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Samurai Garden by Gail Tsukiyama August 24, 2014

Posted by heidi skarie in Book Review, Uncategorized.
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The Seine River

The Seine River

While in Paris my husband and I stayed in a small but delightful apartment in the center of the city near the Seine River, so we could watch the boats and browse the souvenirs and artwork sold by street vendors. A short walk brought us to Île de la Cité where historical Notre Dame Cathedral is located. I was happy to be in the magical City of Light that I’d heard about since I was young.

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At the apartment I saw Samurai Garden by Gail Tsukiyama on the bookshelf. I’d read one of Tsukiyama’s other books and enjoyed it, so I decided to read this one.

Samurai Garden

Samurai Garden

The story is about Stephen Chan, a young Chinese man, who contracted tuberculosis while in college. His parents send him to recover and live at their beach house on the ocean in Tarumi, Japan. The caretaker, Matsu, shows the inner strength of a samurai as he takes care of Stephen, the house and lovingly tends the beautiful garden.

The story is set in 1937, the turbulent time period when the Japanese Imperial Army invades China. The quiet world of Tarumi, where Stephen paints and swims as he regains his health, seems removed from the terrible events in China. Yet the war hangs over Stephen as the armies head south to his family home in Hong Kong, reflecting problems within his own family.

Over time Stephen befriends Matsu who eventually takes him to visit his beloved Sachi, who is a leper.

Many years earlier when Sachi first became ill, to be a leper was considered a disease that brought shame on your family. In those days, it was considered more honorable to commit suicide than to live with leprosy. Sachi was unable to kill herself like the other lepers of her village. Matsu found her in the woods and helped her build a home in the newly formed leper colony. Over the years he continued to visit and help her.

As the story unfolds, Stephen learns Sachi’s story. Before she became ill, she was a beautiful, vain young woman. The tragedy of the disease taught her that beauty comes from within. She also learned that sometimes it is harder to live with adversity than to die.

Japanese Garden in Portland, Oregon

Japanese Garden in Portland, Oregon

While reading the story, I wondered what it would be like to have a serious illness. For both Sachi and Stephen, it was isolating; they had live apart from their families so the disease wouldn’t spread to them. I also thought of Sachi’s fate. What would it be like to be a beautiful young woman who contracted a disease that eats away your face? How would it feel to be shunned by your family and fiancé, who are afraid of contracting the disease?

The story has a quiet beauty to it as it moves slowly and gracefully, sweeping us into its tale and revealing the characters’ mysteries. It was well worth the read.

Japanese Garden

Japanese Garden

Everything we go through in life, especially the challenges, teaches us something. Have you ever had a serious illness or felt isolated? What did you learn from the experience?

The Dance of Life: Sculptures by George K July 29, 2014

Posted by heidi skarie in photography.
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Paris

Paris

While my husband and I were in Paris we went with friends to the art district that had narrow, winding streets and small art galleries. Most of the galleries display a single artist’s works for a limited period of time. One of the exhibits stood out for me. It was a series of sculptures of larger-than-life figures beautifully lit in blue. The exhibit was called The Dance of Life. What struck me was the serene expressions on the statue’s faces and their graceful poses.

Garden in Paris

Garden in Paris

After looking at the artwork, talked to the clerk and she told me the story behind the figures. The artist was a successful businessman in India. When an earthquake causing a tsunami in the Indian Ocean, it swept him and his twenty-one companions out to sea. He miraculously lived while his friends all died. In all 250,000 people died in the tsunami. The man was profoundly changed by this event. Instead of feeling guilty that he’d lived when so many others had died, he decided to live a life that had more meaning. He changed his name keeping only the letter “k” and gave away all his possessions, as was a custom among his people at certain times in their life. His new name was George K. George K became a photographer, poet and artist. To make the figures he took photos of a famous Indian dancer, Mavin Khoo who danced traditional Indian dances. The ancient dances were forbidden in India during the time of British rule and were almost lost, but fortunately the area under French control allowed the dance so the tradition wasn’t lost. The dance of life has a rhythm to it whether we are aware of it or not. If we can learn to dance with the flow even when hardships hit, we begin to learn to live life gracefully and to find happiness. George K took a terrible tragedy and used it as a spiritual awakening to transform his life into one with more meaning. DSC_0721                   Have you had any challenging experiences in your life that profoundly changed you into a more aware, spiritual person?   Here is a link to an article about George K and a series of  fiberglass figurine schuptures of Kathakali dancers. http://www.mybangalore.com/article/0809/george-k-at-apparao-art-galleryub-city-.html

A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen June 8, 2014

Posted by heidi skarie in Book Review.
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Book cover

Book cover

While visiting a friend in Switzerland she told me about a book she loved called A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen, which became a best seller. The story is about a young man who was on the road to recovery from drug addiction and living on the streets of London when he found an injured stray cat. His heart opened to this ginger colored cat and James nursed him back to health. James was not sure he’s ready to take on the responsibilities of a cat when he can barely take care of himself, but the cat adopted him and soon the two became inseparable. James named this special cat Bob.   Bob gave James love and companionship, and an incentive to fully recover and make a better life for Bob and himself.

I had a ginger colored cat when I was in college. My friend wanted a kitten and when I accompanied her to look at a litter I fell in love with a lively kitty. I named him Siddhartha after the main character in Herman Hess’s novel Siddhartha. Siddhartha and I had many adventures together as we traveled back and forth to Madison. He was a good friend, so I have a special place in my heart for ginger colored cats.

In the book, James made his living as a street musician and one day Bob followed him to work. James had felt invisible before, but with the cat as his companion people started coming up to him to take photos of the cat. When James started playing his guitar more people gathered around to hear him than usual and more coins were dropped in his guitar case. People were so taken with this special cat that they knitted scarves for him and brought him food and toys.   The cat not only opened James’ heart but the hearts of the busy people on the streets of London.

Eventually someone told James that there was a YouTube of him and Bob. James checked it out and it had 10,000 hits. (now there is 881,067) Then a publisher who walked past him every day asked James if he would be interested in writing his story and the result is this book.

This is a wonderful story about how the bond of love between James and Bob saved both of their lives.

 

A ginger cat I saw in Switzerland

A ginger cat I saw in Switzerland

 

Have you ever had a pet or animal companion that helped you heal or brought you unconditional love?

 

Here is a YouTube video of Bob and James.

Interview with James on “This Morning” TV shows.

 

30 Days of One Minute Meditations by Monie Turner May 11, 2014

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30 Days of One Minute Meditations by Monie Turner

 

30 Days of One Minute Meditations

30 Days of One Minute Meditations

Years ago I had an author pen pal in Canada that I exchanged writing with. Over the years we lost touch, but recently we reconnected and now she’s published an eBook on Amazon that I wanted to share with you. Its title is 30 Days of One Minute Meditations. You can get it on Amazon until May 13, 2014 for free. The book made it to # 1 in personal transformation and #1 in meditation.

 

I’ve found these short exercises can help me connect to an enjoyable moment in my past and bring it into the present. In one technique you imagine yourself by a stream watching the water. I imagined myself back where I was last weekend. My husband and I were in northern Minnesota and had gone for a hike. We stood by a stream and I looked into this amazingly clear water to the rocks below. I felt happier after the short meditation.

The book has great daily meditations ‘to calm yourself, stay focused and release stress, and find answers to your daily personal load of questions.”   These meditates can help you when you need to set a goal, or need creativity or intuition or when you need to keep in balance when dealing with a challenging situation. The techniques can help you find peace and harmony.

 

Here are the instructions for using the book:

 

“Read over the day’s instruction, then close your eyes and use your imagination for one minute to create the scene in your mind. You are now ready for your daily activities with a clear mind and peaceful demeanor. Using the scenes before you sleep can assist with a good deep sleep and healthy dreams.”

 

Here is a sample meditation:

 

Day nine

“It’s evening, dusk, a dark blue sky, and the moon is silver just over the horizon. The wind ripples the leaves of the trees and the rustling is soothing. An owl hoots and asks, ‘Who?’ You laugh and tell him, ‘I am me, soul, enjoying the evening air, free of constraints.’”

 

Day Sixteen

“Imagine you are sitting in the most comfortable chair, just drifting off when you realize that your guardian angel is just behind you and sending waves of love to you. You allow yourself to absorb as much as you want. The love wraps around you, safe, comforting. Enjoy.”

 

Here is a link to the book.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Days-One-Minute-Meditations-Imagination-ebook/dp/B00K70YMLQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1399823059&sr=8-1&keywords=30+days+of+one+minute+meditations

 

Do you meditate or contemplate? How does it help you?

website: bluestarvisions.com

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Tour of International Space Station May 2, 2014

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I write science fiction and am always interested in what it would be like to be in space.  While researching for my Star Rider series I came across this youtube video.  It’s a cool film showing the inside of the international space station.  I especially enjoyed seeing what it was like to be in a place without gravity.  
For example, they don’t have chairs because they never need to sit down. The video shows all the station’s modules and tells how they work, eat, sleep and go the bathroom.  They also show what earth looks like from the station.  This is a cool video worth seeing if you like space.
Here is the Commander of the International Space Station, Sunita Williams of NASA who recorded an extensive tour of the orbital laboratory.

90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper April 12, 2014

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90 Minutes in Heaven

90 Minutes in Heaven

 

Recently I checked out the library book on CD 90 Minutes in Heaven.   I had waited several months, since it is a popular book. The story is about Don Piper, a Baptist minister, who was in a terrible car accident and had a near-death experience.

 

On January 18, 1989 Don Piper was driving home from a conference in Texas when an 18-wheel truck hit his car while crossing a bridge. Pipe said he instantly “died” and went to Heaven. His deceased loved ones and friends, who had helped him spiritually, came to greet him. He felt great love as they joyfully hugged and welcomed him.

 

In Heaven, Piper saw incredible light and said the colors were intense and beyond anything in this world. He was filled with bliss and never thought about his physical body, wife or children.

 

The loved ones who’d greeted him took him to the Gates of Heaven where he heard “the sound of angel’s wings” and beautiful music. Heavenly beings were singing different songs of love to God, and somehow he could hear all of these songs simultaneously.

 

As he stood at the gates, Piper started singing. The experience shifted, and he found himself back in his broken body in the car still singing.

 

A minister who had attended the same conference was stopped by the traffic delay caused by the accident. He got a nudge to see if he could do anything to help. He walked past all the stopped cars to the scene of the accident.

The paramedics told the minister there was nothing he could do because the driver of the car was dead, and the vehicle had already been covered by a tarp. The minister insisted on praying for Piper. He went to the wrecked car and prayed. After awhile he began to sing. To his astonishment a miracle happened, and the “dead” man began to sing with him.

 

The minister ran back to tell the paramedics Piper was alive, but they won’t believe him. They knew how to tell if a person was dead or not, and Piper was definitely dead. The last ambulance was about to leave. The minister ran over to the ambulance driver, told him Piper was alive and threatened to lie in the street rather than let the ambulance leave.

 

The paramedics finally agreed to check and went over to the car where they were shocked to discover that Piper was indeed alive. A piece of equipment called the Jaws of Life was brought in to get him out of the car. His injuries were so terrible that his left arm and leg were barely attached.

 

The following chapters described Don Piper’s ordeal after the accident. He suffered terrible pain, endured many operations and spent years in recovery. At first, the pain was so great that he wanted to leave his damaged body and return to Heaven.

 

Eventually, he started sharing his story of his near-death experience with others. He brought comfort to people who were dying by sharing his experience of going to Heaven at a time when not many people were talking openly about near-death experiences. Piper felt renewed in his mission to serve life through helping others.

 

For Don Piper, fear of death was replaced by a longing to return to the Heavenly world. Sometimes he can still hear the inner choir and “sound of angel wings.”

 

I enjoyed the first chapter of the book on CD the most because, in it, Don Piper described his experience in Heaven. We don’t have to have a near-death experience to hear the inner music of God. In prayer, meditation or contemplation we can learn to open ourselves to God’s love and hear the inner sound and see the inner light.

 

Have you had a near-death experience or heard the inner music or seen the inner light? I’d love to hear your stories.

Here is a youtube of Don Piper telling about his experience.

 

Cruising Panama’s Canal by Sunny Lockwood March 23, 2014

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Sunny Lockwood wrote a guest post about her new book Cruising Panama’s Canal.  Cruising the Panama Canal was on Sunny and her husband’s bucketlist, but it wasn’t until they had a life changing event that they decided to set off on this fun-filled trip.  I hope you enjoy this post.

Cruising Panama's Canal

Cruising Panama’s Canal

When a texting driver slammed into us in the summer of 2012, she ruined not only our car, but our summer. Totally.

We were sitting at a red light in the early evening of July 8. A van sat in the lane next to ours. And the texting driver crashed full speed (60 mph) into us both, totaling all three cars in an explosion of glass and metal.

Thankfully no one was killed, but the rest of our summer filled up with doctor appointments, pharmacy visits, wrangling with insurance companies, and lots of complaining about people who fool with their phones while driving.

And the wreck brought home to us how fragile life is. How in the blink of an eye we could be lying in the morgue or hooked up to monitors in a hospital.

Because of that realization, we decided we should start doing some of the things we’d always dreamed of doing someday.

Our first “someday” dream was to visit the Panama Canal.

My husband, a retired engineer, has always been fascinated by the Canal (considered one of the great engineering wonders of the world).

Research revealed a 17-day cruise leaving from San Francisco. We live just north of San Francisco, so we signed up. And on Oct. 2, 2012, we boarded Holland America’s MS Zuiderdam for the trip of a lifetime.

Sunny and Al eating dinner on the ship.

Sunny and Al eating dinner on the ship.

During our cruise, there were stops in San Diego, Mexico, Costa Rica, Columbia and the Bahamas.  And for one entire day, our ship made its way across the isthmus of Panama through the historic and beautiful Panama Canal. For us it was an unforgettable experience!

We had such a great time on the cruise that we wrote a book about it: Cruising Panama’s Canal, savoring 5,000 nautical miles and 500,000 decadent calories.

It’s a fun, easy read packed with information and good-humor.

It is getting very nice reviews at Goodreads and on Amazon.com, where it is for sale in both ebook and paperback editions.

For example, William D. Curnutt (a top 1000 reviewer at Amazon.com) wrote: “After reading this I WANT TO GO ON A CRUISE.  Not only do I want to go on a cruise, I hope to run into the Lockwood’s on the cruise. They sound like they would be just wonderful to get to know and spend time with…. Their writing is inviting, funny, contagious and just flat out a joy to read.”

New York Times best selling author Antoinette May reviewed our book, and said, “It’s a charming summation of 17 delightful days by a couple who truly knows how to enjoy themselves.”

One reader wrote that he read our book twice. The second time he read it aloud to his wife.  “I love this book!” he declared.

Such lovely words coming from readers around the world warm our hearts. They are like the cherry on the top of an ice cream sundae. A little finishing touch of sweetness, assuring us that our dream trip strikes an echoing chord in the heart of others.

Starting with the unfortunate car crash that led to our cruise that then led to our book that is now leading to wonderful connections with readers in the USA, UK, France, Canada and Australia, I have learned that doing something you’ve always dreamed about brings all kinds of rewards.

Not only did we fulfill a dream, but through our book, we’re sharing that dream with lots of other people. And they’re loving it, too.

The back cover

The back cover

If I have any advice to share, it’s this: You know that thing you’ve always dreamed of doing? Do it. Do it now, while you can. Believe me, you can’t imagine all the good things that may result from the action you take to fulfill a dream.

And if you’d like to look at our book and read some of our reviews, here’s the direct link.

http://www.amazon.com/Cruising-Panamas-Canal-Al-Lockwood/dp/0615927084/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1393433475&sr=8-1&keywords=cruising+panama%27s+canal

Lessons Learned While Knitting a Pair of Socks March 22, 2014

Posted by heidi skarie in Uncategorized, Writing.
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Heidi shoe showing.

Heidi shoe showing.

Today I am at my  husband, Jim, and my cabin in Detroit Lakes.  It’s March, so winter is on the way out, but up here in the North Country there is still a thick covering of snow, so we had to buy snowshoes and hike in a quarter of a mile to get to the cabin.  It took several trips back and forth to bring in our food and clothes. Jim built a fire to heat the cabin.  I took off my wet shoes and socks and put on a new, dry pair of wool socks.

Jim in his snowshoes

Jim in his snowshoes

As I sat in a chair reading, I looked down at my socks and thought of the story behind their creation.  I knitted them several years ago.  The cuffs were a complicated lace pattern, and I started knitting the socks as I sat on a train on the way from where I live in Minneapolis to Milwaukee, about a seven-hour trip.

Here is the cabin.

Here is the cabin.

I started on the first sock and knitted for several inches, then saw that the pattern didn’t look right.  I ripped it out and started over. Again, it didn’t turn out right.  This went on and on for many hours.  It was an unfamiliar pattern, and each row was different.  Moreover, I wasn’t sure how it was supposed to look, and to complicate the situation the yarn was variegated, which made it hard to tell if the pattern was right or not until you knitted many rows.

I wasn’t particularly upset by having to rip out my knitting  One thing you learn as a knitter is that sometimes you are going to make mistakes.  Knitting is forgiving in that you can usually rip something out quite easily.  I saw the pattern as a challenge like a puzzle I was trying to solve.  I’m a good knitter and had learned to knit many years ago from my grandmother, so I wasn’t expecting to have this kind of difficulty.  I had anticipated having at least one if not both socks done by the time I got to Milwaukee.  Instead, I had nothing to show for my time.

As I was knitting, a man came up to me and said, “I’ve never seen someone with so much patience.  You’ve been working for hours and keep starting over without getting upset.”  I found his remark interesting in that it showed me that even when we think no one notices us, in fact, other people might be observing us.  What kind of example are we to others?  Are we demonstrating love, tolerance or perhaps the opposite?

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My son-in-law Nick was telling me just yesterday that he was impressed by how good Jim was with our grandson Asher.  Nick said he was learning to be a better father just watching him. Again, this was happening while my husband was being an example without realizing it.

But back to my sock story. When I arrived in Milwaukee, still without figuring out the pattern, I went to the yarn shop with my sister.  I bought knitting markers, and I drew a diagram of the pattern.  With the markers and the diagram, I was able to do the pattern and successfully make the lace pattern socks.

When I finished, my sister said, “You should keep those socks for yourself instead of giving them away.  No one else will ever appreciate the work you put into them.”  She was right.  Whenever I wear the socks, I remember the lessons I learned while knitting them.  One is that with persistence, patience, a little creativity, and a willingness to try things a different way; we can accomplish our goals even when at first they seem almost impossible.  Sometimes we have to rip out and keep trying over and over again, but eventually we’ll figure it out.

What I learned from knitting those socks applies to other areas of my life like my writing.  I’m working on the third book in my Star Rider science fiction series.  I’ve been writing for years and even teach writing, and yet sometimes I have to write a scene over and over again trying to make it flow smoothly.  Sometimes I struggle to make the characters come alive and to have their dialogue sound real.  While doing all that I also have to make sure the scene has tension, excitement and a good beginning, middle and end.

I’ve found that most things that are worthwhile in life take hard work, perseverance and patience.  Have you ever had an experience like mine where you had to work on something over and over again before you finally got it right?  I’d love to hear from you.


The Monuments Men and the Value of Artwork March 13, 2014

Posted by heidi skarie in Movie reveiew.
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11174399_detThe Monuments Men didn’t get great reviews, but I went to see it anyway because I’m an artist and interested in the history of art and because this was a part of World War II I didn’t know anything about.  The film is based on a true story.  Near the end of the war with Germany, the Reich was falling and seven American men (who were museum directors, curators and art historians) were assembled as a platoon to rescue artwork stolen by the Nazis and return it to it’s rightful owners.  There were about five million pieces of artwork stolen, covering a thousand years of history.   Many of these pieces had been taken from the home of Jewish people.   Hitler had plans to build a huge museum to display the artwork, but lost the war before he could.

The film assembled a group of well-known actors including George Clooney (who also directs it), Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, John Goodman, and Cate Blanchett and many others.  Unfortunately, with so many characters I found it hard to feel close to any of them.  However, the movie held my attention because it was like a mystery.  The platoon had to figure out where the pieces had been hidden.  It was also a race against time.  Could they find and save the art before it was destroyed?

The mission seemed impossible as the artwork was hidden behind enemy lines and Hitler had ordered it to be destroyed.  The platoon was set down in Normandy, and then separated into groups as they set off to find, save, and even defend the artwork.

One thing that made the film interesting to me was seeing all the painting and sculptures.  In one scene you see an entire mansion full of amazing sculptures, in another a cave full of paining, in yet another pieces that are part of a church altar.  We also see a cave full of paintings torched.  It’s hard to imagine anyone burning these priceless pieces.

Here is a link to the preview of the film.

After seeing the film my husband came across an article that told about the recent recovery of 1,500 pieces of the artwork in Germany. They were by such master as Picasso, Renoir, and Chagall and thought to be lost during the firebombing of Dresden in 1945.  Cornelius Gurlitt has had them for nearly seventy years.  He is the son of Hildebrandt Gurlitt, a well-known Germany art dealer. Hildebrandt bought many of the paintings for a pittance from Jews fleeing Germany and had control of the Degenerate Art exhibition.  He passed the artwork to his son when he died.

One thing the movie didn’t mention was that Hitler only liked classical art and regarded the Impressionist, Cubist, and Modernist pieces as degenerate.   He held the Degenerate Art exhibition to show people what not to like.

To me it was interesting that all this artwork was found by chance after all these years at the same time as The Monuments Men was at theaters.

Here is a link to the article.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2486251/1bn-haul-art-Picasso-Renoir-Matisse-squalid-Munich-flat.html

The film and recently discovered Masterpieces raises some interesting questions like: Is artwork worth dying for?  How much is lost when a society loses their artwork?    What is the value of art?  Clooney’s character says the art inspires and defines a society.  Do you agree or disagree?

Amazing child basket ball player February 16, 2014

Posted by heidi skarie in Uncategorized.
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Photo from Hollywood Life article by Bonnie Fuller

Photo from Hollywood Life article by Bonnie Fuller

Yesterday I shared a youtube of Amira Willinghagen who is a nine-year-old, self- taught opera singer.  Today  I want to share a child prodigy of another kind.  This two-year-old boy, Titus Asby, plays basketball and you’ll have trouble believing what he can do.  He is amazing.  In this youtube he plays against Bradley Cooper and Channing Tatum and wins!!! Enjoy!

http://blog.petflow.com/ive-never-seen-a-kid-do-this-what-a-talented-little-boy/

Both of these children are doing what they love.  They sing or throw the basket ball because they love it.  I love to write, especially to tell stories about people who lived in the past and the challenges they face and people who live in others worlds in the future.  I can spend all day writing the way this little boy throws the basket ball over and over again.

What do you love to do?  What is it that you can’t wait to do in your free time?

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