Calm Before the Storm (review)

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Calm Before the Storm by Janice L. Dick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The year is 1914. All is idyllic on the Hildebrandt’s Succoth estate in Crimea—but for the death of mother. This has left the well-to-do Hildebrandt family (father Heinrich, children Katarina [16], Maria [14], Peter, Nicholas, and Anna) wifeless, motherless, and without a teacher. Enter Johann Suderman, a young teacher from the Mennonite Molotschna Colony, whom Heinrich soon employs to tutor the youngest children.

The beginning of World War I together with growing tensions between the land-wealthy Mennonites and their poor Russian neighbours heightens suspense and brings a sense of foreboding. Through Johann’s Russian friend Paul Tekanin we see Bolshevism and the revolutionary movement take root. The Hildebrandt’s and Johann’s connections of family and friends in the Molotschna Colony make us privy to premonitions of change coming there as well.

A blossoming romance, that ripens like the sweet fruit of the Succoth orchard, ramps up emotional interest. Watching characters flesh out gradations of spiritual faith, from rote religion to a deeply personal relationship with God, challenges us to examine where we are in the practice of the faith we claim to have.

Calm Before the Storm is beautifully written. Characters are believable and sympathetic (even the not-so-favourite ones). Dick does a great job of placing us in the setting with masterful broad-brush descriptions of the landscape to fine-painted details of cottage and barn. I could all but taste the familiar foods—the zwieback, rollkuchen, borscht, and cracklings of my youth—which load the tables of these forefathers and foremothers.

Calm Before the Storm is a wonderful read for any lover of historical fiction and a must-read for the student of Mennonite history. I can’t wait for the release of Book 2, Eye of the Storm, hopefully later this year.


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Beyond the Purple Sky – review

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Beyond The Purple Sky by Eunice Cooper-Matchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


In dramatic scenes fueled by an informed imagination, Cooper-Matchett takes us into a little-known time in Israel’s history. The Jews are in exile in Babylon. Zerubbabel—a brilliant Jewish lad and companion of Nebuchadnezzar’s successor Belshazzar and sister Belshalti-Nanner, is being groomed for service to Babylonian royalty.

However, Zerubbabel also feels the tug of his Jewish heritage. We follow him as he matures to adulthood and is challenged with the ultimate assignment—to lead his people back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. The cost is great and the pursuit of his divine destiny—predicted by prophets Daniel, Zechariah, and Haggai—tests him to the core even as it highlights God’s intricate plan for His people.

Matchett’s writing is tight, her story-telling taut and filled with Middle Eastern sights, sounds, smells, and machismo. Beyond the Purple Sky is a good read!




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Project completed!

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I’m excited to announce that my second novel, Under the Cloud, a continuation of the story begun in Destiny’s Hands, is now available from Amazon in paperback and ebook editions!

Here’s the cover (designed by Glynis and Amanda Belec of Angel Hope Publishing):

And the description, from the back of the book:

Fifteen-year-old Zamri lives in the shadow of her brilliant brother Bezalel. While he crafts the gold and bronze articles for Tabernacle worship, all she can look forward to is a life of women’s work—work she finds uninteresting and confusing. But no one can keep her from dreaming. She imagines becoming a leader among women like her hero Miriam. That all changes when the dashing Pallu wins her heart.

Trek through the years of exodus with Zamri as, within the strictures of Israel’s patriarchal society, she grows into mature womanhood. Discover with her how dreams need never die, indeed can come true in the most unlikely ways.

Yes, the seven and one half-year project has finally been completed! My first entry in the notebook where I kept the journal of this book is dated January 7, 2013. Interestingly, it’s almost exactly eight years since I launched Destiny’s Hands (I received the boxes of books of that title on July 4, 2012).

Receiving boxes of product will probably not be the case with Under the Cloud, as I have been unable to place an order for author copies with Amazon. They are not shipping author copies to Canada during the Covid-19 pandemic *sigh.*

However, they do send out purchased paperback copies to Canada, and of course the Kindle edition is available as an instant download.

If you decide to purchase, I hope you enjoy. Then would you be so kind as to write a review—on Amazon, or your blog, or wherever? That would be hugely appreciated!

Sketch a Bird in your Journal

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During this time of social isolation due to Covid-19, various art challenges are popping up around the internet. One I have signed onto is Matt Tommey’s #quarantinedcreatives challenge. Starting on April 14th, those who signed up got an email with a daily prompt and challenge.

Yesterday’s challenge was interesting and stretching: “Make a process video.” That would be a video showing one’s art process (often shot as time lapse and then sped up).

I’m allergic to cameras and don’t have a camera mount to make such a video in any case.  Instead of a video, I took still photos of the steps of my project, then combined them with instructions. Below is my project: “Sketch a Bird in your Journal.” I hope it makes sense!

Everyday Watercolor by Jenna Rainey (review)

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What strange days we’re living in! Here on Canada’s west coast signs of spring are poking out and blooming all over. The coming of spring usually buoys my spirits immensely and this year is no different—and yet it is. For the black Covid-19 cloud looms on the horizon and we’re all living in obeisance by “social distancing” and, if returning from abroad, living in actual isolation. Closeted in our houses, condos, or apartments, we go out only for necessities and short walks, avoiding each other like the plague (which, we fear, anyone can be carrying, unbeknownst to them). It all feels so bizarre and unreal.

It’s gratifying to see how the online world has stepped up to fill work and recreation gaps. Lately I’ve heard more than once that this is a great time to spend unexpectedly free hours learning something new. My interest in art has familiarized me with that sphere. There, artists are offering all manner of online courses and tutorials, many free.

Another option, if you’d like to try your hand at art, specifically learning to paint with watercolor, is books. One I worked through last year was Jenna Rainey’s Everyday Watercolor – Learn to Paint Watercolor in 30 Days.

Everyday Watercolor – Learn to Paint Watercolor in 30 Days by Jenna Rainey

This is an excellent book for a beginning painter. Rainey starts with the basics in sections called “Techniques” and “Form, Perspective and Light.” Her explanations of theory are followed, at every step, by projects. These range from making color swatches to completing complex scenes. I worked through the whole book and along the way learned about wet on wet and wet on dry painting, value and tone, light to dark layering, light source, shadow, and much much more.

Bookstores in your area are probably closed but no problem. You can purchase this book online, in fact, have it on your device in minutes as an e-book. I bought it that way and viewed the book’s projects on my iPad as I worked on them.

As a teaser, here are some of the Everyday Watercolor projects I completed. (The ideas and designs are © Jenna Rainey.)

You can also follow Jenna Rainey on Instagram, where she posts painting instruction videos. Can you watch her work and not fall in love with watercolor? I doubt it!

What do you do while you’re “social distancing”?

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I have worked from home for years, but under the label of “social distancing,” it feels different. Every day health officials give updates in news conferences, which I like to watch firsthand (it beats getting the piecemeal summaries from journalists later). And every day the tone of our Federal and Provincial Health Officers grows graver and more urgent. How quickly new terms like “window of opportunity,” “flattening the curve,” “social distancing,” and “self-isolation” have become absorbed into daily life and experience.

Fortunately, my husband and I are well, though we are in the most at-risk age group. We have no grave existing conditions or chronic illnesses. We get our annual flu shots and this winter I haven’t even had a cold. So, I’m not that concerned about my own health or ability to weather a Covid-19 infection. But I am concerned about the health of others, particularly senior friends with fragile health.  

As a result, my preference is to try and follow (in spirit and letter) the social distancing guidelines proposed by the powers that be—that is, stay home. We go for our daily walk, shop for supplies when needed, but other than that, we stay put at home. We’ve even cancelled a coffee date at the home of friends out of an abundance of caution for the wife, who works in a seniors care facility. Are we being extreme? We don’t feel we are.

One thing I do every day now, is remind myself more than ever Who is ultimately in charge—of this world and of my life. I do this through prayer and reading the Bible daily, saturating myself in accounts of God’s power and marinating in psalms like Psalm 91.

I also spend some time each day doing a little art. I find that the cares of life fall away as I get absorbed in drawing and painting. I’ve amassed a body of work doing daily art for over a year now and have been wondering, is there anything I could do with these sketches and paintings?

Recently I have become aware of a print-on-demand site (Redbubble.com) where artists can set up their own shops. I joined, and have uploaded art there. The company applies my art to a variety of products I choose.  People can then order these things. Redbubble ships the products (with my designs on them) and I make a small percentage on each sale without having to manufacture the item, take the order, collect the payment, and send it out.  Pretty sweet deal, I’d say!

I realize that right about now you probably feel about as much like shopping as I do—i.e. not at all. But if you become bored with all the news conferences and Netflix, need a break from doing puzzles and playing games, you might enjoy doing a little browsing on Redbubble, against the day when shopping again appeals. Just in case you’re interested, my shop is HERE. Some of the stuff you’ll find there …

And lots more!

Whatever you do during your time of social distancing, take care and be thoughtful, kind, and safe.

Prepare for the End of Your World

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“Galaxy” – © 2020 by V. Nesdoly

Yesterday a newsfeed headline “How to Prepare Now for the Complete End of the World” caught my eye. I didn’t read the article right away, but it got me thinking.

Are we near the “complete end of the world”? The spreading covid19 virus, the doom and gloom of climate change purveyors, the local civil unrest over aboriginal land claims, and more, compound to give me a feeling that life, if not about to end may not return to “normal” anytime soon…maybe ever.

The danger that the covid19 virus poses to seniors (I’m in that age group) is especially concerning. And so, in my staring match with mortality, I ask myself, am I ready for the end? Are you?

I did read the above article this morning. I’m not sure I like its answers. It describes a “rewilding movement” where people get back to stone age living—making fire, hunting, wearing animal skins, eating roots and herbs, living in communes of yurts, basically like the hippies of the 1960s, only more primitive.  

“Rewilding” may be a solution if commerce grinds to a halt and technology dies. Trouble is, there’s still a personal end of the world beyond that. How do I prepare for the complete end of my personal world?

For me that means being ready to die and meet God.

Suppose you were to die today and stand before God, and He were to say to you, “Why should I let you into My heaven?”* What would you say? Would you say, I’ve done my best; I’ve done more good things than bad; I’ve been better than John down the street…?

I live with the conviction that we can give God a satisfactory answer. The Bible explains it this way.

1. Grace

– Heaven is a free gift (Ephesians 2:8,9).

– It is not earned or deserved (Romans 6:23).

2. Man

– But man (humans, males and females) are sinners (Romans 3:23)

– We don’t and can’t live up to heaven’s standard of perfection (Matthew 5:48).

– We can’t save ourselves (Proverbs 14:12).

3. God

– Is merciful (Jeremiah 31:3b).

– But He is also just and must punish sin (Exodus 34:7b).

In order to solve the dilemma of His mercy and justice…

4. Jesus

– God sent Jesus to earth 2000+ years ago to live and die as the infinite perfect God-man (John 1:1,14).

– For 33 years Jesus lived on earth. Those years are recorded in the Bible (books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

– At the age of 33 years, Jesus was crucified—died.

– His death was/is the payment to God that our sins deserve (Isaiah 53:6; 1 Peter 2:24).

–  His death in our stead shows God’s mercy while at the same time satisfying God’s need for justice. We call it GRACE: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

5. Faith

– We accept this gift of Christ’s death on our behalf through faith.

– It is more than intellectual faith, but a believing faith where I entrust our lives to Him now and for eternity (Acts 16:31).

– If we have believed in Him in this way, we know that He will accept us into heaven because He has said so (John 3:16; 6:37,47; John 14:1-3).

And so, when we come to the end of our personal world, and stand before God and He asks us, “Why should I let you into My heaven?” I can say, you can say, because Jesus paid the penalty for my sin.

Need to explore more? Get yourself a Bible or access one online. Read it. Start with the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

* This explanation of the Gospel is adapted from Evangelism Explosion materials.

February Roundup

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Even with its extra day, February is nearly history. It’s hard to believe we’re almost into the third month of 2020! My resolve to be better at updating the blog hasn’t resulted in much so far, but I’ve decided to, at least, write a monthly update post. Here is February’s…a list of things I did or tried to do

Art

I continued with my daily art practice through February. This month I had two sets of prompts to inspire the subjects of my paintings (Opus Daily Practice and Doodlewash). I also worked on proper water colour paper (instead of my sketch journal). That was a good learning experience. I found through that, that I really like working on hot press paper (as opposed to cold press). Here are some of my favourite February paintings.

In January a children’s pastor at my church (Laurel Archer) asked me to do the illustrations for a booklet to be used during missions month. Laurel wrote the text, I did the paintings (except for the boy and girl; they are hand puppets already in use), then our church’s media department assembled and printed the book. This was a gratifying project!

Writing

Though I haven’t spent as much time doing writing lately, it still occupies some of my time and offers rewards for past work.

Pockets (a children’s magazine put out by the Upper Room Group) reprinted an article I wrote for them some years ago on Jean Vanier. It found its way into the final issue (January / February 2020) of that lovely little magazine. I was sad to hear that it will no longer be published.

I gave a short presentation on writing book reviews at the last meeting of our writing group (South Surrey Writers Group) Thursday, February 27th.

I am continuing to edit my WIP manuscript (working title: Under the Cloud, a sequel to the biblical fiction, Destiny’s Hands that I published in 2012). I am getting dangerously close to being ready to send that baby off to a real editor. Under the Cloud should see the light of publication sometime this year. I’m not making any predictions as to when.

Personal

I’m finding that as I age, keeping the weight off is a never-ending challenge. Even though my husband and I walk for about an hour a day, and eat a pretty healthy diet, the numbers on the scale were creeping up.

There must be an app for that…

There is! I downloaded MyNetDiary and have been keeping track of daily intake, weight, and exercise much more consistently and the weight is slowly coming off.

Well, that was my February…a busy, healthy month. Here’s hoping and praying March is the same. Facing the threat of the Covid 19 virus, I have taken to praying and claiming as a promise of protection Psalm 91:9,10

“Because you have made the LORD,
who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
No evil shall befall you,
Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling.”

I pray for protection for our land, and the survival of all who fall ill with this virus.

The Road to Happenstance – review

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The Road to Happenstance by Janice L. Dick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


“Happenstance: A chance happening or event” (Dictionary.com)

That is what Matthew Sadler’s (aka Matthew Smith’s) arrival at the town by that name seems to be at first—a chance event. But the town’s welcoming vibe and quirky inhabitants cast a spell over the fleeing-from-demons teacher, whose motorbike, pony tail, and new growth beard are outward signs of the inner changes he seeks.

However, not all is as it seems even in the town that bills itself as “A Town You Can Trust.” As Matthew gets to know his two aging hosts at the Happenstance Hotel, the local mechanic, the coffee shop owner, the pastor, the woman who is a fellow guest at the hotel, and others, he realizes that strange things seem to be afoot—and even here his past might find him.

The wonderful writing, colourful characters, cleverly contrived plot, that reinforces themes of faith and grace, made this cozy mystery a welcome winter diversion for me.

A set of discussion questions at the end would make it a good book club choice.

Recommended!

I received a copy of The Road to Happenstance as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review.




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South: The story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Expedition – Review

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South (Illustrated): The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition by Ernest Shackleton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Recently my preference in books has settled on memoir and biography. In that genre, South a memoir of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Antarctic expedition (first published in 1919) was a real find in my stash of unread Kindle books.

Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922) was an Antarctic explorer who had gone on several expeditions before the one described in this book. He was a third mate in Robert F. Scott’s 1901-1903 Discovery Expedition and led another, the Nimrod Expedition, in 1907-1909. On that trip, he and his mates broke the then-record for getting nearest to the South Pole and climbed Mount Erebus, Antarctica’s most active volcano. On returning to England, he was knighted by King George VII, becoming Sir Ernest Shackleton.

His third expedition, the 1914-1917 one which South details, was ambitious. It involved two ships with a selected crew of 26 men on each. The ship Endurance carried Shackleton and his crew. They hoped to reach Antarctica via the Weddell Sea (approaching Antarctica from the east), and trek overland. Meanwhile the ship Aurora, approaching Antarctica from the South via the Ross Sea, was tasked with carrying and depositing supplies along the route that Shackleton and his men hoped to take.

The expedition’s trouble began when the Endurance became trapped by ice before reaching land. Active ice floes moved, ground, and pressed against the ship. Shackleton and his men, fearing the worst, prepared for the possibility of abandoning their floating home. One fateful day the Endurance was indeed crushed and badly damaged. Shackleton and the crew’s many weeks drifting on the ice was only the beginning of their misadventures.

Shackleton’s telling is rich with journal entries of his own and others. The story of the Aurora and its crew, almost as discouraging, follows the tale of the Endurance crew.

In this day of air travel and sophisticated communication, the isolated, helpless state of Shackleton and his men is almost unimaginable. Their character, stoicism, and resourcefulness, along with Sir Ernest’s inspirational leadership are things I found remarkable in this story.

On this expedition, Shackleton and his men encountered the beauty and brutality of nature. They were often near death and I wondered, did they ever get to a point where they were beyond themselves? Did they ever acknowledge God? Pray?

Several times in the book Shackleton does mention Providence (yes, capitalized). And this bit from the last leg of his journey on South Georgia Island to get help is very interesting:

“When I look back at those days I have no doubt that Providence guided us, not only across those snowfields, but across the storm-white sea that separated Elephant Island from our landing-place on South Georgia. I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three. I said nothing to my companions on the point, but afterwards Worsley said to me, “Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us.” Crean confessed to the same idea. One feels “the dearth of human words, the roughness of mortal speech” in trying to describe things intangible, but a record of our journeys would be incomplete without a reference to a subject very near to our hearts.”

— South: The Story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Expedition by Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton (Kindle Location 3220)

South is a riveting tale that will keep you reading long into the night. Highly recommended.

Note:
My Kindle edition of the book had a list of illustrations (mostly photographs) that weren’t included in the book. Should you happen to read such an edition, the illustrations are available and linked here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/5199/5199-h/5199-h.htm .

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