luce” Price, a new student at the Sword and Cross boarding school. A school with other misfits who don’t fit anywhere else. She is running from a tragedy at her former school and her own terrifying visions. There she is Daniel Grigori and there is an instant connection she cannot explain. But Daniel makes it clear that he wants nothing to do with her. No matter how hard she tries, Daniel keeps pushing her away until one day he stops fighting. Why was he running from her? What is he hiding? Does it have anything to do with her visions?

Torment is the second book in the series which picks up right after the events of Fallen. The angels and demons have called an 18 day truce. Daniel needs to find a safe hiding place for Luce as she attracts celestial beings like a beacon. He chooses a school in California, Shoreline where other angels can look after her. At the school, Luce meets other extraordinary teens. These teens are the children of Nephilim, a class of angels. There she learns that she has powerful abilities which both sides want. She learns that the struggles between angels and demons has always been at a stalemate until now. Daniel can tip the scales if he were to choose a side. Will Daniel chose?

Passion is the third book in the series which, again, picks up right after the events of Torment. This time Daniel and the other angels are chasing Luce through time as she travels back to her past lives. Luce is able to see her relationship with Daniel and her ultimate death through the ages. From WWII Russia to Victorian England to Ancient China and beyond. But someone else is chasing Luce too. Someone with a plan that the angels and demons do not want to come to pass. Who is this mysterious person? What does he want with Luce?

Fallen in Love is a side novel which takes place between the events of Passion and Rapture. It contains four short stories featuring the love stories of Shelby and Miles, Luce’s friends from Shoreline, Roland, Daniel’s friend and fellow angel, and Arriane, another angel. As well as a story of Luce and Daniel. Love and heartache through the ages.

Rapture is the fourth and final book in the series. Daniel, Luce and their friends are in a race against time as they need to find three angelic relics in order to thwart evils plans and break the curse which haunts Daniel and Luce’s love. They must battle those who do not want them to succeed. They have 9 days to get the relics and join them together on Mount Sinai before everything they know and everyone they love is wiped out.

I was given the first book by my sister and I was interested in the premise. After I finished Fallen, I looked to find the other novels. And I was disappointed. Fallen was great with an interesting premise and started the series strong. Unfortunately, as the novels progressed, I felt as if the author wasn’t really sure where she wanted to the series to go and put in filler in order to stretch the series to the four novels. As I read, I had a nagged feeling that that series reminded me of something and it hit me the Twilight series. I realized that this series had all the elements that Twilight had that I come to hate by the time I read the last book. If you are a fan of the Twilight series, you may enjoy Lauren Kate’s Fallen series.

The Fallen series is available at all major booksellers
The first book, Fallen, was made into a film released in 2016 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Doctor Strange: more than just another superhero movie

Doctor Strange is the newest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Dr. Stephan Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is a neurosurgeon in a New York hospital. A neurosurgeon who is so arrogant and cocky that he dances while performing surgery. One night, while driving on a winding road, he is in a terrible accident. He receives extensive injuries, especially to his precious hands. His hands now shake uncontrollably and he tries everything medically possible. However, he’s not progressing as fast as he wants. So he seeks out Kamar-Taj, an organization which helped heal a paralyzed man to walk again. There he learns to how to use his mind to heal his boy from the Ancient One (played by Tilda Swinton). Along with Master Baron Mordo (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), Doctor Strange is pulled in to a mystic war against Kaecilius (played by Mads Mikkelsen). Kaecilius wants to bring darkest to the earth through summoning Dormammu, a being from the Dark Dimension.

Along with a great story and awesome visional effects, the reason I love Doctor Strange is Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character. He is so good at playing highly intelligent and extremely arrogant characters. Anyone who has seen him as Sherlock Holmes knows what I’m talking about. I also like that Cumberbatch brings a vulnerability to the character not just when he is grasping at straws and Kamar-Taj is his last hope but also when he is the last defense against Kaecilius and Dormannu, he lacks confidence. It isn’t until the Ancient One, essentially, gives him the confidence to figure out a plan to rid the world of Dormammu. Cumberbatch also resembles the comic Doctor Strange so much it seems he was born to play this role. The comic Doctor Strange, designed by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, was modeled after famous horror actor, Vincent Price.

Some of my favorite lines in the film is spoken by the Ancient One. She and Baron Mordo are discussing Strange and Mordo mentioned that she helped him defeat his demons. To which she replies, “We never lose our demons, we only learn to live above them.” I love this quote. Anyone who knows addiction or mental disorders or a host of other demons, knows that they don’t really disappear from our lives. People learns to make them insignificant and live in ways to keep them from returning. Sometimes they never take power again in our lives and sometimes they do because they are never fully defeated. In another scene, she is trying to get through to Strange, who isn’t progressing, again, like he wants. She says “Arrogance and fear are keeping you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all.” When Strange asks “which is?” she replies, “It’s not about you.” How many people in the world today have a hard time learning this lesson? How many people still focus on themselves instead of the world around them? One last line that I love is when Strange comments that magic doesn’t make sense, the Ancient One replies, “Not everything does. Not everything has to.” I love this line because we live in a world where people want an explanation. They want a reason. They want to know why. Sometimes there isn’t an explanation. There isn’t a reason. The answer to why is something beyond our comprehension and understanding. We may never know why something happens, maybe we will know after death when we see things beyond our earthly perspective.

As I always to do with my movie reviews, I will discuss a few of the criticisms about the movie. First, many critics made comments that Doctor Strange was a reboot of Iron Man (2008) where the hero discovers a greater calling which changes his life. HELLO?!?!? Anyone familiar with the Hero’s journey knows this is true in all hero stories with few variations. Second, many critics compared the visual effects to a bad acid trip. Considering I’ve never been on acid, let alone a bad acid trip, I feel this comment is so clique is not even funny. Sometimes I feel when the critic really can’t find anything wrong with the movie but feel they must find something, they resort to the visual effects as a bad acid trip. Lastly, many critics, especially comic book fans, were upset that the movie story doesn’t copy the comic book origin story. I answer this with none of the MCU movies copy the comic books exactly that’s why it’s called the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is their version of the stories based on the comic books with a few variations. It is from my understanding of the Doctor Strange story, that the movie does follow his origin story pretty close. The variation is the Ancient One is played by a woman and who is supposedly Celtic instead of a man and Tibetan.

Overall, I loved this movie. I loved Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange. I loved Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One. I love the strong lessons about life and our place in this word. They are there, you just need to pay attention. I look forward to seeing Doctor Strange in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok (November 3, 2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and other possible Doctor Strange sequels which have yet to be announced. If you have been a fan of the MCU so far, you’ll enjoy Doctor Strange

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Food of Love: one family's crisis and the power of food

The Food of Love by Amanda Prowse is the emotional story of one family’s struggle as one of them battles anorexia. Freya Braithwaite is a freelance food writer and seemly has the perfect life. She is still desperately in love with her husband, Lockie, of 19 years. Her eldest daughter, Charlotte, is ready to take her exams and head to university. Her youngest daughter, Lexi, who despite her struggles with dyslexia, seems to be doing well. Until one day when Freya is called to Lexi’s school and the principal informs her that she suspects Lexi is anorexic. Soon the family is thrown into the battle for Lexi’s life where food is her enemy as well as her cure. Will Freya be able to help Lexi? Will Lexi be able to overcome the powerful hold that anorexia has taken over her life?

The Food of Love is a powerful and emotional story about the struggles and dangers of anorexia. The book explores the mental thought processes and the distorted thinking involved. The story also explores the impact the disease has on the loved ones and their lives. The Food of Love is an emotional, shocking and eye-opening story. My heart ached as I read Lexi’s tearful pleas and promises to stop and get help. I cried when the family was at a fork in the road and a difficult choice to make. I wept at the end. I highly, highly recommend it.

The Food of Love
is available on Amazon
in paperback, on the Kindle and Audiobook
as well as Barnes and Noble

in paperback and audiobook

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Trolls: a fun family movie with a great message

Trolls was produced by DreamWorks Animation and voiced by an all-star cast. The Trolls are small creatures who love hugging, dancing, and having a good time. They lived safely hidden from the Bergens for 20 years until their village is discovered. Some of the Trolls are captured and taken to Bergentown as a meal for the miserable Bergens, who believe their happiness comes from eating a Troll. The main character, Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick), the positive and upbeat princess of the Trolls, who sets off to rescue her friends. She is joined by Branch (voiced by Justin Timberlake), a paranoid survivalist Troll. They meet Bridget (voiced by Zooey Deschanel), a kind hearted Bergen and scullery maid in King Gristle’s castle. They form a friendship which will change their lives forever. Poppy and the Trolls are able to teach the Bergens that true happiness comes from within.

I loved the message of the film is that happiness comes from within. It is not something you put inside your body as the Bergens thought. It is deep inside you. You only need to turn it on. It’s been engrained in our culture that you must search for happiness. It’s stated in the Declaration of Independence: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” However, happiness isn’t a destination, it’s a part of the journey. I think it’s a great message that we can find happiness in the here and now instead of in a future event or achievement. 

I also loved the music. There were a lot of covers of popular rock and folk songs. From True Colors (1986) to The Sounds of Silence (1964) to Clint Eastwood (2001), the cover songs are fun additions to the humor and action of the story. As well as do the two original songs Can’t Stop the Feeling (written by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Shellback, performed by the cast) and Get Back Up Again (written by Beri Pasek and Justin Paul, performed by Anna Kendrick).

My one complaint is the gross humor that filmmakers seem to think must be in a children’s movie. One character, Guy Diamond (voiced by The Big Bang Theory’s Kunal Nayyar) farts glitter. Another character, Cooper (voiced by Ron Funches) poops cupcakes when he’s scared. When I saw it for the first time, I thought seriously?!? Was that necessary? Even my daughter, who loves Poppy and the movie, says eww, gross!

I must admit when the movie was first released in theaters, I resisted taking my daughter to see it because I wasn’t really sure it was going to be appropriate. I didn’t read any of the reviews but I was certain that someone just took a toy and made another unnecessary movie. So we waited for the DVD. After the first viewing, myself, my daughter and my husband loved it. I decided to write a review for it and search online for what other viewers thought of Trolls. Many of the reviews I read either loved it or hated it. Those who hated it, I think, went into the movie determined to hate it. One reviewer says it promotes cannibalism. Cannibalism? Really? If it was cannibalism, it would be Troll eating Troll or Bergen eating Bergen. And by the way, no actual eating is in the movie, it’s just talked about. Other reviews didn’t like the cover songs. One reviewer that the use of The Sounds of Silence was inappropriate. However, when you see the movie, the song fits the scene.

While no movie is perfect and will not appeal to everyone’s tastes, I recommend Trolls. It is a fun adventure movie with great music and a great message. The music will have you dancing and singing along. As for the criticisms of the movie, while DreamWorks often doesn’t compare to Pixar, the studio still puts our great movies. How to Train Your Dragon movies, Despicable Me, and the first two Shrek movies. Trolls 2 was recently announced. It is set to release in 2020. If you are concerned about the appropriateness of the movie for children, I recommend viewing it for yourself first and then decide.