Category: The Serious Stuff


The last few weeks, my reading pile has included a variety of books whose focus is North Korea.

These were not easy books to read, in fact it was dammed dis-heartening. I read about a country suffering through near poverty while its leader lives the good life.

Well, when he is not having his mistress shot because his wife found out about the affair. Granted I have only hearsay for that one. But it is pretty certain that his uncle is dead after some of his bolder acts came to be known. The man disappeared and no one has seen him. It is assumed that he is dead – somewhere. If one story is true, it was a very public and nasty death.

esape from camp 14This does not surprise me. Especially after I finished reading Escape from Camp 14. This non-fiction book, which is currently up for the Lincoln Award, tells the story of a young man , named Shin, who was born in Camp 14, a brutal gulag meant for those who went against the government in some way. If that isn’t enough, the government gathers your family, have people ‘mate’ or marry so that they can punish your children.

It is the whole idea of punishing three generations of wrongdoers. People within the camp are taught to snitch on each other, to always work alone, and to never trust one another. God forbid if you try to escape and fail. Chances are you will shot or hung in front of a crowd so your mistakes are an example to everyone else.

Recently it has come out that Shin changed facts around such as his mother, brother, and himself were transferred to a different camp, and that one escape attempt led him to being repatriated to North Korea.

Reluctant CommunistIt could lead you to discount the whole story until you read The Reluctant Communist by Charles Robert Jenkins and Jim Frederick. Jenkins was stationed in South Korea during the 1960s. While this was his second stint in South Korea, it was one filled with depression and loneliness. After eight years in the service, the Sargent wanted to go home and not be sent to Vietnam. That is when he deserted the Army and walked over the border to North Korea. Jenkins thought he would be sent home to face a court martial.

Instead he lived 40 years in a country that was brutal in its rations of food and money. He knows he had it better than most of the citizens but he dealt with irregular heating, electric service, and food sources. He was lucky to meet a Japanese woman and to have a true love match. Other American captives were ‘given’ women or eventually given a woman for a wife.

Because the Japanese government came looking for their abducted citizen, Jenkins’ wife Hitomi, was allowed to go back home. It would take nearly two years of effort on the part of the Japanese government  to get Jenkins and his two daughters into Indonesia to re-unite the family.

I raced through this book but would read various passages again so that I could truly understand what happened to Charles and Hitomi.

Without You There is no UsThe book that started me on this journey is the memoir by Suki Kim, Without You, There is No Us. It details the time Kim spent as a teacher at a university in Pyongyang, teaching English to children of the Korean elite. But even here, life is not privileged. Food seldom tastes good, even if there is meat. The electric service is spotty. Everyone’s computer is bugged so officials know what you are looking up at all times which was a huge fear when one of the other teachers stated they googled each of their co-workers.

Private conversations can only be had if you walk outside in the compound. And there is no such thing as a private conversation with students. You never know who is an informant and who is a rebel.

Kim tried to subtly introduce Western ideas but came to realize that she was only putting her students, whom she grew to love, in danger. Field trips for the teachers pointed out the abject poverty of the people. With her students not even allowed visits from their parents until school break times, Kim wondered about the life that her students lead outside of the university, if they had any freedom or were able to see other students like themselves.

You might say “That Shin guy lied, couldn’t these others be lying, too?” The problem is that there are too many stories from too many defectors. Why would thousands of people lie so grandly if this country was better than what it appears to be?

Then this week I heard about the Wired magazine article that talks with a man who smuggles thumb drives filled with American TV shows into North Korea. These are easier to hide than DVDs, easier to move around.  In doing this, the smugglers hope to show North Koreans that Americans do not focus on how to destroy their tiny country at all hours of the day.

Once upon a time, about 70 years ago, we said never again to things like the Holocaust and genocide. But with examples from North Korea and ISIS and Darfur and the break up of Yugoslavia, I wonder if that is ever possible. The only thing I do know is that we must keep working against the evil that deems we must obey or die.

Last night as I drove home, I found myself listening to Laurence Holmes on The Score.

Laurence HolmesI really like Laurence and his sports show because it is never just about sports. Sports is a big piece of his life but, as you listen, you realize there is a lot going on in Laurence’s life in a positive way.

It doesn’t hurt that he gave me a shout out once but I liked him way before that.

Last night, he discussed a documentary short produced by Joakim Noah, of the Chicago Bulls, on the effect of gun violence on those who survive, what it means to lose someone to violence.

Then he played the audio from the 8:49-minute clip. I found it heart-rendering. I found myself thinking the editor did a great job of telling these various stories from kids and Chicago Bulls players who lost loved ones to gun violence.

Could it lead to awards as Laurence thought it may? I don’t know but I do know that people who have been through this situation, of which there are too many, and watch this documentary will know that they are not alone. That there are people out there who know exactly how they feel.

And that it is okay to cry out those feelings and feel that loss.

Here is a link to that documentary.“You’re Not Alone”

A Helipad What?

I learned something new yesterday. There is a new parenting term out in the world.

Helipad Parent.

While listening to Bill and Wendy on WGN yesterday, they had a woman come on who came up with something new that describes her style of parenting.

Which is not to denigrate those helicpter parents per se. This is what works for them but I wanted to raise children who are capable of taking care of themselves. So does Katie Slivovsky who works at the Chicago Children’s Museum.

Katie Slivovsky with Wendy Snyder and Bill Leff

Katie Slivovsky with Wendy Snyder and Bill Leff

Katie admits in an essay on www.Freerangekids.com that she does not have the attention span to be a helicopter mom. Lord knows, I do not. But she is a loving prescence in her kids life who makes them a priority and always tries to listen to what they have to say. Her goal is to raise kids who know what to do in tricky situations when Mom is not there. And when the going gets rough, they know they have some place to land.

There are times when Katie admits that she can seem to be an unattentive parent. Such as when she completely missed the signs that her daughter might be diabetic. Personally, I might have missed that too if this is not something common in my family. I have a heightened awareness, she might not. I don’t think there is a need to kick her in the shins for that one.

The point here is not to look at helicopter parents and say “you’re doing it all wrong,” even if you think that. Which I do because I want my kids to be able to live and make decisions and learn from their mistakes while I am around to help them figure out a better way. The point is to say that there is this whole other way to do it. That you have to allow some hurts and failures and a soft place to land when wounds need licking.

Way back in high school and college, we studied different styles of parenting, one of which was called the Laissez-faire method. Which essentially means you let the kids do what they want, starting at a small age. While it certainly led to a child making mistakes to learn from, the problem is there are no rules as a guideline. That is not what Helipad parenting is about.

Helipad is about setting rules, guideline, and then allowing a child to be responsible for his/her school work/chores/responsibilities. It is about getting them ready for the time that adolescence hits when there will be choices that are not so easy.  It’s about being there to listen and to help. It is not about doing the kids’ homework for them.

Let’s face it, not every kid is going to work with a one-size fits all parenting philosophy. What works for one kid may not work for another. That requires us parents to bend and flex a bit.

Because this is a relatively new term, it has not been fully defined yet beyond what I have stated. There is a bit more that needs to be hammered out. And I do not see much difference in this and free-range parenting. But I really want to know what are your thoughts.

Are you a helipad parent?

Helipad

Get off your *** and vote

Tomorrow is the day.

Tomorrow is the final day for cards and letters in the mail telling us what a fool the other candidate is in their race. Tomorrow is the last day we will hear negative ads on the radio and TV.

Tomorrow is the day we vote.

Finally, I will get in the voting booth, hold my nose, and vote for the gubernatorial candidate who makes me wince less. Tomorrow, I tell a man who claims to run a small business what I think of him with my vote.

Picture by kenn kiser

Picture by kenn kiser

And I hope that you do,too.

While I want you to vote for my candidate, I understand if you have to hold your nose to do so as well.

Most importantly, I want people to vote. Too many people have sacrificed their life, their health, their freedom so that anyone besides a white male could have the right to vote. But when we sit on the couch and ignore what is supposed to happen, we are spitting in the face of every soldier and activist who put their lives on the line so we could vote.

I have had it said to me that only those who actually fight in wars should be the one who vote because they did the hardest thing of all. I wonder if that same person would say that to the teacher, the public safety worker, the public health workers who all had some part of their family’s life. They fight other battles as do our clergy and social service workers.

Quite frankly, when you start saying some people have the right to vote more than others, you forget what the American dream is about. The American dream is about freedom, of knowing that you can speak your opinion – no matter how wrong – and you do not have to worry about being dragged from your home in the middle of the night. If you work hard, you can acheive the American dream of prosperity.

Voting-boothBut there is one thing you have to do. Get up off the couch, away from the boob tube, walk out of your house and head over to your polling place. Once it is your turn, you go into the booth and vote. People aren’t going to throw acid on you for doing so. In America, we do not have to face the possibility of suicide bombers preventing the process. Gunfire should not be an issue. We go in and vote.

So let’s do it. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.

Are you ready?

In Camp NaNoWriMo

Did I tell you I am taking a complete leap of faith?

This summer I jumped on the Camp NaNoWriMo band wagon. It is the write-a-novel-in-a-month online community that normally runs in November. For the months of April and July it runs in a ‘less’ structured format so that what people are working on include poetry, screenplays, dissertations, or anything they want at the word count best suits their project.

For the next 29 day, I am writing 1600 or more words a day in order to complete my second novel. While the first one is done and in need of some heavy duty editing, I really needed a break from it. It is time to put that work aside and get deep into a different story.

2014-Participant-Facebook-Cover 2

For now, I am living with Fiona who has issues. Like none of the rest of us do. But she has them and needs to work some things out. Every time I write another chapter, I find out a little bit more about this art professor/potter.

It also means I have a stack of art books to look through so I can understand her world just a little bit more. I am having fun with this and so far, I am keeping up. I hope by the end of the month I can say I have written a book and need to find a literary agent.

What leaps are you taking this summer?

 

 

Feeling the Losses

Be aware, I am about to be very self centered for this post.

This has been a sad week for me.

Our family lost two pets to a brutal and vicious attack by neighborhood dogs.

Our rabbit, Thumper.

Our rabbit, Thumper.

Our pet rabbits lived in a hutch in the back yard. They had a wonderful shady spot, were loved and adored. They had just mated only last week.

But all that changed when two dogs tipped over the hutch, ripped off the bottom screening, and killed our female. My husband heard the commotion and ran outside to run them off. Except the biggest one decided to try and let him know who was boss.

He managed to get pictures and we filed a police report. Dale turned the hutch so it could not be tipped again. We thought it might be OK for Busy but it wasn’t.

Two days later they came back for Busy. They crawled under, pulled off the screen, and killed the bunny. Left him for dead in the yard. When my husband came back from his walk with our dog, he saw a vulture in the yard. Coyotes would have taken him away to have a good meal.

As you might imagine, I have devastated kids. I feel bereft and I wonder if the police an really do anything beyond slap the owners on the wrist.

If I were a shooting woman, I would sit in my yard with a shot gun and wait for those beasts to show up again. However, I need a FOID card and even then I am not safe from the long arm of the law.

That was loss #1. Loss #2 came when I looked at my writing group’s yahoo board. It was decided to shut down. We are kaput. No discussion, no nothing. It’s over.

Image by Patuska

Image by Patuska

This is the only place I have that I can talk about how characters are developing, how they are changing and growing without people looking at me like I am crazy. I see those pitying looks when people don’t realize how characters become real to you. But when you have guided and directed, sometimes they let you know when the wrong road is heading up.

It is the only place where I can be a grammar or spelling wonk and not be out of place. It is the only place I can be my nerdy self.

I am really going to miss it. Worse yet, I need to find another writer’s group.

Maybe that will take some of the pain away.

I hope.

 

 

 

 

Image from Facebook

Image from Facebook

 

I saw this meme on Facebook this morning. So nice, so nostalgic.

But I am trying to figure out which America this person is missing because there are parts of America that I never want to see again.

Which ones you ask?

Well, there is that part that thought it was OK for women to not be educated, to only run a house, raise kids, and take care of the husband. Women were not expected to have money, jobs, credit ratings, mortgages, or enough education to have a job/career to pay for all of the above in case the husband died or ran off.

Which leads to my other favorite part of America. The one that said it was OK to beat the crap out of your wife and/or children. Police, neighbors, friends, and family would look the other way if they knew that a woman was getting beat up on a regular basis. After all, she just fell down the stairs or ran into a door or something like that.

Now that makes me thing about the shame of sexual abuse. If a family member or friend or priest was abusing your kids, it was a shameful secret for the victim. It would take years of education for our society to realize that rape – no matter what – is wrong. Even so, we still like to think it is the victim’s fault.

Another old part of America I do not miss? Racism that lead to lynching and beat downs of black men who did something wrong such as look at a white woman, speak out against racism, become a little bit more than what was expected. Combine that with the mean and hateful behavior of separate schools, water fountains, and inability to sit at a luncheon counter. This was a happy place to live?

Am I saying our country is perfect now?

No way because we have some serious problems. There are shootings all over the place that are killing innocent kids. Maybe that doesn’t matter to you because it is not happening in your neighborhood or city but it is happening. Who needs car bombing in the market square when there are shootings every week?

We have veterans not getting the medical care or assistance from various programs by the government for no other reason than our politicians voted against them in Washington. Must be nice to be able to say ‘thank you for your service’ right before denying the VA more money to give healthcare to those vets. Could that be the reason why there are waiting lists at VA hospitals across the country?

We need some public works programs to get people back to work. Bridges and roads and public buildings need repair. Find that money to do  rebuilding because these projects will help the country more than anything else. Guys working on a new bridge bring that money home to their families which then get spent at stores and gas stations and on mortgages.

So now, look at that picture once again. Write in the comment section what parts of America do you miss and what you would change about now because we have a lot of fixing to do, some of it is left over baggage. I wonder if each of us picked a project to get a group of friends to work on, what would get accomplished?

Image from Facebook

Image from Facebook

 

 

Family Movie Night

by Karyn Bowman

Starting earlier this year with the release of Son of God, it is being said that 2014 is the year of the biblical movie.

Just looking at a list of movies shows that there are at least four major motion pictures with biblical or faith-based themes to them.

Last week, an independent movie called God’s Not Dead starring Kevin Sorbo was released. The story is about a college student who feels pressured to give up his faith by an atheist professor. Instead of giving in, that kid played by Shane Harper (Spencer from Good Luck, Charlie), chooses to defend his beliefs and does so scientifically.

While the critics have not been kind, I am interested in seeing this movie. I want to see how they portray the conflict and how our main character, Josh, is able to defend his beliefs.

NoahThis week, the big production of Noah makes it to the big screen. Russell Crowe stars as the man who is given the task to build a boat that will save his family and many of the creatures of the earth. I became excited about the movie after watching several trailers showing water rushing down and the very human story of all those people being left behind.

It has been reported that the word “God” is not used in this movie. Instead other names are used, which actually is appropriate considering this is a story from a Jewish standpoint. In the Jewish tradition, you do not call “God” by his name because that word is so powerful. “Yaweh” is a more common term that is allowable. I also read that the director, Darren Aronofsky, has been wanting to make this film for years but it took his great success with Black Swan to make that possible.

In April, Heaven is For Real comes to the big screen starring Greg Kinnear as the father of a young boy who states he saw Jesus when the boy was very sick with appendicitis. Adapted from the book of the same title, I expect a very gentle telling of this story. I find Greg Kinnear can be very subtle and engaging, he is able to tell a story well. I wonder how they will deal with various parts of the book that show a family in crisis as well as the moments of joy.

This fall, Nicholas Cage stars in the remake of Left Behind. I wonder what kind of performance he will give knowing how intense this actor can be. Finally, we will go through Exodus starring Christian Bale (Batman series) as Moses and Ridley Scott in the director’s chair in the month of December.

Kelly Riley, Connor Corum, and Greg Kinnear in Heaven is For Real

Kelly Riley, Connor Corum, and Greg Kinnear in Heaven is For Real

What some might say is that Hollywood realizes there is some good money to be made by playing to Christian believers. But I believe these movies do not get made unless producers believe they will actually get their money back.

I also believe that there are people hungry for movies about faith and belief. Otherwise a movie such as Heaven is For Real may have never seen the light of day. Noah and Exodus are made for the spectacle they create. But movies like Heaven are made for us normal people to ponder.

Until next week, see you in the Rental Aisle.

Are you a youth group leader?

Then you know what I am about to say is true.

Picture by Xandert

Picture by Xandert

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we get stale. How many times can we do the same lesson to a bunch of kids who may or may not want to listen?

There is a scene in Soul Surfer in which the kids are listening to their youth group leader  quietly and attentively.

That was real fiction because I have never had that happen. When I mention it to the kids, they usually say “you know that is a movie, right? It is not real life.”

So the other night when the kids gathered, I asked then to pair up and gave them six pieces of paper. I tried to hum the theme song from “The Dating Game” before I announced that tonight we were going to play a new game.

I called it “Things I Don’t Remember Talking About in Youth Group?” or something similar.

The kids laughed because they realized I wanted to make what we talk about fun but not like a test. At some point I wanted to see if they remembered anything we talk about because most of the time they are busy trying to out-talk me.

The five questions went like this:

*Who was the guy who freed the Jews from Egypt?

* Name one of Jacob’s two wives.

* What was the first name that Paul went by?

* Name six of the twelve disciples?

* Where was Jesus born and where did he die?

Bonus Question: How many people did David have to kill to prove to Saul he was worthy of being King?

The answers were pretty interesting, especially when everyone remember Rachel but not Leah. And the most disciples anyone could remember was four. Well, guess what the next few lessons will be focusing on. Yep, we are learning about each disciple.

Poster Image from IMDb.com

Poster Image from IMDb.com

As we move close to Easter and the resurrection, it is important to know about the men who kept the movement going after Jesus left the earth.

I am not sure if I will go into the deaths of each man but their lives before meeting holds interesting facts. None of these men were perfect, like the rest of us.

I can’t wait for next week’s youth group. I just need a way to make it fun.

Suggestions, anyone?

stormtight

This morning around 4:00 a.m., my husband woke me up to say he thought something was going on with our dog.

I smelled the smell of poop and thought the dog had been sick.

But it was worse than that.

He was dying as he tried to get up the stairs to be with Mom and Dad one last time. I sat with him until he breathed his last. I patted him and tried to be comforting. I told him it was okay to go on.

A google search suggested it could have been a heart attack or a stroke, especially since there had been no signs of problems in the last 24 hours.

Here is a better accounting from my husband’s blog called Rambles With Storm at his Stray Casts website.

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