Friday, December 21, 2012

Book Review: Airframe by Michael Crichton

I took this book off of my husband's bookshelf. He is a recreational pilot and enjoys reading books about airplanes. I enjoyed this book and felt like Crichton really tried to make it readable for those of us who don't know a lot about planes and flying. However, I still found it a little hard to follow at times. 

The book is a mystery about Flight 545 on a Norton N-22. During the flight 56 people were injured and 3 died. What went wrong? Casey Singleton, a vice-president of Norton Airlines, is given a week to solve the problem. If she doesn't, Norton will have some serious problems.

Can Casey figure out what happened in time? And, is the N-22 safe...or is it a Death Trap?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

2013: A to Z Reading Challenge

My third, and probably last, reading challenge for 2013 is the longest and hardest. Basically, I'm attempting to read a book that starts with every letter of the alphabet! This one is hosted by Escape with Dolycas.  And, here's where I'll list my books:
B- The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons
T- Tatiana and Alexander by Paullina Simons

2013: Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

This challenge is hosted at Historical Tapestry and consists of different levels. I'll be attempting to read 10 Historical Fiction books in 2013 to become a "Renaissance Reader." Let me know if you are joining me for this challenge!


2013: What An Animal Challenge VI

I'll be taking part in several reading challenges for the first time in 2013. One of them will be all about animals! It is hosted by Socrates' Book Reviews Blog. The challenge is to read 6 books that have an animal in the title, on the cover, as a main character, or a character that turns into an animal. You can get specific details by following her link above.

Here's where I'll keep track of my 6 animal books in 2013:

Rouen, Normandy in France

One of the main reasons we stopped in Rouen, Normandy (in France) was to see the place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. But, my mother was in a lot of pain and needed to rest. So, we left her in the car and told her we'd only be gone for 1 hour. We hurried through the town looking for the memorial cross... but we never found it. We did, however, see several beautiful blocks of Rouen.

The first site we came across was this beautiful building - the Palais de Justice. This gothic building was built near the turn of the 16th century and was mostly destroyed during the Allied bombing of WWII. This, the western facade, is heavily pockmarked from WWII bullets.
A "close up" showing some of the bullet holes still left on the western facade of the Palais de Justice.
Half-timbered buildings lining a street in Rouen.
Close-up of a half-timbered building.
 We stopped and had a quick drink - this was one of Alex's favorite drinks on this trip. It is a soda/juice mix! And, we were pleased to find out we could buy it at one of our local grocery stores that carries lots of international foods!
This is an amazing clock that I wish we would have seen up close. I only took this photo as we quickly turned the corner! The "Great Clock" was created in the early 1400's and rebuilt in 1527-1529.
Above is a close up of the photo I took. The clock only has an hour hand (no minute hand, as I guess the hour was close enough) and it is a little after noon. Under the VI there is a a cut out which changes each day of the week and shows a god on a chariot that demonstrates which day it is - I believe this was a Monday. Above the clock face is a globe that indicates the phase of the moon - I believe the colors are blue & silver so, this being completely silver, I think it was a full moon.
I'll show "Monet's cathedral" as a separate post...

Book Review: Cleopatra's Daughter

Yesterday, while Alex was sick asleep in bed, I finished Cleopatra's Daughter. I was sad to finish it and have the story end, though I was thankful that there was an 'afterward' that told what happened to many of the main characters. This was my second book by Michelle Moran and, like Madame Tussaud, it was an amazing book!

This book of historical fiction follows the life of Cleopatra's daughter, Selene, starting on the dreadful day when Rome's Octavian conquers Egypt. Selene and her ten-year-old twin brother, Alexander, are taken away on her mother's own boat to be captives in Rome. The hope of both children is to one day return to Egypt as rulers.

The book gives an amazing glimpse into this time in Roman history a little over 2,000 years ago: customs, clothing, religion, architecture, and more! Although I've heard of the horrible acts that took place in the Colloseum, I was saddened and sickened to read of other atrocities. (And yet, the story also included hope and love.) We are planning our first trip to Italy this summer, and I will definitely look at it through different eyes then I would have before reading this book.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

An Original DUCKumentary

This Weekend, my husband and I watched an incredible show about ducks. It was PBS's "An Original DUCKumentary." I was truly amazed at some of the amazing things ducks do - especially how a wood duck leaves it's nest. It's just something you have to see to believe!
I was able to watch it online at the PBS site (click here). And, using AppleTV, we were able to watch it on the big screen together! 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Review: Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist is an amazing story that most of us are probably familiar with. It is about a young orphan named Oliver who lives and works in a workhouse for boys. He dares to ask for more gruel with the famous words, "Please, sir, I want some more." And, is then sold as an apprentice to an undertaker. He later escapes to London where he joins up with the Artful Dodger who is part of a criminal ring that includes pickpocketing.

Frontispiece first edition "Oliver Twist"
from Wikipedia
I have twice seen this story as a musical, but it is very brief compared to this lengthy novel. And, many things are left out! I totally enjoyed this book and enjoyed reading it on my Kindle app where I could look up the definitions of many words! Dickens style of writing is humorous and a joy to read. And, the story is a wonderful story that tugs at your heart.

Mr Bumble, the Beadle, by Kyd (Joseph Clayton Clarke)
from Wikipedia

I started watching Oliver! which was filmed in 1968 and LOVE it! I've seen clips of it, but I've never seen the entire production. I love musicals, and am surprised I've never seen this one. I plan on watching the entire show with my family this weekend.

Book Review: And Then There Were None

Last night I finished And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Alex read this last year and loved it and kept suggesting I read it. So, I finally did.

About halfway through the 300 page book I was not enjoying it, but I kept reading. The book is about a group of ten strangers who are lured to a small, isolated island. By the end of the night, one of them is dead. And, so they begin to die. But, who is killing them off? Is it someone hidden on the island? Or perhaps is it one of the ten?

What I didn't like about the book was the fact that I didn't really get to know the ten people and so I really didn't have feelings for them. So, as they started to die, it did not bother me! But, my feelings changed towards the end. I read straight through the last 100 pages - I just couldn't put it down as I needed to know who would survive and who was committing the murders! However, even then, I really didn't care much for the people and did not feel upset when someone died.

This was my first book to read by Agatha Christie. I didn't enjoy it very much, though I know she's a popular author. I'm glad Alex enjoyed it and I believe my sister has read quite a few of her books and enjoyed them. If you've read this book, or others by this aughter, let me know what you think!

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Wild Turkeys on Our Land!

I remember the first day I saw Wild Turkeys. It was as I was driving from Kansas to Colorado about 5 1/2 year ago and I saw them along the road. I quickly pulled over and grabbed my camera an took a quick photo before they ran over the hilltop.  
I have seen them only a couple of times since, including in Tennessee this summer (above photo) while driving around a Civil War battle site. As much as I love nature, can you imagine how thrilled I was today when I heard someone had seen about 25 wild turkeys on our ranch in Oklahoma??? They were in our black walnut grove and my husband is going to see if he can spot them tonight. I did a little research and read they eat nuts, so maybe that is why they are hanging out by our walnut trees!

Everyone has heard that Ben Franklin wanted the wild turkey to be the national symbol instead of the bald eagle. But, I had never seen it in his own words before... this from a letter to his daughter:

"For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country....

I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America... He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on."

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Book Review: The Story of Charlotte's Web

I read another wonderful book! This one was a biography about author and animal-lover E. B. White. The book, The Story of Charlotte's Web: E. B. White's Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic by Michael Sims tells of White's childhood in Moutn Vernon, a suburb of New York,  with wonderful summers in Maine; his young adult life plagued with shyness around women and the beginnings of a literary career; and his discovery of a spider in his barn... that led to the creation of Charlotte's Web.

I loved reading about White's love of nature that started when he was very young. His early life included trips to the zoo, the circus, and month-long summer trips to Maine. White loved his time in Maine and would take a canoe out early in the morning, while the rest of the household slept, to watch the Great Blue Herons.

After marrying, he bought a small farm with his wife and started filling the barn with animals. One day, he noticed a spider on a web and he eventually spent a lot of time researching orb weavers. (I think it was over a year, but I read this book about a month ago and not I'm not sure I'm remembering that fact correctly.)

I loved learning more facts about spiders while reading this book, and just the fact the E. B. White was so meticulous with the accuracy of nature in his book. Charlotte's Web is one of my favorite books and this was a great look at the man behind the book... and a wonderful book about nature, too!

The Cuban Missile Crisis

I read Stephen King's 850 page book this week, 11/22/63. The book is primarily about a man, Jake Epping, who travels back in time to try to stop the assassination of JFK. But, Jake enters the past in 1958 so, along the way, he tries to do a few other good deeds.

While I was reading on Monday, and Alex was home sick, I came across a part of the book that dealt with the Cuban Missile Crisis. This is a subject that I wasn't very familiar with, so I started looking online. I found a movie from 2000 titled Thirteen Days and Alex and I both watched it and learned a lot about this scary time in American history! You can find the movie on YouTube. I also have started (and will try to finish today) a History Channel documentary called Declassified: The Cuban Missile Crisis, which you can also find on YouTube.

(Part 1 of 2)
As far as Stephen King's book... this was my first book to read by him and I REALLY enjoyed it! The book was full of surprises and I never new what was going to happen next. Warning: the book contains quite a bit of cussing and a few 'bedroom scenes'.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Book Review: Lone Wolf

I just finished an incredibly moving book called Lone Wolf  by Jodi Picoult. This is her first book I've read, but I've seen the movie version of a book she wrote - My Sister's Keeper. I found that movie incredibly heart-wrenching, and Lone Wolf is the same.

It's the story of a family who has been torn apart. Luke, the dad, is devoted to studying wolves - in fact, he spends two years away from his wife and children to try to become a member of a pack of wolves in Canada. Edward, the oldest son, left home when he was 18 - the day after 'coming out' and telling his dad he was gay. Cara, the daughter, is now 17 and has been living with her father. She hates her brother because her parents divorced - and she blames him. Georgia, the mother, now has a loving husband and twins, but she misses her son who now lives in Thailand.
Three months before Cara's 18th birthday, she and her father, Luke, are in a car wreck. Cara has to undergo some surgery, but her father is now in a vegetative state. When Georgia calls her son to tell him the news, he catches the first plane home and enters the world of the family he left behind six years before. Now, Edward thinks they need to let their father die while Cara is fighting for his life... and a miracle.
The story is incredibly moving and I cried many times. Each chapter is told from the voice of one of the main characters - including a few I didn't mention here. Besides the story of the family's struggle over whether or not to let Luke die, you also read the story of Luke's time with the wolves in the wild - and learn a lot about wolf behavior!
I haven't listened to very many books on tape as I usually don't care for the way they're read. But, I watched this 4 minute video of this book being recorded and think it is wonderful! And, it looks like they use a different reader for each character. (As I mentioned, each chapter is from the point of view of a different character.)
Luke Warren, the man who lived with wolves, is actually based on a real person - Shaun Ellis. You can learn more about him at The Wolf Centre site.

And, though this is a poor photo, this a picture from my night camera at our ranch in Oklahoma... of a pack of wolves! There were 3 in the photo before this, but it was even poorer than the other. Unfortunately, the camera was focusing on the fence - not the wolves. My in-laws live about 30 miles from our ranch and sometimes hear the wolves howling. I hope to get a better photo of 'our' wolves! (You can see an eye of one wolf to the right of the top of the middle pole and another eye of another wolf right above the middle pole.)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Our visit to Monet's white alabaster cliffs

One of the most beautiful places we visited while in France was a small town called Etretat in Normandy. We got there about 9 pm, which was more than an hour before the sun actually set. And, after checking in to our rooms, we spent at least an hour as we watched the sun set. It was possibly the most incredible sunset I've ever seen. And, Monet enjoyed this particular spot, too.

Monet's The Cliffs at Etretat from Wikipedia
I wasn't as familiar with these paintings, but Monet painted the cliffs many times. Etretat sits on part of the coast known as The Alabaster Coast. It encompasses 80 miles of sheer, white cliffs starting at Etretat. We only made it to Etretat, but it was an incredible night... and morning!

This was the first photo I took as we arrived at the beach. By now, it was close to 9:30 and I thought the sun would be down in minutes. The sun had been setting really late while in Europe, so I should have known better! But, my experience at the lake told me that when the sun is this low, it'll disappear fast. But, no! I bet we had another hour before the sun sank below the horizon.

Our hotel was about 3 blocks from the water. We were on the 3rd floor (without elevators and with several heavy suitcases!) and we could see this chapel on the cliff. We had meant to climb up either this side or the other (the town, in the middle where we are, is pretty flat), but my mom's foot was really bothering her. So, we didn't. But, just being on the beach was incredible. (Have I mentioned that already?)

I wish I could take you all with me to hear the sound of the water as the waves rolled out! The whole beach is pebbles and you have to get really close to the water to hear this, but... each time the water rolls out there is this incredible sound! I finally decided it sounded like a rain stick. It's really loud, too, though you have to be close to hear it. Amazing!

I love how you can see the sunset reflecting in Alex's glasses. By the way, these pebbles are hard to walk in! It's quite a workout! But, so worth it.

Alex has gotten pretty good at taking self-portraits... and even photos of the two of us. It was hard to believe that this was the 'middle of summer' and that there were so few people out on the beach! I bet there were 30 or less. We are close to the cliffs on the right side of the beach, so you can get an idea of how long the beach is.

Alex enjoying the sunset. At this point, I think it was actually quite a bit darker than it looks in this photo. This was one of the last few I took.

And, sadly, the sun is finally actually setting...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

More photos from "Monet's gardens"

I was asked for more photos from Monet's gardens at Giverny, and I'm happy to share them with you all! Here goes...
Les Nympheas is the restaurant we ate at located at the gardens. Did you know that Monet called waterlillies by their scientific name, les nympheas?

A beautiful snail... we saw quite a few snails!

This was our first view of the famous bridge. We are actually standing on a bridge at the opposite side of the pond. You can barely see 'the bridge' above Alex's head.

From the bridge (above where Alex is standing), if you look the opposite way you will see this boat that was also in Monet's paintings... or perhaps a boat LIKE the one he painted.

Doesn't this just look Impressionistic? (if that is a word...)

A rare shot of the bridge without any people on it. I wish there were fewer waterlillies so you could see the reflection of the bridge more clearly.

I was standing beside 'the bridge' to take this shot. You can see the lesser known bridge (the one Alex was standing on earlier) at the back of the pond to the right.

This is a second story window of Monet's house which looks over the gardens, not the pond. We were able to tour it, but not to take photos inside of it. His studio has recreations of about 30-40 pieces of his artwork. Work by other artists, including some Japanese artists who inspired Monet, are scattered throughout the house.

I hope you enjoyed these (additional) photos! We also visited the cathedral that Monet painted so many times AND the cliffs that he painted! I wasn't familiar with them, but the evening we spent on the beach by the cliffs was incredible. I'll share those next, I think.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Do you recognize this? It's "Monet's Garden!"

Yes, it's Monet's Garden! We had an incredible time visiting Giverny, the place of Monet's gardens, in Normandy, France. The weather this day was perfect and the gardens were more beautiful than I had imagined.

When you enter the gardens, you are first in a real garden area. It is HUGE! There are probably 8-12 rows that you can wander down. Unfortunately, I only took closeups so I can't really give you a good idea of what it looked like. We also saw quite a few gardeners busy pruning and doing other garden jobs.

Alex took lots of photos with my 'big' camera!
After leaving the regular gardens, you go through an underground tunnel. I believe the tunnel went under a road. Then, you go on a fairly long path that winds around different water features... until you arrive at the famous waterlily pond (1st photo). Wow! It's gorgeous!

It's very hard to get a photo of yourself alone on the famous bridge, though we did manage to get one of my mother. It was really crowded around the main pond, but there were other, quieter areas. Alex & I posed on this bridge that was behind the waterlily pond and were able to get a shot of just the two of us.

To Be or Not To Be

We've all heard those words many times, right? And, we know they are from a Shakespeare play. But, until last week I didn't know they were from Hamlet. And, I didn't know they were spoken by Hamlet as he contemplated suicide.

We are considering seeing an outdoor production of Hamlet next month. So, I wanted to learn the story. I actually started by watching the 3 part BBC cartoon production, and then I came across this Video Sparknotes: Shakespear's Hamlet Summary (posted above). It is a great video summary of the play.

You can Google for the other 2 parts of the BBC production, but Part I (above) can be found by clicking here.

I also enjoyed two other sites, both of which discuss the meaning of certain quotes from Hamlet. The first is a SparkNotes site (click here) and the second is from CliffNotes (click here). Both also offer additional information, but so far I've only read the quote section.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Seeing Lenin & Stalin

I'm going to skip ahead on our trip because I watched a movie about Stalin over the past two days. Besides France, we were able to visit three other countries: Finland, Estonia and Sweden. While in Estonia for three days, we went on a semi-private tour (7 people of which we were 5) of occupied Estonia. One of our stops on the tour was a pile of old statues behind a museum - primarily statues of Lenin, Stalin, and some soldiers.
our family with statues of Lenin and Stalin in Tallinn, Estonia
We took some photos of all of us around a statue of Lenin. To tell the truth, at the time I didn't know which statues were Stalin and which were Lenin. We were smiling and that later disturbed me. Would we have been smiling around a statue of Hitler? Is it because we don't understand the horror of these men? Maybe. But, as I thought more about it today, I realized that we were primarily smiling because of where we were... we were standing next to a piece of history. And, these statues weren't terrorizing people any more... they were piled up and neglected and no longer a threat. The people of Estonia are FREE!
my photo of Stalin statue in Tallinn
The History Channel documentary I just watched (online) is called "Stalin: Man of Steel." It was an amazing tale of a ruthless man who led to the death of millions of his people... but was strangely still their beloved Father. At the end of this post I'm going to share some of the notes I took - many of them actual words from the movie. But, if you are interested in learning more about him, I recommend this movie.

My notes:

The Romanov's had ruled Russia for over 200 years and it was the goal of revolutionaries, including Stalin, to overthrow them. On October 25, 1917, the Bolshevik's stormed the winter palace in St Petersburg and the Tzar was toppled. Lenin became the new leader of Russia. (Question: did Lenin take power immediately?)

Stalin worked as an enforcer in the Communist party during the next five years and was then elected General Secretary. Eventually, he became Lenin's right hand man. When Lenin died in 1924, there were two possible successors: Stalin or Trotsky. Congress went against Lenin's will and chose Stalin and exhiling Trotsky (who would be later assassinated under Stalin's orders).

Stalin, wanting only loyalty to himself, banned the Russian Orthodox religion and had all religious materials destroyed. He had the churches destroyed and thousands of priests executed. Then, he set himself up as a new god... and his image hung in every home.

Russia was a land of peasants and swamplands, but Stalin started industralizing building major factories and railroad tracks. Then, he took all of the agricultural land and created "collectives" - giant state-owned farms. The farmers who refused to deliver their harvests were subject to violence.

By 1932, modernization was taking its toll on the rural population. As 5 million people starved, Stalin had 5 millions TONS of grain exported! But, life in Moscow was good... if you followed the party lines!

A wave of political execution  followed with neighbors turning against neighbors and quotas set for how many people needed to be killed. Troika (groups of 3) went around conducting brief trials before executing people. In two years, 1.5 million people were killed.

Kolyma Goldmine from Wikipedia
Even as millions of people died in the Gulags, the prisoner's put their trust in Stalin. They thought he didn't know what was going on and would save them if he only knew. They thought he was a saint. In the Kolyma Gulag, a camp where gold was mined, the death rate was nearly 100%.

In the late 1930's, Stalin ordered a purge of his fellow party members and military leaders. He had 8 of his top generals executed and over 30,000 officers were killed over the next two years. Stalin wanted to raise up new leaders who would be faithful only to him.

In 1939, Hitler and Stalin signed a non-agression pact, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. But, on the 22nd of June, 1941, Hitler ignores the pact and attacks Russia. The Red Army is surprised and suffers heavy losses. The Soviet people fight for the Motherland and for their beloved Stalin.

Russia suffers massive losses, until winter sets in and they are able to save Moscow. Leningrad, however, is under seige by Germany for 900 days and over 1 million people die.

Yalta Conference from Wikipedia
Stalin had been pushing the Alllies to start another front, but that didn't come until June 6, 1944... D-Day. In 1945, the Yalta Conference takes place in the Crimea with Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill. Stalin demands control of German territories in the East and the other leaders, tired of war, concede.

In April 1945 the war is basically over, but Stalin pushes his army hard to be the first to reach Berlin. He sacrifices hundreds of thousands of soldiers and his officials discover the body of Hitler in his bunker. However, he keeps this information top secret. Russia is now a Superpower and Stalin is a hero.

The Postdam Conference takes place in July of 1945 when the leaders of the 3 Superpowers - Stalin, Churchill & Truman - divide territory among themselves.

On March 2nd, 1953, Stalin has a stroke and dies three days later. Russia mourns. Even those who have lost loved ones weep. Stalin has created himself into a mythical being... and he's turned a country full of peasants into a Superpower.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Outside of Notre Dame

I showed photos of the inside of Notre Dame. Now for some outside photos!

Welcome to Notre Dame!

Gargoyles. These are said to watch over the Seine River for drowning victims! (One of Alex's photos)

Part of the Gallery of Kings. There were 28 kings, probably meant to depict the Kings of Judah. However, there was confusion during the French Revolution and they thought these represented kings of France and they were destroyed. 21 of the original heads were found in 1977 and are now in the Musee de Cluny. These are recreations. Originally, these were quite colorful. (photo by Alex)

Another photo by Alex. I'm not sure what this represents, but someone is standing on this man!

My photo of Saint Denis, a martyr I studied before heading to Paris!
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