Friday, January 27, 2017

Alaskan Historical Christian Fiction

My mom told me recently that she loved Tracie Peterson's series set in Alaska.  It told her about an area of the United States that she didn't know much about.  She enjoyed the characters and plot.  My mom reads many Christian fiction books, so for one series to stand out to her--it had to be very enjoyable!

Tracie Peterson is now publishing another Alaskan Fiction series with a co-writer, Kimberley Woodhouse.  The Heart of Alaska begins with Book One:  In the Shadow of Denali.  The story
begins with team of men on a harrowing climb up Denali.  That's the prologue.  Skip ahead.  The team's guide and his daughter are working at a resort near Denali and the son of one of the men on the team comes to work there.  The story follows the son, Allan, as he tries to understand the mountain, the truth about his father's business, and the true character of the guide, John.

Ms. Peterson always writes easy to read novels that flow well.  There are the usual twists and turns, romantic involvements, characters who have faith in God, and those who struggle with their faith.  The novel doesn't jump around, which after reading so many books, I've grown to appreciate.  This book isn't too heavy, but there's a few suspenseful scenes.

If you enjoyed Ms. Peterson's other series set in Alaska.  I'm sure you'll love this one.  Because this is book one, it is stand alone novel that can be read alone and it doesn't leave you hanging like the first books do in some series.  I'm sure my mom is going to love this one!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethan House publishing, but my opinions are my own!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Not what I signed up for...

Something I think that we all struggle with at different points in our lives is disappointment.  But, sometimes that disappointment settles in, takes root, and can lead us down really harmful roads that damage the relationships we do have with our friends and family.

Over the past two weeks, I read three novels by Sally Johns: Ransomed Dreams, Desert Gift, and Heart Echoes.  Yesterday, I finished Desert Gift.  I enjoyed Ms. John's writing and the stories.  There was a theme in these three books that I was grateful to see addressed.  That theme was "This isn't what I signed up for".  Over the years, when I've spoken with couples getting divorced, this theme (idea) is something that I've heard.

I know that sounds like a strange theme--I could call it disappointed expectations or resentment or bitterness.  But, really, "This isn't what I signed up for" sums it up better.  It's the idea that what I (you, he/she) wanted when we took a given job, got married, or even had a child--wasn't supposed to be the way it is.  I deserve for life to be the way I (you, he/she) wanted it to be and it should be that way because what we wanted was a "good" way.  We would be happy if life was the way we wanted it to be and because life isn't, then we aren't happy, satisfied, or fulfilled.  

I was reading in Job yesterday about his plaintive calling out to the Lord, the Lord's response, and Job's friends' response.  He could have said "This isn't what I signed up for", but he didn't.  He says to his wife at the beginning--

Job 2:10 NIV   He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

I've been wrestling with the idea that if something is good and we want that good thing--shouldn't we have it--isn't it okay?  If God doesn't take away the desire, doesn't that mean that He condones and supports that desire?  Someone said this to me and it didn't sit with me.  There are many good things that I've wanted in my life and God hasn't given me.  Does that mean that I should take things into my own hands and do what I can to get them myself?  Should I push?  

I have been trying to think through this idea "This isn't what I signed up for" and formulate a clear, biblical response to it.  I've come to a couple of conclusions.

First, God is sovereign and everything is in His control.  He opened my womb and closed it.  I have three children, but I had a miscarriage before I had my oldest daughter.  I have seen Him use that in my life many times over, though it was so painful.  He knew me before I was born.  I trust that He knows better than I do what is best for me.  

Second, not all of God's gifts and how He takes care of me is going to feel good.  
Romans 5:3-5   3Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character;and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.…

Third, sometimes God gives us desires that we need to sacrifice and surrender to him.  We need to sacrifice what we have wished for in order to love our spouses, children, and family better.  We choose them over what we want.  That is something that God uses to teach us not to be selfish.  Are we listening to them?  Thinking of them?  Loving them or ourselves first?  Tit for tat is a destructive cycle.  

Our pastor painted a picture yesterday at the beginning of the sermon that fits into this discussion well.  He explained that there is certain protocol about how we should receive and respond to gifts when we open them.  Imagine someone opening a gift, frowning, and saying "This isn't what I wanted."  or "I don't want this--can you return it and get... which is what I want?"  or simply "I don't like this.  It isn't what I asked for."  Sadly, some people really do say these things when they receive gifts.  

Once I did when I was a senior in college.  I opened a gift from a relative and didn't know what it was.  I was struggling to have enough food to eat, pay my bills, and my feet were cold (I asked for socks and a room heater that Christmas).  Because I didn't know what the gift was, I cried.  The giver thought I was a selfish brat because she thought I had more than ample financial resources and didn't know what my life was really like.  It wasn't until years later that I had the chance to explain and apologize for my reaction.  The giver understood and forgave me for my response.  

But, when people say things like that in response it comes from the heart.  Jesus tells us that where our treasure is, there are heart will be also...  What comes from our mouths reflects our hearts.  Can you imagine saying those things about a gift to God?  

God, this isn't what I wanted.  I don't want it--take it back and give me the life I wanted.  This isn't the life I expected, so change it.  Now.  

No!  We probably would not talk like that to God out loud, but sometimes our hearts can feel those things when we start telling ourselves "This isn't what I signed up for... and it isn't what I want."  Isn't it the same thing, but with different words?  

I don't want to be that ungrateful receiver--when it comes to God or anyone else in my life.  No, my life has not turned out the way I expected or wanted it to.  Yes, it is very hard at times.  Very hard.  All of our lives are hard at times.  

But, we all have a choice when that thought creeps into our minds... "This isn't what I signed up for..."  

We can say to ourselves, "So I'm going to get out."  or "I'm going to get what I want myself".  

Or we can say to God, "Thank you for what you've given me because I know that you know me better than I know myself and you know what I really need.  What I want isn't as important as what I need."  and choose to focus on being grateful instead of resentful.  

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Inspiring Creativity

When my oldest daughter received her ipad for her birthday, she discovered iMovie.  Within a few weeks, she had created a few fun trailers that made us all laugh.  Then, my son asked to use my camera to make a stop-motion lego animation movie.

I began the search for resources to help them pursue this new interest of theirs.  I found two great books for their specific interests. 

The first is titled Animation Lab for Kids by Laura Bellmont and Emily Brink.  Ms. Bellmont and
Ms. Brink are artists and art educators.  This book is perfect for art educators trying to teach a small class or a small group of students about animation from the base up.  

But, I am not an art educator.  I was a classroom educator and am now a homeschooler.  Is this a good book for me?  for other home educators like me?  Yes, but it isn't one that you can just pick up and run with.  What I know about homeschoolers is that we become students of our students.  We often have to learn how to teach our children what they want to know or explore new things together with them.  Animation is one of those things for me and I suspect it is for many parents!  

This book had tons of great directions and activities in it.  The children in the pictures of this book look to be about ages 6-8.  But, I think that the activities in this book would be much better suited to children ages 8-12 years old.  

I did several of the activities with my children who are in that age range.   I learned several things.  The most important of which is to do each activity yourself first.  The authors include basic directions, but in order to teach students how to do these projects it would be wise to make each of the projects yourself first and see what makes a project work or not work.  For example, with the zoetropes--project #1.  I learned in doing the project that it needed to be done in pen, pencil wasn't dark enough.  There also needed to be a progression, not a back and forth.  My kids enjoyed the project and so did I.  To introduce the project, I showed a video about Pixar's Zoetrope that was very interesting!

And then we commenced on our project!  Our zoetropes were successful.  I learned that 1.  Don't draw the pictures in pencil--they must be drawn in color or black ink to be easily seen.  2.  It is helpful for kids to draw the number of pictures they need on a separate sheet of paper first and then on the zoetrope paper.

Over the following weeks, we've done several more projects.  I've noticed a couple of things.  My artist daughter runs with the projects.  (It's her zoetrope above.)  Last week, we made a downshoot animation project.  Below are my oldest daughter's pictures.

There were several more pictures in between that when strung together form an animation sequence.  In doing this project, I noticed several things about this book.  My daughter ran with this project.  The projects in this book lend themselves to huge creative explorations.  The projects plant seeds of how to do things.  My daughter thought of changing the size and angle of the girl on the bird in the pictures.  I didn't tell her to do that.

After seeing my daughter run with this project, I realized that this book was written by art educators--and so art educators will read these directions in the book and run with them-- like my daughter did.  For me, someone who loves art but isn't trained as an art educator, I needed to do the projects ahead of time and still need to be flexible when I hit snags with a project.  Doing the projects helped me see what extra directions I needed to give and what set up I needed to do before class.

I love this book because it is the perfect low-tech jumping off point to introduce my kids to animation.

In the case of my son, his creativity is focused on legos.  So, I found an animation book at his level focused specifically on Legos.  For Christmas, we gave him The Lego Animation Book: Make Your Own Lego Movies! by David Pagano and David Pickett.  My son is only in 3rd grade so this book was perfect for him.  He had checked out Brick Flicks! from the library, but that book is written at a high school/adult reading level.  He sunk his teeth into that book, but it was tough for him--which is why I went looking for another book.

The Lego Animation book, on the other hand, was perfect.  The formatting and directions on how to make a Lego movies.  There were even pictures to show how to build some things and pictures to show simple sequences.  That is something that was missing from the Animation Lab for Kids Book.  I think this book is perfect for kids 8-13 years old.  It's very accessible and easy to follow.  The formatting makes the text easy to focus on and understand.

Please note that I received a copy of Animation Lab for Kids from the publisher for review, but this review is my own opinion.