Saturday, April 29, 2017

My Wonderful YW

In case you couldn't tell, the Young Women of our church congregation play a big role in my life. I've been serving and working with them for almost five years now and they definitely hold a special place in my heart.   Here's a few snapshots of what we've been up to recently:  

Our basketball team has been undefeated for several years now, yet they are still down-to-earth, show good sportsmanship, and are welcoming of all players, regardless of skill level.     I love attending their games and cheering them on! 

We also recently did a YW retreat, which consisted of doing service at a nursing home...

Including performing some scenes from the Wizard of Oz.   

We also helped decorate for Easter and visited with individual patients...

It turned out to be a great experience.

After the nursing home we went to Sandy Springs Adventure Park in Maryland, where the girls spent about 4 hours at the ropes' course.  

It was so cool to see their confidence grow as they did progressively harder and harder courses...

and I loved seeing the friendships that were formed and/or strengthened.  

The girls seemed to have a great time and could have kept going all night I think.  

I enjoyed the challenge and being out there with the girls, but, man, I was exhausted and bruised up by the end!

After the ropes' course, we went and had some more activities and a campout in our camp director's backyard.   

It took a lot of planning to make it happen, but I think it was worth every second of it. 

Last, but not least, we had a personal progress activity where we asked people to dress up in rainbow costumes.   Some of the girls got really into it.  :) 

I love the privilege it is for me to spend time with these beautiful young women each week. 
They have blessed my lives in more ways than they will ever know 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Lara's Books of 2017

I've decided to keep a log of the books I read this year.    Keep checking back here for updates as the year goes on (the link will be on the side).  

Books Read 

1/3/17--"Between Parent and Child: Revised and Updated: The Bestselling Classic That Revolutionized Parent-Child Communication" by Dr. Haim G. Ginott

A fairly quick read, I found this book a bit repetitive, but enlightening all the same.   I was especially intrigued by the idea that we need to be careful as parents not to diminish our children's feelings.   It's not wrong to feel angry, jealous, sad, disappointed, or frustrated, and we shouldn't punish them for having the emotions.  Instead we can listen to what they're saying, acknowledge their feelings without judgment, and help them to find acceptable outlets for their negative emotions.   I was also interested by his admonition not to praise children.    I already knew that labels and name-calling were harmful to children, but I had not really thought on the dangers of praising children and how that puts pressure on them to feel like they always have to succeed.  This often leads them to not want to try new things because they are worried that they will not live up to their parent's praise.     I didn't agree with everything Dr. Ginott recommended, especially some of the parts about sexuality, but I would definitely recommend this book to parents looking to improve their communication and relationships with their children.

1/14/17--"The Nightingale" by Kristin Hannah
(March 2017 book group selection)

Main characters:  Vianne Rossignol, Isabelle Rossignol (Juliette Gervaise), Gaetan, Antoine Mauriac, Sophie Mauriac, Madame Babbineau (Micheline), Julien (the son), Julien Rossignol (the father).

An emotional WWII tale, I found this book both very engaging and emotionally exhausting to read.  This story juxtaposes the lives of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle,  in France as they endure the hardships of WWII in their own ways.  They both suffer and thrive in different ways and ultimately  find ways to fight back against the horrors of that time and place.  I felt that the story was told a bit choppily and there were a few times that I felt like a plot detail or character wasn't quite believable, but overall it's a beautiful portrayal of the bonds of family and the resilience of the human spirit to overcome.    Definitely have a box of Kleenex nearby!

1/19/17-- "The Buried Giant " by Kazuo Ishiguro

Characters:  Axl, Beatrice, Wistan, Edwin, Querig (the dragon), Sir Gawain.

Is it a fable?  Maybe a fantasy?  Or a retelling of a legend?   I never could quite tell.    This book came highly recommended to me by several people, so I think my expectations were too high.    The story was a point, but I found the characters hard to relate to, the dialogue stilted and repetitious, the plot slow and difficult to follow, and I finished the book with as many questions as when  I started it. And if this tells you anything, I actually spent the first chapter or two of the book wondering if the main characters were anthropomorphized rabbits.    They were not, but it was indicative of the vague, rolling way the story was being told.   Having said all that though, the book has themes that are  thought provoking.   Since finishing it, I've found myself pondering on the role of our memories in relationships, daily life, and forgiveness.    Would I recommend it?   Yes, but only if you promise to call me afterward so we can discuss it more.  :)    

1/26/17--  "The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism" by Naomi Higashida
(February 2017 book group selection)

Characters:   Naoki (the author)

Written by a thirteen-year-old autistic boy about the challenges of being autistic, this book is unique in every aspect.   The author addresses a series of 58 frequently asked questions that people wonder about the behaviors of those with autism.   Interspersed among his answers to these questions are thought provoking short stories that add even more insight into the workings of his brain.   I do not have close associations with someone with autism, but I found the insights he provided to be eloquently expressed and helpful to consider when interacting with any child who is still learning to communicate effectively.   It also helped me to be more understanding of those in my life who are caregivers for someone with autism.  The challenges that both the autistic person face and the caregiver in seeking understanding from each other is real and not to be diminished, and this book is a tool that I imagine has helped many people in that path.   I recommend this book for anyone seeking greater understanding about how autistic people, and arguably any child who is just learning to connect with their minds and bodies,  see and process the world.

1/28/17--"The Goose Girl " by Shannon Hale (READ-ALOUD WITH MY 11-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER)

Characters:  Ani/Isi, Geric,  Selia, Enna, Conrad, Ungolad, Talone.

I read this young adult book several years ago, but thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity while my 11-year-old, Ellie, was sick for a few days, to read it aloud to her for the first time.    It's a delightful tale of fantasy, adventure, betrayal, growing up, and overcoming adversity.    It starts off slow, but quickly engages you and leaves you rooting for the misplaced heroine all through her adventures and misadventures to claim her rightful place in the palace.  The characters are well-developed and easy to connect with.     And although it has a somewhat predictable ending, the plot has enough twists and turns to keep you engaged until the final pages of the book.   I highly recommend it for a fun, easy read for teens or adults.

2/9/17-- "The Bookseller: A Novel" by Cynthia Swanson
Characters:   Katharyn/Kitty, Lars, Frieda, Missy, Mitch, Michael, Linnea, Mom, Dad.
 (April 2017 book group selection)

This was a quick read for me and had me drawn into the storyline from the first pages, however it left me a little wanting in the end.   Basically, the main character, Kitty, is leading life as a single thirty-something in the 1960's.   Her life isn't exactly what she planned, but it is okay.  Her and her best friend own a bookstore together, she has a great relationship with her parents,  and she finds fulfillment in her life.    Without warning she starts having vivid dreams about an alternate life where she is married to a good man, lives in a big house, and has triplets.  These dream life seems appealing on the surface and she is fascinated by this alternate life, but up close she sees that things aren't all that they are cracked up to be.   As time passes, the lines between her dream life and alternate life continue to blur together and soon she doesn't know what's real and what's not.   It's not super well-written, but I did end up liking it okay and would recommend it for someone looking for a fluff read.

3/15/17--"Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II" by Vicki Constantine Croke

Dang it!   I wrote up a review of this right after I read it and it didn't save, so now I'm trying to recreate after an entire month and it's not near as detailed as I would have liked.

I really enjoyed this book.  It's the story of Billy Williams, an adventurous young British man that goes off to work in the teak forests of Burma.    He has no idea how this adventure will change his life forever, mostly because of the elephants with whom he will be working closely.   I loved learning about the intelligent and complex creatures that elephants are and also getting a glimpse of WWII from a different perspective than I've ever read before.    Billy is a likable enough character, but it's really the elephants that keep this book riveting.    I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys history or animals or both.

4/20/17--"The Gene: An Intimate History" by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Ever since teaching genetics to a high school level biology homeschool class last fall, I've been interested in diving in a little deeper to understand the science of genetics better.   We had read  "The Double Helix" by James Watson as part of our studies and that whetted my appetite even further.    At about 500 pages of dense scientific information (dense to a non-science person anyway), this book was a bit of a slog to get through, but well worth reading.

The book basically goes through the history of genetics, from ancient times, to Mendel's work with pea plants, to the eugenics of the early 20th century, to the discovery of DNA, to modern work with embryonic stem cells.  It covers important figures, pivotal discoveries, and some of the ethics of genetic studies.   Though it was definitely a slow read for me, it wasn't because it was unnecessarily boring or poorly written, it was often because what he wrote and how he wrote it was quite thought provoking to me.   I kept stopping to reread parts just to understand it better and it was more than a few times that I read parts out loud to my poor husband who sadly did not match my enthusiasm for the subject matter.

  It's clear that the author is not religious, but I actually found my faith strengthened as I read it.   The beautiful simplicity within the mind-boggling complexity of cells is simply too much to have happened by happenstance.    To think that the perfect "ingredients" to create life could have randomly arisen from the elements and eventually evolved into human beings without a divine overseer of it all is too far of a leap for my mind to make.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is how he addresses the ethics of disease.    The technology to eradicate certain diseases from the gene pool is already available, but at what cost?    What is disease really?  What is normal?   Who are we to determine whether a "diseased" person deserves to exist or not?    His story of meeting a teenage girl, Erika, with a devastating genetic disease was especially poignant to me.   The technology is such that her genetic disease could have been diagnosed in-utero and her life terminated before she was even born.   Yet he called her "by far, among the most articulate, introspective teenagers that I have ever encountered."
"Should we consider allowing parents to fully sequence their children’s genomes and potentially terminate pregnancies with such known devastating genetic mutations? We would certainly eliminate Erika’s mutation from the human gene pool—but we would eliminate Erika as well. I will not minimize the enormity of Erika’s suffering, or that of her family—but there is, indubitably, a deep loss in that. To fail to acknowledge the depth of Erika’s anguish is to reveal a flaw in our empathy. But to refuse to acknowledge the price to be paid in this trade-off is to reveal, conversely, a flaw in our humanity."
All in all, it was a beautifully written book that affected me profoundly.   I found myself wanting to discuss it with everyone I met.  Too bad most people look at me blankly when I excitedly start talking about the history of genetics and ethics.   Have you read it?   Give me a call....let's discuss!

5/11/17--"Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race" by Margot Lee Shetterly

Characters:  Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden

I'm one of those people who first saw the movie and was left inspired by those intelligent women who pushed so many boundaries and in the process helped change the racial landscape of America.   I was interested to read their stories more in depth, which is what led me to pick up this book.    

I really wanted to love the book wholeheartedly, but to me, it only came off okay.  The women's stories are as absolutely amazing as the movie portrays them to be and even more so reading more details about them, but the author presented them in a way that came off as a bit disorganized and confusing to me.    It took me more than half the book to be able to start keeping the characters straight and I found the jumping around in time to be exceedingly disorienting as to where in history I was reading about.

Setting those faults aside, I was intrigued by the subject matter.   I consider myself somewhat well-read and intelligent, but I am embarrassed to admit that I did not realize the details of the whole separate, but equal concept within education and how much it harmed both blacks and whites to maintain two separate educational systems.   Living in Virginia,   I was especially intrigued reading the details of  how the political leaders in Virginia were among the last to embrace de-segregation and to what ridiculous lengths they went to prevent it from happening.   I was also interested reading about how much of the rest of the world viewed America's racism as backwards and unethical.  It was a viewpoint that I had never considered before, but it makes sense considering the mix of skin tones that fill the world.

In conclusion, I was inspired by these women's  intelligence, their ability to work long and hard (their work sounded soooooo tedious!!!), and the grace with which they dealt with the many indignities that faced them because of the color of their skin and their gender.     I wished their stories had been presented a little better, but I'm just glad their stories have been told.   4 stars

6/20/17-"Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Main characters
:  Gabriel Oaks, Bathsheba Everdene, William Boldwood, Fanny Robin, Sergeant Francis Troy

I had the funny experience of starting to read this classic book and THEN realizing a couple of chapters in that I'd already seen the movie!  So the main character of the book, Bathsheba Everdene, is lovable, but frustrating as a character.   She's beautiful, capable, and intelligent, but constantly doing impetuous things that hurt herself and those around her.  She's completely blind to the steady and faithful Gabriel Oaks, while she pines after the philandering Francis Troy and the wealthy, but stuffy William Boldwood.   There were several times I wanted to give her a good slap and tell her to wake up, but don't we all know people in real life that are determined to take their own winding path, despite it being obvious to everyone else that it may not be the best one for them?    Overall the story is well-written and I can see why it's a classic.    And I hope I'm not giving anything away here, but in my romanticized mind....all's well that ends well!

Definitely worth a read!  4 stars.

8/22/2017--"The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements" by Sam Kean

Haha!  Can you tell I'm a homeschooling mom?   This book was required summer reading for their chemistry class this upcoming year, so we just decided to read it together as a family!   We checked it out of the library on audiobook and listened to it on our drive to and from seeing the solar eclipse.   Fine literature it is not, but it was far more interesting than you might imagine and we all gained a new level of respect for the periodic table of elements.  Even having taken an honors' chemistry class in high school, I don't think I ever gained a true appreciation for the simple beauty in the way the periodic table is organized and what a breakthrough it was for Mendeleev to see the patterns and holes in it.   The author's humor and engaging style make this much more than a dry textbook describing the elements.   These real-life tales of the elements and the scientists that discovered and used them have made chemistry seem relevant and interesting.  I think it was the perfect book to read before embarking in their chemistry course and will add a depth and  meaning that I fear may have escaped them otherwise.

8/30/17--"Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less" by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

The title makes it sound pretty intriguing, right?   Well, you're right.  It is intriguing.  Basically the premise of the book is that American culture has made work and rest completely separate entities and that rest is only something to be done when the work is done (if it ever is).  The author asserts that this idea is a recent one in history and especially rampant here in America where overwork is praised and rest is devalued and labeled as laziness.  He argues that when we make our rest more deliberate and build it into our days, that we actually increase creativity and productivity, as well as help us to more mentally healthy.   It was a revolutionary and new way of thinking for me and I've been trying to build some of his ideas into our homeschooling days.   It made me feel for Glen, though, because he has a horrible work-life balance right now and seems to struggle to break out of the expectations he feels are being placed on him by the corporate world, none of which involve rest of any sort.  In order to please his higher ups that he feels that it is expected to work crazy-long hours.  What I'd really like is for the whole world to read this book and embrace its tenets.    I think we'd all be happier and healthier if we did!

9/7/17--"Man Search for Meaning " by Viktor Frankl

This one's been on my list to read for a long time, so when I was searching for a summer read for my psychology students this year, I decided that I may as well assign it, then I'd have to read it.   It's a very quick read packed with a lot of thought provoking content.   The author's story of life in a concentration camp is powerful and his passion for helping people to find meaning in their lives is inspiring.   I think he oversimplifies things a bit sometimes, but can't we all relate to that yearning inside of us to feel valued and that our lives are meaningful?   I highly recommend that everyone read this at some point in their lives.  5 stars!

10/3/17--"Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain

If you are an introvert, love an introvert, or work with an introvert, then this book should be required reading for you.    We live in a society that values the extrovert ideal and often introverts get the short-end of the stick when it comes to being allowed to be themselves.     I especially enjoyed the explanation of temperament vs. personality and the intricate play of biology, experiences, and environment that come together to shape each of our individual personalities.  It makes sense that people are complicated and I appreciated the fact that she didn't try to swoop all introverts into one easy box. I was also fascinated by the cultural differences of introversion and extraversion.  Americans and Europeans seem to have grasped onto the idea that extraversion > introversion, while the Asian view is opposite.   More than anything, I enjoyed the insights on how to let an introvert shine in their own way.  From the way we set up workplaces and classrooms, we can be aware that there are 1/3-1/2 of the people who will benefit from having their own space to work and think creatively. If I had to sum up  the main point of the book, I would say that just because someone is quiet, doesn't necessarily mean that they don't have anything to say.   Look out for the introverts, respect the space they need, help them to stretch when they need to stretch, and, together, we can change the world!  4 stars.

10/10/17-- "Phantom of the Opera" by Gaston Leroux

10/31/17--"One in a Million Boy" by Monica Wood

11/8/17--"The Brain:  The Story of You" by David Eagleman

11/14/17--"Candide" by Voltaire

Working on:
"The Kitchen House" by Kathleen Grissom
"The House of Sand, and Shakespeare's Memories" by Jorge Luis Borges

On my short list of books to read:

"The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars" by Joel Glenn Brenner
"The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer" by Siddhartha Mukherjee
"Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood" by Lisa Damour

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Randomness March/April 2017

Here's a little sampling of life from the last few weeks:

Ellie turned 12!    You've never met someone so excited about her birthday as Ellie.   She's been coming to Young Women's with me for 4-1/2 years and to finally be official was one of the most exciting days of her life.   For her birthday celebrations, we took her to Beauty and the Beast,   ate cream puffs, had a birthday cake (from Costco), and chicken potpie.  It was a simple day, but Ellie was as happy as can be.

Pete and Mika and family showed up unexpectedly one Saturday to bring Ellie a birthday gift.   Ellie was probably as excited about seeing her cousins as she was about receiving a gift!

We've been taking advantage of the spring weather and hiking as much as possible.   This was on the CCT trail one day.  

This was at Scott's Run today.   

The Virginia bluebells were everywhere and were a beautiful sight!

I brought AnnaLisa to the airport this morning and took this adorable picture of her...

Emma went on her first date today!  It was a short day-time date where they went mini-golfing.    She seemed to have had a fun time.  

 This missionaries get their packages sent to our house, so they can get receive them more quickly than if they were sent to the mission home.   We like the excuse to see them more often.   :) 

Birds kept getting into our vent, so we covered it with screen.   Too bad they ripped holes in it faster than we could fix it.    We will have to look for a different solution for next year!   

We had a fun Napoleon Dynamite themed activity for a combined mutual activity last week.  We had the hardest time deciding what to do until Kelly thought of doing the Napoleon Dynamite theme.    

WE invited the youth to dress in costumes...

and had  a series of stations set up around the gym with activities relating to the movie Napoleon Dynamite.   It was a super fun time for everyone.    

Last, but not least, Cami is staying in Switzerland for another transfer!   She's still companions with Soeur Goreeba and seems to be happy as can be on her mission.   She approaches her 1/2 way mark in a couple of weeks!   

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