Saturday, September 1, 2012

First of the Month Book Review - Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

MaineMaine by J. Courtney Sullivan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Honestly I thought I would like this book very much since it was about family relationships (and came highly recommended), but I am sorry to say that I was disappointed. Not in the writing, it was good. Not in the setting, enjoyable too since it was Maine and New England and I've lived there and loved it. But in the characters. I just didn't like them.

A good novel will have bad characters with rotten characteristics, but even the worst of characters will have some redeeming qualities. The characters of Maine did not. They are just not likeable. Take Alice, the matriarch of the family, for instance. She doesn't like her own kids, grown now with kids of their own, and frankly, she doesn't like her grandkids either. Worse, she not only dislikes them, but she actually enjoys being mean and making them suffer (all while going to church every morning).

What I liked best about the book was the backstory of Alice's sister's death at the historic Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire - a true event that happened in Boston in 1942, and resulted in a reform of safety and fire codes throughout the country. That part of the story was interesting.

What I liked least were the characters, unkind and selfish, as well as the ending. I kept reading thinking somewhere, someway, someone would have a redeeming quality that would make the story worth reading. But it just didn't happen that way.

Maine is very negative and almost depressing to read, and not a book I would recommend.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Want to Make Christmas Special? Really Special? Here's How...

For three Christmas seasons, my family and I have hosted an international student through Christmas International House (CIH), a peacemaking program designed to provide international students a place to stay during the Christmas break when college campuses are deserted and dormitories empty. The experience is incredible, and I invite everyone to consider participating in this year's event.

The benefits to the program are numerous. To the attending student, CIH provides a place to stay and opportunity to learn about different areas of our country. They are able to develop new friendships with their host families and with other international students in the program. Christmas is celebrated with their host family, and for many, this may be their first Christmas holiday ever.

For the host family, the benefits are just as numerous. Families are able to attend any or all of the program activities with their international student, making the Christmas holiday truly time spent together in fun. Strong friendships develop, and host families learn about new cultures and more. CIH promotes unity, that we are all part of the human family, despite differences in culture and ideology.

Originally, we worried that hosting a student would take away from our "family time" and make Christmas less special. What we discovered was completely the opposite. CIH creates so many shared and happy experiences during the holidays and with students we've cherished and will remain forever in our hearts. IT HAS ENHANCED OUR CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY!

Each year, numerous students are turned away due to lack of host families available to take them. This year I am working on putting the program together for Houston. You don't have to attend my church, or even be a Presbyterian to participate. All you need is desire to do something kind, and open your heart and home, and the treasure awaits you.

For anyone interested in participating or if you want more information, please contact me.

You can read more about the program on the Christmas International House website and by reading some of my blog entries from previous years concerning the program. Just type "Christmas International House" in the Search This Blog box in the left column of this page.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Texting While Driving

I remember when they passed seat belt laws in Texas. I reluctantly got in the habit of buckling up. But it was a good thing, and if the law weren’t in place today, I would still buckle up. After all, it makes the possibility of my surviving an accident so much higher. It helps me, and my passengers who also buckle up, be safer. So while my buckling up may not do much for you, it’s good for me, and I’m happy to oblige.

It's odd that we have seat belt laws in 49 states, drunk driving laws in 50 states, yet there are very limited texting while driving laws. To me, texting while driving more resembles drunk drinking than it does seat belt usage, and should be treated similarly.

Seat belts protect passengers, but they do nothing to prevent accidents. Texting while driving endangers passengers and causes accidents (like drunk driving does). So it seems weird that most states have a law that requires you protect yourself (seat belt), but they don’t have a law that prevents you from injuring others (texting). Or if there is a law, it’s limited, such as no usage around a school zone or with passengers in the car under age 17.

Also odd, almost everyone I talk with agrees that texting is bad while driving and claim not to do it. Yet it only takes a few miles down the road to see that’s clearly not the case. People text and drive a lot! What can possibly be so important in that 160 character message to risk lives?

I wonder if some day there will be a law completely banning texting while driving? Who knows, but in the meantime, I can tell everyone I know not to text and drive. And I urge you to do the same. Texting while driving is bad for everyone, and not only endangers the lives of those texting, but the innocent victims that are hit as a result. And sometimes the accident is so bad, that even the seat belt isn’t going to save you.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Short Story - Signs of Love

A year or so ago, the Humble Fiction Cafe (HFC) writers group had decided to do another group project in which we would all contribute short stories to a book, with those stories centered around a fictional place called Moot. A spin-off, if you will, to our Split book of short stories, but with a completely different theme.

The town of Moot was an odd place, with occasional supernatural occurrences by the lighthouse. Moot, by the way, was not on the ocean, but had a rather large lake outside the center of town.

Without enough group enthusiasm however, the project quickly died (and unfortunately so has HFC for all intents and purposes), but not before I drafted a story. I thought I would share that story here. I hope you enjoy.

Signs of Love
A short story by Sheryl Tuttle
Click the link above to read the story

Friday, June 1, 2012

First of the Month Book Review - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had heard that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson was a bit slow in the beginning, and it is. And it never turned into a serious page-turner, although it kept my attention sufficiently. The book demanded focus in order to keep the numerous Vanger family characters straight, and honestly with my disjointed reading intervals - stealing a few minutes here and there - and the author's switching from using first names to last names, I found myself getting some of the characters mixed up at times.

The story is about a journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, who investigates the 40-year old disappearance of a wealthy Swedish scion with the assistance of Lisbeth Salander, who is an investigative prodigy/computer hacker (and the girl with the dragon tattoo). There are interesting twists and turns, and a lot of violence, so it's not for the faint of heart.

Along with a slow start, I felt the ending dragged also. Once the murder mystery case is resolved, the novel continues with a wrap-up of sub-plots, and there are just too many remaining pages of reading after the central story ends.

Overall, I liked the story well enough, but it didn’t live up to all the hype.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Giving, Oh the Blessings You'll Receive

Part of the experience of giving is learning to receive and appreciate your own blessings. In fact, by giving more, whether it be purchased gifts, service to a sister or brother, or even a random act of kindness, it opens your eyes to what you have and are able to share. It gives you more appreciation for the special things in life.

Before you roll your eyes and say “not again,” I want to share one more thought on the 29-day giving challenge that I signed up for and have been writing about on this blog the last few posts.

Throughout the book 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life by Cami Walker, Cami kept saying that her life turned around and that she was receiving more blessings. I presumed she was already being blessed, but that through her giving she was able to more clearly see and appreciate those blessings. But now it’s happening with me too; I’m receiving more blessings. So could it be true? That you are actually blessed more abundantly when you give more?

I have been the recipient of some amazing gifts since starting this challenge.

  • Shortly after beginning the challenge, I was able to get a new computer for an amazingly incredibly small amount of money.  Not the type of gift that falls into your lap every day. 
  • A friend brought me some delicious homemade Thai curry chicken puffs that were out of this world delicious.
  • Kingwood Garden Center blessed me with the gift of plants and supplies needed for a Girl Scout troop beautification project, of which I’m the troop leader.
  • And there’s many more, like dinner and a Kingwood Pops concert with my Dad, and a "many hugs" mother’s day spent in the park with family.

I’ve always felt blessed and very fortunate, and it does feel like lately it is even more so. I guess it just takes one look to the Bible at Luke 6:38 to know it's true.

But the biggest joy I receive is to see a smile light someone’s face, or happiness sparkle in their eyes, and know that somehow I am partly responsible.  Today is my last day of the 29-day giving challenge, but I don’t plan to stop. Rather, I hope to make this more and more a part of my life.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Learning to Give

For those of you who read this blog regularly, you know that I recently posted a review on the book 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life by Cami Walker (read that review here), and that I subsequently signed up for the 29 gifts challenge myself. I am now 2 weeks into that challenge and I’d like to share some observations and thoughts.

First off, the challenge hasn’t proven to be life changing or anything drastic like that. At least not so far. But what it has done is helped me to realize two things. First, I discovered that I already was a giver (albeit small gifts typically). It didn’t take long into the challenge to realize my gifts tend to be things I do for people, rather than items purchased and gifted. Like preparing or sharing a special dinner, or doing things for people (typing, giving small change when needed, taking time to spend with loved ones, etc.).

Secondly, it has helped me open my eyes and to look more for opportunities to gift and give. While I still need help in this area and sometimes I swear I have on blinders, this challenge has helped simply by getting me in the habit of thinking about giving on a daily basis.

There hasn’t been a gift that stands out above the others. In fact, one of my most recent gifting highlights is prior to my taking this challenge. We were leaving church one Sunday, and on the corner stood a man, begging. Now so often, I’m embarrassed to admit this, I drive by, wondering if that person has a true need or if they are using the money they receive for drugs or alcohol. I mean, how does one know?

But that Sunday we stopped. We gave the man $3, and a baggy of cookies and brownies we had with us in the car. Not much. But his smile and gratitude was immeasurable. I figure it would buy the man a hamburger at the nearby McDonald’s and give him a sweet treat. And whether his need was legitimate or not, it felt good to help and offer something. And really, who am I to judge his need?

While I don’t often have cash on me (or cookies and brownies), I do typically have spare change, and I hope to become a more giving and less judging person. And I think daily practice and looking for opportunities to give will help. The 29 gifts challenge is really a great movement, and I invite and encourage everyone interested to read the book and sign up for the challenge. I can’t imagine anyone would be disappointed.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Reaching 20 Years in Marriage

Recently my husband and I celebrated 20 years of marriage (I’ll call him JT). What a milestone, and what a blessing! JT isn’t perfect, and neither am I, but somehow together we are better, and I love him with all my heart.

After a number of failed attempts at relationships in the past, I’m certainly no expert. At least now though, I am more experienced, and I know some of the things that are important to make a marriage work.

First off, I pray for my marriage. Always have, and always will. Those vows we took before God made God a part of this relationship. And that’s important. They say “the family that prays together, stays together.” I believe that’s true. God is love, so include God in your relationship.

Secondly, JT has so many wonderful qualities that make him special, and since day 1, I’ve prayed I never lose sight of those attributes. It’s easy for differences and disagreements to take center stage. When that happens, the focus becomes the disparity. But truthfully, what I fell in love with is always still there, and is a much better place to put my focus. His kindness, compassion, his love of family and friends and his willingness to extend himself to help others, are just some of the traits that make JT a remarkable guy. It’s important to remember and appreciate the person you love.

Finally, it’s easy to take one another for granted, which is a good thing and a bad. Good, in that it’s really nice to have someone you can count on so much that you don’t ever doubt their support. Bad, in that oftentimes by taking someone for granted, you forget that they still deserve your best consideration, civility, and respect. You can’t kick the dog and expect him to be wagging his tail when you come home. Common sense, treat each other well.

So now I’m knocking on wood that I haven’t upset the karma in my marriage by writing this post. I’m blessed and very much in love, but I also know that even the best marriages go through rocky times. I just pray JT and I never give up, and that I can write another post attesting my love in 20 more years.

Me and JT on our Wedding Day - still in love 20 years later
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7