Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bonhoeffer - Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy - Eric Metaxas

The story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his brave and relentless effort to keep Christian ethics and Christian life alive and well in Nazi Germany is an inspiring one. Bonhoeffer, a bright and intelligent man with strong intellectual and religious family roots, worked tirelessly to be a voice for the German people to hear when the National Socialist party of Adolf Hitler dominated the airwaves, political platforms, social scene, and German Evangelical churches of the 30's and 40's. His great concern that Hitler was becoming, for the people of Germany, a dangerous and evil idol caused him to cast aside concerns for his own safety. He began to work frenetically toward a split with the Nazi sponsored German Evangelical Church that fell to pressure by the Nazis and pledged loyalty and obedience to 'the Furhrer' instead of God. He was horrified by the Nazi state's isolation and persecution of Jewish citizens and knew that the blending of church and Nazism would create a false sense of piety and a dangerous rationalization for what the government proceeded to do to Jews, the disabled, the socially disenfranchised, and any who differed in opinions with Nazi leaders. So ... he spoke out from the pulpit, wrote articles for theological seminars, traveled extensively to communicate his concerns to other religious leaders and politicians, trained new, young German theology students in the ideas and ethics of Christianity and discipleship, and finally joined an ill-fated plot to remove Hitler from power.

His love of Germany and the German people and his family never waned; he was a devoted German. Never let it be said that he turned his back on Germany. He longed, however, for a return of the brightest and best of German ideals- love of God, honorable and hard-working life style, love for and cherishing of the arts and literature, honoring of honorable leaders who are God-fearing and good, and ethical behavior toward all citizens. The lies, evil, and self-serving superiority of the Nazi system was considered an evil to be rooted from German society. Bonhoeffer came to believe that it was imperative that German people must work toward that end. He paid the price for his resistance.

Eric Metaxas has written a deep and thorough exploration of Bonhoeffer's spiritual and ethical voyage, as he grew up and developed into one of the 20th century's most intelligent and respected theologians. It is, at times, very deep with its references to Scripture and philosophical theories. I will admit to having read the book with my Bible, a copy of Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship , and my computer by my side. Researching his peers, looking back at historical texts, and reading about the history of WWI and WWII helped me to place Bonhoeffer more firmly in his world and aided in my understanding of the issues, the philosophy, and the history of the German Evangelical Church and its roots with the German people. This is a powerful book ... and it seems fitting that I have finished reading it during this Holy Week. Bonhoeffer was a devout man, a devoted patriot, a brave and resolute man - one that comes along once in a very great while who makes such a difference. He loved the Lord and placed himself firmly on the side of the good Christian - he lived his beliefs and for that, he deserves our love and respect and prayers.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand

Since discovering that the secret for audio books and me is to play them in the kitchen while I am cooking or cleaning up, I have constantly had a tape or disc in the kitchen sound system. I have consciously had to stop the 'book de jour' to listen to NPR news, 'Prairie Home Companion' and 'Celtic Sojourn'. Now THAT is saying something when NPR and my fave radio gets pre-empted by an audio book, but I find I love being read to ... a real story, an adventure, or a fantasy!

 My latest adventure is Laura Hillenbrand's account of Louis Zamperini's whirlwind life and his harrowing war experience when he and his crew are lost at sea during WWII's Pacific engagement with the Japanese. Zamperini is a rowdy, smart assed,  young Italian kid from Torrance, California. He leads a rough and tumble life from childhood up through his teen years, a rowdy child who challenges all authority, has light fingers and a daring personality that gets him into all manner of scrapes with his parents, teachers, neighbors, and the law. When it seems that Louis is going to end up in the state juvenile system (or worse!), his older brother takes it upon himself to find a socially acceptable outlet for his younger rogue of a brother. He begins training him on the running track at school. After a few 'false starts', Louis settles in and becomes a track star ( all that running from the law and his parents HAD to come to something!). He progresses through high school track finals and into the college track system in the California state college system. He's fast and strong and because he is such a spirited personality, he gathers a following that supports him and pushes him to greater athletic heights.

Louis ends up qualifying for US Olympic track team and goes to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, placing respectably for a young up-and-coming track athlete. Returning home triumphantly clutching all sort of pilfered souvenirs of the German Reich and Germanic culture, he becomes a source of pride and chagrin for his followers and family. He's a fun and lovable rake with an incredible athletic talent! With aspirations for the 1940 Olympics (in Tokyo), Zamperini continues to train at USC  ... but alas, Tokyo backs out of hosting and Finland signs on ... and then war breaks out in Europe and the Olympics are cancelled.

The American military begins to ramp up and Louis joins up. Here, his life takes a major twist. Louis becomes part of a crew on a fighter plane that is ordered into the air war in the Pacific. His years of resilience and savvy on the streets of Torrance, dodging bullies and cops will look like child's play compared to what he's in for. A plane crash in the middle of the Pacific, a long fight for survival at sea with wounded crew mates, a stint in one of the notoriously harsh prison camps of the Japanese army, and finally rescue brings back a far more mature and heroic man.

Hillenbrand makes Zamperini seem larger than life, but really, the men of that WWII generation were larger than life. Young and full of promise, thrown into the biggest conflagration the world has known, they performed with a sense of adventure, loyalty to each other, honor for home and country, and humor and self-deprecation that took the horrors they saw in stride. It was the only way to go ... and they went there. And back again.

This is a great read, fast-paced, full of pluck and humor. The audio version is read by Edward Herrmann, a pretty well-known stage and television actor. His voice is perfect - resonant and expressive and his pacing is excellent also. It often feels like I am listening to a reminiscence around the kitchen table. I expect to look up and see a group of old geezers yakking up their times 'back in the day' - geezers now, young bucks then in their prime and willing to take on the world. I plan to share this book with my Dad. He might just like this easy listen. At 90, he was in that generation of soldiers, trained for the Naval Air Corps and knows those big old planes. I'm betting he will enjoy this story of one smart ass guy who made it through the hardest of times and came back to tell the tale.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Saturday Snapshot - Remembering Spring at Keukenhof

Back in 2005, my husband and I lived in Baden-Wurttemberg, a state in Germany. We had some friends come to visit us in the springtime, so we took them for a short trip to Amsterdam and the surrounding area. One of our side trips was to Keukenhof Gardens, near Lisse. It was the height of bulb season and we really were in awe. Here are a few pictures from that day. The last is a photo of me and my best friend, Nancy. We were positively ecstatic about being together in the Netherlands in springtime! 

I'm sharing these photos because we really need a shot of Spring here in the Northeast - it's still really cold and blustery in New Hampshire - there were snow showers this morning and there's an ugly rumour going around that we're due for a Northeaster on Monday. 

Oh dear, crocus and daffodil season seems a long way off!

Head on over to Alyce's blog to see what others are sharing for this week's Saturday Snapshot!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

On Entering the Fray - Mag 160

Faun, Horse and Bird 1936 - Pablo Picasso

On Entering the Fray

The three come to the precipice
But only one looks down.
Another sneers and rears on back
Foot pawing at the ground –

A heady height, this mountain ledge -
Air thin and views obscured
Should they proceed on further
Ambitious, glory-lured ?

One faints with fear and gasps
A plea to stay below the fray
The other stamps and pushes on
Inpatient with delay

And one stoops low to contemplate
The nature of these wayfarers
A grasp at fate, a swoon and faint
He turns aside for prayer –

Let truth arise and fly up free
As we confront this day
Let all the froth of anger
In this blue be washed away.

Let meekness overcome the wrath
Of mighty tyrant's roar
And peace come to that valley
As it was, let it be more

And so they turn, rise on up
Turn back to hero’s chase
One eager, one with trepidation
The last with inner grace.

Each will earn a hero’s wreath
All in their ordered way
I wonder which one I might be
Were I present on that day ?

3/20/13 - edits, to follow

Note: Some awkward lines still need work here … but this piece fell together, as I contemplated the nature of war and battle and confronting fears and pushing limits. The classic nature of the image reminded me of the romantic and sometimes lyrical (?) nature of the poetry of the 19th century soldiers, hence the rhyme and rhythm of the piece. 

This piece joins others submitted to Tess's weekly writing circle over at The Mag - pop over and see what others are sharing.

Reflection - Poetry Jam


I sat last evening and looked across –
no, through the yard and marveled -
what light and life and space is here!
On one plane -
I threw a Frisbee for Pete and Mimi.
Their wonder was the arc of flight
and the fight for ownership.
On another plane  -
The birds jostled the feeder.
They chortled, clicked, fluttered …
branch, perch, across the meadow to the pines.
Still, in another plane –
A frenzied swarm of gnats.
Their wonder seemed the cool air currents -
Whirling in a vortex and sweeping upward.
Entering, from another plane –
there came a squadron of dragonflies, dipping.
They gnashed and clicked their way
Darting through the swarm.
Mimi stopped mid-play, stopped and
watched what she could not compete with.
Her look of wonder mirrored mine, I’m sure.

I sometimes pause when I shower.
I stand and think in the steam –
Just stand -  thoughts follow invisible planes
The water runs down my nose –
falls to the shower floor.
I watch the path of the droplets the entire way –
through space and time and thought to the spatter.
Sometimes my life is in focus.

-Susan Miller-Lindquist 3/20/13

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Northern Lights

Northern Lights

“What cosmic dance these lights perform”,
I soft exclaimed upon that beach.
“No, sweet, you murmured in my ear,
 just particles on the solar wind.”
“Look how they move and undulate”,
I spoke with awe and clutched your arms,
wrapped tight around me from behind.
We stood quite still and watched the lights.

The waves broke soft upon that shore.
Breeze and water sang to the night.
Above, the sky opened ever more, 
As sheets of color swirled and swayed
Unconsciously, we moved with the dance,
leaned and twirled on planted feet.
All the while our necks bent upward,
Drinking the night and cosmic wind.

“Times like this are magic, you said,
they’ll not be repeated very soon.”
“I hope not, I whispered in your ear,
for this heart can’t stand such perfection”
So, the stars shone, the lights shimmered.
The waves curled in upon that shore.
And we, like drunken lovers, weaved
our cosmic dance back to our door.

- 3/16/13 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Rebecca - Daphne duMaurier

I read this book when I was in high school and full of girlish romantic leanings that I kept pretty close to my vest. I was not the most popular girl in high school; rather, I was one of the nameless and faceless rabble that rambled though the halls with long lank hair, wire-rimmed glasses, blue jeans and bohemian blouses, and boots or sandals scuffing the floors. Reading a romance about a similarly plain young woman who catches the eye of an older sophisticated man was just the literary medicine for my poor beleaguered adolescent soul.

I identified completely with the nameless young girl who marries Max deWinter and returns from a whirlwind honeymoon in Venice to the wild coast of Cornwall and the fantasy estate of Manderley. It was like 'Jane Eyre grows up and does a bit of time travel' . I loved it. I loved hating Mrs. Danvers and thinking that Frank Crawley was just like my real -life dear friend Billy Carr - faithful, steadfast, and always ready to whisk me away in his car to smoke cigarettes and talk endlessly. I had the same unhealthy obsession with the idea of Rebecca and just knew that she was 'a bad seed'. And I was stuck on Max ... until I learned that he had a very dark secret. Then, my sense of righteous anger turned on him and I wondered how on God's green Earth could my mousy alter-ego stay true to him, when she had Frank Crawley, the best of men, so steadfast and true as a friend ?

I just re-read the book of my youth and l am still enthralled by the story in all its proper romanticism. I love the languidness of the story's unfolding, the dark foreboding of the descriptions of the house and grounds around Manderley and the weather that settles over the estate as the summer passes and the events of Rebecca's secrets unfold. One thing that I notice, now that I'm older, is the detailed descriptions of the plants and flowers and bird life of the book. Ms. duMaurier was a lover of nature, as her knowledge of the natural world comes through clearly in the book. As I have grown older and become interested in gardening and the wildlife around our home I can read the book with  'another eye'.  That's the beauty of rereading old favorites; they become new because of our growing maturity.

That does it. I need to order up Hitchcock's cinematic version of 'Rebecca' for this week's screen time ... Netflix, here I come! What a nice return to my romantic roots ...

PS - Wasn't she a stunner !

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Lost City of Z - David Grann

This book was a stretch for me, as it covered multiple ventures into Amazonia by the British surveyor, cartographer, explorer, and legendary adventurer Lt. Colonel Percy H. Fawcett, in search of a lost center of ancient civilization. The book jumps back and forth between modern explorations of the Amazon River and some of it tributaries, the history of the Spanish explorers of the 1500's and their high jinks in the conquer and massacre of the native populations of Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil, the more modern rape of the rainforests by the rubber barons, and finally the various political endeavors to become familiar with and tame the indigenous peoples of subtropical Brazil. All these interesting back stories serve to make a tapestry on which the various explorations of Fawcett and his multiple teams of adventurers traipse. Their time of exploration ranged from 1907 until 1925. Since then, they have piqued the interest of numerous other adventurers who have followed them and either become sick and disappointed or have met the same fate as the Fawcett expedition - 'disappeared'.

Who can resist a story of adventure, exciting tanglings with snakes and insects, extreme climate challenges, hostile and mysterious natives, infighting and suspicion between different explorers, and the mystery of uncharted regions deep in the jungles of Amazonia ? I couldn't, but the book was too detailed for me. After reading five or six chapters, I started to bog down, so I got the unabridged audio version of the book at the local library. That was a much better experience.  Listening to the narrator reading quickly and with great expression helped me stay interested in the story of Fawcett's obsessive search for a mysterious lost civilization in the center of the South American jungle and a modern day reporter's research into his mysterious disappearance.

David Grann became involved with the story when he was investigating an Arthur Conan Doyle novel called 'The Lost World'. He came across the name of Percy Harrison Fawcett and became intrigued by this man, considered the last of the great territorial cartographers and explorers and Doyle's inspiration for his novel.   In his investigation of the Royal Geographic Society and Fawcett's biography, he became even more intrigued with Fawcett's drive to become the man to conquer the South American jungle and the unknown depths of the Amazon River. It's an amazing story and a continuing mystery ... is there a Lost City of Z ? Grann's investigation became somewhat of an obsession as he researched Fawcett's private papers, records of the exploration voyages into South America, and made his own Amazon exploration of Fawcett's last expedition - the one on which he was lost with his son and another family friend.

This is an intriguing story that heralds back to Conrad's novel The Heart of Darkness . Stranger than fiction, though, it's a true story of the British will to expand the empire and map the world and a man that tested his physical and psychological limits as he searched one of the last great uncharted frontiers of the world. Amazing stuff ...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Bartimaeus Trilogy - Jonathan Stroud

Audio books have been one of the greatest additions to classroom and public library stacks - in the years that I spent in the classroom, more than a few audio books were instrumental in lighting a reading fire under some of the most reluctant readers (nine times out of ten, young boys) that came my way. Consequently, I have a soft spot in my heart for any audio book that holds my attention, has a fast plot, an excellent narrator/reader, and is unabridged.

This series, that I stumbled upon in our little public library, caught my attention from the first words uttered by Simon Jones. Mr. Jones is an established Broadway actor with the deepest and most sonorous voice - his verbal abilities and vocal characterizations of the numerous characters in Jonathan Stroud's trilogy make for a wild romp for any young adult reader/listener who has a hankering for a good fantasy tale.

The trilogy centers on the relationship struck up by a young magician-in-training named Nathaniel. Nathaniel summons a jinni named Bartimaeus early on in Book 1 of the series and their love/hate relationship forms the basis for an involved tale of political intrigue within the British government, strained relations and rebellion between the common people and the magician hierarchy that rules the United Kingdom, and the mystery of the void in which jinni, imps, fairies, monsters, and demons reside in the ether of the universe. It's a fantastic and fun story that is full of magic, wild escapes, and mad adventures.

Suitable for kids eight and above, there is the occasional 'naughty' word - nothing horrific, but vernacular, just the same, a touch of innocent romance, the usual rough 'potty' humor that tickles the pre-pubescent, and a lot of sarcasm and wit. Some parents may think it coarse, but I say it's an innocent and fun crowd-pleaser.

Mr. Stroud writes like a screenplay writer in that his scenes are short vignettes that are descriptive and easily envisioned - an important skill when writing for young readers. His command of dialogue is good, although I think reading the dialogue for a struggling reader would be too much, as some of the wit and sarcasm might be lost on one working to carry the thread of the sentence structure and length of dialogue passages. He has been clever in structuring the series around three characters, a young girl named Kitty, one of the common folk who is in rebellion against the magician leadership, as well as Nathaniel and Bartimaeus. Girls as well as boys will enjoy the series and have a character to identify with. Mr. Stroud also does a good job of developing his characters over the course of the series ... one is not disappointed with the way things end, although it may not be to the liking of all readers.

A worthy audio book series ... enough said!

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Light Between Oceans - M. L. Stedman

Every once in a while, I see a book on the 'new fiction' shelves at the library that grabs my attention in a big way. This is one of those books, but it has been a reading treat that I denied myself for most of the fall and winter. I was on a mission to get through a list of other titles that had been niggling at me from the stack by my bedside. There were the preparations for the holidays that kept me from really wallowing in that pile of books and the thought of putting one more in the mix to tease me was too much.

Then, my February funk kicked in and I went to ground with my stack by the bedside ... it has been a quiet and engrossing month and my February funk subsided. Suddenly, I had more energy for cooking and cleaning and getting out of the house with my husband. I returned all the reads that had been piling up on the bedside table and thought that I should take a break from so much sitting and get some projects done around the house. Still, this book was niggling at me ... so last week, I finally broke down and brought it home to read.

I knew from the first pages that I was going to love the story, that I'd be falling in love with the main character and all his quiet mystery, that I would be driven to distraction at the consequences of his life-altering decision. There's an old saying about 'no good deed going unpunished' and this story takes that expression and bends it, twists it, and makes it come back on itself time after time. Good deeds are bad deeds are good deeds ... people are forced to confront their decisions and it drives some of them a bit mad, a lot sad, a bit vengeful, and finally ... well, it would spoil the final chapters if I said more.

The book is so beautifully written - full of gorgeous images, soft emotive passages that make you close your eyes and see the world created by Stedman on the backs of your eyelids. They create moods that fill the reader with longing and joy, sadness, fear, and 'pins and needles' anxiety ... can any mother sit still when reading the passage of young Lucy innocently toying with the scorpions that are skittering out from under the log on which she is perched? I think not! There are many more exquisitely worded passages that will make you see that western coast of Australia, size up the cliffs and lighthouse of Janus Rock, and take you right to the space between two oceans and the spaces between the thoughts and actions of the characters in this story. It's a phenomenal read!

Thank you, Ms. Stedman. I look forward to your next novel!

Image by Annette Porter

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Weight of Water - Mag 159

The Weight of Water

Walking up the rise, the bucket sloshes-
small waves slog back and forth,
curling against the ash staves, droplets
splashing up and over to land cool on dirty feet.
The grass is green here, surely as green as there.
The sky is as blue and the sun is as bright -
acchhh, surely as blue and golden …
Still, there, half a world of water curls green as jade
and the sky holds a golden coin, shiny as Da’s
Friday pay and is as blue as chicory flowers by the way.
Waves, high as the cottage roof, roll soft until the crash
Birds scree and ride the air, dive for stones
That might be bread.
This bucket holds naught but a drop compared
This belly, full with just a bit more,
Sloshes up this hill weighing down this heart
Small drops fall to christen this green earth
with the pain of separation

A fast write … there is so much more that I want to convey in this piece … more images, and the crucial bit about a child waiting to be born in a new country, who will perhaps never see the green of the other place that his mother misses so desperately. 

This leads me to a question about your writing process. How do you work up the concepts in your poems? How does your story develop? How do you block your poems? 

Acchhh, this poetry is a hard thing sometimes!

This post is shared with the other writers who participate in the weekly writing share at Tess's Magpie Tales. Check it out ...

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Saturday Snapshot - Sunset on a Snowy Day

The  light was really strange last evening! My husband was out with the dogs and noticed the sun's light in the clouds and shining through clouds to tint the snow and the trees in the lower field! He dashed in and told me to quick! come and snap this! 

I don't often take sunset shots here at the house, but I have to admit, the mood was just too interesting to pass up. It's almost spooky ... everything looked blue-ish and pink -ish, like you were 'looking at the world through rose-colored glasses'.  

I share Saturday Snapshot with Alyce and a large group of blogger/photographers at Alyce's blog at home with books. Click the link and head on over to see what everyone else is sharing today! You might just decide to join in!

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Kitchen House - Kathleen Grissom

Well, I have fallen down the rabbit hole of historical fiction again, and I can only say that this was a wonderful slide back to a favored genre. Kathleen Grissom tells a tale of race relations circa 1790's. We see the issue of slavery and indenture through the eyes of the privileged owners of a Virginia plantation, the hired hands that manage their slaves and indentured servants, and the chattel folk. It makes for a fascinating read. Within this story Grissom deals with the harsh realities of sexual and financial exploitation, the nature of powerlessness and how different people react to it in their lives, the power of love, acceptance and a sense of family, the process of  growing up and becoming wide-eyed and aware of one's situation in life, and finally the power of love and gentleness in one's dealings with others.

This is a many charactered story, told chapter by chapter from different points of view. Grissom has done a fantastic job of developing the characters of Belle and Lavinia, her two anchor characters. Belle is a mulatto slave, the illegitimate daughter of her owner, Captain James Pyke. Lavinia McCarten is a young Irish immigrant child, orphaned on a voyage aboard Pyke's trading ship from Europe. Captain Pyke takes Lavinia on, as an indentured servant, and houses her with the house slaves on his tobacco plantation. The seeds are sown for a tragic story of the racial boundaries that will create such family strife that there can be no happy ending. It is enthralling to watch the love and loyalty of some characters tangle with the sickness and racial hatred of others. 

Such a fine read ... I look forward to other books from Kathleen Grissom.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Saturday Snapshot ... Lunchtime

Easy lunch after a morning of housework ... is there anything more comforting than a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup? 

See what others are posting for this week's Saturday Snapshot over at Alyce's blog at home with books