Sunday, July 24, 2016

Beat the Back to School Blues

     You hop out of bed and pull up the shades. It's a beautiful Friday -- perfect for your youth group trip to the amusement park. As you board the church bus an hour later, someone says, "Hey, can you believe school starts Monday?"
     That question is met with groans and boos. Only a few of the superbrains look happy. And of course the parents who are chaperoning have huge smiles on their faces-- but they're adults and can't wait to have the house quiet again. You slump down in your seat and mourn the last of your summer fun. What's so great about a new school year? And what's so exciting about studying geometry instead of the color of the sand at the beach?
     Well, maybe nothing can compare with the fun you've had during the summer -- unless you were one of those who had to work all summer, then you're probably glad for the start of school. But if you've had a great summer with friends, at camp, or on a mission trip, you probably feel a little blue about the end of summer.

     Here are some ideas for beating the back-to-school blues.
     1. Plan a weekend activity. No, it won't replace your summer fun, but it'll give you something to look forward to. Maybe you can talk your parents into taking you and a couple of friends to an amusement park, the beach, or to play mini golf and eat pizza.
     2.  Set a few goals for the school year. Focus your energy on achieving better grades or better test scores, excelling with your science fair project, getting a part in the school play, or making the basketball team. Sit down and write out a step-by-step plan of how you can reach the goal you've set.
     3.  Try something new. Expand your horizons by joining Spanish or computer club. Volunteer to take pictures for the yearbook or try out for a sports team. Sign up for choir. Help with backdrops, costumes or props for the play. Doing something different will allow you to develop your talents and meet more classmates than you might otherwise.
     4.  Follow up on summer commitments. If you made a spiritual decision while on a mission trip or at camp, don't forget about it once school starts. The emotional high will wear off, but your commitment doesn't need to. Buy a special devotional book just for teens or sign up for online devotions and read them each morning. Take time to pray. Invite your friends to church, and look for ways to share your faith in the classroom.
     5.  Follow up on summer friendships. Keep in touch by texting, twitter, instragram or snapchat. Or yeah, you could even write a letter :)

     The start of the school year doesn't have to bring on a case of the blues. Use these ideas and some of your own to make this the best school year ever.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Challenging Myself

I do not like heights. Not at all. Started when I was in my early 20's, and I don't even know why. Yet somehow I end up facing heights. 

In NYC two years in a row!

And before that there was Chicago...

And of course there was Chattanooga a few weeks ago.

So why then would I purposely go to the springs that has a 22 ft jump?
 I have no clue, other than maybe to prove I could do it??? And I did. Jasmine missed the picture the first jump, so I did it again with her taking a video on my phone. Then I jumped from the lower jump.

Me in the purple shorts ready to jump.

My leap from the lower level.

So how warm was the water? Glad you asked. 69F. That isn't cold when it's air temperature. It's very cold when it's water. But this is a spring, and springs stay at a consistent (cold) temperature year round. You would normally wear a wetsuit in that water temperature, but no one does here.
How deep is the water? Again, glad you asked! Just past the white buoy is the deepest part of the spring at 120 feet deep!

I can't say this was the high point of my week, but I can say I did it. Basically I backed up to where I could see over the edge, then I took off looking straight ahead until there was nothing under my feet and I was falling. I am not at all afraid of water, so once I was airborne, I was okay.

Three of my kids have para sailed. I think I'll leave that one to them!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Book Review: How I Got Skinny, Famous and Fell Madly in Love

How I Got Skinny, Famous and Fell Madly in Love by Ken Baker

Sixteen-year-old Emery Jackson lives for food, and it seems that only her boyfriend, Ben, isn’t turned off by her obesity. Of course being almost 300 pounds himself, he doesn’t have a lot of room to judge.

Emery is content, or so it seems, with her diet of double cheeseburgers and onion rings until she is coerced into doing a reality TV show, Fifty Pounds to Freedom in which she must lose fifty pounds in 50 days to win one million dollars in order to save her family from foreclosure.
Emery’s secret stashes are found and dumped and her chocolate, burger and fries diet is replaced with vegetables, whole grains and proteins. She also begins a schedule of running, yoga, aerobics and other exercises.

But life with a former basketball star father, former Laker Girls mother, and equally perfect older sister who wants to be a talk show host isn’t what it seems on the outside. Add Doc, a sleazy producer, the Freedom team and boyfriend Ben and things get more complicated. And nothing is as it seems on the surface.

As the pounds melt away, Emery becomes a celebrity both on the reality show and on her own youtube vlog where she candidly shares her thoughts. But at the same time, secrets are uncovered, and Emery finds out that not all is as it seems. When Emery learns what is planned for the finale, she not only has to process what the information means to her personally, but also decide what to do about it.

This book hits on a lot of what people obsess over—weight, money and reality TV--and is a refreshing change from the ever popular dystopian and fantasy genres. Emery is a fresh and funny voice, although her language tends to be crude and profane at times.

And there are some values issues. Beyond the language, Emery is not only sexually active with her boyfriend, but she has a secret in her past that involves sleeping with two athletes at a party.

Another problem with the book is that the description of the character doesn’t match Emery’s height and weight. We’re told she’s 5’6” and 192 pounds, but she’s described as being very obese. At that weight her BMI is in the lower obese range, but she wouldn’t be nearly as large as she herself describes. Also if she really ate what she said she ate, she would weigh much more than 192.

The ending is a let down too. There’s all the build up to the finale and the final weigh in, and then blah. I wish the author had gone another way. But it’s still a good read.

Which boils down to an interesting book with captivating characters but less than Christian values and a character whose weight doesn’t match her description. Use discretion when deciding whether or not to read it.

I’d love to see what a Christian YA author would do with this idea.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Book Review: Counting by 7s

With all the driving this summer, I had the chance to listen to several books on CD. One of them was a middle school book, Counting by 7s.

The main character, Willow Chance, is a 12-year-old genius who is obsessed with plants and medical conditions. This makes her stand out as somewhat of a freak. In fact, her parents try to give her a new start by sending her to a middle school where she would interact with all new students. When the students are given the state proficiency test, Willow not only finishes it in 17 minutes, but has a perfect score. She is labeled as cheater and sent to counseling with Dell Duke, an inept but well meaning person. During her sessions she crosses paths with a Vietnamese brother and sister and impresses the girl by speaking Vietnamese with her, just one of the languages Willow has taught herself.

When both of Willow’s parents are killed in an accident, the girl claims Willow as an old family friend and takes her to the garage they call home across from her mother’s nail salon.  And this begins an  unusual journey that brings unlikely people together—Willow, an adopted African American 12-year-old,  Pattie, Quang-ha and Mai's Nguyen, the Vietnamese family, Dell Duke, the counselor who classifies the students he counsels into groups named The Strange, Misfits, Oddballs, and Lone Wolves (but later has to create new categories as he gets to know Willow, Quang-ha and even himself better), and cab driver Jairo Hernandez.

Pattie moves her family from the garage to Dell Dukes apartment in order to make social services believe she has the ability to care for Willow. This brings about a series of changes that throws everyone’s life into upheaval at times.

But as Willow’s life intersects these other lives, people are changed, and although there’s not a happily-ever-after, there’s a good-enough ending for all of them.

There are some spots that are a bit contrived or where coincidence played too much a part, and there are some parts of Willow’s grief that may not be too realistic, but it’s a good read nonetheless, and a change from the ever popular fantasy or dystopian genre.

The story is told in narrative from each person’s point of view from Pattie to Quang-ha, Mai, Dell,to Jairo, and Willow. It is a bit confusing to be jumping from head to head, but perhaps this is something that is easier to follow in the book than on CD. It’s an unusual style, but it works for this story.

This book is a secular book and has no Christian content about dealing with grief or the hope of Heaven. 

If you know of Christian books in which the main character faces the loss of someone close to him/her, please share it in the comments section below.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

End of the Journey

So we started with whitewater rafting in the Smokey Mountains in North Carolina

Then went tubing

And hiking

Then on to visit family in Indiana

And more family in a different part of Indiana.
Me with all three of my grandchildren

Then Jasmine and I went on to Cincinnati where I had a book signing, met with editors and other writers.

We stayed with a friend I rarely get to see in person.

Then we were off to Chattanooga to Rock City.

And finally after 17 days, 2,508.8 miles, we are home.

For now.