There’s a book for that (TV edition): The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

If you’re following along, this is the fifth installment of book-turned-TV reviews. You can find all the posts in this series, and my previous series about books-turned-movies, here.

Oh, Alice Hoffman, how little I know you. Years ago I watched the movie “Practical Magic” but had no clue it was attached to a book, but when I read the description for CBS’ mini-series “The Dovekeepers” earlier this year, I wondered why on earth I’d never read anything by Hoffman.

Spoiler alert: I am hooked. dovekeepers

Hoffman’s storytelling is riveting, haunting and as magical as the spells her characters create. This story of four Jewish women in the desert stronghold Masada after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. is historically informative and narratively imaginative. My favorite kind of historical fiction weaves these two things together in a beautiful pattern, and The Dovekeepers is now counted among this class of story.

Their struggles and choices, made in the moment for the sake of survival, are painful and heartbreaking and raw at times, but I left this book with a greater appreciation of first-century Jewish women. Though Hoffman writes with a spiritual, but not necessarily Judeo-Christian, emphasis, there is beauty in the ancient practices she describes.

After reading the book, which was not an easy or light read, I was eager to watch the mini-series.

Unfortunately, it fell way short for me in comparison to the book. This is not a new feeling for books-to-movies or books-to-TV. Books, in general, are usually richer and have more depth than their on-screen counterparts. Writing a story for the screen requires different elements, I know, and a two-episode mini-series can’t capture everything in the book.

Still. I think I expected more. If you read last week’s post about “A.D.: The Bible Continues,” you’ll know that I was impressed with that Roma Downey/Mark Burnett production. “The Dovekeepers” is also one of theirs, but it is more violent and contains more sensuality–which are both in the book–than the Bible series. Let that be a warning.

Some aspects of the plot were changed for the sake of time, I think, but even the ending was different. That kind of annoys me. The book follows four women on their Masada journey; the mini-series focused on three. The most surprising characteristic of the mini-series was Sam Neill as Flavius Josephus, Jewish historian for the Romans, who in this story recorded the events of Masada through interviews with two of the women. Sam Neill is a cowboy or lawman in my mind. To see him in this role was interesting.

If you’ve seen the mini-series, I’d recommend you read the book to get the real story. If you haven’t seen the mini-series but have read the book, don’t bother. It didn’t add much to the book for me.

If you’ve got books-to-TV or books-to-movie recommendations for me, I’d love to hear them! Let me know what you think of this series and whether you’ve tried any of the books/TV shows mentioned this month.

 

Why going to Kenya doesn’t make me brave

If you haven’t heard by now, we’re going to Kenya, my  husband and me. We leave today, actually. And because of team policies and unpredictable WiFi and the desperate need we all have to disconnect, I won’t be around much on the blog, e-mail or social media. So, don’t worry if I go silent. You probably won’t even miss me. If you’re on Facebook and want a few updates on what our team is doing, you can “like” our church’s page. We’ll be posting some updates there.

Otherwise, anything you see from me online this week is most likely scheduled ahead of time. (The wonder of the Internet!)

So, we’re packing up and heading out on this wild and wonderful trip. Two weeks ago, I was a mess of emotions when I realized how little I’d be in contact in with my kids combined with all the other normal anxiety about traveling to a different continent and experiencing so many new things in a short amount of time.

I almost wanted to back out of the whole trip. I’m sorry. I was wrong. What was I thinking? I can’t go to AFRICA!?!? 

I’m grateful that God continues to show me He’s in this all the way. Donations keep pouring in from surprising sources. When we set a goal in January of raising $30,000 for the team of 15, I know I thought it was nearly impossible. Now, as of this writing, we’re within hundreds of dollars of that goal.

This trip will be my first time out of the country on a mission trip. In college, I spent a semester in England. And later I participated in two mission trips within the States, but never have I combined the two, and never have I been to Africa.

I want you to know a couple of things, in case I forget to say them when we get back. I’m expecting Africa to give me a lot to write about and think about, so I want you to hear this now.

Going to Africa doesn’t make me a brave person.

I struggle with anxiety in new situations, and I have control issues. Africa is going to challenge me on both of those fronts. We won’t have a lot of access to our kids while we’re gone, and I spent two days in an emotional tailspin over this.

I am not going to Africa because I’m so brave and adventurous.

Honestly, I’m not actually sure why I’m going to Africa. Except that God opened the door in a very specific way. And despite various trying circumstances over the last 7 to 8 months, He has continued to show His approval.

Africaobedience

Going to Africa is not an act of bravery; it is an act of obedience.

Sometimes I think that I first have to be brave in order to follow God’s lead. But more often than not, I think following God first, even if I’m scared, can lead to bravery.

And maybe the people we think are brave are really just obedient.

I don’t know about you, but when I see someone doing something I don’t think I could do, I label them as “brave” so that I can put them in a category that doesn’t include me. That person is so brave. I could never do that. And then it’s easy for me to stay comfortable and not think about what God might be wanting me to do.

We call other people brave so we don’t have to consider what it would be like to follow God like that.

But obedience isn’t only for the brave people. Anyone can follow God, brave or not. Even you. Even me.

Trust me, if I can do it, so can you.

Will you remember that the next time you’re presented with the chance to follow God into some unknown place, whether it’s physical or spiritual or emotional or circumstantial? You don’t have to be brave first to follow where He leads. You can be afraid, uncertain, anxious or overwhelmed and still say “Yes. I’ll do that.”

Don’t wait until you feel brave. Don’t count yourself out because you’re not adventurous. Don’t beat yourself up that you aren’t like those other people who are doing the hard/scary/fun thing.

You can do it, too. Even if you have to do it afraid.

So, maybe God won’t lead you on a trip to Kenya, but maybe He’ll lead you somewhere else. When you hear about what we’re doing and experiencing over the next 10 days, just remember that some of us are trembling as we trek.

See you in a few weeks!

There’s a book for that (TV edition): The Bible

This is the fourth post in this series about books-turned-TV-shows. You can find the current series, as well as a series of posts I wrote a few years ago about books-turned-movies, here.

Okay, technically this isn’t a review of the ENTIRE Bible because that would be a massive undertaking. The Bible is a collection of more than 60 “books” and because of a TV series that aired recently, this is a look at part of one of those books: the book of Acts. wpid-20150710_085847.jpg

A.D.: The Bible Continues aired on network TV this spring, and I was skeptical at the start. A lot of movies or TV shows I’ve seen that attempt to dramatize the stories in the Bible turn out cheesy or present themselves as unprofessional.

I can say exactly the opposite about this series, produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. The episodes were so well done that I wanted to read my Bible along with them just to watch the events come alive. The series encapsulated the first 10 chapters of the book of Acts, the time after Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension, when the new church was growing and being persecuted. I loved the emotions and personalities from the characters who are usually just names: Peter, Mary, Joanna, Caiaphas, Pilate, Paul. Seeing them portrayed as flesh-and-blood people–because they were–with human reactions and behaviors renewed my interest in stories I sometimes skim over because I’ve read them before. (I’m not proud of that attitude about the Bible, but it’s true.)

There were no spoilers, per se, in the series, but the drama was still intense. Throughout the series, we see hints of the internal journey of the Roman centurion Cornelius. We see Saul bent on destroying the Christians followed by his miraculous encounter with Christ and the complete 180 turn his life takes as he becomes the apostle Paul. When I read these passages in the Bible now, or when I read Paul’s letters, I visualize these actors and their voices, which make the words more than ink on a page. They feel more like a letter or a story when I can picture the person who penned the words.

I can enthusiastically recommend this series for watching. Even if you care nothing for the Bible, this series is a good historical drama set in first-century Judea. When an artistic interpretation of a historical event or time period makes me want to know more about that event or time period, I consider it a success.

Sadly, NBC canceled this show after its 12-episode run, but I’ve read that some of the next planned episodes are already being written. I hope there are more series like this in the works from Burnett and Downey.

Next week, the final post in this series, The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman.

What’s this fair trade stuff all about?

I can’t tell you how long ago it was that I first started hearing the words “fair trade” nor can I tell you how long since I’ve begun heeding the call. What I can tell you is that “fair trade” is a way to change the world, right from your home, even if you don’t like coffee or chocolate.

See, coffee, tea, and chocolate are the first things in our house to undergo a change to fair trade. These are luxuries, to be honest. We would survive without them (okay, maybe not the coffee), but they are not necessities like water, bread, milk, eggs, etc. We can find them cheap because they often come from places where their natural environments are exploited and lands rich in resources the rest of the world demands are not given their fair share of profits. Or maybe I should say that the people who grow the food are not given their fair share.

Fair trade became personal for me when I realized that my luxuries, my indulgences, could be causing serious harm to someone else. Could I really enjoy my chocolate bar if I knew there was slavery in its supply chain? How does that coffee taste when I learn of how little the farmer who grows the beans actually makes?

I know there are lots of arguments on both sides and I’m sure fair trade isn’t as simple as it sounds.

The good news, though, is there are organizations who are partnering with people around the world to provide jobs which lead to education and hope and a feeling of being worthy of life.

One of those organizations is Fair Trade Friday, an arm of Mercy House Kenya, founded by Kristen Welch. (You might know her as the blogger from We are THAT Family or as the author of Rhinestone Jesus.)

The founding of Mercy House Kenya, a birthing center for women unexpectedly pregnant, is one story, and she tells it in Rhinestone Jesus. Fair Trade Friday, a monthly subscription service that delivers fair trade items to your door, is another story. Here’s where it began:

“I heard it clear, these words in the middle of the night, ‘Provide jobs for women.’ It was years ago and I didn’t know what it meant. We were a couple of years into our hard work in Kenya, rescuing pregnant teens and I didn’t think I could do much more. But I also couldn’t shake those whispered words. Fair Trade Friday is the response to providing jobs for women. Sometimes God asks us to do something we don’t know how to do. But He does and He leads.” — Kristen Welch

You can learn a lot about the Fair Trade Friday Club and see what they’re all about on their website. As part of the Fair Trade Friday blogging team, I received some products to review in exchange for my help in telling you about the organization.

Here’s what I received. (Hydrangeas not included.)

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Tea. A change purse/pouch. And a gorgeous picture frame. I put the purse to use right away in my carry-all bag, and I’ve had the tea, which I love. The frame is beautiful–an unexpected fair trade item. Maybe you’re like me and you have a certain idea about the kinds of things that are “fair trade.” This monthly box contains surprises each time. And there’s a club just for earrings, if you’re into jewelry. You can check out all the fair trade products available in The Mercy Shop.

The great thing is that not only are the items fair trade, but they support organizations all over the world, not just in Kenya, where Mercy House is  based.

Do you ever wonder if fair trade really makes a difference? It’s a nice story, right? Well-off Americans buy handmade goods from artists around the world and everyone lives happily ever after. But is it true?

This is why I love global communication and becoming involved with organizations where the link between the person making the item and the person buying it is intentionally short.

Welch says this of the difference fair trade makes in the lives of actual women: Tell the women

Probably one of the most profound moments for was in a mud home in Kenya talking with a woman we were buying paper bead bracelets from for a Fair Trade Friday box. She grabbed my hands and squeezed them tight. She looked me straight in the eyes and said, ‘Tell the women in America that we need them to keep buying what we make. Tell them it is feeding my son and two daughters. Tell them not to forget us.’ I will spend the rest of my life reminding these marginalized women they are not forgotten.

And it’s not just about the money. It’s about so much more.

ABeautifulSmilequote

This quote is from one of the partner organizations of the Fair Trade Friday Club

You can help women not just earn a living and provide for their families but see themselves as worthy and purposeful contributors to society.

Check out what the Fair Trade Friday Club has to offer. And if there aren’t any current openings for the recurring boxes, add your name to the waiting list so you can be notified when it is open.

Images, excluding the one of the products I received, are courtesy of Fair Trade Friday.

Summer Fun Week 6

We’re leaving in a few hours, and I totally should be finishing the packing and errands, but I’m going to try to squeeze this in, just like I’ve been trying to squeeze in a few more moments of fun this last week together before the middle of August.

After today, our family of four will be split between two states, first, then two continents, and it will be hard. I’m so thankful we’ve had these many weeks in a row to make memories and be together.

Last night we fit in one more family outing–mini-golf, a first for the kids and a first-in-a-long-time for the grown-ups. Pro tip if you’re taking your family mini-golfing for the first time: take a picture before the madness fun begins and don’t bother keeping score. We lasted two holes with trying to score and then I was frustrated and trying to hurry along because other people were waiting.

wpid-20150717_180915.jpgThis photo pretty much sums up everything. We had fun by the time the night was over.

The day before, we spent a whole afternoon at a friend’s house in the pool. It was a much-needed distraction from all the stress and packing and such.

wpid-20150716_150557.jpgAnd though we don’t frequent the pool, the kids loved their time in the water and fancy themselves little fishies.wpid-20150716_110442.jpg

I’m not going to go out and get a pool membership, but I’m more likely to take up swimming lessons again. Thankful for friends who invite us into their space.

We spent a lot of the in-between time at home this week while the car was being checked for problems and having problems repaired. This is the part of the summer I’d sooner forget. Car repairs. Yuck. But at least we didn’t have to repeat our visit to the waiting room when we watched PBS for two hours.

Our first fun thing of the week was a visit to the library to see our reading dog friends. We’ve been visiting them at the library for two years and we love the work the therapy dogs do. Basically they hang out and listen and are so gentle that Corban has overcome his fear of dogs. The bonus this week was that one of the local television stations came to film a segment about the program and all three of us were interviewed! It’ll be a few weeks before we see our pretty faces on TV but we’re looking forward to it!

wpid-20150714_120307.jpgThat same day we also donned our cow attire for free food at Chick-fil-a.

I don’t know when the next summer fun update will be, so thanks for reading along and enjoying our summer fun with us! Hope your summer still has its share of fun left!wpid-fb_img_1436903212551.jpgwpid-20150714_154822.jpg

 

 

 

A book about 3 of my favorite things: Review of Jesus, Bread and Chocolate by John J. Thompson

I have my husband to thank for this book. He heard John J. Thompson speak on a podcast he listens to and the topic of  his book intrigued both of us. (Thanks to the publisher and the BookLook Blogger Program, we got a free copy in exchange for a review.)

jesus bread & chocolateJesus, Bread and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World is like taking a deep breath. We live in a world that “values” cheap, quick, substandard and replaceable. Thompson’s book discusses various artisanal movements–small-batch coffee roasters, homemade bread, craft breweries, gardening, Americana music–and applies its principles to our faith, which in a lot of ways has become industrialized for a consumer mindset.

Thompson offers a lot of observations from these various areas of handmade, small batch goods and how they could apply to faith.

It’s a book that has come at the perfect time for our family. We started our first garden this year, and we are increasingly in search of products that oppose the cheaply made, convenient label. After I read the coffee chapter, my morning coffee tasted different, almost bitter. The observations he makes about cultivating a taste for the “real” stuff are life-changing beyond coffee, chocolate, bread and beer.

“I wonder what would happen to the value of our faith if we could rescue it from the process of commodification. If a life spent in pursuit of Christ could be recognized as a radical and selfless, counterintuitive adventure instead of a carefully packaged and lifeless script, would seekers find something worth following?” (p. 131)

See what I mean? There’s a lot to chew on here. (Figuratively and literally.)

If you crave something more meaningful in your faith, in your food, in your life, then get a copy of this book and let it stir something in your soul.

 

There’s a book for that (TV edition): Wolf Hall

This is the third post in my series reviewing books that have been adapted for television. Last week’s post is here. You can find all the posts in this series, and my previous series about books adapted for movies, under the category “there’s a book for that.”

I was only a tiny bit *sarcasm* excited about the premiere of Wolf Hall on PBS this spring. Damian Lewis has long been a favorite of ours, and we couldn’t wait to see him as England’s Henry VIII. Mark Rylance, who played Thomas Cromwell, I’d never heard of but I love British period drama and had high expectations for the show. And because it was based on a book, I took to the task of reading it during and after the series aired.

With both the show and the book, I have a lot of mixed feelings.

I felt like I needed a prerequisite British history class before watching the television version, and when I discovered the book had a list of characters in it, I was able to follow along better as I watched. Overall, I enjoyed the PBS series. The actors were inspiring, the drama was engaging, and I felt smarter having watched it.

wolf hallThe book took me about six weeks to read, and at one point, I had to return it to the library because I had gone over the limit of times I could renew it. It was confusing, at times, because the author, Hilary Mantel, uses a sort of omniscient point of view that is rare in literature these days. She almost always refers to Cromwell as “he” even if she has introduced another male character, so I had to train myself to remember that “he” meant Cromwell and not the other named character. Once I adjusted to that, my comprehension increased.

And though I’m not opposed to a lengthy book, this one is more than 500 pages and at times I felt it was dragging. And just about the time I was going to give up on it, there would be an insightful line or piece of dialogue, like a buried gem, and all that work of reading up to that point would feel worth it so I’d keep going. I don’t usually consider reading hard work but reading Wolf Hall wore me out sometimes.

Because the TV series covered the second book, Bring Up the Bodies, I’m interested in reading that, as well, but after finishing Wolf Hall, I just needed a break.

I am not sorry I read and watched this series. It was different from other books and television on my list right now, and both have made me more interested in Tudor England, which is a  successful outcome for any book or television series based on historical or current events.

It’s not a breeze by any means, but Wolf Hall is worth the work.

Next in the series: A.D. The Bible Continues (NBC); the book of Acts.