Monday, June 27, 2016

What I've Been Reading

Here are three books I've read this year that I recommend:
SYNOPSIS: Four days before Christmas 1943, a badly damaged American bomber struggled to fly over wartime Germany. At its controls was a 21-year-old pilot. Half his crew lay wounded or dead. It was their first mission. Suddenly, a sleek, dark shape pulled up on the bomber’s tail—a German Messerschmitt fighter. Worse, the German pilot was an ace, a man able to destroy the American bomber in the squeeze of a trigger. What happened next would defy imagination and later be called "the most incredible encounter between enemies in World War II."

This is the true story of the two pilots whose lives collided in the skies that day—the American—2nd Lieutenant Charlie Brown, a former farm boy from West Virginia who came to captain a B-17—and the German—2nd Lieutenant Franz Stigler, a former airline pilot from Bavaria who sought to avoid fighting in World War II. 

"A Higher Call" follows both Charlie's and Franz’s harrowing missions. Charlie would face takeoffs in English fog over the flaming wreckage of his buddies’ planes, flak bursts so close they would light his cockpit, and packs of enemy fighters that would circle his plane like sharks. Franz would face sandstorms in the desert, a crash alone at sea, and the spectacle of 1,000 bombers each with eleven guns, waiting for his attack. Ultimately, Charlie and Franz would stare across the frozen skies at one another. What happened between them, the American 8th Air Force would later classify as “top secret.” It was an act that Franz could never mention or else face a firing squad. It was the encounter that would haunt both Charlie and Franz for forty years until, as old men, they would search for one another, a last mission that could change their lives forever.

This was a great book! My mom read it aloud to me, so I found some of the "action sequences" in the book a little hard to follow since it was so detailed (especially since I couldn't see the words since I wasn't reading it to myself), but it was an exciting read. It's a true story, too, which is my favorite kind of book to read. I bought this book for my grandpaa World War II veteran, himselffor his 94th birthday this past March, and he and my grandma both enjoyed it, too.
SYNOPSIS: Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

I haven't read a fiction novel in a long time, so it was a nice change from the usual books I read. I liked it and wouldn't mind listening to the audio book again.
SYNOPSIS: Though Anderson Cooper has always considered himself close to his mother, his intensely busy career as a journalist for CNN and CBS affords him little time to spend with her. After she suffers a brief but serious illness at the age of ninety-one, they resolve to change their relationship by beginning a year-long conversation unlike any they had ever had before. The result is a correspondence of surprising honesty and depth in which they discuss their lives, the things that matter to them, and what they still want to learn about each other.

Both a son’s love letter to his mother and an unconventional mom’s life lessons for her grown son, "The Rainbow Comes and Goes" offers a rare window into their close relationship and fascinating life stories, including their tragedies and triumphs. In these often humorous and moving exchanges, they share their most private thoughts and the hard-earned truths they’ve learned along the way. In their words their distinctive personalities shine through—Anderson’s journalistic outlook on the world is a sharp contrast to his mother’s idealism and unwavering optimism.

I love Anderson Cooper, so when I found out that he and his mom had written a book together, I knew I had to read it. A little over a year ago, Anderson and his mother started corresponding over email just to make sure there was nothing left unsaid between them, since his mom is is now in her 90's, and realistically nearing the end of her life. I listened to the audio book, which was read by Anderson and his mother. It was great to be able to hear the inflections in their voices and the emphasis that they put on words, because I think that gave an even better look into their relationship. Anderson's mother has had such an interesting life, that's for sure, but it was also filled with a lot of tragedy and loss. She seems to have overcome most of it, though, and seems like a very strong woman.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

My 32nd Birthday

I celebrated a birthday this past Sundaynumber 32. It was a very low-key day. We went to church in the morning, and then we had dinner in the late afternoon. My sister Sharon was still in town with her six kids, and Chandra and Christian also came over for dinner, so it was fun to have some extra people around to celebrate with.

For my birthday dessert, I chose to have brownies and ice cream. Sharon has a recipe for THE best, most chocolatey brownies, so she made them a few hours before dinner so that they would still be warm when we ate them. My mom found a recipe for homemade ice cream on Facebook a couple years ago. It is extremely easy—only three ingredients—and it doesn't require an ice cream freezer, either! It's really creamy and yummy, and it doesn't get too hard or icy, like some homemade ice creams do. Needless to say, it was a very yummy dessert!

After dinner, we watched the 23-minute "year in review" slideshow I made for 2015. I made it earlier this year after I had all of my family's 2015 pictures. These slideshows take hours and hours to make, but the time I spend working on them is well worth it, especially when my nieces and nephews tell me how much they love watching them. I love watching them, too!

Here are a few group pictures:
Sharon, Chandra and me, a selfie, and a few silly pictures:
My niece, Sarah, made me this picture for my birthday. (I've asked her several times over the years if she wants to stay here and live with Grammy and me instead of going home with her family, but she's always turned me down.) I thought her picture was so adorable...a definite keeper!
My birthday was great, and it was wonderful to be able to spend time with my family. I can honestly say that my family members are truly my favorite people to spend time with!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

More Love, Less Hate

How sad is it that we live in a world where we don't have to wonder IF some sort of terrorist attack and/or preventable tragedy will happen, but instead we have to wait and wonder and worry about WHERE and WHEN the next one will be?! Because we KNOW it's only a matter of time before there is ANOTHER mass shooting or some other senseless act of violence. So sad.

The latest brazen act of cruelty happened this past Sunday, June 12, at Pulse, a gay night club, in Orlando, Florida. The perpetrator was Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old American-Afghan citizen born in New York. He entered Pulse around 2 AM, armed with a Sig Sauer MCX high-powered rifle, and a Glock 17 9mm handgun. He began shooting and when all was said and done, he had killed 49 people and injured 53 others. Mateen died in a shootout with the police when they stormed the night club after a three-hour standoff with him. This incident was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, and the worst terrorist attack since September 11. This attack wasn't orchestrated by ISIS; however, Mateen (an apparent radicalized Muslim) placed a call to 911 about 20 minutes into the attack, pledging allegiance to ISIS.
This tragic event was definitely a crime of hate, as Mateen had been reported as being homophobic. He had been using different gay dating apps and had visited different gay night clubs in Orlando. Why? He was possibly staking out a location to carry out his attack, or perhaps he was secretly gay, but too ashamed to admit it, since this would definitely be against his Islamic faith. I, personally, suspect he may have been conflicted with his latent sexual tendencies that were undeniably in direct opposition to his religious views and family background. (I'm not saying that he was for sure homosexual, but that was the first thing that came to my mind when I heard he had been using gay dating apps and had been going to gay clubs.) 

I'm so sick of these shootings and terrorist attacks that have been happening with greater and greater frequency! In regards to this latest incident, I feel so badly, not only for the victims, their families and the gay community at large, but also for the entire country and world. As I've reflected on the incident these past few days, I cannot imagine the sheer terror that those poor victims must've felt as they realized what was happening. I also cannot imagine the panic that the victims' families must've experienced as they desperately tried to reach their loved ones. 49 young lives ended prematurely. The lengths that some people feel they need to go to are mind-boggling. Harming ANY human being and child of God is SO wrong! It's crazy what can happen in a day or a week. These individuals were still alive a week ago, and now their families are planning funerals. Life is SO unpredictable, and you NEVER know what will happen. 

The 49 young victims, most of them in their 20's and 30's:
I saw this on Facebook a few days ago. I don't know if it's a real quote from one of the police officers that was actually at the crime scene, but I can imagine that there's a good chance that this scenario–the victims' cell phones going off over and over as their family members desperately tried to get a hold of them–could/would be very realistic.
As awful as this act of aggression was, it's been heartwarming to see the outpouring of love, solidarity and support from othersmostly perfect strangerspouring in from all over the world. I never want a calamity like this to happen to anyone, anywhere, but it's nice to see the brotherly love, kindness and compassion that usually follows a tragedy like this. 

Check out these photos of the different shrines and vigils:
Here are pictures of President Obama and Vice President Biden paying their respects in Orlando on Thursday. They each laid a bouquet of 49 white roses on the memorial created for the victms.
The bottom line in all of this madness is that hate is wrong. It's okay to disagree with others and to have different points of view, but you have to disagree respectfully. And by all means, remember the golden rule.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Christian: Nine Months Old

Christian is now nine months old. I don't have many pictures for this month's post, though. Chandra has been really busy packing/moving to a new house, AND Christian is so wiggly now that it's difficult to get decent pictures of him.

Chandra stayed here at the house with my mom and me for a week while Chandra and her boyfriend were in-between houses. It was fun to get to see more of them. Christian started crawling during the week they were here. He took a few tentative crawls on his hands/knees one of the first few days they were here, and by the time they left one week later, he was getting all over the house! He's also making more and more noises, and is getting really good at saying, "Mom" (which sounds like, "Ma-ma-ma" over and over).
Chandra gave Christian a bath in the kitchen sink when they were here, since his little bathtub was packed.
Another skill Christian learned last week was to clap his hands (which you can see him doing in the picture below, on the right).
I thought the picture of Christian in those big glasses was cute (even though it's blurry). Chandra found those glasses while packing and snapped a picture of Christian wearing them.

When Christian was first trying to get the hang of crawling, he could only manage to go backwards, and he ended up getting stuck under the futon.
I love to kiss Christian, and whenever Chandra brings him over to me to get a kiss or two, Christian has started leaning his forehead into me. It's so funny and sweet. I'm glad he tolerates me. :)
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