Wednesday, August 16, 2017

We were Strangers Once: a touching immigrant story

We were Strangers Once by Betsey Carter is the story of immigrants in America. A story told in three parts. Part 1 opens in the Old Country, Germany 1890 with 21 year old Elisabeth Arnstein meeting with Professor Rudolph Schneider about an illustration job for his books. The two eventually marry and have their son, Egon. Egon grows to love animals as his parents do but when it’s time to head to university, he decides to study medicine. At university, he meets his roommate, Meyer Leavitt, who is there to be a writer. As Egon graduates and establishes his practice, the outside world starts to intrude. It soon becomes apparent that it is no longer safe for Egon to be in Germany. He leaves in 1928. Part 2 opens in the New Country, New York City 1904 with Rose McFadden in Hell’s Kitchen when she meets Ryan Walsh. They are both Irish immigrants from County Mayo. They marry and have four children which only two survives. Ryan soon finds himself unable to care for his young family and he leaves for Chicago never to return. Rose now must raise her children, Catrina and Kiefer, on her own. Catrina grows up head strong and her path of failed love, she meets Egon. Part 3 opens as the war in Europe is raging but America has yet to join the fight. Catrina, who was born in America and Catholic, and Egon and his German friends, who are recent immigrants and Jewish, learn to interact and live in the land of the free. Some find it hard to assimilate and find the anti-German, anti-Semitic sentiment become too hard to endure. When Egon is threatened to be deportation and returned to his certain death, friends of all races and religions band together to fight to keep Egon in the country. Will they be successful? Will Egon have his American Dream?

I thoroughly enjoyed We were Strangers Once. While reading it, I will guarantee you will be on a roller coaster of emotions. Sadness, fear, elation but the one I felt the most was anger. Anger at the horrible attitudes Egon and his friends experience as they try to rebuild a life in American after the horrors they left behind. However, I feel it is an accurate depiction of what immigrants experienced as they came to the land of the free with dreams and promises of opportunity. Their fight is real and the tensions are high. But somehow the different cultures learn to come together when it matters. The story ends in June 1941. I would have liked to have seen the characters’ reactions in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack. I highly recommend We were Strangers Once

We were Strangers Once
will be available September 12, 2017

in hardcover and eBook

Monday, August 14, 2017

Multigenerational households: pros, cons and questions to consider

According to the US Census data, roughly 16% of Americans live in a household with at least two adult generations. The highest level in 50 years. Although the practice is familiarly common in many cultures around the world for centuries, it is growing in the US. More and more people are living in multigenerational households for various reasons and the living arrangement carries a variety of pros and cons. I will discuss each of the pros and cons as well as questions that should be discussed when considering living in a multigenerational household. Is a multigenerational household a treasure or torture or a bit of both?

There are a number of benefits of living in a multigenerational household. First, kids and grandparents have daily access to each other. The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren can grow stronger as they can share in the day to day life experiences. For example, when a child gets an award at school, the grandparents can easily share in the accomplishment as the child comes home and talks about rather than hearing about it secondhand. Second, the adults can share living expenses and thus savings costs on various bills. Expenses such as groceries and utilities can be divided among the adults to ease the financial burdens. Third, with older parents living in the households, they can provide more support in the way of child care and saves time finding a babysitter if an emergency arises. Lastly, adult children will have the ability to provide in home care and keep an eye on aging parents especially when one or both parents loses the ability to living on their own.

There are also a number of cons to living in a multigenerational household. First, the loss of privacy and alone time for everyone in the household. With more people in a household, finding a space where you can be alone and unwind may become harder and harder. Second, more pressure on the main income earners. Especially if the old parents are retired and living on a fixed income and expenses rise, the main income earners may feel the pressure to keep everyone afloat. Third, personality conflicts and clashes with habits and behaviors. With older parents being used to being the parents, there may be conflict over parenting the younger children. Or the constant reminders of “that’s not how I used to do it” when an older parent sees the adult child do a chore or prepare food or even discipline the young children. Lastly, feeling like a permanent guest or host. The constant feeling of not really being home or having to entertain can quickly wear on the adults in the household.

When considering a multigenerational household there are a number of questions to consider. Because with even with the best of intentions, it is a situation that cannot be entered into blindly.

1. Will the move be short term, long term or permanent?
  • Considering the terms of the stay can elevate the possible cons or prepare everyone for the possible conflicts that may arise.

2. Is there enough space for everyone?
  • Trying to fit adults and children in a tiny space will ultimately lead to conflicts and other issues.

3. What will be the rules, roles and boundaries? How will they be decided and moderated? What procedures can be established to resolve conflicts in order to avoid resentments and tension?
  • Establishing boundaries beforehand is an excellent way to avoid conflicts from the beginning. For instance, stating that an individual’s or a couple’s bedroom/bathroom be off-limits to everyone else can help with the privacy issues.

4. Do you offer family meetings to discuss conflicts, concerns or issues that may arise once the move-in is complete? How often should they be held?
  • Monthly meetings should be considered to discuss any issues such as budget and changes in schedules, etc. Discussion on how chores should be divided so everyone knows their responsibilities in the household.

5. What items will or will not be shared? Will food be shared or will certain items be off limits?
  • It may seem like a non-issue; however, frustrations could arise if someone buys something as   a treat for them and everyone eats it before he or she can enjoy it.

6. How much of daily life and events be shared or separated? Will meals be together or separate? Will vacations and outings be together or separate?
  • The answer to this questions probably boils down to schedule and if the family is together during meal times. As for vacations and outings, I would anticipate some to be separate as well as possible family vacations together.

7. What are the guidelines for inviting guests? Do you consult each other when you want to invite a friend over or is everyone free to invite guests over without consultation?
  • It is a sign of respect for those you live with when you consult others about if and when visitors will be invited and at the residence.

In my research, one site suggested that two questions should be answered. First, do you and your parents get along? I think regardless if you and your parents or even your spouse’s parents get along, living together is an entirely different situation than just being able to get along at functions and other get-togethers. Could the living arrangement bring up childhood issues? Can you live with your parents’ characteristics and behaviors? And can they live with yours? Second, are you and your spouse agreeable with the arrangement? Even if you get along with your parents, the bigger question is does your spouse? Having one or more parents living with you can cause tensions in any relationship especially a marriage. Abstain from directing anger at your spouse and guard your relationship as the center which holds the household together. I think the questions I’ve listed above are a good start in starting the conversation about living in a multigenerational household. Some situations may have more or less questions depending on the individuals involved.

In conclusion, even with the best laid out plans, as the new household learns to come together, it would be wise to expect conflicts, frustrations, restricted freedoms, role confusion and loss of privacy until everyone can learn the rhythm of the arrangement or until the arrangement ends, if in the short term. The most important thing to establish is the expectations of everyone in the arrangement. And keep those expectations clear in everyone’s mind as time goes on. Open communication is also key (and it is key in any situation regardless of living arrangements). If you are considering a multigenerational household, list your questions and concerns to be discussed with everyone beforehand. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Girls made of Snow and Glass: an excellent retelling of the Snow White tale

Girls made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust is the re-envisioning of the classic Snow White tale. Told from two perspectives, Lynet (the Snow White character) and Mina, her stepmother (the Evil Queen character). Lynet is the spitting image of her mother who died when she was born and everyone treats her with kid gloves as if she was so fragile, she would break. Mina came into her life when she was a young child when her father, Gregory, a magician and alchemist, came to live at the castle at Whitespring from the south. Lynet’s father, King Nicholas, marries Mina and she and Lynet become close as a mother and daughter. Until a terrible secret is revealed to Lynet and everything she believes to be true is all a lie. Who can she trust now? When a promise is broken to Mina and a tragedy occurs, Lynet and Mina are pitted against each other. Will they become bitter enemies? Or will they join forces when a greater enemy reveals itself?

Girls made of Snow and Glass is an excellent story with a new twist on Snow White. Lynet and Mina are both strong character who aren’t the typical female characters. They are both a bit of damsel in distress and strong females who don’t need a man to rescue them. It was filled with action and surprises at every turn. I could not put it down. There were a couple questions that came up that I feel the story doesn’t answer. However, the book is a great story and young adult and adult readers will enjoy this new Snow White story. I recommend Girls made of Snow and Glass.

Girls made of Snow and Glass
will be available September 5, 2017

in hardcover, eBook, and audiobook

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Girl in Snow: a murder mystery in a small town

Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka is the story of a murder in a Colorado small town. Lucinda Hayes was a pretty and popular girl in the small town of Broomsville. She is found cover in a light blanket of snow at the high school’s playground. Suspicions immediately fly about who could have killed her and why. The story is told from three perspectives: Cameron, a loner boy who watched Lucinda from afar, Jade, the outcast girl, who secretly harbored hatred toward Lucinda and Russ, the local detective assigned to the case. Cameron must fight the past as the town has not forgotten what his father, a former local cop, did and subsequently disappeared. Jade tries to befriend Cameron and help him with the scrutiny he’s under as several fellow students accuse him of killing Lucinda. Russ, troubled with the past as his former partner was Cameron’s father, must find the truth among the accusations and innuendos. Who killed Lucinda Hayes?

Girl in Snow is an excellent book. The gripping drama with past and present intertwined as the mystery behind who killed this girl is revealed. I couldn’t put it down. I had to finish it. I had to find out after all the twists and turns who killed Lucinda Hayes! There are so many details that I cannot discuss as it will ruin the reveal of the killer. The story gathers the usual suspects and as one by one is cleared or you think they are, it leaves you with more and more questions. Everyone has something to hide in this small town. I will say that Ms. Kukafka writes a story so gripping that you are on the edge of your seat from page one! I highly recommend Girl in Snow!

Girl in Snow

is available in hardcover and eBook

Friday, August 4, 2017

Everything We Left Behind: what happens one man recovers his memory?

Everything We Left Behind by Kerry Lonsdale is the sequel to Everything We Keep. At the end of the first book, James wakes up from his fugue state confused and with no memory of the prior years. Everything We Left Behind picks up right after the first book with James trying to figure out who he is. Is he James or Carlos? The point of view switches back and forth between James in the present and Carlos in the past, as he tries to rebuild his life once again. But now he has two young sons who only know him as Carlos and a sister-in-law whom he has falling in love with…as Carlos. James must also learn how to let Aimee go, who has moved on with her life. Meanwhile the threat of his brother, Phil’s, release from prison is hanging over his head. His other brother, Thomas, is trying to unlock his memory, convinced that he has very important information locked in his brain somewhere. Will Phil try to come after him? How can he protect his sons? Will he ever remember what happened? Will he be able to rebuild his life?

Everything We Left Behind wasn’t as exciting as Everything We Keep. I waited for the drama with Phil and Thomas which didn’t live up to my expectation. However, I enjoyed the drama and struggle as James/Carlos struggles with his memory as he comes to terms with his life. I only know the basics of how fugue states function, it was interesting to see how Ms. Lonsdale portrays it in this book. Your heart breaks for James as he comes to terms that the life he knew is gone forever and it breaks for Carlos as he knows that he may cease to exist and memory of his life in Mexico will be erased. The story was dramatic and intense as the family must rebuild itself. The end of Everything We Left Behind gives a hint that this story isn’t quite over yet. I look forward to the third book, Everything We Give, which is set to be released next summer. I recommend Everything We Left Behind. If you haven’t read the first book yet, I highly recommend you read it first. You will not be disappointed.

Everything We Left Behind

is available in paperback and on the Kindle

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

What does it truly mean when Jesus says "judge not"?

Lately I’ve been hearing people say “You can’t judge me. Only God can judge me” as if to say my opinion doesn’t matter and they have the right to behave in a certain way. Yes, God is the ultimate Judge (1 Corinthians 4:3-5); however, I don’t think people truly understand when Jesus says “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). To paraphrase Inigo Montoya from the The Princess Bride, you keep using that phrase, I do not think it means what you think it means. Many people quote verse 1 and forget the 4 following verses.

First, Jesus says in Matthew 7:1-2, “Do not judge, or you too will be judge. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Jesus is telling us to examine our own motives and conduct instead of judging others. The traits that bothers us in others are often the habits we dislike in ourselves. Romans 2:1 warns us about judging others in this way. Paul writes “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” It is a warning against rash, hypocritical and unjust judgments. In Luke 6:37, Jesus says “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” Therefore, we are to judge ourselves first. Do we deserve the same criticism? If so, come clean before God and then lovingly approach others about their behaviors or sins.

Second, Jesus continues in verses 3-5, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eyes? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” “Do not judge” is against the kind of hypocritical, judgmental attitude that tears others down in order to build oneself up. It is also not a blanket statement against all critical thinking. This is how many people are using it. However, it is a call to be discerning rather than negative. To be discerning is to have and show good judgment. Jesus said to expose false teachers (Matthew 7:15-23) and Paul writes that we are to exercise church discipline (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). So how are we to do this without judgment? With God’s guidance.

Third, in verse 6, Jesus says “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” In Jewish tradition, pigs are unclean animals, according to God’s law (Deuteronomy 14:8). When Jesus uses the illustration of pigs trampling pearls under their feet, he is saying we should not entrust holy teaching to unholy or unclean people. It is futile to try to teach holy concepts to people who don’t want to listen and will only tear apart what we day. However, that doesn’t mean we should stop giving God’s Word to unbelievers. It means we should be wise and discerning in what we teach to whom, so that we will not be wasting our time.” It also means that we should be careful to whom we dispense advice to because someone who doesn’t want to listen will tear apart your advice.

Therefore, what does this all mean? People use verse 1 as a way to shut others up about what they would deem to be intolerance by giving it a meaning that was never intended. When Jesus says to “judge not” he does not mean that Christians do not deal with sin in each other. It does not mean we are not to correct with respect to God’s Word. If you see someone behaving in direct violation of God’s Word, are you just supposed to let it slide? No. It also does not mean that we cannot make value judgment or assessments on situations. The verses do mean that we are to be careful not to become a fault finder and to eliminate the spirit of criticism. We are to look for the best in people while lovingly correct when correction is warranted. And again, recognize that God is the ultimate Judge and he assesses the motives of the heart that we cannot see.

In conclusion, we have become a society where being judgmental has become a negative word. Yes, many people will form an opinion or view of someone based on very little information. And that is wrong. However, bottom line: when we judge, we need to do so in truth and love. If we judge in the spirit of jealousy or hatred or an overall critical spirit, we are being judgmental and need to seek God’s guidance before continuing. Jesus loved people enough to call people out on what was wrong and speak the truth. The difference between judging someone and being judgmental is love.